Thursday, October 19, 2006

"Maybe Texas should just pay for better highways?"


For whom the corridor tolls

October 19, 2006

John Young
The Waco Tribine-herald
Copyright 2006

The only jab that scored against Rick Perry in his last campaign was his opponent’s use of a video from a traffic stop in which Perry told a state trooper to “let us get on down the road.”

Who imagined that our governor would set out, upon re-election, to construct a super highway he could use all by himself?

Perry portrays the Trans-Texas Corridor as the answer to, um, swift motor conveyance.

With the tolls foreseen if and when it ever happens, only Perry could afford it, and only by dipping into his $9 million campaign chest.

Of course, officials with Spanish contractor Cintra-Zachry have been good to Perry. They’ve donated $59,000 this year to his re-election. Maybe he’d get a lifetime toll tag.

Then again he may not live that long. That’s no comment on Perry’s longevity. The state says 2014 is a target date. But none of us may live to see Perry’s ultimate road trip.

When I read that it might cost $15 in projected tolls to drive from Waco to Austin on it, I visualized two things: (1) me never using it; (2) the bullet train that wasn’t.

You may remember the bullet train. In the ’90s, Texas went though similar rigmarole with it. It would have had some of the same characteristics. The leading suitor was a foreign company (French). The plan inflamed landowners far and wide. And the state was committed to spending no money constructing it.

Ultimately, the plan fell apart largely on the latter concern. It was not feasible to build a high-speed rail without a considerable state subsidy. Of course, it’s absurd that subsidy of an alternative means of transportation should be verboten if the state really needs it. See how taxpayers subsidize vehicular and air travel.

Now we have a proposed mega-superhighway to be funded by tolls alone. No tax dollars going that-away. No, sir.

Well, I’m here to tell you that if tolls are going to 15.2 cents per mile for cars and 58.5 cents per mile for trucks (Texas Department of Transportation projections), you can set speed limits however you want on the Trans-Texas Corridor. The only vehicles on it will be Brinks trucks hauling gold ingots and that solitary limousine carrying an ex-governor of Texas who still, even in 2014, has good hair.

Maybe by 2014 we’ll know the details of the state’s contract with Cintra-Zachry, something Attorney General Greg Abbott has sued to obtain but which Perry and Co. have fought.

It’s proprietary, see? Perry believes in contracting government out whenever possible. And with it goes pertinent information that is “proprietary” and none of your business, even if the contract is awarded in your name.

A WFAA report calls Nov. 7 a “referendum on the Trans-Texas Corridor.” Maybe so. Of course, with a field split between four major candidates, three of whom are blasting the TTC, even the loser in this referendum is likely to win.

The real referendum, if this boondoogle proceeds, will be in motorists who vote with their bumpers. They’ll opt for clogged interstates over confiscatory tolls by a foreign company.

Maybe Texas should just pay for better highways, and for rail alternatives, you know?

John Young’s column appears Thursday and Sunday. E-mail:

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