Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Change of Direction for Texas?

I was disheartened by the lack of urgency from Lawmakers in Austin though I guess it is to be expected in Texas. The Dallas-Fort Worth area has been working on this commuter rail plan for a number of years and it seems as if there is a local leadership consensus on the matter. But lawmakers seem like they are already calling it dead.
State representatives from the western side of the Metroplex lined up Wednesday in support of Rail North Texas — a proposal to create new taxes, with voter approval, and build a regionwide web of commuter trains.

But the lawmakers warned elected leaders from Tarrant, Johnson and Denton counties that their chance of success in the legislative session that begins in January is a long shot at best. Attempts to win approval for commuter rail failed in 2005 and 2007.

But this morning there was some other interesting news. Kay Bailey Hutchinson is looking to run up against Rick Perry for Governor in 2010. If she won, this would be a shift in transportation policy from the Trans Texas Corridor of clear cutting to perhaps a more balanced approach that could be friendly to rail. I'm not sure where KBH stands on livable community stuff like biking and walking (though she was a mindless supporter of drill baby drill), but her support for rail would bode well for the Texas High Speed Rail project (she's written bills before with Joe Biden) and local light rail lines. She's worked hard to get funding for DART and even helped Houston some when Tom Delay and John Culbertson snubbed their nose at Houston's future.

We'll see what happens, but past work on behalf of transit on the hill has been fairly good, and amazing if you compare her to the current Mr. 39% (Rick Perry, not GWB).


Anonymous said...

It's Texas. There will never be high-speed rail. If you paint the train red white and blue and cover it with bald eagle decals, and serve free barbecue, but seriously, this is a pointless discussion, just like rail in the Georgia legislature.

Randy Simes said...

I find it funny that the Texas plan is called the "Texas T-Bone Corridor." How fitting. But I too tend to think this isn't going to happen. There are probable 3 maybe 4 high-speed rail lines that have a higher priority than this one. California has a couple, the Midwest has several and the East Coast is working on some. Given the political climate and the other factors at play I don't see this one coming to fruition any time soon.

Cavan said...

Texas will try to sustain the unsustainable for as long as it can until it collapses.

It will then grudgingly embrace the new paradigm. The new paradigm will then bring them back to prosperity until it eventually stops working.

They will then fight hard to sustain that unsustainable new paradigm just like they did the last one.

At this point in history, that failing old paradigm is the asphalt-sprawl-oil-car complex.

Matt Fisher said...

I suppose many Texans think the automobile is just part of their "way of life". But then again, I'm probably only speculating.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I think it's better than you think in Texas. Having lived there, I can see things are changing, it's just the politicians are the last to know.

AJ said...

KBH may support some of the same things you and I do, but that's like saying Harper is good for Canadian Liberals.

She worked with a state judge to get a potential conviction overturned, even though the evidence was there.

She was also impudent and disrespectful to Governor Ann Richards.

I bet she'll take the several dozen miles of new light rail in Houston and Dallas and do something dastardly with it.

jon said...

while austin is the capital its hardly true "texas", so i would guess it stands a better chance

patriotic transit bus

Alon Levy said...

Well, Texas has two large cities within rail distance of each other. I'd say that next to the Northeast Corridor and LA-SF, Dallas-Houston and Chicago-Detroit are tied for most important HSR corridor in the US.

I'm not sure about Dallas, but Houston is also extremely centralized, in the sense that there are very few job centers outside city limits. This contrasts with the situation in the tri-focal Bay Area, decentralized LA, and Philly and DC with their suburban office parks.

Michael said...

Something like 70% of Texas population lives in the Texas triangle Austin / San Antonio / Dallas / Houston - the maximum distance here is about 250 miles - so high speed rail or even moderate speed rail makes sense for these areas.

That said, why support KBH in the general election when we can (hopefully) support Houston Mayor Bill White? He has been an advocate of securing funds for rail even as the FTA asked metro to re-submit all plans because they switched a few of the lines from LRT to BRT and back. He's maxed out on term limits in Houston but has won re-election 2x with 90% of the vote. And he has the cash to seriously contest a race either for governor or KBH's vacated Senate seat.

Some say 2010 is too early and Texas will only trend Democrat by 2012 or 2016, but if anyone stands a chance before then it may be Mayor White.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Well of course Bill White. But either would be a change from the current roads only crowd, Bill White obviously better.

Alon Levy said...

I'm somewhat miffed that White is mentioning decentralized employment as a positive. A while ago, there was a post on this blog showing how transit ridership correlates with more centralization. Since cars are a point-to-point mode of transportation whereas transit has to concentrate on a few corridors, transit and centralization tend to come together.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I don't think he's talking about decentralized employment in the way you're thinking about it Alon. In Houston there are lots of dense employment centers that could be any other cities downtown. In fact, the reason why the Houston LRT is so heavily patronized is because it connects two of them together. The rest of the network is going to connect two more of these centers making the total of 4 major downtown like clusters knit together by transit. This allows the between to fill in and as you get denser transit ridership grows.

Here's the post you were talking about.