Maxing out the credit card: SA $850 million bond to convert auto lanes to bike & bus-only lanes

Link to article here.

Council candidate: Don’t ‘bond out bureaucrats’
By Kenric Ward  /   February 22, 2017
Watchdog.org

Boosters of San Antonio’s proposed $850 million bond call the record debt package “essential” and “transformational” for America’s seventh largest city. They tout the decision-making process as “transparent” and “community-driven.”

But a city council candidate who served on one of the bond committees calls it something else.

“It’s bonding out the bureaucrats,” says Patty Gibbons, a candidate to replace retiring District 9 Councilman Joe Krier.

Sitting on a Roads and Sidewalks committee, Gibbons looked forward to a fair evaluation of projects. She didn’t see it.
Read more: Maxing out the credit...

Editorial: 'Tolls are necessary, deal with it'

Texans reject editorial stating, ‘Tolls are necessary, deal with it’
By Terri Hall
February 20, 2017

It’s tough being a taxpayer. After 14 years of enduring former Texas Governor Rick Perry’s push for toll roads, including the controversial network of transnational tollways under the control of a foreign corporation called the Trans Texas Corridor, Texans are still facing the push for tolls by local governments. Though Texas Governor Greg Abbott did an about-face on tolls campaigning against them and promising to fix Texas roads without raising fees, taxes, tolls or debt, local toll agencies, with the aid of a willing press, are trying to cram toll roads down commuters’ throats despite their opposition. Case in point, the San Antonio Express-News just ran an editorial entitled, ‘Tolls are necessary, deal with it.’
Read more: Editorial: 'Tolls are...

Court victory for Texas property rights

Ranchers score victory for Texas property rights
By Terri Hall
February 10, 2017

Two cattle ranchers in the Texas Hill Country can breathe a sigh of relief -- at least for now. Terrell and Pat Graham have been in a three year court battle with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to defend their property rights and they finally won. The developers of Johnson Ranch, DHJB, picked a fight with the Graham family when it decided to amend its wastewater permit with TCEQ to dump their treated sewage onto the Grahams' property. The Grahams naturally said 'No way!' So they challenged the amended permit in court and won. It took three years and much of their life savings to do it, but their win is more than a victory for their family. It's a win for property rights for all Texans and it sets an important precedent to help those who are victims of unscrupulous developers.
Read more: Court victory for Texas...

Huffines files bills to prevent double tax toll roads, hold toll agencies accountable

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                  Contact: Brent Connett
January 27, 2017                                                                                                                            
SEN. HUFFINES FILES TRANSPORTATION REFORM & 
ACCOUNTABILITY BILLS
Senator Huffines pursues transparency, truth in taxation, and keeping Texans moving forward

AUSTIN — Senator Don Huffines (R-Dallas) today filed a package of bills to end toll roads and bring more accountability to the transportation dollars (taxpayers' money) that are allocated by the state to Regional Mobility Authorities:

Senate Joint Resolution 35 and Senate Bill 639 - Ending Toll Expenditures out of the State Highway Fund

Senator Huffines stated, "Texans are tired of tolls. In 2013, the Legislature and voters worked together to pass Prop 1 - a much-needed surplus in transportation funding - with the condition that none of it be spent on toll roads. Then, in 2015, legislators and voters teamed up again to get even more transportation funding with Prop 7, and these funds are also restricted from toll usage. It's time to finish the job by entirely closing the state's major road funding account to toll roads. Texans are tired of the ever-creeping expansion of toll roads in our state. My district has been almost entirely swallowed by toll roads. It's time for the state to end its dependency on tolls - that's why I filed SJR 35 and SB 639, which will protect the state's primary transportation infrastructure fund from being used on toll roads."
Read more: Huffines files bills to...

DOUBLE TAX: Alamo board votes to use gas taxes to put tolls on Loop 1604

On January 23, the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) board, comprised of local officials, voted to grant $326 million in YOUR federal gas taxes to plop toll lanes down the middle of Loop 1604. TxDOT can't toll anything without the MPO's blessing, which the MPO just granted.

The toll rates are dynamic and change in real time ranging from 18 cents a mile up to 50 cents per mile - you pay the max during peak hours! The toll lanes would stretch 22.8 miles from Bandera Rd. on the west side to I-35 on the east side (see Express-News article on it here). The excuse is there isn't enough money to fix all our roads without tolls, despite voters giving TxDOT $5 billion more PER YEAR in NEW funds to prevent tolling.
Read more: DOUBLE TAX: Alamo board...

