Friday, January 23, 2009

Shovel Ready?

When Congress and President Obama began planning for the largest infrastructure improvement initiative since the Depression, they wanted "shovel ready" projects that would be ready to go within 60 to 90 days of funding.

That only makes sense, seeing as the reason behind the initiative was to stimulate the economy. They don't want project that aren't going to even strat until 12 to 18 months from now.

But at least one commentator is urging caution:

"I fear that 'shovel ready' means boondoggles like the E- 470 beltway, a six-lane, 46-mile arc through empty high-desert grasslands dotted with new subdivisions east of Denver. Cars cruise the wide-open toll road at 80 miles per hour.

Touted as essential to the metro area’s growth, this land developers’ delight hasn’t lightened loads on more centrally located highways. It’s just rearranged growth patterns, scattering splotches of development over an unimaginably large landscape. New residents depend on long beltway commutes by car," writes Bloomberg architecture critic James Russell for

"We can’t do better now, the lobbying legions say, we need to start the bulldozers fast. Translation: No bridge to nowhere will be left behind."

So what projects should be funded? Russell talks about aligning roads and rails and adding express bus lanes and bikeways to reduce car dependency. He talks about adding planted buffers in streets to make pedestrian crossings safer and soak up storm water.

"Dollars spent that get Americans out of cars will ease traffic, save money, reduce pollution, slow global warming and make us less vulnerable to volatile oil oligarchs.

Road projects do little more than rearrange the traffic jams. Look for freeway spectaculars among the proposals, like the 23-lane extravaganza touted for Atlanta’s suburbs. Mark them “D” -- for delusional."

Here in Memphis, not all the possible projects have been publicized so there may be some road projects in there. However, some of the plans submitted to the city for the funds — they still would have to be submitted to the federal government — include a Wolf River Greenway near the Pyramid, the Bioworks Foundation's research park, and streetscape improvements in Midtown.

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