Staff Editorial

Widening Interstate 380 not a holistic solution to transportation woes

Traffic flows under the Forevergreen Road overpass on I-380 in Coralville on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Traffic flows under the Forevergreen Road overpass on I-380 in Coralville on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Iowa transportation planners are considering expanding Interstate 380 between North Liberty and Cedar Rapids from two to three lanes in each direction.

Congestion on the corridor between Johnson and Linn counties is apparent to rush hour commuters, but it’s also borne out by data.

The estimated daily volume on the affected portion of the highway is 57,100 vehicles per day, according to the Department of Transportation’s 2018 traffic counts. Interstate 80, where traffic volume is significantly lower in the area at 39,700 vehicles per day, and even that is three lanes when it intersects with I-380 in Coralville.

By 2040, traffic on I-380 is projected to reach 90,000 vehicles per day.

Proponents of the I-380 project say the expansion would relieve congestion, thereby making highway travel faster and safer. It also could spur investments by existing firms or attract new businesses that rely on easy motor vehicle access.

Opponents of the plan, however, argue that expanding highway volume will incentivize more drivers to take the highway, and ultimately discourage the use of regional public transportation options that advocates have tried for years to expand.

The Gazette editorial board finds both sets of arguments persuasive — safe, efficient travel across the corridor is vital to our economy and quality of life, but so too is building and supporting a more robust public transportation system.

Whether or not the expansion moves forward, state and local officials must continue to explore regional public transit programs. That would be especially important in the face of the headaches road construction imposes.

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The price tag of the I-380 expansion is enormous at more than $200 million, with no assurance that it will be the last time in our lifetimes the road will need to be expanded. In fact, planners have already staked out the median as a potential site for a fourth lane in each direction at some point in the future.

Note, too, that transportation technology and service models are changing. In 20 or 30 years, the ways we travel to work or administer public transportation could look very different from today.

It would be helpful for planners and citizens to take a more holistic view, recognizing that each individual’s transportation decisions are inextricably linked to local governments’ residential and commercial development decisions. People need ways to get from home to work, and in many cases, cars are still the best way to do that.

Reducing single-passenger automobile trips is a laudable goal, but it won’t be achieved by simply halting highway expansion projects.

Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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