Saturday, January 10, 2009

Friday, January 09, 2009

"You can’t say it’s truly dead until legislators repeal statutes that authorized the Trans-Texas Corridor."

Highway plan revamp good news


Southwest Farm Press
Copyright 2009

The Texas Department of Transportation’s about-face on the concept of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) is good news for all Texans, said Kenneth Dierschke, president of the state’s largest farm organization.

“The fact that the boondoggle of TTC is being diminished—the 1,200 foot, one-size-fits-all corridor all across the state—is very positive,” Texas Farm Bureau’s Kenneth Dierschke said about Innovative Connectivity In Texas/Vision 2009, an update by the Texas Transportation Commission of the guidelines for development of the proposed transportation project.

Dierschke urged legislators to repeal statutes that authorize the TTC in the upcoming session.

“You can’t say it’s truly dead until that’s done,” he said.

Dierschke said Texas Farm Bureau recognizes the need for new roads and infrastructure in Texas but strongly disagreed with the original TTC plans. However, he said the Trans-Texas Corridor has not gone away.

“It’s being reshaped in a package that has both good and bad points,” he said.

The report said major corridor projects will be comprised of several small segments closer to 600 feet wide and will no longer be called Trans-Texas Corridor. Instead, the department will use the highway numbers originally associated with each segment.

Dierschke said another positive is TxDOT said they will seek local input for each segment before it is developed.

“Using segment committees to understand needs of local communities and landowners is tremendously important,” Dierschke said. “It appears that TxDOT is committing to be more open in their planning. If so, impacted landowners need to become involved in the process.”

Still, Dierschke said, parts of the report are the same old package with a new name.

“We’re talking toll roads. We’re still talking comprehensive development agreements, which allow foreign companies such as Cintra-Zachary to have a huge stake in the future of Texas transportation. We’re still talking massive projects. We’re still talking about the taking of private property.”

The TFB president said he hoped the need for eminent domain reform legislation won’t be lost in the TTC shuffle as the session nears.

“Eminent domain reform was never about the Trans-Texas Corridor only,” Dierschke said. “However, the thousands and thousands of acres of farmland subject to takings by the TTC brought the issue to light. And the chance for reform is now.”

© 2009 Southwest Farm

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"The special interests are just chalking-up years of pay-off losses? Pardon me if I am NOT totally convinced."

Texas Transportation Imperative: Governor, Legislators Not Trustworthy


Peter Stern
Wilson County News
Copyright 2009

Texans are being told that "suddenly" the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), the proposed super-highway from Mexico through the U.S. and up to Canada, plans are over. Poof! Vanished!

Is this reality-based or just another ruse to push through the concept via another back-door?

Since George Bush was Texas governor special interests and legislators have been charting the TTC and toll roads throughout the state. Wealthy individuals and their companies have been providing selected elected officials with large campaign contributions so that pro-TTC and toll legislation was developed and approved through the Texas Legislature.

So after 10 years all those plans are being dropped and the special interests are just chalking-up years of pay-off losses?

Pardon me if I am NOT totally convinced.

It would NOT be the first time that politicians play politics with taxpayer lives and dollars.

So, we can accept unequivocally what we are being told, or we may continue to be cautiously alert and watchful as transportation committees and plans unfold during the 2009 Texas Legislative Session.

After all, our governor and legislators do not have good transportation track records re: doing what is in the best interests of Texas families.

© 2009 Wilson County

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Failed ideology cost of billions of dollars to Texas taxpayers.

The Trans-Texas dead end

Trans-Texas Corridor another failed experiment in starving government. Gov. Perry's sweeping vision arrogantly dismissed public opposition.


Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

Like Gov. Rick Perry's other grand plans to have private enterprise replace state government, the Trans-Texas Corridor died an ignominious death. The governor, to the surprise of no one, was out of the country when its demise was announced this week.

After six years and a $131 million-and-counting cost, the idea for a massive 1,200-foot-wide track for cars, trucks, rail and utilities has been scuttled. It follows the nearly $900 million failed attempt to outsource to a private venture the state's responsibility for children's health care and food stamps; and the troubled $863 million contract with IBM to centralize computer operations for 27 state agencies.

All those expensive collapses were based on an ideology that private enterprise can manage state operations better than government. It is an ideology that failed at a cost of billions of dollars to Texas taxpayers.

Texans never bought into Perry's idea for the $200 billion Trans-Texas Corridor tollway. It was too expensive, too expansive, ate up too much private land, split family farms and ranches, and was to be built and owned in part by a foreign company that would reap the toll revenues. Perry and his appointees at the Texas Department of Transportation could not sell the plan because many Texans despised it.

Their displeasure showed up in polls and at the ballot box. Perry, who is running for another term as governor in a tough race against a skilled and experienced opponent, strangled the project before it could do more political damage.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Perry's likely opponent in the Republican primary for governor in 2010, had harsh words for the plan. He said Perry's response to criticism of the corridor plan was laced with "condescension and arrogance," which sums up the picture pretty well.

The transportation department will continue working on some corridor projects, mainly the Texas 130 toll road parallel to I-35 and the I-69 tollway from Brownsville to Texarkana. But neither will be more than 600 feet wide, won't look like the artist rendering of the Trans-Texas Corridor and are probably years from being realized.

There is no question that Texas has transportation problems. More and better highways and improved rail transport are imperatives if the state is to avoid gridlock as it grows. But Perry imposed his sweeping vision of a multi-modal project crossing the state without properly considering its effect on the people of Texas or their resistance to it.

When the 81st Legislature considers how to improve transportation, its leaders need to look at the gas tax, which has been frozen at 20 cents a gallon for 18 years — and only a portion of that annual revenue is earmarked for highways.

Texas cannot stand still on transportation matters, but it needs to move forward in sensible steps that aren't driven by a starve-the-government ideology. That's been tried and found profoundly wanting.

© 2009 Austin

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Thursday, January 08, 2009

How much money has been dropped on Gov. Rick Perry’s "vision" so far?

Deceased corridor plan pretty expensive


By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

The other day, when TxDOT officials were declaring the Trans-Texas Corridor dead (sort of), questions arose about how much money had been dropped on Gov. Rick Perry’s vision of 4,000 miles of tollways, railways and utility lines. TxDOT said it didn’t have those figures available immediately.

Well, actually, the agency did have them, or at least some of them, on its Web site. Thanks to reader Sharon Barta for chasing this down on the site. She said that with the recent redesign of the TxDOT Web site the report was hard to find, but was still there. Here’s the link.
Anyway, the tab through Aug. 31, 2008 was an impressive $131 million, including $30.7 million in the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31. The total includes $59.4 million for the I-35 corridor, $67.9 million for the I-69 corridor, $2.8 million for the proposed Loop 9 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and $1.2 million for expenditures applying to both the I-35 and I-69 corridor projects.

TxDOT, on its Web site, said these are the total for “engineering studies” (most of that for the federally required environmental studies going on on two of the corridors) and do not include “indirect costs.” So it’s not clear if this includes, for instance, any money spent on marketing and other public relations costs. We’ll check.
TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott said Tuesday, and reiterated today, that the overwhelming amount of this money should not be considered wasted because the I-35 and I-69 corridor projects are still alive and probably will be built in some form someday.

On the other side of the ledger, there has been no revenue from the corridor plan so far, at least technically, and won’t be for many years. And the TxDOT spending is far from over because the environmental studies are still in progress.

TxDOT did get a $25 million payment from a consortium, led by Spanish tollroad company Cintra, that will build the southern 40 miles of Texas 130, and will get between 4.65 percent and 18 percent of the revenue in the first years of that 50-year contract. That road is not officially part of the I-35 corridor project, but in reality would be if the 300-mile tollway from San Antonio to the Oklahoma border is ever built out.

© 2009 Austin

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Our Legislature is still in the throes of push-button privatization and the ceding of public services to profiteers."

It's what lubricates Austin


John Young
Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2008

In rapid, thunderous succession, two Texas giants have collapsed: the power infrastructure of House Speaker Tom Craddick and the superhighway to be built in confidence, the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Amid the dust and debris, someone is saying this is a new day. That remains to be seen.

In theory, our government is run by us. In Texas, it’s a little more complicated.

For instance, one can assume that the moneyed interests that contributed $700,000 to remodel the speaker’s apartment in the State Capitol expected to get a proportional share of running Texas.

Actually, they thought they’d each get a proportional share of telling Craddick what to think. Now they have to work on a new man, Joe Straus. Fudge.

The corporate interests that bought their way into Gov. Rick Perry’s heart with campaign contributions and highway privatization schemes wonder now if good money has gone after bad.

The San Antonio Express-News reported that Perry received $1.2 million in campaign cash over six years from interests seeking to build toll roads.

We all assume that public roads are the public’s business. But with Perry’s corridor scheme, and a contract with Spanish firm Cintra-Zachry, the inside skinny was proprietary, meaning: It’s none of our business.

Don’t get it? It’s the business of business, something that’s become the modern-day motto of Texas government.

A great deal for Texas? We had to trust Perry and the suits making the presentation to him. A state auditor asserted that Cintra understated long-range costs.

This debacle has l’odeur of the ’90s effort to bring high-speed rail to Texas without a penny of state participation — all private money. Yeah. Sell that to the French.

Now the TTC is in shambles, which is as it ought to be. Texas needs parts of what Perry was proposing, but not the mother of all superhighways presented to us as one would a proctologists’s instrument.

As for Craddick, rarely has a public servant had such a cold bedside manner. Until the House revolted, he hardly needed to warm his hands.

Why? Money is why — not only his own shock-and-awe campaign fund but the support of corporate compadres — godfathers of self-interest.

Somewhere along the line the influence of big oil dwindled in running Texas, leaving a whole other “oil” to lubricate things, the coin of contributors like homebuilder Bob Perry, solid waste mogul Harold Simmons and a host of corporate political action groups.

Money, money, money, money.

Money laundering charges that led to the fall of Tom DeLay in Congress surrounded his efforts to aid Republicans in the Texas Statehouse, the key objective being to keep Craddick as speaker.

A new day? Not necessarily. Our Legislature is still in the throes of push-button privatization and the ceding of public services to profiteers.

The Dallas Morning News has launched a laudable series on privatization atrocities. It started off with corporate behemoth UnitedHealth, which bought its way into lawmakers’ hearts and won a $1.2 billion contract to provide managed care for the elderly and disabled.

It’s been a debacle — understaffed and undependable compared to bad-old government. The people who need the help were left flailing. The men in suits were left with pockets stuffed.

Pulling strings and levers for arrangements such as these are highly connected, and magnificently paid, former state officials who plied elected office into untold riches. The same cast of characters seems to pop up whatever the special interest involved.

Rarely do the people pop up as the interest being served.

And why should they? We know who owns state government. It’s not them.

John Young’s column appears Thursday and Sunday. E-mail:

© 2009 Waco

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Pressed for details, it turns out that changes to the TTC plans are largely cosmetic."

Transportation project's name changes, not the senselessness


Carlos Guerra
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

What's in a name?

That is a call you will be able to make in the next round of state elections.

When Gov. Rick Perry unveiled the Trans-Texas Corridor project six years ago, many were stunned by its ambition. It would be a 4,000-mile network of 1,200-foot-wide corridors with 12-lane highways — some for autos and others for trucks — along with railroad tracks and utility easements — that would take a half-century to complete.

But from its inception it has been a public-relations disaster that has undermined confidence in state government.

