Why The Fuss Over Roads?
In December, the Lincoln Independent Business Association (LIBA) offered a few concerns about the proposed update to the Long-Range Transportation Plan and how it will impact the future growth and development of our city’s roads infrastructure.
First, and maybe most important, is the fact that this plan update explicitly states that it relies on the assumption that the city wheel tax will increase at a rate of $5 per vehicle every five years. It is our concern that incorporating this language establishes an expectation of future tax increases and circumvents the public conversation we believe is necessary before implementing such increases.
LIBA also has concerns about how the proposed update handles future roadway capacity issues. Major arterial roadways like 84th Street, O Street, and Highway 2 that currently carry high traffic volumes will continue to carry heavy traffic loads and commute times are likely to increase. The current plan identifies a number of these types of streets as candidates for widening to carry up to 6 lanes of traffic. The new plan shifts focus off of widening these streets. City staff has defended this shift in focus by suggesting that traffic congestion issues can be better addressed by making changes at busy intersections and by adjusting the timing of traffic lights to maximize traffic flow.
As our city continues to grow, we must plan for more traffic. We have some serious concerns with what this shift in focus might mean in the long-term.
According to the proposal’s calculations, if the proposed LRTP Update is adopted, 11% of Lincoln’s roadways will be considered “congesting” or “congested” by 2040. Currently 1.5% of our roadways are designated as “congesting” or “congested.” This nearly 10% increase in congestion is extremely concerning because the proposed update also notes that “much of current and future congestion occurs at intersections,” and that “intersections are where most vehicular crashes occur.” The policies in this plan and its shift in focus from adding more capacity becomes an issue of future safety in our community. If we do not implement policies that focus on these capacity concerns now, we risk allowing serious safety issues to creep up on us, leaving us with limited options to fix these problems in the future. As the proposal itself notes, “[a]project that costs $10M today will cost $20M in 2030, and over $32M in 2040.” If we delay investment in critical widening projects and the city gets too far behind, it may end up costing us a lot more — financially and in increased congestion and commute times — to make these improvements in the future.
The proposed update calls for the investment of $992.4 million in roads maintenance, $702.5 million in roads construction, and $228.5 million on other roadway-related expenses, for a total investment of about $1.9 billion in roads. The plan spends $514.4 million, an amount equal to more than 21% of our total available future transportation dollars, on alternative modes of transportation such as trails and transit system expansion. It seems difficult to justify spending more than 21% of our infrastructure dollars on a trails and transit system that does not serve 20% of Lincoln’s daily commuters. In fact, the proposal itself notes that at present more than 90% of Lancaster County residents drive or carpool to work, and only 5.9% use alternative modes. Trails are no doubt a nice amenity, and a transit system surely serves a purpose for those Lincolnites who do not have the means to transport themselves. Even so, it seems reasonable to expect that the investment be apportioned between roads and alternative modes in a way that better reflects the reality of how each are used. The fact is that the large majority of Lincoln residents rely on our roads to conduct their day-to-day activities.
LIBA asked our city officials to make changes to the plan. As of the print deadline, a decision had not been made.
LIBA studies and promotes these types of issues that are important to businesses and our community. If you have an interest in joining LIBA, please call me at (402) 466-3419. LIBA membership is not restricted to just businesses. We also have “individual” memberships for those who want to help influence our local government decisions.
For more information on LIBA, visit Liba.org.