4 Great Transportation Projects to Watch (and 4 Awful Ones)

Highlights from the Sierra Club's list of the country's 50 best and worst.

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SunRail

The Sierra Club has released a list of the 50 best and worst transportation projects in the United States [PDF], most of which are connected to the country's major metro areas. Sierra evaluated projects based on five criteria — oil use, environmental impact, public health, economics, and land use — though the report essentially separates them into transit good, highways bad. Some of these efforts, like the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle, have already made our lists of mistaken urban highways. Here's a look at four more with great promise, and another four with awful potential.

4 Great Projects

SunRail (Orlando)

This 61.5-mile commuter rail in the greater Orlando area is scheduled to open in 2016. (Work is already underway on six stations, including one in downtown Orlando.) The service is expected to carry as many rush-hour commuters as an entire lane of highway and should mean quicker travel times and less congestion for everyone in the metro region. SunRail plans to resolve the tricky first-and-last mile problem with better bus and shuttle services to the rail stations.

METROrail Expansion (Houston)

Houston's METROrail system has a daily ridership of 34,000, making it "one of the most-traveled light rail systems in the United States per route mile," according to Sierra. Now the successful 7.5-mile system is undergoing a massive, 26-mile expansion — with two new lines in construction, and three more in the planning stage. One new route, known as the Southeast Corridor project, involves building 10 new stations out from downtown Houston.

New Little River Canyon Bridge (Alabama)

The New Little River Canyon Bridge, which connects the Cherokee and DeKalb counties of Alabama, "serves as a role model for future bridges," writes Sierra. The bridge officially opened in late 2010 — ahead of schedule — at a cost of less than $8 million. In addition to the bridge's full pedestrian lane, its construction and design were environmentally friendly: support beams were made with recycled steel; pedestrian boardwalks, with recycled plastic.

Bike Missoula (Montana)

The city of Missoula, Montana, has gone to great lengths to improve its bike infrastructure — striping 65 percent of its arterials in the past 15 years. Meanwhile four- and five-lane highways are going on three-lane road diets to increase safety. To date the effort remains extremely popular, with an 85 percent approval rating.

4 Awful Ones

Jefferson Parkway (Denver)

The controversial 10-mile, 4-lane Jefferson Parkway has been embroiled in lawsuits until a few days ago, when a federal judge dismissed the charges and freed the way for the project to resume. The Sierra Club gives a whole bunch of reasons for disliking the project. The road won't quite reach the Denver beltway, and as a result will burden local roads with congestion and pollution. As if that weren't enough, current plans call for it to cut through a wildlife refuge.

I-265 Bridge (Indiana and Kentucky)

"It is the epitome of a classic highway boondoggle," writes Sierra of the $2.6 billion Interstate 265 bridge that connects Indiana and Kentucky over the Ohio River. Earlier this year the federal government gave the green light to a part of the project that involves tunneling 2,000 feet below historic woodlands near Louisville. Tunnel critic Aaron Renn (via Streetsblog) points out that Indiana taxpayers will be backing a Kentucky road to the tune of $100,000 per foot. Ouch.

Trinity River Parkway (Dallas)

The controversial 10-mile Trinity River Parkway is expected to cost upwards of $1.8 billion — one of the highest per-mile costs in the country, according to Sierra. Opponents doubt another six more freeway lanes will do much to relieve congestion in a metro area that already has 40 others. To make matters worse, the road is set to cut through the premier urban park in the region, and some believe it will divide the downtown area from riverfront recreation.

I-269 (Memphis)

This 60-mile outer beltway around Memphis (I-269) is supposed to reduce congestion on the inner beltway (I-240). Proponents say the partially completed road will divert truckers from the metro core, but opponents say that's unlikely — and also believe the project is really a recipe for more suburban sprawl. "The regional Memphis Planning Organization is planning more six to eight lane suburban roadways, continuing the trend of auto-dependence in Memphis," writes Sierra.

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