Anyone proposing that this region doesn't need a lot of new pavement for wider highway lanes and new bypasses risks being tarred and feathered by angry motorists stuck in traffic.
So it's likely the recommendations in Sunday's 2008 Citistates Report either raised blood pressures or provoked a spasm of guffaws in many quarters. Writers Alex Marshall and Neal Peirce said it's wiser in the long run, for quality of life and economic reasons, to dial back road-building and dial up transit building.
It's a sound proposal. You know that old saying – if you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep getting what you always got? For decades we've been building highways and letting all kinds of development cluster along them, and then watching those new roads clog with traffic. So we build a “bypass” and let all kinds of development cluster along it, and …
This endless cycle will bankrupt taxpayers. There has to be a better way.
Consider the proposed Monroe bypass. It would bypass a congested stretch of U.S. 74 that long ago bypassed downtown Monroe. Once the old bypass was built, elected officials happily OK'd development, luring a shopping mall and much of Monroe's retail energy. Result: The “bypass” became a nightmarish blend of local Main Street and through highway. The new solution? A new bypass.
There's no reason to think Union County elected officials will say no to new development flocking to a new bypass. Indeed, developers have already snapped up land along the route. How long until the new bypass is as clogged as the old? Meanwhile, the old bypass deteriorates, as businesses move to the new one.
The estimated cost for the new Monroe bypass is $757 million – nearing twice the cost of Charlotte's new Lynx Blue Line. Why not spend those millions extending Charlotte's transit system to Monroe?
We're not saying new roads aren't needed. They are. But they should be built as extensions of city and town street networks. One reason U.S. 74 is clogged is the lack of multiple through streets between Charlotte and Monroe. Instead, that area is filled with subdivisions disconnected from each other.
The Citistates authors suggest not widening Interstate 85 through Cabarrus County. Given the problem of wide stretches necking down to a narrower one, we're not sure that idea works.
But their larger point is on target. Plan a transportation system that encourages development where infrastructure already exists – existing towns and neighborhoods. Give people more choices: transit, intercity rail, walking, bicycling.
Continuing to widen roads in hopes it will solve congestion is like continuing to punch holes in your belt in hopes it will solve your weight problem. It hasn't worked before. Why think it will now?