Road Funding: Doing More With Less

Roads and bridges are crumbling in America. The Highway Trust Fund is broke and new revenue other than stimulus funds are unlikely, so some state transportation officials are applying innovative methods to spread the road funding they have secured.
March 10, 2009, 2pm PDT | Nate Berg
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"Money isn't all that's needed, experts say. A solution also will require new ideas about how we design, build, finance, and maintain our transportation backbone. Missouri's transportation boss, Pete K. Rahn, decided something had to change.

The problem, he believed, was that highway engineers invariably tried to build the best roads possible. But what if Missourians didn't always need the best roads possible? What if they were willing to settle for good enough? His answer was a new road-building doctrine he called "Practical Design."

"Today, when Missouri engineers design highways, they aim "not to build perfect projects, but to build good projects that give you a good system," says Rahn. Practical Design says to "start at the bottom of the standards and go up to meet the need."

"Pennsylvania's Smart Transportation initiative calls on engineers to re-examine all of their assumptions. "The old style was that if we had a road that was congested, we'd project the traffic out 25 years and add lanes," says Allen D. Biehler, the state's transportation secretary.

When Pennsylvania couldn't afford a long-planned, $465 million freeway north of Philadelphia, Biehler brainstormed with communities along the 8.4-mile route and found a cheaper alternative: a parkway bordered with trees and bike trails. Work on the $200 million project began in November."

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Published on Sunday, March 8, 2009 in Parade
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