Thursday, May 15, 2014:
Andy Singer at Streets.mn writes about how a lack of leadership combines with failed traffic engineering ideas to actually worsen people's lives. Oh, and do it while spending a LOT of money. The project he writes about is the widening of I-35E in St. Paul, an all-too-typical urban freeway project of the kind we've been stupidly doing for decades.
A couple of key nuggets:
The I-35E/Cayuga project is a road-widening project. It will add a northbound and southbound MnPASS Lane to what is already a six-lane freeway, from downtown Saint Paul up to Little Canada Road, near the I-694 interchange. To do this, almost every bridge over I-35E must be torn out or rebuilt because the abutments for these bridges are not far enough apart to accommodate the additional lanes. As a result, the project is projected to cost $225 million– a quarter-billion dollars for five miles of roadway. This is more money than is spent on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in the entire United States!
Cities are required to give “Municipal Consent” for large highway projects. Unfortunately, Municipal Consent hearings are often just meaningless, pro-forma speed bumps. The hearing for the I-35E/Cayuga Project wasn’t advertised but was just one item on a regular Saint Paul City Council Wednesday night public hearing. I was the only person to testify against the project. The city council vote in favor of it was unanimous, including at least two council members who should have known better. Mayor Coleman gave his blessing and the project is now well under way.
Somehow, we all need to become informed about where and when these projects are happening, pressure our elected officials to reject them and show up to these municipal consent hearings. We need a state or national organization that is dedicated exclusively to stopping all new highway projects and redirecting this money to alternative modes of transportation and better land use. The existing environmental and alternative transportation groups aren’t getting the job done.
Leadership matters. Without dedicated elected officials willing to take some risks, this kind of work will go on and on until the money completely runs out. One such example of leadership: what John Norquist did as Mayor of Milwaukee, removing an urban freeway and replacing it with life.