A Washington nonprofit organization, TRIP, which is supported by entities which benefit from building highways, just released a report that received coverage in the state’s major newspapers. The report, entitled “Future Mobility in Nevada: Meeting the State’s Need for Safe and Efficient Mobility” (available at http://www.tripnet.org/TRIP_Nevada_Report_Oct_09.pdf). The report was endorsed in the press release by State Senator Bill Raggio (http://www.nevadaappeal.com/article/20091013/NEWS/910139991).
The report basically supports the outmoded and discredited idea that we can build our way out of congestion – just add more lanes to all the highways and magically our problems are solved. In fact, a lot of the congestion in the state is due to the fact that we spend nearly every cent of our transportation funds on highways instead of on transportation solutions. The report uses the word transportation on every page, when what it really means is highways for cars and trucks, not even getting to two minor transit projects until page 20 of 40, and never mentioning new bicycle and pedestrian projects at all. At last on page 33 it mentions some past transit projects, but the success of those apparently doesn’t lead the authors to conclude that we need more. Light rail is never mentioned anywhere in the report.
The report cites the high fatality rate in Nevada, but fails to mention that about 20% of the fatalities are pedestrians and bicyclists (for 2008, 320 total fatalities, 55 pedestrians, 7 bicyclists). Though roadway improvement projects CAN make things safer for pedestrians, they USUALLY just add lanes to cross and speed up traffic, reducing safety for pedestrians.
This report would not be all that worrisome if it were just the highway lobby talking, but most of the data in this report came from the Nevada Department of Transportation. It is clear that NDOT does not envision transit and bicycle and pedestrian projects as being important to the future of transportation in Nevada. And the endorsement by Senator Raggio indicates that the lobby already has the ear of powerful legislators.
I would suggest that the reason we have congestion, deteriorated roads, and a high fatality rate in Nevada is not because we don’t spend enough on highways, but because we spend too much. Those who believe in a balanced transportation system will need to keep an eye on things in the next legislative session (in 2011), because it is for certain that NDOT will come with a long list of highway projects and a short to nonexistent list of transportation solutions.