On Untolled Congested Highways, Every Day is Free Cone Day

Good, important topic - and useful discussion continues in the comments. - promoted by david

zakimGreat analogy from Matt Yglesias to explain why congested roads should be tolled:

Build a useful road and you’ll find that space on the road at peak times is a valuable commodity. And yet it’s also a commodity that’s generally either available for free or else available for a price that’s unrelated to the demand for space on the road. Naturally an underpriced valuable commodity leads to overconsumption. Traffic jams, in other words.

Every once in a while Ben & Jerry’s holds a “Free Cone Day” that invariably leads to long lines. Roadways in dynamic metro areas are basically holding Free Cone Day five days a week. Charge people enough money to eliminate routine congestion and you’ll find yourself with fewer traffic jams and an enormous pool of revenue that can be used to maintain your basic infrastructure and upgrade your bus service.

Here in Massachusetts, our tolls are place-based (specific roads, tunnels and bridges) rather than congestion-based. MassDOT’s recently-released 21st Century Transportation Plan suggests congestion pricing as one possible funding mechanism, but doesn’t go into detail.

Right now, if I want to drive from my home in New Bedford to Boston, I only have to pay for gas – there’s not a single toll, meaning much of the road cost is being subsidized by other taxpayers (thanks!). But if I want to take the bus, it’s a ridiculous $24 round-trip. Once South Coast Rail is built, why not put a small congestion tax on Route 24 and a bigger one on the Southeast Expressway to nudge drivers out of traffic and put the money back into transportation projects?

Watch Jonas Eliasson, Director of the Centre for Transport Studies at Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology, explain how congestion pricing can improve traffic patterns – and drivers may not even realize they’ve been nudged out of their congested routine (if you can’t watch the video, read about it here):


47 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Doesn't always work.

    When I drive between here and DC I go straight through NYC via the GW bridge when going south because if I time it correctly it’s possible to do so without much traffic. However, coming north I use the Garden State Parkway to the Tappan Zee because there is always a long backup on the approach to the GW bridge. The difference is you have to pay toll coming north thus slowing everything down. Yes, you have to pay, I think less, for the Tappan Zee coming toward New England, but less traffic anyway means less backup. You also have to take care to not do this in places where surface street detours are readily available. I have said in the past that tolls to pay for the Big Dig should actually be on 93, which may get through traffic onto 128 which may be a good thing, but in general this is another example of my preference being to make public transit easier, but not make driving harder.

    • Tollbooths quickly becoming obsolete

      Gonna be one of those things, along with answering machines & VCRs, that our kids don’t know what they are.

    • Tappan Zee

      My understanding is that, once the replacement bridge is open, they want to make the toll $14 (eastbound only), same as it will be on the GWB and Hudson River tunnels.

      As much as I won’t enjoy paying that when I do go, I’ve long shaken my head at people who think all public transit should “pay its own way” with no subsidies at all from tax revenue, then freak out every time a toll or toll increase is proposed. I ask them on what day, in their copy of Genesis, was the entire street and highway network of the United States created.

  2. We don't all have transponders either.

    Do you propose requiring them standard on new cars and will the state give them away for older models?

  3. A few points on this

    I support peak-hour congestion tolls, since it will encourage some people to reschedule their travel for times that are less crowded. (Not to mention, as I’ve ranted elsewhere, it is wildly unfair that the Mass Pike is the only toll highway in the state when the toll money is being used for non-Pike uses.)

    However, I do think higher pricing at peak times is an important part of the equation. The mere existence of a toll does not solve congestion, as anyone who drives the Pike during rush hour (or before a Red Sox game) can attest.

    Finally, the cost of driving your car is more than the price of gas. Probably the only fixed cost is insurance (same no matter how much you drive). Everything else, from wear and tear on the tires to depreciation on the vehicle that will need to be replaced, needs to be added in.

    AAA calculates it costs 45 cents/mile to drive a small car and 58.5 cents/mile to drive a large one. IRS reimburses 56 cents/mile. Even if you say 40 cents/mile, at about 60 miles each way, your cost of driving is $48 roundtrip. Way more expensive than the bus. The fact that you don’t pay a portion of the cost of new tires, or the declining value of your car, each trip doesn’t mean the cost isn’t there.

