Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Traffic Jam Not Much of a Victory

The City Council meeting yesterday had a surprising twist about an issue that is no surprise. ASU was back asking for the closure of part of Rosemont again. For over an hour, there were complaints about the impact that would have on the already bad traffic in the area for blocks around. At the end of the comments, ASU surprised everyone by withdrawing the request.

The traffic congestion around ASU is probably the worst in the city. As mentioned here before, the cities own master traffic plan labels the major roads in this area as level F, "severe congestion. Expect delays and problems." The released traffic plan shows high traffic for the next thirty years, even without ASU growth. It also shows no plan at all to make it better.

One statement made by Dr. Hindman adds an interesting perspective to the problem. He stated that the city planning department was on board and up to speed about ASU's master plan from the start. If that is the case, the planning and involvement by the city staff leaves much to be desired. At the first presentation there was nothing at all said about how the shift in traffic patterns would be handled. In the latest presentation there was a lot of talk about changes to Jade, and the possible addition of stop signs and other traffic control methods at other intersections in the area, but there was no good response to the traffic problems in the area beyond the standard answer of "we'll have to study the situation in more detail."

The reaction to the traffic problem in the area was so strong and so negative that in the end, Dr. Hindman withdrew the proposal for one overwhelming reason: He didn't want there to be any reason for people to blame the traffic problems in the region on ASU. He didn't want the city council and city planning staff to be able to say in the future "hey, sorry about the traffic in the area, but it's ASUs fault not ours."

The opponents won a victory here. But there was a lot lost at the same time. ASU was prepared to spend money on widening streets, making sidewalks, installing traffic signals and other traffic control measures, and help pay for more traffic studies in the area. None of that will happen now. Instead of this being the start of a solution to the area traffic problem, it will be congestion as usual.

There might be a little good that comes from this. Traffic in this area is now at the center of the radar screen (at least for a little while). Now is the time to push for changes. First thing to do is to give ASU a seat on the San Angelo Metropolitan Planning Organization, at least as a non-voting member. Second, improve the existing infrastructure as much as it can be improved. This means doing things like upgrading all the traffic signals in the area to where they are actuated and synchronized. Do real traffic engineering and planning and then improve the roads to the extent they can be improved. Go before the voters and get approval to use some of the sales tax money to help with this. Then, make the tough choices necessary to put a long term fix in place. If the traffic around one of the largest, most important members of the community isn't critical to the economic health and development of the city, what is.

Time for the city to move forward and fix this problem. Keep it on the radar.

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