Put some balance in our state transportation planning

Wednesday’s Des Moines Register contained this article on the “TIME-21” plan that the Iowa Department of Transportation has submitted to the legislature.

TIME-21 is short for “Transportation Investment Moves the Economy in the 21st Century.”

The DOT’s plan for the next two decades would spend an additional $4 billion on road construction and repairs, while spending no additional funds on “public transit, passenger and freight railroads, commuter rail service, walking and biking trails, aviation, or other options.”

To the Register’s credit, they gave space to opposing views:

“It’s unfortunate that we are designating transportation funds to meet the needs of the past,” said Stephanie Weisenbach, program coordinator for 1000 Friends of Iowa, a citizens’ group that promotes sustainable development and responsible land use.

“We know that thoughts about how to move people and goods are changing.”

She points to research by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showing transportation as the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for about 27 percent of total U.S. emissions.

She contends Iowa needs more flexibility in financing transportation alternatives because money from the state’s road use tax fund can be spent only on road projects.

Not increasing alternatives to cars and trucks “would be a fairly big mistake, just given the interest we are seeing in reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mark Kresowik, a conservation organizer for the Sierra Club in Iowa. He said Iowa is a big producer, per capita, of greenhouse gases because of its heavy reliance on coal, oil and fertilizer and because of long distances that motorists travel in a rural state.

By the way, Representative Geri Huser of Altoona, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, offered the most ludicrous straw man argument I’ve heard in a while:

Huser said she wants to explore alternatives to Iowans’ reliance on automobiles, but she has to be realistic.

“I have to tell you I have not had any legislator come up to me and say, ‘We would rather not fix roads that are a problem, and I want to focus all of our resources on trails and bus transportation,’ ” Huser said.

Representative Huser, no one is talking about focusing “all of our resources” on alternative transportation. We are talking about adjusting a plan that currently calls for spending $4 billion on roads and nothing on other kinds of transportation.

Bicyclists and bus riders also want roads to be fixed, obviously, but we don’t need to do that to the exclusion of any other transportation investments.

Here are a bunch of good links on the benefits of a balanced transportation policy.

If you care about this issue, write a letter to the editor or join one of the groups fighting for sanity in our transportation planning: 1000 Friends of Iowa, Sierra Club of Iowa, or the Iowa Bicycle Coalition.

UPDATE: DOT Director Nancy Richardson responds in Friday’s Register, but doesn’t get the point:

“We can’t have the road system solve the greenhouse-gas emission problem. It’s not emitting the gas, the dangerous fumes – the vehicles are. If we really want to make a difference, we need to focus on the vehicles that are driving on those roads.”

But in fact, if we don’t get a handle on our urban planning and transportation priorities, then we won’t be able to solve the greenhouse-gas emission problem:

In a comprehensive review of dozens of studies, published by the Urban Land Institute, the researchers conclude that urban development is both a key contributor to climate change and an essential factor in combating it.

They warn that if sprawling development continues to fuel growth in driving, the projected 59 percent increase in the total miles driven between 2005 and 2030 will overwhelm expected gains from vehicle efficiency and low-carbon fuels. Even if the most stringent fuel-efficiency proposals under consideration are enacted, notes co-author Steve Winkelman, “vehicle emissions still would be 40 percent above 1990 levels in 2030 – entirely off-track from reductions of 60-80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 required for climate protection.”

“Curbing emissions from cars depends on a three-legged stool: improved vehicle efficiency, cleaner fuels, and a reduction in driving,” said lead author Reid Ewing, Research Professor at the National Center for Smart Growth, University of Maryland. “The research shows that one of the best ways to reduce vehicle travel is to build places where people can accomplish more with less driving.”

In other words, a transportation policy agenda focused solely on road-building will fail to reduce miles driven, which needs to be a key element in our response to global warming.

  • Geri Huser

    …is another good reason to support Fallon for Congress.  If he wins, she won’t be able to enter an open primary.

  • Right about transportation/wrong about Geri

    I, amazingly, largely agree with much of what dmd says about the transportation “plan”.  

    However, I think you’re wrong about Huser.  

    I plan to do some policy talk about the topic later.  However, we do have to spend more money on what I would generally call mass transit, not sure that the luxury of bike paths (which we already have, although most places call them “streets”) and hiking trails are particularly relevant to serious transportation policy.

    • bike trails are not the main answer

      Putting bike lanes on existing roads is much more useful and cost-effective in terms of transportation.

      It’s safer for everyone if the bike lanes are clearly marked.

      As for Mr. Sporer agreeing with me, even a stopped watch is right twice a day!  

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