These letters spell highway violence, the environment, and a lost bracelet.

Commuter Rail Feasible


Thank you for the excellent article by Robert Bryce ("Commuter Rail: Stuck In the Station Again," Dec. 22).

Bryce points out the facts and figures needed for a regional commuter rail. Especially the study by the engineering firm Carter & Burgess, which determined that commuter rail would cost far less than the light rail plan proposed by Capital Metro. That study funded by the Texas Department of Transportation, CAMPO, Capital Metro, San Antonio's public transit system, VIA, and the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization -- estimated the cost of building a commuter rail system at $475 million.

This price includes purchasing right-of-way, design, construction, improvements to rail crossings, and the construction of passenger stations. The study estimated ridership at 8,000 per day, a figure that could grow to nearly 11,000 per day by 2020. The study also estimated a regional sales tax of 0.11 cents in Williamson, Travis, Hays, Comal, and Bexar counties would cover half of the construction costs. The federal government would pay for the other half. In addition, half of the rail system's operating costs would be covered by rider fares, the study said.

We also need to remember that it was through the hard work of both state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, and Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, who sponsored the 1997 legislation allowing the creation of an intermunicipal commuter rail district.

Even in the I-35 origin and destination opinion survey prepared for the Texas Department of Transportation, 63% of the motorists indicated their willingness to consider using commuter rail if it were available in the region. This could serve Round Rock, Austin, New Braunfels, San Marcos, and San Antonio.

An aggressive, "fast-track" development program, based on significant local funding, could result in passenger regional rail service operational within four years.


Jimmy Castro

Former member,

Urban Transportation Commission

City of Austin

Zoning Pitfalls


Once again I read with dismay another story of Eastside activists protesting a warehouse on Tillery street. I understand the bitterness about past city of Austin decisions that concentrated industry in the section of town that was legally defined black ghetto also but the times have changed and so must priorities. When East Austin was an ignored dumping ground that most whites were terrified of, it made sense to demand quality-of-life improvements. However where Suzanne Almanza's logic fails is when she still presses for residential zoning even as she tries to fight the more present danger, gentrification. With high tech moving downtown, young, high tech urban dwellers will hungrily view the beautiful, "fixer-uppers" on the Eastside and make offers individual homeowners as well as evil speculators will find hard to resist. Without industry the only thing to keep East Austin even remotely affordable to the people already there will be racism, and whites get over racism when good housing is to be had (check it out in every large city) Unfortunately with private land ownership government has only so much control and without rent control (an unlikely idea for Texas!) prices in a re-zoned-for-residential neighborhood so close to downtown will skyrocket. I know PODER has its heart in the right place but I have seen too much gentrification in different cities to not notice patterns and speak out.

Tom Cuddy

A Global Heart-Warming Gesture


In his Dec. 15 letter ("Think Globally, Gripe Locally"), Carl Swanson praises Exxon for its environmental consciousness in donating "tens of millions of dollars" to save Siberian and Indian tigers. These tigers are among the species most threatened by global warming. How much does Exxon spend to keep the United States from signing global warming agreements? How much does it spend to fight clean air laws? How much does Exxon spend to fight challenges to its proposal to pump gasoline through South Austin? When a big corporation takes out full-page ads in national magazines to tell you how environmentally responsible it is, you may be sure that it's trying to keep you from noticing what it's really doing. It's called greenwash. It works well.

Locally and on a smaller scale, politicians and ordinary folks do the same thing. Kirk Watson advertised himself as a clean air advocate, and promoted buying some land (probably not enough, unfortunately) to protect the Edwards Aquifer. Having done that, he felt free to take advantage of Gov. Bush's exempting Austin from clean-air restrictions, and push for building new highways. Members of the "green council" solemnly declared that increasing road capacity would reduce air pollution. And ordinary people who send money to SOS and Greenpeace felt perfectly fine about voting for these highways, just as they feel perfectly comfortable about driving single-person cars everywhere.

Everyone feels fine. When all the tigers are dead, people will say "We did our best. I sent them money."

Protecting the environment is not the same thing as presenting oneself as an environmentalist. The best way to protect the environment is to stop poisoning it. We (and Exxon) need to change our behavior, not just send money.

Yours truly,

Amy Babich

Thy Vote Shall Not Count


Great observations on the overall meanness of this presidential election ("Page Two," Dec. 22)!

The "defeat" of Al Gore has changed or reinforced many peoples' thinking regarding elections:

1. Every vote does not count -- a vote only counts if it is counted.

2. A voter's intent is not necessarily a valid consideration when trying to discover whom he/she voted for.

3. In a crunch, the Supreme Court can be counted on to render a partisan decision just like every other branch of the government.

