Kimberly writes us to mention an excellent article in The Atlantic, “The Cities Doubling Down on Highways. Physically expanding roads doesn’t cure congestion. So why are places like Arkansas spending millions to do just that?
The real answer is similar to what happens in Virginia: A failure to analyze true benefits vs costs of projects in a comprehensive manner, as well as the cause and effects of congestion, highways, and land use policies over long periods of time. Sprinkle in intense lobbying efforts by the construction industry, which salivates over big projects to “do something,” and a desire to see return on investment for politicians’ campaign contributions by the toll operator/concessionaires. It is easy to see why handing over the keys of public assets to private toll companies is becoming a trend in Virginia. The toll concessionaires have even become experts at obtaining taxpayer’s money to pay for large portions of the projects, then retain still more toll money from users of the infrastructure. They write their contracts or comprehensive agreements to incentivize as much toll revenue as possible, even requiring taxpayers to pay them still more more money if more than roughly a third of Express Lane users are HOV.
Back to The Atlantic article, the author notes how housing trends are changing, even if classical thinking highway planners are not. Urban developments and mixed use walkable communities have become very popular. Building concrete jungles of massive highway interchanges and freeways through the few remaining green areas and wetlands is often in conflict with modern use patterns. Will the folks who are entrusted with highway construction funding learn this or maintain their business as usual car first approach that favors long commutes in automobiles?