After reading the various articles on Sightline.com and “Our Cities: Ourselves, 10 Principles for Transportation in Urban Life”, I started to develop a feeling of sympathy alongside my fellow engineers who work on highway improvement projects. While it is true we are supporters of highway improvements projects, most of us are also strong supporters of public transits.
The United States interstate system, aka Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highway, is named after the President who was its most ardent supporter. Authorized for construction in 1956, the original portion was completed after 35 years. It is now the second longest roadway network (after China), and is said to help US into a economic superpower. It is also part of the Strategic Highway Network identified by US Department of Defense, critical to the mobility of troops in United States. In times of natural disasters, the Highway system is also used to facilitate evacuations, usually allowing all lanes to be outward bound instead of normal traffic flow. This system is also crucial to commerce, by allowing goods and services to be transported across the land in a speedy and safe manner. Lastly, it enables fellow users like you and me to travel across this nation with ease, improving mobility and enable access to relatively isolated regions.
As mentioned, I am a supporter of mass transits. From an engineering point of view, a car that carries a single occupant is simple waste of resources. People can and should be moved across time and space in a manner than utilizes the least amount of resources. By this definition, everyone should use public transportation, and limit car trips to essential trips only. Improving the highway system is a necessity, but expanding highway system due to increasing car trips from citizens may not always be the best option.
Having worked in the highway construction industry, I have come to realize most of the argument against improving and increasing coverage of public transportation stem from emotions and cultural values. One such example (given to me by a city official in Delaware), is the importance of highway funding for small towns. In his understanding, the highway is supported by gas taxes, and he believes that a redirection of funds to public transit will take away subsidy of rural highways, destroying the livelihood of small towns.
Unfortunately, that is not the entire picture. There has been a steady decline in rural towns in America, with 79% of US population listed as living in urban environment, according to US Census. Also, rural highways are seldom funded by gas taxes. Rural highways are usually funded by the state, counties and towns.
I am sure there are many more factually inaccurate reasoning on why we should expand highways, as mentioned in sightline.com. The American Society of Civil Engineers, along with public transit supporters, works tirelessly to promote improvement in infrastructure, with public transit as one of the top priorities. It is time US invest in forward thinking investment in the future, and stop looking only at short term gains.
Expanding and improving the current highway system is a necessity. However, expanding the system simply for user convenience is both irresponsible and ill-advised, with irreversible damage to the environment. Maybe it is time we change our commuting habits, and strong encourage the government to improve our public transit system.