Sunday, March 16, 2008

"TxDOT is working for a governor who is dead-set on building a massive superhighway system that the Texas public simply does not want."

State government needs to prepare for future of transportation

March 16, 2008

Nachodoches Daily Sentinel
The Daily Sentinel

The Texas Department of Transportation is taking a lot of heat these days. Much of it is deserved, but the truth is the agency is between multiple rocks and hard places.

TxDOT is working for a governor who is dead-set on building a massive superhighway system that the Texas public simply does not want. TxDOT is having to figure out how to prepare for what, by all accounts, is an impending population explosion, with hardly enough funding to maintain the roads it has now.

And now TxDOT is being told by a couple of high-ranking state officials (Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick, among others) that it should borrow $1.5 billion against future gas tax revenue to get through this rough patch in the financial road, all while the agency's boss (again, Gov. Rick Perry) says he will not stand for more debt.

To say Texas transportation is at a crossroads is an understatement. TxDOT claims the state's population is expected to increase 64 percent in the next 25 years, contributing to an estimated increase in road use of 214 percent.

It's not a good time for the governor and the Legislature to be bickering over what TxDOT needs to be doing and how it's going to pay for it.

East Texans are particularly concerned with Perry's proposed Trans-Texas Corridor 69 — the latest reincarnation of the proposed Interstate 69, which eventually would go from Mexico to Canada (presumably passing between or around Lufkin and Nacogdoches). Thousands of people along the proposed corridor — Perry's version of which would include rail and utility lines, not to mention toll booths — have protested TxDOT's grand plan for TTC-69.

Agency officials seem to have backed off that aggressive effort, at least the one that would consume a quarter-mile-wide swath of land and force rural landowners to cough up huge chunks of their property. Opponents of the roadway aren't backing off their fight, however. In fact, a "How to Stop the TTC Workshop" is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday at Pitser Garrison Civic Center in Lufkin. Several groups are conducting the seminar, which costs $30 at the door (and includes a barbecue lunch).

We don't blame East Texans for getting riled up about Perry's superhighway idea. We are quite proud of the way people here have — peaceably, for the most part — organized their opposition. But the likely truth is that Texas in the next half-decade is going to have to deal with a lot more cars and trucks on its roadways, and Texas legislators and TxDOT officials need to be in crisis mode to get an effective plan together and implement it in time. Doing nothing is not an option, in our view.

East Texas and the nation need a better north-south corridor, and not just for the parade of 18-wheelers bringing in goods from Mexico. The population glut will force a need for it, as will the next hurricane or other disaster that threatens the Gulf Coast.

Obviously, TTC-69 is not the solution, not in the manner it's being proposed. A more likely scenario is the expansion of U.S. Hwy. 59, but that, too, will take a huge amount of money and cause a great deal of headaches for current property owners near that existing highway. As with TTC-69, a new and improved 59 — or anything else TxDOT comes up with — will not happen overnight.

When it comes to the future of transportation in East Texas, our state government needs to get behind the wheel and get the show on the road.

© 2008, Nachodoches Daily Sentinel:

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