Transportation News is Bad, But the Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades
Straws in the wind: 1) Rick Perry, toll czar of Texas, still pushing private highways; 2) DART a dismal failure; 3) North Texas Tollway Authority still run by the good old boys.
This could all be good. You know where we need to wind up with all this? A toll road from Dallas up to Lake Texoma would be a good thing, if the toll were about $75 one-way.
The complete failure of DART to provide a meaningful change in regional transit habits could be a good thing if it encourages Dallas to bail on DART, bail on regionalism and build an urban, heavy rail system downtown.
The all-cousin good-old-boy depleted-gene-pool regime at the NTTA could be good, if it hastens that agency's inevitable conversion into a small private fraternal secret handshake organization.
We need fewer roads, more congestion, taller buildings and more bicycles. It's probably already starting to happen.
A story by Michael A. Lindenberger in today's Dallas Morning News
reports that the North Texas Tollway Authority bailed on building a toll road along the route of Interstate 35E from Dallas to Denton after Deirdre Delisi, Rick Perry's transportation consigliere, asked it to get out of the way so private toll road companies could take over the project.
You know what? Private toll roads could be a good idea, if they were taxed in a way that reflected the true cost of the road. In the end, the costs of land acquisition, construction and operation probably will pale before the environmental costs to the rest of us of having the road there in the first place. You suck all those cars out onto the road at one time, you create huge emissions issues that the rest of us wind up having to pay for in one fashion or another.
So stick the pollution costs onto the toll companies with a tax. You want to build a toll road? You want to encourage sprawl and give everybody asthma? Great. Pay for it. A $75 toll trip from Dallas to Denton could be a good thing.
Lindenberger had another good story in the paper last June showing that our regional transit agency, DART, is doing half the business it promised in a 2007 projection, in spite of nobody knows how many billion dollars we've sunk into it. Nobody wants to say why. But why is not a mystery.
Mass transit is based on the concept of mass -- tons of people pouring down out of urban towers and flooding into subway stations to get on fast-moving heavy rail that gets them where they're going in a hurry. Instead we allowed the suburbs to bully us into building a goofy, surface-running, red-light-stopping, slow-as-hell light rail system that connects a bunch of suburban Nowherevilles. As a result the system has the true transit-drawing heft of an amusement ride at the State Fair.
So we ditch DART. Get out. And start tunneling. We build a subway system. We put the lines tight together to create true no-car living districts with bike lanes. We give developers zoning to create dense vertical housing towers (but we give the zoning only to people who are actually building the towers, not to land-flippers, fly-by-nights and speculating flibbertigibbets).
And we say to the region: We're a city here. You want to live in the boondocks? Do it. But pay the freight.
A lot of people will move into the city when those costs begin to show up on the shelves. Some people will stay out there. Maybe super-expensive toll roads will incentivize the boonyites to garage their cars and turn their light rail system into something vaguely functional.
The NTTA? Yesterday they threw out the board chairman who wanted to wean them from their good-old-boy consultancy contracts and thereby bring them into some kind of 21st century public political legitimacy. In the short-run, sure, it's reprehensible for them to behave this way.
But let me ask you something. Why would we want an arrogant politically unresponsive quasi-public agency that behaves like a Mafia debt collector to get smarter and stronger? Let them sip their own soup. They won't be around forever.
What we really need anyway is much more congestion on the roads to make owning and using automobiles a worse and worse proposition. We need to get people out of cars and onto true mass transit, bicycles, their feet or battery wheelchairs as the case may be.
The future is bright. A bristling thicket of towers downtown. A few far-flung outposts for the horsey set, separated from the city by a $75 toll road trip or a $25 journey by light rail. Far cleaner skies. Huge economies of scale for the public sector. And the NTTA reduced to something more on the order of the Daughters of the Confederacy -- an organization very important to its own members but the rest of us don't even have to hear about.
I'm tellin' you, man, I'm a big optimist.