On the eve of shutting down a portion of I-64, still known locally as Highway 40, one traffic engineer is upset by MoDOT’s plan. It appears that he and others have built us an expensive roadway system that is critically tied to a single highway. Close it and our region will cease to function, he claims! Wow, brilliant planning to be so reliant on a single corridor.
From Joe Passanise’s stophighway40closure.com website:
Imagine ALL the lanes of Highway 40 are completely closed in both directions – for TWO years. You are one of about 160,000 motorists who normally travel Highway 40, but now have to find alternate roads. You are stuck in traffic every day this week going to and from work using alternate roads that are packed with traffic. You inch along with other motorists hoping to move faster – but you realize it is gridlock traffic again. You are getting frustrated and impatient waiting through the endless number of traffic signal cycles. Eventually you get home – drained, tired and angry at whoever is responsible for creating this traffic mess.
You realize that your travel time has increased about three times your normal travel time. This has increased your cost about three times more for gasoline. This means you are spending less time with your family and tripling your cost of traveling to and from work.
Well, Mr. Passanise, you actually need to have a grid to have gridlock! Back in the days before we abandoned how cities were built for centuries, we had a grid. It was a nice grid that took people in all directions. One street backed up, no problem, just go over a block or two and go through that way. Typically blocks would be 300-600ft long. Some streets were more prominent than others but this allowed local traffic to use a lessor street while through traffic used a more major street.
Along comes the traffic engineer and his buddies the urban planner and visionary architect and they dream up a better way, doing away with the grid in new areas. The new streets, with the promise of easy motoring, would go from the local cul-de-sac to the collector road to the arterial and finally to the highway. The only through streets would be the arterials and highways. The old grid was messed up as well, with new highways terminating the existing grid, rendering it only partially effective.
The irony is, of course, that if our suburban areas did have a grid the closing of the interstate wouldn’t be such a big deal. Motorists displaced from the interstate would have numerous alternative East-West routes. Instead, with only a few East-West streets like Manchester Rd, Clayton Rd and Olive, those seeking to traverse the mid-county area of the region are going to be royally screwed very soon. For reasons stated above, it is not going to be gridlock. More like artery blockage.
Suburban advocates have long cited the public choice theory for the rise of suburbia (and the fall of inner cities), that people voted with their feet and moved to where they wanted to live. Well, true enough. But now these same folks, their kids and grandkids, aren’t so pleased with their choice. With public infrastructure spread out over increasing amounts of land per person, they come to the public trough expecting everyone to subsidize their lifestyle choice, one totally dependent upon the car on limited-access highways. We’re not asked to buy the car, just everything else. Oh yeah, and fight off anyone that attempts to limit our supply of cheap oil so that we don’t have gas prices commensurate with the rest of the industrialized world.
Where does Mr. Passanise live? In suburbia, of course. Let’s take a look, shall we:
Mr. & Mrs. Passanise live in Creve Coeur, in a condo purchased in 2005 (lower right, near golf course). As we can see, the Passanise’s have a number of businesses, including a number of car dealerships, not far from their home. While sidewalks exist in some places, they are certainly not complete and you can’t walk door to door as you would in a traditional neighborhood of years past or newer versions such as New Town at St. Charles. Along Olive are several places to buy groceries; Provisions, Trader Joes and a Dierbergs (or is that a Schnucks?). However, I certainly wouldn’t want to walk to these from Passanise’s condo. I can see how someone living in this environment is saddled to car. This brings us back to the public choice theory, they voluntarily moved to an auto-centric part of the region (of course, that is hard not to do).
Interestingly, the City of Creve Coeur is not pleased with their suburban environs that lack a true downtown. The grid-less and congested streets, the increasingly larger parking lots, the dangerous sidewalks, and so on created by traffic engineers and others doesn’t really work. Today, a new set of planners are carving out a true downtown for Creve Ceour, just north of Old Ballas Rd. How are they doing this? They plan to construct a street grid of short blocks!
