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Could an over or underpass for Westheimer at railroad crossing?


citykid09

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I was just wondering if there where any plans in place for the railroad crossing at Westheimer near Highland Village? The city of Bryan finished an underpass for one of its major streets that cross railroad tracks (Villa Maria Road)a while back and I was wondering where their any plans for Westheimer? Is that something the citizens of Houston would like to see happen in the near future?

For more of what it looks like click on the first link

http://www.bryantx.gov/departments/default.asp?name=vm_road_info

http://www.theeagle.com/local/Underpass-above-and-beyond2008-05-28T04-19-57

Underpass-5-mcd.jpg

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I was just wondering if there where any plans in place for the railroad crossing at Westheimer near Highland Village? The city of Bryan finished an underpass for one of its major streets that cross railroad tracks (Villa Maria Road)a while back and I was wondering where their any plans for Westheimer? Is that something the citizens of Houston would like to see happen in the near future?

For more of what it looks like click on the first link

http://www.bryantx.g...me=vm_road_info

http://www.theeagle....-05-28T04-19-57

Underpass-5-mcd.jpg

It's been done at Yale and Studemont before. The only problem I see with it, besides the construction making me take an alternate route to and from work, would be making room if side lanes are necessary to access the shopping centers, which I would imagine they would be. I think, as the innerloop continues to get denser, either the tracks will need to be abandoned or a tunnel will need to be built.

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You're comparing apples to oranges... grapes to watermelons

Look at the villa maria site plan in the link you posted... then go to google maps and look at the westheimer intersection.

Scale and context of the two locations is night and day.

We know what underpasses look like.. we have them all over the city. Whether the westheimer location is a good candidate for an underpass is certainly something that can be debated.. but for you to highlight essentially a rural underpass as backup for why an underpass would work in a dense urban setting is ridiculous.

Edited by Highway6
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You're comparing apples to oranges... grapes to watermelons

Look at the villa maria site plan in the link you posted... then go to google maps and look at the westheimer intersection.

Scale and context of the two locations is night and day.

We know what underpasses look like.. we have them all over the city. Whether the westheimer location is a good candidate for an underpass is certainly something that can be debated.. but for you to highlight essentially a rural underpass as backup for why an underpass would work in a dense urban setting is ridiculous.

Have you ever been to that intersection (Villa Maria @ Wellborn)? Its not rural at all. And the image that Google maps shows of it is at least 3 years old. I was just comparing the area to Westheimer because I wanted to know if the city was planning any kind of separation for that Westheimer, because I have seen how bad it gets backed up when a train comes through. The reason the city of Bryan did it was because traffic was backing up so bad and it was slowing emergency vehicles from getting to locations on the other side. It just seems kind of crazy that on a major road like Westheimer in the 4th largest city in America still has railroad crossings.

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Have you ever been to that intersection (Villa Maria @ Wellborn)? Its not rural at all. And the image that Google maps shows of it is at least 3 years old. I was just comparing the area to Westheimer because I wanted to know if the city was planning any kind of separation for that Westheimer, because I have seen how bad it gets backed up when a train comes through. The reason the city of Bryan did it was because traffic was backing up so bad and it was slowing emergency vehicles from getting to locations on the other side. It just seems kind of crazy that on a major road like Westheimer in the 4th largest city in America still has railroad crossings.

Again, they've retrofitted an underpass at Studemont, Yale and now that I think about it, Houston Ave. Studemont stays busy, but neither Yale nor Houston really warrant the underpasses, so economics and traffic flow are probably not the biggest reasons for getting this done. I can't fathom why Yale has the underpass, but neither Heights Blvd, Durham nor Shepherd have it. Also (and again now that I think about it), if they were to build any tunnels from the Galleria area to the innerloop bypassing the train tracks, it would make much more sense to do it on Richmond and San Felipe. There's already considerably less traffic that would be displaced by the construction, and the land is considerably less congested with development currently. But, if this wasn't built on all three roads, including Westheimer, I could foresee the residential neighborhoods separating the streets would become high speed racing paths as impatient people would try to avoid waiting by taking the backroads to get around the train. There is no good solution unless it's a complete solution.

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Have you ever been to that intersection (Villa Maria @ Wellborn)? Its not rural at all. And the image that Google maps shows of it is at least 3 years old. I was just comparing the area to Westheimer because I wanted to know if the city was planning any kind of separation for that Westheimer..

I lived in BCS for over 5 years including less than a 500' from the intersection in question for one summer.

