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January 18th, 2005:

The Statesman blogs the Lege

Yoo hoo! James Howard Gibbons! If you want to learn the right way for a newspaper to embrace the blogging concept, look here. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to send a box of chocolates to the Statesman’s news room.

On Martin Frost for DNC Chair

Let me start by saying that I agree with what Sam Rosenfeld says regarding Martin Frost and his candidacy for DNC Chair. There are plenty of reasons to oppose Frost’s candidacy for this position, but on balance I’d say how he ran his campaign against Pete Sessions is a point in his favor. You want a no-holds-barred fighter, Martin Frost is your guy.

Something to keep in mind that though the outcomes were different, Frost’s campaign was tactically very similar to Chet Edwards’ in that they both touted areas of agreement with President Bush. It’s hard not to do that when some 60-65% of the voters in your district will be pushing the button for Bush. Edwards won, so people are willing to overlook that sort of thing because we all know he’s infinitely better to have in Congress than Arlene Wohlgemuth would have been. Edwards has been widely lauded for his odds-against victory, and justly so, but if he were in Frost’s position, he’d be vulnerable to the same criticism. See Andrew D’s comments in this post for more.

One thing I want to make clear: Martin Frost is not my first choice for DNC Chair. He’s not in the top three – I favor Rosenberg, Fowler, Dean, and Wellington Webb in more or less that order. I’m just saying that if you’re going to oppose Martin Frost, do it for the right reasons.

UPDATE: Southpaw weighs in.

Erik Slotboom and Camino Columbia

Nice article in the Press about Erik Slotboom and his work disputing the need for the Trans Texas Corridor. One thing I learned in reading this piece is that we already have a shining example of a private toll road in Texas, the Camino Columbia down in Laredo. How’d that work out? Not so well.

The state’s only private toll road, a $90 million link to Mexico that opened just three years ago, was auctioned back to the bank Tuesday for $12 million and may close.

The 22-mile Camino Columbia route between Mexico and Interstate 35 had investors expecting to get rich because of increased Mexico-U.S. truck traffic linked to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The landowners along the route invested a total of $15 million, in addition to providing strips of property 400 feet wide.

Tony Sanchez’s International Bank of Commerce provided an initial $6 million funding for the road. John Hancock and New York Life Insurance Co. loaned an additional $75 million.

But motorists weren’t buying the $16-per-truck, $3-per-car trip from a bridge 23 miles northwest of the city, and traffic was only 13 percent of expectations.

Less than a year after it opened landowners were filing lawsuits claiming they’d been duped.

That sure makes the Cintra-built PerryPike from San Antonio to Dallas look appetizing, doesn’t it? But don’t worry, state officials know their salesmanship:

Still, the state sees privately run toll roads in its future, as population growth puts a strain on existing roads. Gov. Rick Perry’s proposed $175 billion Trans Texas Corridor, is a 4,000-mile network of superhighways, high-speed rail lines and private toll roads.

“Basically, across the state we’ve got a transportation crisis,” TxDOT spokeswoman Gaby Garcia said. “The demand is growing exponentially. … Tolls are an option that we’re going to consider. We have no choice.”

Emphasis mine. So many crises, so little time to worry about them all.

In any event, TxDOT bought Camino Columbia in May, and their diagnosis of why it crashed and burned is what should really be worrying us.

The state has agreed to purchase the 22-mile Camino Columbia private toll road that disappointed investors and ended up on the auction block.

The Texas Department of Transportation will pay $20 million for Camino Columbia, which cost $90 million to build.

[…]

TXDOT spokeswoman Gaby Garcia said the road was a good deal for the state.

“It’s just a matter of waiting for the traffic to come in,” she said in Friday’s San Antonio Express-News. “Unfortunately, the previous owners weren’t able to hang in for the long haul because they had debt to pay and the revenue they had coming in to pay it wasn’t there yet.”

Cintra is putting up a lot of cash on this deal. What happens if they hit a liquidity problem? Do we have a contingency plan? At least I know the state of Texas isn’t going to go belly up.

Something to keep in mind here, going back to the original story:

He points out that the toll fee from Dallas to San Antonio would be about $40. “The nightmare scenario is that these highways are underutilized because the people won’t pay tolls, and then they’ll toll existing interstates to make up the cost,” says Slotboom.

