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How would you spend $350 million?


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I was reading through the Chronicle and there was an article linking to a survey asking for opinions of how you use funds for the Grand Parkway expansion. I didn't see this elsewhere, but please merge if this is already a topic.

http://www.houstontomorrow.org/initiatives/story/how-would-you-spend-350-million/

An excerpt:

"Let’s say you found $350 million and wanted to do a great transportation project for the Houston region. Would you build a 400-foot-wide 15-mile segment of new highway across the Katy Prairie where almost no one lives or works in order to enable a lot of new sprawl development? Or would you build new commuter rail service on the tracks paralleling US 290 to serve nearly a million people today?"

There is also contact information for TxDOT officials and information on a public meeting on transportation improvements.

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I would spend $350 million on a 400-foot-wide 15-mile segment of new highway across the Katy Prairie where almost no one lives or works in order to enable a lot of new sprawl development because more people will use it in the long run, especially after it connects Sugarland to Kingwood.

I want the rail too. But, that segment of the GP is ready to go NOW. People will still be fighting over the rail along 290 10 years from now. Now is the time to build that segment of the GP. It has taken 50 years to get to this point and I don't want any johnny come lately's to push it back because rail is more hip these days.

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I would spend $350 million on a 400-foot-wide 15-mile segment of new highway across the Katy Prairie where almost no one lives or works in order to enable a lot of new sprawl development because more people will use it in the long run, especially after it connects Sugarland to Kingwood.

I want the rail too. But, that segment of the GP is ready to go NOW. People will still be fighting over the rail along 290 10 years from now. Now is the time to build that segment of the GP. It has taken 50 years to get to this point and I don't want any johnny come lately's to push it back because rail is more hip these days.

I would definitely use either one. I travel downtown on 290, but I also have to go to Katy from the Tomball area a lot. Anyway, I'm more in favor of the rail at this point. Plus, I don't have much issue with using Katy-Hockley Road when I need to get to Katy.

Edited by The Pragmatist
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Personally, I think there is still plenty of space for higher-density infill without trampling over a valuable ecological area. So yes, rail to assist existing corridors would definitely be preferable, along with preserving what little remains of our regional coastal prairies and avoiding more exurban sprawl. High capacity transit was proposed for the Hempstead Tollway, but I don't believe it's been approved yet.

Edited by barracuda
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"Let’s say you found $350 million and wanted to do a great transportation project for the Houston region. Would you build a 400-foot-wide 15-mile segment of new highway across the Katy Prairie where almost no one lives or works in order to enable a lot of new sprawl development? Or would you build new commuter rail service on the tracks paralleling US 290 to serve nearly a million people today?"

No.

Neither project is worthwhile at the current time. We're getting waaaay ahead of ourselves by building Segment E of the Grand Parkway as well as by pitching ideas for commuter rail.

Not that we shouldn't have a long-run plan. I'd spend the money to establish easements for future transportation projects so that they are in place long before before rural areas get built up. This would allow current property owners to continue putting their land to productive use (for a while) but would prevent them from building stuff that would only have to be bought back and demolished later...or routed around circuituitously.

These expenditures in the here and now would allow for a more rapid, politically-achievable, and lower-cost implementation of infrastructure in outlying areas on an as-needed basis, going forward.

I suppose, as runner-ups, I'd like to see the Alvin Freeway and Segments F-1, F-2, and G of the Grand Parkway get built sooner than later. I'd also like for the Fort Bend Parkway to get extended from US 90A to the 610 Loop.

EDIT: Crossley's article also whines about non sequitor items such as that Exxon's campus will be in an unincorporated part of the County; he doesn't seem to realize that the City of Houston will annex it almost immediately once there's decent taxable value like they do to 99% of all other commercial properties in that area. He whines that the Grand Parkway doesn't touch tiny municipalities; he doesn't care that it traverses a swath of north and northwest Harris County that has about one and a half million residents. To be credible, the guy needs to be less overtly full of ____.

Edited by TheNiche
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The *key* difference is that the GP will generate a toll revenue stream to pay for itself - or at least some substantial portion of itself. Rail not only will eat all of the money, it will then require ongoing operational subsidies year after year.

There are definitely plenty of transportation projects that would be more helpful to the region, but they don't generate enough toll revenue (like the 290 Hempstead Tollway). Early lesson learned by HCTRA: tollways with no good alternatives like Beltway 8 generate big $, while ones with free parallel options (like Hardy vs. 45 and 59) lose money overall. So, from a financial perspective, this is why the GP is so attractive and moving forward so quickly.

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EDIT: Crossley's article also whines about non sequitor items such as that Exxon's campus will be in an unincorporated part of the County; he doesn't seem to realize that the City of Houston will annex it almost immediately once there's decent taxable value like they do to 99% of all other commercial properties in that area. He whines that the Grand Parkway doesn't touch tiny municipalities; he doesn't care that it traverses a swath of north and northwest Harris County that has about one and a half million residents. To be credible, the guy needs to be less overtly full of ____.

He's simply pandering to his audience. When complaining, it is much more attractive to a certain demographic to tie the offending project to an evil multi-national corporation, which will then garner you automatic support for your point of view. For instance, mention Exxon while complaining about useless toll roads, or mention Walmart when complaining about infrastructure improvements. The most amusing statement was that Harris County officials are ecstatic that Exxon is moving out of the City of Houston into un-incorporated Harris County. Umm...what county is downtown Houston in, boss?

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The *key* difference is that the GP will generate a toll revenue stream to pay for itself - or at least some substantial portion of itself. Rail not only will eat all of the money, it will then require ongoing operational subsidies year after year.

Using tax dollars to build a road that will then charge a toll to use is "different" from using tax dollars to build a rail line that will then charge a fare to use?

Perhaps in your world. Not in mine. If this toll road is such a moneymaker, let HCTRA build it. And, if it is such a money maker, let them build it without tax dollars. They can borrow on the projected income of the tolls. Then we can have both a toll road and a commuter rail.

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He's simply pandering to his audience. When complaining, it is much more attractive to a certain demographic to tie the offending project to an evil multi-national corporation, which will then garner you automatic support for your point of view. For instance, mention Exxon while complaining about useless toll roads, or mention Walmart when complaining about infrastructure improvements. The most amusing statement was that Harris County officials are ecstatic that Exxon is moving out of the City of Houston into un-incorporated Harris County. Umm...what county is downtown Houston in, boss?

Yeah, I read back through several of Crossley's blog posts afterward. He wrote one lengthy post in an attempt to pin this particular drought on global warming. He's either one of the folks that doesn't understand the difference between weather and climate or he's pandering to an audience of partisan zealots. Probably the latter, since his nonprofit seems to be well-off enough without it having to ever accomplish anything.

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Using tax dollars to build a road that will then charge a toll to use is "different" from using tax dollars to build a rail line that will then charge a fare to use?

Perhaps in your world. Not in mine. If this toll road is such a moneymaker, let HCTRA build it. And, if it is such a money maker, let them build it without tax dollars. They can borrow on the projected income of the tolls. Then we can have both a toll road and a commuter rail.

HCTRA deferred to TXDOT to build it. They're choosing not to borrow to save the financing interest costs. A rail line would charge fares, but still lose plenty of money annually on an operating basis - the fares don't cover the costs of operating the train, much less building it in the first place. As each GP segment is built, it instantly becomes a cash generator well above its operating costs. TXDOT - and taxpayers - will benefit from that cash flow for decades to come.

The difference between the two is like choosing to invest your money in a dividend paying stock (toll road) or giving it to charity (rail).

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The *key* difference is that the GP will generate a toll revenue stream to pay for itself - or at least some substantial portion of itself. Rail not only will eat all of the money, it will then require ongoing operational subsidies year after year.

Are you forgetting the fact that millions if not billions (of taxpayer money) will be spent expanding this toll way in the future?

Edited by mfastx
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HCTRA deferred to TXDOT to build it. They're choosing not to borrow to save the financing interest costs. A rail line would charge fares, but still lose plenty of money annually on an operating basis - the fares don't cover the costs of operating the train, much less building it in the first place. As each GP segment is built, it instantly becomes a cash generator well above its operating costs. TXDOT - and taxpayers - will benefit from that cash flow for decades to come.

The difference between the two is like choosing to invest your money in a dividend paying stock (toll road) or giving it to charity (rail).

