"While TxDOT is touting their arrogance, Texans don't think Rick Perry's record of wasting millions is anything to be proud of."
By JAY ROOT
The Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Department of Transportation is closing the books on the unpopular "Trans-Texas Corridor" project, which has already cost the state millions of dollars to gather up plans, hold public meetings and conduct environmental studies.
The $175 billion proposal to build a network of toll roads and rail lines, the brainchild of Gov. Rick Perry, has run into fierce opposition virtually since it was proposed in 2002. State officials told reporters Wednesday 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 the heavily congested Interstate 35.
The department has already spent over $15 million on environmental studies and planning documents associated with the I-35 corridor, and the cost will go higher as the cancellation process grinds to a halt, officials said.
"We made it very clear that it would be some time before we could completely transition away from the TTC," department director Amadeo Saenz said. "We were and we still are in the middle of environmental studies and those issues have to run their course as we move forward."
TxDOT has already spent $12 million on the environmental review process for the I-35 corridor, which would have stretched from the Mexico border to the Oklahoma line. Costs associated with canceling a private contract to build the corridor have hit $3.5 million and could go up to about $4 million, Saenz said.
The costs will mount further in coming months as the department holds public meetings about the results of the environmental study, he said.
The agency said earlier this year that it was scaling down the project and dropping the name "Trans-Texas Corridor." Transportation officials acknowledged the plan had sparked an uproar among landowners, elected officials and people who live along the proposed routes.
Perry's Republican primary opponent, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, has been a vocal opponent of the corridor and calls TxDOT the "most arrogant" agency in state government.
At a news conference Wednesday, Transportation commissioner Ted Houghton — a Perry appointee — jokingly introduced himself as "the most arrogant commissioner of the most arrogant state agency in the history of the state of Texas."
That brought a sharp rebuke from the Hutchison campaign.
"The Trans-Texas Corridor will not be officially dead until Rick Perry is no longer governor and his political appointees are no longer running TxDOT," said Hutchison spokesman Joe Pounder. "While TxDOT is touting their arrogance, Texans don't think Rick Perry's record of wasting millions is anything to be proud of."
Perry spokesman Mark Miner complained that Hutchison had done too little to get federal highway funds for Texas while Perry pursues solutions to traffic gridlock.
Perry, speaking after an event in Brownsville on Wednesday, said "there's no asphalt fairy," but pledged to continue to look for ways to build new roads.
Associated Press Writer Christopher Sherman contributed to this report from Brownsville, Texas.
© 2009 The Associated Press: www.ap.org
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