AASHTO: America’s Best Transportation Projects Are All Highways

Are you ready to be inspired?

Well, good, because the American Association of State Highway and Transportation just released its list of finalists for the “America’s Transportation Award” Grand Prize. These ten projects span every sector of the transportation world, from enormous highway projects to … less enormous highway projects and highway bridges.

Maryland's Intercounty Connector, built "for 20 years of future sprawl," is an AASHTO favorite. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/dougtone/5516731012/##dougtone/Flickr## via ##http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/13216/why-is-the-icc-so-empty-how-long-will-it-stay-that-way/##GGW##

Voting is open through October 19. Who will win the top prize?

One candidate is Maryland’s $2.4 billion Intercounty Connector, a “19-mile multimodal highway.” This road was “designed for 20 years of future sprawl,” wrote Greater Greater Washington, and today its wide asphalt expanses are a testament to how little the region needed this project to be built. Here’s an actual headline from a local radio station: “Why does ICC seem so empty?

Then there’s California DOT, a.k.a. Caltrans, which was nominated for its $5 million “carmageddon” communications campaign. It saved Los Angeles from complete meltdown when one portion of I-405 was closed last summer. Either that or the short-term closure of a single highway isn’t the end of the world after all.

Another highway AASHTO honors is the I-270 project in St. Louis, which “redesigned and reconstructed” three roadway projects and came in under budget. The goal of this project? To reduce congestion. Never mind that the Texas Transportation Institute ranks St. Louis third from last in congestion, or that as the scourge of congestion has been systematically eliminated in this city, people have actually spent more time behind the wheel.

Not a single transit, bike or pedestrian project makes AASHTO’s list. Is there any better indication that the majority of America’s state DOTs still view job number one as building highways?

Jake Lynch at the Rails to Trails blog was disappointed, given AASHTO’s recent guidance on the importance of accommodating bike and pedestrian travel:

[Of all the projects on AASHTO’s top 10 list] the Max Brewer Bridge replacement project in Florida comes closest to serving those many millions of Americans eager to embrace active transportation as a better way to get around; it does include a bike and pedestrian pathway. (This was not, however, listed by AASHTO in their description of the project’s successes.)

AASHTO executive director John Horsley said these projects were remarkable for their “innovation and discipline.” Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and our peers in the new Partnership for Active Transportation, will be working hard in the coming decades to enlighten this restricted understanding of what the term “transportation” actually means to millions of Americans.

America’s Transportation Award is given jointly by AASHTO, AAA, and the US Chamber of Commerce.

  • Ha, well you’ll never win an award decided by AAA if it doesn’t feature automobile traffic to the exclusion of everything else. What’s the chance they’d ever decide to praise a pedestrian bridge somewhere? Have you seen their PR guy on the news? They talk as if America is in desperate need of more highways everywhere and anywhere. 

    Not surprised Maryland made the list. If you look at the history of transportation projects in that state, you’ll find an endless list of voter-opposed “connectors”, abandoned plans, marooned highway ramps, unfinished ramp stubs, and underutilized roads.

  • Yes, I was going to say – an award for bike infrastructure over AAA’s dead body! 

  • Joe R.

    To paraphrase a famous quote:

    “The AAA never met a highway it didn’t like”.

  • That is a fairly expensive highway for Maryland.Taking the total cost $2.4 billion dividing by mile gives it $126 million per mile, divide by 6, it is $21 million per lane mile. That certainly ain’t cheap for highway expansion. I do wonder how much per mile it would cost for DC metro though.

  • Perhaps NACTO should come out with their own list of the country’s most innovative projects. My guess is it would include non-motorized transportation projects.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    But are there actually any good transit projects in the US, as measured other than by “Pork Expended” or as graded solely against other US-only “Special Olympics” amateur hour ineptitude?

    The freeway projects may be wretched environmental catastrophes, but the design, quality and cost-effectiveness of US transit is so appalling that it’s hard to know where to find anything defensible, let alone laudable.

