Monday, April 8, 2013

Transportation and Community Infrastructure

This is my fourth in a series of blogs discussing Communities in Motion 2040 and the relationship between transportation and other elements discussed in the plan. You can find the previous blogs below (transportation/land use, transportation/housing, and transportation/open space). Today I am discussing transportation and community infrastructure.

First we need to tackle the issue of defining “community infrastructure.” defines infrastructure as “the fundamental facilities and systems serving a country, city, or area, such as transportation and communication systems, power plants, and schools.” In the context of developing Communities in Motion 2040, “community infrastructure” primarily refers to utilities such as sewer, water, and power.

So, what is the relationship between transportation infrastructure and “community” infrastructure? Quite often, these types of infrastructure are built, and work, in concert – or at least they should.

One practical example of the intersection (yes, pun intended) of these types of infrastructure involves construction and maintenance. We've all experienced what appears to be a lack of coordination when a road is torn up for a road construction project, only to be torn up again a few months later for a utility project. Coordination of construction and maintenance of transportation with other infrastructure can minimize impacts on citizens and potentially reduces costs.

A second example of how these types of infrastructure interconnect relates to development. New development depends on available infrastructure capacity, and in some cases may bring about the need for completely new infrastructure -- new roads, new sewer and power lines, etc. Or, the advent of one of these types of infrastructure may lead to the need for the others – the “if you build it, they will come” phenomenon. For example, construction of a new road can open an area for development, which then leads to the need for additional new infrastructure to accommodate growth in the area.

Communities in Motion 2040 goals highlight the desire of community leaders to “maximize the use of existing infrastructure” and to “encourage infill development,” to better manage the need for new infrastructure.

Why does that matter? Relying on existing infrastructure and minimizing the addition of new infrastructure can…

·         Preserve undeveloped areas. Using existing infrastructure, even for new development, generally means that new development will be occurring in or near a community or other development, as opposed to in an area that is currently farmland or open space. This, in turn, helps support Communities in Motion 2040 goals of preserving farmland and open space by discouraging development in those areas.

·         Make the most of existing investments. Encouraging growth in areas with existing infrastructure helps communities use any excess infrastructure capacity, and thus make the most of the investment.

·         Save money. Not only is building new infrastructure expensive in the short-term, maintaining that additional infrastructure is also expensive in the long-term.

I certainly do not mean to imply that growth should rely solely on existing infrastructure or that new infrastructure is “bad.” New infrastructure will be needed to support the growth forecast between now and 2040. However, as new developments and new infrastructure projects are planned, consideration should be given to how existing infrastructure can be used to its fullest potential before new infrastructure is built.

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Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho

COMPASS is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization responsible for transportation planning in Ada and Canyon Counties. The COMPASS Board comprises 39 members representing the cities, counties, highway districts, educational institutions, state agencies, and other entities within the two counties. COMPASS plays an important role in making decisions about future long-range transportation needs in the Treasure Valley, taking into consideration environmental and economic factors that affect the quality of life.