A top-down dictatorship comes to town
February 20, 2013, 8:55 am by The Publisher
Of course, it’s not exactly headline news that the pestilence known as the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is supremely arrogant or that its bullying of the state’s citizens has become so customary it usually goes unquestioned. In fact, former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison famously described it as "the most arrogant state agency in the history of America” run by a "top-down dictatorship.”
Most who’ve experienced the misfortune of having TxDOT disrupt their lives and businesses simply accept the reality that they’re dealing with a government bureaucracy whose default response is to smother any complaint or protest in obfuscation and general bureaucratic hell.
So they surrender as they do to other forces of nature — like tornadoes, hail storms and drought — with TxDOT's standard assurance that blocking the entrance to their business, turning people out of their homes or occasionally puttering around with a half dozen workers on endless projects like Texas 71 from Spicewood to Bee Cave just has to be done to make Texas the Most Wonderful Place. No questions please.
Fine. We need good roads and bridges. We also need those running this show to be transparent, accountable and willing to work with people rather than running over them because it's easy and convenient.
If you harbor any doubt about exactly how TxDOT likes to have its way regardless of the cost or risk to ordinary mortals, you can see a working demonstration right now in Marble Falls.
There is plenty of back story here, including whether pouring nearly $30 million into a graceless structure with only slight advantages was smart and whether the cost/benefit to the local economy has been favorable. But let’s not talk about history.
Instead, let’s consider that when construction has severely impeded access to businesses on the north side of the US 281 bridge, it was business owners who usually had to go to TxDOT with hat in hand to plead for signage and any other possible amelioration of their plight. After a rough start, a couple of TxDOT project managers actually started to listen began working with those affected by it, rather than ignoring them.
Apparently that was wrong. When those engineers went away and the project entered one of its most controversial phases, those who replaced them rushed quickly to retreive the agency’s sorry reputation.
Most likely, TxDOT would not have said a word about its planned implosion of the old bridge until the charges were set and US 281 traffic was stacked up from Lampasas to Johnson City. Most people — even those in the area — know about it now because of persistent questioning by newspaper reporters.Virtually everything the public knows about the implosion has been extracted from TxDOT scrap by scrap.
No one at the agency volunteered its plans. It has not held a public meeting or sought the questions or opinions of most who live and work in the area. The agency seems unaware that the sensibilities engaged are quite different when a river bridge surrounded by habitation is collapsed rather than a grain elevator on the edge of a rail yard.
So many legitimate questions have not been seriously answered — or even addressed. Is it cheaper or more expensive to implode the bridge? How much build time will it actually save? What kind of dust cloud might rise from the implosion? Will it contain lead or other toxic elements? What if everything doesn’t go as perfectly as TxDOT and its contractors claim it will? Who’ll take responsibility for broken windows or a carpet of dust on parking lots and lawns? Can the new bridge — only a couple of feet away from the old one — be thoroughly inspected for incidental damage from the blast in only 10 minutes? Won’t traffic actually be stopped longer? What happens if the minutes become hours as they did when TxDOT first opened the new section? How will emergency vehicles get across the river?
The issue is really not whether the bridge should be imploded. If it speeds completion of a TxDOT project that has already fallen at least 10 months behind and doesn’t harm the lake or its surroundings, that’s excellent. Blast away.
The problem is that TxDOT, with its characteristic arrogance, doesn’t want to waste time dealing with the public. Since they think only a couple of locations might be affected, apparently believe only fools elsewhere might want to know what they'll do and how they'll do it.
What more can you say about this Great State Agency? The governor needs to deal with the bureaucrats he’s actually responsible before attending to others. And Marble Falls leaders need to tell TxDOT that people here expect accountability and direct answers before someone comes to town and starts blowing things up. To paraphrase the TxDOT slogan, "Don't Mess With Marble Falls."
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