Road to new transportation system won’t be stump free

AUSTIN ‘ One of the first laws dealing with transportation in Texas provided that each county seat be connected by a first-class road. By statute, a first-class road was a clearing 40 feet wide. Stumps less than 8 inches across were to be cut even to the ground. Stumps bigger than that were to be rounded off at the top so wagon wheels could more easily get over them. The early day lawmakers who passed that legislation would be slack-jawed at what the 21st century may hold for transportation in Texas. Gov. Rick Perry announced early last week a far-reaching transportation plan that could cost $175 billion and revolutionize the system of getting people, goods and utilities from Point A to Point B. Called the Trans Texas Corridor, the system would tie together highways, rail lines and utility right of way for a network that would span the state. ‘We need a transportation system that meets the needs of tomorrow, not one that struggles to keep up with the needs of yesterday,’ Perry said in announcing the plan. The corridors, which would connect Texas’ major urban areas, would be made up of six highway traffic lanes’three in each direction’and six rail lines, three in each direction. One rail line would handle high-speed commuter trains, one would be for high-speed freight and one would accommodate a short haul regional freight system. Another feature of the corridor would be a utility easement for petroleum, natural gas, electric, water and communications lines. Funding for the project would come through partnerships with private companies or other public entities, with toll money, bond issues and loans and grants. This became legally possible with the passage by voters last fall of a Constitutional amendment creating a Texas Mobility Fund. Still, the journey from concept to reality will not be without a few figurative stumps. Southwest Airlines did not waste any time taking off in opposition to the plan, saying it did not want to compete against government. While the big construction contractors, the H.B. Zachary Companies, will like the idea, the little guys are not quite as enthusiastic. They worry that they would miss out on the action, since the project as envisioned is more of a turnkey deal and not necessarily subject to the state low bid process. Spokesmen for the two most visible Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Dan Morales and Tony Sanchez, also found issue with the plan announced by the Republican incumbent. Morales’ campaign said the project would cover a lot of privately-owned land and possibly sites of cultural significance, and Sanchez’ voice said the project would sure cost a lot, even if some of the load is carried by the private sector. ‘It’s a visionary plan,’ said someone connected to the highway construction industry who for reasons of political expediency did not want to be quoted by name. ‘But the devil is in the details.’ Those devilish details will be developed by the Texas Department of Transportation, which the governor charged with doing the job by this summer. Though Perry said construction on some phases could begin as early as this year, completion might take a quarter century or longer. Perry has estimated the project could create more than 400,000 new jobs and as many as 2 million new jobs in business growth the new transportation system would foster.

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