  • Anonymous

    Dan, you ask about cost of Metro per mile vs the $21 million per highway lane mile.
    Metro depends on whether it is in tunnel or above ground, tunneling is much more expensive.  But in Tyson’s Corner, running as subway allows real estate to go from valuable if it was next to an open track, to way the hell more valuable if the track is buried.

    The other, and bigger factor to account for is CAPACITY.  One highway lane can move 1,200 cars per hour – at the typical suburban passenger loading of 1.1 per car, that moves about 1,320 people per lane per hour; or just under 4,000 per hour on all three lanes.  The body count would vary if there are more trucks – less cars, or more people per car, or a lot of buses on the road.  Even then, express busways peak out at 12,000 people per hour per lane.

    Metro rail service, on the other hand, can move about 40,000 people per track per hour.
    Really, 40,000. Even on outer branches that split half the trains running through downtown D.C. trains there are 20,000 per hour. 

    So Metro trains on a single track move 33 times more people than a single lane of cars on a freeway.  33 times. One track moves 10 times more people than the whole 3 lane freeway.

    Cost Effectiveness Answer:  Based on the dollars per person moved – a back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that Metro could cost 33 times more than a single lane of the highway and still break even.  Or 10 times more than the total cost of the 6 lane highway and break even.

    On one hand, this does not factor in operating and maintenance costs of the trains, or the cars and highway – neither a negligible number.  But Metro is not coming in at 33 times the cost of new freeways

  • Anonymous

    Richard, there are good transit projects.
    New York’s 2nd Ave Subway, even at several billion dollars, will be moving a hell of a lot of people.  People who are now walking 3/4 mile or more to squeeze onto the overcrowded Lexington Ave subway.  Others just take taxis and car service or even drive from the far East Side.  The new subway will save people time, effort, money.  It will take people out of motor vehicles – yes the taxi industry will take a hit.  This line is in an incredibly dense area, and needed it 60 years ago.  It is expensive to build and run, but cost effective.

    Metro was built out into what were corn fields in the mid 1970s.  Today, there are corridors of high density housing, offices and retail along the rail lines, and just beyond the corridor, more typical single family houses and garden apartments.  Thousands more people per square mile can be housed and work by having the rail line, versus driving slowly for hours.

    Compare Wash DC metro area and Atlanta for quality of life.  I’m not saying that DC has no traffic jams or that Metro is always on time.  But Atlanta is well on it’s way to imploding from a near total dependence on single autos for all transportation.  Atlanta actually makes Los Angeles look good.  Transit is the difference.

    Go chase the APTA web site – their data is usually more reliable than AAA or the state DOTs.

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  • Can we start a petition to get AASHTO to add “None of the above.” to vote on?

  • The board responsible for all transportation planning projects, plans and services in the US. The pilot program is not attached to funding at this point, but participating agencies might have a better chance at receiving funds in the future.According to the resolution, the planning prepares for growth and anticipates problems rather than dealing with them when they become a major issue.

  • B4daylight

    Maybe they should come out with the deadliest highway awards. 

    That way maybe engineers won’t be on that list. 

  • Nathanael

    “But are there actually any good transit projects in the US,  ”

    Richard, even YOU should be able to appreciate these:
    – Minneapolis-St. Paul Central Corridor
    – San Diego Trolley Renewal Project

  • Roadblock


    America’s Transportation Award is given jointly by AASHTO, AAA, and the US Chamber of Commerce.” There’s your answer. AAA is a 501.4c lobbying group with 48 million (mostly unsuspecting )car driving supporters. The US chamber of commerce would be part of the same regime of pro-car enthusiasts…. 

  • Erik Griswold

    Roadblock is right on target! 

    ” AGC serves on the management committee of this US Chamber of Commerce lead coalition ”

    http://www.agc.org/cs/markets/highway_transportation 

    (AGC = Associated General Contractors)

  • Morgans Junk Inbox1

    And Metro riders buy tickets.

  • Mabel Torres

    Well, nice to know that Marylands Intercounty Connector is in favor of AASHTO. Good achievement America.

  • I pick on the choice of the ICC here: http://www.baltimorespokes.org/article.php?story=20120908230657671

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