What City Observatory did this week

Another exploding whale:  The cost of the I-205 bridge project doubles in four years. Famously in the 1960s, the Oregon State Highway Department tried to dispose of the carcass of a whale that had washed up on an Oregon beach with several cases of dynamite. They predicted that the whale would be atomized, but in one of the most-watched youtube videos in history, the results are a disaster, with onlookers fleeing to avoid being crushed in a rain of blubber.  While it no longer blows up whales, the Oregon Department of Transportation has repeatedly blown up project budgets, with similarly embarrassing and even more devastating results.

In four years, the price of widening this bridge doubled from $248 million to nearly $500 million

Virtually every major ODOT highway project has ended up costing twice as much as its initial estimates.  The latest example is the proposed seismic upgrade and widening of the I-205 Abernethy Bridge over the Willamette River.  In 2018, ODOT told the Legislature, the project would cost $248 million.  Bids opened earlier this spring showed the actual cost of the project was going to be nearly $500 million.  No one should trust ODOT to make reliable project cost estimates, any more than they should let them use dynamite for whale disposal.

Must read

Denver drops plans to widen I-25.  Score one victory for freeway fighters in the Mile High City.  According to the Colorado Sun, the Colorado Department of Transportation has dropped plans to widen Interstate 25, the principal North-South route through the city.  Instead, they’ll focus on improving rail transportation and redeveloping rail yards near the city center.  Colorado has adopted some forward looking climate policies, that require some consideration of the effect of new highway capacity on increasing travel and climate pollution.  This is a positive step, but like so many battles, isn’t final:  CDOT could revive this project in some future year.

America’s increasingly deadly streets.  The latest data on traffic deaths shows that, far from making progress toward “Vision Zero,” the carnage on US streets and roads continues to increase.  The number of traffic deaths grew 10.5 percent  to nearly 43,000 according to the data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Traffic deaths increased to a 16-year high.  Fatalities increased in 44 of the 50 states, and the increase in deaths was higher for some vulnerable road users, with pedestrian deaths up 13 percent over the past year.

The miracle of “reduced demand”.  Regular City Observatory readers are familiar with the term ‘induced demand”–the idea that building more roadway capacity induces more automobile travel. While well documented in the scientific literature, the concept is utterly baffling to billionaire car and tunnel builder Elon Musk, who attempted to refute induced demand last week, by expressing his disbelief for its logical corollary:  if we reduce road capacity that should reduce traffic.  StreetsblogLA has the refreshing news that in spite of Musk’s skepticism, that is also true.  As freeway removal projects around the world (and even temporary closures) have shown, removing highway capacity has the effect of reducing car travel (and pollution and crashes).  Kea Wilson offers a succinct telling of the three reasons that reduced demand works.  Her article is ought to be “Musk-reading” this week.

In the news

StreetsblogLA cited City Observatory’s analysis of “reduced demand” in its article challenging Elon Musk.