I wrote a while back, before the election, that I was against State Proposition 1 money that would take revenue from the overflowing rainy day fund due to oil and gas extraction and give it to TxDOT. It ended up passing with 80% in favor. Of course it did.
I wrote that I was against it, not because I’m against infrastructural investment, but rather that it was without a plan. It was and seems to be merely a way to keep the old machine chugging along rather than fixing or upgrading to a new machine, a new mindset rather than continuing the hamster wheel of debt.
One of our major problems with infrastructure spending is that we 1) don’t think about life cycle costs and 2) are really bad about projecting an economic development that can sustain number 1, the long-term life of said piece of infrastructure. We build new rather than maintaining what we have. Instead, we are given hazy numbers like theoretical savings from reduced delays and a Chuck E. Cheese at a billion dollar interchange and call that economic development.
Well, there wasn’t exactly much time for reform before the election, but it was enough time for me to write that post and get it on the record. It was always going to pass. Now TxDOT has another $1.7 or so billion to play with, presumably to build new rather than maintain, adding significant legacy costs along the way. Meaning, that ‘free’ $1.7 billion will get very expensive in about 30 years. (Or less if we’re not using it to maintain existing crumbling infrastructure…or as targeted investment to jumpstart some of our crumbling neighborhoods.)
Combine the Dallas and Fort Worth districts and you pretty much get the combined CSA or Combined Statistical Area. What’s funny about the color-coded categories is that ‘congestion’ and ‘connectivity’ are both code words for expansion in this context. In other words, they’re going to make it rain with the rainy day money. Forget your potholes.
Of that money, the North Texas area governed by NCTCOG and the RTC is expected to receive about $360 million. There is a (somewhat) public process seeking input for where that money should go. During one (the only?) of the public meetings, several projects were proposed, of which nobody who actually lives and works and goes about their day could give a flip about, which is why so few people show up in Mesquite at 4 pm on a Tuesday.
Looking through the list of proposed projects for Prop 1 money, I decided to break down the list by county, the population of that county, and whether the projects were expansion or maintenance related:
|County||Population||% of CSA||Ask (millions)||% of Total||Note:|
As you can see, Dallas County comprises 35% of the CSA population-wise, but is only asking for 3.5% of all the projects listed. On the other hand, Ellis County (2.19% of regional population) is requesting 31.88% of the money. Navarro (0.69%) is asking for 17.93% of the money. Furthermore, about 94% of the proposed projects are about new roads or widening of existing roads rather than maintaining what we already have. In other words, we are proposing to add new long-term liabilities without a plan for generating the value and tax base that can support it.
While it would be nice for Dallas County to get a higher proportional share of this money, perhaps it’s best we focus on maintenance if the majority of it is going to highway capacity (tax burden) expansion. That is, until we can put forth plans for better leveraging infrastructure capital for long-term, sustainable tax base.