Note to Trump: Key states tossed pro-toll incumbents

Link to article here.

Trump take heed: Toll roads a factor in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas election

By Terri Hall
November 9, 2016
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research

With the historic election of Donald Trump to the American Presidency, it signals a total repudiation of the political establishment by the working class. You could call it the election of the American worker. But analysts would be remiss if they failed to overlook how toll roads played a part in several races in key states.

One of the most notable races is for governor in North Carolina — must-win state for Trump that went red. Yet, Republican Governor Pat McCrory is in a nail biter photo finish to retain his seat in a state that went Republican last night. The very real threat by Democrat Roy Cooper who claimed victory Wednesday morning, though most still believe the race too close to call, is in part due to McCrory losing support among his base thanks to his approval of the controversial public private partnership (P3) toll project on Interstate-77 in Charlotte.
Read more: Note to Trump: Key...

Will the feds ban human drivers?

Link to article here.

The feds are comin after you. The elitist bureaucrats in Washington think human-created self-driving cars are superior to actual humans driving cars. Go figure that one out. Bottom line, your freedom to travel is at serious risk. This is about government control and keeping a finger on the switch and being able to herd everyone around like cattle in a big game of Sim City using all of us as human specimens.

Get Ready for Freeways That Ban Human Drivers
By Keith Naughton
September 22, 2016
Bloomberg News

New rules of the road for robot cars coming out of Washington this week could lead to the eventual extinction of one of the defining archetypes of the past century: the human driver.

While banning people from driving may seem like something from a Kurt Vonnegut short story, it’s the logical endgame of a technology that could dramatically reduce -- or even eliminate -- the 1.25 million road deaths a year globally. Human error is the cause of 94 percent of roadway fatalities, U.S. safety regulators say, and robot drivers never get drunk, sleepy or distracted.

Autonomous cars already have “superhuman intelligence” that allows them to see around corners and avoid crashes, said Danny Shapiro, senior director of automotive at Nvidia Corp., a maker of high-speed processors for self-driving cars.
Read more: Will the feds ban human...

Alamo city: New road funds squandered so 1604 and I-35 can be tolled

New road funds to be squandered on non-priority projects to force tolls on major congested corridors
Loop 1604 on the north side and I-35 commuters targeted for toll taxes, while other corridors are not
By Terri Hall
October 16, 2016

On September 27, TxDOT's San Antonio District Engineer Mario Jorge presented a list of projects to use up the Prop 1 and Prop 7 funds. We see many red flags and we’re very concerned. First, as usual, we’re being told Loop 1604 and I-35 ‘have’ to be tolled. So let’s look at the projects that are consuming the new funding, precisely so Texans wouldn’t be tolled.

First, the San Antonio district will be receiving $2.3 billion in unallocated NEW funds over the next 10 years. It’s critical these funds go to the top priorities, which are I-35 and Loop 1604. The Governor made clear these funds are to go to the most congested roads first.
Read more: Alamo city: New road...

BOMBSHELL: Senators find out tolls charged on roads that are paid for

Sparks fly as senators discover numerous toll roads with no debt on them, prompts call to remove tolls
By Terri Hall
September 15, 2016

It’s not often that the very sleepy subject of transportation offers a fiery discussion, but yesterday’s Senate Transportation Committee meeting did not disappoint. In a rare olive branch extended to grassroots anti-toll advocacy groups, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom and Texans for Toll-free Highways, Chairman Senator Robert Nichols invited them to address the committee about one of its interim studies - a study on the elimination of toll roads.

Just the title evokes strong emotions on both sides of the issue, and those emotions were in plain view Wednesday. Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Executive Director James Bass laid out the numbers of how much it would cost to retire tolls on roads built with state funds. Let me say that again, toll roads that were built with state money. That means gasoline taxes and other state funds were used to build the road, but Texas drivers are being charged again, through tolls, to use it — a double tax scheme.
Read more: BOMBSHELL: Senators...

'Complete streets' will convert auto lanes to bike lanes in Alamo city

Link to article here.

Taxpayers paid nearly $50,000 for a study to reduce auto lanes to make room for dedicated bike lanes and wider sidewalks. VIA Transit's long-range plan calls for light rail, too, despite voters' repeated opposition to it.

