Kicking the Can Down the Road

Can of Worms Intersection in Duluth,MN

Are you hearing (or perhaps voicing) complaints about delays on area roadways, road construction or the high price of gas?

Statements like “with the price of gas so high they should lower the gas tax”?

Of course, throw in the usual “all the roads in this area are in terrible shape.”

It seems that we, the traveling public, want to have it all: safe bridges, smooth roads, no construction delays—all at less cost.

A “Can of Worms” – Indeed!

The problem is, it takes time to reconstruct and maintain our infrastructure and it costs a lot of money to do so.

And the backlog of needed projects is growing.

Right here in Duluth, where the I-35 reconstruction project will cost a total of $81 million over two-plus years, the “can of worms” interchange, which contains 31 individual bridges, will also need repair and restoration to the tune of an estimated $250 million.  This will become a critical infrastructure need within the next 10 to 20 years–with no funding source yet identified.

Do (Lots) More with (Lots) Less

Today we are asking our road authorities (at the city, county and state) to do more with significantly fewer resources.

You may have heard by now of a recent survey by the Rockefeller Foundation, which found that two-thirds of the American public felt that a greater investment is needed in transportation infrastructure. Fully 80 percent of those surveyed agreed that spending on highways and bridges would produce jobs and economic growth, yet only 38 percent thought that federal spending should be increased and only 27 percent said that federal gas taxes should be raised to support this spending.

What the survey tells me is that we, as transportation planners and policy makers, have done a horrible job of helping the public understand transportation needs, transportation funding, and the consequences of failing to invest in transportation infrastructure.

Investing in transportation infrastructure supports multiple societal purposes besides our personal mobility, including American economic competitiveness, public health, environmental sustainability and energy independence.

If not addressed, many types of costs will be pushed out into the future.

What will our future generations say about this practice?  How happy would we have been if previous generations had done this to us?

Our Love/Hate Relationship with Central Entrance

Just last week I dropped a friend off near Arrowhead Road and Highway 53 just before 8 a.m. and headed toward my office in downtown Duluth.  I glanced at the dashboard clock and it said 7:58.  I had anticipated a congested trip but traffic was fairly light.

Love It

I made my way downtown thinking about my upcoming work day, scored a (free) parking spot, and to my surprise saw my car clock said 8:05.  Seven minutes to go five miles on Central Entrance, of all routes.  I had to admit that was an easy and direct commute.

Hate It

Fresh in my memory, however, are recent after-work trips to Miller Hill to run errands where I waited out more than one cycle of traffic light changes at Arlington Road and Central Entrance.  I–like everyone else–get frustrated by sitting in traffic.

But I think that we get frustrated much quicker than big city drivers who have horror stories about the amount of time they get stuck in traffic.  Relatively speaking, we have it pretty good.  So what is it about Central Entrance that makes many of us want to avoid it?

The Bigger Picture

From a transportation standpoint, it’s not just about reducing vehicle congestion on this road, but about balancing the needs of all users.  In transportation planning, we think about  improving Central Entrance from many perspectives, including:

  • Mobility (getting travelers through the area)
  • Access (getting customers to local businesses)
  • Multimodal (accommodating pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users)
  • Safety (for all)
  • Livability (for neighborhood residents)

Someday (The Vision)

The City of Duluth has been thinking about these things as well.  A long term vision for Central Entrance was recently identified, with input from businesses and residents, in its Central Entrance-Miller Hill Small Area Plan.  The vision for the corridor is for a more walkable area that would regain its focus as the “main street” for the Duluth Heights neighborhood.

Where We Come In

As a step toward implementing the plan, the City has asked the MIC to examine the transportation challenges on the Central Entrance corridor.  We will be collecting data, surveying residents, and making recommendations that will help in achieving the goal of eventually transforming Central Entrance into a more comfortable and attractive part of town.

There will be more information posted via this blog as our work progresses, but meanwhile, you can get more information about the Central Entrance Corridor study on our website.

Your Thoughts?

So what do you think about Duluth’s neighborhood-oriented vision for Central Entrance?  Can you picture a balanced transportation system like I describe above?