Monday, September 18, 2017

Add Capacity Not Tear Down Major Evacuation Route

We watched the impact of Hurricane Harvey on Texas and Louisiana and Irma's impact on almost the entire state of Florida.

We know Tampa Bay is vulnerable to hurricanes, tropical storms, storm surge and major flooding. Certainly the state wants all of our major evacuations routes available during times of emergencies and crisis. It is hard to imagine as Gov. Scott travelled the state telling people to get out of harm's way of a hurricane that was about to engulf the entire state, he could even fathom the idea of some major evacuation route in Tampa Bay being eliminated.
Major Evacuation Routes include I-275
But USF architecture student Joshua Frank and some others want to tear down a major evacuation route in Tampa Bay. Frank was even offered a unique opportunity no one else was offered to advance such an extreme proposal to a taxpayer funded entity.

In the midst of our hurricane season, Frank was invited by Hillsborough MPO Chair Commissioner Les Miller to present his "tear down I-275" proposal to the MPO at the August 1st MPO meeting. 

Frank, an urban architect student who is not an engineer or a transportation expert, provided a copy of his presentation titled "From Bifurcation to Boulevard Tampa's Future Without I-275" to the MPO prior to the meeting. His presentation can be found on page 201 of the MPO Agenda packet. His proposal is to tear down almost 10 miles of I-275 north of downtown and replacing it with a street level boulevard that includes a street level fixed guideway transit corridor.

Frank's presentation did not include any footnotes, no cost estimates or anything about such proposal's impact to local roads, evacuations or first responders. His presentation did not include any transportation/traffic modeling, any comparison modeling or how mobility/traffic congestion would be impacted if I-275 was torn down from downtown to Bearss Ave. 

Frank did include in his presentation some examples of highway tear downs (as if they simply just happened) but he left out some very pertinent information about them. We will put some context to the examples.

Embarcadero in San Francisco:
The Embarcadero Freeway was an elevated 1.2 mile freeway that ran along the waterfront. It was part of State Route 480 that was not a freeway or an interstate into downtown San Francisco. Demolition of the freeway was put to a vote in 1986 and was soundly defeated by a margin of two to one which was a major setback for then Mayor Dianne Feinstein.

In 1989, the Embarcadero was severely damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake, and of course, had to be closed. In January 1990, the CA Department of Transportation estimated they could fix the existing freeway and make it sturdier for between $14 and $15 million and do that in four months - much quicker than expected. 

There was much politicking going on as then San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos supported demolishing the freeway. Agnes had 14 years experience with the California legislature, both as a staff member and as an elected official, that gave him experience navigating state and federal agencies. He even hired his own consultants to haggle. 

Opposition to demolishing the freeway was growing again, especially from Chinatown. In January 1991 the CA Department of Transportation conceded it would cost as much to fix it as to rebuild it from scratch. Agnes used that and his politicking experience to convince the State and Feds to give San Francisco money for the demolition. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors narrowly voted 6-5 on February 27, 1991 in favor of demolition.

Agnes, who was up for re-election that same year as the incumbent, was defeated by an opponent who opposed tearing down the freeway.

Central Freeway in San Francisco: 
The elevated double decker Central Freeway in San Francisco was also damaged by the 1989 earthquake, It was a less than 1.2 mile long spur off US Highway 101 (not an interstate). The damaged northern portion was removed by the state in 1992 and an off ramp was built off Highway 101 just south of Market Street. 

From 1997 to 1999 numerous ballot initiatives were put on the ballot regarding demolishing the Freeway where both sides won. The initiatives in 1997 and 1998 were citizen led. In 1999 two referendums were put on the ballot. One ballot initiative was from citizens who wanted to rebuild the Freeway and the other one was put on the ballot by four San Francisco Board supervisors to replace the Freeway with a street level boulevard. The boulevard won in that election and four blocks of the north of Market Street portion of the Central Freeway spur was rebuilt as street level Octavia Boulevard that opened in 2005. 

There are now accident and traffic issues related to the Octavia Boulevard. The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFTA) has done studies since the boulevard opened and what did they find?
Most of the traffic the freeway carried, however, has not disappeared and now city planners are tracking its displacement on city streets…The most obvious finding in the study is that traffic levels, while somewhat reduced on Octavia Boulevard itself since the freeway came down, nonetheless continue to choke the study neighborhoods and affect numerous areas further afield.
2012 Central Freeway/Octavia circulation study stated that after Octavia Boulevard opened
 ..traffic patterns were redistributed with various effects to local and citywide circulation conditions.  
The heavily‐utilized arterial network in the Study Area is the central transportation challenge confronting the community, both presently and in the future. Traffic congestion is significant during both AM and PM peak periods, impairing surface transit operations and degrading conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists.
No surprise! About 100K vehicles used Central Freeway before it was removed. The traffic did not go away. It was diverted elsewhere as traffic was increasing.

And Octavia Boulevard has had some of the most dangerous intersections but the central planners just say it will take a while to work out all the roadway kinks…

According to this 2014 article Octavia Boulevard is bumper to bumper during peak commute times creating havoc and dangerous intersections for cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles.

The latest solution currently being tested is to close a segment of Octavia Boulevard to cars. Of course the traffic does not go away, it gets diverted elsewhere while deliveries and ride-share services also get impacted.

Things can never be looked at in a vacuum. 

