In 1960, I was still in high school. The population of the Fort Worth-dallas metropolitan area (now called the Metroplex) was 1,435,000, ranking it as the 12th largest metropolitan area in the country. Current estimates of our population run from 6.5 to 6.7 million, ranking us number 4, behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
That’s nearly a five-fold increase in my adult life. We are literally choking on our own success. Seems like every week it takes a little longer to get from one place to another around here.
I’ve always opposed mass transit for places like the Metroplex. The population is just too widely scattered for it to be effective. It’s great for places like Manhattan and San Francisco, where at any given time there may be several hundred people wanting to go from the same station in the same direction, but we don’t have that situation here.
Realizing the problem of overcrowding on our freeways, our local authorities have taken a tentative step or two to get people off the roads. Several years back, the transit authorities of Fort Worth and dallas got together and created the Trinity Rail Express, or TRE. The idea was to offer an alternative for people who wanted to get from the downtown area of either city to the downtown area of the other, with a few extra stops thrown in.
What they didn’t do is create a way for people to make the trip rapidly. TRE uses ancient tracks of existing railroads and has numerous crossings where it relies on bells and red lights and lowering arms to stop vehicular traffic so the train can pass. This means the trains cannot move very fast, resulting in interminably slow rides between cities.
Now they’re working on a new train route to connect southwest Fort Worth, where I live, to dFW Airport and the suburb of Grapevine. Once again, they’re making the same mistake. Old tracks and street-level crossings, not to mention dealing with freight trains using the same tracks. No telling how long the trip will take.
Another reason Manhattan’s and San Francisco’s subways work is that they run underground. Tracks dedicated to rapid transit and no street-level crossings. If we really want to attract large numbers of people to ride these trains, we need to build similar facilities. Underground would probably be prohibitive because of the distances involved, so they would likely need to be elevated. I’ve heard of no such plans.
People drove nearly 56 billion miles on interstate highways in Texas in 2011. I-35 between the south edge of Bexar County (San Antonio) and the north edge of Denton County is one of the busiest highways in the country. I rarely make the trip from Fort Worth to San Antonio without running into stop-and-go traffic somewhere along the route, usually more than once.
It’s 243 miles from my house to my daughter’s house in a northeastern suburb of San Antonio, and the speed limit is 75 most of the way—85 on the tollway around Austin. That’s a 3:15 drive at 75—a little under 3:30 at 70. Yet it always takes at least 4 hours, and usually more. It’s been known to take over five hours—and I’m not including stops for food or restrooms. We keep adding lanes to I-35, but traffic seems to overflow them as fast as we build them.
Plans are moving along right now for a privately built high-speed rail from the Metroplex to Houston. They’re talking about 220 mph trains.
Good idea, but I-45 from dallas to Houston isn’t nearly as crowded as I-35. If we’re going to build a bullet train, it needs to service both of those routes. It could easily take a central route between I-35 and I-45 for the first hundred miles or so and then branch off into two routes to serve both needs. So far, I haven’t heard anything about any plans to meet the needs along the I-35 corridor.
As usual, we want to do too little, too late. We wait until long past the time we should have acted, and then we spend several times as much money as it would have taken earlier, and we end up meeting yesterday’s needs instead of today’s.
What are your pet peeves regarding transportation infrastructure or other such too-little-too-late projects?
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