Texas voters approve adding untold; uh, er, make that ‘untolled’ highways

TRE@FWITC[1]The American Public Transportation Association reports that 71 percent of public transportation (transit) ballot measures put before American voters on Tuesday, Nov. 3 (election day in many states), passed. One in Utah is too close to declare one way or another as of this writing, though, according to a second source, the outcome of the measure hinges on remaining absentee ballots yet to be counted. It could presumably go either way, depending.

In Texas, meanwhile, the state will be adding miles, highway-expansion lane-miles actually, the funding to come from state sales tax revenue.

Angie Schmitt at Streetsblog USA writes: “There are a lot of problems with Prop 7, to put it mildly.” [Prop. 7 is an initiative requiring $2.5 billion be raised through revenue from sales tax and used annually on free-use highways – otherwise referred to as “untolled highways”].

“To start with, $2.5 billion is a huge number, but pouring billions into expanding highways to ‘fix congestion’ is an exercise in futility,” Schmitt added. “The wider roads will generate more traffic and soon congestion will be right where it was before, or worse, which is what happened with Houston’s 23-lane Katy Freeway.”

Why voters insist on this model of unsustainability is not only perplexing, but troubling.

Did the voters that approved this ballot measure not know that a 240-mile-long high-speed railway – Texas Central Railway – is planned between Dallas and Houston – with a projected completion date of 2021 – using privately-funded money, while a 30-mile-long high-speed rail line to connect with the Houston-to-Dallas segment is being considered between Dallas and Fort Worth? Relatedly, another privately-financed “higher-speed” passenger train operation, this time All Aboard Florida, connecting Miami with West Palm Beach with later service to Orlando is already in development.

As to why there aren’t more, similar American passenger rail endeavors planned elsewhere, is mystifying, especially when one considers that rail is frequently seen as an investment opportunity, whether we’re talking about heavy-rail commuter, urban/suburban light rail transit and streetcar circulator, or high-speed rail systems used in intercity services. Moreover, most rail systems are kind to the environment and provide an economical alternative that is air-friendlier than either highway or airway travel.

At any rate, getting back to the subject at hand, unlike the Texas and Florida high- and higher-speed railway endeavors, respectively, which depend on private capital for financial support, the highway infrastructure the Lone Star State is to gain, is not following suit. Instead, the Texas citizenry is choosing to foot the bill via a tax on items sold in state. A driver of economic growth per sé? Sorry, not happenin’ here.

There is the expectation on the other hand of the privately-funded railways providing returns on investment. If not, would the Texas Central Railway’s high-speed and the All Aboard Florida higher-speed rail programs have progressed as far as they have? It is doubtful. Generally speaking, railways along these lines, in more cases than not, bring value to the areas served, and around stations, especially.

The Texas highway expansion funding plan, well, instead of sounding like a prescription for success, it sounds more like a prescription for a lot of wheel spinning – that is, going nowhere fast. Imagine agreeing to be self-taxed, the revenue from such tax to be spent on added highway capacity all for the purpose of “temporarily” alleviating congestion. Go figure?!

Image at top: W. R. Howell, Jr.

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