Have you seen an ad for the Trans Texas Corridor lately? They're out there, and you're paying for them.
The Texas Department of Transportation, which complains about chronic underfunding, has launched a multimillion-dollar campaign that promotes the divisive Trans-Texas Corridor plan and toll roads.
The campaign is anticipated to cost $7 million to $9 million, according to a memo titled "Keep Texas Moving: Tolling and Trans-Texas Corridor Outreach" sent to transportation officials by Coby Chase, director of the agency's government and public affairs division.
Such use of state highway-fund dollars is drawing questions, but the department says it's an important effort to educate and engage Texans.
"It's a waste of money," said Rep. Warren Chisum, chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, "and they have no business out there trying to get public opinion to be in their favor."
The money would be better spent fixing roads, said Chisum, R-Pampa.
The new campaign, as outlined in the memo obtained by the Houston Chronicle, started June 1 with TV, radio, print, billboard and Internet advertising meant to push people to the Keep Texas Moving site (www.keeptexasmoving.com).
Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who fought for a moratorium on privately run toll roads, said the initiative needs a hard look.
"TxDOT is consistently telling us we have no money to build highways, yet they seem to be spending a lot of money on internal audits and also ad campaigns. That's something that the Legislature needs to look at," she said. "I don't know that we would approve any other agency to do a $7 (million) to $9 million campaign on an initiative as controversial as the Trans-Texas Corridor and tolled roads."
She added that the cost "is a lot of money, and I would hope since it's taxpayer dollars they would approach it with a balanced approach to tell the pros and the cons of toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor."
TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott defended the campaign. "The clearest and most-often repeated criticism of the department during the legislative session was that we needed to do a better job of engaging the public," he said. "We heard that message loud and clear, and we're acting on it."
The obvious problem with TxDOT's claims that this is just about engaging with the public is that billboards and radio ads don't exactly sound like engagement. That's more like advocacy, which seems questionable at best, given the controversy and politics surrounding the TTC. If you think you need to engage the public, what's wrong with holding public meetings? Well, besides the fact that the public will tell you a lot of things you don't want to hear and aren't interested in doing anything about. Much easier to just do the one-way communications thing and not worry about the other aspect of engagement. Eye on Williamson has more.Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 22, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles