Thursday, November 12, 2009

Examples Of Good And Bad Interstate Use Or Reuse

I am continually amazed at the seemingly thought out opinion pieces that with one sentence can eliminate all credibility built in the rest of the work. One recent op-ed in the New York Times was penned by such a writer, Karrie Jacobs.

Ms. Jacobs feels that the U.S. should take a look at re-purpose the Interstate Highway system, mainly to transport things other than fossil fueled vehicles. On its face this sound all well and good, until you look a little deeper. Placing America's electrical grid under the existing pavement of the Interstates would probably take as much federal dollars as building a new system from scratch. Not counting the logistical problems of heat build up or the regular maintenance requirements of the equipment, the excavation of the subsurface would be very expensive. Secondly, these Interstates do not always go to places that would require electrical service, such as facilities that cannot be placed near usual transportation routes.

What kills it for me is the assertion of her "most obvious" alternative.
The most obvious use for the Interstate’s corridors is rail transportation. If we are going to spend billions rehabbing the highways, shouldn’t we, at the same time, invest in adjacent rail lines like the 800-mile high-speed rail system voters approved last year in California
As I have written before, the current vision of High Speed Rail in America would be considered only medium speed in the rest of the world and the Interstate system was designed for automobile speeds of 90+ at best. Any reuse of the Interstate by rail, high speed or otherwise, would have to take this into consideration. The curves are designed much too tightly for high speed rail and the hills are at too steep a grade for just about any rail and the current interchanges are not suitable for transitioning from one line to another without sacrificing way too much time in doing so.

This is an idea that will not work without way too much effort for the good that it will do.

In contrast, the city of Providence R.I. is well along with their project to relocate Interstate 195 from downtown to the outskirts of the city. In doing so they will free up 39 acres of prime downtown land, 20 of which will be sold to developers and a reconnected street grid will aide the inner city neighborhoods.

Providence is just one of the many urban areas that have decided to remove their massive expressways, once thought of as necessary for the survival of downtowns and now considered hindrances to continued urban growth. Lexington's lack of a downtown freeway has usually been blamed for our traffic troubles. I, for one, am thankful that we will not be following other cities in this pattern.

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