Monday, October 27, 2008

"TTC-35 and I-69 — the proposed tollways that have roiled Texas for three or four years, are very much alive."

Is Trans-Texas Corridor a dead issue?

Craddick's declaration at debate fuels speculation - and a complicated answer.

October 27, 2008

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

"Everybody in Austin knows it's dead. Everybody across the state knows it's dead. It's just something to be talking about."— Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, Oct. 19, 2008

The "it" in that quote, uttered during a Midland debate last week with the Democratic challenger for Craddick's House seat, Bill Dingus, referred to the Trans-Texas Corridor.

When I heard about this early last week, my first reaction was, "Really? Uh-oh." As in, the Texas Department of Transportation quietly killed the whole effort to build a tollway parallel to Interstate 35 and another tollway from Brownsville to Texarkana called Interstate 69, and the Statesman's transportation reporter missed the whole thing. Big uh-oh.

And I figured that for those farmers and ranchers whose property is along the broadly defined corridors of TTC-35 and I-69, Craddick's words had to be a relief. I could envision them cracking open a cold one to celebrate the news that their grandbabies would still be working the land in 60 years.

Not so fast.

Turns out that accurately interpreting Craddick's words depends on the meaning of "it" and the definition of "dead."

I called Craddick's office and got his spokeswoman, Alexis DeLee, on the phone. So, I asked, are TTC-35 and I-69 dead? Is that what the speaker was saying? Because if so, then TxDOT, which has agency employees, consultants and two private toll road consortiums working on various environmental and engineering plans for both roads, is wasting a lot of money.

"We're not getting into I-69," DeLee said, adding that I-69 wasn't in the Trans-Texas Corridor plan. She didn't want to talk about TTC-35 much either. "The comment he made was about the Trans-Texas Corridor as it relates to its original plan laid out by Ric Williamson. And that is dead."

Actually, that original plan was laid out by Gov. Rick Perry at a Jan. 28, 2002, news conference, not by the late state Transportation Commission chairman (though Williamson tirelessly pushed for it). And the original map for the 4,000 miles of tollways, railways and utilities across the state clearly shows a corridor along I-69's route.

Here's the deal: Rural folks, including those in Craddick's district, hate the Trans-Texas Corridor. So Craddick was selling what people at that debate were raring to buy. And the truth is that in the six years since Perry's announcement, TxDOT hasn't lifted a finger to work on most of the lines on that corridor map. Who needs parallel tollways to roads like I-10 and I-20 with sparse traffic? No one.

And the railroad and utility aspects of the corridor plan have gone nowhere as well.

So, yes, overall, the Perry/Williamson Trans-Texas Corridor is dead.

But two pieces of it — TTC-35 and I-69 — the proposed tollways that have roiled Texas for three or four years, are very much alive. So hold off on sending flowers.

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