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
— 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
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.

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
under the federal transportation enhancement program during the past 18
years and found projects large and small that had little to do with

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
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
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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