Friday, February 28, 2003

Fluor files unsolicited proposal to build a "Trans Texas Corridor"

$17.6 million set for Toyota roads
Agency seeks more authority

February 28, 2003

Peggy Fikac Chief, Austin Bureau
Copyright 2003

Delivering on promises that helped lure a Toyota plant, the Texas Transportation Commission voted to spend $17.6 million Thursday to widen roads near the future plant site.

Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson used the occasion to press for local support for the Texas Department of Transportation to have more authority to smooth the way for future projects.

The agency would get more power under a bill to implement Gov. Rick Perry's Trans Texas Corridor plan that was referred to the House Transportation Committee on Thursday.

HB1198 by Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Taylor, would expand the commission's authority from highways to rail and utilities to allow for the ambitious statewide road, rail and utility network. Its power would include condemnation and purchase of right of way, according to Krusee's office.

Williamson touted the bill as the commission heard separately that the Fluor engineering firm filed an unsolicited proposal to build a Trans Texas Corridor from north of Dallas to the Rio Grande Valley. The corridor would be parallel to Interstate 35, 37 and the proposed I-69 and include road, rail and utility conduits.

A transportation agency spokesperson said the agency couldn't release the Fluor proposal because the company said trade secrets are involved.

With regard to Toyota, Williamson noted that a potential roadblock to landing the plant was sufficient rail access. The transportation agency had no power to address it.

"Is it your belief that additional industrial expansion can occur in Texas if Texas can walk away from the narrow interests of the day" to take a broad view of Texas ' interests, Williamson asked Sam Dawson, chairman of the San Antonio Mobility Coalition.

Continuing his question, Williamson said, "and this is the appropriate state agency to have the authority to do things such as build short pieces of railroad to make that happen?"

"If I need to say yes to get our money - yes," Dawson responded, drawing laughter. He then said he "absolutely" supported the idea.

Williamson, a Perry ally named to his post by the governor, said "various Toyota officials" have "have repeatedly emphasized the importance of a high-speed corridor ."

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said of Toyota, "We almost missed this opportunity simply because we didn't have dual rail access."

The difficulty arose because Union Pacific, which owns the tracks close to the site, wouldn't allow Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to use the line. A rail district was formed to build a second line so allow Toyota the benefit of competing rail services.

Wolff and Dawson were part of a local contingent that included Councilwoman Bonnie Conner; Gabriel Perez, Bexar County executive director for infrastructure services; and Thomas A. Griebel, executive director of the mobility coalition.

Besides the rail funding, state and local officials offered a road improvement plan to help attract the Toyota plant and its thousands of jobs.

Under the plan, about $48 million will come from the state in grants and loan money, while about $10 million will come from Bexar County, officials said.

With Thursday's action, the commission allocated $17.6 million to widen Zarzamora, Applewhite and Watson roads in southern Bexar County.

The county will handle environmental and design work and will acquire right of way for the Zarzamora and Applewhite expansion, the transportation agency said. The county will pay for construction on those roads between Loop 410 and Loop 1604.

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