Friday, July 28, 2006

A GOOD Sign: YOUNG PEOPLE Speaking up & Weighing in
From a PERRY stronghold today..
At least this young AGGIE (article below) has attempted to assess the transportation problems in the part of the world that he now occupies (TAMU) and react to his perception of the needs of Texas citizens.. UNLIKE the plans of the "head cheerleader" of the TTC, RICK PERRY to serve gigantic multinational special interests & his own BIG political ambitions. The young man does not have all of the facts about the "self contained" nature of the TTC vehicle/truck corridor designed with service stations, eating facilities, etc. within the corridor. But, it is heartening to see a QUESTIONING of the TTC from the younger generation. The 50 & 99 year terms of some of the contracts others signed with CINTRA make the TTC a threat for ALL generations!
In the interest of "fair and balanced coverage" I am also including a TTC article from a senior writing in the Daily Texan on Wednesday.
There is a public awakening taking place across the State as the Hearings finally allow CITIZENS to focus on the TTC issues. As ABRAHAM LINCOLN said "To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men". The issues and principles involved are so much more important than "building political party power" with a misplaced allegiance to the top of the ticket. PERRY is actually doing harm to his party in Texas and to ALL Texans with the secretive decisions & alliances he is ramming down our throats.

Martha Estes Citizens for a Better Waller County

Perry's transportation idea has merit but overlooks key issues

Chad Stoermer - The Battalion

By: Andrew Burleson

7/27/06 Section: Opinion
© 2006 The Battalion Online

Texas is facing a significant turning point. Gov. Rick Perry has called for the State to build a massive network of freeways with freight rail, commuter rail, utility lines, communication towers and oil and natural gas pipelines all concentrated into a single route. This massive corridor is intended to meet the future transportation needs of the state, which is expected to increase dramatically in the next 50 years.

Texas highways are already packed with cars and trucks, and gridlock strangles our major cities day and night. While the lofty goals of Perry's transportation program are admirable, the program has been met with opposition. In fact, all of Perry's opponents in the November elections are vehemently opposed to the plan.

Critics suggest that the corridor won't even require trucks to stop for customs at the border, but rather will operate as an "EZ-Tag"-style terminal, tracking shipments to central depots in Kansas before subjecting them to any examination. Of course, the trucks will have to exit the freeway numerous times to stop for gas before they could reach Kansas, and who is going to supervise the trucks there?

The route will do little to ease congestion in the cities. By looping 30 to 50 miles around every major metropolitan area, passenger vehicles are unlikely to find the corridor very practical. The suggested speed limit of 80 miles per hour is supposed to lure drivers to the alternative route, but how many Texans are going to want to drive an extra hundred miles and pay tolls the entire way just so they can avoid a bit of traffic?

Another problem with the plan is its rail component. Although a comprehensive high-speed rail system would be an economic boon, and being able to take a high speed train from San Antonio or Austin to Dallas could definitely reduce the number of passengers on I-35, it is doubtful that many people would want to drive 50 miles to the train station and rent a car at their destination, when they could just as easily fly or save money driving the whole way.

These challenges render the entire idea of the multi-modal corridor useless. Instead, the state needs to consider a different approach, routing different uses in different directions.

The most promising component of the plan is the freight rail. The freight rail could work as planned, but it would be even more effective if it was coupled with a system of spurs for freight trucks to transfer cargo on the final leg of its journey from an intermodal depot to the destination city. By picking up cargo in Laredo or McAllen and shipping it to Texarkana or Denton, countless freight trucks could be diverted from the interstate. Not only could this save the state a massive amount of money, but less land could be taken. Better, safer service could be provided using less fuel and generating less pollution and noise.

The passenger rail should also go directly to and from city centers. Texas could build high-speed rail networks through the medians of existing freeways, or over abandoned freight and utility lines. Austin and San Antonio have already been planning a connection using old right of way, which is currently underutilized. Coupling this with an investment in local level light rail and commuter trains could generate huge savings, reduce environmental impact and generate thousands of jobs. Not only could this offer rapid service between city centers (new trains can operate as fast as 300 mph) but would also give passengers safer, more affordable ways to travel. With an average of 43,000 Americans dying every year in automobile accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, now is the time to invest in safer transportation modes.

More congestion relief could be provided in the form of smaller regional bypasses, such as Austin's SH-130. That toll road is being built away from the major commuter destinations and will have limited entry and exit points in a deliberate effort to limit development on the bypass. By connecting to I-35 on either side of Austin, but running only slightly east of the city, travelers not intending to stop have a superior option to pass through the most congested parts of the existing freeway, without needing to add significant mileage to their trip.

