At the end of November, the Texas Department of Transportation reported that it was going to cut 10 percent from its budget, blaming the federal government, increasing construction costs, and declining state revenue.
At the time, I was worn out from writing about highway projects — aka the Trinity toll road — and didn’t note, as I should have, that we were about to get screwed. Yesterday, we did.
You can read this story in Dallas’ Only Daily Newspaper and believe it or not. It almost doesn’t matter, since what it says isn’t the real story. The real story is that there is no money for highway construction in Texas. None, nada, zilch. This means that any promises made about highway funding around here, whether for the toll road or any other project, are not true.
I will not be impolite enough to say our elected officials knowingly lied to us during the Trinity campaign, though one can make a case for that. Lake Highlands’ votes played a key role in defeating the toll road referendum. But what would those voters have done if they had known there was no money for the long-awaited and much-needed flood control repair project for Northwest Highway near White Rock Lake? Think more than a few of them wouldn’t have asked: "Why are we building a toll road when we can’t afford to fix Northwest Highway?" You’re damn right they would have.
Better minds than mine have dissected the way Michael Morris and the North Texas Central Council of Governments does things. So I will just say this: If Morris told me today was Tuesday and that I lived in the United States of America, I’d reach for a calendar and my passport. So when he says that we can fix Northwest Highway by diverting toll revenue from Highway 121, I start laughing. Read this, and you’ll see why. The tollway authority borrowed $3.75 billion to build 121, and the tolls must be used to repay that money, plus interest. They can siphon and juggle all they want, but they’re just robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Also tucked into yesterday’s News story is this line: "As part of the plan, TxDOT would have to agree to commit $150 million in coming years to backstop costs for the reconstruction of Interstate 635." I have no idea what it means — backstop? — but I’m willing to bet that we’re so screwed there isn’t even money to do basic work on LBJ. Which means we’re going to start hearing about the need to toll LBJ. I can hardly wait for Morris, Mayor Park Cities and the rest of the gang to try and explain that.
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