Thursday, March 31, 2011

Road planning from the disco era - the rest of the story

In putting together my op-ed, "Road planning from the disco era," the limitations of space and time required me to leave out some juicy tidbits. You lucky blog readers now may read the rest of the story.

I wrote that the N.C. Turnpike Authority is required by the feds to analyze impacts/effects of the very roads that the authority is, by law, expected to build. The point here is that the legislature, for example with the 1989 Highway Trust Fund, decides to build roads well in advance of any detailed and painstaking analysis of whether the damage they'll do will be worse than their benefits. Today, significant questions have been raised about both Gaston County's Garden Parkway and the Monroe Bypass – the latter having been ordered up by legislature in 1989.

Let's let politicians, not planners, choose the routes. March 17 the General Assembly passed, and the next day the governor signed, a bill that in essence requires the N.C. Turnpike Authority to consider only one route – the most sprawl-inducing one – for the proposed Triangle Expressway Southeast Extension toll road, a link of Raleigh's I-540 outer loop. The bill, sponsored by Wake Sens. Dan Blue, D, and Sen. Richard Stevens, R, appears to box the turnpike authority into such a spot that it might not be able to meet federal law. The feds require analysis of several alternatives.

"We think that they've probably backed themselves into an untenable corner," says David Farren of the Southern Environmental Law Center. He adds, "What's most outrageous is just the idea of going as far out as you possibly can, which means the road is longer, the road is more expensive and it's more sprawl-inducing." The SELC has filed two lawsuits contesting what it says are improprieties and falsifications involving the federal impact study for the Monroe Bypass.

Why spend only $15 million when you can spend $800 million? Another tidbit that didn't make the column: The SELC found a 2007 NCDOT study showing that for $15 million, traffic flows on U.S. 74 in Union County could be improved significantly by changing lights, timing and intersections. The N.C. Turnpike Authority, engaged in studying the $800 million Monroe Bypass which aims to alleviate congestion on U.S. 74, didn't even know that study existed, Farren says.

The state doesn't do land use planning. And Richard Nixon wasn't a crook and Bill Clinton never had sex with that woman. When the state plans highways, it engages in land use planning. Next time the state agrees to spend your tax dollars to build a bypass for a city that hasn't had the sense to say no to congestion-causing highway sprawl development, the state should not pony up dime one until the local government enacts unambiguous land use and zoning ordinances that will prevent said sprawl, including single-family subdivisions, from the new bypass.

The chances of that happening? About like snowballs in hell.


Anonymous said...

So the new partisans in charge would kill $500 million for maintenance and modernization of NCRR, yet quickly spend $800 for an entirely new turnpike (and not a dime of that for maintaining existing US-74 or NC-218)?

Something is wrong, when upgrades to existing facilities (NCRR) are wasteful, yet building entirely new parallel facilities (Monroe By-Pass) are not.

If cost effectiveness doesn't matter, these are not true fiscal conservatives. These new partisans in charge are just populists against sound investments that don't benefit their voters, yet for wasteful projects that buy them votes.