At virtually every step of the way, growing numbers of Texans have come to see it as wasteful and poorly conceived, and intended more to enrich well-connected insiders than to provide for transit needs. And as more project details have emerged, or been modified, even greater mistrust has been created — and unified incredibly disparate set of opponents.

In a state whose free-highway system was once the envy of the nation, as soon as people realized that it would be a massive toll-road project, opposition started to build.

Since drivers already pay federal and state gasoline taxes — supposedly to build and maintain the state's increasingly creaky highway system — the growing army of detractors asked, why should they then have to pay to use roads? Isn't that, in fact, double taxation?

Opposition grew even more intense when it became apparent that the tolls would be paid to foreign-owned private contractors — the only investors that stepped forward. They would build the thoroughfares on state-seized land and collect not just tolls, but presumably, rents that would be collected from concessionaires.

Environmentalists became alarmed because 4,000 miles of new quarter-mile-wide swaths would raise the potential for major ecological damage — and be overseen by an agency not exactly known for its environmental sensitivity.

Farmers and ranchers pressed the Texas Department of Transportation to be more specific about routes because, as initially touted, that much new roadbed would cover an estimated 584,000 acres of land.

Initially, TxDOT resisted giving out details, coming across as secretive and immune to public pressure. And when the agency finally did release more details about how the roads would look, and a map of the planned routes, they only added fuel to an already considerable fire.

The corridors would not be your father's freeways. Not only would they be considerably wider, they would have limited access points and might require long drives to get around since they would not be connected to all of the existing roads that they would traverse.

But it was the maps that really rallied opponents, because the planned swaths avoided most major cities, and worse, they weren't depicted as quarter-mile paths, but as being between 10 and 30 miles wide.

Tuesday, Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director Amadeo Saenz announced that “the Trans-Texas Corridor as we have known it no longer exists.”

But pressed for details, it turns out that changes to the TTC plans are largely cosmetic.

The two development contracts that have already been let to the joint venture headed by Cintra of Spain will remain in force, along with plans for the first two legs of the project.

Where possible, we are now told, efforts will be made to widen existing roads instead of building new ones, new roadways will only be built as they are needed, and they won't be as wide as initially planned.

What has really changed? It will no longer be called the Trans-Texas Corridor. But plans for massive, automobile-intensive boondoggles continue to move forward as even Texans continue to drive less.

What sense does that make?

© 2009 San Antonio

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, the top recipient of TTC contractor contributions, praises TxDOT and promises billions more

Dewhurst praises TxDOT's improvements

Lieutenant governor also says he wants to boost budget by billions

Top Recipients of TTC-Contractor Contributions

Recipient Name
Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst
Governor Rick Perry
Attorney General Greg Abbott
Comptroller Susan Combs
Senator Robert Nichols*
Supreme Court Justice Don Willett
Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth A. Jones
Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson
Supreme Court Justice Phil Johnson
Senator John Carona*
Senator Tommy Williams*
Supreme Court Justice Jesse Wainwright
House Speaker Tom Craddick
Senator Judith Zaffirini
Ex-Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn
Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams
Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister
Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht
Senator Jeff Wentworth*
*Sits on Senate Transportation Committee, chaired by Sen. Carona.
Note: Contributions for TTC-35 contractors cover July 2003 – July 2008.
Contributions for TTC-69 contractors cover January 2006 – July 2008.


The Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst praised the Texas Department of Transportation on Wednesday for making the kinds of improvements legislators have asked for, and said he hoped to boost the agency's annual budget to $10 billion in the next three years.

Dewhurst's comments, which closed TxDOT's annual Texas Transportation Forum, come as the agency faces sunset review by a skeptical Texas Legislature.

Last month, the Legislature's Sunset Advisory Commission called TxDOT "a mess" and said the state should keep a tighter rein on the agency, perhaps even trimming some of its duties. Earlier this week, TxDOT announced it has withdrawn plans for the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor, saying it would change the name of the program and concentrate on some of the individual road projects that had been absorbed in the TTC plan.

"I've seen some changes and progress in TxDOT, and I compliment the agency and compliment the leadership," Dewhurst said. "I really want to help this agency move forward, and I think you've made a lot of progress, and I want to put the differences between us in the past."

For example, Dewhurst said he asked TxDOT leaders early last year to provide him with future priority projects that would help alleviate congestion and handle the expected growth in Texas drivers.

In August, he said, he was provided with a list from each of the agency's 25 districts, not exactly what he had in mind. But by the end of the year, Dewhurst said, he was given specific project figures, which "were a little higher than I wanted to see but they're probably doable. I'm optimistic."

Dewhurst added afterward that he also would like to see TxDOT's annual budget increased to about $10 billion in the next three years from its current $8.4 billion. He added, though, that current revenue estimates should be more clear in about a month.

"We will provide enough funding to TxDOT to maximize construction over the next three years," he told reporters.

State leaders have made clear that TxDOT must become more transparent in its operations, said Amadeo Saenz Jr., the agency's executive director.

Christopher Lippincott, a TxDOT spokesman, said the agency has made changes as a result of recommendations made by a state sunset committee.

One, he said, was the committee's urging that TxDOT provide more information about ongoing projects, which now are available on the agency's Web site.

"There are a lot of things we're trying to do, communicating with legislative leadership and local transportation leaders to help them understand what we're doing and how we're doing it," he said. "Our hope is that people will stay engaged and keep asking questions and hold us to a higher standard, still."

© 2009 The Houston

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Is a TTC name change really all that occurred? "That's basically it," according to TxDOT's executive director.

Trans-Texas Corridor name dies, but not entire concept

Innovative connectivity plan

Work will continue on I-35, I-69 pieces of original plan of cross-state tollways, railways and utility lines, officials say.


By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

The Trans-Texas Corridor, as a name and as a guiding concept of the state's transportation future, is dead, Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director Amadeo Saenz told an audience of more than a thousand people Tuesday at an Austin hotel. But Saenz acknowledged that all elements of the original plan, including a tollway twin to Interstate 35, could be built as stand-alone projects if and when they are deemed necessary.