But let’s move on to Passanise’s main claim, the additional costs to motorists during the shutdown;
Ignoring the collateral cost of depression and stress to the personal lives of each of the 80,000 motorists, the collective cost for additional fuel and time for Highway 40 users for two years is estimated to be $592,400,000 [fuel]+ $6,979,200 [time] = $599,379,200 or approximately $600 million. Please note that this is more than the $552 million construction cost budgeted by MODOT.
How does his calculations compare to say keeping a lane or two open in each direction during the project? We don’t really know because he is only comparing from a base of doing nothing, not the suggested alternate of keeping traffic moving through the construction zone. Not only would keeping a lane or two open increase the direct costs by MoDOT but is not like motorists would be able to get through in the same amount of time they are today. Instead of two years of construction this might take three or more years to complete. People who are dependent upon the highway are going to have delays and unless they’ve got a Toyota Prius that shuts off when stopped, they will waste gas idling. If he is going to claim the delays will cost another $600 million we need to see the estimates for keeping a portion of the highway open. From a worker safety standpoint, keeping a portion of the highway open will increase the risk of injuries or death for those doing the work.
Granted, Mr. Passanise is right, people’s lives will be significantly impacted by the closure. We’ve become used to being able to get pretty much anywhere in the region, either side of the river, in under a half hour. That will soon change, one of the realities of sprawling to the degree that we have. We’ve had it easy up until now, time to pay the piper.
MoDOT is saying they need to shut down the interstate to stay on schedule and on budget. Given the flack over Metro on the extension of our light rail, it is hard to blame them for keeping the budget and time table in mind. But earlier tonight, at Passanise’s meeting, the speakers were all upset with MoDot for putting their budget as the top priority. Yeah, what are they thinking, not wasting our tax money?
Passanise, being the good traffic engineer, wants to keep cars moving 24/7. Based on his estimates, Mr. Passanise seems to think everyone will continue to drive their own personal single occupancy cars for the next two years. However, car pools will form, transit ridership will increase and yes jobs will shift around the region. It will be rough going at first but people will find ways to adapt.
However, it is true that not everyone can adapt. For example, those living in subdivisions just off say Clayton Road, near the epicenter at I-170, will have little choice but to use Clayton Road if they plan to ever leave their homes. Sidewalks and crossings are already poor in many of these areas and increased traffic will make it worse. Bicyclists, I’m told, are already getting told by police to get off the road and onto the sidewalk.
The irony here, of course, is that if more people walked or biked the problem wouldn’t be as bad. Still, we very much have a one person, one car mentality. There is a reason your sedan has four doors and extra seat belts! If we actually had a street grid in many parts of the county, residents could access nearby stores without adding to the congestion on main arterials.
Tonight’s meeting was poorly attended, maybe 15-20 non-news people. The speakers were an interesting group, besides engineer Passanise we had Missouri State Rep from Frontenac, T. Scott Muschany (R-87) and former school board member and a former candidate for every office, Bill Haas. Muschany has filed a bill to make it illegal to shut down a highway for more than 60 days at a time. Haas intends to file a lawsuit to attempt to block the shutdown.
Me? I say shut it down. Not just for a couple of years, but permanently. Make a nice boulevard out of it with 4-6 total through lanes and slip roads on each side with on-street parking in front of urban buildings lining the corridor. This through section in the middle would have limited intersections but many more streets would be able to cross the roadway, so that you would not end up with homes on one side of the highway able to see stores across the way but have it be a long drive around to get there.
Yeah, I know, it ain’t gunna happen, just had to put it out there again. I also registered shutdown40.com which links back to my Highway 40 category here at UrbanReviewSTL.com. A gimmick? You bet, I can register domains with the best of them.
We are going to get a big ugly rebuilt highway that will be great until it fills up with traffic in short order. More cars & truck, more infrastructure, more pollution, more maintenance, more sprawl, more dependency, and more foreign oil. Frankly, I’m glad MoDOT is shutting down the highway. Maybe folks will get the message that living in a physical environment that forces people to drive everywhere isn’t very bright.