Posted on July 24, 2008
The $1 billion transportation plan approved by City Council Tuesday and on its way to approval by the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Camino Real RMA is fundamentally at odds with what I recall is one of City Council’s stated goals — to make El Paso one of the least car-dependent cities in the Southwest. [plan background]
It’s par for the course in El Paso’s status quo politics. No matter who is in office, when a major infrastructure project is approved, it’s the same guys in the room. Big developers, big contractors, top bureaucrats. With a public official or two, because, after all, their votes are nominally necessary. When this plan was unveiled Monday, the guys in the room, among others, represented highway contractor JD Abrams, the development outfits of Woody Hunt and Bill Sanders, Texas Transportation Commission member Ted Houghton, and Mayor John Cook.
While gas prices shoot up, as the city struggles with factoring in the cost of fuel for essential services like fire and police, and for enterprise services, like mass transit — which many might argue is an essential civic function — we’re celebrating spending a generation’s worth of transportation funding on 20th century works.
This $1 billion deal, in the works behind closed doors since April, and unveiled on a Monday with the admonition that it needs to be done by the end of the week or the money goes away, oozes status quo.
All of a sudden, we’re in too much of a hurry to have a community discussion about our priorities. It’s a given that the priorities will be roads. And the council, mostly, with the exception of a few questions from city Rep. Beto O’Rourke, fell all over itself to show its approval. Presumably, the MPO and CRRMA will do the same thing today.
Eddie, Eddie, where were you on this one?
Put aside the promises that we’ll solve some traffic problems. No. There is no building your way out of traffic. New roads will quickly fill up.
To be fair, toll roads might be a little different, as cost tends to whittle down a crowd. And maybe more fuel efficient vehicles and alternative fuels will enable us to maintain our well-traveled lifestyles, where commuting 10 miles or more to work is a norm.
Still, what do these new roads do? They further the large scale, master planned development to the Northeast (Hunt), East (Hunt and Schwartz), and Santa Teresa (Sanders). It might be master planned sprawl, but it’s still sprawl.
Meanwhile, $23 million will go to a Bus Rapid Transit program. Putting aside the question of whether BRT is really mass transit of a different order, a more nimble version light rail, what percent of a $1 billion is $23 million? Or even if the $23 million is leveraged into two or four times that?
And a few lone civic activists are puting voice to a reasonable question: What if the toll projections do not materialize? What if the cost of materials goes up? Who will be on the hook to pay off the bonds, and to maintain the new roads? What roads will be first in line for maintenance?
There is a big picture here. It’s on a wall, on the top floor.
I don’t know. Maybe this is just one of those days that makes me feel like moving to Portland.
But I think I’ll stick it out. I don’t need El Paso to change. Politics is politics, and writing and editing is writing and editing.
And the status quo, a billion dollars worth, is the status quo.