Lynn Ashby

Question: If you start to build a dam and only get halfway through, how much water will it stop?

Answer: None.

That’s what we, my fellow taxpayers, have on our hands: a half-built dam, or wall (actually it’s not even a wall, but we’ll get to that). Building that barrier along the 1,954-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico -- half of it in Texas -- was the cornerstone, so to speak, of Donald Trump’s presidential campaigns. However, the Trump administration completed only 415 miles of border wall by December, with just 30 miles in new areas. Most of the construction replaced older fencing and vehicle barriers, largely from the El Paso area west to California. Nonetheless Trump touted the project in a trip to South Texas during his final days in office. “It’s been tremendously successful, far beyond what anyone thought,” Trump said. “We can’t let the next administration even think about taking it down.” He added: “Nobody’s going to be touching it.” Alas, in his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive action halting the construction.

So there the wall stands, or stands still. What do we do now? The Trump administration had awarded $2.8 billion in contracts for barriers covering about a third of the border. Maybe we should just cut our losses. According to Construction Dive, the U.S. will save $2.6 billion by canceling the construction, even after termination costs.

Speaking of our money, Trump said time after time, “Mexico will pay for it.” He proposed a toll on all crossings. This would be enough to pay for the wall. The US-Mexico border is the most crossed international boundary in the world, with approximately 350 million legal crossings every year, and more than a billion dollars’ worth of goods crosses the southern border daily. A small toll on each crossing could quickly cover the price tag, which was estimated to be around $21.6 billion. Also, Trump wanted “remittance money.” Upwards of $38 billion in remittances, money sent to Mexico, is taken out of the U.S. economy every year. A15-percent tax on remittances could generate enough revenue to cover the estimated expense of the border wall in just a few years' time. But there are no toll booths and no tax on remittance and no money from Mexico. This was just another snake oil pitch. Trump told more than 30,000 documented lies in public (30,573 was The Washington Post's final tally), on Twitter, at rallies and in interviews. If taken as an average, it would come out to 21 lies per day over his four-year term.

Well, probably those parts of the wall already built will still be standing there years from now, like a steel Stonehenge, with guided tours. Oh, as to whether it is even a wall, a report from the Congressional Research Service said, the sections pose "a formidable barrier, but it is not the high, thick masonry structure that most dictionaries term a 'wall'."

The wall, or whatever you want to call it, is not the only fiasco Texas has endured. Remember the SSC? That was the Superconducting Super Collider. It was a particle accelerator complex – whatever that is – that began construction in the vicinity of Waxahachie. The SSC was one huge underground ring. Its planned circumference was 54.1 miles. In 1987, Congress was told the project could be completed for $4.4 billion. But later the General Accounting Office reported a $630 million overrun in the first $1.25 billion construction budget. The estimated total cost grew to $8.4 billion. The Department of Energy's Inspector General cited $500,000 in questionable expenses over three years, including $12,000 for Christmas parties, $25,000 for catered lunches, and $21,000 for the purchase and maintenance of office plants. The report also found hazy, incomplete documentation for $203 million in project spending, or 40 percent of the money spent up to that point. After $2 billion had been spent ($400 million by the state of Texas, the rest by the Department of Energy), and after only 14 miles of tunnel were bored, the project was cancelled in 1993. The feds deeded the main site to its home, Ellis County. It was sold and resold several times. By another sale in 2012 the place had become prime spots for thieves and drug parties. In 2013 it was sold again.

The SSC was not Texas’ first financial fiasco. Have you taken an ocean cruise out of Port Dallas? Probably not, it’s for trains and trucks, but making the Trinity River navigable from the Gulf of Mexico to Dallas has long been a dream in Big D. They attempted dredging, obtaining federal aid and everything else to get boats to the Cotton Bowl. However, the boats were impeded by snags, sandbars, low water. In1854 a boat from the Gulf reached 40 miles below Dallas. In 1868 a boat finally reached Dallas from Galveston. Unfortunately, the voyage took a year and four days. In 1893 the H. A. Harvey, Jr. arrived. That trip took a mere two months and 10 days. In 1973 voters in the Metroplex were asked to approve a tax to finance opening the Trinity River to the Gulf. It was rejected it by a margin of two to one. Next time you drive on I-10 east to Louisiana, notice that huge, high bridge over the Trinity. That’s to let the QE II pass under it to Dallas.

In 2015, UT Chancellor William (Bye-bye bin Laden) McRaven abruptly announced that the UT System was buying 332 acres of choice land between the Texas Medical Center and the main UH campus, for about $450 million. With growing opposition in Houston, questions about financing and the mysterious purpose of the project, quoth McRaven: “Nevermore.” He tossed in the trowel. That leaves the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada to Port Arthur. It was supposed to create 11,000 jobs, but those were temporary construction jobs. They only need 45 permanent jobs. Nevertheless, Keystone is on hold. 

Ashby’s wall is at ashby2@comcast.net

(1) comment

Michael Bounds

So glad to see you mention both sides of the coin to The wall issue. Also glad to see you point out the REAL track record of our former POTUS.. I have little doubt that this wall would be ineffective, an eyesore, take millions annually to police, millions to repair, affect wildlife negatively, be susceptible to both my grandma's easily digging under, when they were in their final years still vertical. The pitch was full of holes, and sensational threats that had as much BS to them as the Cotton Eyed Joe playing in the background. No caravans of rapists existed. Trump never spent a day in South Texas, actually not even12 hours. The miles and miles of plunging arroyos and steep rises of solid rock would require 15 billion, at least to effectively build his "wall"- 4' deep, as the "prototypes" summitted, per the Gov't guidelines. A colossal waste of $; the deficit was through the roof before the Covid. Can't much imagine two other countries better to be next too, than Canada and Mexico. Mexico has it's issues to be sure. Most other countries do and most are far poorer than we are. The best of the USA had our leaders to wisely embrace the people of Germany and Japan. Others rape and ignore defeated nations. The evil were tried and punished, the people were shown the true greatness of America. Today they are world leaders in innovation, human rights and among our staunchest of allies. Let's not forget why Tesla and Einstein, and millions of others too, chose this country to come to, or what they did to forward us along into the greatest nation on Earth. By a long shot, for the 100 plus years. Probably, more. Regards, and Respect

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