    • All good points!

      Love when people take the time to leave good, meaty comments that advance the conversation. Thanks!

    • Congestion tolling should be, well, a function of congestion

      It’s pretty easy to measure congestion, either in real time or to forecast it. A over-simplistic forecast is:
      * regular weekend: no congestion
      * regular weekday 8pm – 7am: no congestion
      * regular weekday 11am – 3pm: low congestion
      * regular weekday 7am – 11am; 3pm – 8pm: high congestion
      * holidays (inc. day before, associated weekend travel days): high congestion

      Obviously, things like Red Sox games, snow warnings, etc. make things more complicated. It’s helpful to be able to respond to congestion in real time pricing, but it’s also helpful to forecast the costs 24 hours out so folks can plan to take the T that day, carpool that day, work from home that day, etc.

      Whether or not the non-congested time periods have no toll at all or a low toll is a political question, not a technical one.

  4. Peak hour tolls...

    …still penalize those whose schedules aren’t flexible, generally working- and middle-class, though I agree with oceandreams about the Pike. I don’t want drivers paying the costs of driving. General revenues should pay for all infrastructure, roads and rails alike.

    • Your plan

      penalizes those of us who choose to live close to work, who choose to walk, who choose to telecommute, etc.

      All public policy “penalizes” some group and benefits another group. The question is: how do we induce individual behavior which is less destructive on the public? In this case, we know that driving has a long list of detrimental externalities, so getting folks to commute with fewer auto-miles would be good. We also know that driving results in congestion, which harms all people driving at that time *and* all people using the bus, the bicycle, or the street car at that same time. That there are traffic jams induce a few folks to not drive, but it’s clearly not enough encouragement. How else would you encourage the reduction of congestion — a reduction which would benefit all of us [including, in addition to above, the avoidance of spending money to expand the roads we do have in an attempt to mitigate the congestion]?

  5. Another way for "The Man" to Keep Poor People Down

    Feakin’ limousine liberals.

    And since you mentioned it why on earth should we let the government require transponders in our cars?

    You people scare the fuck out of me.
    Really, you need to get out more often.

    eb3-fka-ernie-boch-iii   @   Tue 5 Feb 10:32 PM
    • Reading for comprehension

      Which part of “no transponders necessary” confused you?

      Really, you need to read more carefully.

    • I hope you don't have a cell phone in your pocket

      The jackbooted thugs can already track you if they were so inclined if you were dumb enough to get a cell phone. And wait till every car comes with WiFi standard! Gonna be a conspiracy theorist bonanza!

    • It's true - no transponders are needed

      Have you driven into NYC via the Henry Hudson Parkway recently? You just zip through those booths, with or without a transponder (you don’t even have to slow down). If you have one, the toll is automatically deducted from your account; if you don’t, as jasiu says above, they take a picture of your license plate and bill you.

      The future is already here, Ernie. Be ready.

    • I take the T (well the L)

      Pretty sure that ain’t a limosine. Why should car owners get a free pass when I have to pay for the crappy service I use every day?

  6. We have to improve our public transit first

    Once South Coast Rail is built, why not put a small congestion tax on Route 24 and a bigger one on the Southeast Expressway to nudge drivers out of traffic and put the money back into transportation projects?

    After all the wrangling, the Greenbush line was built. To me it’s practically useless. I have family down near Scituate and, at different times, have considered moving down that way. The Greenbush line is a big reason why I haven’t. I don’t want to commute on Route 3 by car, but the Greenbush line is slow and infrequent. For example, outbound from Boston on weeknights they have trains at 5:45, 6:38, 8:25, and 10:00. That’s it.

    My work life is a little odd now, but in the past I’ve often worked into the early evening and beyond. I would not want to miss the 6:38 by a minute or two and be stuck at South Station for two hours. The 8:25 gets to Scituate at almost 9:30 and you’ve got to get home from the station there. Totally out of luck if you go to a show or Sox game in town, no trains home after 10 PM.

