Trans-Texas Corridor plan unveiled, contract made public

| Friday, September 29, 2006

The Texas Department of Transportation has released its master development plan for the first phase of the Trans-Texas Corridor, a whopping 256-page plan that it describes as a “living document that will continue to evolve.”

On the same day, state officials also made public a contract with a private developer that has been held secret since the first corridor documents were signed.

To date, the plans for what would be the biggest privately built toll route in the U.S. have outlined the state’s needs for new construction and the incorporation of existing routes in the Interstate 35 corridor for the creation of a quarter-mile-wide swath of truck lanes, car lanes, rail lines and utility lines stretching from the Mexican border to Oklahoma.

TxDOT officials unveiled the massive plan Thursday, Sept. 28. It is part of the continuing push to make the TTC-35 a reality. It includes 50 pages of aerial photographs.

The plan contains two new elements not seen in earlier proposals that date back to Gov. Rick Perry’s initial plan in 2002. This phase of the corridor proposal includes an extension to hook up with I-35 south of San Antonio, and a loop around the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Private investor Cintra-Zachry has, according to the contract, proposed to spend $7.2 billion to build TTC-35, which would be the largest private investment in U.S. infrastructure to date.

Spain-based Cintra and Zachry Construction Corp. from San Antonio proposed extending the toll road south of San Antonio to meet up with I-35 at a yet-undetermined location.

The Dallas loop, referred to as Loop 9 in the plan, may sound familiar to Texans, because lawmakers have been talking about such a loop since the 1960s.

In order for the corridor to become reality, the Texas Legislature and the Texas Transportation Commission must give approval at various stages, and that can only happen after the Environmental Protection Agency signs off on numerous ongoing studies.

“The plan lays out a public-private partnership but it does not set the route for TTC-35, it does not authorize construction, it does not set toll rates and it does not eliminate competition,” TxDOT Executive Director Michael Behrens stated in a press release. “Those decisions are yet to come.”

The Federal Highway Administration and TxDOT must agree on the final route, and the bidding process must remain open and not restricted to Cintra-Zachry for construction.

“The master development plan takes into account issues covered to date in the environmental study, but the plan will change as the environmental study proceeds and as project development continues,” TxDOT officials stated in the press release.

The contract with Cintra-Zachry that Gov. Perry had been keeping a secret was uploaded onto TxDOT’s Web site Thursday.

The move to make the contract public comes deep into a gubernatorial election campaign by the incumbent Perry and several challengers – something that could affect voters, according to The Associated Press.

A senior transportation official told The AP the contract was made public because the new master development plan is an update by Cintra-Zachry to all previous documents.

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