Wednesday, October 07, 2009

“Texans shouldn't be forced to pay a tax for Rick Perry's arrogance in pushing a project that nobody wanted but Rick Perry.”

Corridor project may be dead, but spending thrives


Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN — Texas already has spent close to $60 million on the recommended-for-death parallel to Interstate 35 once envisioned as part of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

More money — perhaps millions more — will be spent as Texas closes the environmental review process and gets public comment on the recommendation to the federal government, state transportation officials said Wednesday.

The planning expenditures were not wasted because the state can use the information in the future, said Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton of El Paso.

Critics disagreed.

“Texans shouldn't be forced to pay a tax for Rick Perry's arrogance in pushing a project that nobody wanted but Rick Perry,” said Joe Pounder, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is challenging Perry for the GOP nod for governor.

The $59.4 million in expenditures the Texas Transportation Commission reported to lawmakers at the end of fiscal 2008 went for planning, environmental reviews and engineering studies. The expense was part of $131 million spent on several segments. An updated total will be posted later this month.

The I-35 parallel was among the last vestiges of the once-ambitious Trans-Texas Corridor championed by Perry as a network of highways, rail lines and utility corridors that would crisscross Texas and relieve congestion. The idea relied heavily on public-private partnerships and tollways because highway tax dollars are falling far short of the need.

Opposition from groups and landowners prompted transportation officials earlier this year to drop the Trans-Texas Corridor name and declare they would scale back the network idea.

Texas 130 in Central Texas and the proposed Interstate 69 from Brownsville to Texarkana are its last remnants.

Democratic candidate for governor Hank Gilbert, noting January's announcement, said he suspected that the demise of the corridor has been slow because there are additional costs associated with it.

“Vampires die quicker than Rick Perry's transportation policy,” he said.

Perry and others have challenged critics to come up with an alternative, workable transportation plan. Hutchison and Gilbert have not disclosed plans; their campaigns say they will.

Activist Terri Hall of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom is among those unconvinced the Trans-Texas Corridor is dead, noting lawmakers did not remove the idea from state law this year and pointing to the continuation of I-69.

“The Trans-Texas Corridor is not dead until Rick Perry is no longer governor of the state of Texas,” she said.

State officials said they remain committed to expanding I-35 to three lanes each way from Austin to Hillsboro.

Transportation officials largely blamed themselves for not properly marketing the TTC plan. Houghton, in a reference to the way the agency was portrayed by anti-corridor and anti-toll activists, as well as Hutchison, introduced himself at Wednesday's news conference this way: “I am Ted Houghton, the most arrogant commissioner of the most arrogant state agency in the history of the state of Texas.”

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