The removal of the I-16 flyover in Savannah’s Historic District would eat up just $22 million of the half billion-plus dollars that would be raised by a new 1 percent sales tax for transportation infrastructure, but the project has been held up as an example of wasteful spending.
Only it’s not.
I talked about some of the financial implications of the removal in my City Talk column on Sunday: The economic benefits of removing Savannah’s I-16 flyover In that column, I note that about 9 acres (including about 1000 feet of street frontage) will be freed up for development and likely sold to private developers, that the land will then be on the tax rolls in perpetuity, and that new businesses will generate tax revenues in perpetuity. Right now, with a big ugly road on it, that land costs taxpayers money in maintenance and general upkeep; when that land is in private hands, it will be a revenue generator.
I stopped short of estimating that revenue because there are just too many variables right now, given the unknowns about the final design and given the precarious state of the economy.
And the improved street connectivity will be a boon for automobile drivers, for cyclists, for pedestrians, for residents, and for commercial property owners throughout the entire western half of downtown.
Last fall, I made a post with links to a column addressing the concerns about traffic: The I-16 flyover removal and traffic flow.
I wrote in part:
The removal of the I-16 flyover will actually improve traffic flow in the southwest quadrant of the Historic District. I know that conclusion is counter-intuitive — we expect removing road capacity to hurt traffic.
But the flyover is pretty much a straitjacket; it forces drivers to go places they may not want to go, it shuts down other logical options and creates problems on its edges, it limits the options of drivers who have no intention of getting on the highway, and it provides a quick route into the city at the expense of even a halfway acceptable route out.
This isn’t just me making this up, by the way. Urban planners like Christian Sottile have long advocated the removal of the flyover, and the technocracy of GDOT has endorsed the removal as not only acceptable, but as an improvement over the current configuration.
The single weakest argument against the removal is also the one that I hear the most, at least among those objections dealing with traffic. As I noted in the column, I’m constantly hearing people say that MLK can’t handle the additional incoming traffic, but every single car leaving the city via I-16 has to travel on or across MLK already.
As I said in this week’s City Talk column, I don’t know whether that July 31 vote on a new 1 percent sales tax will pass in the Savannah region or in the 11 other regions across the state.
But given the implications for revenue, for traffic, and for just a better urban design that makes a thriving neighborhood possible, the removal of the flyover is one of the key reasons I might support the tax.