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Posts from the "Highway Expansion" Category

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Building Cloverleafs Won’t Inspire Americans to Pay More for Transportation

The federal transportation fund is running out of money, threatening the country with potholes, stopped construction, and economic downturn. Congress, which has kept the program solvent with short-term patches for years, now finds itself unable to do more than buy a few months’ time.

Mainstream opinion pins the blame for this state of affairs on partisanship and anti-tax extremism. But the crisis has a deeper cause. In transportation, as in so many areas of American politics, the terms of debate are controlled by an elite that has lost touch with the rest of the country.

Voters on both the Tea Party right and the urban left have lost the desire to pay higher taxes for new roads. Yet powerful highway bureaucracies and their political allies insist that added revenues must go toward ever more cloverleafs and interstates. They keep searching for money to build what voters don’t want to pay for, a quest doomed to end in futility.

The roots of the congressional deadlock are best seen far from Washington.

When Texas Governor Rick Perry took office in 2000, he found himself caught between campaign contributors’ yearning to build expressways and conservative hostility to tax increases. He sought a way out with an aggressive program of toll-road building.

But when the highways opened, drivers rebelled against the stiff fees. Revenue fell far below forecasts, and grassroots activists launched an anti-toll campaign. At last month’s state Republican convention, the insurgents triumphed. The state party platform now calls for no new tolls (as well as no new taxes).

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Other Cities Look to Tear Down Their Old Highways, But Not Denver

Denver's plan for I-70 is to bury it, widen it and cap it. Image: I70east.com

Denver’s plan for I-70 is to widen it, bury it, and cap a small part of it. Photo: I70east.com

Denver has one of those golden opportunities that many American cities are seizing: An elevated highway that damaged neighborhoods is nearing the end of its life, giving the city an opening to repair the harm.

Unfortunately, as Tanya has reported, Denver seems poised to double down on highway building instead. The city is looking to bury and widen Interstate 70 through the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, then cap a small section. The $1.8 billion proposal would add four lanes to I-70 — two in each direction — for a total of 10 lanes.

This visualization shows how the highway would look widened and with a cap. Image: I70east.com

A look at the proposal to sink and widen I-70 and put an 800-foot-long park on it. Image: I70east.com

While Denver has been booming in general, the neighborhoods bisected by I-70, which was laid down through the city in the 1950s, haven’t shared in the good fortune. Thanks to the many trucks roaring through and the eyesore of the elevated highway, Elyria-Swansea and nearby communities suffer from excessive traffic, environmental problems, and disinvestment.

Proponents of the highway plan call it a “corridor of opportunity” and are promising a network of parks, open space, and transit. A big sweetener is the proposed 800-foot-long park they say would be built on the highway lid.

But according to community activist and  former City Council member Susan Barnes-Gelt, the design does little to mend connections between the two neighborhoods. She says there’s no excuse for widening highways through urban neighborhoods in an age when many cities are choosing to tear them down.

In a Denver Post editorial earlier this year, Barnes-Gelt wrote that under Mayor Michael Hancock, what could have been a big step forward for the city is “morphing back into a highway project.” It’s especially disappointing considering Denver’s recent history of smart planning, she said.

“This is what happens when people that can make a difference don’t pay attention,” she told Streetsblog.

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Moving Cars vs. Investing in Places — The Struggle for American Cities

milwaukee_I94

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wants to jam an even bigger version of I-94 through the Story Hill neighborhood in Milwaukee.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker and Mayor Tom Barrett are brawling in the press over a proposed highway project — a fight that exemplifies the enormous rift in America about what transportation policy should accomplish.

Walker still thinks about transportation projects the same way the interstate planners of the 1950s thought about them. In his view, the economy depends on moving cars and trucks.

So naturally, Walker insists on plowing a $1.2 billion expansion of Interstate 94 through Milwaukee. Among the options on the table is a proposal to double-deck a portion of the highway through a densely populated neighborhood. According to Walker and the state DOT, spending a ton of money to stack highway lanes on top of highway lanes is a practical solution to aid the economy in this barely growing metro area.

“I think the last thing you want to do is have employers look to go bypass the city of Milwaukee when they’re talking about jobs and commerce here,” Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “So you’ve got to make sure there’s a good transportation system.”

One person who disagrees vehemently is Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. In this case, Barrett represents a very different school of thought about transportation and planning — he thinks investing in places, not traffic movement, will make his city better off.

Barrett told the Journal Sentinel that he’s “mystified” by Walker’s refusal to pull the double-decker option off the table. He said he would do everything in his power to stop the additional highway deck, which would have a “negative impact on property values and disrupt the lives” of residents of the Story Hill neighborhood.

