Texas lawmakers pursue limits on massive corridor project

| Friday, March 25, 2005

A group of Texas state lawmakers have introduced legislation they say would address some frequent criticisms of the Trans-Texas Corridor package approved during the 2003 legislative session.

Since then, the Texas Department of Transportation has started negotiating a 50-year contract with Cintra-Zachry to build the first leg of the corridor, which will run parallel to Interstate 35 from Oklahoma to Mexico.

The Spanish-led group of companies proposes to start with a $6 billion toll road from Dallas to San Antonio, paying the state $1.2 billion and keeping other profits.

As planned, each route would include separate lanes for passenger vehicles and large trucks, freight railways, high-speed commuter railways as well as utility rights-of-way.

“We have all heard from our constituents concerning the impacts of the Trans-Texas Corridor on Central Texas and the destruction of rural landscape that would occur,” Rep. Robby Cook, R-Eagle Lake, said in a written statement. “This is an attempt to address those concerns.”

Cook said building just one mile of the corridor would wipe out about 150 acres of farmland. “That is unacceptable,” he said.

A bill offered by Cook, Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, and Rep. Lois Kolkorst, R-Brenham, would reduce the width of the corridor project to 800 feet from 1,200 feet and require on and off ramps for every state highway and farm-to-market road intersecting it.

The bill – HB1273 – would prohibit franchising of businesses, such as fuel stations and restaurants, along the corridor by road contractors. It would also bar “noncompetition” clauses in contracts between the state and corridor developers that would prevent government from building free public roads nearby.

“The transportation needs of local citizens should not be sacrificed for a huge monster like the Trans-Texas Corridor,” Cook said.

In addition, the measure would require that any toll fee increase or collection fee increase meet approval of the Transportation Commission.

A separate effort, sponsored by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, would bar the state from spending money on the corridor until 2007. It also calls for a committee to study the corridor plan and its use of toll and bond financing.

Coleman’s bill – HB3363 – would place the same moratorium on tolling free roads.

Rep. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, has introduced a bill – HB1794 – calling for at least one public hearing in every county through which the corridor passes, with public disclosure of each of its proposed transportation modes, entrances and exits.

All three bills have been sent to the House Transportation Committee for consideration.

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