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Highway Expansion

In Texas, One Newspaper Laments the Highway Lanes Not Built

10:25 AM PST on January 25, 2010

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 atime when many Texans distrust their transportation leaders, hugechunks of federal and state money are being spent on projects that havelittle or nothing to do with directly improving traffic.

"Texansshould be outraged by it, especially when they’re being asked tosupport tax increases for transportation," said Justin Keener, vicepresident for policy and communications at the Texas Public PolicyFoundation, a nonpartisan research institute in Austin.

The Star-Telegram reviewed 515 state projects awardedfundsunder the federal transportation enhancement program during the past 18years and found projects large and small that had little to do withmobility.

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 18years] would buy if it could be used on highway lane constructioninstead of enhancements. ... The $997 million would be enough to buildeight miles of SouthwestParkway from Interstate 30 to Dirks Road — and make it a freewayinstead 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.

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