Repeating the myth for profit

Published 10:03 pm Monday, August 21, 2017

By Joseph L. Bass

I wonder about politicians who attempt to tell the public something that is known not to be true.

It is possible they don’t know any better and have been sold on an untruth by people who will profit from government projects. But it is sometimes difficult to believe this is the case when so much evidence is available regarding some issues.

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An oft-promoted myth in Hampton Roads is that building more roads and bridges will relieve commuter congestion. It is common for politicians to promote this idea to secure support for particular projects. Unfortunately, relying on the myth results in funding efforts that do not address real challenges.

One major problem is based on politicians forgetting that the local harbor is the reason for this being a major population center.

When I moved from the Los Angeles area to Virginia, I could not believe truckers had to drive through residential areas to get in and out of the port area. One construction project has relieved some of that problem in Portsmouth, but truckers still clog up Norfolk streets.

When I moved into this area more than 20 years ago, the major construction project involved widening Interstate 64 as it feeds traffic from Williamsburg. What major project is under way today? Again, public funds are being spent to relieve commuter traffic along Interstate 64 from newly built homes in Williamsburg.

In deciding on this additional effort to “solve” the same old problem, the Third Crossing bridge/tunnel project to channel port traffic out of Norfolk streets was passed over. Only truckers and people already living in Norfolk would benefit.

The truth about the myth of relieving traffic by building roads and bridges was discovered in the 1930s, when Robert Moses transformed New York City’s traffic pattern from above-surface rail to highways. As he built more and more highways and bridges, new suburbs cropped up, and more people fled the inner city.

This pattern can be seen by looking at the local Interstate 64 project from 20 years ago. As it was completed, the predictable occurred. New suburbs developed along the improved highway, creating more traffic instead of relieving the problem. This pattern is sure to be repeated again in another 20 years.

Why is the building roads and bridges myth continually promoted? The truth can be found in determining who benefits from repeating the pattern.

As new and wider highways and bridges are built, new suburban homes crop up, and more people choose to commute to inner cities. Contractors and realtors are the ones that benefit from a repeat of this known pattern.

Why don’t people choose to live near their inner-city jobs? The answer is that they do not want to live in areas mainly populated with poor, uneducated, government-dependent minorities that are concentrated in the cities. They also do not want to live in areas with high rates of violent crime.

To relieve commuter traffic, society must successfully overcome the above challenges by finding ways to transition the people living in such areas into the American mainstream.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at