Thursday, February 07, 2008

“The Texas Department of Transportation is one of the most arrogant agencies we have in the state.”

Senators unhappy with TxDOT

Sometimes the truth just has a way of coming to light.

February 07, 2008

The Palestine Herald-Press
Copyright 2008

A public information officer with the Texas Department of Transportation this week wrote a column in the Herald-Press describing the financial woes facing TxDOT and how because of those problems the state’s transportation department doesn’t have the money to deal with many of the state’s transportation issues.

Apparently, several of the state’s senators do not feel that is the case at all. David Dewhurst called out the state’s interim chairwoman of the Texas Transportation Commission, Hope Andrade, on this very issue, according to a story from the Associated Press.

In December, Andrade issued a warning of a budgetary shortfall for TxDOT, which included a decision to postpone new highway projects and focus the department’s attention on existing roads.

The state’s lieutenant governor would have none of that. In a letter to Andrade, as reported by the AP, Dewhurst told her the forecast used to project a $3.6 billion revenue shortfall by the year 2015 “does not show the complete financial picture.”

In other words, TxDOT has an agenda and is playing politics with the state’s tax dollars, or so some of the state’s top senators believe, at least according to chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, “This is screwed up. I understand how to do a cash flow statement. I understand how to do an income statement. This isn’t one of them. This is really bad.”

What’s causing this consternation of the senators is the refusal of TxDOT to include $9 billion in bonds set aside by the Legislature, including $5 billion approved by the voters.

Instead, the department continues to press for the toll-road option, above elected official and public outcry.

One senator even got personal with TxDOT in a comment reported by the AP, “Texans today saw convincing evidence of a fact many of us have known — they cannot trust the Texas Department of Transportation or the policies that are consigning Texas to inadequate roads and privatized toll ways,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

Ogden’s argument is that using the bond money for TxDOT’s road projects would cost Texans less in the long run than these toll road projects TxDOT is trying to force on the state.

Of course, Gov. Rick Perry, who took most of the teeth out of the moratorium the Legislature wanted, is pushing toll roads and public-private partnerships.

In a statement, Perry spokesman Robert Black’s statement sounded much the same as the TxDOT spokesman’s in the Herald-Press, “Just saying no isn’t going to be an option.”

Another elected official at odds with TxDOT is State Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville, who called the Trans Texas Corridor, “the biggest land grab ever done by the state.”

In meetings with TxDOT officials, Hopson told me it is hard to get the whole truth out of the department when discussing the state’s transportation issues.

“The Texas Department of Transportation is one of the most arrogant agencies we have in the state,” Hopson said of the state transportation officials, while at the same time praising TxDOT employees at the local level. “I learned two sessions ago that they are difficult to deal with.”

Just to set the record straight, though, land TxDOT wants does not run just along the I-69 corridor, but also the I-35 corridor, they also would like a corridor running alongside I-45, and they eventually would like to see one running along I-10 as an east-to-west corridor. Other corridors the state would like to see built would be along I-20 and a new one running east to west along the Texas-Oklahoma border.

To get all of this, the state will have to acquire approximately 584,000 acres which it will either have to buy from willing sellers or procure by eminent domain from land owners who do not want to give up their property.

“East Texans love their land and they get a little spooky when the government comes in and talks about taking it over,” Hopson continued. “They also get spooky about an agency from outside the country taking over Texas roads.”

Now, about those trucks coming up through Mexico, well, it’s a one way street.

As a matter of public record, a Chinese shipping firm that goes by the name Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. has spent millions of dollars refurbishing and creating new deep water ports on Mexico’s Pacific coast.

America’s major West Coast ports in California are clogged because of all the Chinese products flooding into this country.

To help ease the congestion, much like TxDOT said they are trying to do, China will just go around the problem and use Texas’ roads to bring more tainted food, more toys with lead paint, more poison toothpaste and whatever products the country makes, with what amounts to slave labor, into this country so stores like Wal-Mart can make more money.

It’s much more than trucks, though, as trains are a part of the Trans Texas Corridor plans. If the TTC projects were to be built as designed, there would be six rail lanes to go along with the traffic lanes. As it is now, BNSF is steadily bringing Chinese products up from the Mexican port of Manzanillo.

What’s not coming up by rail is coming by truck which does add to the traffic problems. While I applaud TxDOT’s efforts to ease the congestion in the cities, let’s not forsake the state’s beauty and much of its heritage to accommodate products that are essentially undercutting the American economy.

All is not lost, though; according to Hopson, I-69 is not a done deal yet.

“If we do it at all, there will be no foreign government or a company from outside the U.S. administering our roads,” Hopson said. “The state of Texas needs to be in charge of and operating these roads.”

© 2008 The Palestine Herald-Press:

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