The Texas Legislature is in the midst of debating whether the state should divert money away from its savings account to fund more transportation projects. This discussion comes in the context of calls by for $4 to $5 billion of additional taxpayer funding for roads. Proponents for more spending, however, are less likely to call for reforms that would provide more new roads and maintenance for the same amount of money we are spending today.
For instance, one provision in Texas law limits the number of design-build contracts that the Texas Department of Transportation can grant to build new roads, even though the state could save billions of dollars over the years using them. Yet no legislation to repeal this restriction is being debated.
Of course, government restrictions on transportation innovation are nothing new. Gordon Crovitz points out today in the Wall Street Journal that Massachusetts put restrictions on the development of the “horseless carriage” way back in 1897.
He further notes that the technology for for developing self-driving cars has already arrived, but that government intervention is hindering its development:
The largely self-driving car is no longer just a vision, thanks to rapid advances in lasers, radar, GPS and mapping databases. If it weren’t for fear among innovators of getting too far ahead of U.S. laws and regulations, there would already be cars on the road doing almost as much driving as humans. …
As a result of litigation and regulatory uncertainty in the U.S., most auto innovation is happening in Europe. The midsize Ford Focus offered in Europe, for example, can drive itself in steady traffic, keeping a safe distance from other cars.
Volvo offers a feature for cars to parallel-park themselves after the driver gets out. Mercedes is offering a “steering assist” system that automatically handles highway lane changes and passing of slower vehicles. Audi is developing a “traffic jam” feature for cars to drive themselves in traffic up to 40 miles per hour.
Its not just regulation, though, that is standing in the way of fighting congestion on Texas roads. Billions of transportation dollars are being diverted by governments to build and operate rail systems that do nothing to help our transportation needs.
We may or may not need more taxpayer funding for new roads. One thing is for sure though: less government and more market-based solutions would go a long way toward solving the transportation problems we face.