PS on I-380

Last week I considered the plan to widen Interstate 380 between North Liberty and Cedar Rapids from four to six lanes. I tried to construct the strongest argument for the project, based on increased population and daily traffic, as well as reasons not to do it (induced demand, fiscal stress at all levels of government, environmental costs, maybe traffic safety). I explained why I thought the reasons not to do it were stronger.

Despite a public meeting this week, we're still without specifics on the cost, or on the metrics that justify the expansion. We need to know: How much time , are we buying with our X hundred million dollars, and whose time are we saving? Consider that this is a 12-mile stretch of highway, with a 70-mile-an-hour speed limit (though the design speed surely is higher). Driving either direction between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, and assuming no obstructions, you should make it through this patch in about 10 minutes. In heavy traffic, that time will increase, bu…

Letter from Washington (II)

I've made my first breakthrough as a (temporary) Washingtonian: I've learned to stop worrying and love the bus system.

I first met the Metro during my first visit to the city 34 years ago. It was a gleaming new transportation system then; now, it is showing the effects of age and possibly deferred maintenance. There've been a few widely-publicized incidents, such as a piece of ceiling falling at the Rhode Island Avenue station, which will be closed for maintenance this summer after the All-Star Game. This week one north-south track was closed for emergency maintenance, creating delays on the green and yellow lines.

I've encountered nothing harrowing on the Metro yet. I enjoy the advantages of trains: the network is simple and gets you around the city fairly quickly without having to deal with auto traffic. Washington's train network has six lines, named after colors, but they share routes so there really are three routes through the city: east-west (blue/orange/si…

The futility of widening (II)

Discussion is going forward on widening Interstate 380 between North Liberty and Cedar Rapids, so that there are three lanes in each direction the whole way. Things are getting realer: The Iowa Department of Transportation will hold a public information meeting next Tuesday, February 20, at the District 6 office, 5455 Kirkwood Boulevard SW, Cedar Rapids, from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m.
As I wrote two years ago, the impetus for widening the highway is understandable: population in Linn and Johnson counties has increased: their combined population in the 2016 census estimate is 368,208, up 7.63 percent since 2010 and 39.0 percent since 1990, both faster than the United States as a whole Intercity commuting has increased with population--average daily traffic counts at the county line increased by about 50 percent between 1998 (38,200) and 2014 (55,600)--and drivers can at times feel trapped in traffic without an extra lane to set them free. The region and the state have sunk their investments i…

The budget deal and the future of Congress

There's a positive tone in town right now, thanks to the budget deal worked out by the Senate Republican and Democratic leaders that not only prevents another shutdown, but funds the government through March 23, which makes it that much longer before we have to endure more brinksmanship. National defense, the Children's Health Insurance Program, disaster relief and the opioid epidemic get two years of funding.

It's not a great deal, being pretty much a logroll that provides additional spending for both parties' priorities. This will, of course, further aggravate the budget outlook already set askew by an irresponsible tax bill in December. The budget deal adds to the Keynesian stimulus begun by the tax cut, at a time when stimulus is clearly not indicated, and stock markets took another dive Thursday. Representative Dave Brat (R-VA), a member of the Freedom Caucus, is perfectly correct to call it a "Christmas tree on steroids" (Sullivan and Lee 2018). On the…

Letter from Washington (I)

This semester my wife Jane and I are living in Washington, D.C., thanks to a generous sabbatical leave granted by my employer, Coe College. I am teaching one course for the Capitol Hill Internship Program, but mainly doing my own research and writing, most of which will land first in this electronic space. My top priority will be the urban immersion, experiential research into life in a major urban area. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, but I've never lived in a city proper larger than Cedar Rapids (pop. 131,127), so being here (pop. 693,972) for more than a few days will be a new experience for me.

We've been here a week. We're living in the basement apartment of a home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, three blocks east of the Supreme Court building. I like it a lot so far, although it's not quite real life: I don't have full-time employment obligations, and while the rent is certainly extremely impressive by Iowa standards, I've got it covered for the spri…

Small business and the ideological divide

Small businesses are essential to the future of the American economy and American towns, agreed a panel convened by the Bipartisan Policy Center Tuesday morning. Small businesses account for more than half of national job growth, but have seen their formation decline for decades and experience continually difficult access to financing.

Beyond agreement on those points, however, participants, particularly the two members of Conress who served as keynote speakers, painted two quite different pictures of the universe in which small businesses operate. I would have liked to have seen more efforts to reconcile those pictures; the ability to do so will be critical to future policy choices, not to mention the center's own report on this issue, due out later this year.

Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat and ranking member on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, described structural disadvantages faced by small businesses relative to large businesses. The Small …

Rehoboam and the State of the Union

It’s State of the Union week, and I’m thinking about King Rehoboam. I’ve been thinking about King Rehoboam a lot lately.
About 920 BCE, Rehoboam went to Shechem to become King of Israel following the death of his father, the famed Solomon. The dynasty begun by his grandfather David had placed the monarchy in the tribe of Judah, and by the end of Solomon’s reign the other tribes were complaining of mistreatment. Led by one Jereboam, leaders from the other tribes met with the new king to demand easier treatment: Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you (I Kings 12:4, NRSV).
According to the nearly-identical accounts in I Kings 12 and II Chronicles 10, Rehoboam took three days to formulate his response. He sought advice from two groups, holdovers from Solomon’s court and his own contemporaries.
Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the older men who had attended his father Solomon…