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State Highway 130


The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDoT) is pushing to build a major highway parallel to and east of I-35. CAMPO approved the highway in June 2000, with Mayor Watson as the swing vote. Transportation groups oppose the highway on the following grounds:

1. It won't relieve congestion.

The highway is being promoted as a way to relieve congestion on I-35. However, TxDoT's own figures show that after 15 years, congestion on I-35 will be relieved by only 5% by building S.H. 130 vs. not it. And that's assuming that it's not a toll road. If S.H. 130 is built as a toll road, as is currently planned, the congestion relief drops to only 3%.

How can this be? Why don't new roads ease congestion? Mainly because new roads encourage further development, and then the roads quickly fill up from all the new development around them. A 15 year study of 68 metro areas (PDF) shows that those cities that spent billions on congestion relief by increasing roadway capacity had as much or more congestion as those cities who did little or nothing. (Check out our section on why new roads don't ease congestion.)

Another reason that SH 130 won't relieve congestion is that there's already latent demand. That means there are trips that peope would LIKE to make, that they don't make because the roads are so crowded. Even if we were successful at relieving congestion a little bit, the roads would quickly fill up again from the pent-up demand.

2. We can't afford it.

The regional plan put forth by CAMPO (Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization), which includes construction of S.H. 130, clearly states that we don't have the money to pay for it. The plan suggests "alternate revenue sources" (i.e., new taxes), such as licensing fees for bicyclists! Why should we go into deeper debt for a project that won't even work?

Highway construction is incredibly expensive, much more expensive than providing facilities for alternative transportation, such as light rail, improved bus service, bicycle lanes, and sidewalks. Commuter rail costs up to $20 million less per mile than a highway, and the rail infrastructure lasts 60-75 years vs. a highway's 25. Plus, you can easily and inexpensively increase capacity with a rail system by adding more railcars or running them more frequently. Expanding a highwy, on the other hand, by addingnew lanes, is a multimillion dollar headache. And while the cost per mile of new rail is already competitive with highways, adding extensions to existing rail lines is even cheaper ($14 million per mile). What's more, even though rail is cheaper than highways, it's more effective. One LRT train (five cars passing every two minutes) could handle all the rush-hour traffic now arriving in downtown Minneapolis by freeway. Here's an article on this subject on another website.

This project is even more expensive when you consider that all the money will be wasted, since the highway won't even relieve congestion, which is the only reason it's supposedly being built. Every dollar wasted on this highway project is a dollar that cannot be spent on real transportation solutions that actually work.

3. There are massive hidden costs.

When developers build up and down S.H. 130, the City will have to provide water, electric, sewer, policing, fire protection, and EMS service, which will be paid for by you and me -- the taxpayers. This is on top of the debt and higher taxes we'll incur just from building the damn thing in the first place.

Part of the purpose of this road is to allow people to live in Williamson County -- outside Austin's property taxing area -- and commute into east Austin. Thus, building the road would facilitate "Dumb Growth" at the expense of more rational smart growth inside the City of Austin.

4. It's a public subsidy for the rich.

Who benefits from this? Simple: The companies that get the construction contracts, and the developers who are going to build up and down the highway. You and I -- the taxpayers -- will be paying for the road and for the utility service, while the developers get rich. It's not fair.

5. It promotes pollution.

Sprawl just makes our air worse, because it increases the number of miles traveled per person by car. Considering that Austin is about to face federal penalties for failing to meet air quality standards, why are we trying to make our air even worse? And naturally, the cost of cleaning up our dirty air is not included in the cost analysis for S.H. 130, which we can't afford even BEFORE we consider how to clean up our dirty air.

6. The proposed location is bad.

Neighborhood groups, along with the City and Travis County, have been pushing for an eastern alignment, which will be better for neighborhoods and the environment. But TxDoT wants a western alignment, and since TxDoT doesn't really have to answer to anybody, they'll probably get their wish. In any event, as Roger Baker says, this road remains a monument to bad planning regardless of which alignment they choose.[Update: TxDoT finally conceded and agreed to the eastern alignment.]

7. Development along the highway will displace families.

Roger Baker again: "But surely this $19 billion worth of new development affecting East Austin should be of more than trivial concern to the mayor and the city council. Will any of the current low-income residents of East Austin still be able to live there when such a tidal wave of investment rolls in. Will low income and minority folks be able to survive the skyrocketing property taxes from a highway triggered strip mall bidding war and will the nice proceeds still be enough to buy another modest place inside Austin?"

8. There won't be bike lanes or sidewalks.

No bicycle lanes or sidewalks are currently planned for the project. This will further increase congestion and promote pollution, while unfairly hurting those people who want to help by choosing alternative forms of transportation.

9. It's being pushed by special interests.

The road is being pushed by a TxDoT division caled the Texas Turnpike Authority (TTA). The head of the TTA is Pete Winstead, who is also -- surprise! -- the director of the Real Estate Council of Austin.

10. It's not democratic.

TxDoT has decided for itself to build the road. We say, let the people decide: Put it to a vote. The public may currently believe the myth that S.H. 130 will relieve congestion, but if this were a ballot item with all the subsequent attention placed on it, TxDoT wouldn't be able to deny that the highway won't relieve congestion.

Further reading

NEWS: CAMPO, the regional transportation planning agency, approved the controversial State Highway 130 in June 2000, without requiring the eastern alignment preferred by the neighborhoods and local governments. That means the highway can and probably will be built along the western alignment preferred by the Texas Turnpike Authority (whose head, Pete Winstead, just coincidentally happens to be the head of the Real Estate Council of Austin. Imagine that.). Our own Mayor Watson was the swing vote in favor of the highway, an incredible fact which the Austin American-Statesman somehow forgot to report.

UPDATE, Dec. 2004: The highway is under construction. There's a big article about it in Time magazine.

Source for traffic figures from Dick Kallerman: "Michael, these numbers are from the Draft EIS by TxDOT, published in January, 2000. From Traffic Forecasts Table: Projected 2020 traffic on IH 35, North of 7th Street, is 353,000 cars per day. With the western alignment of SH 130 in place the traffic forecast in 2020 is 334,000 per day, or a decrease of 5.4%. This is for a conventional, free highway. (Source: DEIS, SH 130 Traffic Supplement) If SH 130 is built as a toll road, as planned, the % decrease would be reduced by 40%. (Source: David Kopp, P.E., Director, SH 130 Office, Texas Turnpike Authority Division of TxDOT)."

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