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Extending I-74 Doesn’t Build Anything

By Joe Wessels · April 15th, 2009 · Wessels

To most, Interstate 74 is the highway that starts in Northside and works its way northwest through rural southeastern Indiana. It’s the best way to get to Indianapolis and cheap flights.

From Indy, though, I-74 goes on to Davenport, Iowa, connecting to cross-country Interstate 80. That highway passes over some beautiful parts of our country and is a great drive. I’ve done it twice.

That would appear to be the end of the story of I-74 … but if you look closely at a map of North Carolina you’ll see there’s also an I-74 that runs in a couple spurts of just a few miles. It’s actually the same road; it just hasn’t been connected yet.

Jake Mecklenborg is sort of obsessed with our area’s transit networks. He’s the founder of www.cincinnati-transit.net, a Web site full of information about Greater Cincinnati’s transportation past, present and future, including great photos of the city’s abandoned subway system then and now.

He isn’t sure what to make of I-74’s ghost-like appearance down south, and he’s heard rumors about federal government plans that haven’t been made public. One thing seems fairly certain, he’s concluded: The North Carolina pieces are destined to be connected to the eastern terminus of I-74 here.

Many who concern themselves with highways — and don’t get paid for it, which is a little eccentric, if you ask me — have known for years about the plans to extend I-74.

A Google search actually shows a number of Web sites dedicated to talk about what highways are going where and when.

Mecklenborg says that many local transportation folks believe intentions are to use the Milford Eastern Corridor project as the main thoroughfare through Greater Cincinnati, even though that’s supposedly slated for some sort of mass transit, likely a commuter train.

Other talk has the highway going north at I-75, heading east along the Norwood Lateral and winding its way through densely populated parts of eastern Hamilton County to connect with Ohio State Route 32 toward Athens and into West Virginia, Virgina and finally North Carolina.

No one knows when this might happen, if ever, but plans are out there. They just haven’t yet been acted on to any great degree.

A few years ago, I ran into a retired but wellseasoned politician who spent many years in the Ohio Statehouse. He was a Republican, as many from here were in his time, and he pointed to an Enquirer headline about the widening of I-75.

He taught me a valuable lesson about highways: If you build it, they will come. In droves. Building capacity on highways is equivalent to inviting more cars. The cycle continues until highways, like in many moderate- to large-sized cities, become 12 lanes across or more.

The politician said there’s no way in the world that widening I-75 was a good idea. Light rail, he said, would make more sense.

I left Cincinnati in late 2000 and moved to the West Coast. I returned full-time here in summer 2003 and noticed that we had something new around town: traffic jams. Rush hour typically was never a big deal around here, and now it is (but thankfully it’s still not San Francisco area traffic).

Highways are expensive to build, and when we maintain them properly they’re expensive to keep up. Highways also are bad for the environment. The cars that drive on them spew harmful pollutants into the air.

Generations behind mine see cars as inconveniences more than a symbol of freedom and independence. Good public transit makes much more sense to them, not just in cleaner air but in less congestion and more concentrated population centers that translate into better shopping, entertainment and nightlife, less crime and fewer auto accidents.

That’s the future, not more highway lanes and more traffic.

CONTACT JOE WESSELS: joe@joewessels.net



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