Gov. Rick Perry in 2002 unveiled with great fanfare the corridor plan as an almost $200 billion blueprint for the state's transportation future and then took withering criticism for it in a tough 2006 re-election race. On Tuesday, he said, "The days of the Trans-Texas Corridor are over."

Critics of the corridor plan and TxDOT officials differed Tuesday over whether the body is truly cold and what would constitute the death of the proposed network of cross-state tollways, railways and utility lines. Planning and environmental studies of the twin to I-35, which would run from San Antonio to Oklahoma, and of I-69 , from Brownsville to Texarkana, will not stop, officials said.

And Perry, talking to reporters while in Iraq on a brief visit to Texas troops there, said, "We really don't care what name they attach to building infrastructure in the state of Texas. The key is we have to go forward and build it."

Asked if the announcement means that private toll road contracts, which have been central to the two corridor ventures under way to date, are a thing of the past in Texas, Perry said no: "We'll continue to use all the tools available to build infrastructure."

So, is a name change really all that occurred Tuesday?

"That's basically it," Saenz said. "The connotation of the name was that we were going to build all these elements (roads, rail and utilities) in one footprint."

By all accounts, the 1,200-foot-wide conglomeration of side-by-side projects, captured in a TxDOT rendering in 2002 that helped set off alarms around the state, won't be happening.

Saenz's surprise pronouncement of last rites came a week before legislators gather for a session during which they must decide whether to allow TxDOT to continue pursuing long-term toll road leases with private companies — and just over a year before Perry is likely to face a GOP gubernatorial primary against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

A Hutchison spokesman said the problem wasn't the Trans-Texas Corridor name but rather the tollways associated with it and the fields and pastures that would be consumed to build them.

"When citizens pointed out the flaws in his original corridor idea, specifically trampling private property rights, the Perry administration responded with condescension and arrogance," said Todd Olsen, an Austin-based spokesman for Hutchison's gubernatorial exploratory committee. "It wasn't about a name."

Perry spokesman Mark Miner said, "If the senator hadn't been asleep at the wheel for the last 15 years and saw that Texas got its fair share of federal tax dollars, we wouldn't need to look for alternative ways to fund Texas roads."

Whatever projects emerge from the remains of the corridors — TxDOT is still using that portion of the original term, at least — would be no more than 600 feet wide.

Several years ago, TxDOT officials conceded that much of the plan, particularly its West Texas pieces, would not be needed until far in the future, if ever. And the Trans-Texas Corridor idea all along generated fierce opposition, including from some Perry allies like the Texas Farm Bureau that objected to the large amounts of farm and ranch land that would be lost.

David Stall of Fayette County, southeast of Austin, founded a group called CorridorWatch in opposition to the plan. Stall took TxDOT at its word Tuesday. Even if some pieces remain under study, he said, "the Trans-Texas Corridor as a statewide, massive, multimodal, over-reaching project is dead."

So why would TxDOT go out of its way to declare the project dead?

"They've got some bridges to mend with the Legislature that don't have asphalt on them," Stall said. "So if this is a foregone conclusion, it's an easy gimme."

The term "Trans-Texas Corridor" for now survives in one very prominent place, the Texas Transportation Code.

A bill eliminating that entire section of law has been filed, something TxDOT would not like to see, given that doing so would wipe out other powers it wants to maintain. "For instance, that's the only place we have authority to build rail," Deputy Executive Director Steve Simmons said.

TxDOT officials couldn't say Tuesday how much had been spent on the corridor plan.

Cintra-Zachry, a Spanish and American consortium hired by TxDOT to develop a plan for the I-35 twin, signed a contract for $3.5 million. But the agency has spent much more on environmental work, public meetings, legal fees and other consulting on the agreements associated with the plan.

TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott said almost none of that money should be considered wasted. "We're still going to build Texas 130 ... we're still going to build I-69," Lippincott said. "Maybe we wasted some money developing a TTC logo, but that's about it."; 445-3698

© 2009 Austin

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

"The name isn’t the problem"

Is the TTC dead or not?


Waxahachie Daily Blog
Copyright 2009

The Trans-Texas Corridor is dead – maybe.

The Texas Department of Transportation announced during a forum in Austin on Monday that it was scuttling plans for the project as it was envisioned.

In its place is a scaled down model with a new name – Innovative Connectivity in Texas/Vision 2009 – that the agency says will be more in tune with local needs and public concerns.

In his prepared remarks, as published on TxDOT’s Web site, the agency’s executive director Amadeo Saenz said the TTC, as a single project concept, wasn’t what Texans wanted, “so we’ve decided to put the name to rest.”

“That does not mean that we will abdicate our mission. We will still develop transportation projects that move Texas forward,” the remarks read. “We will still partner with local governments and entities, and where appropriate, the private sector, to get needed projects on the ground.

“We will still use all the financial tools that have been authorized by law to get projects to Texans sooner rather than later.”

As originally proposed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2002, the Trans-Texas Corridor would encompass not only lanes for passenger vehicles, but would also bundle lanes for large rigs, freight rail, passenger rail and other utility easements into a bundle that would be 1,200 feet wide.

Complaints against the TTC have ranged from loss of farm and ranch land that has been in families for generations to loss of livelihood, as well as economic devastation for rural Texas. Many people have expressed fears their communities will be bypassed and or cut off by the transportation project that could – if built out completely – include 8,000 miles of roadway criss-crossing the state. Opponents to the project say thousands of acres would be taken from property owners in eminent domain proceedings.

Concerns also have been raised in Texas as to whether or not Perry’s plan is part of a greater agenda that would seek to bring about a North American Union comprised of the United States, Canada and Mexico.

What’s in a name?

TxDOT’s Web site,, reports the Trans-Texas Corridor name “has taken on unintended meaning that can obscure the facts.”