Well, if I bought the stock, and then was forced to also pay the dividend, then it might be close to what you infer. The fact remains that in both cases, taxpayers put up the money to build the infrastructure, then must pay for the right to use what they just built. Because one is a highway, you find it to be a winner. As a taxpayer, I find both to be equal, except the rail line would be built in an area that actually needs it.

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Are you forgetting the fact that millions if not billions (of taxpayer money) will be spent expanding this toll way in the future?

It will be expanded as needed to meet demand, but more demand = more toll revenue to cover the costs of expansion. Beltway 8 has been very profitable for HCTRA, even beyond the costs they've been spending to expand it.

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Well, if I bought the stock, and then was forced to also pay the dividend, then it might be close to what you infer. The fact remains that in both cases, taxpayers put up the money to build the infrastructure, then must pay for the right to use what they just built. Because one is a highway, you find it to be a winner. As a taxpayer, I find both to be equal, except the rail line would be built in an area that actually needs it.

Well, of course people have to pay to use a rail line too. And, in actuality, I'm guessing you don't live out there and won't be paying many GP tolls, so it is a lot like buying a stock and having others pay a dividend to you. That dividend can then be reinvested in other options - inc. transit. You say rail - I'd say a better HOV/HOT network with decentralized commuter express bus service from all neighborhoods to all job centers.

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Well, of course people have to pay to use a rail line too. And, in actuality, I'm guessing you don't live out there and won't be paying many GP tolls, so it is a lot like buying a stock and having others pay a dividend to you.

Hence, my statement that they are equal. I do not live in Cypress, either.

By the way, I do not subscribe to the theory that a government policy that only screws others rather than myself is acceptable. I left the GOP in 1993.

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Hence, my statement that they are equal. I do not live in Cypress, either.

By the way, I do not subscribe to the theory that a government policy that only screws others rather than myself is acceptable. I left the GOP in 1993.

Toll payers are not getting screwed. They're being offered a service they did not have before that they can choose to use or not.

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Neither are rail users being screwed. They are being offered a service they did not have before that they can choose to use or not. And, like the toll road users, the rail infrastructure was installed with taxpayer dollars. Ergo, there is no difference between a toll road built with tax dollars and a rail system built with tax dollars...except for the fact that toll road users also pay tax on the gasoline they use to drive the toll road they paid a toll to enter that was built with taxpayer dollars.

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People, please...

Why are we allowing this douchey Chron blogger to falsely bifurcate an argument?

The issue should not be framed as whether we want this or we want that with $350 million. It should be, how should the money get spent? Here are a couple of crappy ideas (commuter rail and segment E). What are your ideas?

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Neither are rail users being screwed. They are being offered a service they did not have before that they can choose to use or not. And, like the toll road users, the rail infrastructure was installed with taxpayer dollars. Ergo, there is no difference between a toll road built with tax dollars and a rail system built with tax dollars...except for the fact that toll road users also pay tax on the gasoline they use to drive the toll road they paid a toll to enter that was built with taxpayer dollars.

Big difference: the toll road pays for itself and may even generate a profit, the rail line is all loss.

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Big difference: the toll road pays for itself and may even generate a profit, the rail line is all loss.

Given that several of HCTRA's toll roads are supported by the Beltway 8 tolls, it is not the least bit guaranteed that this new segment pays for itself. But, I do understand that pro-highway advocates often throw the myth out there that toll roads always pay for themselves, so I am not surprised to see this unsupported statement posted as fact.

And, Niche is correct. Neither of these options is ideal. There are other transportation uses for that $350 million. Some of them might even be useful.

Edited by RedScare
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I don't think he's a Chron person. The article in question was published by the Gulf Coast Institute.

He's one of their unpaid bloggers. Just look at the url. And he changed the name of his organization to "Houston Tomorrow".

http://blog.chron.com/thelist/2011/05/how-would-you-spent-350000000/

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Given that several of HCTRA's toll roads are supported by the Beltway 8 tolls, it is not the least bit guaranteed that this new segment pays for itself. But, I do understand that pro-highway advocates often throw the myth out there that toll roads always pay for themselves, so I am not surprised to see this unsupported statement posted as fact.

And, Niche is correct. Neither of these options is ideal. There are other transportation uses for that $350 million. Some of them might even be useful.