    When I lived in NYC this was never an issue. Every suburban line had regular trains past midnight. And most lines out of North Station are much better. For example, train to Beverly: 5:40, 5:55, 6:15, 6:45, 7:40, 8:30, 9:30, 10:40, 12:10. Now that’s more like it.

    • NYC

      also has 24-hour subway and bus service. FWIW.

    • Chicken and egg

      We have roads and we have public transit. You roll out some congestion tolling, and you use it to improve the public transportation which the users could substitute — the commuter rail, feeder buses, and the public transit system at the destination city.

      The congestion pricing stimulates demand for the mass transit *and* revenue to help provide additional mass transit service. The result is some combination of reduced traffic jams or increased growth in the region or both.

      Comparing Boston commuter rail to NYC is a bit stacked. More than 50% of Americans who will ride on any train today [including heavy rail like Red, Blue, or Orange Line in Boston] will either get on or off that train in Manhattan. Almost twice as many people live in NYC as all of Massachusetts, and the suburban density of northern NJ, LI, Westchester Cty, and SW CT is much higher than much of Massachusetts. But, get more riders on the Greenbush and you’ll get more trips. Also, get the South Station expansion project built and there’ll be more “parking spaces” for trains to pick up commuters, thereby allowing more trips as well.

  7. Stomv...

    …I only call it a penalty if it is targeted. If everybody pays then it’s just a matter of whether you use it or not. My prefered method of raising revenue is through general taxation as well as an all of the above infrastructure spending program. We need more roads and rails all on the public, as opposed to fee for service, accounts. Fenway49 is right, we need to improve mass transit first without meanwhile sticking it to those of us who drive and implying that we are morally inferior for doing so.

    • I'm not going in circles with you again

      we get it, you drive, and therefore you don’t think that it’s reasonable that you pay for your driving. Water users pay for their water consumption, even though it’s public infrastructure. College kids pay for their college credits, even at public institutions. Families pay for their kids to play sports, even in public recreation leagues.

      But christopher shouldn’t have to pay for his roadway use, because that would be “sticking it” or implying or somesuch.

  8. Well for the record stomv...

    …you may recall I have advocated fully publicly funded utilities and higher ed too. I pay for gas because it is a commodity for sale by private business, but if it is provided by the government it should not be fee for service. Driving is enough of a need for many of us that it should not be inconvenienced by nickel and diming. Guess that’s my socialist streak talking. It’s IMO unprogressive and out of touch to advocate fees and taxes that will hit the middle and working classes hard.

    • You continue to miss the point about gas and driving

      Driving is a need because its true cost has been hidden by decades of misguided public policy. Old-school drug-pushers would provide free heroin to new users, in hopes of getting them addicted and then jacking up the price. The principle is the same here.

      The devastating effects of climate change, environmental damage (both direct and indirect), land use, energy wars, and all the other consequences of our current policy hit the middle and working classes far harder than anything contemplated here.

      I expect to have to constantly remind right-wingers that a small price often has to be paid now in order to avoid a much higher price later. I’m surprised that we have to so frequently make this case to you.

  9. Yet Tom...

    …when I suggest other ways to ameliorate environmental damage and costs you balk. Our goal should be the three Cs: convenient, cheap, clean. I for one strongly believe we can get there. If we can make cars that are fuel-efficient (by which I mean hybrid or at least 50 MPG and eventually fuel-free) AND have expanded pavement to alleviate congestion then all objections to driving go out the window and we’re left with the worst liberal stereotypes of trying to overregulate and overtax. I thought we had finally reached an understanding when you pointed out on another thread how out of sync MBTA routes and wait times are. Then there are the parts of the state that aren’t served by public transit and probably won’t be for sometime because demand doesn’t justify it. I don’t buy that driving came from misguided public policy. The creation of the Interstate and National Highway systems made people both literally and figuratively mobile and contributed a great deal to the post-WWII economic boom.

    • Pipe dream

      “Expanded pavement to alleviate congestion ” is a tailpipe dream. It does not happen. When capacity is increased, demand increases.

