What is The Next Interstate System?

What is the next infrastructure investment for the U.S. comparable to the investment in the Interstate Highway system in the 50’s and 60’s?

The retrograde folks who run state highway departments have an answer straight from the 50’s: more urban freeways. (I’d laugh if it didn’t scare me so much).

On the more positive side, over at Richard Florida’s blog the answers range from high-speed internet to high-speed electric rail to … wait for it … walkable cities.

31 responses to “What is The Next Interstate System?”

  1. We were having this discussion in a comment thread on BikePortland the other day – wouldn’t it be awesome to have a statewide network of separated paved bike trails following the highways? For instance, north-south along the coast connecting all the major coastal towns? From Sunriver to Bend for people staying in Sunriver to make trips to Bend for the day, or for people from Bend to go stay in Sunriver minus automobile.

    Imagine what that would do for bicycle tourism in Oregon, and what it would do for small towns along the way which would actually become destinations for cyclists, and not just a gas stop on the side of the highway for people trying to get somewhere else.

  2. The Pacific Crest Trail allows people to hike from Mexico to Canada. Few do, but a lot of people use the trail in segments. A continuous bike trail along the Oregon Coast could be the start of an equivalent attraction for cyclists. Every campground on the coast has kids/families with bicycles. This would give them somewhere safe to ride.

    On the other hand, it is important to remember that for many recreational cyclists 20 miles is a long ride. I think sharing the road on most highways makes more sense for serious long-distance cyclists, rather than building out a separate parallel trail system.

  3. Conventional double decker buses and Overnight double decker buses–with sleeping accomodations–and enough room to pack some gear with you. These would get people to the destinations some of you are speaking about, and would meet the needs of all ages and abilities and not only those hardy enough for long distance human powered touring.

    These would also help stimulate local economies, would be far less expensive than a high speed rail system and serve a much broader list of communities. They could be implemented with only a little planning and investment from the feds.

    While we’re at it: We need to examine commercial flight. I am sure there are already technologies available that could make commercial flight—especially short distance regional flight—- much more convenient and affordable. How about VTOL aircraft that go to the city centers of smaller cities? Instead of taking Horizon turbo prop from PDX to SEATAC or SPOKANE you just go by VTOL from the city centers? Of course I would want it to be safe, but Boeing may not take something like this up–if they don’t think they could sell the concept. This technology needs to be improved to where it is safe for passengers.

    You were asking for a federal program……

  4. How about VTOL aircraft that go to the city centers of smaller cities?

    Airships, maybe? Downtown to downtown at 90-100 miles per hour, and they probably could land on any building with a flat roof, or in a really large parking lot. Portland to Seattle in about 90 minutes. Portland to Eugene in about an hour.

  5. The Deconstruction of urban freeways is what needs to be on our agenda for the future. I am looking forward to hanging out in the not so distant future on the East Portland Beach along the Willamette River.
    Paris “discovered” the Seine in the 16th century with the Pont Neuf, so it does take some time to undo poor planning, etc. But start we must.

  6. Lenny Anderson says:

    The Deconstruction of urban freeways is what needs to be on our agenda for the future. I am looking forward to hanging out in the not so distant future on the East Portland Beach along the Willamette River.
    Paris “discovered” the Seine in the 16th century with the Pont Neuf, so it does take some time to undo poor planning, etc. But start we must.

    Nice to know you have such an ambitious agenda for us:
    1. Remove something functioning well and which has value to millions of people(when it could be covered over and turned into usable space like other cities are doing.)
    2. Have a beachfront on one of the most dangerous, polluted rivers in the country.
    3. Disregard existing RR row just two blocks from the “beach.”
    4. Build a special bridge from Vancouver to Hayden Is. so you can go to Shenanigans.

  7. 1. Yes, remove something that brings in no property taxes, delivers a toxic stew (air & water) to city residents, saves suburbanites five minutes on their commute and prohibits any new development on the Central Eastside.
    2. Yes, celebrate a cleaner River. Thanks to the City’s $1.5B Big Pipe, after 2011, most of the time storm water will be captured and sent to the sewer treatment plant. Surprised you are not aware of the largest capital project in the city’s history…a lot of jobs for a great cause.
    3. No, but higher speed rail will require grade separation, meaning that the UP main line will go in a trench. Jim Howell has demonstrated how that can easily work. Think of all those jobs!
    4. It hardly seems appropriate that one has to enter and exit an Interstate Freeway (“carrying goods from Candad to Mexico”)to have a drink at a Hayden Island watering hole, so yes, we need a local bridge for local traffic in the I-5 corridor. I think its called a “frontage road.”

