Monday, September 6, 2010

Roadbuilder-in-Chief?

From today's Politico:

The goals, according to the White House: “Rebuild 150,000 miles of roads — renewing our commitment to the backbone of our transportation system … . Construct and maintain 4,000 miles of rail — enough to go coast to coast. ... Rehabilitate or reconstruct 150 miles of runway — while putting in place a NextGen system that will reduce travel time and delays.

Since the initial details are not clear, we'll have to wait and see if this spending bill includes monies for light rail and other intra-city and intra-urban transit options.
If that's not the case, then it's hard to call this anything other than funding the status quo when it comes to transportation policy.  And, considering how poorly the node/bypass/node model has affected urban land uses, that's unfortunate.  
On the other hand, if the proposed spending plan included funds for something like this, well, that would be a welcome change:

Yet federal highway programs still concentrate tax dollars on building giant grade-separated roads that cut through or around urban grids. Like the now discredited Corps of Engineers channelization projects, the Federal Highway Administration seeks to concentrate traffic on a few large roads. The concentrated traffic congeals into congestion and the system is overwhelmed, just as with the Corps water projects. Federal highway policy, like so many post-World War II federal programs, imposes gigantic and destructive intrusions on complex urban situations.

Traffic engineers and Corps officials haven't learned these lessons in isolation. Across the country and across many disciplines, people are re-evaluating post-World War II federal urban policies that had destructive effects on cities, despite their good intentions. This destructive legacy has five major ingredients:

  • Federal welfare policy, which undermined city labor markets by paying people not to work and penalizing them if they did.
  • Promulgation of model zoning codes that criminalized the mixed-use development patterns that were the norm in traditional American neighborhoods and main streets, replacing them with the now familiar pattern of sprawl: city housing, office, and retail separated into pods and sprawled across the land.
  • The Federal Housing Authority created in 1934 helped popularize the low equity mortgage. FHA subsidized home ownership to millions of Americans - which was great, except that for many years FHA only subsidized newly constructed homes, meaning you couldn't use FHA to buy a house in your old neighborhood. FHA also required race segregation covenants until 1949 and allowed them until 1962.
  • The urban renewal program subsidized wholesale demolition and clearance of urban neighborhoods. In 1945, many European cities were wastelands. Berlin, for example, was 80 percent destroyed at the end of the war. Thirty years later, London, Rotterdam, Berlin, and Hamburg were all rebuilt cities while U.S. cities looked as though World War II had happened in the United States.
  • Welfare, zoning, FHA, and urban renewal all did their damage, but the most destructive program was the federal government's gross over-subsidy of high-speed roads that cut through the fabric of U.S. cities. The federal government paid 90 percent, states 10 percent, and locals 0 percent. This funding mix was so compelling that few cities opposed freeway construction in the early years of the program.
--Chad Emerson, Faulkner U.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/land_use/2010/09/roadbuilder-in-chief.html

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