Tuesday, January 06, 2009

"Declaring Trans-Texas Corridor dead as a concept, at the least, makes it a more elusive political target."

Trans-Texas Corridor R.I.P.


By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

The Trans-Texas Corridor, as a name and as a guiding concept of the state’s transportation future, is dead, TxDOT executive director Amadeo Saenz told an audience of more than a thousand this morning at an Austin hotel.

Gov. Rick Perry, who in 2002 had unveiled the corridor plan as an almost $200 billion blueprint for the state’s transportation future, later seconded Saenz, saying that “the days of the Trans-Texas Corridor are over.”

However, Perry, speaking to reporters from Iraq where he had gone on a brief visit to Texas troops there, added that “we really don’t care what name they attach to building infrastructure in the state of Texas. They key is we have to go forward and build it.”

A spokesman for his likely opponent in the 2010 gubernatorial election, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, said that in fact the name isn’t the problem but rather the cross-state tollways associated with it and the rural land that would be needed to build them.

“When citizens pointed out the flaws in his original corridor idea, specifically trampling private property rights, the Perry administration responded with condescension and arrogance,” said Todd Olson, an Austin-based spokesman for Hutchison’s gubernatorial exploratory committee. “It wasn’t about a name.”

Outgoing Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick had created a stir a few months ago by declaring in an election forum that the Trans-Texas Corridor was dead. TxDOT officials at the time said, well, no, not exactly.

Saenz, at the Texas Transportation Forum at the Hilton Hotel, confirmed that the corridor’s death — or at least the death of its name — had in fact not been exaggerated.

“Amadeo told folks at the forum that the Trans-Texas Corridor, as it was originally envisioned, is no more,” spokeswoman Karen Amacker said. “Instead, what we’ve got is a series of smaller projects.”

Those “smaller projects” will apparently include the 300-plus miles of what has been called TTC-35 from San Antonio to the Oklahoma border and the I-69 project from the Rio Grande Valley to Texarkana. But they will not be called the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Nor will they be 1,200 feet wide, as originally envisioned when TxDOT released the “Crossroads of the Americas: The Trans-Texas Corridor” report in 2002 laying out Perry’s vision of the Trans-Texas Corridor. Back then, it was to be 4,000 miles of toll roads, rail lines and utility lines criss-crossing Texas in bundles. Thus the very wide potential corridors.

TxDOT now says the corridors — it is still using that term, at least — would be no more than 600 feet wide.

Any and all of the roads and other projects in the original Trans-Texas plan are still a possibility going forward. But the reality is that much of the plan remained unneeded until far into the future, if ever. And the Trans-Texas Corridor project all along had generated fierce opposition, including from some Perry allies like the Texas Farm Bureau that objected to large amounts of farm and ranch land that would have to purchased.

Declaring it dead as a concept, at the least, makes it a more elusive political target.

TxDOT lays out its new vision in a 19-page, graphics-heavy document released today with the ponderous title, Innovative Connectivity in Texas: Vision 2009. The short report lays out some of the troubled history of the Trans-Texas Corridor, discusses the more piece-meal approach to be taken now, as well as the role in so-called “corridor advisory committees” in refining and defining which projects the agency would pursue.

The report has been posted. Read it here.

One note: the term “Trans-Texas Corridor” for now survives in one very prominent and important place, the Texas Transportation Code. We asked Amacker if TxDOT would support legislative changes to remove the term from the statutes. She said she’ll run that one up the chain and get back to us.

“We know that a lot of changes are going to have to be made,” she said. The name is in “environmental studies, it’s in legal documents. And it’s going to take a little time to have it cycled out.”

© 2009 Austin American-Statesman: www.statesman.com

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