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Highway Expansion

Highway Propaganda Vids Sell City Residents on the Wonders of Wider Roads

It's not enough for highway builders to carve out land at great public expense so they can jam more cars into cities. Now they want you to believe their projects are great for the neighborhoods that bear the brunt of the added traffic and pollution.

Up top is a video produced by the Colorado Department of Transportation to sell the public on its massive I-70 expansion project. Streetsblog Denver reports that the agency spent $88,000 in public funds to make this 30-minute epic.

The I-70 project will replace 12 miles of aging highway with a new highway, adding four lanes in the process. Because 900 feet of the new highway trench will be covered with a park, the CDOT video helpfully explains that the widening is really all about doing right by immigrant neighborhoods -- not moving traffic. Many residents affected by the project beg to differ.

As a tool to sway public opinion, the CDOT video probably won't make much of an impact. At the time we published this post it only had 135 views after a month on Vimeo. But the propaganda technique is something to keep an eye on. Colorado DOT isn't the only road builder trying out the same message.

To promote the "Opportunity Corridor," a road expansion project through low-income Cleveland neighborhoods, the local chamber of commerce commissioned the video below. The angle is very similar to CDOT's video: This highway isn't like the bad highways of the past -- a new breed of road builder has figured out how to make asphalt and traffic lanes work wonders for struggling neighborhoods.

You can check out ODOT's aerial animation of the project and decide for yourself whether this project lives up to the rhetoric.

The funny thing about this one is a lot of the people on camera, including the mayor, don't actually seem very excited about the project. Since this video was produced by the Greater Cleveland Partnership -- a private entity that doesn't have to disclose its budget -- we'll never know how much it cost to produce. But at least they had the good sense to keep it under five minutes.

The messages in these videos might have a modern gloss, but there's of course nothing new about highway propaganda. Here's a classic, produced by Dow Chemical in partnership with the federal government, where road builders convince small-town moms, business owners, and farmers to embrace the interstate coming their way.

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