Highway 100 extension in Linn County named a "worst transportation project"

The plan to extend Highway 100 through the Rock Island Preserve in Linn County made the Sierra Club’s list of worst transportation projects nationwide. No Iowa projects made the group’s “best” list from the same report on Smart Choices, Less Traffic (pdf). After the jump I’ve enclosed a statement from the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter and excerpts from the full report.

December 19 press release from Sierra Club Iowa Chapter:

Highway 100 Identified as One of Sierra Club’s Worst Transportation Projects

[Washington, DC] – The Sierra Club released its list of best and worst transportation projects around the nation in a new report: Smart Choices, Less Traffic: 50 Best and Worst Transportation Projects in the United States. The report identifies specific projects, either planned or under construction, that it supports or opposes based on cost and whether the investment will contribute or set back efforts to expand transportation choices and reduce American oil use.

Iowa’s Highway 100 Extension made the list as one of the worst projects.

According to the report, “This outdated project was conceived more than 30 years ago when gasoline cost $1.24 per gallon. It was first envisioned as part of a bypass around Cedar Rapids. Since then, a town has emerged in the center of the proposed route.

“The proposed Highway 100 extension, a 3.8 mile, $200 million project, would add another 10,000 cars per day to the main street, Collins Road, causing congestion, air pollution and dangerous conditions for people who want to walk or bike through town. Moreover, the Highway 100 extension would cut through Rock Island Nature Preserve, one of the most pristine nature preserves in Iowa.

Rock Island Preserve contains prairie, wetlands and woodlands and is home to rare and endangered turtles and butterflies. The proposed route through the preserve would fragment and degrade habitat while polluting air and water.”

“It is unconscionable that a highway project would be designed to destroy a nature preserve that is filled with a vast array of plants and animals in a unique and vanishing sand prairie ecosystem, said Pam Mackey-Taylor, Iowa Chapter Energy chair.

The Iowa Department of Transportation declared the project a priority in June 2012 and will be accepting construction bids in early 2013. The project is expected to be completed in 2017.

“Sierra Club is challenging the Environmental Impact Statement in federal court because it did not examine any alternatives outside of the preserve,” said Wally Taylor, Iowa Chapter Legal chair.

Each year, America invests more than $200 billion in federal, state, and local tax dollars on transportation infrastructure-bridges and highways, aviation and waterways, public transit and sidewalks. But too often transportation projects undermine the higher national goals of reducing oil consumption, increasing safety, improving public health, and saving local, state or federal government-and citizens-money.

Americans are struggling with the health, climate, and economic costs of our oil-centered transportation system. While new standards that double fuel efficiency of new vehicles to 54.5 mpg by 2025 and cut carbon emissions in half are essential to reducing our dependence on oil and its many consequences, our transportation investments should provide an opportunity to further reduce our dependence on oil, reverse climate disruption, and save money. Because transportation infrastructure lasts for decades, the impacts of transportation investments are felt for many years to come, with huge consequences for America’s ability to move beyond oil.

Read the full at http://content.sierraclub.org/…

The full report highlights 22 “best” and 28 “worst” projects around the country. In the opening section of Smart Choices, Less Traffic, the authors examine why we are making so many bad investments in transportation infrastructure.

Today, there is a growing demand for oil-free transportation options.

Americans agree; federal transportation policy should support the development of biking, transit, and pedestrian infrastructure to ensure our roads are safe, convenient, and accessible for all.

• Eighty-two percent of Americans-both urban and rural-feel that “the United States would benefit from an expanded and improved transportation system, such as rail and buses.”7

• More than 80 percent of Americans support maintaining or increasing federal funding for biking and walking.8

• Increasingly, people are choosing to live in walkable, mixed-use communities with transportation choices and recreational opportunities.9 The Baby Boomer generation is increasingly demanding opportunities for continued independence, which means accessible transportation options.10 Between 1960 and 2003, the elderly population in the United States more than doubled, increasing 116 percent.11 Projections show that the steady increase in elderly population growth will continue unabated until at least 2030.12

• Eighty percent of Americans now live in metropolitan areas.13

• In 2004, vehicle miles traveled peaked and, for the first year since World War II, Americans began driving less.14

• By 2011, Americans drove 6% fewer miles per year than they were in 2004.15

• One third of Americans don’t drive at all. 16 […]

Though federal transportation policy has made some small steps in the right direction, transportation policy remains stuck in the 20th century. The transportation law Congress passed at the end of June 2012, called MAP-21, failed to include significant steps to address the problem. Notably, the final bill dropped key provisions that would have made streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians, maintained transit commuter benefits at a level equal to parking benefits, and set a national objective for addressing energy consumption in transportation. Though MAP-21 authorizes $105 billion in federal spending for transportation over two years, it spends four times as much on highways as on other modes of transportation.22

Among the remarkable statistics this report highlights:

The average American household spends more on transportation than on food, education or healthcare-16 percent of their annual budget.23 Low-income families spend as much as 55 percent of their household budgets on transportation.24 The average annual operating cost of a private vehicle is $8,220/year, versus $308/year for a bicycle.25

A committee of reviewers, including authors of this report, evaluated transportations projects according to the following criteria:

1. Oil use impact

2. Environmental impact

3. Health impact

4. Economic impact

5. Land use impact

The Highway 100 extension was one of many “worst” projects that “pass through urban parks, nature preserves, cultural heritage sites, open spaces, and valuable farmland.” The authors mentioned it as an example of a plan that will “induce demand” rather than solve a long-term transportation problem.

Induced demand: The worst transportation infrastructure projects drain resources from local economies, costing billions of tax dollars while failing to solve the problems they intend to fix. Frequently, transportation projects are intended to reduce congestion; however, studies show that building or widening highways only invites more traffic, a phenomenon called “induced demand.”45 Upon the opening of new road capacity, motorists take longer and more frequent trips or switch routes to take advantage of the new capacity, or new drivers are attracted to the development. Often, induced traffic eats up to 50 to 100 percent of the roadway’s new capacity within a few years and creates extra traffic on local streets at both ends of the trip.46 Examples of this kind of project include the Grand Parkway in Texas, the Jefferson Parkway in Colorado, and the Highway 100 Extension in Iowa.

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