Such policies pushed by today's urban planners are called 'complete streets,' aimed at making corridors accommodating to all modes of travel, including cyclists and pedestrians. However, such dedicated or restricted lanes are deliberately anti-car, shrinking auto capacity in order to force drivers out of their cars and onto a bike or bus. Complete streets also means planned, permanent auto congestion -- by design.

‘Complete Street’ prioritizes pedestrians over cars — at unknown cost
By Kenric Ward  /   August 30, 2016
Watchdog.org

A $49,880 study calls for constricted car lanes, wider sidewalks and a dedicated bike path as part of a “Complete Streets” makeover of one of San Antonio’s major thoroughfares.

How much it all might cost is anyone’s guess.

Proponents of the plan say the Fredericksburg Road corridor, which connects downtown with UT-San Antonio and the sprawling Medical Center complex, is long overdue for an upgrade.
Read more: 'Complete streets' will...

San Antonio still pushing light rail despite voter opposition

Link to article here.

San Antonio plans for light rail despite voter opposition
By Kenric Ward
Watchdog.org
August 17, 2016

Despite repeated pushback at the polls, a controversial light rail system remains in San Antonio’s planning documents.

City officials say, “It is important not to rule out any method or mode of transportation.”

National transportation expert Randal O’Toole retorts, “I suspect that they have ruled out dirigibles, helicopters and pod cars. Rail should be ruled out for the same reason: It is expensive and few will use it.”

“It’s not really about rail or offering commuters options, it’s about rent-seeking developers looking for their next handout, courtesy of San Antonio taxpayers,” said Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.

The city plan, dubbed San Antonio Tomorrow, envisions “dedicated rail alignments” along San Pedro Avenue from downtown to the airport and Stone Oak, along New Braunfels Street from the Pearl through downtown to Brooks City Base, and along Fredericksburg Road from downtown to the Medical Center to the University of Texas-San Antonio.

The planning document does not say how any of the projects would be funded, but the city is ramping up a campaign for an $850 million bond issue next year, with the bulk of the funds generically earmarked for “transportation.”

“In the future, our great residents and visitors will need options if mobility and quality of life is to be maintained,” Mike Frisbie, the city’s director of transportation and capital improvement, told Watchdog.org.

“Ultimately, the voters will decide whether or not light rail is implemented,” he said.
Voters have already spoken on the topic multiple times.

After defeating a light rail project in 2000, with 70 percent of the vote, San Antonians last year passed a charter amendment requiring public approval to fund any future rail venture. The amendment, which qualified for the ballot with 27,000 petition signatures, prompted the City Council to ditch plans for a streetcar project.

The amendment states, in part: “No bonds or notes shall be issued or sold for the purpose of streetcar or light rail systems, unless first approved by a majority of the qualified electors of the city voting at an election containing a proposition specifically identified for and limited to such purpose.”

City officials cite Salt Lake City and Denver as places where voters rejected light-rail proposals prior to eventual implementation.

“In Salt Lake, once the north-south alignment was in operation, a demand for the east-west light rail from the airport to the university ensued,” Frisbie said.

“In Phoenix, voters rejected light rail proposals until 2004. Now the 20-mile system from the heart of Phoenix, through downtown, past the ASU campus in Tempe to Mesa has tremendous ridership,” he added.

O’Toole said Salt Lake and Phoenix, the former post of San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley, are “spending gobs of money on rail transit, yet they haven’t increased transit’s share of commuting and other travel.”

For a more cost-effective comparison, the Cato Institute transit expert urged San Antonio to look at another fast-growing Western city, which decided against rail.

“With buses only, Las Vegas doubled transit’s share of travel. In 1990, transit carried a higher percentage of travel in Salt Lake and Phoenix than in Las Vegas. Today, transit’s share is highest in Las Vegas,” O’Toole reported.

“The only reason cities build rail is there is a huge rail construction industry that promotes it,” he said.

Closer to home, Hall points to Austin, where just 0.075 percent of the metro population uses light rail.
A recent essay in Forbes magazine labeled that city’s Metro rail a “monument to government waste,” with each average daily roundtrip rider subsidized at roughly $10,000 per year.

San Antonio Councilman Ron Nirenberg says, “We simply can’t just put more buses on already congested streets. We’ve got to leverage a new transit system. We’ve got to invest in a fixed route between high-density corridors.”

Frisbie told Watchdog: “It would be shortsighted not to show [rail] as an option in the SA Tomorrow Multimodal Transportation Plan.”

