Small Cities, Big Roads: the Story of American Infrastructure

I haven’t had a lot of time for blogging recently (though I did post my final papers), but the semester’s over now (thank God), so here’s a fun little celebration post.

Chuck Marohn and the crew over at Strong Towns, among others, have been doing a good job documenting the absurd overbuilding of American infrastructure. I spend too much of my time daydreaming by zooming around the country on Google Maps, and in doing so I’ve noticed a trend that I think typifies the kind of obscene overbuilding that has so thoroughly screwed up the American transportation system. ¬†As it turns out, many, many small American cities have ridiculous bypass roads that must have been built at great expense to taxpayers. I’m not talking about freeways, mind you; I approve of not destroying towns with those things. I’m talking about much smaller highways, the kind where driving through a small city isn’t going to cost you too much time or make you slow down from 70 mph. And the impact of diverting those highways to save a couple of minutes can be devastating to smaller towns or cities; the highways are often the economic lifeblood of a smaller town, and pulling cars away from Main Street and to a bypass can kill a town for good. (That being said, I should acknowledge that sometimes communities do ask for bypasses, to get traffic off their roads or because they think it will preserve a small-town way of life.)

Without further ado…multiple examples of the genre of “Small American Cities with Big Bypass Roads!”

Westerly, RI (Population 22,787): RI-78

Burlington, WI (pop. 10, 464): WI-36 (bypass opened in 2010 at the cost of $118 million. Remember, this is Paul “fiscal conservative” Ryan’s congressional district)

Bennington, VT (pop. 15,764): VT (actually extends a little into New York too) 279. This one’s special because it bypasses a good bit of countryside too:

Upper Sandusky, OH (pop. 6,596): US-30

Xenia, OH (pop. 25,719): US-35

Those are just a few examples; I’m sure there are dozens more. I’m also sure that some of the citizens of these towns prize these bypass roads, thinking they divert fast cars and loud, heavy trucks from local streets. And maybe they do. But as the Burlington example demonstrates–and I remember seeing the road under construction on a family roadtrip to Wisconsin when I was in high school, and marveling at the vastness of the earth-moving in a totally rural area–the costs, both fiscal and ecological, are enormous. Aren’t there better ways to calm traffic, keep people moving, and keep the economy pumping than these enormously wasteful exercises?

 

 

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