Friday, June 29, 2007

Aide to Gov. Perry gets a frosty reception in Cleburne

[Perry] Aide: Growth demands Trans-Texas Corridor

Residents speak against highway, rail system

June 29, 2007

By Misty Shultz/Staff Writer
Cleburne Times-Review
Copyright 2007

Texas needs the Trans-Texas Corridor because of its surging population, a representative for Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday while speaking in Cleburne.

Plans are to build the multi-lane highway and rail system parallel to Interstate 35, north-south through the center of the state. Kris Heckmann, deputy director of Perry’s Legislative Division spoke at the Cleburne Civic Center at the invitation of the Johnson County Republican Women for their monthly meeting.

Every decade since World War II, Texas’ population has increased by at least 20 percent, Heckmann said. In 1990, the state’s population was 16.5 million, and today the population is 23 million. More than half of Texas’ population lives within 20 to 30 miles of I-35, he said.

The growth means Texas needs a better roadway from San Antonio to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Heckmann said.

“The state does not have billions of dollars to spend on I-35,” he said. “We would have to stop work on the other highways to cover the costs.”

Inflation would also increase costs, and that would extend the time needed to revamp I-35, Heckmann said. Perry is concerned the state would never catch up on the expansion because it would not be able to fund it, he said.

To save time and money, Perry believes the Trans-Texas Corridor, or TTC-35, would be a better option.

Building it a few miles east or west of I-35 would be cheaper because the land it would use is not as heavily developed as along I-35, Heckmann said. If the new corridor is a toll road, it can be built for few or no tax dollars, he said. Only the people who use the road would pay for it, he said.

“When I-35 was built, they did not buy enough land, so there is no room to add lanes without tearing down existing development,” he said. “We will buy enough land [for TTC-35] to expand when the population grows. We have to plan ahead.”

TTC-35 would also be built quicker because it would not be traveled on during construction, he said. When adding to an existing highway, the state has to close lanes and build a few miles of road at a time, he said.

The state signed an agreement with Cintra Zachary, a partnership of several businesses that has offered to pay $10 billion for the construction, maintenance and operation of TTC-35 because the state cannot fund such an extensive project without accruing a large amount of debt and increasing taxes to cover costs.

The state would receive 5 percent of the money for every car on the road for 50 years, and Cintra Zachary would receive 95 percent, Heckmann said. As the number of people who use the road increases, the percentage of money the state receives would increase, he said. The state plans to put the money back into Texas roads.

“This sounded good to me until I found out that a company from Spain was doing this,” said Gayle Ledbetter, Johnson County Democratic Party chairwoman. “They are picking foreign companies to handle this when Texans should do the job quite well.”

Ledbetter said Perry was wrong not to make the public aware of the deal with Cintra Zachary before it was complete.

Some landowners are unhappy about relinquishing land that will be used for TTC-35. It would take up some of the best farmland in Texas, Ledbetter said.

The state will own the land and the roads, Heckmann said, and the private businesses involved have no eminent domain authority to confiscate land.

“I’m all for a good transportation system, but landowners are very upset,” Ledbetter said.

Henry Teich of Cleburne, a Republican who attended the meeting, said the state needs to put another road next to I-35 instead of using farmers’ land for a new road.

People need to consider the effect TTC-35 will have on agriculture, he said.

“Right now more people seem to be worried about the transportation problem than the food supply,” Heckmann said.

Several people who attended the meeting were also concerned that TTC-35 will develop into a superhighway extending from Canada to Mexico for the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Heckmann said the Trans-Texas Corridor would not be built from San Antonio to Mexico because there is not enough traffic to support the funding of the highway.

“This is not about trade with Mexico,” Heckmann said. “We don’t need a parallel toll road that goes to Mexico because we’ve had I-35 for years.”

He also said no other states are planning to build a road parallel to I-35 because they do not have the population to support the cost. More people live in the Metroplex than in any state along I-35, he said.

“We can’t stick our head in the sand and pretend like I-35 isn’t a problem,” he said.

Misty Shultz can be reached at 817-645-2441, ext. 2336, or

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