  8. a national railway system akin to the national highway system.

    think how absurd the highway system would be if it was like the existing rail system: different signaling systems in different parts of the country, different equipment standards (PTC, ATC) necessary before entering sections of the network, pre-arranged contracts necessary before moving between networks, and your choice of a single pickup shipper per network.

  9. Well, this thread really brought out the anti-car and anti-rail comments!

    Regarding bikes along freeway corridors, I don’t foresee a mass movement of long distanced bike rides.

    There are physical limitations to individuals riding a bicycle, especially long distance. Autos don’t have that problem, they just need fuel. Assuming that doesn’t go so well for cars due to costs, another motorized form of transport will take root.

    I really don’t see too many people taking an 18 mile bike ride (36 round trip), and it only appeals to the real bike enthusiasts — which is never a way to pay for transportation infrastructure.

  10. Lenny, I like the way you think!

    ws, I don’t see distance as a limitation on a bike. Time perhaps, but compared to walking, a bike is much easier. And has been pointed out, there are options like the Pacific Crest Trail devoted to walking.

    I might qualify as a “bicycle enthusiast” because I get around mostly by bike (though you’ll never see me in spandex), but as things stand I’m not likely to do big long touring rides. Not because of the distance involved, though. My hesitation there is mainly because riding on the shoulder of fast-moving highways scares the crap out of me.

    But I would bike across the country, no hesitation, IF I had a separate trail to get me there.

    There’s a lot of people like me out there, “interested but concerned,” at least when it comes to touring. The numbers of long-distance bikers seem sparse because we’re not on the road.

    I can make the time to make the trip, but I can’t make automobile roads feel safe.

    And if you’re about to lump me into an “anti-car” category: I think cars are amazing. And I love my motorcycle. I just don’t feel like they belong on every thoroughfare.

    At the same time, other modes, like walking and biking, have been shortchanged for too long.

    Not to mention that gobbling up an irreplaceable supply of fossil fuel, and spewing its waste into an irreplaceable atmosphere just to do our errands faster seems like insanity to me.

    So along the lines of what Lenny said, dialing back some of our bad highway decisions would be a worthy goal, and a massive one.

    Problem is, breaking ground on a DEconstruction project probably doesn’t make for an ideal political photo-op.

  11. Spencer:

    I wouldn’t forecast too many bicyclists between Bend and Sunriver to justify millions of dollars in dedicated bike trail infrastructure.

    I’m sure there’s a legitimate ROW on the existing road for the serious bicyclist to do so.

    “But I would bike across the country, no hesitation, IF I had a separate trail to get me there.”

    Right, but who’s going to pay for you to do so?

    One could always donate to rails-to-trails conservancy if they think that this is a worthy cause.

  12. ws:

    “I’m sure there’s a legitimate ROW on the existing road for the serious bicyclist to do so.”

    I’m not talking about serious bicyclists, I’m talking about the non-serious cyclists, the ones who don’t even think of themselves as cyclists. They’re just people who want to ride their bikes.

    They’re the “interested but concerned” who want to ride, but won’t – especially not long-distance – because to them, every car that blasts by feels like a near-death experience. ESPECIALLY if they have their kids with them.

    Dedicated bicycle infrastructure would serve their needs.

    “Right, but who’s going to pay for you to do so?”

    I’m guessing you meant to ask: who will pay for the infrastructure that would allow me to do so (bike cross-country on a dedicated route)?

    As with so many questions having to do with bike issues, the answer can be found somewhere between comparable answers to questions having to do with comparable pedestrian and automobile issues.

    I once drove cross-country; who paid for that infrastructure? Answer: Me. And my millions of fellow taxpayers. (Well, at the time I was a broke recent college grad, so I probably wasn’t paying much. Yet still I had access to a perfect ribbon of pavement that conveyed me in safety and comfort from sea to shining sea. Nowadays I make better money, and pay big chunks of arm and leg in taxes; I’m guessing I’ve paid my share by now.)

    I could, apparently, walk the length of the country on the Pacific Crest trail if I wanted. Who paid for that trail? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing there were at least some tax dollars at work. So again, my taxpayer friends and I probably kicked in to a pool – that also probably included private funding – to get this trail built.

    I can walk all over most cities on abundant pedestrian infrastructure, i.e. sidewalks. Again, paid for by taxpayer me, and the rest of us.

    So I imagine a dedicated cross-country bike route would be paid for by a mix of tax dollars and private funding, to a degree somewhere between the degree to which auto and ped infrastructure is paid for by a mix of tax dollars and private funding.

