In Texas, One Newspaper Laments the Highway Lanes Not Built

The Transportation Enhancements program, which requires states to set aside 10 percent of their federal transport money for new bicycle and pedestrian facilities, among other projects, turns 19 years old this year. But you’d almost never know it after reading Saturday’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram, in which the paper tallies — with no shortage of alarm — the federal money not being spent on new roads.

797.jpgAn artist’s rendering of the Woodall Rogers Deck project in Dallas. (Photo: U. of MN)

The Star-Telegram story, which soon got snapped up by the Associated Press, begins by challenging Dallas’ Woodall Rogers Deck Park, a groundbreaking effort to cap the city’s Woodall Rogers Freeway and create a 5.2-acre green space for the public. The park, aimed at creating a walkable link between Dallas’ local districts, received $16.7 million in stimulus funding from the Obama administration.

From the Star-Telegram:

The Woodall Rodgers project is a glaring example of how, at a
time when many Texans distrust their transportation leaders, huge
chunks of federal and state money are being spent on projects that have
little or nothing to do with directly improving traffic.

"Texans
should be outraged by it, especially when they’re being asked to
support tax increases for transportation," said Justin Keener, vice
president for policy and communications at the Texas Public Policy
Foundation, a nonpartisan research institute in Austin.

The Star-Telegram reviewed 515 state projects awarded funds
under the federal transportation enhancement program during the past 18
years and found projects large and small that had little to do with
mobility.

As it happens, the "nonpartisan" Texas Public Policy Foundation makes no bones about its political alignment on its website, which outlines a mission of "limited government" and offers a litany of pro-industry critiques of the Democratic health care bills.

The group’s leadership is stocked with veteran advisers to Republican Gov. Rick Perry (TX), and chairman of the board Wendy Lee Gramm is a former Enron lobbyist who aided her husband Phil Gramm, a former Texas GOP senator, in his late-1990s push to de-regulate Wall Street.

Yet aside from Gramm’s group, the Star-Telegram story includes no sources criticizing Texas transportation enhancements, which have received $997 million since the program began in 1991.

One of the five members of Texas’ transport commission told the newspaper that "we didn’t ask for" the federal requirement, and reporter Gordon Dickson notes that some federal enhancements funding may be misdirected thanks to state legislators’ eagerness to earmark the money for local pet projects.

But on the whole, the newspaper’s criticism of quality-of-life improvements appears out of left field — until the second half of the piece, when its preferred alternative becomes clear:

It’s difficult to say how much $997 million [over 18 years] would buy if it could be used on highway lane construction instead of enhancements. … The $997 million would be enough to build eight miles of Southwest
Parkway from Interstate 30 to Dirks Road — and make it a freeway
instead of a toll road as planned.

Ah, the mournful pull of highway lanes not built — especially in a Texas road system that ranked No. 1 in size but No. 17 in efficiency, according to the pro-free-markets Reason Foundation.

For a more balanced local take on the issue, check out Dallas Morning News reporter Michael Lindenberger’s response to the Star-Telegram.

  • Bill

    This is a surprise, why? ARRA had a whole lot of money set aside for these highway enhancements, and this money was included in stimulus funds that were supposed to go to the road and bridge industry.

  • I don’t think it’s totally unreasonable to suggest that transportation funds ought to be spent on projects that are directly transportation related. A number of the projects they listed seem to have little to do with transport:

    ? $16.1 million for the Battleship Texas restoration project in La Porte.

    ? $2 million for a Houston fire museum.

    ? $455,000 for beautification of the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

    ? $150,000 on a Lufkin tourist center.

    Nor does it seem unreasonable to complain out an “earmark” process for allocating the money.

    I support the Transportation Enhancement program, but having a less political governance process and making sure the money is spent on bona fide transportation matters seem like good reforms to me. This would allow the money to go to more worthwhile projects, just as bike facilities.

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