Thursday, August 02, 2007

Time to Unleash the Practice Freeway 

We give thanks today for the short term good news that the immediate death toll from yesterday's bridge catastrophe was smaller than the initial reports, but wait for the other shoe to drop as recovery efforts continue. Our primary thoughts continue to be with those who were injured or died, and with their friends and loved ones.

But as the first shock wears off, we also begin to think about the longer term consequences for the many others who will be affected by this disaster. Mitch Berg notes that "if you need to go from south to Northeast in the metro, the 35W Bridge was the main link. And it was heavily used; the Minnesota Department of Transportation estimated 140,000 cars a day used the bridge as of 2002." Mitch is right -- we live south of the Minnesota river, and the 35W bridge was one of the only three realistic routes for us to take to go almost anywhere in Minnesota or Wisconsin north of the Mississippi river. Captain Ed Morrisey agrees that the economic consequences for the entire region could be severe. And it is not just freeway traffic. The bridge collapse cut off the new locks for river barge traffic, and a railroad line. All of this traffic also will have to be rerouted

Unfortunately, one of the highway alternatives, Interstate Highway 35E through St. Paul, for years has been justifiably called the "Practice Freeway" by local columnist Joe Soucheray (and many others following his lead). Community opposition at the time 35E was built led to a stretch of limited access, divided highway limited to 45 mph even though it was designed and built for 70 mph. The original plan for a connection from 35E to westbound Interstate Highway 94 along Ayd Mill Road was deliberately crippled as well.

St.Paul city officials have begun to loosen the restrictions on the Ayd Mill Road connector. It is now urgent that all involved federal, state and local agencies and officials cooperate to do whatever it takes to unleash all remaining restrictions on the Practice Freeway and Ayd Mill road.

At this time of crisis, Minnesota and the Twin Cities metro area needs to make the fullest possible use of all available freeway capacity. It is no longer justifiable to constrain freeway use because of NIMBY local neighborhood opposition.