A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Years of traffic engineering, rejected

Despite the highway engineers' best efforts to make people leave early with their skull-numbing Powerpoint slides on "level of service" and "ramp geometry," roughly 100 people from all over the greater Portland region stuck it out and voiced their lack of confidence in Maine's highway-biased Department of Transportation at last night's public meeting on Interstate 295 widening proposals. Here's this morning's Press Herald story.

We even got deputy commissioner Greg Nadeau to back off of his assertion that a "tsunami" of traffic was coming at us whether we build highways or not (in fact, with rising gasoline prices in the years since the study began, traffic statewide has actually decreased). The citizens in the room were too smart to swallow that tripe, and they let him know it.

The challenge now will be for citizens to hold these bureaucrats accountable and to make sure they don't ignore or make empty gestures towards our concerns, which has been the Dept. of Transportation's traditional modus operandi.

We can do that both by demonstrating sustained opposition to the incomplete and biased I-295 study - making it clear that the people of Maine will neither accept nor pay for its recommended "strategies" - and by writing to the governor to make sure that he is aware of the public lack of confidence in his Department of Transportation (governor@maine.gov). Here are some talking points for Gov. Baldacci:

  • Your administration has admirably committed itself to the ideals of Maine’s “quality of place,” to reducing greenhouse gas pollution, and to spending limited financial resources in a prudent and sensible manner. However, your Department of Transportation’s "Interstate 295 Corridor Study" is a brutal contradiction of these sensible principles.

  • Widening and accommodating more traffic on I-295 will generate more congestion on local streets in service-center communities, where local property taxes will have to shoulder the burden to deal with additional traffic, parking, and pollution.

  • According to its own projections, MDOT's highway recommendations will increase greenhouse gas pollution by thousands of tons every year, which would force the entire state's industries and electric ratepayers to pay more in order to meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals.

  • Spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new pavement and roadwork on a few miles of highway in Portland makes no sense when the entire state's bridges and highways are crumbling for lack of funding.

  • This agency willfully ignores more cost-effective transit solutions at a time when buses and new rail services are both desired and necessary to deal with rising costs of congestion and gasoline.

  • The bureaucracy that produced the I-295 Corridor Study is out of touch and out of line: your administration needs to reject its recommendations and make swift changes to bring this agency into the 21st century.

The public can demonstrate its rejection of the I-295 plan's recommendations at the next meeting of the PACTS (Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation Study) high-priority projects committee. At this meeting, on February 12 at the former Doubletree (now Clarion) Hotel in Portland, PACTS will evaluate which projects it will send to Washington for earmark requests. Currently, this list includes a several of the ill-advised I-295 widening and interchange projects discussed last night, so this is the public's chance to starve the beast of funding and to buy something more worthwhile (like new transit services) instead. I'll post more details here as the event approaches.

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