Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, in his 2005 State of the City address, quipped that "we're one of the few cities where the police can actually watch for speeders during rush hour." As a practical matter, you've got to be making some serious speed, or doing something stupid at the same time, to attract the attention of the Men in Blue: actor Macaulay Culkin was busted on Interstate 44 two years ago, and he was reported as going 70 mph, a speed which is about 5 mph lower than the speed which usually prevails. At the time I concluded that they nailed him, not for velocity, but for a poorly-executed lane change at that velocity, which is a bit closer to being Actually Dangerous. (Of course, what got him jail time was neither of these sins, but the possession of certain pharmaceuticals with no evidence of prescriptions; this, however, didn't become apparent until he was well out of traffic.)
The Reason Foundation's Mobility Project analysis supports Cornett's observation: the Texas Transportation Institute's Travel Time Index, which is defined as rush-hour travel time divided by off-peak travel time, is a mere 1.10 for Oklahoma City, and also for Tulsa. (Lawton's is an even-merer 1.04.) By comparison, the Los Angeles metro, with the worst traffic snarls in the nation, scores a 1.75: it takes 75 percent longer to get across town during the rush period than it does at, say, 4 am, which is one of the few non-rush periods in L.A.
But we're growing at a pretty fair clip 235,000 more people in the Oklahoma City urbanized area by 2030, says the Project, and the TTI will have grown to 1.26, a level of congestion slightly worse than what exists in today's St. Louis. I've driven in today's St. Louis, and it's scary; I'd just as soon not see that happen here. (By then, St. Louis will be up to 1.42.) To avoid this, says the Project, we'll have to spend $3.1 billion on 340 lane-miles of new freeway: assuming six lanes, that's almost 57 miles of road. (Tulsa, being a smidgen more compact, will need even more.) I need hardly point out that the state is loath to put another 57 miles of urban Interstate around this town, and given the haphazard way ODOT came up with a new alignment for I-40 downtown, I'm not entirely sure I want it.
So what's the alternative? Rail fans, of course, call for passenger trains, and I like the idea I'd like it even better if they actually used the terminal that's already in place but as a practical matter, you're not going to get all those 235,000 people onto the train: Dallas' DART system, serving a much larger population base, moves about 70,000 people a day. Still, that's a lot of folks whose cars won't be in front of me. And yes, it's true, DART gets a fairly substantial subsidy in fiscal 2005, $3.24 per rail passenger but that's eighty cents less than DART's bus service. Reason, being proper libertarians, won't stand for subsidies of any sort, and therefore don't consider rail (or bus) an adequate response to the congestion problem. Me, I'm inclined to believe that every little bit helps especially since we're trying awfully hard to stay in compliance with the Clean Air Act, and running afoul of the EPA could cost a lot of money that won't go into transportation at all.
And those poor souls in the City of Angels? They're looking at TTI 1.97 in 2030, and a tab of $67 billion to avoid it. Maybe we're not so bad off after all.
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Copyright © 2006 by Charles G. Hill