Finally, to improve connectivity through areas currently underserved by infrastructure, an improved network of state highways a SH-21 from Bryan to Caldwell could be built with bypasses around the busier towns along the route. Divided roads offer improved safety (which the Texas Department of Transportation claims is their primary concern) without mandating excessive taking of property or cutting off current property owners. Taking the example of SH-6, roads like this can be expanded over time as traffic counts justify increased capacity, rather than sinking billions of dollars into roads, which will be virtually unused for an entire generation.

It's time for the governor to consider a Trans-Texas alternative, investing in multiple modes of transportation but routing them separately to fit the strengths and weaknesses of each transport type

A Trans-Texas Horror

By Karl-Thomas Musselman The Daily Texan Columnist

There is an issue in Texas quietly building steam in what could be a major campaign theme in this fall's elections for governor and the state agricultural commissioner.

It's an issue that has folks in rural Texas feeling the pain of Native Americans centuries prior. It's an issue that has farmers and ranchers readying their pitchforks. And it's an issue that has some of the most conservative counties in the state upset with Republicans they used to consider defenders of free men on the range.

The issue is the Trans-Texas Corridor, a 4,000-mile, $183-billion plan proposed by Republicans and promoted by Gov. Rick Perry as the 50-year solution to Texas' traffic needs. The routes span the state, snaking across central and eastern Texas, connecting Laredo to Oklahoma and Arkansas. Future routes could bring in an East-West line from El Paso or others up through the Panhandle.

Each corridor could contain up to four trucker lanes, six vehicle lanes, six rail lines and a 200-foot utility path. At its maximum size, each TTC could be 1,200 feet wide, consuming up to 9,000 square miles of land, more than exists in all of New Jersey.

These massive property and investment requirements give rise to much of the objection from rural landowners. Cutting through countless farms and ranches and looping around suburbia will be a path wider than the distance between Austin's Congress and First Street bridges. One could set the entire state Capitol inside of the right of way.

An unsettling vision, landowners will be faced with inaccessibility to land split on opposite sides of this monstrosity. The state would ideally pay fair market value for the 5.7 million acres wanted for construction, but as with any mu-nicipality, the "lowest" fair market value will likely be found.

Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, any acreage desired from particularly cantankerous landowners can also be taken via eminent domain. The Texas Legislature did pass a bill granting protections to Texans from excessive abuses of eminent domain in the wake of that ruling, but it made a convenient exception specifically for the TTC.

For localities, any land consumed by the TTC disappears from the tax rolls, hitting small rural communities the hardest. Proponents claim that new business growth around interchanges and the corridor will offset that.

Unfortunately, primary TTC users will be transporting goods, not buying them. The frequency of off-ramps will likely be less than that for traditional highways, allowing for fewer business opportunities. The few ramps that will exit the TTC will be surrounded by land owned by the management company, Cintra Zachry.

Any commercial value that land will have will belong to Cintra Zachry, not the rural communities torn apart by the TTC. They won't see a string of gas stations and IHOPs as doing much to replace the revenue, character or community lost to this multi-billion-dollar boondoggle.

There are other facets of the project that are unsettling as well. While the Texas Department of Transportation has worked around historic lands or sensitive properties before, there is no law to guarantee that old community cemeteries won't be paved over or that historic buildings won't meet the bulldozer.

Add to that the fact that the presumptive private construction partner Cintra Zachry is an overseas firm based in Spain. Just as security-oriented citizens were unsettled by Dubai running American ports, many are cautious about having a foreign firm build a transportation network connected to Mexico. It only amplifies conservative concerns about border issues and immigration, though in truth, the TTC does not create any new border crossings.

The most unsettling thing about the project is that the terms are sealed, unreadable by the public. Texans have no way of knowing who will ultimately pay for the inevitable cost overruns, nor do they know what will happen when the actual revenues from the TTC are lower than the estimates used to secure the financing. Who will pay for that: the private management company or Texas taxpayers?

Already, 186 of Texas' 254 counties have made their disagreements with the plan public record. Both the Texas Democratic and Republican Party platforms officially state their opposition to the TTC. Every candidate for governor is in opposition to Perry on the issue. The TTC has even shaped up to be the prime topic in the otherwise quiet race for agricultural commissioner between state Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, who co-sponsored the TTC legislation, and Democratic candidate and farmer Hank Gilbert, who opposes it in any form.

Headed to November and through the next decade, the Trans-Texas Corridor will likely become an issue that is, pardon the pun, as big as Texas.

Musselman is a government senior.

George Eliot


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