The city is advertising for a “visionary leader” to direct strategic planning for “passenger rail” and other transportation projects.

Hall, whose group fights to secure funding for crumbling urban roadways, says City Hall’s rail fetish would further burden taxpayers while benefiting political insiders.

“Planners and the politicians who enable them are trying to create auto congestion by implementing a ‘road diet’ in order to make auto options less attractive,” she charged.

A recent addition to the San Antonio comprehensive plan appears to grease the rails, with the city authorizing $2.5 million to “develop incentives to encourage mixed-use development within a half-mile of stations in regional and urban centers along high-capacity transit corridors.”

Following the money, Hall concluded, “Special interests want the development tax breaks and government officials use the fixed-rail lines to incentivize development.”

O'Toole: Alamo city transit agency's anti-car gimmicks demonstrates its growing irrelevance

Link to editorial here.

VIA fails to see its growing irrelevance
Randal O’Toole
For the Express-News
August 28, 2016

VIA transit officials are seeking to raise local taxes to build exclusive bus lanes, and possibly light rail, in major corridors throughout San Antonio. This sounds a lot like the light-rail tax that voters defeated and the ATD tax that voters approved but hasn’t delivered the advanced transportation or roads that were promised.

What VIA fails to see — or hopes taxpayers won’t see — is that transit is not only irrelevant to most San Antonians today, it will be even more irrelevant in the years ahead.

VIA’s Vision 2040 plan notes that San Antonio’s population may grow 80 percent by 2040, which means that the sales tax revenues that provide VIA with most of its funding will also grow by at least 80 percent. But VIA wants more so it can build its own network of transit routes and traffic signals to give its buses (and rail cars) priority over everyone else at intersections.
Read more: O'Toole: Alamo city...

Every rail system loses money, DFW system among the worst

Link to article here.

Every Rail System Loses Money, DART Among the Worst in U.S.
By Ross Kesceg
Empower Texans Scorecard
August 5, 2016

Despite numerous studies demonstrating that government trains are not a solution to traffic in Texas, local officials across the state continue to foolishly push for rail expansion.

Forbes recently ran an article titled: “Austin’s Commuter Rail Is A Monument To Government Waste.” But one of the most under-reported facts is that – of the 1,800 transit systems in the United States – Dallas-Fort Worth’s DART requires the fourth highest taxpayer subsidy per rider.

A study published by the Hamilton Project found that every transit system runs at a loss—the difference is only in degree. Unsurprisingly, NYC’s system has the lowest operating loss per rider, while Dallas’ DART nearly topped the list.

As a result, a few voices in North Texas have emerged to warn the public against these boondoggles, most notably State Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville), along with Colleyville’s Mayor Pro Tem, Chris Putnam, and Carrollton’s Mayor, Matthew Marchant.

Burton, Putnam, and hundreds of citizens in Northeast Tarrant County have vocally questioned the viability of TexRail, which will cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars in federal, state, and local funds in addition to operating losses. However the Obama administration, Congresswoman Kay Granger, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley continue to push the project forward.

Marchant opposes the proposed rail line from the DFW Airport to Plano in favor of alternatives such as bus-rapid-transit, calling it a “cheaper, faster, and more efficient” solution.

“It is a firmly held belief among most local officials and planners that passenger rail is the best transportation solution for [growth]. That groupthink is wrong.”

Marchant cited several reasons why passenger rail doesn’t work in Texas, including the fact that rail is between fifteen to thirty-five times more expensive to build than traditional roads, while costing eight times more to operate than buses.

“Dallas Area Rapid Transit estimates that commuter rail costs around $70 million per mile to build. Second, operating costs are extremely high compared to other modes. Third, projected ridership numbers do not justify the capital and operating costs. Fourth, passenger rail only makes sense in areas with 15 or more dwelling units per acre, which does not and never will exist outside of downtown, uptown Dallas and small pockets in the inner-ring suburbs.”

When critics correctly point out that trains are not a viable or effective transportation solution, proponents pivot by claiming the projects bolster “economic development.”

Marchant also refuted this claim.

“Passenger rail is incorrectly held up as the ideal version of transit because of its perceived cachet and theoretical economic development benefits. But the reality is that only a handful of the dozens of rail stations in North Texas have meaningful transit-oriented development, and the residents who actually rely on transit to get to work or live their lives (note: none of the decision makers) prefer fast and efficient to cachet. Mix all of that up and you have a misplaced desire for rail.”

