Who pays for transportation improvements - and what are they paying for?

This post is a new one in a series of personal musings from our Bike Baton Rouge board members. First up, Vice President, Doug Moore.

Transportation woes and how to fund solutions to them are a near continuous theme in Baton Rouge. Task forces and committees comprised of lots of powerful people are probably in a conference room discussing it right now. So far, what these good folks have been able to come up with is: we need to spend more money to make it easier to drive. However, as the recent and predictable failures of the proposed gas tax increase and the Green Light Plan II millage proposal have made it clear - people don’t want to pay for it. J.R. Ball’s recent column in the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report hits the nail on the head when it comes to our city’s general unwillingness to do what it takes to solve this particular problem.  

One can hardly blame someone living in a rural parish, which is what most of Louisiana is, for not wanting to pay higher gas prices just so people can drive faster through Baton Rouge. Besides, it would take billions of dollars to build all the megaprojects people want in BR. That’s a lot of money and many years of headache-inducing construction before any of the promised relief would materialize. Considering it’s taken the better part of a year to replace a still not completed two lane bridge over a canal at Claycut Rd., can you imagine how long it’d take to span the widest river in the country again or to turn Airline Highway into an expressway? And then what? People are able to drive through Baton Rouge in 5 or 10 fewer minutes? At least until the law of induced demand sees that extra capacity disappear in a matter of months.

That’s a hefty price tag for such an uncertain and miniscule reward.  

That brings me to my point. One of the most frustrating things for me as a bike advocate is when I encounter people who say that it is too expensive and impractical to build a decent bike/pedestrian network in this city. These are usually the same folks who are clamoring for bypass loops, bridges, widenings, BUMPs, etc. This is when I think to myself, “Who’s really being impractical here?” One of my favorite stats to cite is for half of what it would cost to widen I-10 from the “new” bridge to the I-10/I-12 split (that’s $100 million, by the way, assuming no cost overruns), Baton Rouge could build a bike/pedestrian network that would rival any in the U.S. But….we can’t. Because it’s too expensive. And not practical. Ugh….  

On a more positive note, many city officials and leaders are starting to realize that there will always be people who either cannot or choose not to drive, and that the percentage of such people is likely to increase over the years - and that these folks deserve to have as safe and enjoyable an experience on our roads as does everyone in a motor vehicle. Though many transportation engineers are loath to admit, safety and mobility go hand-in-hand. Slowly but surely, some who control the levers of power are starting to realize you can’t solve traffic congestion with driving (we know, we've met them!). And even those that have yet to come around have realized you can’t build megaprojects without new taxes, which people aren’t willing to pay anyway. Hopefully, we’ll see these two camps come together and realize their common solution, one that is cheaper and actually attainable, has been staring them in the face the whole time.

P.S.  After I wrote this post, I learned Mayor Broome has unveiled a new tax proposal aimed at road improvements. I'm very curious to see what it contains and how the public will react...though I suspect I already know.

Doug Moore,
Bike Baton Rouge Vice President