Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Highways, canals and how we spend our money

ULI report predicts future U.S. freeways will be tolled. Above: I-77 and Brookshire Freeway. Photo: Nancy Pierce
With some 3,000 Urban Land Institute members at the nonprofit group's national conference in Charlotte this week, several ULI-related articles have come out taking a most rosy view of the Queen City. Links are below. 

And in a timely release, the Washington-based group of developers, planners, architects and others today issued its annual report on infrastructure, Infrastructure 2012: Spotlight on leadership. It describes the Triangle's transit situation, and makes some important points:

"Although governments may have greater success in finding efficiencies by doing more with less, the overall state of the nation’s infrastructure will continue to deteriorate unless the political will and funding to make the needed investments materializes"

"Unfortunately, the United States is one of the few major economic powers lacking a national infrastructure policy direction: initiatives are left to percolate from local and state levels, often competing for resources."

"Freeways have seen their day any new highway or added expressway lane will almost certainly be tolled."

On Page 43 is a wrap-up of the Triangle area's transit situation.  
And note the photo on Page 39, of Oklahoma City's Bricktown Canal. I ran into former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys at Tom Low's Civic By Design session Tuesday night I spoke to a small but enthusiastic group and Humphreys briefly described the capital city's new canals, filled with city water.

The report explains: "Oklahoma City has developed an innovative way of funding civic projects bundle them into short-term, focused packages, and subject them to a vote." The third in the city’s Metropolitan Area Projects series of votes passed in late 2009 and is generating $777 million for downtown parks and other civic infrastructure. In December 2009, 54 percent of Oklahoma City voters OK'd a one-cent sales tax increase to pay for an ambitious parks and open-space agenda. The scheduled projects include a 5- to 6-mile streetcar system.

Unfortunately, a bout with the flu has kept me from attending Tuesday's and today's sessions. I hope to make it tomorrow. But in advance of the conference, several articles about Charlotte by ULI-affiliated writers have appeared. 

Here's one from, the online publication about cities from The Atlantic Monthly. It dubs Charlotte a "city of sidewalks."  I think that may be a bit rosy for the current situation.

And the Charlotte Business Journal published "Charlotte's on the right path" by Edward McMahon, a senior resident fellow at ULI. (Warning, article may be for subscribers only.)  He calls Charlotte the nation's "most improved city," and justly lauds the newly lively downtown and some praiseworthy areas such as Dilworth, Baxter in Fort Mill, and the town of Davidson. Then he maybe goes too far. Unlike cities that had to recover from disinvestment, McMahon writes, "It has recovered from fast growth, sprawl and suburbanization." 

Recovered from sprawl and suburbanization? Er, not yet.