Stim Cash Gone Bad: Feds Fund Houston’s Highway to Nowhere

holzer.jpgRobin Holzer. Photo: New York Times.

Reuters just wrapped up a two-day "Infrastructure Summit" and published a great collection of stories about the state of transportation policy in the U.S. I especially like this piece, featuring Robin Holzer of the Houston-based Citizens’ Transportation Coalition, who does a great job illustrating some of the major deficiencies that the federal stimulus bill failed to address:

Under the current system that U.S. President Barack Obama
has maintained, at least for now, the U.S. government will pay as much
as 80 percent of the multibillion dollar cost of a proposed 180-mile
ring road around Houston — its fourth such loop — even though it
serves a thinly populated rural area.

In contrast, an expansion of the city’s light-rail system is only
eligible for getting 50 percent of the cost paid by the federal
government, she said.

Yet more than 147,000 people live within a half-mile of the ten stations on the light rail system, Holzer said.

To demonstrate the low demand for the new ring road, Holzer
displayed a picture of its empty lanes that she said she took at 5 p.m.
one weekday — a typical rush hour in urban areas.

"It’s a boondoggle highway in the middle of nowhere," she said. "We need to invest our money where the people are."

  • The excuse is probably that the new road will lay the groundwork for residential and commercial development. This new exurban development is unlikely to take off given the shriveling of existing exurban areas elsewhere in the country. So this is Houston’s last, most futile investment in sprawl. All it proves is that the forces behind sprawl haven’t yet spent their last dime of political capital. But given how New York is squandering the most functional public transit infratructure in the country, who are we to criticize Houston?

  • Veritas

    I grew up in Houston and almost everyone I know there thinks that Grand Parkway is a complete waste of money. But it always seemed like suburban real estate developers were very powerful politically, so they probably pushed this through.

    The current light rail line (there’s only one) has vastly exceeded its ridership projections, even though it doesn’t go on a very great route (it doesn’t do a good job connecting residential and business neighborhoods). Thankfully, the current mayor of Houston, Bill White, has a great urban vision for Houston and is dramatically expanding the light rail system to include five new lines that will be very popular.

  • Jeany

    At the same time, rape victims in Texas have to pay for their own rape kits, making the state again such a paragon of conservative perfection. Protection of citizens who can compensate the state only!

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