'Rural' may have been an exaggeration, but there is no intersection in BCS with the minimal ROW and surrounding density combination of the westheimer intersection in question.

Wellborn, Finfeather, and the RR combine for a ROW of 300'. VillaMaria, at this intersection is next to a city owned golf course, and they have chipped away from the city land to increase the Villa Maria ROW to almost 200'.

Compared to Westheimer having a ROW of about 60-65' and the RR having a ROW of 100'.

90% of the residential development at that Villa Maria intersection wasn't there 10 yrs ago. All the development that has gone up is typical suburban development with access roads well isolated from the intersection of the two major ROWs.

Compared to Westheimer that has commerical access 50' from the tracks.

You could have just contributed to the existing threads on grade separation at that intersection. Starting a brand new thread to compare two intersections that have a difference in ROW by 2-3x, and significant differences in surrounding land density, use, and access is asinine.

Edited by Highway6
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Link to Chronicle article about a study on area railroad crossings

To calculate benefits, the study looked at costs an overpass or closure would eliminate. Those costs include delays for motorists waiting for a train to pass, the resulting emissions, the fuel wasted by idling engines and the costs to motorists involved in collisions...

.....Those who have waited for a train to pass on
Westheimer near the upscale Highland Village
shopping area may be interested to learn that crossing
ranked only 38th in ratio of benefits to cost
from adding an overpass.

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Have you ever been to that intersection (Villa Maria @ Wellborn)? Its not rural at all. And the image that Google maps shows of it is at least 3 years old. I was just comparing the area to Westheimer because I wanted to know if the city was planning any kind of separation for that Westheimer, because I have seen how bad it gets backed up when a train comes through. The reason the city of Bryan did it was because traffic was backing up so bad and it was slowing emergency vehicles from getting to locations on the other side. It just seems kind of crazy that on a major road like Westheimer in the 4th largest city in America still has railroad crossings.

We're big enough to have emergency vehicles on both sides of our railroad crossings.

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Lots of cities are replacing their at-grade crossings with underpasses. Canadian National Railroad recently bought a big regional railroad in Chicago. In order to get the towns involved to approve (and thus win Federal Railroad Administration approval) CN had to agree to build overpasses at a bunch of intersections.

My understanding of the law is that the railroads are under no ordinary obligation to build over/underpasses. The railroads have legal priority, and the roadway is technically the interloper.

Also, the big logistical challenge isn't keeping the cars moving, it's keeping the trains moving.

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Lots of cities are replacing their at-grade crossings with underpasses. Canadian National Railroad recently bought a big regional railroad in Chicago. In order to get the towns involved to approve (and thus win Federal Railroad Administration approval) CN had to agree to build overpasses at a bunch of intersections.

My understanding of the law is that the railroads are under no ordinary obligation to build over/underpasses. The railroads have legal priority, and the roadway is technically the interloper.

Also, the big logistical challenge isn't keeping the cars moving, it's keeping the trains moving.

Redscare, we now have them on both sides.

Editor, do you see railroad track crossings in Chicago city limits like in Houston? Any other cities this size?

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Los Angeles has a corridor that goes all the way from the port to the west side of town, this corridor is underground, but uncovered.

Houston should take a look at this, and choose a few of the freight lines that are heavily trafficked in heavily populated areas and consider this.

Not only do the trains get to go like 55mph through residential areas, and cars don't have to stop. I'm sure they've considered this as a possibility though.

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Nope. Not gonna work. Having seen the Villa Maria overpass...it was a mess. They had to move the tracks, cut off businesses from good access (how the Citgo on Finfeather continues to exist eludes me). They also had to move the road, which was convenient for Villa Maria (a kind of run-down golf course was on one side) but no so much for Westheimer (it would require major demolition of homes and businesses). The only other method is to close off the area all together, which will seriously inconvenience people for years to come (the overpass at Harvey Mitchell in C.S. is bad enough, I know inconvenience).

Yeah, the aerial photo is about three years old.

Oh, and citykid: for "dangerous railroad intersections" in College Station/Bryan, check out West 27th Street. Wow.

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Redscare, we now have them on both sides.

Editor, do you see railroad track crossings in Chicago city limits like in Houston? Any other cities this size?

Yeah, I see them in lots of cities. They're just a fact of life. Railroads built the cities, people moved in and found themselves next to the railroads. Growing pains. In fact, I'd say Houston has a lot fewer problem freight lines than most cities I've been to, especially when you include the suburbs.

