December 13, 2007
Recently, Liz and I were at some big function and an obviously neat, neat woman was telling us how much she loved getting the Watson Wire.
The smart, well-read person then asked Liz what she thought about me sending it with so many stories about the family and such. Liz quickly replied, “It’s like one of those embarrassing year-end Christmas letters, except it’s every week.”
Well, I was going to write a pretty fine “end of the year” Wire for today. But, thinking about it, I realized it would sound just like one of those letters.
So, grudgingly and without admitting Liz was right, which I’ve refused to do since I was about 15, I’m throwing it out. (Frankly, I think Liz was a little harsh, which is just the excuse I need to rationalize the fact that I haven’t even thought about a gift for her for Christmas.)
I will mention a couple of things I’ve done over the last couple of weeks, as I’ve been wrapping up the year. On Sunday, I spoke in the opening ceremonies of the FIRST Lego League, an incredibly energizing organization in which fairly young kids – aged 9 to 14 – build robots out of Legos that compete in different science-related challenges. Focusing these kids on learning science and engineering – and making it as cool as sports – is outstanding and exciting. You can see KVUE’s videos of the event here and here.
And today, I’m tagging along with some of my friends at Meals on Wheels to deliver food to some folks around the district. This is a great program wherever it’s done, but the Austin folks do an exceptional job serving people. If you want to check in at www.kirkwatson.com over the holidays, I’ll try to post some pictures from the day.
And it just wouldn’t be the end of 2007 without a transportation controversy.
As you may have seen, I sent a letter this week to the Texas Department of Transportation. It came out of some scary announcements that TxDOT has made recently about very deep budget cuts that could halt a lot of road building across the state. You can read the text of the letter here.
Naturally, TxDOT’s pronouncements are bad news. It would be even worse, I imagine, if any of us knew what they meant. Unfortunately, TxDOT hasn’t told folks just what projects are going to be put on ice or when they’ll get started again.
The other problem in Central Texas is that the state committed a whole lot of money to five badly needed highway improvements in the region. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t enough, so CAMPO – a board of mostly elected officials, which I chair – voted to toll the improvements in order to build and pay for them.
Keep in mind, we’re mostly talking about new expressways on existing routes such as Highway 71, 183, or 290 – upgrades that will keep people from having to wait at stop lights. The existing roads will still be there and will remain untolled. In fact, CAMPO committed to maintaining the roads and forbidding the installation of additional stoplights, so the untolled roads will remain at least as appealing to people as they are right now, while the new ones will help others get through the stoplights faster.
This is what you’d call a transparent, publicly accountable tolling process.
But the whole package relied on a half-a-billion dollar commitment from TxDOT. Now, with the budget cuts, it looks like that commitment may be in jeopardy – not that you can get TxDOT to actually say that, or anything else about what’s going on.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to me from this year in office is how hard it can be to get a straight answer out of TxDOT, and how easy it can be to make a decision based on a piece of information, only to see that information change radically in a matter of weeks.
The best thing about the transportation debate is that it’s not a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats are equally frustrated with TxDOT and concerned about Texas’ transportation funding crisis.
I hope, deeply, that we can spend the next year coming together to figure out how to solve these challenges that affect us all. I know it’ll be a big part of my 2008.