Rethinking Our Roads

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 21 2014 @ 8:32am

Eric Jaffe highlights Marlon Boarnet’s argument that “that the Interstate Highway System should have been two distinct systems: one running between cities, and another running within them”:

Boarnet argues that one branch of the Interstate Highway System should have been reserved entirely for intercity roads. These would be highways running through remote areas with cheap land and sparse populations, so it would make sense to prioritize traffic flow and vehicle capacity. Paying for this branch with a pooled fuel tax would also make sense, because the benefits of low-cost transport and trade redound on everyone.

The other branch of the system would be made up of intracity roads, those running within the city limits. Given the high cost of land and density of population in cities, creating sufficient road capacity and swift vehicle flow would become a pipe dream, so the wiser aim would be transport balance. The logical way to finance these roads, given the great demand for space on them, would be with direct user fees — ideally priced to reduce congestion.

The two systems could even be governed separately. A national authority could oversee the intercity system, deciding on route location and managing maintenance programs. Meanwhile, the intracity system could be organized by metropolitan authorities capable of designing the network to fit local needs. Some level of coordination would be needed at the city limits, of course, but that partnership should give both systems equal importance.