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Here is a side branch to this thread.

How about putting the Pierce Elevated underground, a la Boston's Big Dig? I would cost a ton of money, which would all be phoney since it could be stimulus money, and it would probably flood 2 to 3 times a year, but what the hell.

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How about putting the Pierce Elevated underground, a la Boston's Big Dig? I would cost a ton of money, which would all be phoney since it could be stimulus money, and it would probably flood 2 to 3 times a year, but what the hell.

And mess up all our scenic drive-by views and covered parking ??

There's a whole thread on this... knock yourself out.

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Los Angeles has a corridor that goes all the way from the port to the west side of town, this corridor is underground, but uncovered.

Houston should take a look at this, and choose a few of the freight lines that are heavily trafficked in heavily populated areas and consider this.

Not only do the trains get to go like 55mph through residential areas, and cars don't have to stop. I'm sure they've considered this as a possibility though.

They could do something like that, but they'd have to shut down that section and reroute while the digging is done, then there is a matter of potential flooding. With a little contingency planning I'm sure they can work around the matter, along with some healthy pumps. The Railroad is fanatical about construction speed, so I would imagine the whole thing can be done relatively quickly once the engineering is done.

Rerouting would involve cutting it off from near Washington @ I-10 to Main street @ Holmes Rd, which is a healthy reroute through the east side and THAT route is already clogged. From what I've been able to see, the nearest turn to the north is in RICHMOND up to Katy, and I gave up from there. Once I saw that, I realize why the railroad would NEVER give up that stretch of roadway.

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Alternatively, we could abandon the whole stretch altogether, but that a host of problems on its own (increase travel times and fuel usage for trains, increase railroad traffic, etc.). Ignoring those problems, we'd have a great right-of-way for light rail and bikes.

Considering that trains move about 80% of everything in this country, you'd gain bike trails, but have to get used to empty store shelves.

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Considering that trains move about 80% of everything in this country, you'd gain bike trails, but have to get used to empty store shelves.

Well, of course. I don't want to abandon railroad tracks and was merely noting that in a semi-idealistic world, we'd abandon that segment. That and lower the Houston temperature by about 15°, on average. :rolleyes:

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  • 3 years later...

Alternatively, how about putting the rail line in a trench?  It will probably never happen, for various reasons.  But, it seems like it would be an aesthetically attractive solution if the owners of the tracks would agree and some entity (dunno who) would cover the cost.  The main technical problem I see would be how to dig a trench in the limited right-of-way while allowing the rail traffic to continue during construction.

 

Different topic:  now that they (Harris Co. Flood Control District?) have replaced the adjacent ditch with a buried culvert, there is now some additional ground space that runs parallel to the train tracks.  I wonder if it could be put to use in some way, like a bike trail.

 

 

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Can't do an underpass on Westheimer due to the flood control stuff (which they have been working to box and cover for the last year).  Could do an overpass, though would wreck the feel of Highland village.  As an example of the up & down distance required, check out this study for the 1960 rail over/under pass up north (just east of 249)... specifically Exhibits A and E.

 

It's a good question though... maybe easier on Richmond?  it looks like there is extra ROW on the east side of the tracks.

 

http://www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/projects/studies/houston/fm1960-bnsf-exhibits.html

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The only situation that would not hurt the retail close to the tracks would be moving the line below grade. Creating a bridge over would help ease the through traffic but not the vehicles immediately turning left or right on the east side of the line. The same if the road went under the line.

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  • 8 months later...

Why wouldn't a rail underpass work here?  I would think a sunken rail here - with park space atop would be a plus for River Oaks, Highland Village, Westheimer and every where else.  Perhaps THIS should be Houston's "big dig" - rather than some far fetched (though interesting and doable) I-45 tunnel between I-10 and I-69 @ Downtown.

Edited by arche_757
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I like the idea of trenching the RR, tho' I don't know how easy it would be now that the adjacent drainage canal is trenched.   However, I'm sure the RR would not want to pay for it and I doubt the taxpayers would want to pay the whole cost, either.  So, as much as I hate to say it, I expect we'll be stuck in the usual Houston conundrum ... i.e., we'll suffer through it, and after decades, we'll wish we had bitten the bullet and done it now.

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Its weird that I can't find any images of it online other then this, but here is what the Villa Maria/Welbron Road/Rail Road crossing looks like. Its not the best image, but it give you an idea of what can be done at Westheimer and the train crossing.

design01.jpg

 

 

If a city the size of Bryan can do it, why can't Houston on its premier street?

