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A toll road threesome

Some good reading on toll roads for the weekend:

1. Kimberly Reeves (of A Little Pollyanna) has a nice article in the AusChron about the fight over tolling and/or expanding the western stretch of US290 in Austin. One point to highlight:

With the deployment of regional mobility authorities, however, the agency has had to redirect itself, from the traditional pattern of securing the funds to enact its designs into poured concrete to one of working with communities to buy into the concept, and continuing funding, of toll roads. In terms of its plans for Oak Hill, the agency’s estimated traffic counts indicate that US 290 West could see up to 157,000 cars per day by 2030, a figure more comparable with MoPac beneath US 183 than a peaceful Hill Country road. As is always the case with highways, it’s never clear how much projected development drives the highway, or vice versa. Nevertheless, Fix290 wants to see if they can find a middle ground, between a redesigned area roadway and TxDOT’s superimposed regional superhighway.

Richardson says TxDOT’s massive transportation goals are simply not compatible with the goals of the neighborhood plan: a better collector street system; a smarter placement of retail; the creation of infrastructure and transit that will increase the work-live density in the area as one of the city’s prime residential nodes; and even the creation of an actual, walkable “downtown” Oak Hill. TxDOT’s superhighway, which structurally mandates a high-speed thruway primarily serving outward-bound and commuter traffic, simply doesn’t allow that.

More than a year ago, the city of Austin’s Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department pledged to make transportation planning a more integral part of the neighborhood-planning process. That included negotiations with transit agencies. City planner Adam Smith says the city has made some progress with neighborhood/transit planning – most specifically, with Capital Metro – but still has a long way to go when it comes to working with TxDOT. “We’ve had meetings with TxDOT, but what it really comes down to is trying to get the buy-in from these other agencies into our plans,” Smith said. “We may address what our desires are for a particular corridor with them, but TxDOT is not always as receptive as we would like for them to be. That’s a problem.”

The one common theme in every fight over highway expansion – be it I-45, the Grand Parkway, or 290 West – is the conflict between the needs of the people who want to get from Point A to Point B faster and easier, and the people who live in between who don’t want their neighborhoods destroyed for the convenience of others. As someone who’s an in-betweener, my sympathies obviously lie with those folks, but I do recognize the value in making it easy to get around a major metropolitan area. My frustration is that I feel like the commuter group is often given a higher value than the affected homeowner group. I sincerely believe that if the people who live in the affected areas were given more of a voice in the process, it would make things go more smoothly, not more contentiously. I wish the Fix290 group much luck in having their voices heard.

2. Via Eye on Williamson, Fort Worth Mayor (and former State Senator) Mike Moncrief testifies about the Trans Texas Corridor.

Speaking for my fellow elected officials in North Texas, we applaud and welcome the Trans-Texas Corridor.

However, we are opposed to TxDOT’s vision for the North Texas portion, and we are disheartened by TxDOT’s refusal to partner with local government.

[…]

TxDOT’s proposal does not provide optimal truck flow through our region, which is the intended purpose of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Seventy percent of trucks which pass through North Texas need to make at least one stop within the heart of D-FW and do business. The vast majority of the trucks will not take advantage of the bypass.

Thus, a complete bypass would do little to: One, increase the speed and efficiency of the flow of goods to the rest of the country; and, Two, decrease the amount of traffic and congestion in the D-FW region.

In fact, it may actually make traffic worse by adding stress on our East-West thoroughfares. Remember, under TxDOT’s proposal, the vast majority of trucks are going to have to make a left and drive west into the D-FW Metroplex.

[…]

By far, however, the worst consequence of the TxDOT’s approach to the TTC is their radical departure from the traditional partnership with the Legislature and with local government.

You just heard Commissioner Whitley describe the extent to which local government has attempted to express their concerns to no avail.

TxDOT’s understanding of the new CDA [Comprehensive Development Agreement] approach to road building is that local branches of government and the Legislature are no longer part of the process.

According to the TxDOT view, once an agreement is made with a private partner, TxDOT and the provider alone are empowered to makes decisions concerning road alignments.

This is a staggering change from the way we have historically made these decisions.

He has more to say about sprawl, bad air, and other issues. Read the whole thing, it’s worth it.

3. PGL at Angry Bear is still working the Indiana toll road selloff beat (see here and this explanation (PDF) of why separating the depreciation rights to public assets from control of them makes more sense than selling off control of those assets does. Check it out.

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