Due to the constant increase in traffic on the stretch of Carpenter Road that spans from I-94 to Textile Road, the Washtenaw County Road Commission and county officials have proposed to widen the road from two lanes to a five lane mini-highway. Although the road commission views road expansion as the solution to the growing traffic problem in Washtenaw Country, this $5 million project will cost much more than its worth.
Widening roads has historically failed to alleviate traffic and will further contribute to environmental problems by facilitating more urban sprawl. Instead of falling prey to the temptation of road expansion, county officials should promote public transportation, which would not only help alleviate traffic problems, but also would also be an environmentally friendly alternative.
Advocates of the Carpenter Road expansion argue that widening the road is necessary to compensate for the growing amount of traffic, which is supposed to double over the next couple of years. At first glance, it appears intuitive that by widening the roads, congestion would be eliminated by spreading traffic throughout the lanes. However, road expansion is only a short-term solution. With decreased congestion, traffic will eventually be re-routed to the widened roads — leading to an endless cycle of traffic and road widening.
This cycle, besides from being a waste of taxpayer money, has disastrous environmental consequences. Not only does road expansion enable a proliferation of traffic — spurring traditional environmental problems like increased air pollution and the waste of fossil fuels — it also promotes the inefficient development of land, known as sprawl. To limit future traffic and the environmental consequences of road expansion, county officials should do what the county has demanded for so long — increase funding, research and accessibility to public transportation projects. Only improvements in public transportation can lower the traffic burden and lead to a cleaner, safer county.
In an attempt to placate environmentalists opposing the road widening, the Road Commission has proposed to line the road with a paved pathway, accessible for walkers and bicyclists. In proposing the bike path, county officials appear to be well aware of the need to promote environmentally friendly measures to alleviate traffic. Unfortunately the bike path proposal will be in addition to the road expansion, which acts in opposition to the environmentally and economically sound promise of the bike path.
Widening roads to limit traffic will only provide the incentive for future traffic to fill the widened roads. The problem and solution are inherently cyclical — a new approach is needed. County officials should encourage the development of a vibrant public transportation system, which would help reduce traffic, sprawl and the consequent environmental problems from road expansion.