Until The US Fixes its Backwards Transportation Spending It Should Stop Building New Roads

Until the US Fixes its Backwards Transportation Spending It Should Stop Building New Roads

Hey, remember back when the US allocated $US305 billion ($435 billion) for roads we almost certainly don't need? It's no secret that the US needs a total overhaul of its transportation finance system, and a new movement wants a moratorium on all road-building projects until we get it under control.

Photo by Vitagasm

#NoNewRoads is a campaign by Strong Towns, the same group behind #BlackFridayParking. This very popular hashtag which crowdsources images of unused parking spaces in the US on the day after Thanksgiving, and America's chronic problem of building too much parking in general (in some cities, there are 3.3 parking spaces for every car!). The idea is if the spots aren't being used on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, then we don't need them at all.

Similarly, #NoNewRoads is asking Americans to document places where cities and states have committed to big transportation projects like widening freeways, which continue to degrade the quality of life in our cities without providing any tangible benefit. Most importantly, there is no evidence that adding capacity in the form of more lanes actually improves vehicular congestion -- in fact, it makes it worse. And all at a tremendous cost for taxpayers.

How can the US fix this? Here's the basic pitch from Strong Towns:

  1. Let's prioritise fixing what we have. We should not build anything new until we've figured out how to pay to maintain what we've already built.
  2. Anything new that is built must not be the result of paybacks in a system of pork-barrel politics but the result of a rigorous, independent financial analysis.
  3. The users of the system should pay for the system. That includes those hauling freight as well as those hauling kids to soccer practice.
  4. We can't just keep building highways. Our approach to transportation has to acknowledge the limits of more road building and the benefits of alternative approaches.
  5. We cannot ignore the complex relationships -- positive and negative -- between the way we approach transportation and the impact that has on our cities, towns and neighbourhoods. Allowing these to continue as separate undertakings -- transportation and land use in different silos -- is self-defeating and economically suicidal.

Yes, yes, and yes. I would add, in addition to all that, that this kind of thinking sets us up very nicely for an autonomous future.

In addition to the manifesto, there's a neat tool which allows you to look at your own state's transportation funding. And you can check out some of the profiles over at Strong Towns of cities -- and there are a few! -- which have actually gotten this right.




    Is the use of the word "backwards" correct in the article title? "Backwards" is an adverb, but it is being applied to the noun "transportation spending" not a verb. Shouldn't it be "backward", which is the adjective?


        There's a "net law" which states that the person who first mentions Nazis during an argument automatically loses the argument ;-)

    Roads need constant fixing and attention and in a place as gigantic and population dense as the US that's a LOT of roads that need work. This looks like one of those idiotically simplistic initiatives by people who have absolutely no concept of the enormity of the thing they're talking about- Infrastructure in the USA is chronically underfunded, aged and degrading. Maybe the roads are lovely in the big, popular cities these whiners are from but in many, many places elsewhere they can be pretty bad.

    Last edited 01/02/16 10:48 pm

      I get the impression they're talking about new roads (actually, I just noticed it's in the title, and the hashtag - haha!) not about maintenance of existing infrastructure.

        From the article it seemed to me that the writers and the originators of the initiative just assumed that any funding would go to "new" roads, rather than knowing how the funding actually works.

          A quick look over the strong towns web site seems to indicate that the people involved in this have a fairly good handle on the economics of these issues. Their main point with regard to roads is arresting the constant building of brand new roads as an increasingly ineffective remedy to traffic congestion rather than looking at its cause. The first sentence on the web site mentions that the US is building more roads than it's willing to maintain. As far as I can tell, their perspective is roughly the same as yours.

    (top image) Meanwhile, the unemployed and homeless shall be used as speedhumps as a way of reducing unemployment figures... permanently.

    (man I wish we could annotate pictures like people can on the kinja based gizmodo US..)

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