Sunday, July 12, 2009

"Local governments and private investors are signing CDA's right up until the [August 31 expiration] deadline."

Sheffield says Trans-Texas Corridor dead

vulture caution


by Carroll Wilson | Managing Editor
Temple Daily Telegram
Copyright 2009

The Trans-Texas Corridor and its offspring along Interstate 35 are dead, Temple’s state representative said last week.

Ralph Sheffield, a first-term Republican, had just returned from a brief special session called by Gov. Rick Perry specifically to deal with ways to finance the TTC and similar projects.

Powerful opponents have been against the plan ever since it was presented by Perry to cut a 1,200-foot-wide swath up the state’s spine to carry cars, trucks, trains, utilities and oil.

“Especially in rural areas, there’s been a lot of opposition to it,” Sheffield said.

But, Temple Mayor Bill Jones III said it’s ludicrous to believe that Texas can thrive over the next few decades without a massive overhaul of the rail and highway systems.

The state itself declared the TTC dead last January, offering a replacement plan called the Innovative Connectivity in Texas/Vision 2009 program.

The I-35 corridor envisioned in TTC’s scaled-down version would be 600 feet wide and would follow the interstate from the border through the Temple area to Dallas and on up.
While TTC and ICT are both ready for the undertaker, Sheffield said the same might not be true for a corridor planned to follow what would be I-69 from Brownsville through Victoria and Houston and Nacogdoches to the east.

The Legislature killed the I-35-related projects during the two-day session earlier this month. They refused to consider a proposal to extend the life of so-called “comprehensive development agreements” that have allowed for the state to join in private partnerships to raise money to finance highway systems. The state’s authority to use the agreements plays out in August.

Sheffield did not express optimism that the funding mechanism would be approved even during the next regular session, which is two years away.

“Then what is your solution for highways?” Jones asked rhetorically, during an interview. “Texas’ population is projected to double in 35 years, and in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Austin mega-area, it’s projected to go from 16 million to 38 million or 150 percent increase. We’re going to have that kind of growth and not build any highways? That’s ludicrous.”

Jones is an advocate for high-speed rail, particularly the Texas T-Bone, a two-rail system that would link Dallas with Houston and San Antonio and Austin, coming right through Central Texas.

Meanwhile, though, local governments and private investors are signing agreements right up until the deadline. Earlier this month the attorney general of Texas cleared the way for TxDOT and a team of private developers led by Spain-based Cintra’s U.S. office to fund the North Tarrant Express.
Construction could begin next year on the express, which includes new toll and nontoll lanes on Northeast Loop 820, Texas 121/183 and eventually I-35W north of Fort Worth’s downtown, according to a report in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

About $570 million in public money is being committed to the $2 billion North Tarrant Express, the Star-Telegram reported. NTE Mobility Partners has agreed to put up $300 million in equity and $1.1 billion in debt in return for the right to build the project and collect tolls on express lanes for 52 years.

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