"The question is, Where will Perry stand on Nov. 3 – the day after the election?"
by William Lutz
Smack dab in the middle of an expensive re-election campaign, Gov. Rick Perry pronounced the Trans-Texas Corridor “dead.” That means he has to attend the funeral.
Perry never managed to sell Texans on his vision for our state’s highway system. Everybody has a different reason not to like his idea for a massive expansion of privatized toll roads. But the bottom line, is few Texans have bought into his vision.
Even Perry understands this. The Dallas Morning News quoted Perry Oct. 13 opposing putting toll booths on SH 161 through Irving, because it is an existing free highway.
This may be a first – Perry’s debut at opposing the slapping of a toll booth on a stretch of concrete.
Of course, Perry has had a notoriously icy relationship with both the North Texas Tollway Authority (which proposed tolling the Irving section of SH 161) and the Harris County Toll Road Authority. Still, Perry is opposing a toll road.
The remaining question is, Where will Perry stand on Nov. 3 – the day after the election?
In my view, Perry dug the grave for the corridor; he can’t exhume and resurrect the body. (That work is reserved for God Almighty.)
And will Perry try to resurrect the financing mechanism for the Trans-Texas Corridor – Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs)?
Perry isn’t campaigning on CDAs and doesn’t want them mentioned in this campaign – for good reason. For one thing, they are negotiated behind closed doors. The public doesn’t get to see these agreements – which bind the taxpayers for 50 years – until after the Texas Transportation Commission has approved them. This is a serious attack on the public’s right to know, and one the Legislature rightly curtailed in 2007.
There’s also the question of whether it’s appropriate to use toll roads as a back-door tax, with the toll set above the cost to build, maintain, and finance a given stretch of highway. And, of course, there are the attacks on private property rights that justifiably have the Farm Bureau upset.
The Legislature will consider transportation again in 2011, when it takes up the Sunset bill for the Texas Department of Transportation. Given that Perry has completely jettisoned toll roads and CDAs from his campaign, he’s made an implicit promise, if re-elected, not to try to resurrect the corridor or its financing mechanism. If Perry wants to make CDAs the cornerstone of his administration as he did in 2007, Texans have a right to know now.
There is need for a more comprehensive discussion about exactly how the state, moving forward, will fund roads to adapt to population growth. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Roads cost money. Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) appropriately started that conversation in 2007 and correctly presumed that action on such a conversation is unlikely to occur in 2011, when the state is facing a very difficult budget situation.
That said, while the public hasn’t bought Perry’s vision, there is a need to do something. One place to start would be the promises made to legislators when they expanded the Texas Department of Transportation’s powers in 2003.
Maybe I’m a hopeless optimist, but I believe it is possible to find a way to meet the state’s transportation needs that is honest and transparent, honors local control and local tolling authorities, and respects private property rights.
But the Trans-Texas Corridor is none of those things, which is why Perry is wise to commit its body to the ground.
Earth to Earth. Ashes to Ashes. Dust to Dust. Amen.
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