Skip to comments.Road to the future
Posted on 07/11/2006 6:17:00 AM PDT by Tolerance Sucks Rocks
Texans have a problem, State Representative Larry Phillips said about the current statewide transportation system and its government-proposed solution, the Trans-Texas Corridors. We can either address the problem, know whats coming, and plan accordingly, or we can stick our heads in the sand and pretend it will go away. Texas Governor Rick Perry proposed the corridor system in 2002. Texas Department of Transportation and other officials echo that sentiment and are looking at the TTC to offer long-term solutions for the masses.
The TTC plan to date
The Trans-Texas Corridor is a proposed multi-use, statewide network of transportation routes in Texas that will incorporate existing and new highways, railways and utility right-of-ways. As envisioned, each route upon completion will include separate roads for passenger vehicles and large trucks, freight and high-speed commuter railways, and infrastructure for utilities including water lines, oil and gas pipelines, and transmission lines for electricity, broadband and other telecommunications services, according to the Texas Department of Transportation Web site. When completed, TTC could have corridors covering most of the state, running both east/west and north/south.
TxDOT is overseen by the Texas Transportation Commission, a 5-person panel of Texans appointed by the governor.
In late 2004, the Texas Transportation Commission selected a consortium led by Spain-based Cintra Concessiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, S.A. and San Antonio-based Zachry Construction Corporation to develop TTC-35. TxDOT District Engineer Bobby Littlefield said Cintra-Zachry is working in a consultant capacity only for now.
The advantages of such an ambitious plan are, according to TxDOT, ease, safety, and cost effectiveness of moving people and products across the state; increased economic development state-wide; and improved air quality and quality of life.
Plans call for the overall TTC system to be completed in phases over 50 years with specific routes prioritized according to need. Funding, construction, and maintenance is proposed to be from the private sector, with Texas retaining ownership of the system. TxDOT will oversee all planning, construction and ongoing maintenance, although private vendors will be responsible for much of the daily operations. At the end of the contracted time periods, TxDOT will assume all responsibilities and revenues.
The first corridor under discussion is called Trans-Texas Corridor 35. TTC-35, in its proposed entirety, would run from the Mexican border at Laredo and follow along Interstate 35 until it reaches Gainesville. Some of that would run through Grayson County, from southeast to northwest around Anna (Collin County), Van Alstyne, Gunter, Collinsville, and Whitesboro, then into Cooke County where it will connect in Gainesville.
The Texas Department of Transportation is nearing its completion of Tier One of the planning phase and holding a series of question-and-answer open houses and public hearings this week, with the nearest ones around the area listed in another article in todays Herald Democrat.
There are many facets to understand about the proposed corridor system, and information about it that arent addressed in this article can be found on-line at the Web sites listed below and by attending any of the upcoming public meetings and hearings.
Texas has grown beyond most peoples understanding in the past 25 years and government officials expect that growth will accelerate between now and 2030.
Statistics compiled by TxDOT show that Texas has undergone a 57 percent population growth since 1980, state road capacity grew only 8 percent, but road usage rose at an alarming 95 percent.
The same statistic estimates are that Texas population will increase an additional 64 percent and road usage will go up 214 percent, yet state road capacity will only grow by 6 percent between now and 2030. During that 25-year period, TxDOT planners have identified $188 billion will be needed to achieve an acceptable level of mobility, yet only foresee that $102 billion will become available, leaving an $86 billion shortfall. TTC, being privately funded, can help meet that deficient and still provide a way to move folks from here to there.
Phillips said that Texas surpassed California recently as the nations largest exporting state, with Houston playing an important part in the exporting business.
TxDOT learned during Tier One studies that 45 percent of Texas population lives within 50 miles of Interstate 35.
Anytime you have a transportation system built, you will have industry follow, Phillips said.
Phillips met with Grayson County mayors and other government officials in late June to bring them up to date on TTC-35 plans and the public meeting process. And to encourage them to think through their cities particular positions on the proposed route and overall plan, he said. We need to decide what we want to do as a community to determine what is best for us.
Sherman Mayor Bill Magers was one who attended the meeting. He said he realized from it just how important it is that the mayors of Grayson County speak in one voice and agree on the big things. Magers emphasized that he is only verbalizing his own concept on TTC-35s impact on Sherman and Denison, and wasnt speaking for the Sherman City Council.
If it (TTC-35) is going to happen, we need to have it coming through Sherman and Denison. If it bypasses us, it could be detrimental to this area ... a (negative) cause-and-effect on our businesses. Its a regional issue, not one for any particular town, and its important that we as a county and a region find a position we can all support.
