Categories
Audio Sources - Full Text Articles

Some of the widest highways in the US have more than 20 lanes — but widening them won’t solve traffic congestion

Construction vehicles at the site to widen Interstate 66 in Virginia.Construction widening the I-66 in Virginia.

Gerald Martineau/The The Washington Post via Getty Images

  • The federal government is providing states with $350 billion to spend on highways to alleviate traffic congestion.
  • The US has some of the widest highways in the world, but some states are planning on expanding them.
  • But economists have been saying the same thing since the 1960s: more roads often just leads to more traffic.

Some of the widest highways in the US have more than 20 lanes — and traffic is still getting worse.

Last year, the federal government enacted an infrastructure law, providing states with $350 billion for highways. Even though more lanes often just means more traffic, a number of states, including New York, Texas, Oregon, and Maryland, are considering highway widening projects to ease congestion.

But new highways will hurt the communities they cut through and the climate in general.

Here are some of the widest highways in America — and why widening them won’t solve the problem.

Since the 1960s, highways helped define America. In 2018, there were over a million miles of highway across the country, costing the federal government $105 billion annually.Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson drives through the ribbon opening of the John Williams Freeway, Interstate 980, in Oakland, CaliforniaOakland Mayor Lionel Wilson opens the John Williams Freeway, Interstate 980, in California in 1985.

Robert Stinnett/MediaNews Group/Oakland Tribune via Getty Images

Source: The Guardian

At times, highways that have been built have specifically harmed minority communities. For instance, in 1967 in Nashville, officials added a bend to Interstate 40 to ensure the highway went through a predominantly Black neighborhood rather than a white one.Tennessee State Rep. Harold Love, Jr. stands on an overpass over I-40Tennessee State Rep. Harold Love, Jr. stands on an overpass over I-40, Monday, July, 19, 2021, near the site of his family’s former home on the north side of Nashville, Tennessee.

John Amis/AP

Source: Los Angeles Times

More recently, protestors have fought a $9 billion expansion of the I-35 in Austin, claiming it is discriminatory.Nightime traffic rolls into downtown Austin along Interstate 35Nighttime traffic rolls into downtown Austin along Interstate 35 in a time-exposure from the highway overpass.

Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images

Source: Texas Standard

Since the 1960s, new highways have forced out about 1 million people from their homes. The majority of these residents have been Black.The Van Wyck Expressway while under construction in New York in 1950.The Van Wyck Expressway while under construction in New York in 1950.

FPG/Getty

Source: The Guardian

And highways are hard to ignore. In Los Angeles, one section of the I-405 is 14 lanes wide.Construction on the I-405 in 2022.Work continues on the 405/73 carpool connector road in Costa Mesa, CA on Tuesday, December 20, 2022.

Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty Images

Source: PolitiFact

In Atlanta, there are sections of the I-75 that are 15 lanes wide.Traffic on I-75 in Atlanta.Traffic flows in and out of downtown Atlanta on the Interstate 75/Interstate 85 Connector, Thursday, May 19, 2016, in Atlanta.

John Bazemore/AP

Source: PolitiFact

And then there’s the I-10, also known as the Katy Freeway, in Houston. At certain points, the I-10 is 26 lanes wide.Traffic on a freeway in Houston, Texas in 2017.Traffic backs up on a freeway on September 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Source: New York Times

In 2008, the Katy Freeway was extended at a cost of around $2.8 billion. But instead of helping with congestion, traffic actually increased substantially from 2011 to 2014 as more vehicles used the additional lanes.Traffic moves along Interstate 10 near downtown HoustonTraffic moves along Interstate 10 near downtown Houston, April 30, 2020.

David J. Phillip, File/AP

Sources: Bloomberg, The Guardian

As early as the 1960s, economists were saying more roads only meant more cars — widening highways doesn’t work. It’s the theory of “induced demand,” which basically means congestion rises to meet new capacity.Construction of the Interstate 70 expansion project in Denver, ColoradoOnly the sign of the Colonial Manor Motel remains as crews made room for construction of the Interstate 70 expansion project on July 24, 2018 in Denver, Colorado.

RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Sources: New York Times, The Guardian

But new highways kept getting built. Between 1993 and 2017, roads increased by 42% in the country’s largest 100 cities, while population growth was only 32%. Traffic delays still rose by 144%.Automobile traffic jams Route 93 South in Boston.Automobile traffic jams Route 93 South, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Boston.

Charles Krupa/AP

Source: Curbed

But sometimes states don’t have a choice. For instance, in Texas, the state constitution requires funding to be used on highways before other forms of transport.A highway expansion in Irving, TexasA $301 million highway expansion in Irving, Texas due to be completed by the end of 2023.

John Moore/Getty Images

Sources: Bloomberg, The Guardian

Right now, America could be at a crossroads. Last year, the federal government enacted an infrastructure law to provide states with $350 billion to be used for highways.The 405 Freeway in California during rush hour traffic.The 405 Freeway in California during rush hour traffic.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Source: New York Times

Some environmental organizations were dismayed by the law. This was because, of the $1.3 trillion put aside for transport, only 20% was for transit while 80% went to highways.Stephanie Pollack, deputy administrator of the Federal Highway AdministrationStephanie Pollack, deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, in 2019.

Steven Senne/AP

But President Biden’s administration showed a gentle indication for its preferred spending. 