    So long, of course, that that output of money – especially tax dollars – could be justified. How do we determine that?

    Well, can we justify spending on car infrastructure? Can we justify spending on ped infrastructure? Then somewhere in between there, we can justify spending on bike infrastructure.

    “But there’s not enough of these bicycle enthusiasts to justify such a thing” you might say.

    Again, what we think of as “bicycle enthusiasts” are the hardcore, a brave bunch. We need to draw out the not-so-hardcore cyclists. (The “softcore” cyclists? That doesn’t sound quite right.) They are many, as we see when they get a chance to ride.

    Look at the last Sunday Parkways event. Given a safe, car-free route, 15,000 turned out. (And most of them taxpayers too, I bet! Except for the kids, those little freeloaders.)

    Bicycling draws out a lot more users when there is a safe, comfortable route available.

    Even with cars, in the early days it was only the very few “enthusiasts” who would put up with the dangers and discomforts of driving. Until, that is, a huge amount of (massively expensive) car infrastructure was built.

    “One could always donate to rails-to-trails conservancy…”

    Good suggestion, but not enough. Imagine if automotive infrastructure had to overcome such a limitation.

    And personally, I worry about the loss of rail rights-of-way – we’re likely going to need our railways in the future.

    Now, a rails-AND-trails project would be interesting; i.e. creating trails that run alongside working rail lines. The Adventure Cycling Association was looking into something like that.

  13. The Deconstruction of urban freeways is what needs to be on our agenda for the future.

    No, but statements like that area a great way to alienate most people who would otherwise agree with transit expansion, and fall into the centrist area of supporters of opinions we have for transit expansion. There are a lot of people who use transit (but not daily) who would find the idea of tearing out infrastructure that’s still well used about as stupid as removing the Banfield MAX to widen I-84 or tearing out the Green Line to widen I-205.

  14. Glenn Jackson, then the head of OHC, said the Marquam Bridge and East Bank Freeway were mistakes right after they opened way back in the 60’s. And he was right.
    Freeways serioiusly compromise, if not destroy, the urban fabric, are toxic rivers, preclude more intense development, and are a relic of the last century. Looking forward we need to figure out a way to transition out of the “cheap energy” transportation system that we built in the 1950s and 60s.

  15. I really don’t see too many people taking an 18 mile bike ride (36 round trip), and it only appeals to the real bike enthusiasts — which is never a way to pay for transportation infrastructure.

    Which points up a looming problem. There will always be a need for roads—unless the fire department, the paramedics, the garbage collectors, the beer trucks, the schoolbuses, UPS, etc, etc. can find a way to help out via bicycle. Not that some of these things aren’t changing, too.

    However, I do hope that lighter use and vehicle alternatives should mean far less wear and tear.

    But fuel efficient and alternative fuel (electric, hydrogen) autos are on the horizon. Or even if they use standard fuel they may become so fuel efficient that those costs just come out of pocket change. VW claims they have a 150 mpg auto coming by 2015. GreenCarCongress.com publishes hundreds of stories each month on emerging technologies. side from oustanding development in reciprocating piston engines, my understanding is that there are rotary engine develpments that are far better. And then there are the attendant technologies (drive trains, transmissions, tires, aerodynamics) that are coming in to play as well.

    But where will the fuel tax money come from? I’ve already squawked quite a lot about how highways are unnecessarily repaved, when they are still in quite good condition. Perhaps there will be some other surfacing compound that needs far less maintenance: Recycled rubber content? Ceramics? Harder cement additives? But it would have to be easy to re-do, as well.

  16. [Moderator: Over-the-top comment which would probably have triggered a needless flame war, posted by someone who previously posted under a different anonymous handle and who this time used an invalid email address, removed for the emotional well-being of the community. Please stick to one pseudonym. Thanks. – Bob R.]

  17. Don’t go off the deep end. I am only suggesting that high speed, high volume roadways should not dominate the the future shape of our city. There will still be plenty of asphalt, capacity, etc.

  18. Spencer, I’m with you. I’d jump on my old schwinn and ride it to chicago this summer if there was a safe trail to travel on.

  19. They need to build a new freeway that would bypass the Portland area to the west – start it at Eugene and call it I-605, connect back to I5 at Longview. As far as high speed trains: why not make the trains parallel the freeway networks, instead of worrying about congestion shared with freight trains. And: make Hillsboro airport into an actual airport since some day Washington County will leapfrom Multnomah as the state’s population (and power) center.

  20. i’m not sure if its the next interstate system, but it would be nice to have a decent passenger rail system in and around populated parts of the country. theres certainly the support from the public for a rail network but it appears not from the political system and the influential corporations that run this country.

