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Seen around Savannah

A bit outside Savannah this time:

Today's episode is about the inevitable 4-laning of America (it's interesting that auto-correct wanted to change that to 4-laming).

Just across the Savannah river in South Carolina, construction is proceeding (photos above) on the widening of  state highway 170 between US 278 and May River Road. It's about a five mile stretch of roadway through the woods on the edge of Bluffton.

North of US 278 it's a four lane road all the way into Beaufort, but south of it it's currently two lanes. In fact, the whole stretch between US 278 and the bridge over the Savannah River is two lanes. Map below - the portion being widened is in blue, the other 2 lane stretches are highlighted.

Now, the common wisdom I'm certain is that this whole stretch will ultimately be a four lane divided highway. After all, the area is growing and traffic is growing with it. As usual, someone will invoke the "safety" card, and say that driving on a two lane road is dangerous.

What's sad to me is how rarely we consider our options in these matters. Road widenings like this are so routine that most of us don't even give a second thought to it. Of course it should be widened, and of course that will make traffic better. We don't even stop to ask - what exactly are we trying to accomplish? Are there other ways to accomplish the same thing, even cheaper ways? Are we locking ourselves into a single option for transportation? 

For example, I wish we had better options, like regular train service, between Savannah, Bluffton and Beaufort. Amtrak does have a line to Charleston, but service is infrequent and not well suited to most trips. It seems inconceivable for most of us that there should be the option of train service between the cities and towns nearby, especially 4, 5 or 6 times a day.

But why not? After all, it's a far cheaper service to build and maintain, and is a great option for those who can't or don't want to drive. In most other advanced countries, it's a given that this option exists.

But here, we proceed without even asking the questions or running the numbers.

This stretch of road "improvement" is a $15 million project, which of course will require on-going maintenance. Another 15 miles of road to be widened on the stretch to Savannah equals another $45 million conservatively (since there's marsh involved).

That's $60 million, nothing to sneeze at, in order to build a 4-lane highway that's parallel to an interstate highway a few miles away. Since highways are never really widened to make alleviate congestion (a common myth), this will eventually fill up with more cars and more traffic. In a few years after it's complete, there will be more questions about how many more roads need to be widened or built.

It's frustrating for those of us that see a different paradigm that works, and wonder why we can't get it to work here. And the most frustrating part? So much money gets thrown at the problem with so few hard questions asked.

There's only so much money to go around, and when all that money is spent on highways there's nothing left to spend on alternatives. And then people wonder why we don't have good options besides driving. "Gee, wouldn't a train be great?" Well, yes, actually it would - but you spent all of your allowance on the big roadway.

It bears repeating: when you plan and spend for cars, you'll get cars. When you plan and spend for options, you'll get options. Every choice, even the seemingly obvious ones, have consequences.

Recommended Reads: Transportation

Recommended Reads: Design

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