Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Sensible Transportation Policy Act

Did you know that Maine's Department of Transportation and the Turnpike Authority are required by law to "reduce the State's reliance of foreign oil and promote... energy-efficient forms of transportation"? And that they must give "preference to... other transportation modes before increasing highway capacity through road building activities"?

The Sensible Transportation Policy Act, passed in 1991, says all of this and more. It's a brilliantly progressive law. Too bad our transportation planners habitually break it.

After sixteen years of "sensible transportation," Maine has more roads, more freeway lanes, more traffic, and more pollutants from incinerated foreign oil, but state investments in bike/ped facilities and transit are virtually unchanged (i.e., virtually zero). Sure, we've got a train to Boston and a few scattered bike paths. But compare those investments (wildly successful in spite of their small scale) to the expenditures on new roads. We'll spend $50 million on the Gorham Bypass alone, even though it's going to generate more traffic and congestion in Standish and Westbrook, while energy-efficient, foreign-oil-independent sidewalks and bike routes scrape by with $750,000 a year.

The Maine Turnpike Authority is now looking to widen their freeway to six lanes through the Portland area. So far, environmental groups across the state are letting this one go without so much as a whimper (most of their leaders drive the same road, after all). But the Turnpike Authority is fabulously rich with toll revenues. What if we actually enforced the Sensible Transportation Policy Act, and told the Authority that they may only widen I-95 if they provide regional commuter bus service? Or a bike/pedestrian path running parallel to the freeway to connect the Maine Mall area to Portland, Westbrook, and West Falmouth?

Transit and bike/ped amenities like these would barely dent the Turnpike's budget, and they'd also provide fabulous enhancements to regional mobility. Instead of serving suburban commuters and weekend vacationers, the Turnpike could serve more of the people who actually live in greater Portland. There are already rumblings of these demands from local bike and pedestrian advocacy groups in Portland. The bigger environmental organizations may not yet be on our side, but at least the law is.

Photo: the riverfront bike path in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Budget figures from PACTS Destination Tomorrow plan


Paul Burdick said...

So, Chris, could you perhaps be saying that we need to put someone in a position of power that is more willing to follow the law and create different priorities for this money? A young man or woman, perhaps with intelligent, forward thinking ideas?

C Neal said...

Does this mean you're thinking of moving to Maine to work as a traffic engineer, Paul? Get a move on!

Paul Burdick said...

Actually, I was hoping to run the Chris for Maine Governor campaign...