The Big Dig's Unintended Consequence: More Traffic

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Boston's Big Dig--the most expensive highway project ever completed in the U.S., which gave Boston "a gleaming new highway system that has made zipping beneath Boston and Boston Harbor much easier"--has had a very ironic and unintended consequence: more traffic. This, of course, is on top of the other unintended consequences of the Big Dig (namely, charges of corruption, fraud, subpar construction, being massively over budget and over schedule, and "a ceiling collapse in the connector tunnel in July 2006 killed a motorist). Read on to find out why a $15 billion project designed to decrease traffic in Boston has had the opposite effect.According to the Boston Globe, while the Big Dig succeded in increasing "overall mobility by allowing more people to travel at peak times. . .most travelers who use the tunnels are still spending time in traffic jams - just not in the heart of the city, where bumper-to-bumper was a way of life on the old elevated artery." In other words, whereas traffic jams were primarily a downtown phenomenon, "the bottlenecks [have been] pushed outward, as more drivers jockey for the limited space on the major commuting routes."

In fact, the time it takes to travel certain routes has actually doubled as a result of the project. What's perhaps more surprising than these findings is the fact that no one saw it coming. After all, what did people expect? If you build more roads, and don't at the same time provide for more public transit, then sure enough, more people will drive on those roads. At first, people who would avoid driving during rush hour because of the maddening traffic start driving again as they see that the roads are more open. Before long, the expanded roads are filled to capacity again, a new stasis is achieved, and there is a demand for more roads.

I've seen this cycle in Los Angeles, a city that is living proof of why building endless roads is a dead-end strategy. So yes, the Big Dig buried underground what was once an eyesore in the city, and it reduced traffic downtown. But it was also massively expensive, poorly thought out, and has merely pushed the traffic outward. Maybe next time a major U.S. city spends $15 billion on transportation, it will be more a smart network of rail, Bus Rapid Transit, bike lanes and, yes, well designed roads for vehicles.

Via: Boston Globe
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