Sunday, November 19, 2006

"The trouble with the TTC isn’t the highway itself. It’s how the project is being done."

That curious corridor plan


Gary Johnson, guest column:
The Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2006

MCGREGOR — Do we need additional capacity for vehicular travel? Of course we do.

The recent fiery 18-wheeler crash on Interstate 35 points out a very serious problem. We already know what it is: That road is about three or four times too small for the traffic it bears.

Every time it rains, somebody is killed because there is not enough room to drive at a safe following distance. Even if you drop back, desperate drivers jump into the unsafe opening.

I-35 hasn’t kept pace

I-35 is still the very same four-lane divided road in the rural stretches that it was when it was built more than 40 years ago. Most expansions have been in cities. I-35 has never kept pace with need.

Compounding the problem is the increase in truck traffic, which by its nature does not mix well with automobiles. If you look during non-rush hour in Waco, trucks often outnumber cars.

This massive increase in truck traffic is due in part to NAFTA cross-border trade, and in part to the decline of railroads. The medium- and short-haul freight business is now all trucking.

The controversial Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) project is supposed to be the answer. But consider this:

We’d already have an answer to the problem if the pace of expansion of I-35 had been adequate all these years.

That highway ought to be about 12 lanes wide and double- or triple-decked by now, all the way from Laredo to Duluth.

The fact that it is not points directly toward a failure of elected and appointed officials (state and federal) to effectively address this over the past 40 years.

The damage from that type of governmental neglect accumulates slowly.

But once it’s too late, the fact hits you right in the face, just like the truck that jumped the barrier.

The trouble with the TTC isn’t the highway itself. It’s how the project is being done.

A “self-supporting toll road,” which will require tax dollars to acquire the land by eminent domain, really means someone operates this thing at a profit — in this case a foreign company.

I have a problem with a million acres being condemned by eminent domain to build a project specifically for someone’s profit. I really get mad when that profit goes to a foreign company.

Texans in the dark

I also have a serious problem with having no vote on any aspect of such a major undertaking. I really get mad when elected officials file lawsuits to prevent revealing what they signed us up in secrecy to do.

I have a major problem with losing a million acres of the best farmland in Texas at a time when we will increasingly need that land to grow energy crops as well as food.

We need to be laying the concrete and asphalt on the bad land, and quit covering up the good.

The demand for a new superhighway is there, but the form it has taken is an enormous boondoggle at the expense of nearly all Texans.

That must change.

Gary Johnson of McGregor is a engineering consultant and school teacher.

© 2006 The Waco Tribune-Herald: