The Toll Roads are Generating Millions in "Surplus" Revenue? Solution: More Wasteful Spending.
Updated: Sep 4, 2022
On Tuesday, 5/10/22, Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court approved (3-2 vote) a plan to use $53 million dollars of "surplus" toll road revenue to build more bicycle paths. This plan, if fully implemented, would eventually build out 236 miles of trails at a total cost of $600 million dollars.
Now, that's a huge amount of money. When that plan was presented, my first thought was, if the toll roads are generating that much “surplus” revenue, why don’t county officials simply lower the toll rates and give drivers a break? With the price of gas and everything else rising, I'm sure Harris County residents would appreciate the price of something actually going DOWN. My second thought was, for $53 million now and up to a potential total of $600 million, I can think of many other higher-priority, transportation-related projects, such as adding vehicular lanes in strategic areas to relieve our traffic congestion, updating to our Metro bus fleet to electric, re-surfacing our old roads and bridges, fixing potholes, improving street drainage to prevent flooding, adding more street lighting, enhancing enforcement of traffic laws, etc. Frankly, most people don’t even own a bicycle and those that do still drive or ride the bus to work. In fact, only 0.5% of Houston residents commute to work on a bicycle (see link below).
People also can't haul the family's groceries, pick up their kids from school or daycare, etc. on a bicycle. Even for recreation, it's often too hot and humid during the summer for people to pedal very far on a bicycle. To be blunt, spending $53 million dollars now (and $600 million dollars total) on mostly recreational bicycle paths/trails does almost nothing to help relieve Harris County's traffic congestion or address our core transportation issues.
For clarity, I'm not against cyclists or bike paths - it's just a matter of funding prioritization. If our elected officials went into Houston communities currently struggling with crime, poverty, underperforming schools, poor healthcare, the lack of affordable housing, poor roads, poor drainage, etc. and asked the residents how to spend up to $600 million dollars, I doubt they would say “spend that money on more bike paths!”. People without a car would ask for expanded Metro bus service, lower bus fares, more routes, and longer bus service hours. With electric buses, we could facilitate this enhanced mass transit, at a fraction of the cost, and still be climate friendly.
This fall, when Commissioners Court is considering setting new county tax rates, voters will be reminded that Commissioners wasted $53 million "surplus" dollars on, of all things, new bicycle paths/trails (with future plans to spend a total of $600 million). As priorities go, Democrats should not assume most Harris County residents are clamoring for them to spend up to $600 million dollars on more bike paths. If given a choice, most Harris County voters would definitely have higher priorities for that money.
For local media reports on this topic, please see the links below:
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