Monday, August 6, 2018

When will we have enough roads?

Every time I go to Oak Island, NC, there is another new road to get me there. We usually go there as a family at least once a year, and that has been our tradition for about 25 years. And every time we make that journey in recent years, I have to find my way again.

I remember going to Long Beach back in the 1970s, long before it became the municipality of Oak Island. Any journey to the beach takes too long, and traveling 200+ miles from Greensboro on the two-lane U.S. 421 was the price to pay to get there. Years later, my own family began the annual tradition of vacationing on that same island. We would allow about 5 hours to make the trip. This year we made it in 3 1/2 hours.

New roads have whittled down our travel time more than I could have imagined. Interstate 40 was extended beyond Greensboro all the way to Wilmington. Then Interstate 140 allowed us to by-pass the whole Port City, extending farther south every vacation. Only this year did I learn that I-40 was the slow way to make the trip. Now we have interstates 73 and 74 that dump out on the doorstep of Oak Island. And I-73 is only about 5 miles from my house. It feels like a secret passage way from home to vacation.

I like to save time as much as anybody. But when will we have enough roads? Are we going to keep on paving huge swaths of countryside? The urban loop around Greensboro is almost complete now. Theoretically the new roads reduce traffic. Does anybody really believe that theory? I have seen traffic worsen considerably in Greensboro as the new roads are completed.

The American mind says that faster is better. If we can get somewhere faster, we must make it happen. It's like a moral obligation. Cities only look at building more roads. No one ever suggests removing them. But there is a finite amount of real estate in this world. If we keep paving, eventually there will be too much pavement. I wonder if we will think of that before it's too late.