Per capita driving has peaked in America, and with that new normal comes the question of whether or not we should be spending limited transportation funding on building new roads. If nothing else the driving trends support the wisdom of a “fix-it-first” policy that focuses on highway maintenance over expansion.Expect much more of this. We can't afford to maintain the entire road network we have (and we keep building new roads), and the lack of maintenance is leaving many roads to deteriorate until they are unrepairable. I would anticipate that state and county governments will concentrate on maintaining major roads, and let the roads in the sparsely populated regions of the states deteriorate. Rural areas' outsized political influence may delay that outcome, but eventually common sense will prevail.
Iowa DOT chief Paul Trombino recently took that logical conclusion one step further. During an Urban Land Institute talk, Trombino told the audience he expects the state’s overbuilt and unsustainable road network to “shrink,” according to Charles Marohn of Strong Towns. Iowans should figure out which roads “we really want to keep” and let the others “deteriorate and go away.”
The key quotes, via Marohn (our emphasis):
I said the numbers before. 114,000 lane miles, 25,000 bridges, 4,000 miles of rail. I said this a lot in my conversation when we were talking about fuel tax increases. It’s not affordable. Nobody’s going to pay.Marohn characterizes the admission as a stunning one, and indeed it’s not everyday a U.S. transportation leader calls for fewer highways. But Trombino’s assessment is also spot on.
We are. We’re the ones. Look in the mirror. We’re not going to pay to rebuild that entire system.
And my personal belief is that the entire system is unneeded. And so the reality is, the system is going to shrink.
Iowa’s road network is already as big as it needs to be. Per capita driving peaked in the state in 2004 and has since been on the decline. Yet from 2009 to 2011 the state still spent 52 percent of its highway money on expansion. No surprise, then, that its share of roads in “good” condition fell from an already low 39 percent in 2008 to a frightful 21 percent by 2011. Iowa spends about $217 million a year on road repair, but Smart Growth America estimates that to get its roads into decent shape it needs to spend closer to $555 million a year over the next 20 years.
Monday, July 13, 2015
Iowa Sees the Future, and It Has Fewer Roads