Sunday, June 18, 2006

"We must do everything we can to prevent this bad idea from becoming a reality."

'We are opposed to TxDOT's vision'

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

There is great consternation among North Texas officials -- including those from Fort Worth and Dallas -- to a preliminary proposal by the Texas Department of Transportation for the route of TTC-35, a privately financed toll road that would relieve congestion on Interstate 35 and be part of the statewide Trans-Texas Corridor system touted by Gov. Rick Perry.

A Spanish firm, Cintra, and Zachry Construction of San Antonio are proposing to use $6 billion in private investment to build TTC-35 as a 316-mile, four-lane road running from the D-FW area to San Antonio and collect tolls on it for 50 years.

Cintra favors running TTC-35 around the east edge of Dallas County, the preliminary proposal of TxDOT. But D-FW elected officials, business leaders and transportation experts strongly favor running the corridor up the Metroplex's middle, along the path of an extended Texas 360 and on to D/FW Airport.

Local leaders also favor constructing, as part of the TTC-35 system, an east-west corridor at the southern edge of the Metroplex looping northward around the west edge of Fort Worth and the east edge of Dallas.

Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief spoke forcefully in favor of the TTC-35 plan favored by Metroplex officials at a hearing of the Texas Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee in Fort Worth that occurred Tuesday.

Following is the prepared text of his remarks. Material in brackets has been inserted; remarks delivered may have varied slightly.

To begin, I want to praise our Gov. Rick Perry for having the vision to realize the need for such an ambitious improvement to our state's infrastructure.

I also want to applaud [state] Sen. [Florence] Shapiro, with whom I had the pleasure of working with as she led the effort to establish the Texas Mobility Fund, without which the Trans-Texas Corridor would not be possible.

A river of trade is flowing and flourishing through Texas, with the Fort Worth/Dallas area constituting a major component, and proper infrastructure is the key to ensuring our continued prosperity.

Speaking for my fellow elected officials in North Texas, we applaud and welcome the Trans-Texas Corridor.

However, we are opposed to TxDOT's vision for the North Texas portion, and we are disheartened by TxDOT's refusal to partner with local government.

As you just heard [Tarrant County] Commissioner [Glen] Whitley explain, the D-FW Metroplex has a different vision for the Corridor's route through our region.

I want to spend a moment to briefly explain why our vision is the better alternative.

I could spend all afternoon describing the absolutely devastating long-term economic consequences of the TxDOT plan, which includes the loss of business, loss of tax base and loss of jobs.

But beyond this obvious consequence, there are some other fundamental problems with TxDOT's proposal.

TxDOT's proposal does not provide optimal truck flow through our region, which is the intended purpose of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Seventy percent of trucks which pass through North Texas need to make at least one stop within the heart of D-FW and do business. The vast majority of the trucks will not take advantage of the bypass.

Thus, a complete bypass would do little to: One, increase the speed and efficiency of the flow of goods to the rest of the country; and, Two, decrease the amount of traffic and congestion in the D-FW region.

In fact, it may actually make traffic worse by adding stress on our East-West thoroughfares. Remember, under TxDOT's proposal, the vast majority of trucks are going to have to make a left and drive west into the D-FW Metroplex.

Members, we also do not want to artificially invite sprawl.

Sprawl creates traffic gridlock and discourages the use of public transportation. These new populations will not have access to public transportation.

The result is bad air and a worsening of our quality of life.

Right now, we suffer from traffic congestion and poor air quality, and we are working hard to address these problems through regional rail and expanded road capacity.

TxDOT's proposal will undermine this hard work.

Let me spend a moment on why bad air is bad.

Not only is it a health concern; our Metroplex is in a nonattainment status relative to the Clean Air Act. If we do not meet the standards within the next three years, then we are at significant risk of no longer receiving federal transportation dollars.

(Note: We must be in compliance during 2009 to meet the 2010 deadline.)

I don't know if this is on the Legislature's radar screen, but I wake up every day aware of what nonattainment will mean for my city and our region.

If we do not get more regional rail and do not prevent sprawl like the kind TxDOT wants to cause, then we will have to take drastic control measures that at the end of the day still may not be enough.

Some of these control measures include restrictions on morning construction activity and shutting down drive-in windows at banks and pharmacies throughout the summer. We may even see "even driving days" like they have in Mexico City.

This is not hyperbole; this is a very real risk.

The TxDOT proposal will add to our air quality problem by increasing sprawl, increasing East/West traffic, and by placing more trucks to the far Eastern side of the Metroplex, which, due to wind patterns, will worsen our federal air quality scores.

The D-FW solution does not contribute to these air quality problems.

In fact, the D-FW proposal will improve our air quality.

By far, however, the worst consequence of the TxDOT's approach to the TTC is their radical departure from the traditional partnership with the Legislature and with local government.

You just heard Commissioner Whitley describe the extent to which local government has attempted to express their concerns to no avail.

TxDOT's understanding of the new CDA [Comprehensive Development Agreement] approach to road building is that local branches of government and the Legislature are no longer part of the process.

According to the TxDOT view, once an agreement is made with a private partner, TxDOT and the provider alone are empowered to makes decisions concerning road alignments.

This is a staggering change from the way we have historically made these decisions.

These projects are too important to not allow the citizens to participate through their various voices in government.

This is a fundamental issue of the separation of powers and checks and balances in the system.

I have had the unique honor of serving the citizens of Fort Worth and Tarrant County as county judge, state senator and now mayor of Fort Worth.

What I have learned through serving in these various capacities is that this fundamental issue of separation of powers should not so casually be cast aside.

Every level of government has a unique perspective, which serves to express the complex voice of our citizenry.

The elected officials of North Texas have made our opinions regarding these competing visions plain from the start.

We have emphatically expressed our concerns with TxDOT.

Unfortunately, TxDOT has cynically attempted to placate us for months now with assurances that there is still time to consider our alternative.

However, we fear that we have been "slow-played" and that we will soon be told that "the die is cast" -- that it is too late to consider the North Texas 360 alternative.

Members, we need your help to make sure the Trans-Texas Corridor does not bypass our region.

It doesn't make sense for our economy, our environment and even our private partners who are providing this facility.

We must do everything we can to prevent this bad idea from becoming a reality.

You can help realize a better solution for all stakeholders.

May I suggest that during the interim, you conduct more hearings on this issue.

Through your leadership, we can ensure that we maintain the traditional partnership between all branches and subdivisions of our government--especially when we construct such important infrastructure in this state.

I again thank you, Chairman and members, for having this hearing and for your willingness to roll up your sleeves and find the best North Texas alternative for the Trans-Texas Corridor.

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram: