Sunday, May 11, 2008

"Maybe Gov. Perry has lived in the big city a tad too long."

State faces many rural roadblocks

May 11, 2008

John Kanelis:
Amarillo Globe-News
Copyright 2008

Texas Gov. Rick Perry wants to build a big highway through the Lone Star State. No, make that a really big highway, as in a monstrously big highway.

The exact route hasn't been determined. The mega-highway would run roughly from Laredo on the Rio Grande River through the Hill Country and the Piney Woods and then through Texarkana in that tiny portion of the state that borders Arkansas.

Imagine for a moment if that thoroughfare would be pointed in the other direction - from the Valley, through the South Plains and then through the heart of the Panhandle, right past Palo Duro Canyon before exiting the state at, say, Texline.

Would rural West Texans be angry? Would they resist this monstrous highway project?

You bet, just as folks in some Central and East Texas counties are squawking.

It's difficult to imagine such a thing happening to this part of the state. In fact, I am having a hard time justifying such a grandiose project tearing its way through any part of the state without a major part of our population getting upset to the point of mounting a serious protest in Austin.

State Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, once told me that the major fault lines in the state's ongoing struggle for political power separates rural and urban interests. He said the fight isn't so much partisan - Democrats vs. Republicans. Instead, it pits farmers and ranchers against those big-city movers and shakers.

The Interstate 69/Trans-Texas Corridor is designed to accommodate an enormous projected increase in traffic from Texas to points elsewhere throughout the nation.

It looks like a good idea - on paper. Then you start hearing about the town-hall meetings all along the corridor's proposed route and the complaints from Texans who would have to endure a major disruption in their lives.

That's just from the folks who would be displaced, literally, from land that may have been in their families' hands since Gen. Houston surprised Santa Anna at San Jacinto back in 1836.

To cut a miles-wide swath through Texas will require huge condemnation proceedings by the state against property owners.

Remember when River Road school officials sought to build a new high school campus on the west side of the Dumas Highway in 2006? Do you recall the battle they fought with a property owner who didn't want to give up his land so the school district could complete the job approved by voters in a districtwide bond issue election?

Imagine battles such as that - and worse - occurring along a 575-mile route from Laredo to Texarkana.

Intellectually, it's easy to understand why some folks - Gov. Perry included - believe the Trans-Texas Corridor is vital. "With 1,200 people per day coming to live in Texas," says the group, Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation, "we need more transportation infrastructure and more highway funding from all sources, including tolls, private investment and other sources."

Did they say "tolls"?

That leads us into another hotly contested issue, which will feature Mark Tomlinson, the soon-to-be-former Amarillo District engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation, who is about to be the Main Man in the state's toll road implementation plan.

Toll roads aren't a popular notion in this part of mostly rural West Texas. I don't figure they'll be any more palatable for the rural folks who live east of us.

This Trans-Texas Corridor is a long way from being built, to be sure.

And although one can imagine how those who live along its proposed route might feel about it, one should picture such a huge piece of "transportation infrastructure" carving its way through our back yards.

It isn't pretty.

It's also fair, I believe, to suggest that just maybe Gov. Perry - who grew up in rural Haskell County - has lived in the big city a tad too long.

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