  21. Why not bundle them together? People are bellyaching about the trains going through their beighborhoods so make HSR parallel i5 and be done with it!

  22. Ron, the NASA programs are awesome for longer distances or going over oceans and seas. For routes like Seattle to Portland, Miami to Orlando, Austin to Dallas, Las Vegas to LA, or similar trips HSR makes sense. It’s expensive to build HSR, but not as expensive as urban airport expansion to handle additional capacity.

    Fortunately PDX is in decent shape when it comes to how full its runways and airspace are (although even it appears to need some expansion or reliever airport in the next few decades), but many areas are nearing their limits even faster. LAX and SAN can’t be expanded much due to their locations, and there’s not much terrain left in that region to build a new airport anywhere. Oddly San Diego’s last study that I was involved with came up with putting it 90 miles east of the city on the far side of the mountains, and building a $15-$20 billion high speed rail connector from the city to the airport. Everyone involved seemed to agree that the $15-$20 billion would be better invested in HSR to LA, Phoenix, Vegas, and the Bay Area which are where a lot of the flights congesting the airport are from/going to than connecting to a new airport. The only other option was to shut down and take over MCAS Miramar, which the city and military have said has no chance at all of happening.

    Nobody I know is advocating taking HSR across the country, but to better connect areas that are on the edge of far enough to be worth flying. Planes for short hop flights just can’t go that much faster than they do now without a lot of hidden costs. Due to airspace restrictions around airports, and how fast a plane can climb and descend comfortably for the passengers will limit the ability for high speed flights between PDX and SEA or SAN and OAK, as examples.

    GregT: Hillsboro airport’s existing runways are too short by about 2000 feet for most 737’s in use in the US, and so hemmed in on three sides by existing development that trying to get local support for it for anything more than general aviation or corporate use seems unlikely.

  23. Did you happen to look at the proposals? I would like to know if anyone is looking at VTOL designs.

  24. I don’t know nearly enough about aviation to say anything with authority, but it seems to me that Hillsboro could support very limited commercial flights — smaller planes that connect to major hubs in Seattle, Salt Lake City, Denver, San Francisco, Las Vegas and possibly Phoenix and Los Angeles. Add in regional connections (Eugene, Boise and so forth) and you could get a pretty busy airport dealing with shorter flights — say, to destinations within 1000 miles.

    Hillsboro airport has a 6,600 foot runway, which is more than long enough for the 74 seat Bombadier Q400s used by Horizon.

    It’s pretty rare that I get direct flights from PDX to anywhere; usually I wind up connecting through a major hub. But as long as the flight is just one connection, it’ll be about as long to take it from Hillsboro as from Portland.

    I suspect any number of travelers on the west side would prefer to leave from Hillsboro rather than deal with PDX, as long as the overall flight time was about the same.

  25. Hillsboro could support limited commercial flights, but why would an airline want to operate from there? If you can only land regional planes should the carrier operate out of both, or save money and just stick with PDX? Anyone connecting to/from PDX would need to ride MAX for a while, check back in at the second airport, need to carry bags, etc. Plus it’s more employees that need to do duplicate jobs at both sites.

    It’s tough to imagine a region as small as Portland having a real justification for a second airport that the FAA would find worth funding.

  26. I wouldn’t expect anyone to connect from PDX to Hillsboro. The reason a carrier would chose to operate from there would be market demand — a large population in Washington County that wanted to make the first leg of their flight from closer to home. The way it probably would work in practice is through code-shares — you get a smaller carrier doing a code-share with a major carrier like American, United, or Delta. You buy your ticket as, say, a Delta flight from Hillsboro to Atlanta, fly Horizon to the Delta hub in Salt Lake City, and on to Atlanta from there. That’s the point of serving a half-dozen hubs in a thousand-mile radius — you divert some of the traffic from PDX.

    Regional carriers would want to operate from there for the same reason any airline operates from anywhere … there are people willing to pay money for the flight. Even if the tickets were a bit more expensive, there would be a market for it. I know that if I lived in Hillsboro, I’d be willing to spend an extra $20 or $30 to fly from Hillsboro instead of going all the way to PDX and dealing with the traffic and crowds.

  27. If Salem’s McNary Field can’t pull off getting enough passengers who don’t want to drive to PDX, I doubt Hillsboro can. Maybe a long way down the road, but I see it as unlikely to happen in the next 30 or 40 years.

    I just don’t see any airlines competing with their offerings at PDX by running smaller planes that are generally less profitable. Salem will probably get a second chance before Hillsboro would, it’s just too close.

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