Thursday, October 08, 2009

"It will be interesting to see how Texas’ longest serving governor plays his cards now."

Is Perry’s TTC truly dead and buried?


By Mary Madewell
The Paris News
Copyright 2009

It’s strange to me the Texas Department of Transportation news that it is pulling the last plug on the Trans Texas Corridor — the love child of Texas Gov. Rick Perry — came just one day after the Texas Farm Bureau endorsement of Perry’s primary Republican opponent for governor, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

According to an Associated Press story on Wednesday, Transportation Commissioner Bill Meadows told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram of the decision to pull the plug in a report posted online Tuesday.

On Monday, Hutchison secured the coveted endorsement of the powerful Texas Farm Bureau — a vocal opponent of the corridor and a group that has been at odds with Perry over eminent domain and private property rights, the AP report stated. Farmers and ranchers did not like the corridor plan because of the private land it threatened to take.

And once people began to understand the massive toll road would by-pass small communities, ultimately causing their demise, opposition increased.

On Wednesday, as expected, TxDOT made the formal announcement it’s closing the books on the $180 billion proposal to build a network of toll roads and rail lines crossing Texas from the Mexico border to the Oklahoma line, a project first announced by Perry with great fanfare in 2002. TxDOT officials told reporters that the agency notified federal highway authorities this week to say it wants to halt what was to be the first leg of the project‚ along Interstate 35 through Central Texas.

The department has already spent more than $15 million on environmental studies and planning documents associated with the I-35 corridor, and the cost is expected to go higher as the cancellation process grinds to a halt, officials said. We sure could have used just a fraction of that money to finish the last 10 miles of Texas 24 between the southern Delta County line and the Hunt County line to complete a four-lane highway from Interstate 30 to Paris, something that has been in the works for at least a decade.

And from reports in the Austin American-Statesman earlier today, TxDOT executive director Amadeo Saenz said it “would be some time before we could completely transition away from the TTC.”

“We were and we still are in the middle of environmental studies and those issues have to run their course as we move forward,” the Austin paper reported Saenz as saying. In addition, there is the contract with the Spanish-owned company Cintra, who partnered with Texas-based H.B. Zachry Construction to bid on and ultimately win the contract to build the Trans Texas Corridor. What’s breaking that contract going to cost taxpayers?

Is the Trans Texas Corridor really dead or what?

It didn’t take long for the Hutchison campaign to pick up on Saenz’s remarks.

“Behind all of TxDOT’s caveats and qualifiers today is a very clear reality that the (TTC) will not be officially dead until Rick Perry is no longer governor and his political appointees are no longer running TxDOT,” a campaign release stated.

Debate about a viable way to solve Texas’ growing transportation problems should be an important topic for gubernatorial candidates leading into March primary elections and then to the general election in November.

The Hutchison campaign says she will be unveiling transportation plans for Texas in the near future. We already know Perry’s strategy from his past actions — toll roads and hidden deals with foreign contractors. It will be interesting to see how Texas’ longest serving governor plays his cards now.

Mary Madewell is the managing editor of The Paris News.

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