I just checked, and you can fly on Southwest between San Antonio and Dallas for as little as $39 (not including fees) each way. Throw in two or three tanks of gas for the trip, and flying is easily cheaper (especially if you can use public transportation or get rides from others in the city you’re visiting) as well as faster than the incipient toll road. Southwest has always said that cars and highways were its main competition. Would you bet on the PerryPike against them? I wouldn’t.

Finally, this snarky column by Ed Wallace, who if the picture is to be believed has a bit of a young-Johnny-Cash thing going for him, gives some more background on Camino Columbia and how Washington State solved its “transportation crisis”. Check it out.

Harry Carson

As a lifelong Giants fan, I’m saddened to see this.

Harry Carson, an all-time great Giant, plans to stage an unprecedented protest if this is the year he makes it from finalist to enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He insists he will be a no-show in Canton for the Aug. 7 induction.

It will be humiliating for the Hall of Fame and subject Carson to ridicule. But he’s not backing down. He’s faced enough rejection from the Hall and is prepared to dish it right back. His bronze bust might be in Canton, but not him. He received the overnight letter last week from Canton informing him he’s made it to the final 15. It’s the sixth year in a row.

Carson sent a letter to Hall of Fame officials in mid-March demanding his name be removed from consideration after 11 years of failing to pick up enough votes. They didn’t listen.

“I made the decision to take myself out of the process,” Carson said the other day after being notified he’s a finalist again. “It wasn’t sour grapes. I’m not bitter or angry. By taking this stance, I understand I’m cutting my own throat. I’m crashing my ship. If I make it and go back on my word, then I come off as being hypocritical. I’ve thought long and hard about the position I’m taking. I didn’t wake up one day and say take my name off. It’s something I can live with.”

He believes the constant scrutiny of the board members judging whether he’s worthy of induction has tarnished what he accomplished in his 13-year career – nine Pro Bowls, one Super Bowl title, dominant player even before Lawrence Taylor arrived – and he no longer wants to subject his family and close friends to the pain and disappointment if doesn’t make it.

Carson has a long explanation of his position on his web page.

I confess, it hadn’t actually occurred to me that Harry Carson wasn’t already in the NFL Hall of Fame. He was the Giants before the likes of Simms, Parcells, and LT showed up. I wish I knew what the voters thought he lacked in his resume. In his open letter, Carson says he doesn’t want to be like Susan Lucci, remembered for his failure to win an honor voted on by others instead of his own stellar accomplishments. I can totally understand that. I’m just sad it came to that, and I hope that if and when the Hall voters come to their senses, Carson will reconsider his stance.

More red light debates

Supporters and detractors of traffic light cameras duke it out with competing studies which may or may not show that such cameras reduce collisions at intersections. I’ll simply note again that Fritz Schranck has discussed this issue in the past, and leave it to you to figure out which side’s scientists can beat up the other’s.

One item of interest from the article:

In discussing alternatives to red-light cameras, [Eric Skrum, spokesman for the National Motorists Association of Waunakee, Wis., a nonprofit group that opposes camera enforcement] said that lengthening the time of yellow lights can reduce violations and that the [Transportation Research Board] underplayed that possibility. He contends that most drivers run red lights because yellow lights are too short and don’t allow time to stop safely.

For example, Skrum said a 2002 San Diego study that reported a reduction in red-light running buried the fact that the greatest reduction in red-light violations, 88 percent, was at an intersection where the yellow light duration was increased from 3.1 to 4.7 seconds. At five other San Diego intersections, the number of violations also significantly dropped due to longer yellow lights.

Additionally, Skrum said, increasing the yellow-light duration from 4 seconds to 5.5 seconds in an intersection in Fairfax County, Va. — already equipped with red-light cameras — reduced red-light violations by 96 percent.

He said communities that install red-light cameras rather than lengthening yellow lights or making other engineering changes are more interested in increasing their cash flow than reducing accidents.

I’m very skeptical that lengthening yellow light durations could have such a dramatic effect on red light running. Ninety-six percent reduction? Show me the data. Frankly, I’m not convinced that longer yellows wouldn’t lead to an increase in red light running, since people approaching a light that has just turned yellow will think “no problem, the yellow lasts forever” and speed up.

Getting back to the cameras themselves, you may recall the story about Dallas’ Deep Ellum installing surveillance cameras. According to the CrimProf Blog, such cameras are a lot more widespread than you might think. Does that make you a little uncomfortable? I know I am.

Banjo Jones on NPR

Banjo Jones tells his story of getting fired by the Chron for blogging to NPR. Also see the Houston Press story from the time.