Texas transportation and High-Speed Rail: more of a wish than a plan, but the money is there

TxTribfest Transportation

Transportation what’s next?   Robert Eckels  Clay Jenkins  Bill Meadows  Jonathan Stickland 
Marc Williams  Aman Batheja (mod.)  (speakers not seated in order of names listed, hotlinked name list is from the Texas Tribune Festival Website)

I’m not as excited as the panelists about the “exiting opportunities” for Texas transportation, as it has beenimplemented over the last decade. Honestly, with the demographic data in hand, and the politics imposed on what should be a clear-eyed effort to provide decent infrastructure for every citizen – not just those who can afford to pay to drive on toll roads – a fantastic amount of resources are now needed to build Texas out of the hole its fall in, thanks to a lack of vision and political will  in decades past.

Gimlet-eyed communities who looked askance at high-speed for fifty years are waking up to the urgent need for mass transit options.

There is an interesting initiattive for high-speed rail from Mexico to states above Texas. This is exactly the direction that planners should go in, as this mirrors the I-35 corridor. TxDOT should facilitate this project and stop thinking of itself as a builder of road. TxDOT should be a provider of transportation infrastructure in whatever shape or form is needed for future travelers.

Oklahoma is now in “project-level” development with Texas on a plan to consider high-speed rail for the corridor, from Oklahoma to South Texas. Mexico is interested in building and linking a system to that proposed system.

There are the types of visionary ideas that need to be funded. They of course want this to be funded through private investment – because apparently it is not longer appropriate or possible to get basic transportation needs funded by the United States government.

Starting with the corridor between Houston to Dallas would be an interesting direction for development.

There are scoping meeting planned for areas most tangent to the proposed route for high-speed rail. Smaller towns along the way understand that, if the train does not come near their town, it never will, so communities understand what is at stake economically if they resist the plan.

But  the state’s role in high-speed rail is diminished by the entry of the private players. The argument is that there is such stringent opposition to use of government funds, in part to the ongoing, toxic war between fundamental conservatives and progressives that taking the funding private does an end run over political gridlock. It is also an admission that Texas is bankrupt, as far as transportation funding for rail goes.

Get ready for roads and rail built by private companies who will be involved in making decisions that involve bulldozing areas that are in the way of the straight line needed for the rail to travel. Voters, who have not been able to see their own needs as their transportation system started to crawl, will take a back seat to industry now –  and it’s full speed ahead for the folks with the bags of money to invest in a system that the rest of us seem to have given up on.

Weirdly enough, I feel sort of hopeful. These guys don’t want to see future failure and they seem pretty psyched about this plan.  We are at the breaking point  – TxDOT has a five million transportation funding deficit. Too bad venture capitalist  are not as excited about funding high-speed rail as they are in Uber, AirB&B, and grocery delivery apps. But between the twin devils of politicians and private investors, maybe its time to back the one who can actually build a high-speed rail.

Change is as good as a holiday

South by Southwest Interactive (SxSW) 2013, a five-day free flight of imagination and creativity, just ended in downtown Austin, Texas. Each year, creative minds gather to share dreams and nightmares about technological changes, inventions, and twists in the road that takes the rest of us to the future.

Who was the most interesting guy at Southby Interactive this year? Whose prophesy, whose new hardware gadget, 3D print imager (lasers!!), or change-the-world idea will be the one left standing when 2014 rolls around?

Will it turn out to be this guy that said the most important thing at SxSW Interactive in 2013? He’s Nobel Fellow and UT Austin professor Dr. Steve Weinberg, who discussed new physics discoveries that are turning the world on end over end, and his urging that we concentrate on funding and building a mammoth particle accelerator.

Or will it be this guy? This is Takahito Iguchi, the CEO of Telepathy, whose interactive glasses from Japan might beat out Google Glass for style and features.

And how much longer do we have to wait to climb into our own spaceships???

The answer might be: not long at all, if we are willing to work our way across the universe, according to Richard Garriott, who is busy building rocket ships with his friends.

Get ready for some interviews and articles about the Smarties who came, who spoke, and who beguiled our fancy this year at SxSW Interactive.

Your faithful reporter, and fellow enthusiastic Tech Kool-aid drinker,
Clair LaVaye

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