Taking Its Toll

Is the state's massive new transportation plan a path to the future or a road to nowhere?

Who initiated the Trans-Texas Corridor plan?

Governor Rick Perry. Acting on a promise he made to improve the state’s transportation system, Perry sent the commission that oversees the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) a letter in 2002, requesting that it take ninety days to develop a new highway plan. Less than five months later, TxDOT delivered the concept for the Trans-Texas Corridor.

What exactly does the plan entail?

In short, four thousand miles of brand-new “transportation corridors” crisscrossing the state (from Oklahoma to Mexico, for example, and El Paso to Houston). The corridors, which are designed to reduce urban congestion by looping traffic around Texas’s major cities, are envisioned on a scale that will make our U.S. interstates look like scenic byways. Cutting a 1,200-foot-wide swath through parts of the state, each corridor will include ten turnpike lanes for motor vehicles (three for cars and two for trucks in each direction), six rail lines (two each for high-speed passenger, freight, and commuter trains), and a utility zone for natural gas and petroleum pipelines and electric and fiber-optic lines.

Yikes. Do we really need all that?

In the summary report for the corridor plan, the authors cite the demise of the Roman highway network as a factor that brought down the empire. (So there.) Bureaucratic hyperbole aside, there’s no denying that Texas highways can’t accommodate our escalating needs: Demographers predict that new residents will continue to arrive at a 30,000-per-month clip for the foreseeable future. “The growth we face is staggering,” says Mike Cox, the communications manager for TxDOT. “No other state has proposed such a large plan, but they don’t have our numbers.” “Numbers” is the operative word: The project could take fifty or more years to build, at an estimated cost of between $145 billion and $183 billion.

Where’s that money going to come from?

This is where the plan’s five-month gestation period seems a little hasty. TxDOT’s annual budget, a measly $5.4 billion, is woefully inadequate to fund such a major undertaking. What’s more, most of the money budgeted for new roads comes from the state’s 20-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax, and Perry has vowed to veto any proposed increase in that tax. Instead, he sees two other funding sources: tolls and private investment. In November 2001, voters approved a constitutional amendment

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