A new freeway depreciates itself and the city as fast as your new car

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A Metra train bypasses congested automobile traffic on the free-to-use Kennedy Expressway. 

Elly Blue wrote about automobile depreciation last week. Depreciation is the value of the automobile that disappears because it’s not as valuable anymore, for reasons of mechanical decay and the “used” factor.

Depreciation is, for many individual consumers a hidden cost. But any responsible accounting of the costs of driving includes it as one of the largest associated with car ownership. The fact that such a large and unprofitable investment is necessary to living and working in most areas of this country is a major source of poverty and failure to get ahead for people and families, and is a hidden source of poverty on a national scale.

The same exact principle is at work in our road system.

It’s depreciation at the societal level. It’s irresponsible not to plan for it, but we do not. A freeway, once built, immediately begins to deteriorate and become congested, it loses its ability to provide the jobs that often were much of the argument for building it in the first place.

Think about the Circle Interchange project the Illinois Department of Transportation is bent on building. For 10 minutes I monitored the “public forum” room at the late June – and final – public meeting about the project to rebuild and increase capacity at the intersection of I-290, I-90/94, and Congress Parkway. I heard seven people speak and at least five of them focused their two minute speeches on the “good jobs” that this project would provide. These are the same “good jobs” that $470 million spent on any other transportation project would generate, like the underfunded but highly beneficial CREATE project that reduces congestion and travel times for freight, Metra, and Amtrak trains in the region.

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The Circle Interchange will add an imposing flyover to Greektown and residents and workers on Van Buren Street. 

Building something for jobs is the worst reason to build something. At least with transit (or tollways, for this matter) there is a recurring funding stream, with every use. Oregon is slowly moving in the direction of taxing drivers by mile instead of by gallon, but starting only with electric vehicles. Illinois is issuing bonds for its freeways with the country’s worst credit rating.

Elly’s article had me thinking of other ways cities lose. One of the commenters mentioned there is a loss in property taxes, when properties are demolished to make way for the highway. As Rick Risemberg wrote, “Roads themselves do not pay property tax, of course.” The revenue from those razed properties is eliminated, permanently.

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This train flyover represents what the Circle Interchange flyover, over Halsted, will look like. At least this flyover has a revenue stream.

Another way cities lose property tax because of highways is that it makes properties around highways less valuable. It also makes existing, now vacant properties less desirable to developers. So, we have less revenue and then a lowered desire to develop there. Seems like a Catch-22.

However, urban rail stations and bikeways are now known to raise property values and thus government incomes, though this money generated by them is usually not allocated to the infrastructure that created it. (Some places are beginning to use “value capture” mechanisms to do so.)

Risemberg makes sure to point out that gas taxes hardly cover the costs of building highways. I would add that, at least in this state, more and more is being spent on debt service.

And this is all slightly relevant to the article I posted Tuesday on Streetsblog Chicago about transit-oriented development. It’s the third of three articles on the topic based on a report by the Center for Neighborhood Technology that essentially says that Chicagoland, compared to San Francisco, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, are not experiencing the same benefits of them as adding housing to the transit shed (within 1/2 mile of a train station) and that driving is up in the transit shed of Chicagoland while transportation costs, as a portion of household income, are rising faster in the transit shed than outside. These were surprising to CNT, where the expectation was, in brief, that living near a train station provides more mobility, closer retail and services opportunities, and thus would reduce dependence on expensive automobile ownership.

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About Steven Vance

Enthusiast for urbanism, bicycling as transportation, and open data. Building a bicycle culture in Chicago.
  • http://rechtsschutzversicherungvergleich-24.de RechtsschutzversicherungVergleich-24.de

    I always spent my half an hour to read this weblog’s articles or reviews daily along with a mug of coffee.

  • http://www.cyclelicio.us/ Cyclelicious

    Highways don’t pay property taxes, compared against, say, the hundreds of miles of once-profitable private interurban lines across Illinois that those government funded highways put out of business.

    • http://www.stevevance.net Steven Vance

      That was another point in the comments on Elly’s article.