Friday, January 09, 2009

Failed ideology cost of billions of dollars to Texas taxpayers.

The Trans-Texas dead end

Trans-Texas Corridor another failed experiment in starving government. Gov. Perry's sweeping vision arrogantly dismissed public opposition.


Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

Like Gov. Rick Perry's other grand plans to have private enterprise replace state government, the Trans-Texas Corridor died an ignominious death. The governor, to the surprise of no one, was out of the country when its demise was announced this week.

After six years and a $131 million-and-counting cost, the idea for a massive 1,200-foot-wide track for cars, trucks, rail and utilities has been scuttled. It follows the nearly $900 million failed attempt to outsource to a private venture the state's responsibility for children's health care and food stamps; and the troubled $863 million contract with IBM to centralize computer operations for 27 state agencies.

All those expensive collapses were based on an ideology that private enterprise can manage state operations better than government. It is an ideology that failed at a cost of billions of dollars to Texas taxpayers.

Texans never bought into Perry's idea for the $200 billion Trans-Texas Corridor tollway. It was too expensive, too expansive, ate up too much private land, split family farms and ranches, and was to be built and owned in part by a foreign company that would reap the toll revenues. Perry and his appointees at the Texas Department of Transportation could not sell the plan because many Texans despised it.

Their displeasure showed up in polls and at the ballot box. Perry, who is running for another term as governor in a tough race against a skilled and experienced opponent, strangled the project before it could do more political damage.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Perry's likely opponent in the Republican primary for governor in 2010, had harsh words for the plan. He said Perry's response to criticism of the corridor plan was laced with "condescension and arrogance," which sums up the picture pretty well.

The transportation department will continue working on some corridor projects, mainly the Texas 130 toll road parallel to I-35 and the I-69 tollway from Brownsville to Texarkana. But neither will be more than 600 feet wide, won't look like the artist rendering of the Trans-Texas Corridor and are probably years from being realized.

There is no question that Texas has transportation problems. More and better highways and improved rail transport are imperatives if the state is to avoid gridlock as it grows. But Perry imposed his sweeping vision of a multi-modal project crossing the state without properly considering its effect on the people of Texas or their resistance to it.

When the 81st Legislature considers how to improve transportation, its leaders need to look at the gas tax, which has been frozen at 20 cents a gallon for 18 years — and only a portion of that annual revenue is earmarked for highways.

Texas cannot stand still on transportation matters, but it needs to move forward in sensible steps that aren't driven by a starve-the-government ideology. That's been tried and found profoundly wanting.

© 2009 Austin

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