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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

This post by Ben Ross was originally posted at Dissent.

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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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 north 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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Freeway Fight: Scott Walker Wants to Drag Milwaukee Back to 1956

The mayor and residents of Milwaukee are fighting a massive urban highway project backed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

This site, in Milwaukee's Story Hill neighborhood, is where the state is proposing a two-level freeway. Photo: Urban Milwaukee

This site, in Milwaukee’s Story Hill neighborhood, is where Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wants a two-level freeway. Photo: Urban Milwaukee

Citing traffic congestion, the state is forging ahead with a $1.2 billion plan to expand Interstate 94. One design under consideration would stack freeway lanes on top of freeway lanes, double-decker style. The state says such a design is necessary to avoid moving veterans’ graves in cemeteries near the site.

Residents of Milwaukee staged protests against the state’s plans for Interstate 94 this week, saying the money would be better spent on transit and local roads. Yesterday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel he opposes the double-decker design, saying it would hurt neighborhoods, and vowed to try to stop it.

“Not only will this option cost exorbitant sums of money, it will have a negative impact on property values and disrupt the lives of Story Hill neighborhood residents,” Barrett said in a statement. ”I continue to oppose the double deck option and will continue to pursue all options to prevent its construction.”

Despite his claims of fiscal conservatism, Walker has pursued a campaign of wildly expensive highway widenings in his almost four-year tenure. He said forgoing the highway expansion would cost jobs.

“The bottom line is I said we’re looking at all possible options,” Walker said. “The only one I have definitively taken off the table is we’re not moving graves for that site. I think it’s imperative we go forward.”

One alternative to the double-decker design is adding a lane in the highway’s shoulders and narrowing the existing lanes. But state officials say that wouldn’t add enough capacity for one of the slowest growing metro areas in the United States.

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Milwaukee Protesters Try to Halt Double-Decker Freeway

Monday night, as the Wisconsin DOT went through the motions of a Power Point presentation about the latest highway expansion it wants to gouge through Milwaukee, a groups of protesters outside the meeting shouted their frustration with an agency that has spent lavishly on roads to the exclusion of all other modes.

The protesters’ message was simple. “Stop the highway.” Instead of sinking a billion dollars into another highway that won’t solve the region’s transportation problems, they called for different options: better transit, walking, and biking connections.

Right now, the state is only thinking about cramming more cars into the Milwaukee transportation network. Wisconsin has settled on two options for the Interstate 94 corridor, and both involved widening 3.5 miles of highway. The first proposal is an eight-lane at-grade freeway. The second and even more ridiculous option is a double-decker freeway. WisDOT put forward this latter design out of a desire to add lanes — to “manage congestion” — without having to actually unearth the graves of veterans in the cemetery surrounding the road.

But the protesters, who represent a coalition of groups from around the state and Milwaukee, reject both of the alternatives. That’s why instead of attending the meeting on Monday, they were outside protesting. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation should go back to the drawing board, said Bruce Speight of the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group, one of the organizing groups.

“We don’t need to expand the highway,” he said. “We need to give people real options.”

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Talking Headways Podcast: A Butterfly Flaps Its Wings In the Metro

At around 800 people per square mile, places go from voting red to voting blue. Image: ##http://davetroy.com/posts/the-real-republican-adversary-population-density##Dave  Troy##

At around 800 people per square mile, places go from voting red to voting blue. Image: Dave Troy

The metro is coming to Loudon County, Virginia. Eventually.

The Silver Line expansion that opens this summer will only go as far as Reston, but by 2018 it’ll be in Loudon, one of the nation’s fastest-growing — and wealthiest — counties.

As the county’s population continues to grow — especially among communities of color – will its density hit 800 people per square mile, which is the threshold at which places magically turn from Republican to Democrat? And if it does, will it turn Virginia from purple to blue? And with such an important swing state shifting solidly to one camp, does that change the national political balance? And what is it with the number 800 anyway?

We try to figure it all out on this week’s Talking Headways. Plus, Stephen Miller, my colleague from Streetsblog New York, joins us to talk about what is — and what isn’tmoving forward as part of the city’s Vision Zero plan.

And: Detroit is tearing down more than 20 percent of its housing stock to reduce blight and still splurges on roads. Is that the way to revitalize a city? The comments section awaits you.

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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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Detroit Has a $2 Billion Vacancy Crisis But the Region Still Splurges on Roads

On Tuesday, the results of a federal report on Detroit’s vacancy crisis made jaws drop: The pricetag for tearing down and cleaning up the city’s abandoned properties would be $1.85 billion, the report found.

Tearing down Detroit's abandoned residential and commercial structures would cost $1.85 billion -- far less than widening two highways in the area. Photo: Wikipedia

Transportation agencies are planning to spend billions on road projects that will only exacerbate Detroit’s vacancy problem. Photo: Wikipedia

Where the money will come from is a wide open question at this point. So is the more basic issue of whether tearing down dilapidated houses and factories is the best way to spend close to $2 billion to help Detroit.

But to put the figure in context and add a touch of irony, consider this: The Detroit region is moving forward with major highway expansion projects that will cost more than twice as much over the next decade as the proposal to address the vacancy problem.

Last year the Detroit regional planning agency approved close to $4 billion in spending to rebuild and expand I-94 and I-75 in the city and its nearby suburbs. These projects are moving forward despite widespread protests that they will further disinvestment in the urban core — a major factor in the city’s vacancy crisis.

This is a classic example of how the state, the regional planning agency, and the federal government have failed Detroit. It’s not that there’s no money flowing into the region — the money just can’t be used for what the city really needs. Instead, the big transportation bureaucracies just keep pumping money into the same kind of thing they’ve been doing for 50 years.

You’d think 40,000 vacant buildings would be a wakeup call that business as usual has failed. What will it take for the Detroit region to reexamine the planning policies that helped land it in this position?

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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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