Magers stressed that its important to future economic development of Sherman and Denison that the cities have access to the corridor. Without access, economic growth could shift outside the area. Also, he stated, it could be in the best interest for the corridor to run near Sherman and Denison because, with new industry, higher-paying employment could be more available nearer home. The smaller Grayson County towns, he said, are already mostly bedroom communities for south Collin and north Dallas cities and their heftier wage scales. The less time people have to spend on the road to make a good wage is more time they can spend with their families, Magers said.
Van Alstyne Mayor Mike Parker said Van Alstyne will develop an official position on TTC-35 after a town hall meeting. The time frame for the town hall meeting and its possible collective view of the corridor, will be such that anyone can still submit in his personal ideas to TxDOT before the Aug. 21 deadline.
Parker is encouraging everyone to attend Monday nights meeting in Sherman, saying theres strength in numbers.
Phillips explained that the public hearings will culminate Tier One and all comments officially submitted will become a part of the Final Impact Statement. He, as a state representative, is charged with the job of looking at Texas needs even as far away as 25 years from now. Sometimes when you do that, it conflicts with what current constituents want and a balance has to be met, Phillips said. Toward that end, he explained, he has worked extensively with Texas Farm Bureau on TTC and has tried to keep an eye out for his rural constituents.
The study areas
Littlefield pointed out that its important to remember that the current 10-mile wide stretch of land being studied for the TTC-35 corridor is just that, a study area, and not an actual 10-mile wide area that will be usurped by TTC-35. That 10-mile wide study area originally was, in places, up to 50 miles wide. Using input from previous public hearings, TxDOT narrowed it down and plans to continue to use public input to determine a route, which could take up to three more years to finalize. Input from the public between now and Aug. 21 will help narrow it down more concisely.
Even the 10-mile wide study area shown in darkest blue on TxDOT maps could change, and the possibility still exists that the area to the east of Sherman and Denison and paralleling U.S. Highway 69, shown in lighter blue, can be selected as the preferred corridor.
Corridor route selection
The whole idea for now, Littlefield said, is to keep the TTC-35 corridor as close to I-35 as possible, but to avoid more developed lands. The difference between ending the corridor by blending traffic in to I-35 as compared to US 69/75, north of Denison, could depend on how soon Oklahoma asks for the traffic. At this time, Littlefield said, I-35 is a major highway with several lanes, whereas US 69/75 is smaller and more congested.
Interstate roads are built with limited entrance and exit ramps placed at spaced intervals, as will TTC-35, whereas highways such as US 69/75 have cross traffic, signal lights, and may or may not be divided roadways.
We are still coordinating with Oklahoma and they are very interested in it (receiving TTC-35 traffic), Littlefield said. If Oklahoma were to come forward and say it would like to connect to Denison instead of Gainesville, the route could still be adjusted to fit those needs.
Another way the current preferred TTC-35 north Texas route might still shift to avoid most of Grayson County is the weight that the Dallas/Fort Worth united coalition could place on TxDOT planners. Littlefield said Fort Worth wants the corridor to go to its west and then up to I-35. Dallas planners are noting that three interstate highways, I-30, I-20, and I-45, would feed into TTC-35 and, therefore, the preferred route should remain on the east side of Dallas. It, like I-35, could even split and route both ways in a doughnut effect, making TTC-35 the best for both cities.
Rural territories, for cost and people-displacement factors, are the most logical areas for TTC-35. Phillips said, Its cheaper and safer to build it in rural areas. Its more expensive to build around existing metropolitan areas, but if you build it fresh and all at once, it can save money.
Both Littlefield and Phillips emphasized that federal laws are dictating much of the planning and construction, including environmental protection issues. The corridor must also be built according to Texas laws and TxDOT requirements.
Traffic now about equally divided between I-35 and U.S. Highway 75, Littlefield said. But, according to Texas Transportation Commissions chairman, about 45 percent of the 21 million Texans live within 50 miles of I-35, which has become a commuter route, rather than an efficient option for intercity and freight travel.
Highway construction funding
Texas roads and highways formerly could be financed only after gasoline taxes were in the state purse. There have been no increases in gasoline taxes in more than 10 years and none are expected to be levied in the future, Phillips said. Statistics presented by TxDOT show that to generate enough cash to expand Texas highways over the next 25 years, gas taxes would have to be increased by 600 percent, capping at $1.40 per gallon. Twenty-five percent of gasoline taxes are swung over to educational financing, Phillips said, and some, by law, are sent to the federal government and then diverted back to Texas and to other states.
