Saturday, July 19, 2008

"Our gutless and inept political leaders are looking for the easy way out in providing our transportation needs."

Leaders, followers and manipulators

July 19, 2008

Larry Jones
The Weatherford Democrat
Copyright 2008

Back when I was a kid, we boys had a little game we liked to play. Actually it wasn’t a game; it was more of a behavioral trait. We called it “dog-pile.” Someone would fall or get knocked down and everyone nearby would run and jump on top of him. I certainly never wanted to be the poor fellow on the bottom. It was a lot like football, except football has a few more rituals that have to be observed. Like participants in a dog fight, football players have to squat down and sniff each other first, and then they fight. Always in the end, everyone runs and jumps on top of some hapless creature.

Seems like politics and government bureaucrats have adopted this same technique as they go about doing what they profess to be good for us. They appear to be ready to jump on any band wagon that rolls by if they can use it to push their own agendas. As viewed from my back porch, this seems to be what has happened to our nation’s highway system. Even though the poor chumps at the bottom of the pile get beaten up, our political leaders are eager to jump on the latest gimmick. Today’s favorite is that of selling our public roads to the highest bidder.

Since the earliest days, America’s highways have always been a government responsibility. Unlike many European countries, roads across our vast continent have always been built and maintained by the government. Responsibility for both construction and maintenance is relegated to various levels of government — federal, state, county and municipal.

By far the most ambitious undertaking for building highways was the implementation of our Interstate highway system under the leadership of President Eisenhower. This system injected federal money into the nation’s roads. This was a tremendous boon to motorists, especially in the poorer states that had notoriously dismal transportation infrastructure.

Today, money for building and maintaining our highways is getting harder and harder to find — or at least that’s what we’re told. Politicians keep telling us there just aren’t funds available to meet our transportation needs.

The latest gimmick for fixing the problem is that of privately built toll roads. Here in Texas we are currently getting a huge dose of this drivel, but it is also a national epidemic. States in the Northeastern U.S. have long had more than their fair share of toll roads, and even as close as Oklahoma there are several. I recall that 40 years ago while I was in graduate school at Oklahoma State I had to be very careful where I drove or the “nickel snatchers” would get me.

Among the earliest toll road projects in Texas was the Dallas Fort Worth Turnpike. It was a 30 mile stretch that opened in 1957, and was transferred to TxDOT in 1977, when the bond to finance it was paid off. Toll booths were removed and it became a part of Interstate 30. We no longer hear of plans to open up toll roads when their construction costs have been recovered.

Our gutless and inept political leaders are looking for the easy way out in providing our transportation needs. They tell us the only way to quickly do it is to turn it over to private investors. These corporations, many foreign owned, are obviously eager to gobble up contracts for new toll roads and even charge us to drive on already existing roadways.

Today, the “dog pile mentality” is alive and well in Austin. Our leaders seem eager to jump on board despite whatever the consequences to the little guys like me on the bottom.

Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy Commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to Columns submitted to The Weatherford Democrat by guest writers reflect the opinions of the writer and in no way reflect the beliefs or opinions of The Weatherford Democrat.

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