TxDOT bill hijacked by toll lobby, loopholes diminish anti-toll progress

Hastily approved TxDOT sunset bill offers some toll relief, but riddled with new loopholes
By Terri Hall
May 28, 2017

As the Texas legislature comes to a close tomorrow, the antics of some lawmakers warrants scrutiny when it comes to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sunset bill, SB 312, that passed yesterday evening. The House passed a strong anti-toll bill May 17, adding several good anti-toll measures pushed by grassroots pro-taxpayer groups for over a decade. SB 312 must pass or the highway department goes away. Rather than concur with the House version, the Senate chose to reject the House version (which signaled trouble ahead), forcing both the House and Senate to appoint a conference committee to work out the differences in the bill.

This is where the chicanery usually happens, and it did.

Killing the private toll road bill made national news!

We did it!  Not only did we send a message to Texas lawmakers and special interests that the Rick Perry era of toll roads is over, we also sent a message to the Trump Administration that private toll roads are dead on arrival in Texas!

Watch the Bloomberg story on it here

HB 2861 Record Vote

FB post bootOut Phillips crew

Those who voted to hand 19 TX roads to private, foreign toll operators are:
Yeas 51 — Allen; Alonzo; Alvarado; Are´valo; Blanco; Burkett; Button; Coleman; Collier; Cortez; Elkins; Farrar; Flynn; Geren; Giddings; Gooden; Guerra; Gutierrez; Hernandez; Howard; Huberty; Israel; Johnson, E.; King, K.; King, P.; Koop; Longoria; Lucio; Martinez; Moody; Morrison; Murphy; Neave; Oliveira; Ortega; Perez; Phillips; Raymond; Rodriguez, E.; Rodriguez, J.; Rose; Sheffield; Shine; Smithee; Thompson, E.; Thompson, S.; Turner; Uresti; Villalba; Walle; Workman.

FB post taxpayer champs
Taxpayer champions who voted against are:
Nays 82 — Anderson, C.; Anderson, R.; Bailes; Bell; Biedermann; Bohac; Bonnen, D.; Bonnen, G.; Burns; Burrows; Cain; Canales; Capriglione; Clardy; Cosper; Craddick; Cyrier; Dale; Darby; Dean; Deshotel; Dukes; Dutton; Faircloth; Fallon; Frank; Frullo; Goldman; Gonzales; Gonza´lez; Hefner; Herrero; Holland; Hunter; Isaac; Kacal; Keough; King, T.; Klick; Krause; Lambert; Landgraf; Lang; Larson; Laubenberg; Leach; Lozano; Metcalf; Meyer; Miller; Mun˜oz; Murr; Neva´rez; Oliverson; Parker; Paul; Phelan; Pickett; Price; Raney; Reynolds; Rinaldi; Roberts; Romero; Schaefer; Schofield; Schubert; Shaheen; Simmons; Springer; Stephenson; Stickland; Stucky; Swanson; Thierry; Tinderholt; VanDeaver; White; Wilson; Wray; Zedler; Zerwas.


Absent, Excused — Anchia; Paddie; Wu.
Absent, Excused, Committee Meeting — Ashby; Davis, S.; Davis, Y.; Sanford.
Absent Unexcused — Bernal; Cook; Gervin-Hawkins; Guillen; Hinojosa; Johnson, J.; Kuempel; Minjarez; Vo.

Source: House Journal Recorded Vote

See press release: VICTORY: Grassroots KILL private toll bill, secure Abbott's vision for toll-free future

Trump floats gas tax hike after tolls get cold shoulder

Link to article here.

Trump floats gas tax increase after cold reception to privatized toll roads

By Terri Hall
May 5, 2017

It’s tough being a change-agent. Newly minted President Donald Trump came into office with high hopes of a major infrastructure overhaul. With the nation’s crumbling bridges, pothole stricken roads, and millions of commuters choking in urban congestion, Trump had a big plan to harness the private sector through public private partnerships (P3s) to address congestion by adding toll lanes. The problem is those privatized toll lanes grant private, usually foreign, entities monopolies over vital public highways where the companies are given the exclusive right to extract the highest possible tolls for 50-99 years.

With the pushback to P3s coming fast and furious from working class families to truckers, Trump has begun to change his tack. After meeting with members of the trucking industry this week, Trump has floated the idea of a federal gas tax increase to raise the revenue necessary for the big infrastructure fix. Truckers prefer a gas tax increase to tolls.

