I am amazed sometimes how a confluence of events, information, and opinion can perfectly illustrate some ideas I have been promulgating for some time now. In fact, I am a bit jealous of other writers who pull these same ideas into a more concise package, but more on that later.
The initial article that brought the opposing themes of environmental sustainability and economic growth into to focus for me was this one: California is exploring the idea of taxing driving. They are studying whether or not they could use GPS units to track your movements and then tax you by the mile. If you are like me, you probably recoiled in horror at the idea, not only from a government intrusion standpoint but from a tax aversion standpoint. Is there nothing that is off limits from government taxation?
It won’t work. It sounds plausible. It sounds similar to a toll road - writ large. At least people who use the roads would be paying for them, right? If California bureaucrats are hoping to garner increasing revenue to plug holes in ailing infrastructure or in the state budget, they will be sorely disappointed.
A tax on driving will only ensure that people will drive less. It is unlikely the tax would generate long term surpluses and the roads they would like to fix with the money will not have as many drivers. Perhaps the ultimate goal is to force people onto public transportation. Maybe they will not repair the roads and replace the mega freeways with high speed rail? I don’t think the California leaders are that smart or visionary. They just want the money. If they were really committed to other modes of transportation, they would just tear up I-5 as they built tracks for the proposed high speed rail line from LA to Sacramento and eventually to San Francisco – telling everyone to just deal with it. Just think how much quicker and cheaper the high speed rail could be built on land that has already been confiscated by the government (for the freeway, I-5)! Instead, in typical wasteful government fashion, they are going to spend billions on the high speed rail (maybe – if the state doesn’t go bankrupt first), and billions more maintaining the freeway system. Even more productive and beautiful land will succumb to expansion and “growth”.
It is similar to the situation around much of the nation, and we have a recent example right here in Northcentral Wisconsin. The highway 10 project from Marshfield to Stevens Point was completed just this week. I understand how this will make life a lot easier for people commuting between the 2 cities. I understand how it will make traffic better. I understand that many people reading this blog will love the new connection (just like when highway 29 was completed). But I don’t like it. If you disagree, that is what the comment section is for.
I used to think more along the lines of bigger is better, a new road means progress, commerce expands, but through the years I have come around to a different view.
Cities used to be distinctive. Roads used to be scenic. The population was small enough to not cause problems. Now things are different. Cities have sprawled out of control. Whereas most of a city’s activity used to occur near or in the center, it is now dispersed. Parking lots, gas stations, freeways, subdivisions, strip malls, and box stores, subsume the landscape miles away from the city, where cows and deer used to roam. More roads have only brought more traffic and accelerates unsustainable sprawl (as I detailed in The Contrete Life, ponzi infrastructure, and Road Construction Always Increases). Sprawling networks of roads and support of automobile infrastructure is also why we are turning food (corn) into fuel and burning it.
Now we have a new highway 10, but really we have 2 highway 10s. Now double the amount of productive farmland has become victim to “progress”. The new highway 10 takes up even more land than the old highway 10. The cost of maintaining the new highway 10 will be more than maintaining the old highway 10. Another road means more future orange barrel delays. It would be interesting to know if a passenger rail service could have been built to serve the two cities (Marshfield and Stevens Point) for a cost of 250 million or less (the cost of the new highway). The tracks (or at least the lines) already exist between the two cities. Could new track for faster passenger trains have been laid for the same cost? It is already to the point in this country that we cannot maintain our infrastructure. Why do we keep adding more roads?
We are wedded to the car. That is why. It is often said that Americans love their cars. I don’t. When such a large nation and economy is moving in one direction, building and designing its entire society around the automobile, it is hard to change course. Many of you reading this probably cannot “get your head around” how we could ever change things and how we could ever drop the automobile like a bad habit. Well, the good news is that younger generations and developing nations are doing it for us.
One of criticisms I have of Peak Oil and AGW predictions, is that they are quite wedded to the idea that younger generations and developing nations are going to follow the same path as past generations in the U.S. and build ugly parking lots, strip malls, and vast freeways. China and India are trying but failing. Younger generations all over the world are not wedded to the car. The Internet infrastructure is what matters more. They can connect with friends, family, and work without driving. Instead of driving to the store, they order online and take advantage of the economies of scale surrounding shipping and manufacturing. They like the city center more than past generations. They understand the financial and emotional trap that can develop around the ownership of several cars and a McMansion out in the burbs. I could go on, but I will leave you with an article that does a much better job of stitching together many of the themes I have populated these pages with piece-meal through the years. It is entitled the Demise of the Car. It is a longer read, but well worth your time.
Have a good Wednesday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.