In a conference call from Iraq, where he and several other governors were visiting the military, Perry said, “The days of the Trans-Texas Corridor are over, it’s finished up. The name ‘Trans-Texas Corridor’ is over with.”

TxDOT “is continuing to make good decisions for the state of Texas,” Perry said during the call. “The fact of the matter is we don’t really care what name they attach to building infrastructure in the state of Texas, but the key is we have to go forward and build the infrastructure so the state of Texas and our economy can continue to grow.”

The name isn’t the problem

Concerns about the project haven’t been confined to Texas. The TTC and the issue of toll roads also drew attention from Congress, where U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, passed an amendment that placed a one-year moratorium on tolling existing highways in the state of Texas and also pushed for a permanent prohibition of tolling existing highways. The senator also became involved when concerns were raised after the North Texas Tollway Authority was awarded the contract for State Highway 121 instead of the Spanish-based Cintra. Hutchison garnered assurances from the U.S. Department of Transportation that federal funding would not be impacted.

A spokesman for Hutchison, who is Perry’s likely opponent in the 2010 gubernatorial election, said that in fact the Trans-Texas Corridor name isn’t the problem but rather the cross-state tollways associated with it and the rural land that would be needed to build them.
“When citizens pointed out the flaws in his original corridor idea, specifically trampling private property rights, the Perry administration responded with condescension and arrogance,” said Todd Olsen, an Austin-based spokesman for Hutchison’s gubernatorial exploratory committee. “It wasn’t about a name.”


The transportation agency’s Web site indicates parts of the original concept will still be constructed: “Whether in far south Texas, the northeast region of the state or somewhere in between, major corridor projects will be comprised of several small segments no wider than 600 feet, and will no longer be called the Trans-Texas Corridor. Each segment will be referred to by its original name, such as SH 130, I-69 and Loop 9.”

The Web site also notes, “There are currently two TTC projects under development: I-69/TTC, which extends from Texarkana/Shreveport to Mexico (possibly the Rio Grande Valley or Laredo) and TTC-35, which generally parallels I-35 from north of Dallas/Fort Worth to Mexico.”
The Web site says some TTC-35 facilities “could be constructed upon completion of the Tier Two environmental studies and in response to a demonstrated transportation need.”
Ellis County impact

A map on the Web site indicates a preferred route through Ellis County that would bisect the county in half. County commissioners have previously passed a resolution asking that the route – if constructed – be moved so as to run north and south along the Ellis/Hill counties line.

Ellis County Judge Chad Adams and county planner Barbra Leftwich are in attendance at the two-day transportation forum.

In a telephone interview, Adams responded to the TxDOT announcement.

“The message I got this morning in visiting with TxDOT officials is that this is the beginning of a new way of doing business for TxDOT – that they have chosen to be more responsive to the citizens of Texas and their concerns,” Adams said.
“I am certain that all the local elected officials will be paying close attention to how this all plays out in the coming months, and listening very carefully to the voices of our citizens,” he said.
Political activists pleased, but wary

David Stall of Corridor Watch has opposed the project since its inception six years ago – and has headed up the Corridor Watch Web site for the past four.

“Of course, we’re pleased,” he said. “The statements and reports of Vision 2009 that TxDOT released today puts a lot of spin on it, but the result is still a major victory. We’re pleased that the corridor project as it was no longer exists.”

Changes in the project include the corridor’s width being cut in half and its multi-modal element dropped. There’s also an emphasis on using existing facilities, he said.

“TxDOT has indicated there will be greater community and local input on projects as they are developed,” he said, noting however that Corridor Watch’s work isn’t over. The group will continue to monitor the Legislature, watching over bills and working with legislators and attending committee meetings.
“I think we will remain vigilant, although the nature of the effort will change significantly in some respects,” Stall said.
Lawmakers have filed bills, he said, that will ensure the TTC is brought to an end. “We look forward to seeing that happen to make sure that this isn’t the end of the first reel of monster film only to see it come back in a sequel,” he said.

Much of the last four years was spent in educating the public and Legislature about the massive project – with Stall anticipating the education effort will continue in particular with legislators and public officials with a focus on how public/private partnerships are utilized.

He does wonder if public interest and participation will wane now that TxDOT is saying the TTC is no more.

It was the public rallying together that brought pressure on TxDOT, an agency Stall notes is under Sunset Review this legislative session.

“I think that the action today is a very high profile demonstration that public participation can have an impact on statewide and local policy – and we applaud our members and all of those likeminded Texans who have raised their objections,” he said. “The evidence is there today.”
Is there a victory?

Terri Hall of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom is hesitant at declaring victory.
“We think a lot of this is the fact that the legislative session is about to begin and this is a last gasp by a rogue agency that’s about to be scrapped and rebuilt all over again by the Legislature,” she said. “They’re trying to convince everyone they are listening to the people.” Right now, it’s just “a bunch of words and hot air,” she said. “At the end of the day, no legislation has been repealed, no minute orders have been rescinded, no CDAs scrapped and there are two signed contracts on the first five segments of the TTC,” she said. “They haven’t changed the environmental impact statement documents. … Until all of that’s done, they don’t mean it.”
The EIS documents are pending federal approval and are especially worrisome to Hall, who said if they’re not changed – and no other action taken such as legislation repeal – that TxDOT could resume the project as is when the OK is received from Washington.
“Once the feds give their final approval and put it into the register, there are only six months to litigate,” she said. “Once that deadline expires or passes, there’s no way to stop it after that. … We don’t want to be duped and we don’t want to wake up two years from now and see ground being broken.”
Bills filled

A number of bills have been filed in anticipation of the 81st Legislature, which is set to convene Jan. 13 in Austin.

Among those is House Bill 11 filed by state Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, which would repeal authority for the Trans-Texas Corridor by removing any reference to the project from the state’s Tax and Transportation codes.

