Transit tax draws attack from the left

Progressives Against Project Connect and others opposed to hefty permanent property tax increase It’s a well-worn cliché in American politics that Progressives want to raise...

Perfect Storm for Austin Transportation?

Posted Tuesday June 1, 2010 2:47pm
A Perfect Storm for Austin Transportation?
Commentary by Roger Baker

Roger BakerThe announcement that Capital Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) Executive Director Joe Cantalupo is leaving to go back to his old private consulting firm after only two years may be a telling sign. This comes only a few months after Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin), a smart and persuasive politician who supported many toll roads, stepped down as chairman of CAMPO and was succeeded by Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe.

Depending on how you might define a perfect storm, when you look over the recent news and transportation funding situation, it is getting hard to find grounds for optimism. It seems wherever you look—federal, state or local—the Austin area is facing worsening transportation funding troubles. Let us count the ways.

TxDOT is almost broke
Funding prospects look bleak for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). State Senator John Carona (R-Dallas), chairman of the Texas Senate Transportation Committee, and

Bad Planning or Magnificent Deceit?

Posted Thursday May 27, 2010 1:25pm
Bad Planning or Magnificent Deceit?
Commentary by Bruce Melton

Bruce MeltonCAMPO, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization that coordinates regional transportation planning for Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson Counties, has committed our region to a transportation development plan that, for the second time in ten years, assumes excessively aggressive traffic growth.

How do we know that CAMPO was overly optimistic with its projections for the 2030 and 2035 plans? The 2035 Plan projects future growth in traffic almost identically to the 2030 Plan. But actual traffic counts and total miles traveled, on average, are flat or actually falling. (See accompanying chart, “TxDOT Traffic Counts.”)

Why have trends changed?
Data from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), indicates that traffic volume has not increased since the turn of the 21st century. This has occurred even in the face of significant

Austin’s Road Building Plan

Posted Monday April 5, 2010 10:26am

Austin’s Road Building Plan
Costs Too Much, Does Too Little

Commentary by Roger Baker

Roger BakerThe Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) recently unveiled its new 2035 long-range draft transportation plan, “People, Planning and Preparing for the Future: Your 25 Year Transportation Plan,” plus a separate appendix with important details. The comment form to accept your feedback on the plan will be open until 5pm April 13.

This long range plan is the result of a federally mandated planning process required of all large U.S. metropolitan areas. The federal rules mandate that CAMPO's long range plan must be updated every five years.

On the federal funding level, the fate of the big new federal transportation funding bill, the successor to the current “SAFETEA-LU” legislation, is bogged down in Congress. The current legislation is being kept in force with periodic emergency extensions. Federal Rescissions, or take-backs of previously promised funds, has stalled many state projects, even while a roughly equal amount of federal stimulus funding has been added.

In the absence of more fuel-tax revenues, the current federal stimulus spending for roads is unlikely to be sustainable for long because it is based on a troubling level of debt in competition with entitlements. Further, the U.S. Treasury at some point will face higher interest rates as the price for continuing deficit spending. 

Nobody can accurately predict federal transportation funding, and how that might affect the CAMPO plan. The long-range vision of the CAMPO plan is based on speculation about federal funding decades from now, whereas the reality is that we can't even predict it for next year.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is claiming it will be broke in a year or so, its options are limited to building no more new big roads at all. State Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas), who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, explains why. Carona said, “Today, the state's transportation revenue is almost equal to the maintenance costs for our current system. Texas can barely maintain the roads it has, let alone build new ones.”

TxDOT is running out of money because its motor-fuels tax revenue—which netted the agency more than $2.2 billion in the fiscal year that ended August 31, 2009—is declining rapidly with overall driving. This mirrors the sharp drop in national driving over the last few years. As if this were not enough, the Texas