Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on July 31st, 2009 at 11:55 am
With bipartisan support, U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has introduced a new bill — the Orphan Highway Restoration Act — aimed at improving state highways that run through America’s main streets.
According to Blumenauer, “orphan highways” are former U.S. numbered highways that over the years have lost traffic volume to more popular Interstate Highways.
In a press release about the bill Blumenauer says, the bill will direct funding toward improving these “abandoned” main streets:
“Improving and repairing America’s Main Streets will revitalize communities, create local business opportunities, and make these areas more livable for residents…restoring main thoroughfares is a smart way to improve quality of life and give local businesses a needed boost.”
Improvements that would be funded through this legislation would include sidewalks, medians, bikeways, and traffic signals. The bill would authorize $600 million each year from 2010 to 2015 – the duration of the transportation authorization.
Looking at the bill text, Blumenauer clearly wants this to result in more complete streets (emphasis mine):
“The Secretary shall make grants and provide technical assistance to States and units of local government to —
…rehabilitate, repair, or construct sidewalks, medians, bike lanes, traffic-calming devices, signaling, or signs to enhance community livability on or adjacent to an orphan highway.
In making grants under this section, the Secretary shall give priority to projects that —
…include rehabilitation measures that focus on pedestrian safety;
…promote cost-effective and strategic investments in transportation infrastructure facilities that minimize adverse impacts on the environment;
.. have zoning designations that support more intensive, mixed-use development along part or all of the route;”
There are several highways (most people think of them as streets) in the Portland area that would likely be eligible for this money (SE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd (99E), SE Powell (26), 82nd Ave (Cascade Highway/213)), but the bill is mostly aimed at smaller towns. According to the bill text, at least 20% of the money must go to cities with between 50,000 and 250,000 residents and at least 50% of the money must go toward towns with less than 50,000 people.
This is an interesting bill. Blumenauer has tied investment in non-motorized vehicles to revitalizing Main Street America, and in so doing, he’s making a statement that dense development, better bikeways, and complete streets are directly tied to improved economic vitality. It will be fun to watch the debate and see how this turns out.
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