Monday, April 13, 2009

Stimulus money lays groundwork for TTC/I-69 "NAFTA Superhighway" in South Texas

Interactive map shows where TxDOT will spend stimulus funds


By Jennifer Peebles
The Texas Watchdog
Copyright 2009

You won’t see Interstate 69 – planned to run from Mexico to Canada — mentioned anywhere on the list of projects that the state transportation commission has approved for federal stimulus money.

But $100 million of the stimulus will help lay the groundwork in rural south Texas for possible construction of the north-south route some have called the “NAFTA Superhighway.”

That’s one of the interesting finds from Texas Watchdog’s analysis of stimulus spending approved by the state transportation agency. Texas Watchdog is publishing an interactive map today showing per-person stimulus spending in each of Texas’ 254 counties and detailing each county’s largest TxDOT-approved stimulus project. The map is complemented by a searchable database that lists every TxDOT-approved stimulus project in every county, including new construction, maintenance of existing roads, and off-road “enhancements” like bike trails.

TxDOT has approved $77.9 million for improvements to the main highway in rural Brooks County, U.S. 281, to bring it up to interstate grade – something that not only will help with the extra traffic, but also will help it potentially be used as part of the I-69 corridor.

Just north of Brooks County, $13 million will to go to build an overpass on U.S. 281 in the tiny town of Ben Bolt. And another $21.6 of stimulus money will go toward improvements on U.S. 281 and U.S. 59 in Live Oak County.

With a population of about 8,000 folks, Brooks County is rural. It’s about 90 minutes’ drive west of Laredo, about 80 minutes east of Corpus Christi and about 75 minutes north of McAllen on the border.

Its county seat of Falfurrias, population 5,300, was once Texas’ unofficial butter capital. And the sheriff’s department, which has eight deputies, ran out of money last month and had to get a loan from the county to meet payroll.

But with the stimulus money, it’s coming out ahead of the game. Brooks County is on track to get more federal stimulus money from TxDOT per resident than any other county in Texas, according to a Texas Watchdog analysis of stimulus data. (To see how much your county is getting in stimulus projects from TxDOT, click here to see our interactive county map, and click here to search our database listing all the TxDOT stimulus projects in every county.)

The $77.9 million U.S. 281 project works out to $9,766 for every man, woman and child in Brooks County.

“We’re the toast of Texas,” said Brooks County Judge Raul Ramirez. He doesn’t mean to brag, he said, but he can’t hide that he’s ecstatic that the long-awaited project, including a handful of new overpasses, will soon be reality.

(Click here or on the map below to see it in an interactive format.)


The work on U.S. 281 in Live Oak County, which includes reworking a spot where the road now crosses railroad tracks at ground level –- reworking it so that one will cross the other on an overpass –- is a $21.6 million project that works out to $1,754.80 for every person in the county, Texas Watchdog found.

Up in the Panhandle, far from the proposed route of I-69, rural Armstrong County also came out pretty well in TxDOT stimulus funding. The state Transportation Commission has approved an $11.7 million maintenance project to repair a 9-mile stretch of U.S. 287 just southeast of Amarillo. For a county with just 2,148 residents, that math comes out to more than $5,400 per person.

By comparison, the state’s most populous county, Harris, has been approved for $300 million in TxDOT stimulus. That’s $88 per person.

For its analysis, Texas Watchdog created a database of all the TxDOT stimulus projects that have been approved by the state transportation commission. That’s three lists — one for new projects, one for maintenance and rehabilitation projects, and a third for “enhancement” projects like bike trails and greenways. (To see the complete database of federal stimulus projects approved by TxDOT, click this link.)

There’s also a fourth list of approved TxDOT stimulus projects, for public transportation — but those are coming out of a separate pot of stimulus money, Lippincott said, so Texas Watchdog did not include them in the calculations. (We are, however, making that list available with this story — it’s on the same page as our searchable database. Click this link to see it.)

The total cost of all the approved TxDOT projects does not add up to $2.2 billion, Lippincott said, because roughly $670 million of Texas’ stimulus money for transportation is being given directly to the metropolitan planning organizations around the state, and is not coming through TxDOT.

Readers should take note that the major stimulus projects in Texas Watchdog’s analysis include two that involved multiple counties: The $10.6 million widening of part of Farm Road 60 in Brazos and Burleson counties, in the Bryan/College Station area, and the $14 million project to upgrade the South Orient Railroad line in several West Texas counties.

To take that the FM 60 project into account so we could map it, Texas Watchdog divided the cost figure in half and assigned $5.3 million in stimulus spending to each county. (Searching our database will show an item for both counties showing $5.3 million in spending on FM 60.)

For the South Orient Railroad — which the San Angelo Standard-Times dubbed “the railroad that refuses to die” — we assigned all $14 million of that project to Tom Green County, but readers should take note that the rail line runs through numerous counties in West Texas.

Click here to search the database.

Want to read more about where federal stimulus money is going, or see some of the sites we linked-to in this story? It’s easy if you’re on the social-bookmarking site — we’ve tagged our stimulus-related bookmarks for this story as “stimulusmap.” And you can see even more about the stimulus under the tag of “stimulus.” Our username is texaswatchdog — add us to your network!

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