By all means, it is not guaranteed. Demand models have an error range. But even if it ultimately can't completely cover its $350m cost, you still end up with a very cheap freeway on a net cost basis. The Hardy toll road may have lost money overall, but it was definitely a much cheaper addition of capacity (on a net basis after tolls) than expanding 45N. There is no scenario where the rail line doesn't use the full $350m - and probably a lot more.

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But even if it ultimately can't completely cover its $350m cost, you still end up with a very cheap freeway on a net cost basis.

No. Bad! The benefit of transportation infrastructure is derived from its use, not on account of that it is there.

Regardless of who has shouldered the burden of paying for it, its total cost to society (of whom its users are a part) must be included in an intellectually honest cost-benefit analysis.

(And don't get me wrong, I like toll roads. If I had my way, every freeway and major thoroughfare would be converted to a toll road so as to allow the metropolitan area to enjoy the benefits of congestion pricing. The vast additional revenues being generated would simply replace other forms of taxation dollar-for-dollar.)

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I like toll roads, too. I also like trains. Not that what I like matters. What I do NOT like is intellectual dishonesty. And claims that there is a difference between toll roads built with taxpayer money (as opposed to the tolls) and commuter rail also built with taxpayer money (instead of the fares) is intellectually dishonest. Ideology does that to people.

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I like toll roads, too. I also like trains. Not that what I like matters. What I do NOT like is intellectual dishonesty. And claims that there is a difference between toll roads built with taxpayer money (as opposed to the tolls) and commuter rail also built with taxpayer money (instead of the fares) is intellectually dishonest. Ideology does that to people.

Yeah, sort of like the intellectual dishonesty of pretending there is no difference between toll roads built with taxpayer money (that will be paid back by collecting tolls) and commuter rail also built with taxpayer money (but will almost certainly never collect enough fares to cover operating costs, let alone construction and capital investment).

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If that were the case, yes. The tolls will not go toward paying back the $350 million. They will go to other projects.

And. . . ??? That is just silly. It is not structured as a loan, so there is no "pay back". So what. The money will still be returned to the state via tolls and will be available for other projects. Not so if the money is spent on commuter rail. Intellectual dishonesty indeed.

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No.

Not that we shouldn't have a long-run plan. I'd spend the money to establish easements for future transportation projects so that they are in place long before before rural areas get built up. This would allow current property owners to continue putting their land to productive use (for a while) but would prevent them from building stuff that would only have to be bought back and demolished later...or routed around circuituitously.

These expenditures in the here and now would allow for a more rapid, politically-achievable, and lower-cost implementation of infrastructure in outlying areas on an as-needed basis, going forward.

West Belt between I-10 and 59, and maybe more, was built mostly on ROW that had been owned for years. I remember when they started cutting the trees to build the road in the 80's

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And. . . ??? That is just silly. It is not structured as a loan, so there is no "pay back".

Thank you. I've been stressing this point all day. Not which is better. Not which will make money. Only that they are the same financing mechanism. I appreciate you emphasizing that point for me.

I'm bored. You can have this thread.

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Thank you. I've been stressing this point all day. Not which is better. Not which will make money. Only that they are the same financing mechanism. I appreciate you emphasizing that point for me.

I'm bored. You can have this thread.

LOL. How thoughtful you to provide us with a demonstration of a couple additional forms of intellectual dishonesty.

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It will be expanded as needed to meet demand, but more demand = more toll revenue to cover the costs of expansion. Beltway 8 has been very profitable for HCTRA, even beyond the costs they've been spending to expand it.

Well why would we need federal funds to pay for something that supposedly will be profitable?

One could argue that if a commuter rail system along 290 was in place decades ago there would be no need to spend billions (of taxpayer money) expanding 290. So putting commuter rail along 290 now might be able to prevent the need to expand 290 again (and therefore spending billions more of taxpayer money) 20-30 years from now.

Edited by mfastx
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No. Bad! The benefit of transportation infrastructure is derived from its use, not on account of that it is there.

Regardless of who has shouldered the burden of paying for it, its total cost to society (of whom its users are a part) must be included in an intellectually honest cost-benefit analysis.

(And don't get me wrong, I like toll roads. If I had my way, every freeway and major thoroughfare would be converted to a toll road so as to allow the metropolitan area to enjoy the benefits of congestion pricing. The vast additional revenues being generated would simply replace other forms of taxation dollar-for-dollar.)

