Strayhorn vows to wipe out Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor
San Antonio Express-News
Gov. Rick Perry has challenged critics of his Trans-Texas Corridor to come up with a better plan, and on Monday, two alternatives were put forth.
But the alternatives are as different as it gets when it comes to tolls as a solution.
Independent gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn said she would avoid any tolls in her effort to solve growing traffic congestion, and Environmental Defense officials said tolls could be used on existing roads to control traffic.
The proposals were submitted to state officials Monday, the last day for public comments on an environmental report to narrow a study area for the first Trans-Texas Corridor segment, a leg that would parallel Interstate 35 from Mexico to Dallas.
Perry envisions a 4,000-mile network of supercorridors with toll lanes, railways and utility lines crisscrossing the state in coming decades. Private companies would put up much of the financing in return for collecting user fees for up to 50 years.
At 56 public hearings in July and August, 13,851 people showed up, and most of the 1,103 speakers blasted Perry's plan.
Strayhorn, who just five years ago talked about how tolls could speed up road projects and bring more economic benefits, spoke at 14 of the hearings and promised to wipe out Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor.
Strayhorn said Monday that she would forgo tolls and add lanes to I-35, which could mean double-decking in some places; step up plans for a port-to-plains highway through West Texas; increase use of Texas seaports; and improve other existing roads and rail corridors.
She also said she would encourage telecommuting and staggered work schedules.
"Texas once had and can again have a freeway system that is the envy of the nation," Strayhorn said. Perry's campaign called her plan "bad science fiction" and listed reasons such as I-35 already being widened where it can be and how double-decking the freeway would cost $10 billion and take decades.
"Carole Strayhorn's latest plan to solve Texas' future transportation needs is so unrealistic she might as well have proposed using the transporter system from the Starship Enterprise," spokesman Robert Black said.
Also, although Strayhorn said the state has billions of extra transportation dollars with Texas Mobility Fund bonds and revenue bonds and could boost collections of federal and state dollars, Black said $4 billion in mobility funds and $3 billion in revenue bonds are already earmarked.
Environmental Defense officials say building new highway lanes should be the last resort.
The group said the Trans-Texas Corridor would just promote sprawl, traffic growth and dependence on foreign oil and that it would harm air, water, farms, wildlife, human health and rural communities.
The group said a better strategy is to focus first on existing transportation networks, such as using tolls and signal-light timing to manage traffic flows, and on improving public transit. Such moves, together with clustering new homes and businesses into walkable centers, could reduce growing traffic.
"We think those things ought to happen first," said Mary Sanger, an Environmental Defense researcher in Austin. "We don't think they really addressed alternative ways of addressing congestion, traffic, mobility."
Texas Department of Transportation officials declined to respond to Environmental Defense's ideas, saying thousands of comments received for the corridor segment that will run beside I-35 will be analyzed in a report due next year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
© 2006 San Antonio Express-News: