No turning back


Yep, that was the front page headline of today's Dallas Morning News: "No turning back."

So sorry; we've already gone too far, spent too much money, made too many plans. We can't stop now.

The subject in question is the rebuilding of Lyndon Baines Johnson Freeway (Interstate 635), the non-toll controlled access loop around Dallas. [I'm afraid it's necessary to qualify what sort of roadway loop we're discussing, since Dallas already has FOUR of 'em.]

Five years of unending traffic nightmares (with no transit alternatives in place*). Five years of major (often fatal) disruption to corridor businesses. Five years of increased pollution due to construction machinery mixing with the estimated 270,000 private motor vehicles crawling (or sitting) along the thoroughfare.

*No rail-based options, whatsoever - and the several roughly parallel bus lines situated an average of one mile away. Even the H.O.V. lanes which were open on L.B.J. Freeway have been taken out-of-service due to the road work.

And for what?

No new general traffic lanes, that's for sure - although there will be a few new subterranean "managed lanes" (a.k.a. "HOT" [High Occupancy Toll] Lanes) available, offering reduced rates for car pools and vehicles with at least one rider in addition to the driver, and graduated fees ("dynamic congestion pricing," with tolls based upon the clock and calendar) for everyone else.

Now, I'd be remiss if I failed to emphasise the existing choices available to drivers - the so-called "commuter's decision" list. Since corridor transit (and special lanes for car pooling) is a non-starter, these hapless souls may either negotiate with employers for flexible hours and/or telecommuting privileges, or take another route (if possible).

Otherwise, they'll need to suck it up and stay put.

How's that for choices?!

Right now, we won't even discuss the myriad societal costs of autocentrism. They often seem nebulous anyway. It's the actual out-of-pocket costs - the cash money you and I (not just locals) will be paying for all these "improvements" - which should give us pause: a whopping quarter-of-a-billion dollars PER MILE!

Yes, that's "billion" with a "B."

I hear a lot of whining regarding the cost of railway infrastructure, yet $250,000,000.00 is approximately ten TIMES the budget full-bore light rail lines typically require per mile, and one HUNDRED times what a fair estimate might be for nickel plating an existing right-of-way in order to efficiently operate both passenger and freight services.

For the sake of comparison, this project's bottom line could cover the operating subsidy requirements for Amtrak's current national network from now until the year 2020.

It gets worse.

The Virginia D.O.T. completed a study back in 1999 when their infamous Springfield Interchange (the "Mixing Bowl") was being rebuilt on Washington, D.C.'s Capital Beltway (I-495). It very clearly showed that traffic delays from reconstruction would be so severe - and the ultimate time savings possible from the completed task so small - that drivers would NEVER recover all the time they lost during the ensuing eight years of work.

All that for a bargain price of 676 million (in 2002 dollars).

For the sake of comparison, Amtrak could purchase over 200 new pieces of rolling stock (including some fairly expensive dining, club-lounge and sleeping cars) with that amount of money, increasing both their individual train capacity and overall service frequency - while allowing discussions regarding route expansion to be something more than academic.

I understand improvements to Amtrak services aren't intended to help commuters in their daily grind (although they occasionally can and do). That being said, these proposed improvements to L.B.J. Freeway involve "Interstate" traffic in name only; the vast majority of vehicle miles come courtesy of the work-a-day world.

I guess it's time to mention something about a national transportation policy (or the lack, thereof). It would be nice to decide what we're doing, where we're going and how we'd like to get there. Roadway "investment" certainly isn't very cost effective, what with induced demand and all the additional costs incurred trying to keep our trucker friends happy.

I wish we could develop an approach to transportation which acknowledges one salient fact: EVERY mode can, upon occasion, be the "best mode" for a job! Problem is, if we insist upon throwing what little money we have at the same, tired ol' solutions, we'll never see things improve.

Resoluteness isn't always a positive quality. Sometimes, it's nothing but a sign of insanity!

If we still want the ability to use motor vehicles for some things tomorrow, we need to stop trying to use them for everything today!

"Turning back" is possible! All it will take is a firm understanding - and acceptance - of reality.

Think we can handle that?!



  • Garl, have you thought of running for public office?  I'm not kidding.  You consistently present an inescapable logic that is sorely needed in local, state, and national government.  

    The problem with trying to develop a national transportation policy is that those doing it have to decide early in the process if they are going to produce Pablum of something meaningful.  If the former, they might as well not bother, because mere words do not a policy make.  If the latter, they will discover just how difficult it is, and we know that legislators and bureaucrats always duck the high, hard ones.  A meaningful transportation policy will by definition advocate something different from our current approach to infrastructure investment and modal regulation/deregulation.  Again, if the intent is just to put a stamp of approval on the current situation, better not to bother.  To recommend or insist on change means someone will be forced to accept less than at present while other interests will benefit.

    I used to think a national transportation policy would solve most of our transportation problems.  With the passwage of time, I've come around to believing that outside of academia - and we know how much attention is paid to academia - no one can do the heavy lifting required.  I'll look forward to seeing what others have to say about your posting, Garl.

  • Where does the Dallas light rail system go ?  . Can that system be extended , or has it even helped the traffic problems in Dallas?

  • SPRAWLZHEIMERS: An aggressive and rapidly deterioration form of spatial disorientation caused by hyper-automobility, suburban sprawl, social and physical isolation within the confined space of the private -but- publicly subsidized motorcar compounded by an addiction to hand held gadgets that convert your thumbs into pairs of high-speed telegraph keys.