Tell Congress to Cut Highway Funding, Not Economic Development!

Posted by on February 22, 2011 with 0 Comments

Recently, as part of the new Congress’s efforts to rein in federal spending and cut the deficit, there have been proposals to cut funding to the Appalachian Regional Commission. Many of us transportation advocates know ARC as the agency that enables highways like Corridor K in North Carolina and Tennessee and Route 515 in Georgia. But it is much more than that. ARC also heavily supports economic development, education, and health initiatives throughout the Appalachians. Recent examples of ARC-funded non-highway projects in our region include:

  • Wastewater system improvements in Fannin County, GA
  • The Spring Creek Literacy Project in Madison County, NC
  • A Health Clinic Demonstration Project in Graham County, NC
  • South Carolina’s “Jobs for America’s Graduates” Program
  • The Summer High School Math/Science/Technology Institute at Oak Ridge, TN

Unfortunately, the proposed cuts would come from the economic development arm of ARC, not the highway building arm. This shortsighted emphasis on highway building threatens both the economic vitality of the southern Appalachians and the natural and cultural heritage that makes the region so special.

Please call or e-mail your elected officials and tell them that any cuts to ARC funding should come from highway building, not from the vital economic development, health, and education projects that provide real benefits to the region. If you don’t know how to reach your Senators and Representative, you can find them here: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/directory/congdir.tt.

Points you can raise include:

  • The ADHS is essentially complete. Almost 90% of the system has been “completed,” and there are good reasons the remaining segments haven’t been built. The truth is, the cost-effective, environmentally acceptable roads have been built. The remaining sections are through the most rugged, isolated areas of the mountains. They will be:

o    phenomenally expensive to build—one half-mile-long proposed tunnel on Corridor K in NC is projected at $400 million

o   incredibly invasive—the stretch leading to that tunnel would have road cuts as high as 160 feet, could destroy over 3 ½ miles of pristine streams, and would pose a massive barrier to wildlife movement

o   ineffective to reduce isolation—the leading candidate for a new Corridor K around the Ocoee Gorge in Tennessee would save 2 minutes compared to the existing road

These remaining segments of the ADHS are just foolish investments.

  • The ADHS is outmoded. Conceived over 45 years ago, the ADHS reflects the thinking of that time. Shifting demographics, evolving values, and new economic realities mean that new highways will not, if they ever did, translate into economic benefits.
  • New highway capacity is unneeded. Beginning in 2007, there has been a steady decline in the total annual vehicle miles traveled in the United States. This decline can be attributed to many factors, including the current economic downturn, but it is becoming more and more clear that is a permanent trend. In the face of declining use, building additional capacity is unnecessary and wasteful.
  • New highways will make inadequate maintenance budgets even worse. You need only look around you to realize that transportation departments don’t have the resources to maintain roads and bridges adequately. In these days of extreme budget constraints, that problem is only likely to continue. Building new highways will increase the mileage that needs to be maintained, making the problem even worse. Simply put, building more roads when we can’t take care of what we’ve got doesn’t make sense. Smart Growth America recently found that TDOT has nine times as many projects as they have funds.  Corridor K is a high-dollar project that serves only a few. TDOT has around $250 million dollars from the Appalachian Regional Commission for Corridor K, and those funds could make SERIOUS improvements to the existing road.  TDOT, however, is bent on pulling over a billion dollars from the federal highway budget to build a brand new road, which could take up to 25 years.  The Ocoee gorge communities need a better road NOW, and IMPROVING the existing road through the gorge is all Tennessee can afford!
  • Economic development projects are better investments. The benefits of hew highway projects are at best speculative, are unmeasurable, and won’t occur for many years, when we all hope the current economic crisis will be past. The benefits of economic development, health, and education projects, in contrast, are concrete, quantifiable, and immediate. Sacrificing those projects to build new highways makes no sense.

Visit us on the web at www.wayssouth.org for more ideas on how you can help. And, as always, thank you for your interest in sustainable transportation in the Southern Appalachians and your support of WaysSouth and its programs.

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