Thursday, December 30, 2004

Corridor Backs Off Commuter Rail


Where's the Rail?

Transportation plan backs off mass transit

December 30, 2004

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2004

When Gov. Rick Perry first outlined his vision for the Trans-Texas Corridor nearly three years ago he described it as including high-speed and commuter rail. But the corridor contract awarded this month to a Spanish firm relegates rail to an afterthought.

The plan by Cintra, picked by the state for the $7.2 billion project, calls for miles and miles of blacktop, mainly new toll roads parallel to Interstate 35. Transportation planners, according to the current outline, wouldn't get to the rail part for some 20 years.

That's not good enough.

In two decades, our state is projected to have 5 million more people. Roads are fine, and we support them. But alone they can't get the job done. Texans need a better and broader transportation system. Here are two key reasons:

•Our economy. It will suffer if we don't find better and more efficient ways to move people and goods. Commuter and high-speed rail lines that connect the state's major cities and airports, and align with major national freight corridors will spur needed economic development.

•Public health. We can't keep guzzling fuel and spewing emissions without serious consequence. Pollution doesn't just dirty our air; it harms our lungs. Nearly everybody in North Texas either suffers from or knows somebody who suffers from serious respiratory problems. Want an earful? Ask any physician who specializes in respiratory ailments about North Texas' air quality.

The whole contract issue was complicated this week by conflict of interest concerns raised by news reports that a top aide to Mr. Perry worked for Cintra until three months before the company was selected for the contract.

When it comes to rail, there is time to correct this situation. The state and the firm have 60 days to work out more details. Then, there will be a 12-month period to hammer out final plans.

The state should insist that rail be a more immediate piece of the picture. It's good for Texas.

© 2004 The Dallas Morning News Co