Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"The official memo has gone out."

Controversial Trans-Texas Corridor Plans Forge Ahead


KLBJ News Radio 590
Copyright 2007

The official memo has gone out from the state's transportation department to two private companies to move ahead with plans to build a highly-controversial superhighway which critics say hurt Texas, and cause an erosion in commerce nationwide.

Plans for the Trans-Texas corridor were being formulated 16 years ago, but Governor Rick Perry's office says it "lacked the billions of dollars in funding needed to construct it". On Monday, two private companies were asked to submit detailed proposals on developing and financing the project, designed to provide a high-speed ground link between Laredo and Dallas. Under a preferred route, running parallel to I-35 near Austin, the route would bypass San Antonio, Austin, Waco and Dallas.

"It has no federal funding for it, and so it is up to the State of Texas to find funding for this interstate corridor," says Gaby Garcia, spokesperson for the Texas Department of Transportation. "We have no money set aside for this project. No federal funds are set aside for the interstate."

TxDOT has asked two firms, Zachry American Infrastructure, of San Antonio; and Cintra, a Spain-based toll-road operator, to front the project. Cintra would do business as 'Bluebonnet Infrastructure' on this project. Cintra currently operates an east-west toll-road in Indiana, as the result of a highly-protested takeover in 2005, approved by Indiana's governor at the time.

In an online fact-versus-myth page dedicated to the corridor, or "TTC/I-69" as the state calls it, Governor Perry says the road will be paid for entirely by private financing. When completed, it will be a totally toll-operated highway.

"[It's] a revenue-generating opportunity for a private partner to have a monopoly on transportation," says David Stall, of the group 'Corridor Watch.org', based in Fayetteville, Texas. "I mean, there's no free lunch and there's no free road. And when you layer-in a profit for a private partner that has a monopoly who is going to dictate the price of the infrastructure, absolutely they're going to pay for it."

Although there have been previous newspaper articles and maps illustrating the future main artery of the corridor paralleling I-35 and taking about the same path as the brand-new SH130, east of Austin (currently toll), the U.S. Route 59 was recently asserted as the official route for the planned highway. U.S. 59 connects Laredo with roughly west of Victoria, proceeds northeast to Houston, and roughly due north to Texarkana.

"We're concerned that this has been a project that has excluded public input," Stall says.

Some critics have also contested the plan in saying that it would divide some of the area's massive properties, farms and ranches by upwards of a one-half mile. According to Governor Perry's online "contention" versus "reality" publication, that statement is untrue. He says access roads and overpasses would be built in select locations to give property owners access to their lands. Other critics claim the highway would be built using eminent domain and the state could easily give far less than fair market value to property owners whose land the highway would consume for construction. The Governor claims that assertion is untrue and that property owners have every right to contest any offer made for their property, in court.

The state contends that the project "is needed to make transportation safer, faster and more reliable and to provide for better hurricane evacuation".

The entire Trans-Texas Corridor could take up to 50 years to complete.

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