Today San Francisco is embroiled in another contentious tear down of a one mile segment of I-280. Opposition is brewing and at a public meeting held last year it was reported
Boos and hisses rang through the rec center as Kelley discussed the proposal to raze I-280. 
Surrounded by angry neighbors at the rec center, former Mayor Art Agnos — no stranger to fighting development, as evidenced by the recent “No Wall on the Waterfront” campaign — told the San Francisco Examiner he will personally combat any effort to tear down I-280. 
It’s a switch in position for a former mayor who, in the 1990s, not only tore down the Embarcadero Freeway, but played a key role in tearing down the Central Freeway at Octavia Street as well. 
“Listen,” he said, “there’s no one in this city who has demolished more freeways than I have.” But tearing down I-280 “will absolutely choke all of this area.”
Inrix traffic scorecard rated San Francisco as third worst traffic in the country (behind LA & NYC). Who thinks San Francisco is any model to follow? 

Westside Elevated Highway in NYC:
The Westside Elevated Highway was an elevated highway of about 5 miles that was part of state road NY-9A (not an interstate) that ran along the Hudson River in Manhattan. It started crumbling due to lack of maintenance. There were decades of political wrangling over it. In 1973 a dump truck accident caused the highway to collapse and forced it to close. All but the section from 57th Street to the Henry Hudson Parkway was dismantled. West St. ran under the elevated Westside Highway and NYC decided to simply improve the existing street level street by adding landscaping, a bike path, a park and a landscaped median. No new boulevard was built. 

Boston's Central Artery:
The Central Artery rerouted that segment of I-93 through Boston into a 3.5 mile underground tunnel as part of  Boston's infamous Big Dig project. The Big Dig cost almost $15 billion, had a cost over run of almost 200% and is the most expensive public highway project in US history. It caused a women's death and the tunnel continues to be plagued with leaks including corrosive salt water from Boston Harbor and road salt spread during freezing weather. All the corrosive salt has caused the light fixtures to fail and corroded the structural steel reinforcements holding up the walls and ceiling - adding more and more maintenance costs to the costly project.

Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle:
The Viaduct is a less than 2 mile double-decked elevated section of State Route 99 (not an interstate) that runs along the waterfront in downtown Seattle. It was damaged by an earthquake in 2001 requiring $14.5 million of emergency repairs from the Washington State Department of Transportation. The viaduct continues to have settling issues, i.e. issues of sinking and cracking. In 2009 there was agreement between the state, King County, city of Seattle and Port Seattle to replace the viaduct with a four lane two mile underground tunnel. At an estimated cost of $4.2 Billion, over a Billion dollars a mile, this is the most expensive transportation project in state history.

There was much criticism over the tunnel decision. The project started in 2013 and was scheduled to open in December 2015. But due to a boring accident, the project was delayed, is four years behind schedule and has incurred $233 million in cost overruns.

And the 2 mile tunnel is tolled with 4 rates: $1 daytime non-peak, $1.50 evening off-peak, $1.75 morning rush hour and $2.50 evening rush hour. Translated to take the tunnel during evening rush hour it will cost $1.25 a mile. The Eye has travelled 30 miles on I-95 Express managed lanes in South Florida during rush hour for $10 which is 30 cents a mile. 

And there are no exits in the tunnel to mid-downtown Seattle - it is a tunnel for going through Seattle.

All of the highway tear downs have been contentious, even those that were severely damaged by earthquakes or collapsed due to an accident and lack of maintenance. None of them can be compared to demolishing 10 miles of a heavily travelled interstate that serves as a major evacuation route in a state likely to be impacted by hurricanes.

Boston's Big Dig fiasco was a 3.5 mile interstate segment demolished that was replaced by a tunnel not a street level boulevard. Seattle's Viaduct is being replaced with a tunnel not a street level boulevard. 

Obviously we can't build tunnels in Florida….same reason our homes don't have basements…

I-275 is a major evacuation route in Tampa Bay and used by first responders - when every second or minute may matter. In addition, the arterial, connecting and parallel roads along that route are already negatively impacted today and many are failed roads. 

Bearss Avenue is a major interstate access and exit point for those in North Hillsborough and South Pasco. There is a lack of major east west roadways in that area and the current ones are failing and congested. 

Trains are rendered useless when there are mandatory evacuations as they shut down when evacuations are in full swing. All trains in South Florida were shut down by Saturday. Tri-Rail shut down on the Friday before Irma and was not back in service until 8 days later on 9/16. SunRail shut down early on the Friday before Irma and started limited service today, 9/18.

Tampa Bay is expected to grow by 1.2 million by 2040 and most will bring their vehicles. 

We must have all evacuation routes available.  

Tearing down any interstate is not an option. Yet according to this SaintPetersblog article:
Gwynn [FDOT District 7 Secretary] has told neighborhood activists that FDOT is seriously reviewing Frank’s concept, but there is a caveat to his open-mindedness on the subject. 
“The only concern is we have a lot of traffic coming down from I-275 now, and if we turn it into a boulevard that demand is still going to be there,” he muses. “Some of it might go down I-75, but a lot of it is probably not. Traffic is like water. It takes the path of least resistance.”
FDOT must reject the tear down proposal now.

FDOT must plan for traffic congestion relief and mobility not gridlock or more dangerously congesting our local roads and neighborhood streets. 

The "tear down the interstates" crowd wants I-275 north of downtown to become a fixed guideway transit corridor. 

Some powers to be, some politicos and perhaps even some at FDOT are proposing to improve I-275 north of downtown by ONLY adding a fixed guideway transit corridor.

This is absurd. 

A simple math problem states what is required. 

I-275 must have additional vehicle capacity.

Or we will have gridlock.


Note: Want to weigh? Go here (FDOT's Tampa Bay Next initiative) and tell FDOT they must add additional vehicle capacity to I-275 and reject any proposal to tear down I-275 that is a major interstate/evacuation route.  

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