Traffic in Raleigh and the United States is getting worse, and we can’t stop it

 The section of Leesville road widened by Wake County. This addition cost 5.6 million dollars to taxpayers. (Photo credit to Google Maps)

 

Every year, traffic only seems to get worse. It doesn’t seem like anyone can stop it. Trying to accommodate it takes so long, it has already outgrown the expansions before they are completed. The things that seem to make it go away are things we generally try to avoid. The period of high fuel prices coupled with the economic slowdown of the late 2000’s offered some respite, but today there are more and more people using more and more cars on the same old roads, and this trend is only getting worse. “Rush hour” gets longer with each passing day. It’s a little known but simple fact that traffic is getting worse. Urban and suburban population growth along with population increases, cheap fuel and a good economy will put many more cars on the road.

Near the beginning of the decade, Charlotte’s construction of a citywide rail transport system was in full swing, and politicians at the city level in Raleigh began chattering about the possibility of a rail system to connect at least a few parts of the city. The prospect of a rail system easing traffic and providing low-cost transportation for Raleigh citizens earned the attention of WRAL and the like. However, ultimately the project proved the pipe dream of the politicians, and there has been very little talk about it since 2013. Raleigh’s decentralized, sprawling suburban complexes made a rail system pointless, as most people wouldn’t be willing to walk all the way to the rail stations, said critics.

The alternatives we’re currently using are unsustainable long-term. The city of Raleigh has allocated $5,600,000 into the construction you’ve seen in the Leesville Road widening project. Assumedly, this was to cope with the fact that following the construction of Sycamore Creek, traffic along Leesville Road flowing away from downtown Raleigh regularly became an hours-long crawl. However, it’s arguable that this was too little, too late. The public meeting to discuss the road widening first took place over five years ago, in March 2011–the Leesville area has only seen people moving in since that time. In that five years, the government has managed to widen sections of Leesville Road from Strickland to New Leesville road. Can a county government actively investing in public roadways hope to keep up with the ever-increasing number of drivers in Raleigh?

The answer seems to be no–city governments across the U.S. stand no chance in keeping up with traffic increases under present conditions. The money and space  isn’t there to dispatch a legion of concrete trucks and level the earth to accommodate more cars. The positive effects of 5 years of work on Leesville Road’s congestion will likely prove to be temporary. Traffic on the two beltlines and I-40–also the site of a lengthy construction project, fixing a shoddy construction job completed only 30 years ago–is going to get progressively worse and worse.

The problem is miniscule in a medium-sized city like Raleigh, but in larger cities, the situation is dire and only getting worse. And, similarly, various governments involved with maintaining the roadways have regularly proved they don’t have what it takes to keep up with demand. A project by the city of Boston, a gigantic tunnel colloquially referred to as the Big Dig, cost about 600% of the original budget, took 8 years longer than proposed to build, and eventually killed a commuter due to a poorly constructed ceiling.

Many American cities are growing rapidly in terms of population. In Raleigh, the arteries of Highway 70 and Interstate 440 cannot keep up with the demand for transportation for 20 or 30 years, and road expansion projects are a costly way to delay our troubles for a short time. The city of Raleigh, and cities across the United States, cannot continue under the utopian ideal of individual free travel day-in, day-out.

So if we can’t all hop on the highway and get to work in a reasonable amount of time, what are our options? The reality is that there are only two on the table: we could improve mass transit to bring people from the suburbs into the city efficiently, or we could start living in higher density housing near where we work. Those aren’t suggestions that sit well with most people, as driving with absolute freedom as well as having a yard are both cornerstones of the American dream.

Cities around the world are already being forced to deal with these problems by implementing new and exciting ideas. In Los Angeles’ “E-Highway”, trucks roll along, powered by electric lines that run along the side of the road. This system moves vehicles more efficiently than the combustion engine can. Across an ocean, London is currently working on a massive 56 kilometer expansion to their underground rail system. The city understands that it’s worth the money to get people off the road and underground, where they can’t congest traffic

In the Raleigh of the future, the suburbs of Leesville may well be connected to Downtown and RTP in a way that makes it possible for people to get to work without flooding our neighborhood streets and highways. Downtown already has a number of lovely apartment blocks, and more people could be encouraged to live there as time goes on. These are the only ways for major cities to combat congested traffic once we run out of earth to pave.

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