Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cost of Freeways

Merry xmas!

A quick excerpt from a much longer article from Grist about expenditures on roads vs. the emerging "bicycle economy", the most interesting revelation is at the end, where Eisenhower, the father of the quite necessary INTERSTATE system, understood far better than anybody gives him credit or anybody involved with transportation planning/funding/building since, that INTRACITY freeways destroys the wealth of nations, the economies of cities:

When the city of Milwaukee, Wisc. removed a contested, never-finished freeway spur in 2002, the estimated cost for needed safety repairs was $100 million. Removal cost $25 million, and the 26 acres of land freed up for redevelopment attracted over$300 million in investments. Mayor John Norquist, overseeing the project, famously said, "Highways don't belong in cities. Period."

President Eisenhower, the father of the U.S. interstate system, agreed. He reportedly only discovered that freeways were being built in cities, rather than between them, in 1959. He wanted them to be eliminated, but the march of progress had already left him behind.

Check that math. Spending 100 million and getting only nominal investment in return. What investment does occur along freeways nearly always ends up as a loss when it turns out that freeways prevent the kind of local connectivity and attraction that supports people = investment. Drive along any freeway in DFW. All of the real estate is in a downward spiral back to zero or at the very least at the bottom of the real estate food chain: fast food, gas stations, xxx video, etc. It really is quite an entry experience into the City of Dallas from DFW. Howdy folks!

On the other hand, Milwaukee spent 25 million in order to NOT spend the 100 million, thereby saving 75 million. Then, because they restitched the city that the highway tore apart, they gained 300 million in investment.

Meanwhile, we're talking about $2 billion for Project Dead Horse's Head in your Bed Pegasus, which of course, we're temporarily spared because (guess what) we can't afford it. Sorry, consider me a slave to Return-on-Investment (in the broadest, least externalized sense). I don't mind spending of some taxes if it gets us something in return like more tax base, a more livable city, a safer city, the type of city that will attract talent and businesses, new ranges, types, and affordability levels of in-town housing, improved local mobility and connectivity, and of course, some consistency with the Texas can-do mindset of ambition to a truly "world class" city.