      Called “induced traffic,” this phenomenon has been discussed by transportation planners since at least Mike Demetsky’s 1971 work at the University of Virginia’s Center for Transportation Studies, so the Meadow Creek Parkway was certainly planned with knowledge of congestion reality. Indeed, 12 years ago the Commission on the Future of Transportation in Virginia noted that “it’s a futile exercise to attempt to build your way out of congestion problems by adding more highways.”

      Increasing highway lane-miles encourages more highway travel; trips that would not have occurred before expansion act to congest the new roads. I’ve been commuting on Rte3 (the north end) for about 30 years. A few years ago, they widened the highway to three lanes each way, which made the commute much easier – at first. Today, congestion is just about as thick as it was before the expansion, and the alternate routes are filling back up. In fact some places that have torn down highways (due to earthquake damage or failure from age) have found reduced congestion and faster travel times after the demolition.

      More miles of roads makes for more automobile use, and, inevitably, more of all the problems that auto use causes. Those problems are not just pollution and energy inefficiency. Thousands of people die every year in auto accidents (dwarfing the firearms toll, incidentally). Public transit is far safer. Paving over more land for use by automobiles reduces the area available for housing, recreation, and trees.

      In many ways, reliance on the automobile for mass transit is one of the worst ideas ever, and the sooner we get away from it, the better.

      • Transportation atherosclerosis

        Expanding pavement “to alleviate congestion” without solving the underlying structural problem that driving creates is like performing angioplasty on a patient with acute atherosclerosis who continues to gorge themselves on fried foods (trans-fats), smokes two packs of cigarettes a day, and doesn’t exercise. It offers a very temporary relief of symptoms, but (as kirth observes) ultimately worsens the problem, by enabling even more of the behaviors that exacerbate the problems.

        Your assertion that “all objections to driving go out the window” is patently false, to the point of absurdity. Electric cars need just as much chemical treatment of road surfaces as any other vehicle class. The catastrophic impact of all that “expanded pavement” on wetlands and surrounding watersupplies is well-documented. The social, cultural and economic impact of that “expanded pavement” on the communities riven by it is profound and pervasive. It is hugely ironic that suburban and exurban cities and towns are positively eager to build more highways and expand existing ones — so long as that “expanded pavement” goes in somebody else’s town or in poor sections of their own. You’re relatively active in local politics — when was the last time you experienced a city or town actively seeking to expand a major highway within that town? I note that communities like Carlisle are very good a making sure that highways like Route 3 get built and then expanded in neighboring towns like Billerica. One look at the property tax appraisals in the two towns goes a long way towards explaining why.

        Those interstates and national highways also contributed a great deal towards destroying the economic well-being of enormous swaths of America’s heartland. If you haven’t already, you might try taking a drive along some of the byways in Pennsylvania between the Delaware river and Pittsburgh — or even better, take one of the few remaining passenger trains and pay attention to the state of the once-thriving communities those trains pass through.

        I grant you that the buzz a heroin addict puts on feels really good for a time. New users of meth experience an immediate euphoria that causes them to believe they’re really really energized and effective. The truth, over the long haul, proves to be very different.

    • driving as the only alternative

      I don’t buy that driving came from misguided public policy.

      Take a look at the history of American cities. I received the Detroit version verbally from my Dad. The trolleys, which ran at frequent intervals, were replaced by buses (my Dad’s contention was that move was pressured by the automakers – I can’t back that up right now). The buses were eventually replaced by bigger buses and ran at less frequent intervals, to the point where ridership went down because it was cheap (to the user) and more convenient to drive. In turn, the buses ran even less frequently due to lack of demand.

      • I also have heard

        that Detroit’s trolley tracks were pulled up at the automakers’ behest.

        But certainly it’s due to public policy. As Christopher acknowledged, in the 50s we made a massive public investment in the interstate system, and that investment continues today (even though many interstates are in poor repair). That investment, and the investment of virtually every state in limited access parkways, made suburban living a lot more attractive than it otherwise would have been.

        With each town (or county in some states) competing for tax base, and a good share of the workforce living in the suburbs, suburban office parks came next. Now a large percentage of the population can’t, practically speaking, commute by anything other than car. That might not have seemed misguided then, but we have to face our current (awful) situation now.

