Monday, December 01, 2008

"There is no transparency the way the CTRMA is running things, yet Sen. Watson seems to support them and whatever toll road 'system' they propose."

Texas Toll Roads : Feds Must Take Lead

Texas Sen. Kirk Watson at public meeting on toll roads in Austin, September, 2007. Photo by Kelly West, Austin American-Statesman.


By Roger Baker
The Rag Blog
Copyright 2008

There are a number of questionable assertions in the op ed piece by Texas senators John Corona and Kirk Watson, [CLICK HERE], and also some good ones. The devil is in the details.

In essence the article says we need to change our transportation policy, which is true. But the editorial misses its target in one important respect; in light of energy (oil supply and climate-related) constraints and credit market constraints, the change is going to have to be deeper and more dramatic than portrayed here, and should properly be initiated at the national level. A bankrupt Detroit and a frozen bond lending market signify anything but business as usual.

The feds need to take the lead, rather than Texas politicians, who will predictably do too little, too late. We can muddle through at the Texas level, apply band aids, talk about these problems, and anticipate needed changes.

Our national transportation infrastructure crisis is now so serious and the funds are so short of the scale of the problem that it is absolutely going to take a comprehensive federal approach rather than a state approach to get anywhere. A more comprehensive approach which is likely to be coming, in some form, from our new Congress and the new Democratic Administration, whether we like it or not.

On to some details:

The DPS helps keep the big roads safe (everyone passes you on IH 35 if you only drive 5 MPH over the 70 MPH speed limit). What is bad about using our gas tax rather than the general revenue to keep the big roads safe? We end up paying the same no matter where it comes from. Let’s focus on how many dollars we really need rather than which taxpayer pocket it comes from.

We cannot afford to solve congestion problems by building big new toll roads. Especially if we say, as the editorial does, that we are going to reduce car dependence. We need entirely different and financially constrained planning strategies; at least Detroit can't afford to call the shots so much anymore.

There is certainly no transparency the way the CTRMA is running things, yet Sen. Watson seems to support them and whatever toll road "system" they have in mind in regard to US 290 E, and the other roads they propose.

"Regional financing tools" seems to mean more local bonding authority, but the credit market to supply long range speculative toll road debt has largely collapsed. What then are these tools?

Indexing the gas tax to inflation would have little effect unless it were increased a whole lot, like maybe doubled, which would be VERY unpopular.

"Explore new alternatives" is commendable -- but it should not mean CAMPO-proposed sprawl growth as usual, with roads or even using rail. We can't afford to provide publicly funded infrastructure out to low density suburbs and wherever the land speculators have bought land.

We need to shift to either more compact urban growth or perhaps clustered growth along whatever passenger rail corridors we can actually afford, while increasing rail service with the urban area too. The "rail relocation fund" may not be affordable or make sense in light of current finances. I believe it was proposed to move rail hubs out of the urban areas which might not be wise. We need to preserve our rail lines and restructure its uses, since new rails will not be cheap.

Reforming TxDOT is another good goal. But does that mean supporting the specific TxDOT reforms outlined by the Sunset Commission report on TxDOT or what?

For those who have not seen them yet , here are some additional comments of mine that apply more specifically to the proposed policy changes on US 290 E and the "system" of other Austin-area toll roads initiated by the CTRMA. Changes which CAMPO will consider and perhaps vote on this coming Monday: [CLICK HERE]

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