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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
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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.
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
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
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