This is the perfect example of what's wrong with the American mindset when it comes to transportation policy.
Today in the New York Times there is a great article about a river in South Korea that was once covered by a highway but is now thriving. Not only is it pretty to look at, but it's helping the environment and the economy.
The recovery project, which removed three miles of elevated highway as well, also substantially cut air pollution from cars along the corridor and reduced air temperatures. Small-particle air pollution dropped to 48 micrograms per cubic meter from 74 along the corridor, and summer temperatures are now often five degrees cooler than those of nearby areas, according to data cited by city officials.And even with the loss of some vehicle lanes in this city of 10 million people, traffic speeds have picked up because of related transportation changes like expanded bus service, restrictions on cars and higher parking fees.“We’ve basically gone from a car-oriented city to a human-oriented city,” said Lee In-keun, Seoul’s assistant mayor for infrastructure, who has been invited to places as distant as Los Angeles to describe the project to other urban planners.
Those are some pretty sweet results if you ask me. We talked about this a lot in my environment and society class last semester with regards to urban sprawl. It seems that everyone wins when society moves from car-centric to people-centric, but lawmakers can't get past the price tag and little words like "initial ridership" for public transportation. But think about how much we spend on road construction each year!
Which brings me to my next point.
It turns out that Wendi Johnson, a Wilson-based construction engineer for the state Department of Transportation, was right all along. And the central office experts were wrong.North Carolina will spend $13 million to correct their mistake, DOT officials said today, and to implement a recommendation Johnson made six years ago.In 2003 and 2004, Johnson urged DOT honchos in Raleigh not to scrimp on the thickness of pavement for the new 18-mile Interstate 795, a truck shortcut from Goldsboro to I-95 at Wilson.Citing her experience with other road projects in Eastern North Carolina, Johnson warned that DOT’s planned 5-inch pavement would be too thin and too weak to support the expected freeway traffic.Senior DOT planners rejected her plea to add 3 more inches of asphalt. They objected to the cost – an extra $2.8 million for a $196 million project.
Wow. Really? I see we have our priorities in the right place. So that puts the total cost (as of now) for this 18-mile stretch at $209 million. That's almost half of what it cost to build the LYNX light rail system in Charlotte. Wanna bet which one will last longer? Or which one is going to be more beneficial in the long run?
And for all those who complain that initial readership is low? Let me throw some figures at you: for the first year the initial weekday ridership was predicted to be 9,100. By March of 2008 it was already up to 18,600, a level it wasn't predicted to be at until 2025.
Public transportation is useful, as the people in Charlotte found out. Now it's time the rest of the country figures it out.