Friday, November 05, 2004

Mammoth project. Few answers.

Corridor plan specifics are few

Mega-project is still far into future. 60 people attend public meeting.

November 5, 2004
Patrick Driscoll, Staff Writer
Copyright 2004

The ambitious mega-project known as the Trans Texas Corridor , a planned network of superhighways and rail lines to speed up cross-state traffic and fuel the economy, seems to be morphing almost as fast as people can ask questions.

More than 60 people showed up at a public meeting Wednesday in San Antonio to wrap their minds around the still nebulous concept - peering at dozens of maps and charts and chatting with Texas Department of Transportation officials and their hired consultants.

There were many questions about the mammoth project, but few clear-cut answers. The concept is so big - the state's largest ever - and too far into the future to know its eventual shape or scope.

"It just blows my mind," said one resident among those who milled around for a while before leaving with a twisted look of confusion. "All I can do is ask questions."

The network, as proposed by Gov. Rick Perry several years ago, would stretch 4,000 miles, cut a swath up to 1,200 feet wide and include toll roads, high-speed passenger and freight rail tracks and a utility zone. Corridors would slide around urban areas rather than go through them.

It could cost $184 billion in public and private funds and take as long as 50 years to build - plenty of time to tweak the vision before chiseling out the final form, said Doug Booher, an environmental manager with the transportation department.

"It's adaptable through time," he said. "It's all based on need."

For example, the Mexico-to-Oklahoma route that would parallel Interstate 35 might not keep the toll roads and railroad lines together, he said. At some points, one mode could peel out in a different direction.

It might also make sense to use segments of freeways south and east of San Antonio and add the toll lanes there, Booher said, while new freight rail tracks could follow alongside or connect parts of existing lines.

And it could be that passenger rail would work best by directly linking downtowns rather than mostly zipping through open countryside as the toll roads and other rail lines would.

Public opinion, political pressure and financial realities will forge the ideas, which means feedback is crucial, Booher said. The study area for the route along I-35 has already been nudged closer to cities as a result of comments from public meetings this year.

Many more meetings are ahead, with the next round set for spring. Also next year, state officials expect to narrow the width of the study area to 10 miles and select a private consortium to construct the route running past San Antonio.

The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, formerly named the Bexar County Regional Mobility Authority, may consider building and operating a portion of the corridor if it sweeps along southeast Loop 1604.

"That's the ideal situation we'd like to see come out of it," said Tom Griebel, director of the authority.

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