Since the 1960’s, Arizona has led the country in growth, remaining one of the top three states with the highest population and employment growth rates. However, when the housing market crashed in 2007, growth slowed tremendously, giving the state an opportunity to reflect on how it handled the last fifty years. As of 2011, 129,780 lanes of highway lane miles stretch across the state, ranging from rural “Main Street” highways to a ten-lane interstate in the state’s urban core. Although the constant construction facilitated economic development through connectivity and access, it also fragmented communities, marred the natural environment, created congestion, and increased residents’ reliance on the automobile.
As the state’s economy recovers and population growth rates begin to pick up once again, transportation decision-makers are faced with having growth determine form or having form determine growth. The latter is based on the principles of Smart Growth, which promotes compact development that produces sustainable communities rather than wasting resources through sprawl. Likewise, smart growth transportation creates more transportation options and prioritizes road maintenance over new construction. According to the Smart Transportation Guidebook, developed in by the New Jersey and Pennsylvania transportation departments, smart transportation integrates land use and transportation planning in order to invest in projects tailored to the specific needs of each community. Examples include slower speeds on local roads or dedicated HOV lanes on major highways.
The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is one of nineteen state departments of transportation participating in the State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI), which is housed at the University of Wisconsin and operates as a network and support service for participating agencies. One particularly valuable resource that was developed between SSTI and Smart Growth America is The Innovative DOT: A Handbook of Policy and Practice. The handbook is a collection of best practices meant to inspire transportation agencies to create transportation systems that provide greater benefits at lower costs.
The SSTI fits well with ADOTs Long-Range Transportation Plan of “evolving from a traditional highway agency toward a more multimodal transportation department.” The department’s leadership in smart transportation will hopefully lead other agencies to follow suit and pursue policies and programs that integrate land use and transportation, invest in existing infrastructure, and promote walkable communities.
How has your community responded to the need for smarter transportation? Are state departments responsible for this transformation? Or are there ways that non-government agencies can lead the way?
Credits: Images by Lynn Coppedge. Data linked to sources.