Page Two

Page Two
The time has come to talk of SH130, a road project I'm leaning in favor of, even though the whole enterprise makes me queasy. I'm pretty sure Chronicle publisher Nick Barbaro disagrees with me at least somewhat on this one so I've asked him to join this discussion after my rant. Let's begin on what 130 is not. It is not a bypass for I-35. Read that again. It is not a bypass for I-35. When you see politicians espousing 130, tears in their eyes for the many victims of I-35, you are seeing political hypocrisy at its most blatant. Given where we are in the planning stage, realistically, what are the projections for the build-out? Maybe 10 years for the first part, optimistically 30 years for the whole road. Look at the traffic on I-35 today. Figure what it is going to be like in five years, then in 10 years. Think of what an anachronistic road it is in so many ways. 130 will save no lives on I-35 over the next two decades, at least, and the interstate's dangers are an issue that will have to be dealt with before then. As soon as the money is approved for 130, they are going to have to come to us and ask for massive monies for I-35. This is not a road that has 30 years left in it.

Built out, at its best, 130 will divert only some traffic from I-35 (although the worse traffic is on I-35 in 2030, the more it will divert). Again, we are not talking about today's traffic flow; that will just keep growing. We are talking about the traffic flow a generation from now, by which time large chunks of I-35 should resemble parking lots for much of the day.

If 130 is not built, this situation, of course, will be far worse. Just because it is not a full solution to the problem doesn't make the problem go away.

So what is 130? It is a road designed to open a new growth corridor between Austin and San Antonio for development.

If, as I do, you think this growth is going to come anyway, then this makes sense. 130 will divert not only traffic from I-35 but, perhaps more importantly, residential and commercial growth, as well. What seemed like science-fiction predictions 20 years ago - that the strip between Austin and San Antonio would fill up into a solidly developed corridor - is becoming true. More and more growth will come to this area. Without major road planning to direct growth, traffic will sprawl out everywhere, destroying neighborhoods and polluting the environment. There used to be certain American cities that you traveled through by avenues and boulevards rather than highways. Phoenix, Arizona was like this the last time I drove through it. Instead of traveling one roadway, I went through a dozen neighborhoods. The lack of roads hadn't slowed growth, it had just made it as difficult and dangerous as possible.

So, if you think this growth is coming, building a road in a less environmentally sensitive area makes sense. If you don't believe this, if you think the road brings the growth, if you don't see it as a long-range alternative to an ever more densely developed strip between Austin and San Antonio, well then, 130 is insane.

130 is a boondoggle. By any definition and by any standard, the bottom line is that this road project is going to be a boondoggle. I was wrong on this one. Building a road across a huge chunk of Texas into the middle part of the next century is going to be a joke. It is going to cost too much, it is going to be built in the wrong places, it is going to create controversy. It is probably going to have huge cost overruns and take forever. I was naïve. There is no way this road will be built and not be a boondoggle.

Nate Blakeslee's article (p.18) already shows how easily this project can be commandeered. Think of the implications about what he is writing - developers deciding on the pattern of development under the guise of building a bypass.

If 130 is built, it should be built as a growth corridor, with long-range traffic implications in mind, with the most carefully considered existing-community, environmental, and traffic-necessary guidelines. But this won't happen. There is too much power and money related to this project.

One further major reservation. If this road is really being built to direct and facilitate growth, it will empty traffic into East Austin. The biggest issue facing the Eastside over the next two generations will be gentrification, not redevelopment. To stab the heart of commercial East Austin with a traffic dagger is unacceptable.

Accepting that 130 is a boondoggle, that it is only conceptually a form of traffic relief, that as it is now mis-planned it will hurt East Austin, how can I support this road? The more I write this, the better a question that is. But the answer is that I believe the growth is coming, regardless of whether we create the infrastructure to support it or not. By not creating the infrastructure, we don't punish just growth and newcomers, we punish this city, deep into the future.

Our elected officials seem to have little control over these kinds of projects, which take on a life of their own (again, read the piece this issue). Which means we should pay more attention to this project, not less - it means the citizenry has one more issue of concern on their already too-crowded civic plates. - Louis Black

So, I'm supposed to do the impassioned anti-MoKan pitch. Sorry, but I can't do that. I will say that I wouldn't support spending a dime of public money on anything as vague, incomplete, and illusory as what's been floated thus far. (Note that while the planning isn't very well thought-out, it's also off to a bad start. That is an impressive combination, when you think about it - this would be a road which not only doesn't go anywhere, it also dumps on existing neighborhoods getting there.) But I can't say I really oppose the concept; if anyone ever comes up with an honest, realistic plan, I'd welcome the chance to look it over. I will add this, though. I hope that those who read Nate Blakeslee's article on the subject do so very carefully, and with bullshit detectors open wide. There's a lot of it being thrown around here, and I'm not sure Nate's subtlety affords the casual reader all the clues that might have been warranted.

Essentially, here's the story: Pete Winstead - along with other elements of the bad, old, pre-enlightenment Chamber of Concrete - congealed into a brand new consortium called Road and Bridge Builders Inc. and are attempting to hijack the entire structure of transportation planning. They think that TxDOT isn't building roads fast enough, and they're tired of having to take input from local officials, planners, and the public, about where roads ought to go, when they already know they can make a ton of money just by building them, whether or not they're needed, or even used.

Winstead's vision of SH130, for instance, is a looping toll road connecting Georgetown to Buda, but taking about 35% longer than I-35 to get there. Would it serve anyone's needs? Well, why should Builders Inc., care about that? It's enough to know that it would be "an economic engine to build more roads in Central Texas." (Yes, someone actually cites that as a plus in the article.)

Read carefully, and that's the story that emerges out of Blakeslee's piece. Read superficially, though, and you might not notice, because the reality is buried beneath a smooth veneer of attempted impartiality. You might take at face value, for instance, this line from the opening paragraph: "Winstead's vision - solving Austin's transportation woes through fast-track toll road construction..." without realizing that nowhere else in the article is there any indication that solving traffic woes is even a consideration. Or you might not notice - because it's not really pointed out - that just about everyone who's pushing this scheme stands to benefit from it directly.

And you have to get to the last couple of lines of the sidebar before you get to the gist of the matter: "Private investors don't make value judgments," [Hank] Dittmar says. "That's why we should decide where the roads go," he says, "not Wall Street." How true.

This is an audacious, evil scam. Just thought I'd mention that. - Nick Barbaro

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