Toll roads are another way to get a highway built before funds are in the bank, with the tolls collected paying off the costs of construction, operation, and maintenance. Once construction costs are recovered, tolls can be earmarked to construct other roadways. Another source of revenue are fines, licenses and permits.
Recent legislation allows the establishment of Regional Mobility Authorities, which can sell bonds to build roadways, a example being the local RMAs planned expansion of State Highway 289 from the Collin County line to the Grayson County Airport.
The TTC system is proposed to be funded by private business and the private business will be allowed to collect tolls for an estimated 50-year period as a way of recouping their expenses. The business must also keep the roads in good repair and pay for all operating costs during its proprietorship. At the end of the designated time frame of 50 years, all maintenance and operating costs will divert back to the state. Its undecided, and could be firmed up in Tier Two planning, if some of the toll money could be proportioned to the state during the first 50 years.
Just last week, the Texas Transportation Commission approved a $1.3 billion concession agreement with Cintra-Zachry to build a 40-mile highway between Austin and Seguin, with the consortium putting up the needed financing to complete the toll road. The financing package also includes millions of dollars for right-of-way costs to be paid by Cintra-Zachry and a $25 million up-front concession payment, which will be used for other projects in the Austin-San Antonio region, according to TxDOT.
Some undecided factors regarding the TTC-35 project are addressed in the Seguin/Austin private partnership agreement, which provide that Texas will receive a graduating portion of the tolls collected by Cintra-Zachry during the 50 years before the new highway diverts exclusively to Texas. The terms in that agreement place the key risks of construction costs, overruns, delays, traffic, and revenue on Cintra-Zachry. The agreement also requires that the Texas Transportation Commission approve the methodology for setting tolls, as required by state law, TxDOT stated in a news release.
That 40-mile project is expected to be open for business in 2012, which could be a further indication of the length of time it would take to complete a corridor between Laredo and Gainesville.
Parker stated that he believed, at its completion, the Trans-Texas Corridor system could make the current Interstate highway system, now 50 years old, look like cow trails.
More information, including that of opponents working as a coalition known as Corridor Watch, are listed below.
Other states similar plans, including membership in the North Americas Supercorridor Coalition Inc.;
Private property rights and eminent domain issues;
Legislation passed with TTC in mind;
Comprehensive Development Agreement between the Texas Transportation Commission and Cintra-Zachry;
Physical access to the TTC, including that by ranchers and farmers whose land will be split and by smaller towns;
The effects of the removal of rural land from property tax rolls that support schools and city services.
Contract for southern segment increases state revenue if speed limit goes to 80 mph or beyond.
By Ben Wear
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
The higher the speed limit, the more money the state would collect on Texas 130's southern 40 miles under the contract recently signed with road developer Cintra-Zachry.
A highway safety advocate says that means "safety's for sale in Texas." No, the state's turnpike director says, the provisions in that contract are only a recognition that the Legislature has already allowed an 85-mph speed limit for roads included in the Trans-Texas Corridor plan, a designation that Texas 130 probably will get.
With a higher allowable speed, logic dictates that more drivers would choose the toll road, which will run east of Austin, as an alternative to Interstate 35. And more vehicles equals more toll revenue, boosting Cintra-Zachry's income.
Under that scenario, the state would be irresponsible if it did not try to recoup more revenue for taxpayers, said Phil Russell, director of the Texas Department of Transportation's turnpike division. As for the safety questions raised by that higher speed, Russell said the agency is working on design standards for the Trans-Texas Corridor, a proposed 4,000-mile network of toll roads, that would make them as safe at 85 mph as interstates are at 70 mph.
"Whatever the speed limit is, we're going to make sure our design standards can accommodate it," Russell said Monday.
Judie Stone, president of the Washington-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, doesn't buy it.
"I just think it's a violation of public health responsibilities on the part of the state," Stone said. "It's the first time I've ever heard of anything like that. Following on the heels of raising the speed limit to 80 on some segments of the interstates, it's very disturbing. It sounds like safety's for sale in Texas."
In late May, the state Transportation Department changed some speed limits on West Texas interstates to 80 mph.
Although Cintra-Zachry will operate the southern 40 miles of Texas 130, the speed limits will be controlled by the state. The Texas Transportation Commission, appointed by the governor, sets those limits, but only within upper limits set by the Legislature.
