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Must read for Viaduct removal skeptics: The economics of highway removal

In a post full to the brim with incredible economic stats, Elly Blue spells out the economic benefits of urban highway removal. Among the incredible bits of knowledge she reveals:

  • “for the $75 million spent repaving three miles of urban interstate, California could have installed 1,250 miles of some of the country’s most expensive bike lanes.”
  • President Eisenhower, father of the Interstate system, was shocked when he discovered we were building urban freeways and wanted them removed.
  • Freeway construction in Michigan’s rural areas: $8 million per mile. In Michigan’s urban areas: $39 million. And that’s about as cheap as it gets.

There is much more in the post. Folks in Seattle should definitely read it as we continue sending vehicles over the damaged and dangerous Alaskan Way Viaduct. Given the horrors we are risking every day we keep the elevated highway operating, we need to count our losses and tear it down now. Seeing the aftermath of the recent earthquake in Japan is yet another reminder of our infrastructure’s vulnerability.

Even ignoring the outrageous cost of the deep bore tunnel, we should be focusing on whether we need a freeway solution at all. Why don’t we test it out? We should close the viaduct completely for some reasonable period of time for study. We can give people ample warning and suggest alternative routes and methods for completing their commute. Maybe we could also add some extra bus capacity along the Hwy 99 corridor. After a couple weeks, once people have the chance to adapt to their new transportation solutions, I wonder just how much worse traffic would really get. And this would be without the new six-lane surface street proposed in both the surface/transit/I-5 and deep bore tunnel options.


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In essence, this would be a test of the “no replacement” option. It would also be a catastrophe drill of sorts so people can figure out an alternative in case nature forces the viaduct closed.

UPDATE: Mayor McGinn wants the Viaduct closed by next year. I completely agree. We can’t keep using this thing until 2016 (assuming no delays). That is simply not a responsible option. Tunnel or not, we need to close the Viaduct.


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4 responses to “Must read for Viaduct removal skeptics: The economics of highway removal”

  1. While I’d agree that all the interstate paving stories are horrible, I have to say I also wonder about the wisdom of “installing 1,250 miles of some of the country’s most expensive bike lanes.”

    I’d like to think that cyclists are better than to measure their waste as less egregious than motorist waste.

    1. RachaelL

      I don’t think the point of the comparison highlights waste so much as saying that even in a state where building bike lanes (and roads) is peculiarly expensive, you can build several orders of magnitude more bike lane for the same amount of money as merely repaving a few miles. It’s a bang for your buck argument that probably holds true in (at least) most urban areas.

  2. […] Bike lanes cost $5,000 to $60,000 a mile, while freeways cost $8 million to $65 million — not including maintenance costs. So why not tear down necessary freeways and use the money more efficiently? […]

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