Here’s the back story. The National Highway Trust Fund, which is funded with a federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, has teetered on the edge of bankruptcy for over a decade while the gas tax has remained unchanged since 1993. Inflation has diminished its buying power over the last 24 years, and members of congress have been reluctant to raise it. Under President George W. Bush, many Republicans pushed road privatization and implementing toll ‘managed’ lanes as the means to finance road projects as perpetual road funding shortfalls plagued the highway system.

Victory for Texas landowners along the Red River

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 6, 2017
www.texasattorneygeneral.gov
PRESS OFFICE: (512) 463-2050
Kayleigh Lovvorn: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

AG Paxton: Suspension of BLM Red River Surveys is a Win for Texas
 
AUSTIN – Attorney General Ken Paxton today praised the Trump administration for suspending three U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) surveys from the Obama-era that the BLM used to justify a land grab involving 90,000 acres near the Red River.
 
The federal action was prompted by the BLM’s admission earlier this week that it used “incorrect methodology” while determining the gradient boundary on a portion of the 116-mile stretch of Texas properties along the Red River. Attorney General Paxton intervened in November 2015 on behalf of the state in a lawsuit brought against the BLM by affected property owners.

Schertz fights back against Cibolo's private toll road scheme

Link to article here. (Note: The article at this link is modified from the one below. It addresses the connection to the NAFTA superhighway network in North America)

Revolt: Sister city fights back against Cibolo private toll road

By Terri Hall
April 6, 2017

A funny thing happened on the way to handing over a public highway to a private toll operator —a sister city said an unequivocal, ‘No!’ A small suburb of San Antonio, the city of Cibolo, inked an irrevocable deal to hand an existing public highway, FM 1103, over to a private toll company so it could place express toll lanes down the middle, granting it the exclusive right to operate both the toll lanes and the existing free lanes for the next 50 years. FM 1103 runs through the city limits of Schertz before it connects to Interstate 35. But what Cibolo didn’t count on was its neighboring city not cooperating with the scheme.

Raw Deal: Private toll company weasels sweetheart deal out of Cibolo

So what’s in that controversial private toll road contract?
By Terri Hall
March 9,2017

After a controversial decision by the Cibolo City Council to give development rights for a private toll road to a corporation that's never even built a road last week, Cibolo Mayor Allen Dunn has been busy shooting the messenger. The Development Agreement, kept secret from the public prior to its approval last week, was finally made public and it verifies and validates citizen concerns. When the terms of an exclusive 50-year development agreement was negotiated in secret and handed to a single private firm in a no bid contract, it shouldn't surprise elected officials when the public is irate.

The city signed an irrevocable development agreement with, Cibolo Turnpike, an entity created by the investors of Texas Turnpike Corporation. The draft operating agreement requires the city to repay all the company's debt and the net present value of future distributions (anticipated revenues) if it wants out of the deal -- after it's built. There is no other way out for the city, however, there are lots of exit strategies for the company.

So what are some of the other red flags? First, the agreement seeks to give operational control of the non-toll portion of FM 1103, a state highway, to the private company.

Tolls aren't necessary, do what the public voted for

Link to Op/Ed here.

Use Prop 1, Prop 7 funds to fix Loop 1604 without tolls
By Terri Hall
Founder, Texans for Toll-free Highways
February 28, 2017
San Antonio Express-News

Much in the same way taxpayers got the message about tolls being inevitable on US 281 and I-10, the Express-News editorial told our community, 'Tolls are necessary, deal with it.' Taxpayers don't appreciate being told what to do, especially when it comes to the long arm of government reaching into our wallets. Contrary to the narrative, tolls are no longer a 'user fee' where only those who use the toll lanes pay for them. When $326 million in our gas taxes will be used to subsidize the construction of toll lanes inside Loop 1604, everyone will pay for them. But only the select few who can fork over up to $23 a day in tolls will be able to use them.

That's right. The plan calls for dynamic tolling where the toll rate changes in real time and can reach the maximum during peak hours, which is $.50/mile. So if you need to drive all 23 miles during rush hour, you're looking at $23/day in new toll taxes to use lanes your gas taxes helped pay to build. That's double taxation and warrants a taxpayer revolt. Tolls, once imposed, tend to never disappear. If it's one thing a government bureaucrat won't give up, it's an unaccountable revenue stream in the hands of unelected boards. They can always find a use for your money.

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.’

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

'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.

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.

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)