        As for the postwar boom, western European nations did not become so sprawling or car-dependent, but (with the help of our Marshall Plan) boomed just as much during that period. 1945-75 is seen as an economic golden age in France, les Trente Glorieuses. But even today European suburban housing is denser than here. Acre plus lots? No way. And their public investment has been in trains.

        • There was a Worcester-to-Boston trolley along Rte. 9

          There was a trolley line running all the way from Worcester to Boston along what is now Rte. 9.

          “The Railway was envisioned as the first high speed long-distance interurban trolley line in New England by the Boston and Worcester Streetcar Railway Company,” according to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. It opened in 1903. The Model T came out in 1908. By 1932 the trolley was abandoned and we got a divided highway instead, built by the state.

      • More than just rumor and mythology

        The General Motors Streetcar Conspiracy was more than just a rumor, it happened.

        As fenway49 observes, many economies outside the US boomed without getting sucked into the automobile addiction that we now all suffer from. It took generations to create the unsustainable and devastating automobile-centric culture that we now have, and it will take generations to move beyond it.

        Pretending that there is no problem and demanding that we perpetuate — and subsidize, by government policy! — the behaviors that led to the current dilemma is not helpful and in fact makes the ultimate solution far more difficult.

  10. So we are at a philosophical impasse.

    I’m all for doing what is necessary and spending what is necessary (from general revenue sources) to make driving cleaner, safer, more efficient, etc. However, I will not go as far as to say we have to get rid of it per se. For every problem Kirth and Tom have come up with above my response is fix that problem specifically without impacting actual driving. Unless or until we have a transit system (and this is the part I don’t see happening) that leads me to never miss owning a car I cannot consider what you suggest a viable option.

    • Entitlement thinking

      I suggest that some might characterize your “philosophical impasse” as simple denial, with a fair degree stubbornness mixed in.

      The “actual driving” that you defend so passionately costs more than other transportation alternatives, and costs significantly more than you and we have been paying since the dawn of the automobile age. You insist that society shield you from the gap between what you and we are accustomed to paying and what it actually costs.

      I suggest that, in a market-driven society and economy, such insistence is misplaced and unsustainable. There will always be some who need to use a vehicle more than others. Those will, unavoidably, pay more than they now pay. There will be others — I submit a great many others — who will save money, time, and aggravation by an improved public transportation system.

      Any “philosophical impasse” that we face strikes me as created by your apparent belief that you are entitled to drive, forever, for about what you’re paying now. I think that is “entitlement thinking”, and I think it’s unworkable and unsustainable.

    • How?

      How do you fix the problem of thousands of people killed without impacting actual driving?
      How do you fix the problem of water supply degradation from roadway runoff without impacting actual driving?
      How do you fix the problem of wildlife habitat destruction without impacting actual driving?

      None of those costs are included in the money we expend to drive a car. Is it fair that people who don’t own a car pick up part of the tab for, and suffer from the damage caused by our operating cars? There are better ways to move people around, and other parts of the world are successfully using some of them. We could too, but it would impact actual driving.

  11. I don't have all the answers...

    …though each new model year has features that make driving safer than the the previous year, laws can be enacted to enhance safety, alternatives to salt can be used, and working around habitats are just some examples that come to mind.

    Yes, Tom to some extent I DO feel entitled. I should not have to run my entire life around timetables, or pay everytime I want or need to leave my residence. Build a better transit system and I’ll be happy to use it, but both business and pleasure often involve moving around. Cars may not quite rise to the level of food, clothing, and shelter in terms of need, but they certainly occupy a tier not much lower along with computers, phones, and other conveniences of the first world in the 21st century. Keep in mind living paycheck to paycheck means you notice when the posted prices at your local gas station jumps 10 cents overnight. What you describe is not the only thing that is unsustainable.

    • None of us have all the answers...

      It isn’t necessary to have all the answers, we should not expect that of you, me or anyone else.

