A man. A man and his truck. A man and his truck and more roads. A man and his truck and more pollution. A man and his truck and no trains. A man and his truck and gas tax cowardice. A man and his truck and political ignorance. Texans love to drive. Especially their trucks. This could be generational cellular memory from riding horseback across open country. But not likely. Might just be stubbornness. Of course, there isn’t much public transportation to be had. There’s not an airport in Texas, in fact, that has a rail line into a city center. Grab a cab. Rent a car. Shut the hell up. (Dallas has plans to run its metro line out to DFW, though.)
Houston got going late on light rail because of a mean-spirited congressman named Tom Delay, who was better at killing mass transit funding than the bugs he zapped as an exterminator in his previous business. When it was finally built, the 7.5 mile Main Street downtown leg of the Houston’s light rail became the most used surface transit system in history since World War II with 5000 weekday boardings per mile. The city is still expanding light rail service but High Occupancy Vehicle lanes have been a cultural priority for decades. Riding in cars with joy.
And, of course, the inevitable damned toll roads. A man and his truck and a toll road. We build toll roads in Texas because we like public-private partnerships, which is another way of getting around political responsibilities. Elected loons refuse to touch the gas tax to pay for roads in this gigantic state. It’s 20 cents per gallon and hasn’t been raised since 1991. Instead, we float bonds for big road projects and acquire huge debt, or we let private companies pave the way and capture big earnings with tolls. Both of which are way the hell more costly than taxation.
A man and his truck get to pay debilitating property taxes, a 20-cent a gallon gas tax, and ridiculous tolls to go a few miles because the alleged “conservatives” lack conscience. There is nothing they care about beyond the next noisy-assed election cycle. It’s their future that matters, not the state’s. Because they won’t raise revenue, they raise debt through bonds, which is far less responsible than taxation. And costs more because it is not a pay as you go approach. And debt must sound less scary to the low intellects than taxes.
Kevin Eltife, a state senator from East Texas, and, yes, a Republican, suggested not too many months ago the state was being irresponsible by accumulating more than $41 billion in debt for various road and infrastructure projects. That figure has been doubled in less than a decade, but no new taxes, remember? Do you think that debt is not paid for, at some point, without taxation? Eltife is likely to become a Tea Party aperitif in his next election but he doesn’t care. Being right is costly in Texas for an officeholder. Being wrong is necessary on the resume’.
All of those uniformed fools like Governor Rick Perry who love to cite the amount of federal debt your family owes Washington always tend to forget mentioning that the per debt figure in Texas for every man, woman, and child, is $1,584 dollars. But, hey, at least you don’t have an income tax, which means you will vote for them again, if you don’t pay attention. We won’t get anywhere talking logically about debt and taxation in Texas so back to trains. There’s a silly argument against mass transit and trains that opponents make and it ought to cause their faces to twist up in tortured agony. Maybe some day it will. But they insist that trains have no impact on traffic congestion and simply don’t take enough vehicles off the road. There are certainly studies that support that claim early in a rail system’s life. You can’t attract a lot of passengers if your rail line only goes from points A to B. But once you begin to expand and create a network of lines that move people to multiple points, you end up with passengers, and less crowded roads, or, at least, roads that don’t get jammed up as fast. And without extensive rail being built in the near term years, we are looking at carpocalypse, defined as too many cars and not enough concrete.
When there was mostly the one, long, lonely stretch of pavement called Route 66, John Steinbeck’s “Great Mother Road” down the broad unsplit belly of America, how busy do you think it would’ve been had there not been other roads that connected to it? Now we have the Interstate Transportation and Defense System given to us by the Eisenhower Administration. You can drive anywhere you want in America but you damned sure can’t take a train anywhere you want, which is inexcusable in a nation of alleged greatness.
Taking a train from Austin to Chicago will use up about a day and a half of your life, and rarely will it be a pleasant expenditure. Amtrak leaves the Texas capitol city around 10 a.m. and arrives Chicago at around 1:30 p.m. the next day. I spent six hours on that train, the old Inter-American, just getting to Ft. Worth before heading on to Chicago. Seemed crazy that by nightfall we still had not reached Texarkana. And while we ignore improving our rail system, guess what the Chinese are doing? In the year just concluded, they spent $104 billion dollars on railways, most of it high speed.
It’s hard to listen to idjits like Perry and Chris Christie and Scott Walker and Jeb “The Lesser” Bush and the rest of the edge of the cracker crowd when they rattle on about American exceptionalism. Sometimes it seems like the greatest thing we’ve done in decades is to create twist off caps for beer bottles. When the Chinese finally build a high-speed train bridge across the Pacific and arrive en masse on our once prosperous shores, they will find us in our recliners, in front of our big screens, with a beer and a remote, and we won’t even know we’ve been conquered. In the interim, though, make your kid learn Mandarin.