Despite overwhelming evidence proving rail doesn’t work, Texans should expect little to change unless they voice their concerns. Until more federal, state, and local officials feel pressure from their constituents, the boondoggles will continue unabated.

Forbes: Austin's commuter rail monument to government waste

Link to article here.

Austin's Commuter Rail Is A Monument To Government Waste
By Scott Beyer
Contributor
Forbes.com
July 29, 2016

Austin, TX–Last Saturday morning, while stumbling upon an Austin rail station, I was able to imagine at micro level what it must be like to visit one of China’s ghost cities. I was in Leander, an Austin suburb that has the northernmost stop on the metro  area’s commuter rail system, when I spotted a multi-acre station plopped across what was essentially a rural area. After parking in the empty lot, I got out and walked around, to find a clean, well-landscaped facility that had not one human in sight.

The info center was locked, the train platforms were empty, and no trains arrived. There was even a computerized voice humming out service updates over the platform speakers, to an absent audience. In fairness, the station was closed that day until 4pm. But that just begged the question—why would a train station be closed all Saturday morning and afternoon in a major metro  area? Meanwhile, the platform offered an unobstructed view of adjacent US-183, where, in the course of 10 minutes, dozens of cars passed by in each direction.

This stark contrast summarized the idiocy that has become rail transit policy in urban America. Many U.S. cities sprawled out after World War I, when automobiles became mainstream technology, and the government exacerbated these patterns in following decades through urban renewal, restrictive zoning, minimum parking requirements and road subsidies. A number of these cities—including Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, Portland, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Cleveland—tried reversing their past land use mistakes by building rail systems, which would supposedly concentrate development and bolster transit ridership.

But closer analysis suggests this hasn’t worked, and anyone familiar with those cities understands why. They were built to accommodate private automobiles, meaning people can drive within them directly to and from their destinations. No one there with financial options is going to instead take rail transit that follows a fixed route, arrives every 15 minutes, and makes multiple stops–no matter how much of said transit is built. It hasn’t helped that these transit systems are run by monopolistic government agencies, meaning they suffer from misappropriations, delays, cost overruns and poorly planned routes, including trains that, in some cases, run well into the countryside before stopping in podunk towns. Unfortunately, Austin’s rail embodies all these problems, standing as perhaps America’s leading rail transit failure.

The desire for rail transit in Austin dates back to the 1970s, when the city’s fast growth spurred discussions among urbanists and environmentalists about possible mode changes. These hopes were squashed in 2000, when a ballot proposal that would have sent light rail up the well-trafficked Guadalupe Street was narrowly defeated. But rail proponents received their bone–kind of–a decade later, when Capitol Metro, the Austin public transit provider, opened MetroRail. The 32-mile line was built along existing freight tracks that began downtown, moved north through mostly residential neighborhoods, and into some commuter suburbs.

The project opened amid a storm of controversy, thanks to construction issues that, according to Politifact.com, escalated the final tab from $90 million to $148 million–$140 million for construction plus $8 million for loan interest on the trains. In the opening months, the line received just 800 riders per weekday. This has since risen to 2,900 passenger trips per weekday, or about 1,500 riders, but that still is just .075% of the metro population, which sits above 2 million. The line accounts for 2.6% of Austin’s transit ridership, while using 8.5% of the annual operating expenses for transit.

Each trip taken on the rail costs taxpayers dearly, according to data provided by Capitol Metro. In 2014, the rail line had an operating deficit of $12.6 million. The upfront capital costs of $140 million, when amortized at 2% over 30 years, creates an additional $6.2 million annual cost to taxpayers. Add these two sums up, and then divide them by the line’s number of annual unlinked trips—763,551—and the per-trip subsidy works out to $24.62. Another commentator estimated that this figure is $18, compared to $3 for every bus boarding. Jim Skaggs, the retired CEO of Tracor and a local rail skeptic, wrote on his blog that “each average daily, week-day, round trip rider is subsidized an average of about $10,000 per year.”

Even worse, this is actually hurting transit availability. MetroRail’s high capital costs depleted the agency’s reserves, leading, noted Skaggs, to service cuts on bus lines, which are widely considered a more cost-effective choice. This has reduced Austin’s overall transit ridership, just like in Texas’ other major cities (two of which also have rail transit systems). That is all the more amazing given these are some of America’s fastest-growing cities by population.

