With Texas facing dual crises of sharply rising transportation costs and inadequate, and often crumbling, infrastructure in the early 21st century, Rick Perry unveiled a grandiose plan, the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), that managed to infuriate Texans across the political spectrum, and failed under the threat of massive legal action.
At first glance, the Trans-Texas Corridor seemed like a reasonable solution to a very real problem. Texas has added over 4.5 million new citizens since 2000, and according to texastransportation.org existing revenue streams will not be able to fund new transportation projects past 2012. Perry's vision was to use private funding to create a system of highways (separated into to truck and passenger lanes), high speed rail, and modern utility lines that would parallel existing roadways, alleviating congestion and contributing to Texas's position as an international point of entry for goods. Less congestion! High speed rail! More trade! Well, as it turns out the TTC had more than a few problems associated with it, and Perry's failed leadership during the legislative process has left Texas without any answers to our continued infrastructure crisis.
The first big problem with the TTC was geographical. The corridor was to be 1200 feet wide and ultimately 4000 miles long. That is a lot of land! Land that would have required unprecedented abuse of eminent domain laws for the “state” to acquire. The full system would have needed over 500,000 acres of land that was usually privately owned and often adjacent to critical wildlife habitats.
Rick Perry, the supposed champion of minimal government and conservatism, was going to decree, via fiat, that an area of the state larger than New Jersey would suddenly belong not even to Texas itself, but to a Spanish developer, Cintra-Zachary.
Needless to say, this upset more than a few people. Conservatives objected to the prospect of widespread seizures of private lands. Progressives despised the proposed sale of such a vast region to a company that would have turned Texas into a pipeline for cheap goods from Mexico and Asia and left ordinary Texans watching vast sums of money flow by while gaining little, if any, benefits.
The TTC was essentially shelved in 2009 as a result of public outrage, yet Perry continues to believe that massive toll roads owned and operated by private developers is the only answer to Texas's transportation woes. It is not at all clear that privately owned toll roads offer any congestion relief. A much smaller project built and owned entirely through private funding, the Camino Columbia Toll Road (a bridge between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo), failed as drivers refused to pay its onerous tolls, and it only carried 13% of the traffic it had been projected to carry.
And now we are back where we started. Texans face increasing traffic congestion and costs. Austinites pay more to operate and maintain their vehicles than residents of any other city in the country, Laredo has the busiest freight border crossing in the country, and drivers in Houston and Dallas face some of the ), longest commutes in the nation.