Saturday, January 20, 2007

Insert Track, Pave Road, Repeat

Most cities pay for neighborhood and city roads through bonds financed through the general fund which usually comes out of property taxes or taxes that aren't the gas tax. These road projects are big money for contractors but I wonder how much more it would cost when designing roads to add in a lane and rails for light rail or a streetcar. It doesn't seem like it would cost that much more aside from steel for the rail itself (which has been skyrocketing over the last few years) and a bit of extra engineering.

At some point streets downtown need to be reconstructed anyway so why not build light rail when already replacing the street if its in the cities future? Generally costs for reconstruction of the street and utility relocation are blamed on the transit authority and lumped in with the cost of the project which allows project opposition to cite high costs as a reason not to make the capital investment in rail infrastructure. But with this method we go back to the way it when streetcars were first built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, where they were the reason the street was built and paid for at all.

This forward thinking is going on in Charlotte. Even though they aren't running streetcars until 2019, they are going to build the line into the street when they replace Elizabeth Avenue downtown.

Last year, Grubb helped persuade the Charlotte Area Transit System to redirect the streetcar through a proposed development off Hawthorne Lane. He was aware of the city's $277,000 purchase of steel streetcar rails. They will be laid during an estimated $10 million remake of Elizabeth Avenue that includes sidewalks, streetlights, sewer lines and underground utilities. The all-in-one construction effort could start by summer.

Transit agencies and Cities could be more forward thinking in this respect as more rail infrastructure is planned and built. However there needs to be provisions for this type of forward thinking in the new starts process and the NEPA process as well...but lets take it one step at a time.

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