SAFEClear and rail touted as congestion-reducing solutions

KTRK-13 is running an AP story about the increasing problem of traffic congestion in Texas. One congestion-reducing idea included in the story is Houston's SAFEClear program:

"The traffic on our freeways tends to move when there are no wrecks or stalled vehicles, but there is almost always a wreck or stalled vehicle," White said. "So how quickly you move the wreck or stalled vehicle out of the flow of traffic or out of the side of the road to prevent rubbernecking is the single most important thing we can do to speed traffic up and to reduce accidents."

Officials in Dallas are now considering a similar program, which White says is "working fantastic" in Houston.

Oh brother.

Also featured prominently as a solution is rail transit:

Rail is another helpful alternative, [Tim Lomax, Texas Transportation Institute researcher] said, and one that the Texas Department of Transportation is taking a close look at.

"We think rail is going to become a more important part of traffic management, especially in the metro areas," transportation department spokesman Mark Cross said. "It is not going to be easy. But we think slowly people are starting to get the picture that we will have to look at more than just roadways for transportation in the future."

Actually, when you compare the billions of dollars spent annually on urban transit projects versus how many people actually use urban transit (nationally, less than two percent), you can see that rail contributes very little toward reducing congestion. In fact, in several instances after new urban rail projects were operational, cities saw a decline in passengers. Plus, we have to add in the continually increasing subsidies needed to keep rail systems running (Metro has just asked for an extra $104 million, in addition to running a $90 million + deficit).

A Heritage Foundation research paper has some suggestions on how to relieve taxpayers from the burden of increasingly costly rail projects:

The first step is for local officials to put an end to any plans to expand service by adding more trains and stations. More trains mean higher losses and larger subsidies.

Remember that Metro is trying to buy 15 new light rail cars at a cost of almost $60 million, in addition to planned rail line expansions.

The second step is to put its operations out to competitive bid to cut operating costs.


The third step is to raise fares to cover the operating deficit that remains.

Metro doesn't even count paid ridership on light rail!

And then there is the federal money upon which rail systems rely:

Federal policy could be improved to help states and local communities avoid the expensive long-term commitment of commuter and light rail. Of the $8.4 billion that the federal government proposes to spend on transit subsidies in FY 2006, $1.5 billion is dedicated to “new starts,” including a new “small starts” program. Seduced by federal money and visions of new trolley cars, impressionable mayors and county supervisors condemn their communities to paying substantial annual subsidies in perpetuity. Ending the new starts program and redirecting the $1.5 billion to expand road capacity will help communities to avoid this temptation and provide citizens with the transportation choices they are more likely to use.

RELATED: The economic absurdity of light rail systems (Houston's Clear Thinkers), Reviewing the track record of an urban boondoggle (Houston's Clear Thinkers)

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 06/12/05 07:36 PM | Print |

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