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Special Report: Transportation Project Take Action

Dawn of a new era

August 1, 1999 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

More and more states are recognizing that the construction of expensive new highways leads to urban sprawl and makes traffic congestion worse. Here's a sampling of the most innovative programs.

Maryland's Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation Initiative, enacted in 1997, is designed to slow sprawl and protect the environment by investing state funds for economic development in existing cities and towns (see the Spring 1998 Great Lakes Bulletin). The Smart Growth act specifically prohibits spending state funds on new roads, such as bypasses, that do not connect towns and are built in undeveloped rural areas.

Gov. Parris Glendening backed up his Smart Growth program earlier this year by stopping four highway bypasses proposed by the state Department of Transportation that would have cost an estimated $350 million. He did so by removing from the state budget $1.5 million that the agency sought for planning.

Gov. Glendening relented on a fifth bypass, strongly supported by citizens around Brookeville in central Montgomery County outside Washington, D.C., after local governments agreed to uphold Smart Growth goals by taking the followingsteps:

  • Establish a long-range plan to manage traffic.
  • Implement traffic calming.
  • Install better signal systems.
  • Reduce the number of parking lot entrances and exits.
  • Use other tools to more efficiently and safely move cars while promoting pedestrian and bicycle traffic
  • Put conservation easements in place along the bypass corridor to preserve scenic views and prevent the land from becoming a strip of big box superstores.

CONTACT: John Frece, Special Assistant to the Governor for Smart Growth, 410-260-8112,e-mail: <jfrece@dnr.state.md.us>.

In 1991, after voters turned down a proposal to widen the Maine Turnpike, the state approved the Sensible Transportation Policy Act to give citizens moreopportunity to influence howpublic dollars arespent.

The law established eight Regional Advisory Committees to the state Transportation Department. The 20-member committees review and comment on any project of "major public interest." Composed of residents, local officials, and business leaders, they can formulate comments on their own, hold public hearings, or conduct workshops.

Under Gov. Angus King, the influence of the regional committees is increasing. For example, several of them raised concerns about how a hidden road-building subsidy was encouraging sprawl. Maine was requiring cities, but not local governments in rural areas, to contribute 20% of the cost of building a road within their boundaries. In 1999 the Legislature extended the 20% requirement to rural communities, thus ending an incentive for new roads in the countryside.

CONTACT:BethDe lla Valle, Co-Managerof Community Planning, Maine State Planning Office. 207-287-2851, e-mail:<beth.della.vallee@state.me.us>.

One of the formal goals of Oregon's 1973 growth management law, the nation's best, was to promote public transportation and other alternatives to roads and automobiles. For example, in the late 1980s the law gave Portland the authority to replace a proposed new $1 billion freeway west of the city with a light-rail line. It opened last September and is carrying 14,000 passengers a day, hundreds more than anticipated.

Oregon's transportation policy also includes a $20 million-a-year grant program to help cities and counties reduce congestion by finding alternatives to urban sprawl. The grants pay for independent planners to work with local officials and developers on directing economic development downtown.

Forexample, in 1998 theSafeway Corporation wantedtobuilda newsupermarketalong thehighway in arural area outsidethe cityofAstoria, a project that would have promote d sprawl. ThestateDepartment of Land Conservation and Developmenthiredplanners to comeup with away to locate the store downtownand anchorits thriving urban economy.

As a result of the state's work in Astoria, Gov. John Kitzhaber gained an agreement from the executives of Safeway, one of the West Coast's largest supermarket chains, to build all of its new stores in downtowns close to bus and commuter rail lines.

CONTACT:Lynn Peterson, 1000 Friends of Oregon, 503-497-1000. ~K.S.

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