Week of February 18, 2002
Snapshot from the Field
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$175 Billion Price Tag
Texas Governor Lays Out PlanBy JACK LYNE, Site Selection Executive Editor of Interactive Publishing
for 4,000-Mile Road, Rail, Utility Network
Gov. Rick Perry has unveiled his plan for a 4,000-mile (6,400-km.) road, rail and utility network that would run across rural areas in the Lone Star State.
Dubbed the Trans Texas Corridor, the proposed network would cost an estimated US$175 billion and would take some 50 years to complete.
"This plan is as big as Texas and as ambitious as our people," Perry said in a speech to government officials from throughout the state. The plan is so big, in fact, that it's larger than the state's existing 3,240-mile (5,184-km.) interstate network.
Said Perry, "Some might ask, 'Is this too big?' I say nothing is too big for Texas when our economic security, our environment and our quality of life is at stake."
The Trans Texas Corridor would proactively tackle a number of state problems, the governor contended. Among those problems: NAFTA-fueled increases in truck traffic, air pollution, rural economic development, transportation of hazardous materials and population growth over the next few decades that could push Texas's tally from today's 21 million residents to 50 million. "We need a transportation system that meets the needs of tomorrow, not one that struggles to keep up with the needs of yesterday," said Perry.
The plan's proposed corridors would consist of six highway lanes and six rail lines; three highway lanes and three rail lines would run in each direction. One rail line, explained Perry, would be dedicated to high-speed commuter rail, one to high-speed freight rail and one to short-haul regional rail - the latter described by the governor as the spine of a local commuter rail system.
The corridors, which would be 1,000 to 1,200 feet (303 to 364 meters) wide, would also include easements for electric, natural gas, petroleum and telecommunications lines, Perry added. Private-sector participation - and funding - is a major factor in the Trans Texas Corridor's chances of becoming a reality. That private participation, Perry argued, means the Trans Texas Corridor isn't tantamount to a tax hike.
"You make decisions in the appropriations process by deciding what's important," said Perry, who has made highway construction a cornerstone of his administration. "I happen to think transportation is important. Does that put me in the category of saying let's go raise taxes? No, I don't think you have to."
'Exclusive Development Agreements'
Chief among those issues: Where would the money come from to fund the ambitious design? The state will face a $5 billion budget shortfall in 2003, many analysts predict. That prompted Tony Sanchez Jr., a Democratic challenger for Perry's job in November, to caution against "building new roads over a mountain of debt."
Perry outlined a number of funding sources, including "exclusive development agreements . . . allow[ing] the Texas Dept. of Transportation to immediately negotiate with public- or private-sector organizations to design, build, finance and manage transportation corridors anywhere in the state." Those agreements were sanctioned by a state law passed in the 2001 session. Participating firms would reap some or all of the tolls on the roads in which they were involved, state officials said. Perry added, however, "It is important to remember the corridor right of way and assets, without exception, will be owned by the state of Texas." Participating companies might also be allowed to offer plans to own restaurants and gas stations/convenience stores along the transportation routes.
Other funding, the governor said, could come from "toll equity," with the state providing regional mobility agencies or public-private alliances with seed capital to assist in constructing toll roads. In turn, the state would get a share of toll revenues.
Plan Includes Nearby Free Routes
However funded, the Trans Texas corridor won't affect any projects already scheduled for construction, state officials said. And, they added, the new corridors would be built near existing major highways, providing Texas motorists with a free alternative to toll roads. The plan raised some concerns among rural residents. Dan Morales, another Democratic candidate for governor, voiced concerns over "using broad swaths of new land. To the extent possible, we should increase the capacity of existing roadbeds and run high-speed rail along rights of way such as our interstate corridors . . . and use the powers of eminent domain as little as possible."
Anticipating the apprehension, Perry said in his speech, "I am always sensitive to the concerns of rural property owners. . . . The Trans Texas Corridor will serve as a new lifeline for our more rural communities, providing economic opportunity through a fast, safe and reliable transportation system and providing access to public resources necessary to prosper."
The corridor, the governor contended, could also "provide an unprecedented opportunity to expand ties with Mexico." The network, he continued, "also improves the state's ability to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks or other disasters by creating hazardous material routes outside major cities and providing transportation alternatives that make it more difficult to paralyze the state's infrastructure."
This Year, Governor Says Where the Trans Texas Corridor goes from here depends in large part on the Transportation Dept.'s report.
In his speech, however, Perry said that construction on the project could begin as early as this year. The state, he argued, already has "two proven success stories in our state: the North Texas Tollway Authority and the Harris County Toll Road Authority. If it can happen in Dallas and Houston, it can happen in the rest of the state."
Where the plan happens - if it happens - also remains to be seen. Texas Transportation Commission Chairman John Johnson said the first corridor links would likely follow near I-35 through Austin and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and near U.S. 59 through Houston.
©2002 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.