"Rick Perry has never disavowed the Trans-Texas Corridor...he has never apologized or retreated from his position..."
The Dallas Morning News
Here at the Transportation Blog, we all know that transportation is our favorite subject. But, dear readers, I wonder how important you think our obsession will be in the big dance between Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, as they scrum for the GOP primary nod in 2010.
Hutchison's campaign team is betting that it will be an issue. They've been sending out messages in the past couple days highlighting what they say is Perry's stubborn support for his Trans Texas Corridor idea. (Remember that?)
Apparently, the Governor hasn't sufficiently disavowed the program. (Last year, we were first to report that TxDOT killed the project. But the agency gave it a new name and swore to advance it piecemeal wherever it could, though it dropped the idea of a massive highway that would criss-cross Texas with thousands of miles of roads and rail.)
Still, the Legislature left town this year without extending the state's authority to make private contracts for toll roads. Without the ability to partner with private companies to build and operate toll roads, the TTC -- whatever it is called -- is as worthless as last year's bets on the Derby. Right?
Texans For Kay Launches Perry Trans-Texas Corridor Clock
Do You Still Support The Trans-Texas Corridor?
I asked TxDOT yesterday whether the demise of private contract authority means the TTC, under any name, is now truly dead. Agency spokesman Chris Lippincott responded:
We still have limited CDA authority to develop portions of I-69 south of Refugio, thanks to SB 792. The folks down there want it built. We have no intention to call it TTC.SB 792 is the bill from 2007 that grandfathered some CDA -- or private toll road contracts -- projects. Some toll roads in south Texas may still be advanced, in other words. But building a few toll roads in the southern part of the state are hardly equivalent to the massive vision Perry had for the statewide TTC.
Where Hutchison's team is on firmer footing is in questioning whether Perry has ever truly disavowed the TTC. He never has. He bowed to the political reality that it wouldn't fly, but he has never apologized or retreated from his position that it was a good idea.
What he has done, in an interview with me in January, is say that he and TxDOT made mistakes in the way they presented the idea, essentially scaring the holy business out of farmers and ranchers who saw on the early corridor maps huge expanses of lands subject to eminent domain.
That was never actually going to happen -- the maps identified a wide area for study, but never envisioned actually building a corridor that wide. It was a preliminary map, and purposely many times wider than the ultimate right of way would be. But ranchers and others revolted, and Perry and his highway chiefs have since told me and others that it was a major blunder.
My guess, it is exactly those folks -- the landowners, and not so much the toll road opponents -- that team Hutchison is attempting to reach with its latest barrage of thrusts at Perry and the Trans Texas Corridor. After all, big landowners are a more reliable vote in the GOP primary than especially vocal toll road opponents.
My question to you, dear readers, is: Will transportation play a big role in your vote for governor next year? If so, are you sufficiently mad about tolls to hold Perry accountable? Or would you rather hear what Hutchison has in mind instead, before you make up your mind?
So far, her big idea has been to pull Texas out of the Federal Highway program. As reporters, we're cautioned against making conclusory statements, but in this case I'll make an exception: That, friends, is not going to happen.
Still, Hutchison speaks Friday at the Irving transportation summit. She may weigh in with more specific ideas about what she'd do as governor to meet Texas' transportation needs.
It might make a nice one-two approach: attacks on Perry on Monday and Tuesday, and policy solutions on Friday. What do you think?
Perry is critical. They are watching and we are counting the time.
In case you are wondering, here is the gist of the Hutchison attack on Perry, from campaign spokesman Jeff Sadosky:
"Texans deserve a straight yes or no from Rick Perry on whether he still supports his controversial Trans-Texas Corridor plan to confiscate nearly 600,000 acres of land. His refusal to say is just another attempt by Rick Perry to cover-up his record of doing what's right for himself but wrong for Texas."They've started a clock on the web site counting down till they get an answer. Clever.
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