Admittedly, there’s more going on here than contentious views about transportation. Walker and Barrett are political rivals who’ve faced off twice for the governor’s chair. But in many ways they embody the broader debate about American transportation policy — the tug of war between the Eisenhower-era mentality of moving traffic at all costs, and the seemingly ascendant notion that public wellbeing depends on transportation decisions that make places healthy and economically strong.

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8 Monster Interchanges That Blight American Cities

Ramming highways through the middle of American cities was undoubtedly one of the worst mistakes of the 20th century — demolishing urban habitat, dividing neighborhoods, and erecting structures that suck the life out of places. What could be worse than a highway through the middle of town? How about when two highways intersect, with all their assorted high-speed ramps carving out huge chunks of land to move cars.

But despite their massive scale and the huge sums we spend on them, highway interchanges in American cities can seem invisible. After all, no one ever goes to hang out by the interchange.

So, to give you a good look, we put together this list of some of the most enormous interchanges in U.S. cities. Just imagine what cities could do with all this space…

Louisville: Kennedy Interchange (64/65/71)

Louisville’s Kennedy Interchange sits just south of downtown, forming an immense barrier to the city’s waterfront. Gigantic as it may be, this interchange will be getting even bigger as Kentucky and Indiana move forward with the $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges project. Even the New York Times lamented the effect of this highway expansion on downtown neighborhoods. But when Louisville activists argued that a portion of the roadway feeding into the interchange should be torn down, they were steamrolled by powerful political interests.

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 2.38.36 PM

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7 Photos Show How Detroit Hollowed Out During the Highway Age

While searching for images of highway interchanges in urban areas, I came across these historic aerial photos of Detroit on a message board, showing how the city fabric has slowly eroded. It’s a remarkable record of a process that has scarred many other American cities.

1949: Here’s what the east side of the city looked like right at the middle of the century, with Gratiot Avenue forming the diagonal. Detroit was a big, bustling city.

1949

1952: Just a few years later though, urban renewal and other city-clearing initiatives were already leaving their mark.

1952

1961: Almost a decade later, you can see a large space south of Gratiot had been cleared to make way for Lafayette Park, a neighborhood of high-rise residential towers.

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Study: Corrupt States Spend More on Highways

In states with higher levels of corruption, public officials spend more on construction, roads and safety services. Image: Public Administration Review via Governing

A new study found a link between highway spending and official corruption. Map: Public Administration Review via Governing

A new academic study helps explain the enduring political popularity of expensive transportation boondoggles like Birmingham’s $4.7 billion Northern Beltline and Kentucky’s $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges.

According to research published in the journal Public Administration Review, states with higher levels of public corruption spend more money on highways and construction. The study found highway and construction projects and police programs provide the most opportunities for lawmakers to enrich themselves, according to Governing Magazine, and are positively correlated with state levels of corruption. Meanwhile, highly corrupt states also spend relatively less on health, education, and welfare — categories that were less susceptible to graft and bribery, the report found.

Public corruption for each state was ranked based on 25,000 convictions between 1976 and 2008. Overall, the authors found, the 10 most corrupt states spend $1,300 more per person annually than the average state.

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How Road Planners Fail Neighborhoods

Why do neighborhood groups — especially in low-income areas — have such a hard time influencing the design of major road projects? An interesting case study from the University of Colorado-Denver sheds some light.

In the planning of Verona Road in Madison, Wisconsin, neighborhood concerns took a back seat to moving traffic. Image: Google Maps

In the planning of Verona Road in Madison, Wisconsin, neighborhood concerns took a back seat to moving traffic. Photo: Google Maps

To examine the barriers to incorporating public health principles into transportation planning, researchers studied the Allied-Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin, a disadvantaged but organized community.

Locals spent years preparing for the redesign of Verona Road, a wide street that carries 50,000 to 60,000 vehicles daily. Although Verona is a major, high-traffic road in the federal highway system, it functions not only as a thoroughfare for vehicles but also a community space, with residential development and neighborhood-serving businesses on both sides.

The study found that neighborhood residents had many concerns about the road, including difficulty and danger of crossing it, and that it was noisy and blighted. But they weren’t very successful at winning support for proposals that would address those concerns.

“Their main concerns were excluded,” authors Carolyn McAndrews and Justine Marcus wrote, “even if some of their ideas were adopted.”

The planning process itself — led by the state, which produced the official Environmental Impact Assessment — presented three major barriers for residents of the neighborhood:

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Wisconsin’s Outdated Transportation Priorities Are Alienating Young People

Over-spending on roads is a bad idea for any state DOT. But it’s an especially bad idea if that state needs to retain more young people who don’t want to be shackled to cars.

