Our recommendations also call for the creation of two high-level policy advisory positions, mandated in statute, to advise the TxDOT commissioner or commissioners regarding environmental policies and public transportation policies.
“Ideally these would be professionals without a vested interest in the traditional road-oriented approaches taken by the agency and with extensive experience and/or knowledge in their respective fields. The state needs a fresh outlook on both the environmental aspects of transportation policy (including the potential impacts of climate change on transportation decisions), and the public transit opportunities that are being missed,” the Sierra recommendation says.
The Sierra Club also supports recommendations by the Sunset Advisory Commission for new opportunities for public involvement in transportation planning and establishment of a Rail Transportation Division within TxDOT to begin putting rail transit on a more equal footing with traditional road projects.
Following is a letter from Dick Kallerman, Chair of the
Transportation Committee of the Lone Star Chapter of the
Sierra Club Comments on Texas Department of
August 10, 2009
Mr. Bob Jackson, General Counsel
Texas Department of Transportation
125 East 11th Street
Austin, Texas 78701
Dear Mr. Jackson:
The Sierra Club has had many opportunities over the years to request changes to TxDOT projects during public hearings, and to make broad suggestions for operational improvements during the Sunset Commission hearings. While public demands have resulted in the occasional modification of specific projects there has been no apparent willingness by TxDOT to change systemic operations or corporate culture. So, since you have asked (Notice of Opportunity to Comment), here are five areas of concern that we think are worth a close look.
1. Consider again your well-worn justification for adding road capacity – to improve air quality. We have heard this reason a score of times to justify another road lane, the thinking being, we guess, that another lane would reduce congestion and result in fewer idling engines. The argument doesn’t wash. Another road lane may move traffic faster for a few years, then, due to induced traffic caused by the added lane, 50 years of more congestion will result. TxDOT
should refrain from using the improved air quality argument.
2. TxDOT is engaging in financial Russian
roulette. After 80 years of pay-as-you-go financing TxDOT has now borrowed $6 billion against the next 20 year’s gasoline tax revenues, thereby mortgaging our future transportation needs for today’s projects. If some future windfall money does not materialize, TxDOT will simply go broke. Even more egregious is your plan to borrow against general tax revenue thereby putting limited utility roads into the “public good” category of education and health care, which benefit all citizens.
3. TxDOT steadfastly refuses to make
land use planning a part of its road planning. Before a road is designed to meet some specific demand the question “What land use is desired?” should be thoroughly vetted. By this means all stakeholders can be heard from, and not just real estate developers and land speculators. The resulting road design would satisfy the greatest number of users – or maybe you would find the road isn’t needed at all.
4. TxDOT is locked into 20th Century thinking. Every
day, energy supply, global warming and suburban distress
tell us that it’s not the 20th Century anymore. We hope that the Sunset Commission’s report, today’s comments and cooler heads will bring TxDOT into the 21st Century. In this century we need for TxDOT to consider the implications of its transportation planning decisions for our choice of energy sources, our emissions of greenhouse gases, and our patterns of development, some of which strain our resources, fragment wildlife habitat and open space, and exacerbate air pollution.
5. And how about meeting your goals of safety, air quality and energy consumption by simply building transportation facilities to
accommodate transportation demands for something other than
the single-occupant vehicle? TxDOT needs to develop a comprehensive transportation plan for the state that matches the type and availability of transportation options to the specific needs of communities and regions. Even where funding for transportation projects other than roads is limited, there are ways of designing road projects that complement and facilitate rather than supplant other transportation modes.
Thank you for your consideration of our recommendations.
Transportation Issues Contact
Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club