Monday, February 04, 2002

"Let the debate begin. "

Studying Perry's vision

Bryon Okada Staff Writer
Fort Worth Star-Telegram Copyright 2002

Time to don the curlicue horns and pointy tail of the devil's advocate once more, to prod with a pitchfork a new concept in highway construction called the Trans Texas Corridor , proffered last week by Gov. Rick Perry as what Texans "deserve."

Bold new vision, the Trans Texas Corridor .

But to preface, let's look at the bold vision that Dallas/Fort Worth Airport had for itself in 1973, which included: hypersonic planes that travel 5,000 mph; 1,000-seat "skyscraper" planes; and rocket-propelled planes that, according to airport Executive Director Thomas Sullivan, could "be in Japan in a couple of hours." (All of this was to happen before the year 2000. I use this not to illustrate how D/FW has fallen short of our dreams, but as an example of how a grand vision can materialize in a completely different, and, in some ways, equally impressive manner.)

So, with horns up, let's look at the Trans Texas Corridor , Perry's 50-year, $175 billion vision of a parallel system of toll roads and rail lines to be built beside our existing free highways.

How big is this? All told, the system would require 500,000 acres of rights of way. Near big cities, developers would no doubt step right up and invest in the new system, particularly when they find out that getting nearby access ramps may depend on partnering up. But ramp or no ramp, will there be enough investors out in the rural stretches? Perry thinks so. We'll see.

Where does it go? At the Mexican and state borders, the corridors - hopefully - will continue on. Don't want multiple lanes and rail lines leading to a "dead end" sign at the borders. Does Perry have the clout to get neighboring states and Mexico on board with his plan? If the answer is no, do we still build?

Who does this help? Freight, surely, and big business. But corridors would not travel through urban cores. Money that could bolster overloaded farm-to-market roads, poor public transit and day-to-day mobility would be used elsewhere. One could argue that this leaves cities and counties holding the financial bag for fixing the state's worst congestion spots. On the bright side, this would take trucks off the main highways.

Is this what I voted for with Proposition 15? No. Last year, Perry and others touted Proposition 15, which created the Texas Mobility Fund, as a way to tackle the funding shortfall for projects on the existing highway system. Texas Transportation Commissioner Robert Nichols says he expects private contributions, basically new money, to make up the bulk of the funding.

With water, electric, natural gas, communications, rail, freight, truck routes, hazardous materials and petroleum all in one corridor , does this create an easy target for would-be terrorists? Perry says this, in effect, creates a redundant network that would make emergency response quicker.

The questions go on and on. But that's what this process is about. Perry has instructed the Texas Department of Transportation to develop a plan by summer to build the corridors . Let the debate begin.

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