December 25, 1990
To the Editor:
Thank God there are people like Loni Hancock, Steve Weir, Harry Britt, and Judge Thelton Henderson who have the guts to speak up about the highway construction that is ruining our communities and making our air unbreathable!
Roads are at the crux of almost every current environmental problem, and hence, halting the expansion of the highway system (and other parts of our auto-dependent culture) is one of the most effective spigots by which we can choke off environmental destruction.
The automobile (due to auto air conditioners) is the greatest threat in the U.S. to the ozone layer that protects all life on the Earth. It is also the largest U.S. contributor to global warming. Highways kill wildlife (including many endangered and threatened species) in huge numbers, both directly on the road and through habitat fragmentation and degradation. They are a big factor in the loss of biodiversity and its consequent extinctions. Highway expansion -- and the urban sprawl that it feeds -- destroys precious farmland and open spaces. It increases per capita energy consumption and pollutant emission. And, of course, it kills and maims thousands of us, too, every year (my own mom died in a highway accident in 1951). I have never heard this mentioned, but it is obvious that sprawl begets more sprawl, because people who grow up in an auto-dependent environment acquire the values that perpetuate it (have you ever heard of "cognitive dissonance"? -- people who invest a lot in something have a tendency to defend it).
It is impossible to drill for oil, log, or even deluge the wilderness with tourists without roads. Roads are key. And, of course, while diverting funds away from road construction, we can make them available to promote (in order of priority) walking, bicycling, rail, and buses (or even to pay off the national debt or house the homeless -- equally worthy causes).
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.