Thursday, October 21, 2004

Krusee: "Lots of work and money needed" for Corridor

Transit panel's chief praises S.A.'s efforts

October 21, 2004

Patrick Driscoll, Staff Writer
Copyright 2004

Mike Krusee, chairman of the Transportation Committee in the Texas House of Representatives, said Wednesday he's done beating San Antonio over the head with a two-by-four.

That's because San Antonio has risen to a challenge he issued last year and has joined other Texas cities on the cutting edge of tackling traffic congestion, he told Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council members.

"The rest of the nation is just now recognizing the problem," said Krusee, an Austin representative who spoke at the council's annual membership meeting at the International Center. "But while they are watching (us), we are acting."

He listed several positive steps taken by San Antonio.

Bexar County officials earlier this year formed the state's second mobility authority to pursue toll road projects, which is the main solution pushed by Gov. Perry. The first local tollway system could be lanes added to Loop 1604 and U.S. 281 on the North Side.

Then San Antonio really got serious, Krusee said, when VIA Metropolitan Transit put a proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase on the Nov. 2 ballot to increase bus service, help build state highways and improve traffic flows on city streets.

Such initiatives pave the way for a better future, Krusee said. They are gifts for our children.

"They'll have more options than you have today," he said.

Krusee also praised local efforts to get Union Pacific to move railroad tracks away from downtown. Derailments and hazardous chemical spills this year have brought the issue to the forefront.

Tying into those efforts are state negotiations with UP to move through freight off tracks along Interstate 35 and put it on a line that would be built along Texas 130, a toll highway under construction.

That would make trains rolling through cities from San Antonio to Georgetown safer and allow those urban tracks to be used for commuter rail. Projections call for passenger service along the whole corridor to be in place within six years.

That would be a defining moment for the Corridor Council, going far to link communities in the region as a solid economic force, said former Mayor Henry Cisneros, who also was a speaker at the meeting.

"All of a sudden everybody in this region will get it," he said. "So that's a signal achievement."

But lots of work and lots of money is needed, Krusee said.

UP officials are willing to do it if the deal it right, he said. It could cost up to $500 million for new tracks along the segment of Texas 130 that wraps around Austin, which is supposed to open to cars in 2007, but prospects are hazy for the unfunded section down to Seguin.

There could be answers later this year when the state unveils the winning bid from firms proposing to finance and build the Trans Texas Corridor route paralleling I-35. Krusee suspects the plan will fold in Texas 130 by extending it to Seguin and to southeast Loop 1604.

"That will give us a basis to negotiate," he said.

Public and private funding is sought to build the tracks along the north half of Texas 130 and to start commuter rail service, including earmarks in a federal six-year transportation bill that has bogged down in Congress for a year.

San Antonio Express-News:


Tuesday, October 19, 2004

"Making it a toll road wouldn't make us very popular."

A toll road whose time hasn't come

October 18, 2004

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2004

It's come to this: They're talking about toll roads in Rockdale.

The city limit signs in Rockdale, if you haven't had an excuse to go through Milam County in a while, say the town has 5,439 people.

U.S. 79, one of the two main routes to Bryan-College Station from greater Austin, cuts through town for about 3 miles. There are five stoplights.

Last year, according to the state, just under 7,000 vehicles a day used that part of U.S. 79, which has a yawning five lanes as it approaches Rockdale from the west. In other words, its pretty darned roomy.

Nonetheless, the state Transportation Department, as it has in most small-but-not-tiny Texas towns on the way to someplace bigger, plans to put a 9-mile loop around Rockdale. In this case, the $34 million two-lane divided expressway would diverge from U.S. 79 a few miles west, skirt Rockdale in the hills north of town and then reconnect to the east.

The loop, likely to be expanded to four lanes eventually, would be a "limited access" road, that is, no driveways for businesses and only two or three direct connections to intersecting roads.

The state already has set aside the money for the road and plans to get it built within about six years. So lack of money or a need for rapid construction, the typical toll road justifications, are not in play here.

Even so, state Rep. Dan Gattis, a Georgetown Republican whose district includes all of Milam County, and Bryan Wood, a Texas Transportation Department district engineer whose area includes Rockdale, last month paid a visit to Milam County Commissioners Burke Bauerschlag and Dale Jaecks.

Gattis and Wood proposed building the loop as planned, without borrowing money, then forming a Milam County regional mobility authority to put a toll on the road. The figure of $1 for the 9 miles came up.

The meeting was supposed to be on the q.t. But Milam County is a small place. Word gets around.

So why create a toll road at Rockdale? If it isn't exactly the middle of nowhere, you don't have to drive far to get there.

Gattis, who says he was just raising the idea, not pushing it, has two justifications. The loop, first of all, is unpopular with some Rockdale Main Streeters who fear losing business.

It's happened in many another small Texas place, when the blacktop was routed around the town. Putting a toll on the loop, Gattis said, might keep some of that highway traffic in town.

Beyond that, Gattis said, the excess money after paying for maintaining the loop and adding two more lanes could be used to pave some of the 700 miles of gravel county roads in Milam County. It has only about 100 miles of paved county road.

The commissioners, though intrigued by the potential county windfall, said no thanks to the toll idea. County Judge Frank Summers followed up with a letter to Gattis saying as much.

"Making it a toll road wouldn't make us very popular," was County Commissioner Jaecks' understated explanation.

Gattis, although he said it's up to the locals, said he wants to continue the conversation.

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