Thursday, June 28, 2007


©2007 Daily Freeman - a Journal Register Property. All Rights reserved.
Clogged arteries

Ah, summertime.

Long days, barbecues, beaches, hiking in the Catskills and ...

... protracted delays at New York airports and on the New York State Thruway.

... sitting in traffic on a city of Kingston street.

... fighting one's way through traffic at the local malls.

... rising gasoline prices to pay for your shiftless idling.

The Mid-Hudson Valley suffers transportation delays at many different levels.

On the micro level, you can see it and feel it at intersections, on stretches of highways, at clogged commercial areas.

In Kingston, transiting Washington Avenue from Exit 19 to state Route 32 south can be an excruciatingly halting affair.

Traffic funneled into two lanes for most of the route, must negotiate seven unsynchronized traffic signals and two mandatory stops over 1.6 miles.

In the town of Ulster, the county's retailing axis funnels traffic through a hodgepodge of development, an overabundance of ill-considered curbcuts and cars attempting to turn left across two lanes of heavy, oncoming traffic.

On the macro level, our dependence on the Thruway and metropolitan airports is obvious.

The backups on the Thruway on summer weekends are enough to make you plan your schedule around them. Voters may ask how the Thruway Authority allowed things to get that bad and whether there are any plans whatsoever to deal with the nearly chronic delays.

The metropolitan airports have more delays and cancellations - 38 percent of all scheduled flights in the first four months of this year - than any other in the nation. Voters may ask how the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey allowed things to get that bad and what, if anything, it plans to do about it.

The ability to move people, goods and services is indispensable and requires constant attention.

As the speed of transportation increases and costs drop, societies thrive.

When movement becomes slower and more expensive, there are huge societal costs, in part because time is money.

And it is so much more.

Sitting in traffic can suck the joy out of the most beautiful day, the most carefree errand.

So ease of movement is not just about money. It's also about the quality of life for us and for those we would attract to the Mid-Hudson Valley to bring new ideas, energy and capital.

The summer driving season, with increased traffic and necessary road construction delays, only makes an ongoing trend obvious. From year to year, our transportation arteries are hardening.

In a globalizing world in which the search for the frictionless movement of goods and services is an irresistible imperative, the Mid-Hudson Valley seems sometimes to be stuck in a 1950s time warp.

On the micro level, we are drowning in local decision-making that views every problem of well-being at the cellular state rather than that of the entire organism. Stop signs, traffic signals, curb cuts, unrestrained retailing and residential sprawl. More traffic, slower traffic. It's a transportation death by a thousand cuts.

On the macro level, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the New York State Thruway Authority seem paralyzed to adequately manage their (our) affairs.

As Pattern for Progress noted in a study a few years ago, the Mid-Hudson Valley can be properly viewed today only as a part of perhaps the most dynamic supermetropolitan area on the planet. We constitute an indispensable leg of the "New Atlantic Triangle," with its points at Boston, New York City and Albany - that is an entry corridor to both Canada and the West.

If that corridor - and our local streets - are increasingly clogged, what should be an advantage for our future will be squandered.


Reader Comments
Added: Thursday June 28, 2007 at 11:27 PM EST

Jobs. Safety. Efficiency. Here?

The grim truth of the matter is that eastern New York State lags behind the rest of the nation in keeping our transportation infrastructure ahead of demand.

While other states' road organizations actually plan ahead, add lanes to their intercity connecting interstates and actively build redundancy into their highway systems, so if one highway closes, there is plenty of backup to pick up the slack; New York sits dormant with no new highways, no new lanes, but plenty of increased traffic headaches.

So what does New York do about it? Slowly improving existing roads without addressing capacity, or building roundabouts into existing intersections to solve traffic problems, of course which does nothing to address the bigger problem. It slows down traffic and band-aid's the problem by spreading it out to other intersections. New York is ignoring the fact that there is more traffic and less roadway to carry it.

Think about how hypocritical we are. Our community wants to move in a direction of promoting growth, and creating more local jobs, yet NOT build roads and highways. You simply can't push for development and not address that more cars on the roadways will be one of the results. It's like asking for a rain cloud and not wanting the rain that comes along be with it. Building new highways and roads, contrary to what New York and the Thruway want you to believe, in and of itself will not increase traffic; "More roads creates more traffic" is non-sense. Realistically, "More reasons to drive here, and more people living here" is what creates more traffic - and this is exactly the direction our community is trying to and WANTS to go towards. We're asking ourselves to expand but not giving ourselves a bigger "car"-fishbowl. It makes sense. You wonder why you have to sit on Route 32 or I-87 more and more each day... because that's all we've got... for now.

Building new highways will promote economic growth and attract new retail and business opportunities, promote our areas as efficient and accessible places to live, and remove smog-producing truck and pass-through, non-stop traffic off our surface and residential streets. This would definitely help save gas, and reduce pollution from idling vehicles which therefore beautifies our city, and keeps vital corridors passable in the event of emergency.

Kingston, like many other places in New York, has definitive symptoms that exemplify the problem. But, it is a state problem. The way of thinking about roads has to change at the top level. The fact that New York D.O.T. refused to fund one dime towards the environmental study and construction costs of connector highway NY7/VT-279 that crosses from Bennington, Vermont and runs for four miles within our border should clue you in to the bigger problem. The road is in New York, and New York refused to lift a finger if we had to pay for it.

If only our lawmakers would get it. If you ask New York now why we don't pursue new road projects, the number one reason given is because there is no money or no current need. To get funds to start, change the registration, licensing, and gas tax allocations so the money goes where it was intended. What percentage of money collected for services directly related to vehicles actually go into roads? I don't know the answer, but I'll bet anyone it's less than 10%.

Missouri rewrote its vehicle tax and DMV laws to make sure 100% of monies collected stay within the public works coffer. As a result, the state is rapidly expanding the highway network to four-lane-divided connections between all its cities, without resorting to cost-cutting measures, with ample funds left over to improve the existing infrastructure. Less travel time is an immediate benefit, and less idling means less fuel consumption, which equates to more money saved and less pollution, more intra- and interstate commerce, and less fatalities from head-on collisions. Safety and jobs result. Business move to the state that can move their product. And, all without tolls.

And toll examples, the Ohio turnpike widened from 2 to 3 lanes in each direction 7 years ago between all their major cities, the Maine turnpike did the same from the NH border to Portland 6 years ago, signs on the side of the road proudly boasting "Maine. Thinking Ahead.".

Where is all of the Thruway Authority's money going? Tolls went up, nothing is changing on the road to improve traffic capacity.

A direct quote from a New York State Advisory Panel on Transportation (not affiliated with the Thruway or Department of Transportation) study released in December 2004:

"Current transportation infrastructure, after years of improvement, is starting to deteriorate again and conditions will worsen quickly without significant new investment.

Restoring and maintaining our existing infrastructure is not enough. New infrastructure and system-wide improvements are also needed in order to keep up with increased demands."

We spend tons of money on studies that point out the obvious yet we choose to do nothing about it. Other states figured out the solution and stay ahead of the curve. What will New York do?

Our communities will experience a drastic change because of this whether we do anything about it or not. The question is, will we take control and do anything?

Brian Florence, Glens Falls, NY