Saturday, February 14, 2004

"It's basically in the middle of nowhere. It's on a lot of farmland."

Corridor plan's effects worry local leaders

February 13, 2004

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2004

A state-sponsored network of toll roads and high-speed rail lines designed to move traffic away from populated areas may do more harm than good to the Dallas-Fort Worth economy, a group of local leaders said Thursday.

Those comments came as the Texas Department of Transportation began the long process of selling the Trans Texas Corridor concept to communities across the state.

"Economic development will follow the line," said Keller Mayor Julie Tandy, who worried that building roads bypassing the metro area would pull jobs out of Tarrant County and into faraway rural areas.

"I would think it's going to naturally produce economic development in other parts of the state," Tandy said.

The department is holding hearings in every Texas county this month in hopes that Texans will better understand Gov. Rick Perry's plan to build 4,000 miles of bypasses, mostly in rural areas.

Even though Thursday's hearing in southwest Fort Worth was attended by only a handful of local elected officials, there was no shortage of concerns about the plan, which is estimated to cost $175 billion over 40 years.

Mark Schluter, area engineer for the Transportation Department, said the corridors would have relatively few entry and exit points, discouraging roadside development.

"It's not like the interstates or two-lane highways where you can get on where you want to," he said. "It's basically in the middle of nowhere. It's on a lot of farmland."

Oscar Garcia, a Fort Worth resident and member of the Texas Silver-Haired Legislature, said he welcomed a creative discussion about how to pay for transportation. The Trans Texas Corridor would mostly be built with private investment, which would be repaid by tolls charged to users of the highways, train tracks and utility lines.

But Garcia wanted to know how the corridor would connect cross-country travelers with existing roads and rail lines. "When all these arteries reach the state line, what's going to happen?" he said.

Bob Barrington, chairman of the Traffic and Transportation Commission in Azle, wanted to know what would happen to motorists who missed their exit.

"Are we going to provide turnarounds, or will we have to go 20 miles to the next exit?" he asked.

State officials said they didn't have answers to many detailed questions, but they welcomed the critique.

"That's exactly the kind of comment we need here," said Maribel Chavez, the department's district engineer in Fort Worth. "We need to provide that input to the policy-makers."

Members of the Regional Transportation Council, which plans future freeways for a 16-county region of North Texas , spent the afternoon discussing the proposal. They said that they are open-minded about the Trans Texas Corridor concept but that it needs to bring travelers and freight directly into the metro areas. As designed, the Trans Texas Corridor would bypass the state's largest regions by dozens or even hundreds of miles, and local leaders would have to figure out how to connect to it themselves.

"We support the concept of the Trans Texas Corridor , but we don't want it at the expense of all the urban transportation improvements that are needed," Lois Finkleman said.

Hoping to influence the state plans early, the regional council provided maps and drawings of potential ways to connect the corridor with local transportation elements. Ideas included:

* A high-speed rail line from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to Austin and Houston, with elevated tracks running along Texas 360.

* A rail hub as big as a seaport on the south end of the Metroplex, about halfway between Fort Worth and Dallas. The hub would provide freight railroads with an alternative to their rail yards in populated areas of Fort Worth.

* A new east-west bypass for the Metroplex, parallel to Interstate 20 but much farther south.

* A new north-south toll road along the proposed Texas 161 route in Grand Prairie and connecting it to the President George Bush Turnpike in Irving.

State officials said that they welcome the ideas but that the goal of the corridor plan is to connect the regions of Texas , not solve traffic problems inside a metro area.

ONLINE: Trans Texas Corridor ,

North Central Texas Council of Governments,

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816

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