4. He who spends the most money on a campaign will probably win.

5. Antiquated voting machines, or those more prone to miscount or error, can be strategically placed in areas to help disenfranchise target groups of voters. Likewise, if a machine regularly results in serious overcounts or undercounts, there is no reason to change to another machine to prevent this in the future ... if the results predictably will favor your candidate.

6. A confusing ballot design often helps, too. A punch card ballot, for example, is good to use to disqualify aged voters who might not have the strength or eyesight to make sure the ballot has been punched through.

7. If one repeats a statement enough -- even a blatant falsehood -- people will start believing it.

8. Gentlemen do not necessarily win elections ... good guys who treat their opponents gently and do not capitalize on their weaknesses will be tromped in the mud by them.

9. Nor is the brightest and most intelligent candidate guaranteed a win -- the American public wants quick sound bites and only a smattering of facts.

10. If necessary, it is permissible to pay your staff to storm election offices and intimidate or frighten vote counters.

11. If politicians are given the choice between doing something honorable or political, most will inevitably choose the political.

12. A vote for a sure third-party loser is a vote thrown away: The result may well be that one elects the worser of two evils.

13. If it looks like your party won't win from an accurate count or recount of the votes, do everything possible to prevent that count/recount.

14. Finally, exit polls give valid results ... they just can't account for political shenanigans.

Claude M. Gruener

Traffic Vigilante


A letter to the unlucky woman driving a small, light tan or beige car west on Slaughter Lane, a short ways west of I-35, at 2:15pm on Friday December 22:

My wife and I witnessed the white Chrysler sedan that was barreling along Slaughter Lane, endangering many motorists, that rear-ended your car and drove you off the road, over the median, and into oncoming traffic.

Fortunately, you did not appear to be injured, and no other cars were caught up in this hit-and-run accident. We sped after the other vehicle and after several miles managed to close up and record its license plate number. Then we turned around and went back to see if we could find you, but you had already taken your car out of harm's way and had disappeared.

It is possible that you wish to file a police complaint or at least an insurance claim over this matter. The other car's driver might have easily caused your death or the deaths of others. She should be answerable for her reckless actions, and I will be glad to give her license information to you if you need to trace this lawbreaker. Call Kevin at 291-5895 or 471-0816.


Kevin Hendryx

Deadly Freeway


Last Saturday it was reported two people were killed trying to cross I-35 at Anderson Lane and noted that the freeway was not designed or built for pedestrian traffic. An article quoted a Texas Department of Transportation spokesman as criticizing pedestrians for wanting "to take the shortest route across the highway," and that "pedestrian bridges are one option. But they cost too much to build for the number of people that use them, which is typically few."

I am unaware of any safe pedestrian crossing of I-35 within a mile or more in either direction of the Anderson Lane intersection. Apparently nobody has asked why this situation continues to exist and what will be done, if anything, to remedy it?

During the past 30 years many people have been killed trying to cross I-35. When pedestrians' lives were endangered on a Town Lake bridge this year we saw media coverage and action to get a footbridge across the river. We have at least one pedestrian overpass over MoPac, about a half-mile south of the Anderson Lane exit. There are pedestrian overpasses where schools are near freeways.

But then, the people dying while crossing I-35 aren't the ones who live in NW Austin, or the ones jogging around Town Lake.

Werner J. Severin

If Found, Please Contact --


Let me introduce myself, I'm Liz Parish and I live in Wisconsin. I was in Austin for the New Directions in Corrections Conference the first week of October. I had the misfortune of losing a cherished bracelet. It is sterling silver, heavy links, with several goldstone inserts. It's not worth a whole lot monetarily, but it does have sentimental value to me as a souvenir of a trip I took. If anyone has found this bracelet and would like to return it to me I would be most grateful. My e-mail address is, and my snail-mail address is: PO Box 424, Hillsboro, WI. 54634-0424. Thanx so much for listening. Happy New Year everybody!

Liz Parish

Who Let the Cheney Out?


Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer recently said of Dick Cheney's unprecedented role in Bush's administration, "It's going to be serious, it's going to be heavy."

And according to Paul Light of the Brookings Institute, "Dick Cheney has already broken every precedent that Al Gore set for the vice presidency. It's unbelievable, really. Cheney has extraordinary range of authority."

I'm not surprised Cheney has been handed so much power. George doesn't know what the heck to do. Bush's aides explain away his lack of knowledge by saying the president-elect has simply chosen to use a Reaganesque style of delegating.

Yeah, that's the ticket.

I can just see the political cartoon with George as a little boy explaining to his teacher why he gave all his homework to a bewildered classmate to do. Caught red-handed, plucky little George looks up at his stern teacher and says, "Can't we just call it my Reaganesque style of delegating?"

Jefferson Hennessy

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