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Wednesday
Jan102018

Freeways aren't free, and Texas politicos don't want to pay

Houston Chronicle

January 10, 2018

Just after the end of World War I, a young Army officer who was born in Denison, Texas, was assigned to accompany an expedition of military vehicles driving across America. The mission was to determine the difficulties the nation might face moving an entire army across the continent.

Lucky thing the country was no longer at war. The convoy constantly ground to a halt on unpaved roads, sinking into mud, slipping into ditches and sliding into quicksand. The cross-country journey took 62 days, averaging about six miles an hour, something close to the speed of a leisurely walk.

The lessons of that ordeal stuck in the young officer's mind. A generation later, former Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower cited his 1919 convoy experience as a reason for Congress to authorize construction of the Interstate Highway System. The commander-in-chief also proposed paying for the new freeway system with revenues from federal excise taxes on gasoline and lubricating oil.

President Eisenhower knew not only how to get freeways built, but also how to pay for them. We could sure use his help today in Austin. Instead, we're stuck with state leaders who can't figure out how to perform the basic governmental function of paying for highway projects. Our state's political leadership needs to quit dodging this issue and make some tough decisions about how Texas will finance its future roadways.

The problem is that freeway projects cost a lot of money, but the Republicans running the show in Austin don't have the political courage to pass the cost onto taxpayers. Take, for example, what recently happened to a couple of highway expansions proposed for the Dallas and Austin areas. The Texas Transportation Commission removed them from its ten-year plans because both of those projects rely partly on revenue from toll roads.

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