Thoughts on Freeway Widening and Public Transit


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Public Transit--A Tool of Appeasement?
Last November 4th I excitedly went to my local polling station to cast my ballot in the Presidential election. At the same time, I also voted on several ballot initiatives in my home state of Rhode Island, one of which had to do with funding for transportation. As I read through the description of the proposal, I couldn't help but notice that the vast majority of the money would go to highway improvements--presumably repairing roads and bridges, though it wasn't very specific--and there was a token amount allotted to increasing funding for buses and light rail. So despite the fact that the public transportation funding only amounted to a tiny fraction of the total spending, I couldn't in good conscience vote against it...right? Well, a recent article in the Sacramento Bee has me wondering whether that kind of scenario is played out across the country in order to appease those who are in favor of a less automobile-centric society.

Read on for more.In Sacramento, a "a landmark agreement between state officials and environmentalists to allow carpool lanes on Highway 50 in Rancho Cordova" was reached last week. Under the agreement, the Transportation Department will be allowed to move forward with adding seven miles of carpool lanes to a local section of highway. The plan had previously been opposed by environmentalists, who were "calling for more environmental review" before allowing the freeway widening project to continue. The impasse was broken when Caltrans "agreed to finance $7 million in improvements to the Sacramento Regional Transit light-rail line that parallels the freeway," as well as "to pay to make a pedestrian and bike crossing from an old railroad bridge over Highway 50 near Mather Field Road and a light-rail station."

So what to make of this? According to local environmentalists, "the deal gives Highway 50 corridor travelers more choice and shows the state can respect environmental law and still create jobs." I'm inclined to agree. This seems like a great arrangement--drivers get more lanes, commuters get more trains, and everyone should be happy. The only problem is that everyone knows what happens when freeways are widened--there is a temporary reduction in traffic, but soon people who avoided the drive because of traffic start hitting the roads again, the freeway fills to capacity, and new calls are made for widening the freeway.

In other words, while I applaud the cooperation evident in this arrangement, I question the logic of building ever more lanes for ever more vehicles, even if in this case they are carpool lanes. At some point, a priority will have to be placed on more efficient means of moving people around. What's more, the part about the pedestrian and bike crossing seems like a drop in the bucket, more valuable for public relations than to foster public transportation, cycling, or walking on any type of scale.

Finally, "similar talks are ongoing regarding another major transportation project subject to an environmental lawsuit – a fourth bore for the Caldecott Tunnel in the East Bay." What do you think? Recognizing that this kind of cooperation is a good thing, does that justify the end result of more roads, more congestion, more air pollution, etc?

Via: Sacramento Bee
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