Late in 2013 a brand new interstate highway interchange opened along I-96 at Latson Road near Howell, Michigan. The cost of this single, basic “diamond-shaped” interchange was $32 million dollars. While many people in suburban Livingston County are probably thrilled with a new exit on I-96, let’s think about the cost for a minute. Thirty-two million dollars? Hummm?
Having passed by that location innumerable times in the past 20 years I don’t ever recall a traffic jam along that six-lane wide stretch of interstate unless there was an accident or bad weather. More likely, paralleling Grand River Avenue is the problem, as a myriad of big boxes have blossomed along it over the years. Shame on all of us planners and the decision makes for allowing that to happen when we know better.
So, how is it decided to address sprawl and congestion on Grand River Avenue? The powers that be decided to read from the same old tired script of building more highway capacity. The problem with this scenario is it will only perpetuate more sprawl and congestion as the “mirage” of more capacity invites more usage and ultimately more sprawl and congestion. In other words, society keeps making the same damn mistake over and over again.
I am not trying to pick on the Latson Road interchange, as it just happens to be the newest addition to the region’s highway network. But the “so-called” experts at MDOT and elsewhere need a wake-up call and it pointed out that they are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by not pursuing more sustainable transportation options to address congestion issues. Perhaps, that’s the point – it is in the best interest of those organizations that are primarily road agencies to create the need for more roads. It’s creates long-term job security.
On the other hand, with $32 million, many medium-sized cities could construct their entire bicycle infrastructure network. My guess is that an impressive start-of-the-art network of paved off-road bike trails, added bike lanes, erected a bike bridge or two, plus added a bunch of pedestrian-friendly infrastructure serving most, if not all of the Howell area could have been built for that tidy sum. Given that more jobs per dollar are created from building new bicycle infrastructure than highway projects, there was a lost opportunity to put more money per capita back into the local economy. Lastly, add in the health and fitness benefits derived from an active transportation network and the Howell area could have also seen health insurance rates/costs decline for area businesses.
Road funding advocates will argue that they are the ones who pay for new highways and interchanges with their taxes. WRONG! Gas taxes and fees only cover 51 percent of the cost of road construction and maintenance. So you are starting off in a giant funding hole that will only get worse with time. Furthermore, since cyclists create less wear and tear on the road infrastructure (less usages and lighter vehicles), the average bicyclist actually contributes approximately $500 more per year to road care and maintenance in the taxes/fees they pay than the average automobile driver.