      My wife’s family, who live in Innsbruck, do not run their lives around timetables. They do not pay every time they want or need to leave their residence. They use the car they own very infrequently (in comparison to many US residents), and they are therefore far less sensitive to changes in the price of gas. They also pay more than twice as much for gas as we do here, and their car gets 40+ mpg. They are not wealthy (a single mom who is a retired schoolteacher, her grown daughter, and several greyhound dogs).

      That Innsbruck family doesn’t need to run their lives around a timetable because they can walk ten minutes to a bus stop, where a bus arrives every 10-12 minutes pretty much around the clock (every 20 minutes during late-night periods) and sometimes much more frequently. They walk, bike, bus, or train to work.

      Among the most devastating consequences of the automobile boom of the 20th century was the destruction or desolation of enormous numbers of cities and towns. We see that here in Massachusetts, where town centers that were once desirable and affluent communities are now eyesores and challenged. Boston Road, from Billerica center towards Chelmsford, was a stately route with a carriage-way in the middle, wide sidewalks, and an inter-urban train (street car) down one side. Lovely large homes were intentionally built close to the road so that they were convenient to access from the street, especially when carrying packages. Large front porches faced the road, so that people could sit on their front porches and socialize with their neighbors who were walking or riding past. People worked, shopped, entertained themselves, worshiped, and went to school in the town center. Larger cities, like Lowell, Lawrence, Boston, and Nashua, were accessible by streetcar — those trips took about as long as they now take by car.

      I suggest that there are are visions for Massachusetts and America that are positive, family-friendly, prosperous, and sustainable — and that do not depend on our millions and millions of privately-owned automobiles.

      • Very true

        I spent a lot of time in Munich a few years ago for work. No problem getting around. I had no car and rarely took taxis. The sheer number of people riding bikes to work in the center city was impressive.

        But they have a major boulevard that’s got dedicated bike lanes separated from car traffic entirely. Not like our Mass. Av. little white stripes. That boulevard is wide enough for it. In the center streets are as narrow as ours, but with a large no-car zone and designated streets for bikes alone it works. They also ticket reckless daredevil bikers aggressively.

        Our physical plant is going to need major retro-fitting for us to make major changes. But I think growing population, growing congestion, cost of oil, and climate change will force our hand. Boston probably is better positioned than much of the U.S. for this kind of thing.

  12. You lay out a great vision above Tom...

    …and I’d be happy with all you describe except gas costing twice as much, for which I continue to say if we need money to pay for that vision raise it out of general revenues. How much are fares for public transit in Innsbruck?

    • Not high

      How much are fares for public transit in Innsbruck?

      Depends on where you’re going, they have a zone system. Within the center it’s under 2 Euros. From the center out to a more suburban area a few miles away, it’s EUR 3.20. But they have weekly, monthly, annual passes at significant discount. This is in German but gives an idea. An annual pass within the central zone comes out to EUR 1.21 per day, and trips are unlimited. They also sell family passes, lower rates for students, kids, seniors, etc. If you’re commuting from farther out, it’s more but probably still less than most MBTA commuter rail passes (remember, they’re not converting from dollars to Euros).

      One thing is that cities there, except the biggest national capitals, are not as sprawled with suburbia. I flew in and out of Munich often and the airport, maybe 35 minutes’ drive or train from the center, is in the middle of fields. So more people live closer to city center than here. We will have a logistical issue moving to a transit-based system because of that.

  13. With this system

    and this technology, every road can become an income provider. They will refer to it as a user fee. The idea stinks. Roads are elements of our transportation network, and everyone benefits from them whether they drive on the roads, or not. Pay for them via taxes, both general and gas.

    • The point isn't revenue

      (a) to make sure that those costing society with their pollution [air, CO2, noise, water, etc] are the ones paying to clean it up, and
      (b) to alleviate congestion by using a financial system to encourage some folks to find a different approach to their transportation need than that stretch of road at that time.

      I’m not interested in charging roadway users *in aggregate* any more than the costs of the infrastructure and (a). The congestion pricing approach (b) means that some users will pay a bit more and some a bit less, but it also means that all users will benefit with less congestion, both private auto users and those who ride the bus or streetcar. If we get to the point where gas taxes [federal and state] and congestion fees and tolls exceed the actual cost of providing the transportation and the detrimental externalities, by all means lets lower some of those taxes or fees. Thing is: we’re not even close. As it stands now, those who use private autos rarely or never are paying far more than their share out of pocket and with respect to polluted air, land, and water. Those who use private autos often aren’t paying their fair share.

