26 February 2009

State highway silliness

This post will lay out the currently existing state of affairs per Louisiana state highways, and what can be done about it.

Currently Louisiana has about 16,500 or so miles of road under state jurisdiction, not counting "unnumbered" routes such as state park access roads and freeway frontage roads (which apparently don't count toward the limit). These roads are marked and defined by some 12 Interstate designations, about 20 US highway designations and their auxiliary bannered routes, and around 1300 (and counting) state highways routes. All state routes follow a single sequence (the numbering mechanics of which are covered elsewhere in this blog) and are not distinguished in signage or in fact by primary, secondary, et al. definition.

The lack of a clear hierarchical system, combined with the sheer number of state routes in itself, contributes to a chaotic system of numbering and designation. Many state roads, in addition, are minor routes which by no stretch of the imagination could ever be construed as serving a state-wide purpose. It is a fundamental principle of highway jurisdicional practice that state control of roads should only extend to those roadways which serve a state-level transportation purpose. Local roads and rural spurs rarely, if ever, contribute to state transportation needs, though they serve local transportation interests. In that matter, these roads would more logically fall under parish or municipal control.

Louisiana's state system in particular is plagued with such roads and has been for many years. As a proportion of state maintained roads to all roads within the state, Louisiana's state system is one of the largest in the country, even when discounting for those states whose state governments assume control of all their public roads. The sheer number of pointless local spurs, loops, and connectors make a large contribution toward this outcome.

Through observation and study, the ranks of "pointless" minor SRs can be lumped into several categories, based on typology:

Spurs - Many rural state maintained "local" roads are spurs which "lead" to seemingly random or nonexistent locations. In coastal areas, there are longer spurs to communities due to the peculiar nature of the topography of the coastal region (see LA 58), but these do not generally fall under the "pointless spur" banner.

Loops - It is amazing how many state roads function simply as loops; that is, they begin and end at the same roadway, without serving anyplace in particular along their generally short routings.

Connectors - A bare majority of the "local road" variety of state highway is comprised of the connector species. Connectors begin and end at different discrete state roads, the major difference therein between these roads and genuinely useful state highways being that they tend to "connect" nowhere to nowhere.

These roads, as well as other similar types, comprise the functional farm-to-market road system in this state. Unfortunately, most roads of this nature do not rise to state level importance so as to merit inclusion within the state highway system. Most are classified as local or rural collector roads by functional class.

Why is this a problem for Louisiana, then?

Major state highways comprise expensive and heavily utilized infrastructure. The health and vitality of this infrastructure is critically important in the sustenance of a free-flowing transportation system, crucial to the economy and many other things. The primary road building agency must focus its attention upon the existing major infrastructure and the improvement and addition thereof. Diversion of mission to maintenance and improvement of secondary and tertiary level roads serves to dilute the ability of the primary road building agency to fulfill its core goals. Also, a primary focus on major infrastructure serves to institute a pattern of neglect of the road building agency's lesser tasks, which local road building agencies could fulfill were they given the opportunity. The primary road building agency is neither impregnable nor omnipotent.

The argument here is for a clearer deliniation of jurisdiction. Farm to market roads should fall under the responsibility of local roadbuilders, while major infrastructure remains with the primary state road agency.

Currently a long term project of mine is to identify those state routes which can be removed from the state payroll, with a goal toward jurisdictional rationalization. In the future the results of this study will make its way to these pages.

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