What If the State Department of Transportation Tore Down Texas Highways?

I am all for Texas joining forward thinking regions to get rid of the endless production of concrete in favor of mass transit—real mass transit, not what passes for it in most of our cities and counties.

“I know there’s the mindset that if you build it, they will come,” says Diann Hodges, a spokesperson for TxDOT’s Austin district. “Well, they have come. Anybody who lives or drives in Austin knows the congestion that we’re dealing with. So we’ve got to make improvements to the road that is there to make it accessible to everyone.”

This is how transportation departments across the country have functioned for decades—building ever bigger highways to fix traffic—despite the reams of evidence that it doesn’t work. Between 1993 and 2017, the 100 largest urbanized areas in the United States spent more than $500 billion adding new freeways or expanding existing ones. In those same cities, congestion increased by 144 percent, significantly outpacing population growth. “I think traffic engineers tend to think traffic is like a liquid. If the pipes aren’t big enough, then it gets plugged up and overflows,” says Robert Goodspeed, a professor of urban planning at the University of Michigan. “The solution is building bigger pipes. But all of the evidence says that that’s not true, that instead [traffic] is much more like a gas, meaning the volume of traffic congestion will expand to take up the capacity allowed.”

Texas’ population is projected to nearly double by 2050. Most of that growth will happen in urban areas like Austin, which has been the fastest-growing major metropolitan region in the country over the past decade. Texas leaders have decided that to accommodate that growth, the state urgently needs “to get new roads built swiftly and effectively,” as Governor Greg Abbott has promised. Despite the fact that it is much more efficient, sustainable, and safe to move people through crowded cities by other modes—like buses and trains—TxDOT spends essentially all of its funding on enabling seamless car travel. Since 2015, TxDOT has committed more than $25 billion to “congestion relief” projects across the state and has plans to expand highways in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, and El Paso.

If traffic can expand, it can also contract. Advocates in Texas are at the epicenter of a national movement asking: What if, instead of building our aging roads back wider and higher—doubling down on the displacement that began in the 1950s and the climate consequences unfolding now—we removed those highways altogether? What if we restored the scarred, paved-over land they inhabit and gave it back to the communities it was taken from?

Read on www.texasobserver.org/the-road-home/

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