Aerial view of Houston, Texas

Dangerous HCTRA Toll Revenue Diversion, Rail vs. Road Forecasts, HTX and Energy Transition

A lot of smaller items to catch up on this week after our little diversion into aviation last week.

My lead this week is on Harris County playing games with HCTRA toll road revenue to spend it on things other than transportation, which is super dicey. The state is already in trouble with transportation because they diverted the gas tax to non-transportation needs. Now the county is making the same mistake… trading long-term prudence for short-term pet projects. “For flood control” is PR spin, since they won’t have any obligation to spend it on that. Toll money moves into the general fund where they can spend it on anything they like. Oscar made a nice chart to show why HCTRA’s money pot is such a tempting target, although he expects it may drop up to a third this year with the pandemic.

HCTRA Revenue Graph

On to other items:

“Texas: Number 2 in Net Domestic Migration (just behind FL)
Texas, the nation’s second most populous state had the second largest gain in net domestic migration, at just below 2 million. During the two decades, the two largest Texas metropolitan areas, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston moved from below the top five to positions four and five respectively.”

  • LA is now considering free fares for transit, after Houston METRO looked at it last year.
  • Continuing the debate on density vs. transit as vectors in the pandemic spread, an interesting factoid from a recent WSJ piece on pandemic lockdowns:

“And it makes no difference if the analysis includes other potential explanatory factors such as population density, age, ethnicity, prevalence of nursing homes, general health or temperature. The only factor that seems to make a demonstrable difference is the intensity of mass-transit use.”

  • Reason on transportation modeling:

“The article’s real bias is shown in a paragraph about Bent Flyvbjerg’s well-known study on transportation megaprojects. The 2007 study (of a large global database of highway and transit megaprojects) found that average traffic on highway megaprojects was 9.5% more than forecast, while the average rail megaproject ridership was overestimated by 106%. In other words, for every 100 drivers forecast to use a given highway project, 110 did, and for every 100 rail passengers forecast to use a rail megaproject, only 47 did. If anything, the forecasting problem seems to be far worse with rail than with highways but the piece only mentions highways:

And here the problem is partly political; in order to receive federal funding, transit proponents have learned to game their forecasts, inflating ridership by one-third and deflating cost estimates by one-third. This is a well-known trick, and, unfortunately, the article fails to mention it or provide any way to solve this problem.”

“The problem with light rail (and the reason it is popular with government officials) is that it is an upper middle class boondoggle. There can be no higher use of transit than to provide mobility to poorer people who can’t afford reliable automobiles. Buses fulfill this goal better than any mode of transit. They are flexible and can reach into many corners of the city. The problem with buses, from the perspective of government officials, is that upper middle class people don’t like to ride on them. They like trains. So the government builds hugely expensive trains for these influential, wealthier voters. Since the trains are so expensive, the government can only build a few routes, so those routes end up being down upper middle class commuting corridors. As the costs mount for the trains, the bus routes that serve the poor and their dispersed commuting destinations are steadily cut.”

Moving truck rates by city pairs 9-20

Finally, ending with a fun short video with the “top ten” places to visit in Houston. I’ve never even heard of #1 before, lol, so see if you agree. Hat tip to George.

This piece first appeared on Houston Strategies Blogspot.

Tory Gattis is a Founding Senior Fellow with the Center for Opportunity Urbanism and co-authored the original study with noted urbanist Joel Kotkin and others, creating a city philosophy around upward social mobility for all citizens as an alternative to the popular smart growth, new urbanism, and creative class movements. He is also an editor of the Houston Strategies blog.

Photo credit: screenshot from Top 10 Places to visit in Houston video.