  14. The true cost of unbounded automobiles

    Both Christopher and the people arguing with him are correct from their own perspectives. Yes, increasing tolls will impact the people who have already chosen to settle far away from where they work, perhaps because they want to live in a way that is just not possible near where they work (on a 1-acre lot, for example). And yes, the policy of cheap individual transportation is very bad in many ways – economically (as we pour money out of the country for oil), environmentally, socially, etc.

    We need to look past the short-term and look to the long-term. We can’t blindly continue on the path that we’re going down. Just look to the next 10 years – many of our highways are nearing the end of their lifespans. In Springfield, the elevated Route 91 through downtown – built in the late 60s – has been tabbed for replacement. The price tag? $400 million. Although it is used by more than just the residents of Springfield, that amounts to $2,667 per city resident. And that’s for just a 2.5 mile stretch. Who is going to pay for that? All you people in Eastern MA.

    What has that interstate done for the city of Springfield? It gutted it. It allowed people to leave the central city for a dozen different suburbs, at first, commuting back for work and shopping, but then, eventually, shopping malls arose in the suburbs, and then the companies moved there too, leaving behind all the nasty things that cities supported with their tax dollars, like homeless shelters, mental treatment facilities, etc.

    But this movement didn’t just leave behind the bad things, it left behind the ability of people from different groups to exist side-by-side, it left behind compassion, a spirit of cooperation. It left behind an environment craved by young people who, upon graduating from college, see suburban life as too adult and stifling, but shun the bleak vision of poor urban life as even worse.

    More tangibly, decentralization left behind the advantage of economies of scale. When Springfield was a city of 250,000 across a broad economic spectrum, we were strong – we had a baseball stadium, great schools, concerts by famous artists, we supported great retail, etc. We could put up bridges, buildings, libraries, you name it. Now, even though the region has many more people, we can’t support any of that because those people are scattered few and far between. We don’t even have a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods in Hampden County – even though there are 500,000 people in the county. Why not? The demographics and geography of the residents – a geography enabled by a policy that masks the true costs of unbounded automobiles.

  15. A couple of things on nopolitician's comment.

    I think your I-91 example highlights a couple of important things, but I’m a little confused about which way you think is better. We cannot neglect improvements to paved highways from both a safety and an economic standpoint. Your point that it benefits more than just Springfield is of course valid and I for one think that it should be paid for by all MA taxpayers and not just users, for exactly that reason. Essential services to disadvantaged populations ought to be funded statewide even if not located statewide. That way even if you choose to live in certain situations (My own personal preference is in the light urban/dense suburban range.) you are not off the hook for helping to fund them through your taxes. I’m not sure why you seem to blame Springfield’s decline on highways. Most cities are served by interstates and many do build those things that you list.

    • Denying city planning reality

      The brutal impact of the elevated I-91 on Springfield is typical, and exemplifies the enormously, even catastrophic, “true costs of unbounded automobiles”. You say you’re “sure why you seem to blame Springfield’s decline on highways” — I’m not sure why you are resistant to acknowledging the truth of that attribution.

      In your last sentence, “severed” is a more apt word than “served” (perhaps it is what you were thinking of?), and the effects on the neighborhoods surrounding the highway are well-documented and devastating. That is especially true for elevated highways like Springfield’s I-91. You may not be old enough to remember when Boston successfully stopped the I-695 fiasco — but not before large sections of poor neighborhoods had already been ravaged.

      The truth is that massive elevated highways like I-91 destroy the usually-poor communities they sever.

      • "not sure..."

        Too bad we can’t edit or, now, preview these. I have a much harder time catching typos like this without a preview, and the inability to edit the result really locks in embarrassing mistakes.

  16. Here is one person's vision...

    …for national high speed rail. I’m not sure how closely this aligns with Amtrak, and it should be expanded beyond this IMO.

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Sat 29 Apr 11:35 AM