Monday, August 12, 2002

Looking at Symptoms, Missing the Disease

We're all familiar with road construction here in Memphis, and today's Commercial Appeal carries this story talking about it, in very superficial terms.

What's missing, you might ask? How about a close look into the medieval guild that is the Tennessee Department of Transportation? Have you ever seen a story interviewing the road designers or explaining the design philosophy? It's as though they are a cloistered brotherhood. Designs for road projects appear as if by magic, seemingly unconnected to community need but apparently driven by developer and commercial interests. Public comment periods seem to produce no comment-inspired changes. Finished projects have designs or executions that don't seem to have taken into account the drivers who must navigate them, nor the traffic loads they bear. It's all a very mysterious and secluded process.

Then there's funding and expenditure. TDOT is presently sitting on more than one billion dollars in unearmarked funds! During the early manuevering in the Income Tax War, some legislators poked around the funds. Chip Saltsmann quickly and decisively slapped them down. He told them that he would not allow the funds to be used to fix present budget problems, nor would he allow any gasoline taxes to be diverted to help out. Some folks asked which was more important: roads or schools? But the whole issue disappeared.

Tennessee's roadbuilders and developers are a very powerful bunch, as are their lobbies and business trade groups, wielding inordinate power over the Legislature. Travel the back areas of the State and you'll find beautifully sculpted divided four-lane roads to nowhere much. Developers set their sights on new tracts of land and, whoosh!, huge sparkling roads appear to provide access.

There's a giant nest of corruption, bribery and influence-peddling going on here, without question, but the CA refuses to investigate. It's a scandal. But they do have time for silly puff pieces like this story.

Until next time, that is all.
Your Working Boy

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