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Dra w ing by Sara h C lausen The women feel alone and turn to alcohol. They try to fill the lonely hours with tennis and bridge. . . . The kids are left to raise themselves, so they gravitate to the drug culture. It’s very destructive to family life. We’ve got to get the roads in. Glenn Wilkerson, president, Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce, to Houston Post reporter Clara Tuma, after the July 29, 1982, State Highway Commission meeting. Austin “JP TO THAT last line, the speaker might have been describing any number of modern social ills divorce, say, or midlife crisis. But to Glenn Wilkerson, what is driving the women to tennis and the kick to drugs is traffic congestion, which he says keeps northwest Houston husbands and fathers on the roads and away from their families an extra two to three hours each day. To blame rush-hour traffic even Houston rush-hour traffic for the deterioration of family life may overstate the case a bit. But Wilkerson’s conviction that new and better roads will cure whatever ails us is shared by an increasing number of state lawmakers, thanks to the efforts of State Highway Commission Chairman Robert Dedman and his friends. Since last spring, Dedman has traveled the state like Paul Revere, he says telling Texans their highway system is in trouble. “The potholes are coming, the traffic congestion is coming, the smog is coming,” he warns. Joining Dedman’s crusade have been the Texas Good Roads/Transportation Association, commonly known as the highway lobby, and Dallas multimillionaire H. Ross Perot’s chief lob Susan Raleigh is a legislative researcher and free-lance writer living in Austin. By Susan Raleigh byist Rick Salwen, on loan from the War on Drugs campaign. This band of highway boosters has fanned out to convince every civic group and newspaper editor within reach that funding for the state’s highway system is dangerously low. Only a massive infusion of money, they say, can save the roads from ruin. Specifically, the highway lobby wants the legislature to approve a 93 % increase in the highway department’s budget for the 1984-85 biennium. The department received $2.9 billion for 1982-83 and has requested $5.6 billion for 1984-85 “. . . what the highway boosters have offered to justify the spending increase has been surprisingly thin.” Even by the standards of massive state agencies, 93% is a hefty increase. \(Two other big spenders the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Department of Human Resources have requested increases of only 25% and programs within the budget, the highway department wants an even bigger raise: its budget would boost payments to the state’s highway construction contractors, for example, by 133%. Under current state and federal laws governing highway finance, the department already has about $3.9 billion coming to it. \(This includes Texas’ share of the revenue generated by the $1.7 billion for the legislature to dig up if it decides to give the highway department everything it asked for. Given the strain the highway budget would place on state revenues, what the highway boosters have offered to justify the spending increase has been surprisingly thin. The highway department has no list of specific projects it can point to and say, “With 1.7 billion more dollars we will repair these bridges, widen these roads, finish this stretch of highway.” Rather, to explain both how they arrived at the $5.6 billion budget figure and how they plan to spend the money, highway officials point to their recently completed inventory of state highway needs through the year 2002. This inventory, which lists more than 5000 construction projects and estimates the next 20 years’ road maintenance and repair costs, carries a pricetag of $61 billion in 1982 dollars. \(In 1982 the state spent about $12 billion for everything in its budget. If the highway department had been funded for the first year of its 20-year plan in 1982, it would have gotten $3 Pillion, or about billion budget for 1984 and 1985, the highway department intends to take a two-year bite out of its twenty-year plan. And that’s about all the department has said about how it will use the money. Which of the 5,038 construction projects will be undertaken and how much of the maintenance and repair costs will be covered is nowhere specified. Since the long-range plan is what backs up this rather sizeable request for revenue, the curious taxpayer might well wonder how such a plan was arrived at. As it turns out, the plan has drawn criticism from many quarters. Some transportation planners have called the inventory a wish list because of the way it was compiled. Essentially, the department used a “money-is-noobject” approach to planning. Each THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5