Research and discussion for citizens and decision makers

Jay Blazek Crossley

Be smart about transpo funding

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We’re spending too much, on average, on single-occupant transportation in the Houston region. We are spending too much on these trips out of our pocketbooks, too much on public spending on roads and creating too many unnecessary ecological, social, economic, and health costs. We’re squandering our abundance on new roads.

The Houston region currently leads the 10 largest U.S. metropolitan regions in road spending per capita. We’ll spend $2 billion this year and $2 billion next year on roads, while we will only spend $500 million each year on transit and trace amounts on walking, biking, and reconstructing streets in our neighborhoods, job centers and community centers to be safer, healthier, and more accessible for all users. With 6 million people, that is $330.50 that each one of us is spending on roads every year.

Over the next several months, our Houston–Galveston Area Council‘s Transportation Policy Council will decide how to spend around $460 million in regionally discretionary transportation funding, money that could be spent how ever we - the people of the Houston region - think will best improve our future and meet our goals. This recurring process, called the TIP Call for Projects, has resulted in a large set of proposals from across the region on how to spend the funds.

There are good transit, walkability, bicycle infrastructure, planning, and intelligent transportation systems project proposals that we could spend this money on now. We could fund all bike, pedestrian, transit, planning, and intelligent transportation systems projects and still have 67 percent of the funds to spend on the road projects.

We should fund alternative projects fully this year to begin balancing our spending in the region. Next time, we need to flood the proposal process with good alternative-mode projects with an equivalence of the massive proposed road projects.

The current imbalance is so bad that Metro had to withdraw a relatively small proposal for new high-quality bus service on Westheimer in order to seek more support for the transit element of the new Uptown Bus Rapid Transit line, an awesome project as well. Houston needs both of these important transit projects.

The sprawling road builders are pushing for spending as much of these discretionary funds on roads as we can, despite the fact that we’re going to spend something like $2 billion on roads this year either way.

The people of the Houston region do not appear to agree with them. According to Stephen Klineberg’s work in the Kinder Houston Area Survey, “a clear majority in Harris County want more taxpayer money to be spent on improving rail and buses rather than on expanding existing highways.”

H-GAC recently conducted a survey of a broadly representative sample of more than 6,000 people across the Houston region. When asked how they would allocate $100 of transportation spending, the people of the Houston region said they would spend only $13 of those dollars on new roads, $26 to fix existing roads and highways, $11 on improving design and safety, $10 on planning and coordination, $26 on public transportation, and $14 on sidewalks and bikeways.

The region’s current long-range transportation plan, the H-GAC 2035 Regional Transportation Plan, also does not agree with spending so much on roads, instead calling for a long-range plan of spending 55 percent on roads and 45 percent on transit.

Success for the Houston region over the next decade will require that we begin to allocate our massive regional transportation spending in a manner more in line with what Houstonians want. The people of the Houston region want reasonable transportation planning, spending and options, and we want our elected officials to be smart about paying for these things and keeping our fiscal house in order.

The public comment period for the 2013 TIP Call for Projects ended Friday, but you can contact H-GAC and your elected officials at any point to discuss regional transportation spending priorities. You can comment at, by email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), by fax to 713-993-4508, or by postal mail sent to Transportation Public Information, Houston-Galveston Area Council, P.O. Box 22777, Houston, TX 77227-2777.

The next TIP Subcommittee Meeting will be held at 1:30-3:30 p.m. Thursday at TxDOT’s Houston District office, 7600 Washington, in the Ned S. Holmes Auditorium.

The next meeting of the full Transportation Policy Council is set for 9:30 a.m. April 26, at 3555 Timmons, Conference Room A. Both meetings will open with opportunities for public comment.

Full Story: Let’s be smart about transportation funding
Source: The Houston Chronicle, April 9, 2013

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