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Posts from the Highway Expansion Category

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Will Cleveland Finally Get Serious About Confronting Sprawl?

Northeast Ohio has been sprawling outward without adding overall population. The result is vacancy in urban areas. Map: NEOSCC

Northeast Ohio has been sprawling outward without adding population. The result is vacancy in urban areas. Map: NEOSCC (Click to enlarge.)

The Cleveland region has been struggling with sprawl for a long time.

Since the 1970s, the regional population has shrunk while housing and jobs have spread outward — a combination that has devastated urban areas in particular.

Transportation policy is a big part of the problem. Northeast Ohio keeps widening highways, facilitating quick suburban commutes and fueling sprawl. This weakens the places that are already the most vulnerable. Cleveland recently topped a national list of “most distressed cities,” and its neighbor East Cleveland is on the verge of bankruptcy.

Most Ohio governors and state transportation chiefs are oblivious or worse, pursuing policies that promote job sprawl, undermine transit, and lavish resources on highways.

One agency that could change this dynamic is the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), the regional planning agency charged with dispensing federal transportation funds. Until very recently, however, NOACA was not up to the task.

Sparsely populated rural counties have disproportionate influence at NOACA compared to dense urban areas, and rivalries within the agency often pitted low-income urban communities against newer, wealthy suburbs. In lieu of actual economic growth, many of the outlying suburbs were happy to simply siphon off businesses and houses from close-in communities.

Rather than confront this dysfunction, for years NOACA’s leadership mostly shied away from it. Funding was awarded project-by-project to satisfy political demands, rather than to achieve specific policy goals like broad-based economic growth, better access to jobs, or environmental sustainability. In essence, the regional planning agency didn’t do any planning, local environmental leader David Beach has said.

But now NOACA is trying to correct that, says the agency’s new director, Grace Gallucci, who took the job in 2012 after working at Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority.

Read more…

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How San Diego Planners Spun the Press to Sell Highway Expansions

How far will transportation agencies go to spin public perception of their highway expansion plans? San Diego’s KPBS has produced a brilliant case study in this video and the accompanying report — a deep dive into the media operation mounted by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) to defend its slate of highway expansion projects.

In late 2011, SANDAG passed a long-term transportation plan with a slew of highway expansions guaranteed to increase pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, the agency hailed its work as an environmental victory, the first such plan in California to meet the state’s supposedly stringent new sustainability goals.

Environmental groups weren’t fooled. They sued SANDAG on the basis that the agency failed to account for the increased traffic generated by highways, and they were soon joined by California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Rather than make any substantive policy changes, SANDAG has doubled down on highway expansion in the latest update to its long-range plan (which has to be refreshed every four years). The updated plan calls for 1,757 miles of additional freeway capacity to be built in the next 35 years.

SANDAG’s plan slates the transit and biking projects far into the future while those highway miles are going to get built much sooner. Even taking the multi-modal projects into account, wrote CityLab‘s Eric Jaffe, “It’s the complete opposite of everything the state hopes to achieve.”

SANDAG officials anticipated pushback from the environmental groups that were suing them. So naturally it deployed an expensive, highly-coordinated media strategy to sell the public on the environmental virtues of its highway expansion project list and ensure its passage.

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Maine DOT Bullies Local Planners Into Voting for Highway Expansion

Here’s a story about how DOTs can ram through road projects that locals don’t even want.

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Maine DOT’s jolly logo for a road project nobody wants.

Regional planners in Bangor, Maine, say they were forced to approve a highway expansion project because the state DOT threatened to pull all of the region’s transportation funding.

The 395-Route 9 Connector is a $61 million project that will link two other highways and speed freight truck trips to and from Canada. Towns in the footprint of the project, which would demolish eight homes, say it’s not needed and the money would be better spent on other things. Maine DOT has not been deterred.

Representatives from the Bangor Area Comprehensive Transportation System — the regional planning agency — told the Bangor Daily News they were “held hostage” by state officials who said they would withhold $57 million in region transportation funds if the highway wasn’t approved.

The state had added the highway project to its spending plan last summer. But officials in the Bangor area resisted adding the project to their own transportation plan. Without the regional agency’s approval, the state could not get the final go-ahead for the project from the Federal Highway Administration.

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Anthony Foxx Wants to Repair the Damage Done By Urban Highways

During the first two decades of the Interstate Highway system, almost half a million households were displaced. Most were low income and people of color, Foxx said.

During the first two decades of constructing the Interstate Highway System, almost half a million households were forced to leave their homes.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is offering a surprisingly honest appraisal of America’s history of road construction this week, with a high-profile speaking tour that focuses on the damage that highways caused in black urban neighborhoods.

U.S Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx spoke at the Center for American progress today about the legacy of discrimination in transportation. Image: CAP

U.S Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx spoke at the Center for American progress today about the highway system’s legacy of discrimination. Image: CAP

Growing up in Charlotte, Foxx’s own street was walled in by highways, he recalled in a speech today at the Center for American Progress. Building big, grade-separated roads through thickly settled neighborhoods devastated communities, uprooted residents, and cut off the people who remained from the city around them.

