Monday, April 22, 2002

"We're going to make his summer deadline. We weren't given choices."

Corridor plan is on fast track

April 22, 2002

BRYON OKADA Staff Writer
Fort Worth Star-Telegram Copyright 2002

Using a naysayer's tone, I ask Texas Department of Transportation honcho Maribel Chavez: The governor asked for a plan to build the Trans Texas Corridor . The deadline is this summer. Unrealistic, right?

Chavez is the new Fort Worth district engineer and a member of the design task force for the proposed corridor , a statewide 4,000-mile, $175 billion network of toll roads and rail and utility lines that would be built parallel to the state's freeways. The corridor is intended to relieve traffic congestion and speed the movement of goods through the state.

The idea was put forward in January by Gov. Rick Perry. A considerable amount of transportation brainpower is being consumed by the plan.

But the deadline ... unrealistic, right?

"We are working furiously to develop an action plan for the governor," Chavez said. "We're going to make his summer deadline. We weren't given choices."

(And, to reiterate the point, Texas Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson came by during a recent meeting to chat briefly about the corridor plan, which he said is not in any way, shape or form a matter of "if.")

The design raises some interesting challenges, Chavez said.

For example, because high-speed rail is sensitive to grade - the elevation or steepness of the track - designing that section of rail will likely dictate how the corridors will be designed.

"If we can meet the challenges of high-speed rail, the roadway part will be fairly easy," Chavez said. "There's different types of high-speed rail, too. Magnetic levitation is not as sensitive to grade as a rail type. At this point, we're not locking ourselves into even the type of system."

The design team is considering where to place the rail lines in each section of the corridor . "Should you place high-speed rail in the middle? On the outside? That's the kind of stuff we're looking at," Chavez said.

I raised the question about intersections with existing highways. Would the rail go over or under? "I think both," she said.

And so when broken down into little pieces, the Trans Texas Corridor becomes a series of smaller questions with smaller answers.

Which counteracts the daunting scale of it all. This is an enormous system we're talking about, 200 times longer than the just-opened Alameda Corridor in Los Angeles.

"Well, look at the interstate system," Chavez said. "When that got proposed, it was big. It was incredibly big, and there were a lot of naysayers. It's pretty standard now."

Then she says to go talk to Burton Clifton, who has been with the department for 53 years and worked on Fort Worth roads during the construction of the interstate system. That had been a post-World War II idea that grew and grew and grew until it took over the whole country, Clifton says.

"I don't suppose it got publicity outside of Congress," he said.

He's seen the Trans Texas Corridor plan. A bit "far out" but a good plan, he says, if the railroads will cooperate. And Chavez?

"I think she's going to work out, too," he says

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