A Plea for States Like Ohio to Wake Up to the “New Reality”

Ohio’s cities have been declining, and traffic congestion isn’t the problem. The highway system, if anything, is overbuilt.

Jason Segedy director of Akron's regional council of governments says Ohio is headed down the wrong road, transportation-wise. Photo: Akronist
Jason Segedy, director of Akron’s regional council of governments, says Ohio’s transportation policies make its economic problems worse. Photo: Akronist

But state authorities continue to prioritize highway building over every other form of transportation spending. Jason Segedy, the head of Akron’s regional council of governments, is sounding the alarm about it.

At his blog, Notes from the Underground, Segedy recently published “An Open Letter to Ohio’s Public Officials.” He says the state should shift focus entirely and immediately:

I no longer believe the dogma that is proffered by much of the mainstream economic development, planning, and engineering professions. The practitioners in these professions increasingly function as priests, rather than scientists. And I reject their statement of faith.

That statement of faith being: “More highway capacity is the path to economic prosperity.”

If that were the case, Ohio (the 7th largest state with the 4th largest interstate system) should be tearing it up economically. Instead, we are one of the slowest growing states in the union (44th); our economic growth lags far behind the nation as a whole (which is why our population growth is virtually non-existent); and our state contains (with the exception of Columbus) the weakest performing central cities of any one state in the union.

Our cities are bucking just about every major national trend when it comes to urban revitalization and job creation, and I simply don’t believe that more transportation infrastructure or less “congestion” (such as it is) is the cure for what ails them.

Our biggest economic problem in Ohio today is not the inability to get goods and services to market. Our biggest economic problem is economic inequality — a lack of economic opportunities for the poor and the working class — most of whom are clustered in our central cities, our inner ring suburbs, and our towns.

Increasingly, our jobs are being created far from the people that need them the most. Our prevailing transportation and economic development policy means that these people face either:  a) a long, inconvenient bus ride; b) owning and operating a car that they will have a lot of trouble paying for; or c) no job at all.

Our problem is this:  in most urban core neighborhoods, inner ring suburbs, and towns, there is poor transportation access to work and shopping (because most employers and stores have left these communities), and there is a corresponding lack of place-based economic development in the form of local entrepreneurship and small business growth.

Segedy says the states transportation leaders aren’t bad people. For the most part, it’s institutional inertia that keeps “our transportation priorities… misaligned with our needs,” he says.

Elsewhere on the Network today: South Jerseyist explains how the region’s job sprawl traps people in poverty. Greater Greater Washington‘s David Alpert says DC has run out of big ideas for transit. And Transport Providence explains why Rhode Island should tear down the aging 6/10 Connector.

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