Well, flipping that around, if total revenue earned by the investment indicates value to society (i.e. what people are willing to pay reflects how valuable they find it), the toll road swamps out the rail fares.

Agree on total toll road conversion, but it won't happen - the political backlash would be too great.

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Well why would we need federal funds to pay for something that supposedly will be profitable?

Good question. The original plan was to let private operators build and run toll roads, but that generated a lot of political backlash. So we're back to the state building them, which puts the taxpayer at greater risk.

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Well, flipping that around, if total revenue earned by the investment indicates value to society (i.e. what people are willing to pay reflects how valuable they find it), the toll road swamps out the rail fares.

No. Bad! :lol: I like saying that to minor local celebrities.

You're forgetting about consumer surplus.

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I like toll roads, too. I also like trains. Not that what I like matters. What I do NOT like is intellectual dishonesty. And claims that there is a difference between toll roads built with taxpayer money (as opposed to the tolls) and commuter rail also built with taxpayer money (instead of the fares) is intellectually dishonest. Ideology does that to people.

Agreed. I think the main intellectually dishonest assumption here is the idea that a toll road will necessarily be profitable, or that rail will necessarily lose money. I see no inherent reason why rail is destined to lose money, or any inherent reason why tolls would always be profitable. To me, the profit or loss would be based more on 1) quality of service, 2) the necessity of service, and 3) whether the provider of the service cares about profitability (many governments probably don't necessarily care too much if they are running some programs that lose money, as long as they are providing a public good).

Personally, I would much rather see the $350 million go towards local road improvements inside Beltway 8, and rail studies / development of commuter rail options in the Houston area.

Also - just wondering - is the Grand Parkway extension actually projected to be profitable? If Beltway 8 is the only profitable toll road in Houston, then it seems like Grand Parkway would probably not be projected to turn a profit for quite some time.

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Agreed. I think the main intellectually dishonest assumption here is the idea that a toll road will necessarily be profitable, or that rail will necessarily lose money. I see no inherent reason why rail is destined to lose money, or any inherent reason why tolls would always be profitable. To me, the profit or loss would be based more on 1) quality of service, 2) the necessity of service, and 3) whether the provider of the service cares about profitability (many governments probably don't necessarily care too much if they are running some programs that lose money, as long as they are providing a public good).

Personally, I would much rather see the $350 million go towards local road improvements inside Beltway 8, and rail studies / development of commuter rail options in the Houston area.

Also - just wondering - is the Grand Parkway extension actually projected to be profitable? If Beltway 8 is the only profitable toll road in Houston, then it seems like Grand Parkway would probably not be projected to turn a profit for quite some time.

It has always been my assumption that any infrastructure project is destined to loose money. The "job" of infrastructure is to provide a service (be it freeways, sewage, transportation) that is needed by people in that general area.

This is probably why people constantly whine about people spending money on a variety of projects as a waste of money.

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I was reading through the Chronicle and there was an article linking to a survey asking for opinions of how you use funds for the Grand Parkway expansion. I didn't see this elsewhere, but please merge if this is already a topic.

http://www.houstonto...nd-350-million/

An excerpt:

"Let’s say you found $350 million and wanted to do a great transportation project for the Houston region. Would you build a 400-foot-wide 15-mile segment of new highway across the Katy Prairie where almost no one lives or works in order to enable a lot of new sprawl development? Or would you build new commuter rail service on the tracks paralleling US 290 to serve nearly a million people today?"

There is also contact information for TxDOT officials and information on a public meeting on transportation improvements.

My answer: Buses. Right now, it's pretty easy to get an express bus from almost anywhere in Houston to Downtown. But if you're trying to get somewhere other than downtown, it's a lot more difficult. We could fix that.

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It has always been my assumption that any infrastructure project is destined to loose money. The "job" of infrastructure is to provide a service (be it freeways, sewage, transportation) that is needed by people in that general area.

This is probably why people constantly whine about people spending money on a variety of projects as a waste of money.

Not so. Infrastructure is often a natural monopoly, regulated or made public only because it would be a ridiculously profitable cash cow if one unregulated entity controlled it.