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A lot of reasons. I've driven under that Villa Maria underpass many, many times. For one, there was generous right of way for a detour on the road and rail part, with the detour Villa Maria on the golf course. Explain how that could be done on Westheimer without major ROW demolition.

 

Secondly, the railroad there parallels a recently closed-in drainage ditch, something that could make an underpass problematic at best.

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Ah... Afton Oaks.  Screwing themselves over since the 1980s.  How unfortunate if they actually did fight to keep the rail from being lowered!  Why?  Why would they fight against that?  I just don't understand it.  Now there will always be a big, loud, potentially dangerous (remember the chemical spill near West U about a decade ago?) train track on grade with most of the homes in that neighborhood.

 

A shame.

 

It can still be trenched, though I suspect the costs would be a lot higher than in the 80s.

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For some reason Afton Oaks has always been against anything to improve mobility. One thing I remember them saying was they were afraid it would increase traffic without the train to stop people approx 28-32 times a day.

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They will get what they asked for.  Afton Oaks will be surrounded by mid rises and high rises.  They did not want the light rail, so thank Culberson.  They should of have overpasses at Westheimer, San Felipe, and Richmond.  Now they are squired in.  Within 10 years the population will be almost 5 hundred thousands within 10 miles.  I'm happy I live in Upper Kirby District.  I walk everywhere no need to drive.  Everyone will drive through Afton Oaks because of the traffic.   

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If the idea were to build an underpass under the tracks, is it not the case now that the required length of approach ramps would cut off much of the new developments from traffic on Westheimer?  Not only residents in Afton Oaks, but wouldn't developers also fight to stop an underpass?  Besides, having cars stuck in traffic presents an opportunity for bored passengers to inspect the nearby shopping opportunities.  I can easily see a convergence of interests to ever do anything along here.

 

 

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If the idea were to build an underpass under the tracks, is it not the case now that the required length of approach ramps would cut off much of the new developments from traffic on Westheimer?  Not only residents in Afton Oaks, but wouldn't developers also fight to stop an underpass?  Besides, having cars stuck in traffic presents an opportunity for bored passengers to inspect the nearby shopping opportunities.  I can easily see a convergence of interests to ever do anything along here.

 

An underpass for the train.  Not the cars.  At least that's what I'm curious about.

 

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An underpass for the train.  Not the cars.  At least that's what I'm curious about.

 

The drainage ditch complicates things. If it were completely removed and not just open for years and recently covered over, then it would worth be discussing. That or moving the tracks (which is why a "median in 610" would've been pretty swell had they been able to implement that).

 

The "comparison", a sunken intersection of two farm to market roads, has two things that this doesn't: some ROW to spare, and no water connections.

 

Finfeather and the connection road not withstanding, the fact that the area to the north was a golf course was a good thing (you can see where the detour road went). You cannot do a railroad project ANYWHERE along that railroad corridor without some ROW demolition.

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Ok.  So... that leaves a tunnel option for the vehicular traffic.  Put the tunnel entrance heading west at Edloe Street, place the exit a 1000' east of Chimney Rock.  Traffic problems for people wanting to travel through that area without intentions of stopping would be eliminated.  Thoughts on that idea?

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Ok.  So... that leaves a tunnel option for the vehicular traffic.  Put the tunnel entrance heading west at Edloe Street, place the exit a 1000' east of Chimney Rock.  Traffic problems for people wanting to travel through that area without intentions of stopping would be eliminated.  Thoughts on that idea?

So, a giant tunnel bypassing not only the rail but also the Galleria area and 610 as well? That sounds like a bit much.

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Yep.  Think of it as a pass-through for buses and through traffic.  It is a bit much (I realize), but it would ease traffic congestion in that area.

 

Since all of this is hypothetical any way - why not envision something grand?  Why not tunnel under some of the most heavily congested areas in Houston to alleviate traffic issues when that is absolutely possible?  Since the option of building a road overpass tall enough to clear the train tracks would be an eyesore and cause additional traffic headaches, why not tunnel below?  There wouldn't need to be any road closures (except at the tunnel entrances) and the retail in the area wouldn't be harmed by construction and the visual blight of a big TexDot style road overpass (replete with Texas states stamped into the pre-cast concrete).

