Sunday, January 11, 2009

"The TTC has come to stand for a threatened land grab, a tin-eared highway bureaucracy and private toll roads as the only answer..."

Trans-Texas Corridor comes to a dead end

The massive complex of toll roads and rail lines was a bad idea that few should mourn


The Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Copyright 2009

The Texas Department of Transportation says that the Trans-Texas Corridor is dead, both in name and in concept. The landowners who fought and feared what it would do to their property hope the massive project is gone, too.

A bad idea that was conceived to answer a real shortfall -- the state's un-met transportation needs -- deserves to be buried. But that doesn't tell us how those highway needs will be met.

When Gov. Rick Perry rolled out the plan in 2002 to build a massive complex of highways, toll roads and rail lines that would traverse the state, it was supposed to stand for the state's vision for progress and modernization. But the Trans-Texas Corridor has come to stand for a threatened land grab, a tin-eared highway bureaucracy and private toll roads as the only answer to all transportation problems.

For South Texas ranchers and farmers, the Trans-Texas Corridor represented a threat to their family legacies. Hundreds of such land owners, both big and small, attended public hearings in South Texas to protest feared land grabs for right-of-ways for railroads, toll roads for trucks and highways for the public. Even the announcement last year that the proposed Interstate 69, whose routes will cross South Texas, would be restricted to the present right-of-way of existing roads didn't complete allay those concerns.

No wonder. The state's highway department and toll road proponents have been deaf to public concerns about privatizing thousands of miles of existing roadways, or of alarms about contracts to foreign firms to run the subsequent toll road systems, or about new roads running through virgin land. In fact, the proponents of toll roads seemed to go out of their way to tell the public that their input didn't matter much. It was going to be toll roads, first, last and always.

Now, the Texas Department of Transportation has a more modest plan, more of an assemblage of projected highway segments, one of which is the long-planned Interstate 69 to connect the Texas-Mexican border with the Midwest and run through South Texas, including a route near Corpus Christi. When the Texas Legislature called a two-year moratorium in 2007 on possible toll road projects until further study, the South Texas route was one of the projects exempted. Estimates have put the cost of the I-69 project at $12 billion to $15 billion. Given the reluctance of state legislators and Congress to raise fuel taxes, the prime source of highway funds, the question of where the money would come from for such projects as I-69 remains largely unanswered.

Private financing will remain part of the mix of possible answers for financing I-69 and other Texas highway needs. But so does raising fuel taxes, or finding an alternative to the traditional gasoline tax; Oregon has been experimenting with basing taxes on mileage. Then, too, there should be an option for regional financing of transportation. Toll roads, both private and public, have a place, but some roads, because they are critical to public travel, should always remain untolled.

The Trans-Texas Corridor may be gone, but the necessity for a more modern transportation system is not. I-69, for one, will be vital for South Texas' prospects for international trade and communication. Toll roads must still remain part of any plan for upgrading the state's transportation needs. It's just that toll roads shouldn't be the first option, or the only option, for all road issues as the Trans-Texas Corridor insisted.

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