There is work ahead for the Legislature, agrees state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who was co-author on a bill during the 80th Legislature that put the TTC under a moratorium until the 81st session.

“I’m pleased TxDOT recognizes the widespread opposition to the Trans-Texas Corridor,” Pitts said of Monday’s development. “But we still have a lot of work to do next session toward reforming this agency and ensuring it is accountable to the public.”

© 2009 Waxahachie Daily Blog:

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Sen. John Carona files a bill giving six more years of life to private toll road agreements.

LESS-atorium on concession agreements


By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

Lost in all the hullabaloo Tuesday over the tragic and oh-so-sudden “death” of the Trans-Texas Corridor was news that the Legislature’s transportation leader filed a bill that same day giving six more years of life to private toll road agreements.

That the bill, SB 404, came from state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, is no small thing. Carona is chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee. With his counterpart on the other side of the Capitol now retired — former House Transportation Committee chairman Mike Krusee — and a majority of Krusee’s committee gone from the Legislature as well, Carona stands as the main mover-and-shaker on the issue.

Carona dropped news of his bill into the middle of remarks he made on a panel at the Texas Transportation Forum at the Austin Hilton.

“To foreclose any option (for building roads) would be foolish,” Carona said during his remarks on what might be coming during the legislative session.

Watching Carona has been interesting over the past two years. He began the 2007 session calling for the replacement of Texas Transportation Commission chairman Ric Williamson, then by late in the session had become something of a mediator between TxDOT and its most vehement critics. Similarly, last spring he sharply criticized current chairwoman Deirdre Delisi as a “missed opportunity” by Gov. Rick Perry in the wake of Williamson’s death, and said lawmakers did not find her “very warm and personable.” Tuesday, he praised Delisi, standing by his side as moderator of the panel, for how she had handled the job in her seven months leading the Texas Transportation Commission and said that “when you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and you have to stand up and say so.”

Last session, the Legislature banned most long-term toll road leases with private companies, granting a handful of exceptions. Beyond that, the overall authority to have such “concession agreements” right now would expire Sept. 1, except for those few exceptions. The state or toll authorities could reach such agreements for those excepted projects until Sept. 1, 2011.

Lawmakers didn’t like that the leases generally last 50 years, meaning that if the tollways bring in more money than expected then the companies running them would end up with profits that could have been used to build other roads if TxDOT instead was operated the roads. They were also concerned about “non-compete” clauses that could mean fewer improvements in free roads near the tollways.

Carona’s bill would extend both of those expiration dates for possible concession agreements by six years.

Carona, both in his manner, his legislation and his rhetoric, seems to be sending the message that while the 2007 session was mostly about fighting over transportation and stopping what lawmakers saw as bad transportation policy, the 2009 session will be about making new and better policy.

Not all legislators interested in transportation will necessarily be in as mellow a mood. But Carona’s opening moves could mean that the inevitable differences of opinion this time around won’t become quite as heated.

© 2009 Austin

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"No law has been changed, no minute order rescinded, no environmental document re-done, and there are still two contracts signed..."

Trans Texas Corridor renamed, not dead

TURF supporters demand ACTION, not rhetoric


Terri Hall
Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom
Copyright 2008

TURF reaction to TxDOT announcement:

The announcement by TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz at the Texas Transportation Forum that the "Trans Texas Corridor, as it was originally envisioned, is no more," is just another in a series of comments to lead opponents into believing the Trans Texas Corridor is indeed dead. TURF believes this is a deliberate move to dupe opponents into complacency, and we expect iron-clad action before we begin celebrating victory.

It's clear from the TxDOT Director's speech, that it's only a name change and the Trans Texas Corridor is, in reality, going underground.

This fact is evident in just about every news source across the state:

  • "'Amadeo told folks at the forum that the Trans-Texas Corridor, as it was originally envisioned, is no more,' Amacker (Saenz spokesperson) said. 'Instead, what we've got is a series of smaller projects. 'Those 'smaller projects' will apparently include the 300-plus miles of what has been called TTC-35 from San Antonio to the Oklahoma border and the I-69 project from the Rio Grande Valley to Texarkana. But they will not be called the Trans-Texas Corridor." -- Austin American Statesman
  • "Other than backpedaling from the Trans-Texas Corridor brand, and the goals and priorities set over the years, the Trans-Texas Corridor remains intact. TxDOT still plans to partner with private corporations to build and lease projects. Toll roads, truck-only lanes and rail lanes are also still on the table. Environmental studies for the I-35 and East Texas corridor segments still chug through the pipeline. And a development contract with Cintra of Spain and Zachry Construction Co. of San Antonio, for projects paralleling I-35, is still valid." -- San Antonio Express-News
  • "The renewed effort now will operate under the name 'Innovative Connectivity Plan.'" -- Houston

No law has been changed, no minute order rescinded, no environmental document re-done (as is required by federal law), and there are still two contracts signed giving two Spanish companies the right of first refusal on segments of the corridor previously known as TTC-35 & TTC-69.

So by every real measure, the Trans Texas Corridor goes on full steam ahead. What today's hype was about is a political ploy to make the public go back to sleep while it gets built under a different name. While we welcome genuine responsiveness from TxDOT and a true repeal of the Trans Texas Corridor, this hardly qualifies.

Lets just say, we agree with Senator Robert Nichols' statement in the Dallas Morning News:

  • "If it is just a name change, and nothing more, I don't think that is going to do much to appease lawmakers," said Nichols, R-Jacksonville.

© 2009 Texans Uniting for Reform and

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"Once agricultural land is gone, it’s gone forever. We’re already dependent on other countries for gas and oil..."

State scraps plans for Trans-Texas Corridor


By Ron Maloney
The Seguin Gazette-Enterprise
Copyright 2009

SEGUIN — The Trans-Texas Corridor, a much-maligned toll road network championed by Gov. Rick Perry since 2002, dropped from the fast track this week.

