Friday, September 12, 2008

“Except for the bottom line, the way TxDOT spends their money is not how we appropriate it.”

Ogden: TTC plans may be scrapped


By Philip Jankowski
Taylor Daily Press
Copyright 2008

In an interview with the Taylor Daily Press, State Sen. Steve Ogden revealed a possible new course for the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor.

Instead of building superhighways across the state, Ogden said, the state may opt to augment the Texas Trunk System, a web of rural highways that includes U.S. 79.

The plan would expand those highways to four-lane divided highways, while expanding urban infrastructure with toll roads.

“We need to limit that concept to existing highways,” Ogden said of the proposed network of superhighways and tiered rail systems. “I passed a bill last session that did that, but [Gov. Rick Perry] vetoed it. I’m happy to report that he may have changed his mind.”

One of the main reasons for backing away from the Trans-Texas Corridor concept is the daunting amount of funding necessary to complete the 4,000 mile road project, he said. In 2002, the project was estimated to cost the state $145.2 billion to $183.5 billion. In today’s dollars that amount has grown to about $169.9 billion to $214.7 billion, according to current inflation figures.

Included in the price is the cost of acquiring more than half a million acres of right of way for the 1,200 foot wide corridor, which has drawn much ire from communities - including Taylor, Granger and Coupland - that lay in study areas.

“I don’t think there ever was a possibility that that could occur,” Ogden said. “There never was the funding.”

Despite the possible change in direction for transportation, Taylor already is a step ahead of the rest of the trunk system as far as expansion goes. The county and city recently approved an interlocal agreement that effectively took portions of U.S. 79 in East Williamson County out of the Texas Department of Transportation’s jurisdiction for construction purposes so they could be expanded at a quicker pace.

Construction has already begun east of Taylor.

Ogden said he will work to avoid budget shortages that led the county and city to turn their backs on TxDOT by placing more oversight on how the department spends its money. The Texas Legislature’s Transportation Committee recently decided to give the problem-beleaguered department a cash infusion of $1.5 billion.

Currently the Legislature writes TxDOT’s budget, but the department has not followed recommended appropriations, Ogden said.

“Except for the bottom line, the way TxDOT spends their money is not how we appropriate it,” he said.

Ogden said there is legislation in the works that would require TxDOT’s spending to fall more in line with legislative recommendations.

And as chairman of the Finance Committee, Ogden is in a unique position to be influential on how that money is spent.

“I’ll write their budget,” he said. “We’re going to better align their budget with the state’s budget.”

© 2008 Taylor Daily

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