Use the Stimulus Bill to Complete Our Nation’s Streets

PortlandChicane.jpgOne of the most encouraging moments in last week's PBS NOW documentary about Charlotte, NC came when Mayor Pat McCrory pointed out the importance of "complete streets" to the success of the city's new light rail system. "Transit alone doesn't transform neighborhoods," said McCrory. "The key is how you connect those neighborhoods to the train stations, with well-planned sidewalks that create a walkable community."

True enough. And that's just part of why it's so important that the street construction paid for by the stimulus package (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA, to call it by its formal name) be designed with the complete streets model in mind.

The National Complete Streets Coalition has put together some helpful resources for communities interested in identifying opportunities for building complete streets with ARRA funding:

Projects that help complete the street network for safe travel by all modes should get priority in the spending authorized under ARRA. Using stimulus funds to help cities and towns rebuild their roadways as complete streets would improve safety while reducing traffic, air pollution, energy use, and carbon emissions. …Most of the ARRA funds commonly referred to as money for ‘roads and bridges’ are being distributed through the Surface Transportation Program, which provides great flexibility to state Departments of Transportation and Metropolitan Planning Organizations for use on a variety of projects. States and MPOs should use the additional STP funds from ARRA to make a down payment on bringing their transportation systems to a good state of repair and investing in a system for the 21st Century. 

Quality road projects that help create complete streets are part of both repair and building for the future.  STP funds can also be used for transit capital improvements that would ensure safe and convenient access to bus stops and train stations. In addition, $825 million of the ARRA funds are set aside for the Transportation Enhancements program, which is often used for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. In addition to the transportation funds in the bill, Community Development Block Grant Funds ($1 billion) and Energy Efficiency Block Grant Funds ($2.8 billion) include bicycle and pedestrian improvements as eligible uses.

As the Complete Streets Coalition says, "incomplete streets are dangerous and create barriers for people to get to jobs, school, the doctor, and fully participate in civic life." Every day, we see tragic examples of how true that is. State and city governments should spend the stimulus money on infrastructure that serves all citizens safely and efficiently.