A few years ago, Texas opened a much-ballyhooed tollway to bypass the parking lot called Austin. I have no idea how many billions of dollars were spent on this tollway, but it’s only two lanes each direction.
There was easily enough right-of-way to build three or four lanes each direction, but we only built two. In a few years, someone will wake up and realize two are not enough. Then we’ll screw up traffic for some number of years while we add another lane or two each direction, and we’ll spend several times as much money as it would have taken just to build three in the first place.
More recently, we opened the Chisholm Trail Parkway, a toll road running from near downtown Fort Worth to Cleburne, a distance of some 28 miles. Most of this road is two lanes in each direction, but for the southernmost 10 or 12 miles it contains only one lane in each direction. How short-sighted is this? This road was basically insufficient the day it opened. Again, widening it will involve both screwing up traffic and spending several times as much money as it would have cost to do it right in the first place.
As tollways have proliferated in the last few years, taxpayers have begun grumbling about paying tolls on top of taxes. There’s a movement afoot to cease building roads involving tolls. Some are even suggesting abandoning the tolls on the existing ones.
If we tried to implement this last idea, we would run into two monstrous problems. First, we have contractual obligations to the companies that built the roads. We would have to dedicate huge sums of taxpayer money to buy out their interests. Secondly, we would immediately open these roads to many times the volume of traffic they now carry.
These and other toll roads around the state may be able to handle traffic volumes for the foreseeable future as long as the tolls remain, but how many people refrain from using them today because of the cost of the tolls? Anyone now driving through Austin on the way from here to San Antonio—or points in between—would avoid the horrible traffic on I-35 and bypass Austin if it weren’t for the tolls.
Without the Chisholm Trail Parkway, a driver has a choice of using a road that involves many traffic lights and a lot of heavy traffic, or adding another 10 miles to the trip to use I-35 and still end up with a lot of heavy traffic. If the parkway were available without a toll, how many people would opt for longer, slower routes? The parkway would be inundated with much more traffic than present lanes could handle.
It’s not just these two toll roads. It seems that every time a new road is built, the planners figure on yesterday’s traffic volume. We’re in the position of playing catch up practically from the moment a road opens. Why don’t we design our roads for the volume of traffic realistically expected 10 or 20 years from now? It would be cheaper and less interruptive than what we do now.
And when we do have to upgrade a road by widening it or avoiding crossroads, why must we tear up 30 miles of road at once, adding 30 minutes or an hour to the time it takes to get somewhere, and aggravating every driver on the road in the process? Why can’t we mess up maybe five miles at a time and get that completed before we mess up the next five miles?
What insanity do you experience in trying to use the roads of your city or state? How do you think they could do it better?
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