Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Expanding interstates in the age of declining driving

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation wants to expand I-39/90 from Madison to the Illinois border to a whopping six lanes. Frankly, this makes about as much sense to me as does the Pabst Farms interchange project in Milwaukee: none at all.

Though they've come down from their recent extreme highs, I really doubt that gas prices are going to come down so much that we as a nation return to our big gas guzzling cars and frivolous drives to get our mail at the end of the driveway any time soon (if ever). Studies point to a major decrease in the amount of miles Americans are driving, politicians are finally getting the memo about properly funding things like public transportation and walkable/bikeable neighborhoods, and the general trend, though at times frustratingly slow to take hold, is toward a better mix of transportation modes.

Why, then, spend hundreds of millions of dollars on an interstate expansion? The project also includes plans to upgrade old bridges, which I'm all for, but the part where they intend to make it six lanes is, I believe, ridiculous. That money could be better spent on more crucial infrastructure improvements--like the bridges, preexisting roads that are in sorry shape, bike lanes, sewer upgrades, etc.

To say nothing of aesthetics. Big, sprawling interstates are ugly, and the construction of them tends to tear up farm land and countryside, and cause more polluting runoff.

And anyway, should we really be encouraging more vehicles to be on the road? WisDOT is holding public meetings in two locations where anyone can come see and hear about the plan, and offer their input. I'm hopeful that there will be enough reasonable questioning of the lane expansion that it gets scrapped, but then the cynical part of me has been watching what's going on in Milwaukee and isn't so sure that reason plays as big a role as it should when it comes to decisions like this.


Cam said...

I don't frequently drive to Chicago, but I do make the trip 5-6 times annually sometimes taking the bus and sometimes driving myself and I have to say that I don't notice a traffic problem until I am in the Chicago suburbs, I don't really see why expanding the highway is necessary. I’ll have to take a look at the DOT’s justification before I pass judgment.

Anonymous said...

Yea we aren't all too thrilled here in Milwaukee as the DOT wants to expand I94 from Milwaukee to the border. Again a wasteful project.

Emily said...

Cam - Ditto. I drive down to Chicago on a fairly regular basis, and I've never had problems with traffic until I hit the Chicago 'burbs - excepting, of course, incidents where there were accidents and/or massive fog-related cluster fucks.

I'm curious to hear the DOT's explanation for why they think this is needed, but so far I'm not at all convinced.

Dave - Yeah, that project is so messed up. I like how nearly 100% of public feedback has been opposed to it, and yet they're still barreling ahead. Ridiculous.

George H. said...

Considering there is an effort, already funded, I believe, to expand the train access between Chicago and the Twin Cities, I wonder about this, too.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for common sense expansion of roads. I'm not suggesting that this project makes sense or not, but I do take issue with the statement that:

"And anyway, should we really be encouraging more vehicles to be on the road?"

It is not the business of government to encourage or discourage people driving on the roads. It is the business of government to provide infrastructure for those who wish to do so.

Artificially lowering capacity to discourage driving is just as wrong as increasing capacity more than is necessary.

Emily said...

Nick - I hear you. I wasn't trying to suggest that the government should be, say, tearing out roads or decreasing their current size. Even if I do think certain roads are way too big for their britches.

But I think there may be a difference between tearing out and just not expanding. There are also other ways to decrease traffic snarls--better public transportation is a big one.

Anonymous said...

But if traffic demand does increase, then not expanding is just as bad as tearing out roads. My point is that it's not up to you, or government, to decide how best for people to get around.

Public transportation works for certain situations, and certain people, but it's unfair to artificially increase the pain of driving just so more people will ride the rails, or something else, when if all things were equal (ie - no government intervention) people might otherwise want to drive.

The Lost Albatross