Why Central Austinites Should Support Toll Roads

Excerpted from a discussion on the austin-bikes email list, where one of my self-appointed burdens is to be the voice of reason towards those who live in the center-city echo chamber (where everybody bikes; where nobody wants sprawling highways; etc).

The last paragraph of my response is the most relevant piece, and the one that the person I was responding to and many other wishful thinkers just don’t get. I, thanks to moving here with suburbanites, and working with exclusively suburbanites, have learned the following painful truths:

  • There are more suburbanites around here than urbanites. A LOT more. And the most recent election, they finally WON a seat in our city council (McCracken over Clarke) DESPITE much higher turnout in the center-city.
  • Outside Austin, there are no urbanites. CAMPO is now 2/3 suburban, for instance.
  • Suburbanites cannot conceive of any lifestyle other than the suburban one. Really. I get blank stares when I tell them I rode the bus to work today, or when I say I walked to the store.
  • The sheer population and geographical coverage of suburban neighborhoods means that even if gas gets really expensive, they’re still going to be living there. Resistance to their redevelopment in ways which aren’t so car-dependent and the cost of such modifications means we’re stuck with what we have now for at least a few more decades. Yes, even at $5.00/gallon.

Here’s the thread:

Roger Baker wrote:
> On Mar 4, 2005, at 9:34 AM, Mike Dahmus wrote:
>     Roger Baker wrote:
>         McCracken is the immediate hero here, but he likely wouldn't
>         have done it without Sal Costello, SOSA, and all the
>         independent grassroots organizing.
>         On CAMPO, McCracken's resolution got defeated about 2 to 1,
>         with Gerald Daugherty on the bad side, along with CAMPO
>         Director Aulick. TxDOT's Bob Daigh deserves a special bad
>         actor award for expressing his opinion just before the CAMPO
>         vote, with no reasons given, that any independent study of the
>         CAMPO plan would be likely to threaten TxDOT funding for our
>         area. -- Roger
>     Just like the transit people in Austin with Mike Krusee, you've
>     been completely snookered if you think these people are your friends.
>     The goal of McCracken et al is NOT to stop building these roads;
>     it is to build these roads quickly as FREE HIGHWAYS.
>     In other words, McCracken and Costello ___ARE___ THE ROAD LOBBY!
>     Keep that in mind, folks. Slusher and Bill Bunch don't want the
>     roads at all, but pretty much everybody else who voted against the
>     toll plan wants to build them as free roads.
>     And these highways built free is a far worse prospect for Austin
>     and especially central Austin than if they're built as toll roads,
>     in every possible respect.
>     - MD
> All that is easy for Mike to say but, as usual, lacks any factual basis or
> documentation. Furthermore, he does not appear to read what I have previously
> documented.

(my response):

As for factual basis or documentation, it should be obvious to anybody with the awareness of a three-year-old that McCracken’s playing to his suburban constituents who WANT THESE ROADS, AND WANT THEM TO BE FREE, rather than Slusher’s environmentalist constituents, who don’t want the roads at all.

As for reading what you’ve previously documented; oh, if only it were true. If only I hadn’t wasted a good month of my life reading your repeated screeds about the oil peak which have almost convinced me to go out and buy an SUV just to spite you.


Here’s what’s going to happen if Roger’s ilk convinces the environmental bloc to continue their unholy alliance with the suburban road warriors like McCracken and Daugherty:

  1. We tell TXDOT we don’t want toll roads.
  2. TXDOT says we need to kick in a bunch more money to get them built free.
  3. We float another huge local bond package to do it (just like we did for local ‘contributions’ for SH 45, SH 130, and US 183A).
  4. The roads get built, as free highways.
  5. Those bonds are paid back by property and sales taxes, which disproportionately hit central Austinites, and especially penalize people who don’t or only infrequently drive.

Here’s what’s going to happen if the toll roads get built, as toll roads:

  1. TXDOT builds them.
  2. The current demand for the roadway is large enough to fill the coffers enough to keep the enterprise going without the bonds defaulting.
  3. (Even if #2 doesn’t happen, we’re at worst no worse off than above; with the added bonus that suburbanites still get to finally pay user fees for their trips on the roads).

Here’s what’s going to happen in Roger Fantasyland:

  1. McCracken, Gerald Daugherty, et al have a Come To Jesus moment and decide that we Really Don’t Need Any More Highways In The ‘Burbs.

Now, be honest. Which one of the three scenarios above do you find least likely?

YES, EVEN IF GAS TRIPLES IN PRICE, SUBURBANITES WILL STILL DRIVE. THE OIL PEAK IN THIS SENSE DOESN’T ****MATTER****. The people out there in Circle C aren’t going anywhere in the short term, and it’ll be decades before their neighborhoods are redeveloped in a less car-dependent fashion, assuming we can afford to.



4 thoughts on “Why Central Austinites Should Support Toll Roads

  1. Luckily for me, my job is just two miles away at the corner of 183 and Oak Knoll. I can either bike or walk, and my job has a small gym facility I can clean up in. Only bad weather or haste require me to drive. (I have a little gas miser 4cyl & man. tran.)
    I find urban living very unpleasant, not to mention New York or Chicago a living hell. The poster is correct, you would have to raise the price of gas to obscene levels to even make suburban or rural commuters think about it. Even then, they are more likely to want government to get them cheap oil, than seek another solution.
    New York and Chicago grew up with public transportation and are designed around it to a great extent. Austin’s layout would require massive restructuring, made even worse by the hill terrain to the West.
    I really do not want to live in a 1000 sq. ft. house on zero lot lines, or worse, in a high rise wight-warren. I want my garage for a work shop and room for a back yard. It does not seem healthy for this many people to live all on top of one another.
    I think the best way to contain the situation is for the local government to stop the “we must grow and grow” pyramid scheme, but then the developers/builders/real estate people will scream, and where will the kickbacks come from.
    At least with automated billing toll roads traffic will move faster with less sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and its associated effect on pollution. Unless they really mangle the frontage roads, it will not be too bad. Best of all the people who use the roads will pay for them rather than hitting me with another huge bond issue.

  2. Some Blogging on the Toll Roads

    It’s good to see Mike Dahmus’ blogging on the toll road issue, or at least excerpting places where they are conversing. I’ve really missed out on intelligent questions about the toll road issue. I prefer strong discussion to vague threats….

  3. That kind of thinking comes straight out of 1975…
    Sorry to disagree when I think you were trying to agree with me, but suburban development can’t and won’t scale. The problems at 183/Braker are partly due to frontage road design, but also partly due to increased per-capita vehicle-miles-travelled characteristic of sprawling suburbs.
    And the neighborhoods up here don’t have any more ‘privacy’ than my own lot north of the University of Texas. Just somewhat bigger houses, and far more miles driven every day.
    Fundamentally, there are a lot of people who wouldn’t mind living close to their neighbors. Heck, this area is full of 3-story apartment pods scattered around huge parking lots – those developments have buildings every bit as dense as true urban development – the difference is that downtown, they’d be over stores and restaurants rather than having both the worst aspects of high density (shared walls and floors) and the worst aspects of low density (have to drive everywhere). So clearly there’s plenty of demand, if we can get rid of the zoning codes that currently outlaw traditional development patterns.

  4. I fully agree. These toll roads need to be implemented as toll roads. I own a house in central Austin and for this, I pay huge county taxes based on an exagerrated tax appraisal. I pay a premium to live centrally. These suburbanites live in much larger and cheaper houses than mine. I am happy to see them suffer expensive commutes. These toll roads help them pay for their own privelege of living out in the boonies.

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