Research and discussion for citizens and decision makers

David Crossley

President, Houston Tomorrow

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The local media are all gaga over yet another “study” that shows how much time and money we all lose because the roads are insufficient for our needs or in poor shape, with numerous potholes ruining our cars.

I don’t think any of us would disagree that there’s enormous congestion or that the roads, especially in the City of Houston, are in terrible condition.

But the whining about not having enough money to address those problems is beginning to get tiresome, especially considering how much money we’ve been throwing at roads.

Through the region’s Transportation Improvement Program, which feeds money to our 8 central counties, we plan to spend $2 billion a year on roads every year from 2013 to 2016.

TxDOT earlier this year “found” $2 billion of extra money and $488 million of that came to our region. Essentially all of that surprise money will be spent on roads.

But because maintenance is just not sexy with the voters, public officials have decided to spend that money on expansions and new facilities, new capacity.

TxDOT, while complaining it doesn’t have enough for proper maintenance of the existing system, has nevertheless embarked in earnest on the social engineering project that is SH99, euphemistically called “The Grand Parkway,” which is intended to open up new land for sprawl development at the very edges of the region. That’s a $6 billion project.

It is a well known fact that expansion of facilities creates new demand and new development in response, and that those facilities then fill up quickly and return to their former congested states. It’s a not-very-funny joke in the transportation planning field that elected officials cause congestion. Why don’t we spend our road money on mobility and access instead of development? Why should TxDOT subvert the market to choose winners and losers?

In fact, the only thing that can slow or reduce congestion is making people pay to use the facilities. So it is possible, by varying prices during the day, to create tollways that never get congested. Of course all the other cars are still around, but they’re in the accompanying free lanes, almost parked.

One well known engineer has been talking around town about a new traffic model that shows we’re headed for “operational failure” in our major highways and arterials, and that we should be prepared for congestion that last all day, not just at rush hours. And he notes that those who cry “roads roads roads” are talking about a “dead end.” His solution: a serious regional transit system.

Yes, there is a transportation solution that gives people the option of not participating in congestion, and that’s public transportation - transit. A robust, high-capacity regional transit system can give millions of people the ability to move around without their cars, and if the system is big enough people don’t even need to own so many cars.

Yet the same regional Transportation Improvement Plan that promises to spend record amounts of roads, has reduced regional transit spending for the same period to only half a billion dollars per year - one fourth of the amount to be spent on roads.

Now Harris County and the City of Houston are proposing to voters that we elect to continue to drain transit funding away from Metro in order to stop high-capacity transit expansion and fix roads instead.

But this drain isn’t something new. The County, the City, and 14 multi-cities have been taking one-quarter of Metro’s sales tax money to fix roads for nearly 35 years. During that time, they’ve siphoned off $2.7 billion for that purpose.

So how’s that working out for you? How are all those streets looking after that tremendous expenditure of money? Right, those pesky potholes are getting worse, and your car is being pounded to jelly. Doesn’t it appear that program has completely failed?

Yet they want another $2.1 billion between now and 2025 to continue this wonderful program - and to stall transit expansion.

Ignore the wizards behind the curtain. Vote No on the Metro referendum, and let’s expand our transit system so we have some options.
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Houston Tomorrow’s analysis tells us that No is the correct vote for a lot of reasons. Those include health, happiness, and prosperity, and the continued forward motion of the City and region toward world status. They include a hundred details, like better air quality, less flooding, more quality development, and less destruction of the area’s natural spaces and farmlands. 

Don’t be bamboozled. Vote No.

Note: We are building a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter page to help people get involved. The web page is rudimentary right now but it has the information you’ll need and in the next day or so it will be replaced by a much more interesting version. At that point, the Facebook and Twitter pages will be operational too. Go here to support houston transit.

 

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