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Friday, December 11, 2009

"Patriot Parkway": An Expensive Mistake

I know I've said this before, but it still amazes me that in this city, which was just ranked one of the smartest cities in the world, the majority of us think that the only solution to fix our transportation network is to "build more roads," without any regard to cheaper alternatives such as better land-use planning, congestion management, and the "T-word" (transit). Does this mean that I'm against building any more roads? No, but I am against unnecessary roads that will only augment our growing congestion and pollution problems, such as the much praised Southern Bypass, also known as the "Patriot Parkway."

The "Patriot Parkway" is the embodiment of the Founding Fathers' vision: an 8-lane masterpiece of concrete, asphalt, and steel, plowing through neighborhoods and swamps, that will more than likely be run by a foreign toll road company, such as Australia's Macquarie. And the estimated cost for this American dream? $550 million. That doesn't take into account inflation and increased construction costs that will occur in the 10+ years before the road is built, and the fact that the average 8-lane urban highway now costs anywhere between $40 and $150 million per mile (the $550M estimate assumes $42.3M/mile).

Increasing costs aside, here's what $550 million could do to fix our current road network:
1. Widen Winchester (to Tennessee);
2. Widen 53 (to Tennessee);
3. Widen Zierdt Road (to Triana); and
4. Finish the Parkway (from Tennessee River to Tennessee).

If the money were invested in transit, the same amount could build:
1. A commuter rail line from downtown to Decatur's Beltline (28 miles, a $235 million value)*
2. A 7-mile light rail line, or the distance from downtown to Mountain Gap Road (a $280M value)*
3. A regional bus system, including several express bus routes to connect the rail lines to the Arsenal/MSFC ($300K/diesel or CNG bus; $500K for hybrid).

Either through more roads or transit (or, even better, a mixture of both), these projects would effectively kill any need to build a bypass, and would keep civil engineers and planners busy for many years to come.

So Huntsville, do you want to spend your taxpayer money on a brand-spanking new highway that will only increase congestion and pollution in a city that is within a couple of months of reaching non-attainment? We've got to be smarter than this.

*Estimation made by taking the average of five recent commuter rail projects' costs per mile: New Mexico's RailRunner ($4.3M), Salt Lake City's FrontRunner ($8.37M), Nashville's Music City Star ($1.3M), San Diego's Coaster ($2.21M), and Seattle's Sounder ($26.1M). The LRT estimate is an estimate using two current LRT projects' costs per mile: Norfolk's TheTide ($42M) and Salt Lake City's UTA Mid-Jordan Line ($38M).


Jeff said...

Amen to that. I would love to see a light rail service in Huntsville or at least revamped bus routes. It just seems like something like the southern bypass, while maybe solving todays problems, probably won't be the permanent solution. How long do we keep building roads, building roads, until we get into public transit?

Anonymous said...

If a "southern bypass" can't go through the arsenal, then we don't need one. Whoever thought using Jordan Lane as the bypass is nuts. Just what would be bypassed, then? Why not look at taking Wal-Triana all the way to the river, build a bridge, then build a highway to connect to 231 on the southern side of the river rather than shoehorning something in on Jordan? Cost more? Yes. Be more useful? Definitely!

James said...

Actually, completing Wall-Triana with a bridge over the Tennessee would be much cheaper... if it's not built to Interstate standards (which it shouldn't be anyway) the cost would probably be less than $100 million, or about 20% of the cost of Patriot Parkway.

BTW, some good articles in the Birmingham News on Sunday regarding their $3 billion Northern Bypass, I-959. Note how ALDOT rejected more effective routes for the longest route because of the "economic development opportunities" (read: sprawl). http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2009/12/northern_beltline_work_set_to.html

David said...

Huntsville only cares about South Huntsville. They three-laned the Parkway, continue to plan overpasses on South Parkway, and want the bypass as well.

The only money Huntsville spends elsewhere (say on 72 West) is to put up traffic signals for shopping centers.

Anonymous said...

As long as Madison continues to approve new subdivisions that feed onto 72 willy-nilly, 72 will be a mess no matter what improvements are made to it.