Thursday, August 31, 2006

"Apparently it doesn't matter how Texans feel about the Trans-Texas Corridor."

Trans-Texas Corridor not solution to traffic congestion

Aug. 31, 2006

The Baylor Lariat
Copyright 2006

Apparently it doesn't matter how Texans feel about the Trans-Texas Corridor. The decision to build has been made by the powers that be.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) held dozens public meetings during the summer in areas that would be affected by the corridor. Most of the people who showed up at the meetings were against it.

Among the public's complaints were the corridor's multibillion-dollar price tag, the several decades it would take to construct and the government's use of eminent domain to acquire the necessary land for the project.

But that's not stopping TxDOT from constructing an incognito corridor east of Austin and calling it state highway 130.

In June, Cintra-Zachry reached an agreement with the state to construct the southern tract of highway 130, a 90-mile road that will connect Georgetown to Seguin.

The highway reportedly was going to end south of Austin at the junction with State Highway 183 because of underfunding, but Cintra-Zachry put up the $1.3 billion to complete the highway. In exchange for financing, constructing and maintaining the highway, Cintra-Zachry will collect a share of tolls for 50 years.

The Trans-Texas Corridor also would be a toll road. Its proposed path runs directly over highway 130. Furthermore, Cintra-Zachry is the same partnership that is developing the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Coincidence? I think not.

The Trans-Texas Corridor would be part of a superhighway stretching from Mexico through the United States to Canada to facilitate the mass transportation of goods between the three countries.

Truck traffic on Interstate 35 has increased dramatically since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in the mid-1990s. Congestion, particularly around Austin, is forcing TxDOT officials to think of an alternative north-south route to ease the burden off I-35.

"We're planning for the next 20 to 50 years," says Gabby Garcia, spokeswoman for the Texas Turnpike Authority Division, which is responsible for planning the corridor. "I-35 is not going to be sufficient to handle the demands of the next generation."

A noble objective, undoubtedly, but here's the rub: According to TxDOT, 47 residences and 18 commercial businesses will be displaced to make way for the Cintra-Zachry portion of highway 130 alone. That's just a 38-mile stretch of highway. How many more homes and businesses would be displaced by the corridor's remaining 400 miles?

Garcia says the impact would not be as severe as some think. TxDOT is looking to incorporate existing roads and railroads to minimize the amount of right-of-way, or expropriated land, the corridor requires.

To the state's credit, it recognizes there is a transportation problem in Texas. However, our resources would be more efficiently applied to upgrading Texas's existing infrastructure.

Instead of usurping thousands of acres from private owners and investing billions of dollars in a superhighway, why not expand I-35 and construct a loop around Austin? The government would not have to acquire as much land and not as many homes and businesses would have to relocate.

That said, highway 130 is a good start, but it should only be used as an alternative route around Austin, not as the future Trans-Texas Corridor.

Joe Dooley is a junior English major from Portland, Texas.

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