Friday, September 23, 2005

The false expectations of the Interstate system

Much criticism is being heaped on Houston and the State of Texas (and I'm sure in some circles, the Feds) for the slow evacuation of the Texas coast near Houston and Galveston. For many, the backed up, non-moving traffic on the Intersates are a metaphor for the incompetence of government. Perhaps it is, but this is not what our Interstate highway system was designed for. Instead, it was designed to move military forces quickly and efficiently during an national emergency. During that time, civilian traffic could be kept off the highways via their limited access points to allow the quick travel of military forces. They were never intended to move 2 million people over a very small geographic area in a quick fashion. Hell, they weren't even designed for the modern rush hour. Undoubtedly, we are going to see cries after Hurricane Rita to dump more money into Interstate highway development. I'm not saying that is a bad thing, but it is not the right thing for this problem. I do not know of a highway system that could handle this volume of traffic across this small an area in this short of time. Even the vaunted Autobahn would be busting at the seams if presented with this dense volume of traffic. Most cities evacuation plans depend on the Interstate highways; you may be better off developing your own exit plan via back roads, though, with alternatives should you find your path blocked.

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