On Tuesday, the state transportation commission announced a scaling-down that would half its footprint — and cast doubt over whether parts of it would ever be completed.

Texas Department of Transportation executive director Amadeo Saenz unveiled new guidelines for developing the corridor, a series of interstate-style highways combined with other infrastructure such as railroads, gas and electric lines in a single, 1,200-foot-wide right-of-way.

The first thing to go will be the name, officials say.

Instead of a single, overall project, the corridor will be broken down into its originally-included series of smaller projects, which would be scaled down to fit in a 600-foot right-of-way.

The corridor was intended to provide a series of routes around heavily congested highway.

Perry, who was on tour in Iraq on Tuesday, said the scaled-down version is still in keeping with his vision of relieving traffic.

He added that the state’s current interstate highway grid is congested — particularly around metropolitan areas such as Austin and San Antonio — and needs relief.

A couple years ago, State Rep. Edmund Kuempel, acting on a resolution from Guadalupe County commissioners, made a recommendation to the state that the Trans-Texas Corridor make use of existing highway rights-of-way wherever possible. In Guadalupe County, such a route would use Interstate 10 from where State Highway 130 will enter it in the Kingsbury area to Loop 1604 in Bexar County, and then continue on southward to Interstate 35 and on to Interstate 37.

“This has been in the works for a pretty good while,” Kuempel said. “I think it finally imploded this morning.”

Tuesday’s decision, Kuempel said, does not affect the State Highway 130 project, which he said he hoped would be completed in Guadalupe County by mid- to late-2012.

“That will provide the connection between Interstate 10 and Interstate 35 north of Austin,” Kuempel said. “That connection will be completed, for sure.”

After that, Kuempel said, locals probably shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for the next step.

“The Trans-Texas Corridor was a long term vision over 20 or 30 years,” Kuempel said. “This wasn’t going to happen in two, three, four, five or 10 years.”

Still, Kuempel said, Texas has to look at its future transportation needs and try to prepare for it.

“We do need to look at our transportation system, but they took the input of the citizens of Texas — which has been more negative than positive — to heart, and they’re putting the Trans-Texas Corridor under a rock and looking at other alternatives.”

Kuempel’s chief concern, he said, is that the project not needlessly churn up and destroy farm land.

“I was against going through any more raw land,” Kuempel said. “We need to use existing roads wherever possible, and Interstate 10 and Loop 1604 are two very good roads.”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Judy Cope, who lives off FM 775, said she believed the residents of Guadalupe County would be glad for anything that reduced the scale of the Trans-Texas Corridor — particularly in rural regions like Guadalupe County.

“If it is dead in its current form, I think that’s good for the people of this area,” said Cope, whose home lies in a 10-mile wide “study zone” in south Guadalupe and north Wilson counties proposed as a possible route through this region. “If this is factual, it would be great. This project would have taken out a lot of farm land that could never be replaced.”

When the project’s possible impact on Guadalupe County became known, Cope said she asked state officials when locals would have a plan to view, and she was told it would be years.

It wasn’t easy for Cope or her constituents to hear.

“It left a lot of questions about where it would be, how it would affect the land and how it would affect the people on their land — some of whom have been on the land for generations and hope to hand it down to their descendents,” Cope said. “Nobody knew just where it was going and what they needed to be doing.”

Like Kuempel, Cope said she understood Texas needed to address transportation issues.

“Caterpillar is coming here, and I think Randolph Air Force Base could be fixing for a big expansion and Texas is in far better economic condition than most states,” Cope said. “We’re looking at a lot of people coming to Texas and to this county, and we don’t need to be gridlocked, but we’ve asked that they follow the routes already established by other freeways.”

Once agricultural land is gone, it’s gone forever, Cope said.

“We’re already dependent on other countries for gas and oil,” Cope said. “Certainly, we don’t want to depend on them for our food, too.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

© 2009 The Seguin Gazette-Enterprise

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“What it’s going to mean for us is a new name. It’s really the same concept."

State officials scrap Trans-Texas Corridor


By Tim Woods
Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2009

Some local and state officials expressed relief at Tuesday’s announcement that plans for the Trans-Texas Corridor have been called off, while others said the project is simply taking on a new name.

State officials said Tuesday that they are scrapping the proposed network of toll roads known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, a massive transportation project that critics called an expensive boondoggle. Gov. Rick Perry had promoted the plan as a way to relieve Texas highway congestion and meet the exploding demand for freight along a corridor serving four of the state’s six largest cities.

The original corridor route would have stretched from the Texas-Mexico border to the Oklahoma state line, passing just east of Waco parallel to Interstate 35.

“The days of the Trans-Texas Corridor are over, it’s finished up,” Perry said Tuesday on a conference call during a Defense Department trip to Iraq. “The name ‘Trans-Texas Corridor’ is over with.”
However, Texas Department of Transportation Waco-area spokesman Ken Roberts said though the proposed projects replacing the corridor will be smaller in scale, they are not going away altogether.
“What it’s going to mean for us is a new name,” Roberts said. “It’s really the same concept, from the standpoint of expanding our transportation infrastructure through our area in order to meet our future demands for increased infrastructure through Central Texas.”
For local landowners whose property was threatened by the original corridor route, statements like Roberts’ coming from the department are ominous, and worries remain that their land may be taken by eminent domain. “For us on this route, (the Trans-Texas Corridor) still exists,” said Kathryn Pilant, who owns a historic home in Eddy that was threatened by the original corridor route.
Pilant’s Victorian house was built in 1881 and was the childhood home of U.S. Sen. Tom Connally.

Pilant was relieved, though, that the roadway width now being discussed was reduced from 1,200 feet to 600 feet.

State Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, shared Pilant’s concern Tuesday.
“When you get right down to it, today’s announcement doesn’t really change much,” Averitt said. “The individual pieces of the corridor puzzle are still potentially in play, and the Legislature must continue to vigilantly monitor TxDOT’s projects and operations because the concerns of the individuals affected will remain the same.”

