TIME TO TAKE THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
March 8, 2009
how absurd it would be if someone proposed a project that would destroy
1 percent of the country's land area. In those areas, trees could not
grow; wetlands could not support aquatic plants and animals; and wildlife
entering the area could be killed instantly. Actually we have already
done this--by crisscrossing the country with highways.
roads now constitute more than 36,000 square miles, which is equivalent
to a parking lot the size of South Carolina with enough asphalt and concrete
left over to pave most of Connecticut. This is a staggering level of wildlife-unfriendly
habitat that results in some of the most devastating environmental impacts
in our country today.
this now? With billions of stimulus dollars directed to the Department
of Transportation and various state programs, a valid concern is that
some states will try to build new roads. Using the funds to repair old
roads, guarantee structural integrity of bridges, and complete projects
already in progress is reasonable. But a decision to add new roads should
be part of a carefully considered process.
Americans are accustomed to travel where and when they want to and often
assume that any limitation on roadway building will somehow violate their
freedom. No one is proposing that we not maintain our excellent interstate
system, the state highways connecting major cities, or the farm-to-market
county roads. But we should long ago have established strictly enforced
guidelines requiring strong justification for any new road. Among the
supporting documentation should be a clear statement of how much tax money
each individual will pay to build the road and what our environmental
losses will be.
the environmental impacts of new highways through the country's remaining
forest habitats. Aside from the outright destruction of woodlands when
trees are replaced with asphalt or concrete, environmental disruption
is rampant. Stream flow is affected when a highway crosses a valley. Small,
productive wetlands are sometimes destroyed. An even more insidious impact
is that highways fragment the habitats where animals live, resulting in
daily deaths of amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and even birds.
dead animals you see along a highway, new or old. For every dead raccoon,
possum, or fox that is readily visible, hundreds of smaller dead animals
will go unnoticed by most people. Every new highway ensures that millions
more will be killed.
new roads because of the perceived convenience. Shortcuts that actually
trim a two-hour trip to one hour for many people in a region may be justifiable.
But when a multimillion-dollar construction project benefits only a handful
of people by making a shortcut that saves them only minutes over the course
of a year, shouldn't we challenge it? We should also think about the inconveniences
of a new road for other citizens. Traffic congestion in a formerly quiet
and peaceful community does not constitute convenience. And some new roads
open up opportunities for disorganized urban sprawl that may be convenient
for those few who profit, but no one else.
argument given for building more highways is that doing so "creates
jobs in the community." And who do you suppose is paying the people
who have those jobs? You are, as a taxpayer. If we want to use tax money
to create jobs, let's use it to restore natural habitats, hire more park
rangers, develop more wildlife preserves, or make existing roads less
environmentally hazardous to wildlife.
for not building more roads are many, but some I find particularly compelling
are from a report titled "Beyond Asphalt: Creating a Better Transportation
Future for Virginia" published by the Southern Environmental Law
Center. "More roads tend to bring more drivers, more scattered development,
more traffic jams, more taxes to provide services to new development,
more destruction of our countryside, and more air and water pollution."
Why would we want even one of these things, much less the whole package?
Let's use the road stimulus funds to make necessary repairs to the roads
and bridges we already have, not to increase traffic jams, taxes, environmental
destruction, and pollution.
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