After the jump, a few thoughts on what this says about the state of government in Texas in general and north Texas in particular.
TxDOT and RTC gave several reasons why they are going ahead with the plan to open the HOV lane to toll-paying drivers, only one of which seems reasonable. That's the first reason, to increase usage of the HOV lane. That's a good goal. The reasons given why this is best accomplished by tolling the HOV lane are more or less bogus:
- Everyone else is getting toll lanes: Like mom always said, if everyone else jumps off the bridge, would you, too?
- Because the state and feds aren't raising the gas tax, tolls are a necessary evil: If everyone stood firm against tolls, wouldn't hiking the gas tax be the necessary evil instead?
- Turning the carpool lanes into free lanes would require widening the highway: If it's not wide enough for a free lane, why is it wide enough for a car pool lane?
- This was all agreed to by your predecessors: You mean those people who maybe got voted out of office for promoting cockamamie ideas?
I'm not sure I disagree with the plan for tolling US 75, but I don't like that what I consider the most important reason for doing so is not among those listed. Whatever is done to place the burden of financing the cost of driving from the exurbs to downtown Dallas on the people who insist on doing that driving is a good thing in my mind.
But I'm in the minority on that. Obviously, those Collin County drivers don't want to pay tolls to drive through Richardson. How can TxDOT and RTC so easily blow off the public opposition of so many Collin County officials? How can TxDOT and RTC be so unresponsive to the people's elected representatives? I don't have a good answer, except to note that maybe they aren't being unresponsive. Maybe they're doing exactly what those elected represenatives want them to do. That is, take the blame.
Maybe this is part of an elaborate Kabuki theatre. RTC advertises itself as the "Transportation Policy Body for the North Central Texas Council of Governments." NCTCOG advertises itself as "a voluntary association of, by and for local governments." In other words, if RTC/NCTCOG isn't doing what its members cities like, the member cities are empowered to direct NCTCOG to change course. Could it be that NCTCOG exists to afford those elected officials some cover for making unpopular decisions? "Don't blame me for tolling US 75. Blame NCTCOG."
By the way, Richardson Mayor Laura Maczka is a member of the Executive Board of NCTCOG. It's richly ironic that her advice to Richardson residents who don't like the idea of tolling US 75 was to "be very vocal" at public hearings. If she herself is being very vocal in trying to change the course of NCTCOG, she's being very quiet about telling Richardson residents about her own actions. In the end, if and when TxDOT finishes its widening of US 75, don't be surprised if Mayor Maczka and the rest of the Richardson City Council are there for the picture taking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.