But one does not need numbers to observe, at street level, the system’s obvious failures. After happening upon the empty Leander station on Saturday, I ventured this week to other stations around downtown and the interior neighborhoods. Outside of morning and evening rush hour, they were either empty or almost empty of passengers, and were divorced from any of the city’s major job and population centers. The further north along the line I rode, the more obvious it became that this really was a train to nowhere–32 miles of expensive and dated rail infrastructure that had little to no passengers or surrounding development.

For these reasons, the line has even been critiqued by AURA, a pro-transit organization that was founded to call for a more transparent rail planning process. As one of the group’s board members, Susan Somers, wrote by Facebook FB -0.09% messenger:

AURA is in favor of high ridership light rail that makes use of our best transit corridors. We’re not in favor of speculative, low-ridership lines that are intended to spur development…Currently, Cap Metro’s approach is to spend more money on the Red Line to make it more frequent and attract more riders. While that may initially seem like a noble goal, in fact the Red Line suffers from a fatal flaw: the route. AURA would prefer to see our limited Cap Metro dollars go into creating a high frequency bus network.

There have been further efforts to build rail transit in Austin, with various groups aiming for a new, more centrally-located line. In 2014, another $600 million rail proposal was floated before voters, and packaged with prospective road upgrades. But voters, clearly cold to the rail transit idea by then, defeated it by a 14 percentage point margin. There are similar attempts to get rail onto the ballot this year.

Perhaps one day rail transit will be practical in fast-growing, fast-densifying Austin, and it’s just a matter, as the proponents say, of having the right infrastructure along the right route. But a combination of academic analysis and basic observation still encourages skepticism. Data provided by the Federal Transit Administration shows that even the much-ballyhooed systems in Minneapolis, Portland, and Charlotte, while better-located and thus not as bad as Austin, are also funded by high per-trip subsidies. And this data doesn’t account for their capital costs, which for rail transit are far more expensive than for roads, tabbing in at $70 million per mile.

At the same time, there are private transit solutions within the ridesharing and bus industries that are profitable, largely because, rather than imitating the fixed-route concept, they’ve tapped into the best things about cars, by offering flexibility and on-site demand. These innovations are bound to improve as driverless cars enter the mix, and Austin would be smart to encourage them, rather than banning them, as it recently did with Uber. But if Austin wants to keep its inter-urban and suburban transit stagnant, wasteful and under-performing, well, it has a formula for that too–build rail transit, and have the government run it.

Scott Beyer is traveling the U.S. to write a book about reviving U.S. cities through Market Urbanism. His work is found at BigCitySparkplug.com.

Study finds congestion worse after I-405 toll lanes open

Link to article here.

Report Shows Washington Toll Road Caused Congestion
Independent traffic survey finds high occupancy toll lanes in Washington state increased congestion in the general purpose lanes.
The Newspaper.com
February 18, 2016

The failure of tolling to reduce congestion has become a political hot potato in Washington state. On Tuesday, Governor Jay Inslee (D) responded to an independent report that found the conversion of free lanes into high occupancy toll lanes on Interstate 405 has made commuting significantly more difficult.

"For many years, the I-405 corridor has been the most congested in the state," Inslee said. "We're almost six months into the two year launch of these lanes and the results are mixed."

Politicians often tout the imposition of tolls on freeways as a primary method of congestion reduction. For example, the Congressional Budget Office last week issued a report extolling the financial virtues of taxing motorists with transponders, but a study by the traffic monitoring firm Inrix shows that reality does not necessarily reflect political promises and expectations. Inrix data show just what happened after tolls were imposed on I-405 between Bellevue and Lynwood.

"The results of this preliminary analysis shows extended peak hour conditions for most segments in the peak direction of travel for those in the general purpose lanes," the report found. "Additionally, these segments also show slower speeds during the peak hour in the general purpose lanes... As such, this analysis suggests that post-toll speed improvements on I-405 are isolated to vehicles that already experience the least peak hour congestion (ie., those driving in the HOV/HOT lanes), while post-toll speeds in the general purpose lanes have generally degraded for the majority of drivers."

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) set up the thirty-mile high occupancy toll (HOT) lane project on September 27, 2015. The Inrix analysis compared travel times for a typical Wednesday before the tolls were added to travel times after the tolls were in effect. The analysis did not consider the congestion effect on nearby secondary roads. WSDOT disputes the findings, but some lawmakers are listening.

