Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Nothin' More Expensive than Free

"I'll take any [insert expletive]'s money if he givin' it away." Senator Clay Davis, The Wire.

I don't have much time today, but wanted to pop onto the blog to say a few things about TxDOT's money.  A recent concern about anewdallas is that if TxDOT has money, we should take it.  Well, they don't have money.  What money they do is future money, in that it is 1) hypothetical and 2) largely ours from future taxes.  Based on the way their financing works, we would need to add a multiplier on our tax dollars that go towards the way we currently build transportation simply to manage the debt we have already accrued through over-building the wrong kind of anti-urban infrastructure.

In other words, this is about the worst case scenario for how to spend our tax dollars for public good.

The cost of the proposed 345 repair is $100 million for 20 years to keep the thing standing, that nobody wants, from 2020 to 2040.  Yay?  Some believe if that $100 million is there we should take it.  Because why not?  Free money.

Well, free money is also what tore apart the functionality and desirability of our core cities by the way of an interstate system never intended to cut through existing neighborhoods.  The long-term cost of doing so, while it added to meaningless statistics such as GDP, is virtually incalculable.  How would you even calculate replacing an entire city with an entirely new and less sustainable and maintainable city?

Now, let's get back to that $100 million.  If we were to take the $100 million what is our return on that investment?  Preventing catastrophe.  That is it.

On the other hand, removing the road also prevents catastrophe.  It also prevents us from facing the exact same scenario in twenty years.

On top of that it immediately opens 65 acres of public right-of-way underneath an antiquated failing structure for private investment for public good and private gain.  Remember, developers are our city builders.  We just have to set up a system where they're delivering the kind of neighborhoods and city we want, in a way they can make profit.  Right now, that is not possible with the highways subsidizing the exportation of jobs and tax base further afield.

So let's take that 65 acres instead of TxDOT's $100 million.  It's far more valuable.  We think the land could easily fetch $60 per square foot.  That works out to $170 million for raw, unimproved land.  Now which is more valuable?  $100 million just to preserve a status quo that is not meeting the market, or $170 million in land value, ripe for $5 billion in investment?

Perhaps, that's the basis for how we think about whether to preserve inner-city freeways.  When the land beneath the freeway is worth more than the cost of maintaining it, perhaps we should consider it "totaled" and it's time to cash in on it.