John Laird: Even Texans are acting weird about transportation

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

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photoJohn Laird is The Columbian's editorial page editor. His column of personal opinion appears each Sunday. Reach him at john.laird@columbian.com.

Floodgates are opening in Texas, and I'm not talking about an end to the drought there. I'm talking jobs, and the construction boom was evident as soon as I landed recently at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

DFW is one of the largest and most efficiently run airports in the nation, and it's getting even better. At Terminal A, I noticed, several boarding gates and much of the interior loop were closed while a large collection of heavy machinery rumbled around, breaking concrete and bulldozing dirt. This flurry of activity, surprisingly, seemed in no way to impede the airport's efficiency. And there must be thousands of jobs directly or indirectly involved in the DFW construction.

But I have awful news to report about this project. Texans — whose pride is legendary — are having the Loot Rail Crime Train shoved down their throats! The Orange Line that already serves downtown Dallas and Irving is being extended to Terminal A at the airport, and it's set to open in December 2014.

The Loot Rail Crime Train in the Dallas area has grown to 85 miles, longer than the 52-mile system in Portland, which has the nation's seventh-largest light rail ridership per capita. Clearly, the LRCT is on the prowl in both Dallas and Portland, maybe even Clark County if the Interstate 5 Bridge is replaced as planned.

How does all of this looting and crime get started in nice places like these? Well, many years ago, visionary leaders in Dallas decided they owed it to future generations to create multiple transportation options. Thus began the Dallas Area Rapid Transit with buses, light rail and heavy rail systems connecting a dozen cities in the sprawling DFW metroplex. Yes, freeways are still king in Texas transportation. Many of them are tolled. But light rail is growing as well.

This progress has not occurred without significant messin' with Texas. The growth of the LRCT has made my former home state so dependent on the federal government that the traditional Texas bellowing about secession has softened to whispers. It's so sad to see friends in my former home state reduced to a bunch of entitlement-addicted, LRCT-ridin' wussies. They've traded their leather saddles for plastic transit seats, giggling in unmanly ways just because they'll soon be able to ride light rail to the DFW airport for two and a half bucks.

Disgusting. Next thing you know, their Friday Night Lights will be solar powered, and Dallas-Fort Worth will be as weird as Portlandia. They're running 75,000 light-rail boardings a day there, which might seem like a lot, but in Portland daily ridership averages more than 126,000.

Hounds muzzled in Texas?

Of course, there have been delays and cost overruns with light-rail projects in Dallas-Fort Worth. That often happens with cutting-edge, multi-modal transportation systems. And I'm sure Texas has its share of complainers. When I learned that all the airport construction was tied to the LRCT being shoved down their throats, I half-way expected protesters from the Davy Crockett Chapter of the Hounds of Whinerville to be out in force at the DFW airport. Maybe they got stuck in traffic.

Here in our precious Clark County, the Meriwether Lewis Chapter of HOW is more visible, attempting the impossible task of opening the floodgates of jobs while shutting down the Columbia River Crossing. They might succeed for awhile, but I suspect some day we'll have our own light-rail line to the airport, just like in Dallas. Already, the Red Line in Portland is posting 1.1 million light-rail users annually at the airport. Long term, airline boardings at PDX are expected to top 22 million annually by 2020, so I suspect light rail will become even more popular.

It would be one thing if the growth of light rail near us could be chalked up as the predictable idiosyncrasies of those granola-chomping weirdos in Portlandia. But when tough, red-blooded, God-fearing Texans — of all people — are building and extending light-rail lines at a furious pace, suddenly the Loot Rail Crime Train doesn't seem so weird.