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Roads are the answer for mid-sized cities

Unless something is done, the traffic problem in Tampa will mirror Atlanta’s by 2030.

That’s what David T. Hartgen, professor of transportation studies at the University of North Carolina, has to say. America spends plenty of taxpayer money on its highways, but the issue resides in where that money is being spent. The problem is futile attempts to make people use mass transit.

Hartgen wrote in the Sacramento Bee that “the federal government is spending $286 billion over the next six years on highway and urban transportation, and cities and states are pouring in billions more. At least $1.3 trillion will be spent … over the next 25 years.”

Unfortunately, that money isn’t being spent on roads. For instance, two cities Hartgen uses as examples have traffic dilemmas that mirror Tampa’s problem – San Jose, Calif. and Charlotte, N.C. Both cities are committing more than half of the available money to mass transit solutions, yet less than 3 percent of commuters in either city use mass transit.

It’s unlikely that a city like Charlotte – or Tampa – would ever become densely populated enough to have a successful mass transit system like Washington D.C.’s infamous Metro lines. Barring some new technological innovation that makes the car obsolete, mass transit isn’t likely to have much effect on Tampa.

Hartgen is right. The basic reason cities are crowded is that there are too many cars on not enough roads. Buses – like the kind Pam Iorio called for more of last year – light rail, and other forms of mass transit are excellent solutions for cities that are densely populated enough to implement them. However, in the United States there are many cities – like Tampa – that won’t ever be New York City.

For those cities, according to Hartgen, the statistics are upsetting. “Over the last 30 years, vehicle miles traveled increased by 143 percent while we added just 5 percent in new capacity.”

However, this is no prediction of unrealistic catastrophe. Hartgen’s solution is rather simple. A plan to spend $21 billion per year over the next 25 years would be much cheaper than the solutions currently being tried, and it would save Americans 7.7 billion hours every year.

The holdup, it seems, is environmental. Some fear “paving over America” – even though over 90 percent of the United States is still open space. Others fear that cities cannot build themselves out of expensive, irritating congestion.

Cities can. They should. If they wish to remain economically productive, they will.