From WISPIRG's survey of 530 college students.

Most college students surveyed by WISPIRG said they value having transportation options besides driving.

That’s the situation Wisconsin finds itself in, as detailed in a report the WISPIRG Foundation released today called, “Driving Wisconsin’s ‘Brain Drain’: How Outdated Transportation Policies Undermine Wisconsin’s Ability to Attract and Retain Young Talent for Tomorrow’s Economic Prosperity.”

“Policy makers and the public need to be aware that state and federal transportation policy — dominated by road-building — are fundamentally out-of-step with the transportation patterns and expressed preferences of growing numbers of students and young professionals in Wisconsin,” wrote WISPIRG Director Bruce Speight. “It is poor transportation policy and poor economic development.”

In a non-scientific survey of 530 college students in the state, conducted both online and on campuses, 47 percent of respondents told WISPIRG that having transportation options other than driving is “very important” to them when they think about where they’ll live after graduation. An additional 35 percent said it was “somewhat important.” Sixty percent said they’d be at least “somewhat more likely” to stay in Wisconsin after graduation if they could get around without driving.

The survey results echo those from a Rockefeller Foundation/Transportation for America study, released last month, which found that four in five respondents wanted to live in a city where they could get around without a car and two-thirds said access to high-quality transportation was one of their top three criteria for choosing a place to live.

Speight says state policymakers have ignored the needs and desires of the very people that Wisconsin should be trying to court.

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Earth Day Resolution: Stop Building Projects Like the Zoo Interchange

zoo

Leading up to Earth Day, the New York Times ran an editorial, “Time Is Running Out,” lamenting the lack of urgency in the United States to prevent a very urgent problem: catastrophic climate change. Today, Brad Plumer at Vox explained why it may be too late to keep average temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels — the threshold that climate scientists have been warning about.

There are many steps we’ll have to take to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But one of them is most definitely this: America has to stop spending billions on projects like Wisconsin’s Zoo Interchange and start getting serious about building places where people can get around by walking, biking, and taking transit.

The Zoo Interchange embodies America’s broken transportation spending system, which former US DOT official Beth Osborne described on Atlantic Cities today as “an entitlement for state departments of transportation to allocate for their own priorities.”

This single highway interchange, aimed at reducing delays for suburban car commuters in the nation’s 30th largest city, costs more than total federal spending on walking and biking annually.

The Zoo Interchange carries 300,000 cars per day. It is “Wisconsin’s oldest and busiest interchange,” according to the state. A big part of Wisconsin DOT’s justification for the Milwaukee interchange is “safety.” According to WisDOT, there were an average of 2.5 collisions a day on the interchange between 2000 and 2005 and nine were fatal.

By comparison, according to the 2009 National Household Travel Survey, Americans make about 112 million walking trips daily. About 4,000 pedestrians are killed annually on American roads.

And yet, Wisconsin will spend more on this one sprawl-inducing highway project than the feds spend each year on all walking and biking projects combined.

Clearly, our priorities are out of whack — way out of whack.

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The Fuzzy Math in the Road Lobby’s Memo to Congress

ARTBA would prefer that you not look too closely at this graph. Thank you for your cooperation. Image: Doug Short/##http://www.investing.com/analysis/vehicle-miles-driven:-another-population-adjusted-low-206969##Investing##

ARTBA would prefer that you not look too closely at this graph. Thank you for your cooperation. Graph: Doug Short/Investing

Don’t know what to make of the news that U.S. driving rates have dropped for the ninth year in a row? Looking for guidance about whether your state or city should be wantonly expanding roads or investing in transit, biking, and walking? The road lobby thinks you should turn to them for independent, unbiased analysis of these trends. Never fear, the road lobby says: Americans are driving more than ever. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. More lanes for everybody!

That’s the word from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, which issued a memo Friday [PDF] to Congressional aides clarifying some “false claims” about transportation trends.

In virtually every recent congressional hearing and many media reports about federal transportation policy, the false claim that “Americans are driving less” emerges in some capacity. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) data show U.S. vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased 0.3 percent in 2012 and 0.6 percent in 2013. The upward trend is anticipated to continue well into the future as the nation’s economy and population continues to grow. This factual disconnect confuses discussions about the relative viability of various means to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund and support future federal highway and public transportation investments. The reality is that American driving trends are driven largely by macro-economic forces, not agenda-seizing assertions about shifts in societal behavior.

Take that, agenda seizers! See, VMT is increasing — albeit slower than the population, and slower than transit ridership. Drivers have already made up a third of the miles “lost” since the recession (and surely they’ll make up the rest any day now). The last 70 months of stagnant driving is nothing but a blip. Right?

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