On a pleasant spring day in December it’s nice to drive past the endlessly under-construction intersection of Route 250 and McIntire Road in Charlottesville, Va., and realize that the darn thing must nearly be completed. It looks sturdy and attractive. There’s a nice new bicycle path heading north from it. All must be right with the world.
This intersection has its own official website stating that it won’t really be done until next summer — a website that is otherwise about as helpful as healthcare.gov.
Here are my concerns.
This intersection was only required by the construction of a 2-mile-long unnecessary road leading out of it, a road aimed at taking traffic off other roads that will certainly fail in that quixotic mission. Construction of new houses along those other roads has outpaced the construction of the new road that will produce the traffic needed to fill it, as they always do.
The intersection is supposed to cost $33 million, and together with the 2-mile-long road a total of $67 million.
The increased traffic is predictably driving discussion of additional new intersections to receive it. Price tags for improving four intersections on nearby Route 29 have been discussed as ranging from $250 million to $350 million. An intersection many miles up Route 29 in Gainesville is under construction for a cost of $216 million. A ridiculous proposal for a whole new road to the west of Charlottesville has been stopped by public pressure but left $200 million lying around for people to find something to spend it on. The Virginia Department of Transportation has a six-year plan to spend $13 billion on transportation projects.
To put this madness into perspective, the World Food Program needs $413 million for Syrian refugees for the next six months and doesn’t have it. That’s the cost of a couple of pointless and counterproductive intersections.
About $11 billion per year would provide clean drinking water to every part of the world that lacks it. That’s less than a certain collection of road construction projects in just one U.S. state.
About $30 billion per year would end starvation and hunger around the world. In the United States alone we spend about $80 billion per month on highway and road construction projects.
The problem is not just that we’re paving the planet rather than saving lives. And it’s not just that paving one’s way out of traffic predictably generates more traffic. It’s also that we’re destroying the planet’s climate in the process.
Oh, and we’re also creating a motivation for endless wars over oil.
Speaking of wars, no intersection would be complete without a war memorial. As part of the construction of the $33 million intersection in Charlottesville, big improvements are being made to the Dogwood Veterans Memorial, a monument to the war on Vietnam that was built during that war in 1966.
That war killed some 4 million Vietnamese, and the people whose government killed them have absolutely no shame. In fact, they don’t even know about it. Ask a German or a Japanese about their nations’ greatest sins, and they’ll cite you chapter and verse with grave remorse. Ask a U.S.-American how many people died in Vietnam and you’ll get at best a blank stare.
So, as you speed through the new intersection admiring the blacktop and the war monument — I’m sure there’s something similar in your part of the country too — give some thought to the general priorities they represent.