Thursday, October 06, 2005

The New Role of Interstates

The Wash Post today has a 1A story on how population growth along major interstates is making these highways part of the local road network. The article focuses on Frederick, Md., on Interstate 70 and Fredericksburg, Va., on Interstate 95, and has some of the soaring traffic counts there.

Transportation experts, says the article, say that '...drivers in the booming areas at the fringes of the Washington suburbs have turned what are meant to be long-distance freeways into their main streets as they look for ways around overwhelmed local roads.'

The Fredericksburg region's population is about 290,000 today (four-county area), and is projected to rise to about 438,000 by 2030.

Here's the expert quote:
"One of the things that has happened, particularly in those two areas, is that they're not well served by major arterials that are not interstates," said Alan E. Pisarski of Falls Church, author of "Commuting in America." ..."There's a lack of reliability in the system and a lack of redundancy in the system," he said. "More and more, it's a clear threat to interstate commerce. I think it's very real."


At 8:08 AM, Blogger Jim Bacon said...

A useful article. But it fails to ask the really important question: Why are Fredericksburg residents increasingly using Interstate 95 as a local road? The article implies that the problem is due only to the increasing number of residents. But could it have something to do with the pattern of growth -- the scatteration of land uses? The clustering of a mega-commercial complex, which includes every big box store in the universe, right off the Interstate?

At 8:16 AM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

The reporter rightly points to one of the lousy decisions made here years ago when he cites a specific intersection of U.S. 1 and U.S. 17 just north of the Rappahannock River. Back in the 1980s there was a plan, if I remember correctly, to replace the traffic light there with an overpass so traffic could keep moving. Local opposition killed it, and today U.S. 1's value as an alternate north-south route is crippled.

At 8:43 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I think the article says they use 95 because there are insufficient ways to cross the Rappahannock.

I agree with you that developments adjacent to interstates are a bad idea, local planning should avoid situations that cause traffic signals immediately adjacent to exits. These cause traffic to back up onto the freeway and eliminate much of the value of "limited access" highways.

But as you note, the article starts with a discussion of the increase in population and ends with the statement that the only solution is to control growth.

Since we know the population WILL increase, controlling growth can only mean sending it somewhere else. We also know that more people in one place means slower traffic, more congestion, more pollution, and more wasted time.

If people are going to continue to use autos, then the Maryland transportation expert is effectively telling you the solution is more scatteration, not less. It is also true that smaller local roads carry more traffic at less expense than interstates, although they cannot carry traffic as far because of their lower speeds. But it is terribly inefficient to design and build interstates for high speed traffic, only to have the traffic creep along because of insufficient local infrastructure.

We can, of course, choose to move to more compact living and working quarters. This means more air conditioning, more elevators, more walking, more impervious area, more energey use generally, more pollution, more expensive public services, and less personal space. Evidence suggests that such conditions will require substantial investment in public open spaces, and may also result in substantial weekend exodus from those areas.

Some people are currently choosing such a lifestyle, but the vast majority of growth is in more scattered places. If we choose to incentivize people to choose one lifestyle over another, then we had better plan on raising substantial taxes to pay for the exercise.

Otherwise Fundamental Change is going to involve some form of force or coercion to get people to do what they apparently do not want. For an example you have only to see the next post on Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning.

At 9:01 AM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

Regarding development along interstate interchanges: years ago, the early 90s, I think, the City Council here was reviewing plans for the big-box retail project called Central Park. There was a seven-acre parcel of empty land right at the off-ramp of I-95 and the council asked the developer, Larry Silver, could you keep that land empty? The look on his face was priceless - he just about guffawed at the idea. Today that land is lined with restaurants that face the exit ramp.

The city approved the project because it wanted the tax revenue and today it's cashing in. So they have no incentive to keep development away from interstate interchanges. In fact, you could argue that it would be irresponsible of them to do so, given the tools they have at hand (real estate taxes) and their responsibilities.

At 11:59 AM, Blogger COD said...

I live 2 miles west of I-95 on RT 3 and I never, ever use I-95 as a local road. In fact, I tend to avoid shopping at Central Park as much as possible due to the congestion, and I never go into downtown Fredericksburg unless it for something that is only available downtown.

Another bridge west of I95 would be nice though. It's 30 miles around to 15/29 if a serious accident shuts down I-95 North. There is a back road involving a one lane bride that can get you to 17 without using I-95 - but it's slow (although very enjoyable) drive.

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