By THE MERCURY EDITORIAL BOARD
The Mercury intended to write no endorsements during this election season. It’s not because we believe declining to do endorsements is a service to democracy, as if our readers would blow off their own research just because we told them who we’re supporting. We respect our audience much more than that.
The true reason is instrumental. We believe, at this point in the history of a young publication, that our resources are better directed towards developing original news reports. Done right, endorsements require a heavy expenditure because it’s simply not enough to favor a candidate or position. A responsible endorsement is a closely reasoned argument.
Being, as they are, the best connected and most influential people in eastern Hays County, our readers will agree, from their perusal of other publications, that few performances in journalism are more irksome than an endorsement supported by a dopey argument.
With that said, a pair of ballot initiatives before the voters resounds with such clarity that we can’t help but to offer positions. They so closely meet the true, everyday reality of life in the Interstate-35 communities that they don’t even strike us as especially controversial.
We refer you to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) traffic fatality statistics for Hays County, as Hospitality San Marcos S-PAC thusly referred us. In a word, the numbers are sobering.
In 2007, 28 traffic fatalities took place in Hays County, 12 of them involving alcohol-impaired drivers. Per 100,000 of population, those fatality rates are 19.79 for the fatality total and 8.48 for alcohol-related fatalities.
Compare those fatality rates with the other counties along the Austin-San Antonio corridor. Per 100,000 inhabitants, Travis County averaged only 9.65 total fatalities and 3.69 alcohol-related fatalities. The county centered on hard-drinking Austin is twice as safe by that measure as Hays County.
Per 100,000 inhabitants, Bexar County (San Antonio) also is twice as safe as Hays County, averaging 8.34 total fatalities and 4.01 alcohol-related fatalities. Comal County averaged 13.31 total fatalities and 2.85 alcohol-related fatalities.
We suspect you see where this is going. The Mercury hereby endorses the $207 million countywide road bond, as well as a non-binding measure in San Marcos that would extend bar hours to 2 a.m. daily.
We don’t believe the alarming traffic fatality statistics in Hays County are coincidental, nor do we believe they are a function of a small sample size. Indeed, Comal County is comparable with Hays County in many respects, including population, and still comes in at the rate of two-thirds as many fatalities and one-third as many alcohol related fatalities.
We believe, instead, that Hays County is uniquely positioned with too few roadways, which also are too small and too dangerous, along with a rapidly growing university in a town where the bars close at midnight while one of the world’s funnest cities is only 30 minutes away and closes at 2 a.m.
Such circumstances call to be answered by a mature apprehension of reality and foresighted public investment. We understand that’s a lot to ask from precincts of Hays County so bent on killing growth that they don’t care how miserable it makes their brethren in Kyle, or in precincts of San Marcos where people bought houses a mile from the university and now complain that their neighborhoods are too noisy. But we are confident that the greatest good for the greatest number will prevail.
Voters are being asked to approve $207 million of debt so the Hays County Commissioners Court can begin work on 16 key road projects. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has agreed to reimburse the county up to $133.2 million for major improvements on four of those roads – I-35, FM 1626, FM 110 and U.S. 290.
Thus, the true cost to the county would be more like $75 million, a puny price to pay for substantial and immediate road upgrades in a county where the population has tripled in the last 18 years and is expected to double again in the next 15.
Understanding that these are tough times to ask property owners to approve their own tax increase, we know a good number of Hays County families would gladly pay the extra $6.92 per month on a home worth $200,000. The alternative is worsening rush hour congestion on FM 1626, ever more agonizing waits on the I-35 access roads in Kyle, bumpier rides than ever along McCarty Lane on the way to San Marcos High School and tougher driving on the western side of the county. And, by the way, more traffic fatality.
The bar-hour issue has come to the fore in San Marcos with the opening of the new San Marcos Conference Center scheduled for December. It’s naive to think midnight bar closings wouldn’t compromise the conference business. It was equally naive for San Martians to ever have thought midnight bar closings would reduce drinking by college students.
We’ve seen the results – noisy block parties deep into the night, if not young people making one impaired drive to Austin at midnight, then another impaired drive back to San Marcos at 2 a.m. No wonder Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) advocates uniform cut-off hours.
Both measures also figure to bring economic benefits, of course, even if it takes a while.
Smoother traffic flow along the Interstate in Kyle will do enormous good for those two million square feet of retail at its intersection with Kyle Parkway, an expanded FM 1626 west of Buda will give business a place to grow in the future, and the southeastern loop in San Marcos (FM 110) will give that city all the more opportunity to build on the conference center.
The later bar closing time will keep money in San Marcos that’s being spent in Austin, and it will help bring more money into San Marcos as the city draws conference business and visitors stay in town at night instead of wheeling to Austin or San Antonio.
If nothing else, though, the two measures, combined, stand to significantly improve traffic safety in Hays County. Those reasons, alone, are enough to deserve support. It just happens that there are a good many more reasons, besides.
(Editor’s note: The above is revised to reflect that MADD does not endorse the 2 a.m. bar closings in San Marcos, specifically. MADD advocates setting uniform statewide cut off limits on the sale of alcoholic beverages. It happens, coincidentally, that a 2 a.m. bar closing time would have that effect locally. Also, the above is revised to say it was Hospitality San Marcos S-PAC, not MADD, that referred us to the federal traffic fatality statistics.)Email | Print