Strong Canton

Canton is in the lead for 2015's Strong Town of the Year.

The small Connecticut town (pop. 8,840) found itself the recipient of a $1 million grant to fund a local road rehabilitation project, but they turned the money down, partially because they didn't want to have to follow the over-engineered design standards. From the article:

However, some state Department of Transportation requirements concerned officials, notably a requirement for a 24-foot width roadway. Currently the northern segment of the lower section of East Hill is approximately 17 to 18 feet wide and with some yards, including stone walls being very close to the road, such a change would prove difficult. burdensome and likely expensive, town officials said at a Board of Selectmen meeting Wednesday.

There is also a pragmatic angle to this. To receive the grant funds, officials were going to have to spend roughly $135,000 on engineering and design and then might face additional costs that would not be covered by the grant. For an estimated $193,000, the city can do the project themselves, fix all the problems and keep the narrower, neighborhood-compatible road.

When all is said and done, accepting the state grant might prove just as expensive, [Project Administrator George] Wallace said.

Should we be spending federal and state money widening this road? Click the image to explore the area in Google Maps.

Should we be spending federal and state money widening this road? Click the image to explore the area in Google Maps.

It should be noted that the STP grant comes from the federal Surface Transportation Program, a federal transportation initiative often touted for its flexibility and innovation. When transportation advocacy organizations call for more funding, they are pushing mostly for additional STP funds.

Here's how the USDOT explains STP grants. Read this and see if you picture a road widening project on a country road in rural Connecticut.

The Surface Transportation Program (STP) (23 U.S.C. 133) is one of the main sources of flexible funding available for transit or highway purposes.  STP provides the greatest flexibility in the use of funds. These funds may be used (as capital funding) for public transportation capital improvements, car and vanpool projects, fringe and corridor parking facilities, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and intercity or intracity bus terminals and bus facilities. As funding for planning, these funds can be used for surface transportation planning activities, wetland mitigation, transit research and development, and environmental analysis. Other eligible projects under STP include transit safety improvements and most transportation control measures.

Why is the United States government or even the state of Connecticut considering spending any money at all on a roadway project that is so hyper-local? Why, when our transportation system is so starved for revenue, is it a priority to spend gas tax dollars over-engineering a remote little trail like this? When we argue again and again and again that we shouldn't be putting more money into this system until it is fundamentally reformed, this is the kind of thing we're talking about. This should shock nobody -- this kind of thing happens all the time.

Canton is the city that said "no" (this one time). Consider the thousands that say "yes" and then you can stop wondering why our transportation funding systems are insolvent and our cities going bankrupt.