Think about the crappy customer service that you get from Centerpoint Energy or the City's water department...pretty much "because they can." There's no alternative for the consumer, thus no need for them to try harder. Now imagine if they had control of pricing, too!

Now consider that roads are different from a sewer system. There are alternative routes. Lots of them. And although toll roads perform just okay on average at present, that's only because free alternatives are extremely difficult to compete with. If all freeways and major thoroughfares were toll roads, their revenue streams sold to the highest bidder (along with an operating contract to provide for repair, maintenance, and landscaping obligations, among others) and a right to add capacity to the easement if they believe it profitable, can you imagine the amount of construction that would be under way? I have to think that not only would our freeway congestion be eliminated within a matter of ten or fifteen years, but so would our surface street snags. And meanwhile, by selling these rights, our state and local taxing entities would have the funding to offset general taxation or pay for unfunded obligations.

Public tranportation is another matter. I'm fairly confident that privatization of roadways would ease congestion to such an extent as that transit potentials would be adversely impacted. What's left are people so poor that they cannot afford a car...which studies seem to indicate are made less poor if you just give them bare-bones economy cars rather than transit (the problem with transit being that employers don't consider it reliable transportation and that most employers are not convenient to transit).

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Personally, I see 290 as being super sucky, it has been for over 10 years, give an alternate and will people use it? IDK, if the GP is built will people decide to go live in that area when gas prices will likely never go down again? are houses really that cheap out there to offset the cost of commuting, even if it is to the energy corridor?

Big difference: the toll road pays for itself and may even generate a profit, the rail line is all loss.

I'm glad someone here can see into the future!

Yeah, sort of like the intellectual dishonesty of pretending there is no difference between toll roads built with taxpayer money (that will be paid back by collecting tolls) and commuter rail also built with taxpayer money (but will almost certainly never collect enough fares to cover operating costs, let alone construction and capital investment).

I think you have to calculate worth based on the number of users. if it is brought to you by the state, EVERYONE pays regardless of what happens after the fact. so how much use do people get out of it?

Edited by samagon
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Dallas is putting a deck over Woodall Rodgers, so I don't see why Houston couldn't do the same with 288.

Near the interchange, I quite agree. Would make for some interesting views below.

I'd like to see the construction plans on how to do it. It would be an engineer's nightmare to complete.

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I think you have to calculate worth based on the number of users. if it is brought to you by the state, EVERYONE pays regardless of what happens after the fact. so how much use do people get out of it?

Well, according to HCTRA's FY 2010 financial statements, their annual traffic count is 371,245,774 vehicles. Figuring for multi-occupant vehicles (let's assume 1.8 people on average), that's 668,242,393 rider-equivalents. Their operating expenses plus non-operating expenses plus contributions were $367,269,810. So that's $0.55 per rider-equivalent.

METRO's FY 2010 financial statements indicate a ridership of 81,158,905. This is counted in actual persons, so there is no adjustment factor. (It includes persons riding METRO buses on HCTRA toll roads for free.) Their operating expenses plus non-operating expenses plus contributions were $874,000,000. So that's $10.77 per rider.

Indeed, there are additional costs associated with wear and tear on the vehicle and mileage. The IRS rate is about $0.55/mile. If the average user of an HCTRA toll road travels 19 miles, that makes up the difference between HCTRA and METRO. However...that's the length of the entire Westpark Toll Road (including the portion in Fort Bend County, not operated by HCTRA). Most commuters don't use impossibly-long toll roads from end-to-end; for an average 19-mile trip to take place, half of them would have to use an entire toll road end-to-end and then use another toll road for a significant distance. It's just not plausible.

I'd figure that METRO is about half as cost-effective per rider in order to offer service that is a fraction as timely and that is more subject to unpredictable factors such as weather conditions.

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Well, according to HCTRA's FY 2010 financial statements, their annual traffic count is 371,245,774 vehicles. Figuring for multi-occupant vehicles (let's assume 1.8 people on average), that's 668,242,393 rider-equivalents. Their operating expenses plus non-operating expenses plus contributions were $367,269,810. So that's $0.55 per rider-equivalent.

METRO's FY 2010 financial statements indicate a ridership of 81,158,905. This is counted in actual persons, so there is no adjustment factor. (It includes persons riding METRO buses on HCTRA toll roads for free.) Their operating expenses plus non-operating expenses plus contributions were $874,000,000. So that's $10.77 per rider.