Amadeo Saenz, the department’s executive director, unveiled new guidelines Tuesday for developing a network of toll roads, rails and pipelines that have grown ever more controversial since Perry began promoting the idea in 2002. Associates of Perry have said for weeks that the corridor would not take shape as originally envisioned.

Saenz said major corridor projects now will contain several small segments closer to 600 feet wide. Original plans called for corridors up to 1,200 feet wide to allow for rail and other types of transportation and utility transmission lines.
Texas Farm Bureau officials — who have been staunch opponents of the Trans-Texas Corridor — say their worries remain that property owners will lose land or access to it without fair compensation.

“No one disputes, certainly no one at the Texas Farm Bureau, that Texas needs to beef up its transportation infrastructure,” said Texas Farm Bureau spokesman Gene Hall. However, he added, “There’s still going to be some new roads built, and it’s very important. With Texas having one of the worst situations in the nation with respect to eminent domain, we need to pass eminent domain reform that includes fair compensation and compensation for diminished access when property is taken.”

Hillsboro Mayor John Erwin and Baylor University professor Don Greene, who served on the Trans-Texas Corridor Advisory Committee, said Tuesday’s announcement falls in line with the committee’s report to the department.

“The report recommended dropping any references to Trans-Texas Corridor,” Erwin said. “And not only simply dropping the references to it, but to drop the concept of the 1,200-foot-wide monstrosity that was proposed and to continue with specific projects in the various segments of Interstate 35 as needed for current and future traffic loads.”

Erwin said the original corridor plans had Hillsboro residents and business owners worried that commerce in the Hill County seat would be harmed. The corridor would have run well east of I-35, which brings heavy traffic through the city every day.

“We’re highly dependent on Interstate 35, and I feel that this is going to assure that Interstate 35 and any associated projects are going to stay close to (the current I-35) footprint, and that is very good news for Hillsboro,” Erwin said.

Averitt said he would stand behind landowners’ and residents’ desires with respect to future infrastructure plans.

“As I’ve said from the beginning, if Texans don’t want the Trans-Texas Corridor — or whatever name TxDOT gives it tomorrow — it will not happen,” Averitt said.

Staff writers Regina Dennis and Wendy Gragg and the Associated Press contributed to this story.


© 2009 Waco

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"Instead of referring to the Trans-Texas Corridor name, officials will identify each segment of the original plan separately."

Transportation plan stays, but name goes


By Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2008

AUSTIN — Seeking to renew enthusiasm for a massive road-building plan that scared people by its very name, the Texas Department of Transportation has decided to reinvigorate it — by dropping the name.

“We've decided to put the name to rest,” Director Amadeo Saenz told more than 1,000 people Tuesday morning at the Texas Transportation Forum, according to a text of his speech. “The Trans-Texas Corridor, as it was known, will no longer exist.”

The corridor actually hasn't existed “as it was known” for years now, Saenz explained later. It's been evolving, often under fire, ever since Gov. Rick Perry unveiled the 50-year blueprint in 2002.

Back then, the vision showed 1,200-foot-wide swaths of toll lanes, rail lines and utility lines criss-crossing the state.

TxDOT officials later said the roads and rails might not be in the same corridors, and so the rights of way wouldn't have to be so wide. They also said segments would be built only as needed, and existing roads would be widened instead where possible.

But many people couldn't shake the wide berth shown in the original drawings. They added up acreage and projected the paths of the 4,000-mile network — and got scared.

“A lot of fear developed,” recalled state Sen. Robert Nichols, who at the time served on the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees TxDOT. “With that fear came opposition.”

Anger from thousands of landowners and activists flooded public hearings, first in 2006 for the corridor's twin along Interstate 35 and again last year for a route through East Texas.

TxDOT refined plans, announcing that adding lanes to I-35 south of San Antonio was the priority over a virgin route. Last year, the Transportation Commission broadened that intention, promising to always first consider using existing rights of way for any corridor project.

On Tuesday, Saenz said the agency also will try to keep widths within 600 feet. Going wider, especially if roads and rails are put together, would be the exception rather than the norm.

“The right of way will be whatever you need to build the asset,” he said. “But the chance of it being all put together in one corridor is slim.”

Other than backpedaling from the Trans-Texas brand, and the goals and priorities set over the years, the corridor remains intact.

TxDOT still plans to partner with private corporations to build and lease projects. Toll roads, truck-only lanes and rail lanes also still are on the table.

Environmental studies for the I-35 and East Texas corridor segments still chug through the pipeline. And a development contract with Cintra of Spain and Zachry Construction Corp. of San Antonio for projects paralleling I-35 still is valid.

The difference now is that instead of referring to the Trans-Texas Corridor name, officials will identify each segment of the original plan separately.

Booting the corridor's name could freshen the concept and maybe clear the air some before this year's transportation-heavy legislative session starts next week.

“We can now focus on the real issue, which is additional road capacity and the means to finance the same,” said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas.

State lawmakers plan to put TxDOT, toll roads, privatization, gas taxes and other issues in the frying pan. Carona said all financing options will be needed.

“It's going to be a big chapter, it's going to be a great chapter,” he said of the upcoming session.

Perry, speaking from Iraq on a conference call with reporters, concurred that the state needs private investments in roads.

“Our options are relatively limited due to Washington's ineffectiveness from the standpoint of being able to deliver dollars or the Legislature to raise the gas tax,” he said. “So we have to look at some other options.”

Still, the name change has roused excitement.

“We're real pleased that a project once described as unstoppable has now screeched to a halt,” said David Stall of the citizens' group Corridor Watch.

He said his group will continue to watch developments.

R.G. Ratcliffe and Janet Elliott of the Austin Bureau contributed to this report.

Portions © 2009 San Antonio

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