Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"The Trans-Texas Corridor ... is not so far down the road that it can't be stopped."

Toll Time?: East Texans' views to be sought at town hall meetings

January 15, 2008

Longview News -Journal
Copyright 2008

A long a path that roughly parallels the East Texas route of the much-anticipated Interstate 69, area residents will have three opportunities this week to take part in town hall meetings to discuss the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor.

The Texas Department of Transportation's statewide series of such meetings begins tonight at Pleasant Grove High School in Texarkana, and then moves to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage on Wednesday and the Lufkin Civic Center on Thursday. All of the meetings begin at 6:30 p.m.

Gov. Rick Perry's corridor plan — which relies heavily upon toll roads and private investors — has stirred great passion in Texas. Some backers tout it as the most cost-efficient way to meet the ground transportation needs of the nation's fastest growing state, while detractors label it the biggest land grab in Texas history.

There was a serious move in the Texas Legislature last year to derail Perry's plan. Although his foes were not successful, they did slow the progress of the first stage. That stage granted the franchise for the initial leg of mega-tollway to the Cintra Zachry consortium, a private concern teaming Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte SA of Spain and Zachry Construction Co. of San Antonio. The Spanish firm is one of the world's largest developer of toll roads.

While the first stretch of the Trans-Texas Corridor is scheduled to be built by the Cintra Zachry partnership, the opposition to the concept has prompted some unique partnerships, as well. Toll opponents range from a very irate collection of farmers and ranchers, who say the state will need to take some 580,000 acres to complete the governor's full vision, to Texans who think toll roads are the wrong answers to the state's transportation needs.

The Texas Farm Bureau, usually a reliable supporter of conservative Texas leaders, has been one of the leading voices in criticizing Perry for the Trans-Texas Corridor plans. Some business leaders have also raised questions since the privately operated toll road concept gives the developer an opportunity to control motorists' access to services such as motels and gas stations.

Other critics say the state is falling back on toll roads as an option because key leaders such as Perry are afraid to set gasoline taxes at a level that will return sufficient funding for Texas' highway building and maintenance needs.

On the other hand, proponents of the toll concept see it as the only viable way to raise the billions of dollars it will take to complete major new highways such as Interstate 69, which would eventually connect the U.S./Mexico border at Laredo with the U.S./Canada border in Detroit.

Although Perry and TxDOT have made some headway on their vision for the Trans-Texas Corridor, it is not so far down the road that it can't be stopped.

Whether you oppose the concept, agree with it or simply want to learn more about it, we suggest you make time this week to hit the road to a neighboring town and attend one of the town hall meetings.

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