Friday, March 06, 2009

Gov. Perry's appointees on the Texas Transportation Commission funnel $2/3 Billion of 'stimulus' money into tolled roads

Harris gets hefty share of road cash


Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN — Despite calls for delay from tollway foes and other critics, the Texas Transportation Commission on Thursday allocated $1.2 billion in federal stimulus funds on road and bridge construction — including nearly $783.2 million on toll or toll-related projects.

A $181 million slice of the federal pie will help pay for a Harris County toll road to connect the Katy Freeway and U.S. 290 as part of the proposed Grand Parkway, a project that’s a particular target of toll critics and environmentalists.

Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack said the Grand Parkway segment “will help the incredible amount of traffic that backs up on 290,” giving people an alternative route and possibly saving commuters up to 20 minutes in drive time.

The Sierra Club called it “highway robbery,” saying the Grand Parkway will destroy “Houston’s beautiful Katy Prairie.”

Toll opponents in general have objected to the large share of stimulus-funded projects that are toll-related. They argue it amounts to paying twice for the same road – with the federal taxpayer funds and with tolls.
Toll road critics snubbed

Texas Department of Transportation officials said the use of several sources of funds allows more construction projects and that the leveraging meets federal requirements.

The $1.2 billion in stimulus funds approved Thursday will be part of $2.6 billion in overall construction, said the agency’s John Barton.

Among other Harris County projects, the state commission approved $50 million for four new ramps connecting the Eastex Freeway and Beltway 8.

The panel, which had delayed action for a week on the $1.2 billion in projects, declined calls for another postponement from toll critics, environmentalists, some lawmakers and officials whose projects didn’t get funded.

“The opinion of this commission, and certainly my opinion, was the more we delayed, the more we were delaying putting Texans to work,” said Deirdre Delisi, commission chairwoman.

The Texas Transportation Commission has approved four projects for Harris County that are financed by federal stimulus money. They are:
  • Grand Parkway: $181 million for a segment connecting the Katy Freeway and U.S. 290.
  • Beltway 8: $50 million for four ramps connecting it to the Eastex Freeway.
  • Interstate 10: $11 million to reconstruct the roadway from the White Oak Bayou Bridge to US 59.
  • Loop 610: $43 million to rebuild the roadway from east of Ella to IH 45.

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