“The people in my community at the time these decisions were made were actually not invisible,” he said. “It is just that at a certain stage in our history, they didn’t matter.”

From I-95 in the Overtown neighborhood in Miami, to the Staten Island Expressway, to I-5 in Seattle, freeways divided and weakened city neighborhoods all over the country. Foxx estimates that nearly 500,000 households were compelled to relocate by the construction of the interstate highway system between 1957 and 1977. Most were people of color living in low-income neighborhoods.

“Areas of this country where infrastructure is supposed to connect people, in some places it’s actually constraining them,” he said.

The speech marks the launch of a new initiative spearheaded by Foxx called “Ladders of Opportunity,” which aims to shape transportation policy based on how infrastructure can serve as a barrier, or bridge, to jobs, education, and better health.

Foxx’s power is limited. U.S. DOT doesn’t have the authority to simply turn off the federal funding spigot for projects like the Detroit region’s $4 billion plan to widen two highways, siphoning resources from struggling inner suburbs to more affluent, farther-flung communities. The transportation secretary can’t wave his hand and stop Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper from pumping more traffic and air pollution through north Denver with the widening of I-70.

Of the $60 billion in annual federal funding allocated to surface transportation, 90 percent is doled out to state and local agencies by formula, Foxx noted. The remaining 10 percent funds U.S. DOT operations, discretionary programs like TIGER, and transportation research.

Even when U.S. DOT is poised to back a project that aims to benefit a disadvantaged community, local politics often gets in the way.

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Via Streetsblog Denver
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Denver Residents Sue to Stop John Hickenlooper’s Highway Boondoggle

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Children at Swansea Elementary School have taken recess next to I-70 for decades. Widening the highway by four lanes will make the air they breathe more harmful. Photo: David Sachs

North Denver neighborhood organizations and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit in federal court today to stop Colorado DOT’s I-70 boondoggle, which will increase traffic and create more air pollution for generations to come if it’s built.

The communities around the highway are exposed to elevated levels of particulate pollution, which leads to higher rates of chronic cardiovascular diseases. Widening the highway by four lanes will only make the problem worse, but Governor John Hickenlooper is letting his DOT move forward with the project.

Governor Hickenlooper has let his DOT proceed with a project that will make air quality for north Denver neighborhoods worse for generations.

“CDOT now has a golden opportunity to correct a half-century of harm done to Denver citizens,” said Becky English of Sierra Club’s Rocky Mountain Chapter. “We hope this lawsuit causes CDOT to investigate removing the traffic and pollution from north Denver neighborhoods.”

To receive federal funding, Colorado DOT determined that adding four travel lanes would not violate national air quality standards. Those findings were based on newer EPA guidelines — “issued with no public notice last November” — that advocates say are too lenient [PDF]. Under the EPA’s previous guidelines, CDOT’s claims wouldn’t fly, according to the lawsuit, which names the EPA as the defendant.

Here’s more from the statement:

Denver Environmental Health reported in 2014 that residents in the north Denver neighborhoods adjacent to I-70 experience a 70% greater rate of mortality from heart disease than other neighborhoods in Denver not affected by highway pollution, and 40% greater frequency of urgent care for children suffering from severe asthma compared to other parts of Denver. CDOT’s analysis of air quality after the proposed expansion of I-70 shows a further degradation of air quality. This will exacerbate these health impacts, especially on seniors and children in the primarily minority and low-income communities of Globeville, Elyria and Swansea.

“The residents of the Elyria and Swansea know many neighbors who, because of the pollution, have suffered debilitating diseases, died of pollution-related causes, or moved away,” said Drew Dutcher, president of the Elyria and Swansea Neighborhood Coalition. “We need to protect ourselves.”

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The Complete Case Against Highway Widening in Detroit

Detroit in 1949 versus how it appears today. Images: AtDetroit.net via Streetsblog

Detroit in 1949 versus today. Images: AtDetroit.net

Michigan DOT wants to spend $1 billion rebuilding and widening I-75 to Detroit’s sprawling northern suburbs, at the expense of the city and close-in suburbs. Royal Oak, a walkable suburb that borders the city, is not having it.

The City Council passed a resolution unanimously this week officially opposing the widening of I-75 as well as the expansion of I-94. The two highway projects combined would add up to $4 billion in misplaced spending for a region that is badly in need of new strategies.

The text of Royal Oak’s resolution is pretty great [PDF]. It eviscerates the state’s plans and lays out a policy vision that would be great for the region if Michigan DOT ever gets smart enough to change direction.

Take a look:

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Sober Non-Partisan Analysis: America Wastes a Ton of Money on Highways

A good deal of the $46 billion the federal government pours into highway spending each year is going to waste, according to a new Congressional Budget Office report [PDF].

The conclusion won’t surprise regular Streetsblog readers, but it’s the source that’s interesting. The CBO is not an advocacy group or an ideologically-minded think tank. It’s a non-partisan budget watchdog charged with evaluating federal spending decisions, and it says federal highway funding is not well-spent.