Indeed, there are additional costs associated with wear and tear on the vehicle and mileage. The IRS rate is about $0.55/mile. If the average user of an HCTRA toll road travels 19 miles, that makes up the difference between HCTRA and METRO. However...that's the length of the entire Westpark Toll Road (including the portion in Fort Bend County, not operated by HCTRA). Most commuters don't use impossibly-long toll roads from end-to-end; for an average 19-mile trip to take place, half of them would have to use an entire toll road end-to-end and then use another toll road for a significant distance. It's just not plausible.

I'd figure that METRO is about half as cost-effective per rider in order to offer service that is a fraction as timely and that is more subject to unpredictable factors such as weather conditions.

I think you need to calculate the IRS rate of $0.55/mile on all vehicle miles driven on HCTRA toll roads annually and divide that by the rider-equivalents to get the wear and tear costs. Based on the annual traffic count and the calculated rider-equivalent that works out to about $0.30/average mile driven. If we use the 19 mile average trip (which I agree is probably too high) that only generates and additional annual cost of $5.70 per rider-equivalent.

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Well, according to HCTRA's FY 2010 financial statements, their annual traffic count is 371,245,774 vehicles. Figuring for multi-occupant vehicles (let's assume 1.8 people on average), that's 668,242,393 rider-equivalents. Their operating expenses plus non-operating expenses plus contributions were $367,269,810. So that's $0.55 per rider-equivalent.

METRO's FY 2010 financial statements indicate a ridership of 81,158,905. This is counted in actual persons, so there is no adjustment factor. (It includes persons riding METRO buses on HCTRA toll roads for free.) Their operating expenses plus non-operating expenses plus contributions were $874,000,000. So that's $10.77 per rider.

Indeed, there are additional costs associated with wear and tear on the vehicle and mileage. The IRS rate is about $0.55/mile. If the average user of an HCTRA toll road travels 19 miles, that makes up the difference between HCTRA and METRO. However...that's the length of the entire Westpark Toll Road (including the portion in Fort Bend County, not operated by HCTRA). Most commuters don't use impossibly-long toll roads from end-to-end; for an average 19-mile trip to take place, half of them would have to use an entire toll road end-to-end and then use another toll road for a significant distance. It's just not plausible.

I'd figure that METRO is about half as cost-effective per rider in order to offer service that is a fraction as timely and that is more subject to unpredictable factors such as weather conditions.

Nice, but I guess where I was going was, sure there will be people who are positively impacted by this new segment of the GP, but what would the impact be to people who travel 290 if there were commuter rail? Not just people who would decide to take the rail, but people who would have to sit 30 less minutes in traffic as a result of the relief given by having less cars on the road.

that is benefit that isn't measured in dollars, unfortunately, and without doing proper studies, we could only guess based on the performance of similar systems in other cities.

Edited by samagon
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Nice, but I guess where I was going was, sure there will be people who are positively impacted by this new segment of the GP, but what would the impact be to people who travel 290 if there were commuter rail? Not just people who would decide to take the rail, but people who would have to sit 30 less minutes in traffic as a result of the relief given by having less cars on the road.

that is benefit that isn't measured in dollars, unfortunately, and without doing proper studies, we could only guess based on the performance of similar systems in other cities.

Okay, well go look up MARTA's financials and do the same calculations. Let's see how that works out. You might also look at Census data for Atlanta indicating the typical distance between home and work and the time spent commuting.

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The average occupancy per vehicle is probably 50% high. A survey of downtown commuters showed 80% of commuters using private vehicles drove alone. Assuming the carpoolers average 3 persons per carpool, the average occupancy would be in the neighborhood of 1.15-1.2 occupants per vehicle. Considering that the toll roads do not serve high density employment centers (at least not on the scale of downtown), and further, there are no bus or park & ride services on the toll roads, this seems a reasonable number to use. This would drop the average trip length to around 13 miles. Given that Westpark is 19 miles long, Hardy is 21 miles, and the stretch of Sam Houston between I-10 and I-45 is 21 miles, it is possible that the average trip approaches that length, though I still believe that 13 miles is a little on the high side. However, the numbers are much closer than the estimate given by Niche.

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