None of this applies to the northerly 49 miles of Texas 130 being built from Georgetown to south of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, some of which is due to open in December. The state, not Cintra-Zachry, is building and will operate that toll road. And it was designed several years ago, long before the Trans-Texas Corridor and its 85-mph limit was contemplated. Russell said that part will open with a 70-mph speed limit.
Not so with the southern 40 miles from Mustang Ridge to Interstate 10 at Seguin. The state last month signed a thousand-plus-page contract with Cintra-Zachry, a Spanish-American partnership, for the company to build the four-lane road at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion and operate it for 50 years.
The contract contemplates that Cintra-Zachry would pay the state an upfront concession fee of $25 million and 4.65 percent of toll revenue until total revenue reaches certain thresholds in any given year. Then the portion for the state would grow to 9.3 percent until a second revenue threshold is reached, jumping to 50 percent after that.
But that is only if the speed limit is 70 mph.
The contract says that if the speed limit is 80 mph, the upfront payment would be $92 million. At 85 mph, the payment would be $125 million.
Or the state could choose, rather than taking more upfront, to collect higher percentages of the toll revenue. The higher speed limits would have to be imposed within the road's first six months of operation for the state to get the extra money. The road is expected to open by 2012.
In 2003, when the Legislature passed a 300-page bill creating the legal framework for the Trans-Texas Corridor (and other toll road activities), it said that proposed system could have speeds up to 85 mph.
The idea is that the cross-state roads would be less traveled than the parallel, toll-free interstates and thus could accommodate higher speeds. And faster travel would be the carrot drawing paying customers.
At this point, pending an environmental review that could take two to three more years, Texas 130 is not a part of the Trans-Texas Corridor. But it falls within a 10-mile-wide study area in the draft environmental document, and most people familiar with the situation assume that it eventually will become a corridor road.
If that occurs, it would be up to the Transportation Commission to decide if 85 mph will be the limit. Despite the lure of the extra money, Stone said, she hopes that commissioners will look at the demonstrated role that speed plays in highway deaths and turn down the windfall.
"If people in the decision-making positions believe there aren't going to be consequences for people going that fast on any road," Stone said, "they're wrong."
For more TTC-related stories over the past few days:
85 mph! Yeeeeeee-ha!
Looks like Texas is thinking ahead...
Of particular note:
Some undecided factors regarding the TTC-35 project are addressed in the Seguin/Austin private partnership agreement, which provide that Texas will receive a graduating portion of the tolls collected by Cintra-Zachry during the 50 years before the new highway diverts exclusively to Texas. The terms in that agreement place the key risks of construction costs, overruns, delays, traffic, and revenue on Cintra-Zachry. The agreement also requires that the Texas Transportation Commission approve the methodology for setting tolls, as required by state law...
Thanks for the ping!
No wonder the kooks so far seem to be avoiding this thread,
What seems strange is talking about posters that aren't there. Confrontational are We?
BTW: I have relatives who will be directly effected by the southern section of SH130. Does that make me a KOOK?
And it could be 85 mph! Yeeeeeeeee-haaaaa! The only problem I see is that the maps I've seen of SH 130 seem to show at least one area with fairly tight curves, so I dunno if it'll ever get that fast. If they want to go that fast, they'll need some serious banking (engineering, not economics).
If there property is bound to be taken, let's hope they get as much money out of the state as they can.
You're welcome. :-)
I'd had my fill of them spamming all the other TTC-related threads. Here's just a few recent examples of their handiwork.
BTW: I have relatives who will be directly effected by the southern section of SH130. Does that make me a KOOK?
Only if you decide to post all kinds of claims about President Bush secretly building roads to smuggle in illegal aliens and the Chinese military.
Are you sure that your relatives will actually be affected? I thought that the 800' (to at some points 1200') wide actual route hadn't been finalized from the 10-mile wide study area.
Agree that that this article gives more factual details than what others have been writing. Thus I've bookmarked it to my links page for future use.
BTW: I have relatives who will be directly effected by the southern section of SH130. Does that make me a KOOK?
Are you sure that your relatives will actually be affected?
If a giant orange 'X' at the end of his driveway is any indication! He's already been contacted by lawyers wanting to handle the proceedings. The route for SH130 is pretty much set in stone.
PS: People in general, don't trust the Gov. or it's corporate buddies. Don't be so quick with the opinion that these folks are KOOKS. Part of being a good American is asking questions and verifying the answers.
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