"Who do you trust?" state Representative Mark Harmsworth (R-Mill Creek) tweeted. "The state that needs congestion to drive up tolls or an company that has nothing to gain?"

The Stop 405 Tolls website went further in questioning even the financial value of the tolling project. The site used WSDOT's latest financial report to calculate that it cost $2.5 million to run a toll road that generated a mere $5.2 million in revenue, reflecting overhead costs of 51 percent.

"In other words, we wasted $2.5 million just operating the toll system that isn't actually doing anything to improve traffic," the site explained.

Former Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich (D) once touted the creation of high occupancy toll program called "Green Lanes," only later to be accused of trying to set them up in return for campaign cash from the industry. Blagojevich is currently serving time at a federal minimum security prison in Colorado until May 2024.

A copy of the study is available in a 500k PDF file at the source link below.

Source:  Preliminary Speed Assessment on I-405 (Inrix, 2/8/2016)

HOV-Toll lanes on Katy Fwy in Houston made congestion worse

Link to article here.

While we aren't in the 'do not expand highways' camp, this data showing the congestion on I-10 in Houston demonstrates HOV-transit toll lanes could well be the culprit that is causing congestion to rise. Obviously, when you restrict who can use these new lanes to a mere 3%-6% of traffic, it's no wonder the roadway is more congested than before the project opened. Toll lanes, and when and where you can enter/exit, the dynamic pricing that makes the toll rates increase every few minutes during peak hours provide more than enough confusion to discourage even the most courageous among us to skip the aggravation and uncertainty and stick with the congested free lanes.

Reducing congestion: Katy didn’t
By Joe Cortright
City Commentary
16.12.2015

Here’s a highway success story, as told by the folks who build highways.

Several years ago, the Katy Freeway in Houston was a major traffic bottleneck. It was so bad that in 2004 the American Highway Users Alliance (AHUA) called one of its interchanges the second worst bottleneck in the nation wasting 25 million hours a year of commuter time.  (The Katy Freeway, Interstate 10, connects downtown Houston to the city’s growing suburbs almost 30 miles to the west).

Obviously, when a highway is too congested, you need to add capacity: make it wider! Add more lanes! So the state of Texas pumped more than $2.8 billion into widening the Katy; by the end, it had 23 lanes, good enough for widest freeway in the world.

It was a triumph of traffic engineering. In a report entitled Unclogging America’s Arteries, released last month on the eve of congressional action to pump more money into the nearly bankrupt Highway Trust Fund, the AHUA highlighted the Katy widening as one of three major “success stories,” noting that the widening “addressed” the problem and, “as a result, [it was] not included in the rankings” of the nation’s worst traffic chokepoints.
There’s just one problem: congestion on the Katy has actually gotten worse since its expansion.

Sure, right after the project opened, travel times at rush hour declined, and the AHUA cites a three-year old article in the Houston Chronicle as evidence that the $2.8 billion investment paid off. But it hasn’t been 2012 for a while, so we were curious about what had happened since then. Why didn’t the AHUA find more recent data?

Well, because it turns out that more recent data turns their “success story” on its head.

We extracted these data from Transtar (Houston’s official traffic tracking data source) for two segments of the Katy Freeway for the years 2011 through 2014.  They show that the morning commute has increased by 25 minutes (or 30 percent) and the afternoon commute has increased by 23 minutes (or 55 percent).

Growing congestion and ever longer travel times are not something that the American Highway Users Alliance could have missed if they had traveled to Houston, read the local media, or even just “Googled” a typical commute trip. According to stories reported in the Houston media, travel times on the Katy have increased by 10 to 20 minutes minutes in just two years. In a February 2014 story headlined “Houston Commute Times Quickly Increasing,” Click2Houston reported that travel times on the 29-mile commute from suburban Pin Oak to downtown Houston on the Katy Freeway had increased by 13 minutes in the morning rush hour and 19 minutes in the evening rush over just two years. Google Maps says the trip, which takes about half an hour in free-flowing traffic, can take up to an hour and 50 minutes at the peak hour. And at Houston Tomorrow, a local quality-of-life institute, researchers found that between 2011 and 2014, driving times from Houston to Pin Oak on the Katy increased by 23 minutes.

Even Tim Lomax, one of the authors of the congestion-alarmist Urban Mobility Report, has admitted the Katy expansion didn’t work:
“I’m surprised at how rapid the increase has been,” said Tim Lomax, a traffic congestion expert at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. “Naturally, when you see increases like that, you’re going to have people make different decisions.”
Maybe commuters will be forced to make different decisions. But for the boosters at the AHUA, their prescription is still exactly the same: build more roads.

