Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sen. Hutchison distances herself from "land-grabbing, triple-taxing community-ruining" idea.

Hutchison wary of corridor plan


Clay Robison
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

AUSTIN — U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, apparently trying to distance herself from Gov. Rick Perry on the controversial toll road issue, said Wednesday she was "very concerned" about how Perry's proposed Trans Texas Corridor would route new highways across the state.

She said bypasses to major, congested freeways, including Interstate 35, are needed, but she said it was unnecessary to build a toll road connecting South Texas to San Antonio.

"I just don't see the need for that, and I think the taking of property for that is a very serious matter that needs to be studied carefully," she told reporters after addressing the Texas Association of Counties.

The stretch of Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Laredo is designated as the preferred route for that section of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor. No decision has been made on whether tolls would be imposed on that section of highway, but Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt didn't rule out the possibility.

As outlined by the Texas Department of Transportation, toll roads would play an important role in the development of the overall corridor, a cross-state transportation network proposed by Perry to relieve congestion on existing highways.

A transportation corridor a quarter-mile wide, which also would include rail and utility lines, is envisioned.

"Under the governor's leadership, we have a solid solution to the long-term transportation infrastructure needs of this state," Walt said. "We look forward to hearing ideas the senator or anyone else might want to propose in meeting those transportation needs."

A route that would parallel Interstate 35 from north to south across Texas is now the subject of a series of public hearings. Thousands of Texans have shown up to testify against the proposal, and it also has drawn fire from Perry's re-election opponents, especially Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

Hutchison's Democratic challenger, Houston attorney Barbara Ann Radnofsky, also has attacked the plan. Calling it a "land-grabbing, triple-taxing community-ruining" idea, Radnofsky planned to testify against it at a public hearing in North Texas tonight.

Most of the opposition is from rural Texans, who don't want to give up their land for right of way or fear their farms and ranches will be harmed by new highways and related development along the corridor route.

"I'm very concerned about the Trans-Texas Corridor," Hutchison said.

She said parts of it are "very necessary" but questioned whether there has been enough public input, despite the series of hearings.

She called for a "whole lot more study of the routes" and said the state needed to make sure it was adequately using existing right of way.

"I'm not saying I'm against another route for bypassing the major, clogged freeways that we have. Interstate 35 is a parking lot," she said. "But I think that going too far outside of the major metropolitan areas is an issue that should be resolved."

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News: