Monday, August 18, 2008

Roads Unpaid For

I often wonder why there is a double standard. Many critics of the Portland Streetcar point to its success as a function of subsidies for developers. There are some projects in the Pearl that have gotten tax breaks, but let's remember that Homer Williams didn't have to upzone his property from 15 units per acre to over 100. 30% affordable housing and parks were also provided. So while there were breaks, there have also been benefits.

But on the other side, there are roads that are built into no-where because of expected future demand. There are very few cars traveling there at the time, but its expected to grow. So why the double standard? Why say that building a rail line to support future density is worthless while turning your head when a road is built to support future sprawl. One is enabling infrastructure waste and the other efficient development. Especially at a time with increasing energy costs and a need for alternatives.

The blog bleeding heartland covers a local example of this in Iowa.

On a related note, this past Saturday 1000 Friends of Iowa organized a "tour de sprawl" in northern Polk County as part of its annual meeting. The bus tour took us through several areas in the corridor being considered for a four-lane beltway in northeast Polk County.

It is incredible to realize that Congressman Leonard Boswell will be seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for this road project. A very small number of people would benefit (primarily developers who are buying up farmland near the beltway's path).

Meanwhile, valuable farmland could be lost and irreplaceable natural areas such as the Moeckley Prairie could be threatened.

The opportunity cost of spending hundreds of millions on a new road heading north from Altoona and then east to I-35 would be enormous. Traffic flows do not justify this project through sparsely-populated rural areas, especially when gasoline is expensive and many Americans are seeking alternatives to driving.

1 comment:

desmoinesdem said...

Thanks for the link. 1000 Friends of Iowa has been fighting the proposed northeast Polk County beltway road for years and will continue to do so. Unfortunately, the list of people who have been buying farmland along the proposed corridor reads like a who's who of prominent developers. They might have paid $5,000 per acre or so for the farmland, but if a road is built and the land is zoned for residential or commercial development, the same farmland might easily be worth $20,000 to $50,000 per acre.

Congressman Leonard Boswell was challenged in the Democratic primary this year by Ed Fallon, who has long opposed the beltway road. One of the developers formed a 527 group that sent out nasty direct-mail pieces attacking Fallon:

This isn't the only reason Fallon lost the Democratic primary, but it shows how important it was for this developer to keep Boswell in office.