Boy howdy is this way overdue.
In response to public outcry, the ambitious proposal to create the Trans-Texas Corridor network has been dropped and will be replaced with a plan to carry out road projects at an incremental, modest pace, a state transportation official announced today.
“The Trans-Texas Corridor, as it is known, no longer exists,” said Amadeo Saenz Jr., executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, at the agency’s annual forum in Austin.
The state, he said, will carry forward with modifications to proposed projects and will rely heavily upon input from Texans through more town hall meetings and an updated Web site.
He also made clear that, should toll lanes be added to various roads, tolls will be assessed only on those, and not existing lanes.
The renewed effort now will operate under the name “Innovative Connectivity Plan.”
The decision won applause from a number of officials and watchdog organizations. David Stall of the citizens’ group Corridor Watch called it a major victory for Texans.
“We’re real pleased that a project once described as unstoppable has now screeched to a halt,” he said.
I guess you can’t piss off all of the people all of the time after all. I don’t see any quotes from Cintra or Zachry, the two private firms that were most heavily involved in the TTC as it was, but I have to think that the current financial crisis had something to do with this as well. They were going to pony up a large amount of cash at the front end for their long-term ownership of these roads, and I’m guessing they’re not as well-positioned for that as they used to be. I suspect we’ll hear more about that another time.
In the meantime, this all sounds good. Rather than sell off these assets in what was sure to be a boondoggle, the state is quite rightly going to focus more on specific and local needs, which I hope has a chance to be more urban-centric than rural and exurban, as the TTC was designed to be. And perhaps with the specter of that privately owned monolith out of the way, more routine toll-road or toll-lane projects will be less controversial.
[Governor Rick] Perry, who is visiting troops in Iraq, said today that the name Trans-Texas Corridor is dead, but that the state will still look at public/private partnerships to build roads, including toll roads.
“The name Trans Texas Corridor is over with. We’re going to continue to build roads in the state of Texas,” Perry said.
“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.”
I suppose someone might point out to our Governor that there’s been a Republican President in office for the entirity of his term in Austin, and that for the vast majority of that time there’s also been a Republican majority in both houses of Congress. As such, one might wonder who exactly he’s trying to blame for that “Washington ineffectiveness”. But of course, that really isn’t a mystery – indeed, the only enigma is why he’s being so subtle about it. This is a slam on Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison; what else could it be? Pretty much everything Perry says between now and March of 2010 needs to be considered in that light.
As for the Lege and its apparent ineffectiveness in raising the gas tax, who knew Governor Perry favored that approach? Quick, please, someone get him on the record about that.
Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Chairman John Carona said the announcement “should be of great relief to literally thousands of Texans we heard from who were opposed to the Trans-Texas Corridor as first envisioned.”
It also removes a distraction for the Legislature, which will convene on Jan. 13.
“We can now focus on the real issue, which is additional road capacity and the means to finance the same,” said Carona, R-Dallas.
He said his goals are to win passage of a proposed constitutional amendment that would, if approved by voters, dedicate all of the motor fuels tax to highway funding.
Additionally, he said, the Legislature should pass a bill that ties the gas tax to inflation.
“Operating off a 1991 motor fuels tax makes funding our transportation needs impossible,” he said.
Carona said raising the gas tax will be politically difficult.
“I try to remind people, we’re not just talking about the inconvenience of congestion,” he said. “Insufficient road capacity affects the quality of life and economic development. It also effects air quality.”
Well hey, having Governor Perry on board with it ought to make it a lot easier. But if we’re going to change how gas tax revenues are allocated, let’s keep two things in mind. One, 25% of gas tax revenues now go towards public education. Those monies would have to be made up elsewhere under this scenario. And two, I’d prefer to see gas tax revenues be dedicated more broadly to transportation projects, not just highway construction. Let’s think about 21st century solutions, not 20th century ones. This is a good start, but it’s not quite good enough yet.