Friday, July 21, 2006

Editorial: "Many Texans rely on 'information' from blathering nincompoops."

Trans-Texas confusion

Jul. 21, 2006

By Jack Z. Smith
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

It's officially called the Trans-Texas Corridor, or TTC.

But "Trans-Texas Catastrophe" is the name that state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the motor-mouthed independent candidate for governor, has given the massive statewide toll road network that could be 50 years in the making and cost $184 billion.

"Trans-Texas Confusion" would be a more apt moniker, based on the level of understanding that the general public seems to have about the huge, amorphous project that is, among other things, designed to alleviate congestion on the increasingly bumper-to-bumper and reliably unpleasant Interstate 35.

Public befuddlement over the TTC was evident in Fort Worth on Monday night, when the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) held one of 54 hearings to help determine the route for a primary leg of the TTC-35 system, the corridor segment that will take traffic off I-35 from the southern Oklahoma border to Laredo.

The public confusion is unsurprising, particularly given that many Texans rely on "information" from blathering nincompoops on radio talk shows and blogging conspiracy theorists. The TTC is being tagged as a "land grab" that strips Texans of their property rights and as a cog in a shadowy plan to create a new trade corridor that would run from Mexico to Canada and presumably foster more illegal immigration.

Yes, the TTC (like any massive transportation project) would take a sizable amount of property -- but owners would, by law, have to be fairly compensated. And, yes, the TTC naturally would improve the traffic and trade flow in the Mexico-U.S.-Canada corridor (just as I-35 did when it opened), but illegal immigration should be dealt with separately through reform legislation.

Conspiracy theories aside, it's still understandable why there is widespread confusion about the TTC.

It's in its early stages, so much remains undecided. It's a bigger and more complex undertaking than any road project in Texas history, with the corridor expected to be up to 1,200 feet wide with separate lanes for multiple transportation modes (passenger vehicles, large trucks, freight rail, commuter rail, high-speed rail and conduits for water, oil and natural gas transmission). And the proposed financing, with private investment and tolls, is a sharp break from traditional Texas highway funding.

Complex issues surround TTC routing in metropolitan areas. Local elected officials and transportation experts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are united against a preliminary TxDOT proposal to swing a primary leg of TTC-35 around eastern Dallas County, thus snubbing the Metroplex's western half.

Local leaders instead favor a far superior proposal to have TTC-35 run up the Metroplex's middle via an extended Texas 360 and on to D/FW Airport. They also favor constructing an east-west corridor that would straddle the southern edge of the Metroplex and then loop northward around Fort Worth and Dallas. The loop's modes might range from passenger cars to freight trains.

It's vital that Metroplex leaders such as Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief and Tarrant County Commissioner Glen Whitley continue touting the regionally favored alternative, as they and others from Fort Worth, Arlington, North Richland Hills and Haltom City effectively did Monday night.

I have some serious concerns about the TTC, including the possibility of Texas' becoming overly reliant on high-priced toll roads. The Legislature should raise the state gasoline tax significantly to provide badly needed new funding for non-toll roads.

I'm also concerned that the TTC, if not designed and routed properly, could hurt the economy of older central-city areas in communities such as Fort Worth and Dallas and needlessly trigger harmful leapfrog development and urban sprawl.

But the TTC could be enormously successful if it relieves traffic congestion and reduces traffic fatalities and if its concept of multi-modal corridors proves to be a hit.

Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas Transportation Commission (headed by Ric Williamson of Weatherford), top TxDOT staffers and the Legislature deserve credit for having the courage to try a bold new approach to solving Texas' transportation headaches. But there could be many years of continued "Trans-Texas Confusion" before we know whether the TTC is a winner.

Trans-Texas Corridor,
Jack Z. Smith is a Star-Telegram editorial writer. 817-390-7724

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram: