Politics “Bypassing” Engineering

Today, the News and Observer reports that the State Senate will be voting on House Bill 561, to require NCDOT to remove a half mile of center median installed on new projects in Asheville, NC, “at a cost estimated by NCDOT at $797,500”, and to give the State legislature power over road design for other projects.

Other than ripping up a nearly completed project to nullify the design, the legislation would force DOT to change widening plans and forget other median installations planned on other routes. The fact that politicians, who know next to nothing about road design, can be influenced by their constituents to change engineered designs is unfathomably horrific.

Background

Restricting left turns is good for safety. Median installations that require drivers to plan their left turns and u-turns at a limited number of intersections increase road safety by decreasing all sorts of collisions and allowing traffic to flow more smoothly. The decisions made in these designs were based on safety.

So who has a problem with this? Well, access restriction is seen by many locals as harmful to businesses, despite some studies showing evidence to the contrary. The latest is by a research team here at NC State and UNC, titled “Economic Effects of Access Management Techniques in North Carolina”. I’ve attached the study and you can download it here.

The study confirms that little to no evidence of economic problems was found after the installation of turn-restricting medians.

Additionally, it’s important to note that drivers are more aware of road safety than they think. And in fact, some drivers may be more inclined to use your business if they feel safer about entering and exiting the access to it. The Federal Highway Administration has a great write up on safe access and what it means for businesses. I’ve attached it and you can read it here.

The Problem

Indeed, with enough fussing to the legislator whose campaign you backed, it seems businesses may be able to “buy” the road design they want for their businesses, regardless of safety concerns. Even in the face of state budgetary concerns, it doesn’t seem to bother Rep. Stephen A. LaRoque to use another million dollars to remove a brand new installation developed in the interest of public safety. What exactly seems to be going through his mind? This:

“The legislature should have the final say on projects like this before they go through.” -Rep. Stephen A. LaRoque

This is a problem. It is a sad day when engineers who make sound decisions based on data can have their life-saving designs overseen and rejected by bought elected officials in the name of cheap tricks and politics.

Bottom line? Let engineers do their jobs. And write your representatives an email and tell them. I did.

Source: News & Observer

UPDATE:

It seems the Senate has delayed voting on this issue for now. I’ll be posting more on this as it develops.