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Thoughts on Monday’s Transportation event

May 14, 2014

Monday night I was able to attend the Transportation event which had been coordinated by State Representatives Stephanie Klick and Jonathan Stick. There were several representatives from various transportation related entities. I missed the first half of an hour of the presentations so I can’t talk about those, but I will say that I appreciated the presentations that I did hear.

The event went longer than the planned 8pm. I tried to thank each of the participants for coming.  I was especially interested in the attendees, but we had other things to do for the night.   I understand the presentations will be available online.
Since the presentations will be available later, (I’ll post them when I get them) I thought I’d focus on some of the feedback from the people that attended. The guy that was videotaping the event ended around 8, so I’m not sure that there will be any record of the questions.

The first lady spoke against the abuses of power of the NTTA; putting locks on registrations, the new tools to chase down habitual users of toll roads who don’t pay for the tolls. The rebuttal was that those people should be hunted down and ruthless force applied to them because they were using the road without authorization. The NTTA doesn’t have the ability to truly control their asset, so they’ve outsourced it to the government. I wonder if this is really very different from a merchant being able to press charges for writing a hot check or asking police to catch a theif. It does seem that there should be more onus on NTTA to keep these people out preemptively.

My wife and I were talking after the event about toll roads. Very rarely do the architects of these programs get the credit that they deserve. If I’m remembering correctly, NTTA is the only toll entity in Texas that turns a profit. I believe it is true that they don’t take a dime in taxes. This is from their website at http://www.ntta.org:

The NTTA is a crucial component of the transportation system in North Texas, operating more than ninety centerline miles of toll roads in North Texas including the Dallas North Tollway, President George Bush Turnpike, Addison Airport Toll Tunnel, Mountain Creek Lake Bridge, Sam Rayburn Tollway and Lewisville Lake Toll Bridge. All of these roadways serve as key connectors for people throughout the region.

Think about that for a minute. No tax dollars, voluntary cooperation, outsourced enforcement. Hmmm. Mostly seems like a good deal for the tax payer. Especially considering that TxDoT seems to be so mismanaged and poorly funded by pathetic representatives and liberal special interests.

On the other hand, funding for roads in Texas is a pathetic, miserable thing. That 20 something percent of the money from the gas tax is diverted to education is disgusting and insane. Texas already has a mechanism for funding education: property tax. If education is so important, let local ISD’s raise taxes on their local constituents. That DPS (Texas Department of Public Safety) is funded with money from the gas tax is just as deplorable and heinous.

Another of the women spoke about the noise from the construction site at night. While her personal plight did seem to be a blight, overall the project has been very well managed in my opinion. By the time she was done talking, I might have been as tired of listening to her as she was of listening to the construction noise at night.

The next woman that spoke was also concerned about noise abatement. She pointed out that in Irving, they had started to build the noise abatement walls three years prior to the construction beginning, and that parts of the construction on 183 had bee ongoing for quite some time and they still didn’t have noise abatement walls. Overall, while she seemed to have had the same gripes as the previous speaker, she presented them far more coherently and I was impressed with her presentation.

At the end of the transportation presentation Representative Stickland brought up a three part plan to raise the purported shortfall of $5 billion in funding for TxDoT. The first part was a constitutional amendment that could provide 20% of a quoted 5 billion to fully fund TxDoT. If he mentioned the nature of that amendment, I don’t recall. I’m pretty sure he’s talking about the diversion of gas tax funds for education, but I don’t think he explicitly mentioned that. He mentioned ending diversions from the gas tax. The third part of the plan was a tax on new cars. I thought that was a terrible idea. I’ll propose some alternatives later.

As my wife and I discussed the events of the meeting, I was struck by the leadership so many have pulled off to be able to get us where we are. Despite environmental surveys that cost millions and take decades to finish; being forced to pay union wages when Texas is a right -to work state; despite the naysayers and complacent, inattentive masses who can only gripe; time frames from design to travel that can take a generation or more; these projects still get done.

Now to be clear, I don’t use toll roads. I hate them with a fiery passion. I’ll also say that government programs to provide for transportation have proven to be completely inadequate to the task. I think it’s time to cast a wider net and start considering other approaches to keeping up with transportation needs.
Some solutions?

  • Get the Federal government out of the way! Don’t accept any Federal money for road projects in Texas. Federal funds come with strings attached that significantly impact the cost of roads being built.
  • Quit sending gas tax $$ to Washington.
  • End all diversions of the gas tax.
  • Allocate the gas tax money to the lowest level of government possible. Cities where possible. Let cities cooperate to build huge projects like 820 or other multi-community roads.
  • Give all state roads to the lowest level of government. Get the state out of the road business as much as possible. Leave it to locals.
  • End HOV lanes. While in theory, these might alleviate traffic on the roads, in reality, they just slow everyone else down that isn’t willing to commute with someone else. Everyone pays the taxes for the roads, everyone should be able to use all the lanes, all the time.

I’ll write a lot more about this shortly, but I wanted to get this out today so I can share it.

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