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That would muck with a "Westheimer subway" but whatevs.  :)

 

I was thinking in more in-line with those other 1960s-style underpasses you'll occasionally see in Houston (Medical Center and areas around it) where you have a few lanes intersecting with the road with some lanes going under.

 

Maybe starting just east of Suffolk (two lanes descending, two lanes remaining), then re-emerging on the other side of Mid Lane.

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^eventually a traffic lane could be taken and used for lightrail?

 

I moved the distances back so far on this tunnel because I don't want to have any issues with the major retail centers that are around and under construction.

 

I think Mid Lane and Suffolk as the entrances to the underpass would be ok. 

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^I would do the opposite I think.  2 lanes sunken, with 1 lane for the shopping center traffic not much different from major "life style" centers these days any way.

 

Though I don't know if there is room?  Maybe a 1 lane (each way) sunken portion, and a 1 lane ground portion (each way) with widened sidewalks and landscaping - though I don't know if going to a 4 lane road here from a 5/6 lane road would be good?

 

I know how tight things are in this area with traffic - hence my suggestion for a larger/longer tunnel option.

Edited by arche_757
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So a great conversation in this thread! I love it :) It's great that I stumbled upon this forum and see people just as passionate about the built environment. I was beginning to go crazy lol. Ok anyway......westheimer.

 

Historically, Westheimer for some strange reason has always received very little attention in regards to its overall infrastructure. It was always at the edge of two different areas and remains a demarcation between "River Oaks" and "Everything else" (till a better description comes to mind). It's a very strange case where a road is used as a main thoroughfare, but it neither reads or is treated as one by the city. Just notice how Westheimer is treated once you get inside the loop. It is neither celebrated, loved, or treated as a main thoroughfare into the city (when we all know it to be). My observation is because there are competing interests in how people think it should be handled, and I'm talking about who should be responsible for it.

 

Now the railroad tracks themselves. It's clear it was put there because nobody at the time wanted to do the work to divert the stream or creek which runs right beside it and has become the main stream that helps divert all drainage from this part of town to Buffalo Bayou! It seems the city could have fixed this a long time ago, but again no political will or city density to both divert the stream or trench the rail line near it.

 

Now we have this incredibly awkward condition with a road that is vastly overused/deteriorated yet is a main thoroughfare into the city (but oddly not treated as such by the city), an underground stream that is vital to draining water from this part of town that nobody was willing to fix pre-densification, and a very inefficiently used rail that would be hard for the city to take back now since the costs would be astronomical. Thats the current situation.

 

The result will be that this current generation that is in power in all parties will not have the political will to fix this and will most likely fall on the lap of my generation or the generation after that (like most problems in this city and country) to bite the built and fix it.

 

First you would have to divert the stream! That is very important and should be done first. You wouldn't even be able to trench the railroad or even build underpasses for the roads anyway before accomplishing this.

 

Second, by the time this major project will HAVE to be done I would hope we are also building commuter rail or multiple layers of rail in this city and this rail line through this part of town would be a major line for a commuter rail with a central hub station probably in the area of Westheimer. You would trench the whole thing and move it below grade while also installing multiple rail tracks and stations (probably a hub at Westheimer and smaller ones at San Felipe and Richmond.

 

Third will be to have streets at level grade passing over this new trenched rail line. With the rail line also below grade you can now build separate pedestrian bridges to improve connectivity on both sides.

 

Fourth, will be to completely redo Westheimer from the loop till 527. You would widen it as much as possible. Have either BRT or lightrail in the middle (connected with the new hub mentioned before). Entirely re-imagined streetscape/sidewalks and clear signage/graphics creating a sense of place for that whole district kinda like how they do it in Uptown.

 

Finally, a place where I can unload thoughts I have had circling my mind for a long time now lol. Just an opinion, but I think it could work. You have to establish some kind of political will first and most likely grab investment from the private sector as our taxes in this city are so low we would never be able to afford stuff like this as a city gov. alone!

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Luminare, I agree with you about the problem of political will - though that's not just a Houston problem, though we certainly have the whole "good for bidness" mantra.  We've had thirty years plus of either outright tax cuts or erosion by failing to keep pace with inflation, a prime example of which is the gas tax which in constant terms collects about half of what it did the last time it was raised roughly twenty years ago, and infrastructure rotting left and right.  You are also correct that this will have to be dealt with sooner or later, and that waiting is likely to be expensive.  That is in effect a huge tax increase for our children, all because there are a bunch of people who can't seem to distinguish between spending and investment.

 

 

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