Texas kills original Trans-Texas Corridor concept

In its place, the state will seek to develop a series of smaller, individual projects with more local input from constituencies affected by their construction. The private sector will still be invited to partner with the government to deliver the projects ‘where appropriate’.

Six years after it was first unveiled, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has officially retired its development concept of the Trans-Texas Corridor and replaced it with a series of 11 individual projects that will each be carried out with more local input from the communities they serve.

“The Trans-Texas Corridor, as a single project concept, is not the choice of Texans.  So we’ve decided to put the name to rest”, Amadeo Saenz, executive director of TxDOT, told nearly 1,200 attendees at this year’s Texas Transportation Forum in Austin.

First publicly introduced in 2002, the Trans-Texas Corridor was an ambitious plan to create a 1,200-foot wide multi-modal network of parallel rail, highway and utility lines spanning 4,000 miles across the state. Its original cost was estimated between $145.2 billion to $183.5 billion.

Four priority areas of the corridor were identified and a consortium that included Spanish toll road developer Cintra was awarded a $1.3 billion contract to develop one section – state highway 130 – in 2006.

Meanwhile, groups opposed to the idea of giving up land for the planned corridor organised and voiced their support, exemplified in anti-corridor websites such as CorridorWatch.org.

The new plan will call for the Trans-Texas Corridor umbrella concept to be abandoned and for all its sections to be completed as individual projects with input from local groups. There are 11 such project segments that will be included in the new concept, according to a spokesperson for TxDOT. Each will have its own ‘corridor advisory committee’ of locals affected by its construction.

For example, projects along Texas’ Interstate 35 and Interstate 69, two highways where private companies have been engaged to do the planning for the corridor, will now be carried out individually. Dallas’ Loop 9 will be developed as Loop 9, not as the ‘donut’ of Trans-Texas Corridor 35. Interstate 69 will likewise be developed as its own project, not as Trans-Texas Corridor 69.

The state will continue to engage with the private sector in delivering those individual projects.

“We will still partner with local governments and entities, and where appropriate, the private sector, to get needed projects on the ground,” Saenz said.

However, an 18-month old moratorium on the use of public private partnerships to develop the state’s highway system is still in place. The nine-member Texas Legislative Study Committee on Private Participation in Toll Projects recently published a report unanimously recommending its removal.

Aside from semantic changes, though, observers see little significance in the state’s updated vision for the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“I really see this as more symbolic. To the extent that it is more substantive, it is getting rid of the fantasy parts of it like large-scale land acquisition,” said Bob Poole, a member of the study committee.

Instead of acquiring massive tracts of land for 1,200-foot wide multimodal transport arteries, the state has pledged that the corridor will now be no wider than 600 feet and local groups will get to decide which modal systems will be included in it. This will drastically reduce the state’s original 2002 cost projections for the project.

“We were not going to see that kind of number invested in our lifetime. I don’t shed any tears now that that’s gone,” Poole said.

He estimated the cost of building just the highway portions of Interstate 35 and Interstate 69 at $5 billion to $7 billion. 

TxDOT has spent at least $131 million through 31 August 2008 developing Trans-Texas Corridor projects, according to its website.

Trans-Texas Corridor: in transition
Source: TxDOT