The traffic surge on the Katy Freeway may come as a surprise to highway boosters like Lomax and the American Highway Users Alliance, but will not be the least bit surprising to anyone familiar with the history of highway capacity expansion projects. It’s yet another classic example of the problem of induced demand: adding more freeway capacity in urban areas just generates additional driving, longer trips and more sprawl; and new lanes are jammed to capacity almost as soon as they’re open. Induced demand is now so well-established in the literature that economists Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner call it “The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion.”
Claiming that the Katy Freeway widening has resolved one of the nation’s major traffic bottlenecks is more than just serious chutzpah, it shows that the nation’s highway lobby either doesn’t know, or simply doesn’t care what “success” looks like when it comes to cities and transportation.

Landowners score big win for property rights as eminent domain lawsuit dropped

Eminent domain lawsuit dropped against Hill Country landowners
By Terri Hall
August 30, 2016

Finally some good news for Terrell and Pat Graham. Amidst the backdrop of the scenic Texas Hill Country, a three-year war over property rights has been waged by a private developer against the Grahams, whose cattle ranch has been in Pat’s family for over 100 years. The developers of Johnson Ranch, David Hill Johnson Brothers (DHJB), decided to dump its treated sewage onto their neighbor’s property in order to maximize its profits and cram as many houses as possible into its subdivision rather than contain the sewage within its own boundaries. When the Grahams fought back, DHJB resurrected a dormant Municipal Utility District (or MUD), stacked it with board members in its pocket, and sought to take the Graham’s property using eminent domain for its private project. Monday, after a fierce fight, including from its own residents, and a million dollars in legal costs (combined from both sides), the Johnson Ranch MUD decided to drop its lawsuit to condemn the Graham’s property using eminent domain.

“It’s a positive step, but we still have a ways to go,” related a relieved Terrell Graham.
Read more: Landowners score big...

Chair wants tolls to come off, says tolls cause congestion

Transportation Chair wants tolls to come down, insists tolls cause congestion
By Terri Hall
August 31, 2016

As toll weary Texans anxiously await Governor Greg Abbott’s promise to fix our roads without tolls to come to fruition, House Transportation Committee Chair Joe Pickett is one of the few taking action to make it happen. At yesterday’s House Transportation Committee meeting, Pickett continued his war against toll ‘managed’ lanes on several fronts.

First, he argued that tolls are actually causing congestion on some roads.

“Toll projects actually exacerbate congestion. The one in my community does,” proclaimed a determined Pickett. Pickett’s referring to the Cesar Chavez Border Highway toll managed lane project where only 6% of traffic utilizes the lanes, leaving 94% of commuters stuck in congestion.

Pickett told KVIA News in El Paso last year that, “Things have changed and if you want to lessen congestion, you open up the roads to everyone.”
Read more: Chair wants tolls to...

Lone Star Rail survives through link to I-35 toll lanes

Link to article here.

Lone Star Rail resurrected by link to I-35 toll lane debacle

By Terri Hall
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research
August 24, 2016

The saying that two things are inevitable — death and taxes — just got expanded to three things: death, taxes, and government boondoggles that never die. Yesterday, the day after the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) unanimously rejected funding further study of the Lone Star Rail which was on the heels of the Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) pulling its funding, the Bexar County Commissioners Court passed a resolution to transfer the Lone Star Rail environmental study from the Lone Star Rail District to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). So now, not only will every Texan’s state gasoline taxes be paying for this rail boondoggle at the state level, the resolution also called for moving the rail corridor over to Interstate-35, despite the Texas GOP platform's plank opposing rail.

The Lone Star Rail project envisions a 77-mile commuter rail between Austin and San Antonio, and it’s been studied since the creation of the Lone Star Rail District by the Texas Legislature in 1997. Over $20 million in taxpayer funds have already been spent on studying the feasibility of the corridor, and the price tag is somewhere between $2-$3 billion (that’s a big range). Union Pacific announced in February it would not allow the rail project to utilize its tracks. The feds passed on granting the project federal funding. Then the Chair of CAMPO, Will Conley, decided enough is enough and led the charge to have the board vote to defund the project August 8, leading all to believe it was the death knell for the Lone Star Rail.
Read more: Lone Star Rail survives...