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August 27, 2006

A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

August 11 , 2006

The Thruway Is The Problem

A guest editorial from the esteemed Mr. John Wolcott

The following opinion piece appeared in the August 6, 2006 Sunday Gazette. I present it here partly because I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Wolcott’s opinions.

I present it partly because the independent Gazette has a smaller circulation than the better known Hearst owned rival daily paper in this Capital District market, so fewer people got a chance to see John’s piece. Also, the Gazette foolishly follows a policy of not making it’s articles available online. This, sad to say, limits the reach of the Gazette articles which are often superior in quality. Eventually, this policy of ignoring the internet will destroy our only independent daily paper.

I present it partly because it is high summer, and I am too distracted to write scintillating essays for my blog.

I agree one hundred percent with Mr. Wolcott’s complaints about the Thruway. Yes, it is necessary. Yes, I drive on it. But believe me, I would rather take a train to get around New York State. Because we live under an automobile monopoly, we have no choice but to maintain expensive internal combustion vehicles and pay for overpriced petroleum products.

The people who run the Thruway clearly do not have a clue about the problems that they do so much to amplify. For example, they really want to add two more lanes between Exits 23 and 24. They are approaching this like a war, a holy mission against an entrenched enemy. You know, the enemy... the people who live around the Thruway and will have to bear the impact of increased air and noise pollution.

They don’t seem to understand that if you add more lanes then traffic will increase accordingly. This is a proven fact. In this case, going from four to six lanes means one third more driving pavement, which translates into one third more traffic. Or more.

Now, that’s great if you don’t happen to live in the City of Albany. But I ask, why should we who live here bear the burden of lowered quality of life so that non residents of Albany can rip through the length of our community in greater numbers than ever before?

At a public hearing at St. Sophia’s Church on Manning Boulevard earlier this year, a collection of Thruway planners claimed that traffic on the Thruway will rise exponentially in the next twenty years. Thus, they need more lanes to meet the demand, two more lanes that would eat just a little strip of Pine Bush, and bring the speeding autos just a little bit closer to the Albany City “Landfill.”

Whoa nelly. Wait one minute here. What happened, I asked, in 2004 when gas prices went over $3.50 a gallon? Did traffic on the Thruway decrease?

Um, yes, they admitted, there was some overall decrease in traffic on the system. But after gas prices dropped traffic volume went back to pre-2004 levels and started to rise again.

Well, I continued, don’t you think that gas prices are going to continue to rise? this project is supposed to take at least six years to complete. What do you suppose will be the price of gas in 2012, and how will that affect traffic volume?

The Thruway planners, who have to justify their continued employment, dismissed my concerns with silence.

I’ll have to say that I do not agree with Mr. Wolcott’s proposed idea of an “environmental surcharge” added to the cost of a Thruway ticket. Remember, this is government we are talking about here. The Thruway Authority is a notorious patronage pork barrel, wasting oceans of money on salaries for a vast army of people who do nothing but watch for tidal waves and write recommendations for adding unwanted lanes. I seriously doubt that John’s “environmental surcharge” will be directed where it will do any good.

In addition, raising the price of driving a car always impacts the poor and working class, the people who can afford it the least. Taxes should always be directed toward those who are most able to pay. That’s just common sense, and it’s good policy for everybody.

But John’s main point is that it is high time that the Thruway Authority take the lead in undoing the damage that it has caused over the years of it’s existence to our air, land and water.

But to change the Thruway Authority means that we need to change its personnel. We need an environmental housecleaning, a massive Saturday night massacre.

It’s time to throw out the old boys who are busily making war upon the citizens, and replace them with public servants who are ready to make the innovations necessary for everybody’s survival.



Take Bigger Steps

Thruway should reduce traffic, speed limit,
add environmental surcharge

BY JOHN WOLCOTT For The Sunday Gazette

August 6, 2006

The New York State Thruway Authority is giving a break to drivers of hybrids.

That's all well and good, and a little step in the right direction. The problem is that the good represented by this measure is vastly overshadowed by a step in the wrong direction.

The Thruway Authority is failing to take some additional steps on behalf of the environment. These additional steps are specifically appropriate to the Thruway Authority and are obvious, if one but stops to think of them.

The Thruway Authority is going the wrong way by building any additional traffic lanes at Albany or anywhere, to increase capacity and flow. The authority should be seeking to reduce capacity and overall use of their road, especially by commuters. They should concentrate on maintenance and upkeep directed at safety.

The arterial system in this country was originally promoted as an interstate system, but once built, it soon became a major engine for the spread of suburbs and the associated phenomenon of daily commuting. This in turn has been increasingly degrading our cities, and our rural and natural environment.

What has been less obvious, until recently, is that more cars moving more rapidly in ever-increasing numbers and emitting more carbon dioxide on our arterial system is a major contributor to global warming. Global warming is in the process of doing immense harm to human society and the environment... probably even sooner than some predict. Many fail to see or believe what is disastrously and dramatically happening right now, beyond their own cultural confines and degree of latitude.

What steps can the New York State Thruway Authority take to offset the harm they do in facilitating sprawl and contributing to global warming? Well, the Thruway Authority is in a position to do at least two things to combat these environmental problems that they contribute to.

One measure would be to add a fairly high environmental surcharge to ail Thruway tolls except for buses, which should be free of toll charges. The surcharge could be incrementally increased until Thruway use is appreciatively reduced.

In the meantime, a lot more money would be taken in by the Authority, and much of it could be applied to the state Agriculture Department's program of purchasing farm development rights. I am creditably informed that this program is underfunded and that there is always a long waiting line of willing sellers, many of whom are being tempted by developers when they have to wait too long. There are other open-space acquisition programs that some of the money could also go to.

Another obvious thing that the Thruway Authority could do to put dents in both sprawl and global warming is to simply reduce the speed limit to 50 mph. Much less gas is burned at this speed. A reduction in the speed limit would discourage sprawl and its extravagantly extended maldistribution, since sprawl is largely premised on time-distance ratios. A very substantial additional benefit to reducing the speed limit, of course, would be fewer accidents.

The reduced speed measure could likewise be applied to the Adirondack Northway, that great spawner of sprawl in Saratoga County. I have been told that there may be some legal impediments to converting the Northway into a toll road. If this isn't true, or if such an impediment can be overcome, then that is what should be done. The same system of environmental surcharges on tolls could then be applied to both of NewYork state's major arterial highways.

These are things that the state of New York can and needs to do with the Thruway and, if possible, the Northway. Otherwise these roads will continue to be environmentally degrading Lemmingways.

John Wolcott lives in Albany. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

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