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The Sierra Club recently released a report identifying the best and worst transportation projects across the nation – Smart Choices, Less Traffic: the 50 best and worst transportation projects in America.  The report highlights projects based on their oil use, environmental, health, land use, and economic impacts.  The report identifies a disconnect between the American public’s support for transportation choices, which continues to grow, and the need for more diverse transportation system, and the way in which we have been allocating our transportation funding – namely, that that funding has been focused on roads and automobiles to the detriment of other modes.

Two projects on the list are from Ohio, both from Cincinnati.  One of the projects, the Cincinnati Streetcar, is on the Best list, while the other project, the Eastern Corridor Highway, is on the Worst list.  These two projects stand in stark contrast, as the Streetcar will provide a link between the downtown business district of Cincinnati and the Findlay Market and Over-the-Rhine districts, offering greater transportation options while reducing emissions and driving economic development and revitalization.  The Eastern Corridor Highway, on the other hand, would expand and reroute the existing State Route 32, which would include building a new bridge over the environmentally sensitive National and State Wild and Scenic Little Miami River, fragmenting the Village of Newtown while exposing surrounding villages and neighborhoods to higher travel speeds, emissions, and traffic volumes, and facilitating more sprawl development in Cincinnati’s exurbs.

The Streetcar project is an incisive investment in Cincinnati’s future.  Projects such as streetcars and light rails are linked to greater economic activity and provide exciting opportunities for transit-oriented development.  Transportation amenities such as streetcars also are critical in attracting young professionals and top talent, who are more likely to choose the city they want to live in before selecting the job they want.  The desire by young professionals to live in vibrant, diverse urban areas is not lost on the business community either, and more and more businesses are making the conscious choice to locate themselves in cities that offer lots of amenities because those cities attract and retain talented workforces.

The Eastern Corridor Highway is a project born from the 1950s highway approach that we can build our way out of congestion.  The project was first suggested in the mid-1990s when gas prices were well below $2 per gallon.  Fast-forward to today and vehicle trips on the Eastern Corridor continue to decline and have fallen below their 1990s levels.  Its been clearly shown that “if you build it, they will come,” meaning that more and wider roads simply begat more car trips.  Not only is expanding State Route 32 into a major highway not a solution to congestion, but the increases in vehicle mile traveled that would come with it would increase oil use and transportation emissions, perpetuating Cincinnati’s perennial position as one of the worst US metros for air pollution.  Instead, the goal of expanding transportation choice, through increased transit service and improved bicycle and pedestrian facilities, should be the focus of the corridor

This Best and Worst report is a continuation of a 2002 report that was conducted in a similar way, for a similar purpose.  Of the projects of the Best list in 2002, about 80% were built, while the Bad list had far fewer completed.  Let’s hope that the projects in this report follow that same path, and that the Cincinnati Streetcar is completed and expanded as a centerpiece of the Queen City while the Eastern Corridor Highway is abandoned and forgotten.

Click here to see the full report