Friday, October 8, 2010

Are misappropriated funds being used for Centennial Way?

The existing and more than adequate sidewalks along West Washington Street (Now Centennial Way in Phoenix) will be torn up and replaced with wider decorative sidewalks. This project was described by Lynh Bui in the Arizona Republic on Sep 9th (Phoenix’s Washington Street will receive centennial face lift). This article was discussed previously in the Sep10th post “Governor Brewer to spend $7,000,000 on an unneeded sidewalk”. Actually, as described by Bui, the project includes some new features in addition to the sidewalk. It includes “widening sidewalks, planting hundreds of palm and shade trees, and installing shaded bus stops”. It also includes “commemorative and informational displays ---- and more lighting and shade structures”.

Is this a legitimate use of Federal transportation funds? Given the near total absence of foot traffic (or any traffic actually) on this street, how can it be useful? Certainly it will do nothing to reduce traffic congestion or to repair an essential existing transportation corridor.

Phoenix recently placed contract ST85140038-FHWA (Centennial Way Federal Aid-Transportation Enhancement 2 Step Design build Services). If the money is mostly Federal highway Administration (FHWA) money provided under the Transportation Enhancement program, then it is presumably subject to the restrictions in the following document:

FHWA Guidance

Transportation Enhancement Activities

US Department of Transportation

Federal Highway Administration

Mar 25, 2010 update

The document reveals that, like many federal programs, the Transportation Enhancement (TE) has a deceptive name. The program does not do basic traffic enhancement like reducing congestion. It is a pork program providing funding for non essential frills along transportation corridors. Nevertheless, there are specific and (for a government document) rather succinct limitations on the use of the money. The following list of eligible activities is listed on page 4 of the FHWA document cited above. Note that the items on the list are not examples. The money is only for those items on the list.

Eligible Activities [Revised January 19, 2006]

The list of qualifying TE activities provided in 23 U.S.C. 101(a)(35) is intended to be exclusive, not illustrative.

That is, only those activities listed therein are eligible as TE activities. They are listed below. [This paragraph and the list below were revised on November 4, 2005]

TE Activities Defined-

A. Provision of facilities for pedestrians and bicycles.

B. Provision of safety and educational activities for pedestrians and bicyclists.

C. Acquisition of scenic easements and scenic or historic sites (including historic battlefields).

D. Scenic or historic highway programs (including the provision of tourist and welcome center facilities).

E. Landscaping and other scenic beautification.

F. Historic preservation.

G. Rehabilitation and operation of historic transportation buildings, structures, or facilities (including historic railroad facilities and canals).

H. Preservation of abandoned railway corridors (including the conversion and use of the corridors for pedestrian or bicycle trails).

I. Inventory, control, and removal of outdoor advertising.

J. Archaeological planning and research.

K. Environmental mitigation

i. to address water pollution due to highway runoff; or

ii. reduce vehicle-caused wildlife mortality

Comparing the preliminary Centennial Way plan (as described by Bui) to the list of acceptable uses of the “Transportation Enhancement” money:

1. trees – this matches item E on the list, and is acceptable

2. bus stops – not on the list

3. lighting – not on the list

4. commemorative displays – not on the list

5. wider sidewalks (discussion follows)

Some might argue that a wider sidewalk is a “facility” for pedestrians. No other item on the FHWA list of approved items can possibly be interpreted to mean wider sidewalks, or even sidewalks.

However, consider the phrase “provision of”. If something is “provided”, then it was obviously not there before. The existing sidewalks along Centennial Way are more than adequate for the sporadic pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

FHWA provides the following examples to explain the "provision of facilities"

Provision of facilities for pedestrians and bicycles. New or reconstructed sidewalks, walkways, or curb ramps; wide paved shoulders for nonmotorized use, bike lane striping, bike parking, and bus racks; construction or major rehabilitation of off-road shared use paths (nonmotorized transportation trails); trailside and trailhead facilities for shared use paths; bridges and underpasses for pedestrians and bicyclists and for trails.

"New sidewalk obviously implies that no existing sidewalk is there, and "reconstructed" obviously implies the existing sidewalk is not safe or usable.

Therefore, it appears that the planned Centennial Way project is mostly a misappropriation of FHWA Transportation Enhancement funds.

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