For one, the CBO thinks too much is spent on road expansion and too little on maintenance. The construction of the Interstate Highway System made freight shipping and traveling between cities much more efficient, the report says, but since the system was completed in the 1970s spending on highways has been subject to diminishing returns. Current spending “has not shifted” to account for “the importance of maintaining existing capacity,” the CBO writes.

Compounding the problem is induced demand. The CBO points to a recent study finding that “the addition of new lanes is likely to have little effect on congestion within 10 years” as highway lanes fill with new drivers.

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Highway Boondoggles: Iowa’s U.S. 20 Widening

In a new report, Highway Boondoggles 2, U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group profile the most wasteful highway projects that state DOTs are building. Today we highlight the proposed 40-mile widening of U.S. 20 in Iowa, which will cost many times as much as fixing all the state’s structurally deficient highway bridges. 

In June 2015, the Iowa Transportation Commission, the public body that sets the state’s transportation priorities, voted to spend $286 million on widening 40 miles of U.S. 20 between Moville and Early from two to four lanes.

The section of U.S. 20 in Iowa that would be widened is shown in red. It will cost 40 percent of the revenue the state will receive from a recent gas tax. Image: U.S. PIRG

The section of U.S. 20 in Iowa that would be widened is shown in red. This single project will consume a significant chunk of the revenue collected from a statewide gas tax increase. Image: U.S. PIRG

The road passes through a rural area of northwest Iowa where population has barely changed since 2005, and isn’t expected to change through at least 2040. State transportation officials want to draw more truck traffic to and through the area, diverting some of the congestion now facing I-80 to U.S. 20 instead.

The state is saying the road needs to be built now to accommodate traffic that may develop more than 20 years into the future. Yet its projection of future traffic anticipates vehicle travel increases on that section of road far faster than recent data suggest. The existing two-lane rural highway can handle the traffic volume expected in 2039 in most locations, based on actual recent traffic growth.

Iowa’s highway design guidelines for two-lane rural arterials specify that they can handle more than 5,000 cars a day. If the 2011 through 2014 average growth rate were to remain stable through 2039, four of the nine relevant traffic counters on U.S. 20 would not see numbers exceeding 4,751 and a fifth would be at 5,154.

Iowa’s highway design guidelines are not as specific as other states, but according to Wisconsin’s highway design guidelines, the existing road could handle up to 8,700 cars a day. Only one of the nine traffic counters, east of Correctionville, would see daily traffic exceeding that level in 2039. To the extent that segment sees such a traffic increase, more localized solutions could be explored, rather than widening miles upon miles of highway two decades in advance.

The money slated to be spent on this unnecessary highway expansion could be used to restore Iowa’s existing roads, which are in bad shape and getting worse. In 2015, Iowa lawmakers passed an increased gas tax expected to raise $500 million between 2016 and 2020. The statement of legislative intent attached to the hike says, “It is the intent of the general assembly that 100 percent of the revenue produced as a result of the increase in the excise taxes… shall be used exclusively for critical road and bridge construction projects that significantly extend the life of such assets.”

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Highway Boondoggles: California’s 710 Tunnel

This pair of highway tunnels linking I-710 from Alhambra to I-210/ SR-710 in Pasadena will cost between $3.2 billion to $5.6 billion. Map: Caltrans

This pair of highway tunnels linking I-710 from Alhambra to I-210/
SR-710 in Pasadena will cost between $3.2 billion to $5.6 billion. Map: Caltrans

A proposal to drill a pair of highway tunnels is the most expensive, most polluting, least effective option for solving the San Gabriel Valley’s transportation problems.

A highway linking I-710 from Alhambra to I-210/ SR-710 in Pasadena was first proposed in the late 1950s. Ever since, efforts to build the highway have run into obstacles including insufficient funding, high environmental impact, and community objections.

In 1998, a proposal to build an eight-lane highway got so far as to receive final federal approval. That, too, was halted by concerns about environmental protection and historic preservation. The project saw renewed life in 2008 when Los Angeles County voters approved Measure R, a half-cent sales tax increase over the next 30 years, slated to raise $40 billion to be spent on a wide range of transportation projects. The majority — 65 percent — of that money was dedicated to improve the region’s transit system, including expanding bus and rail service Among the projects included in the plan was a “SR 710 Gap Closure” project to connect the northern and southern spurs of the 710, which was allocated $780 million.

A study released in March 2015 by the California Department of Transportation and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) identified four problems with the local area’s transportation system: it is inefficient, freeways are congested, local streets are also congested, and the area is poorly served by transit.

The report studied four major options for addressing these problems:

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Caption Contest: TxDOT’s Shiny Happy People Sucking in Highway Exhaust

Caption this rendering! Source: TxDOT

Your caption here. Source: TxDOT

This rendering of State Highway 45 Southwest in Austin — one of 12 highway boondoggles singled out by U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group this year — inspired some mockery on Twitter:

And that got us thinking… Caption contest! Give us your entry in the comments and we’ll choose a winner.