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.

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