Stephanie Pollack, deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, sent a memo to her staff telling them to encourage governments to first look at fixing current roads before laying new ones. 

Source: Wired

Even so, some states including Oregon, Maryland, Texas, and New York are pushing forward with the status quo. They’re looking to re-widen highways, including the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.Vehicles drive along the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in 2021.Vehicles drive along the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in 2021.

Mark Lennihan/AP

Source: New York Times

And the I-270 and I-495 in Maryland, which will cost around $11 billion.Traffic flows along interchanges that link I-495 and I-270 in Maryland.Traffic flows along interchanges that link I-495 and I-270 in Maryland.

Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Sources: New York Times, Washington Post

Wider highways mean more vehicles and more pollution. Across the US, transportation is already responsible for 27% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.Construction on the I-66 in Virginia in 2021.Construction on the I-66 in Virginia in 2021.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

For comparison, the agricultural industry is responsible for 11% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Source: EPA

Some states and cities are looking at alternatives. In Los Angeles, an expansion to Interstate 710 was abandoned in 2022 after the chief planning officer noted the city didn’t see “widening as a strategy” for the city.Traffic moves along the 710 freewayTraffic moves along the 710 freeway in this view looking north from the Willow Street overpass.

Scott Varley/Digital First Media/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images

Considering Los Angeles is known for its congested highways, this was a big deal.

The decision was made after another recently completed project in Los Angeles only temporarily eased traffic before it increased again.

Source: New York Times

In Portland, young climate activists have been fighting against a $1.2 billion plan to widen the I-5 in a section which runs through a neighbourhood called Albina, a historically Black neighborhood.Heavy traffic in Portland on the I-5.Heavy traffic in Portland on the I-5.

Greg Wahl-Stephens, File/AP

Its air quality is already so bad local scientists have recommended that local school children don’t play outside.

Source: Bloomberg

So, what’s the answer? Matt Turner, an economics professor at Brown University, noted if you want more cars on the road, add more lanes. But that’s not what most people want.Traffic due to construction on I-5 in California in 2021, surrounded by the Tejon PassAn aerial picture taken on August 26, 2021, shows trucks, cars, and other vehicles sitting in traffic due to road construction on Interstate 5 as they transit through the Tejon Pass from the Grapevine in Kern County, California.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

Sources: The Guardian, New York Times

On the contrary, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said: “Connecting people more efficiently and affordably to where they need to go is a lot more complicated than just always having more concrete and asphalt out there.”Pete ButtigiegSecretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images

Buttigieg has publicly backed prioritizing fixing existing highways over building new ones.

Sources: New York Times, Bloomberg

Los Angeles is looking into potentially using railways to transport freight to lower the burden on highways.Traffic on I-5 in California in 2021 through the Tejon PassTraffic on I-5 in California through the Tejon Pass in 2021

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

Source: New York Times

While in Colorado adopted a new transport regulation in 2021 that directs transport planners toward projects designed to lower pollution, like cycle lanes and more bus routes.A cyclist shares dangerous cycling route in Denver areaA cyclist shares dangerous cycling route between West 32nd Avenue from Applewood to Golden, which has been described as a Bicyclist’s Freeway because it is the primary route for cyclists from Denver to prime rides in the Golden area.

Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Mass transport is part of the answer — and it works, too. When Seattle focused on buses and light rail from 2010 to 2017, the increased use of public transport meant traffic decreased, even as the city grew by more than 100,000 people.A person taps their ORCA card to pay for a ride on public transportation in Seattle, Washington.Contactless payment with ORCA card (One Regional Card For All), to access all public transportation, Seattle, Washington.

Kevin Schafer/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Curbed

But despite the advantages, it also comes down to money, Ben Holland, an urban design and land use expert at clean energy non-profit RMI, told The Guardian. Right now, most roads are toll-free and are government subsidized.Traffic going eastbound on the Pennsylvania Turnpike proceeds through the electronic toll boothsTraffic going eastbound on the Pennsylvania Turnpike proceeds through the electronic toll booths in Cranberry Township, Pa., on Aug. 30, 2021.

Keith Srakocic, File/AP

Source: The Guardian

While there’s no easy answer, states and the federal government need to think creatively about how roads and public transport are paid for. One option is a congestion charge — charging people for traveling at peak times.Traffic backs up at the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge toll plazaTraffic backs up at the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge toll plaza on August 24, 2022 in Oakland, California.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The charge would aim at prompting people to travel at different times and only those who needed to travel at peak times would pay the fee meaning traffic would be eased and wider motorways wouldn’t be necessary.

It’s worked in London and in Stockholm.

Source: The Conversation

Other options include more express bus lanes, cycle lanes, walking bridges, and light rail. Basically, people need affordable options to get them out of cars and off the roads.A light rail station on March 12, 2020 in Seattle, Washington.A light rail station on March 12, 2020 in Seattle, Washington.

John Moore/Getty Images

Source: New York Times

“This is a make-or-break moment,” Holland told The Guardian. “How the states use those highway funds will basically determine whether we meet our transportation emissions goals.”Interstate 278 passes over the New Jersey Turnpike on its way to the Goethals BridgeInterstate 278 passes over the New Jersey Turnpike on its way to the Goethals Bridge on October 20, 2022, in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Source: The Guardian

Read the original article on Business Insider
WP Radio
WP Radio
OFFLINE LIVE