Express-News: Trans Texas Corridor planning should have trumped politics

Link to article here.

While I disagree that private investment is necessary to build needed roads, Ms. Chapa is right on the money about Perry. The release of the contract was far too politically advantageous to believe his excuses. When nearly $10 billion of highway funds have already been raided for things as inexcusable as cemetary construction and employee benefits for the Attorney General’s office (ON TOP OF the 25% that goes to public schools), private investment is not NEEDED, fiscal sense and dedicating highway funds to highways instead of increasingly absurd earmarks are needed.

Trans-Texas Corridor planning should have trumped politics
By Rebecca Chapa

It’s all out there now.

Hundreds and hundreds of pages of detailed information about one of the largest contracts the state has ever signed with a private consortium.

The Texas Department of Transportation recently released a controversial document that outlines how Cintra-Zachry plans to build and operate toll roads and rail lines across the state.

The project, known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, is a massive undertaking, spanning hundreds of miles and 50 years of profits for the company, a marriage of Spanish and Texas interests.

Gov. Rick Perry, the department and Cintra-Zachry had rightfully come under fire during the past 18 months for refusing to release the details of the contract, despite an attorney general’s opinion that the information is public.

They argued that the contract’s financial details were too sensitive to release and could have given the company’s competitors an unfair advantage.

The delay and eventual release was not intended to hide anything untoward or give him an electoral advantage, Perry said this week at a meeting with the Express-News Editorial Board.

“There is no big secret,” said Perry, the project’s chief cheerleader. “If we’d waited until December, I doubt there’d be one vote change. I really don’t care if there is one vote changed.”

I find that hard to believe. The release of information helps Perry politically, whether he acknowledges it or not.

It takes the air out of one of the key weapons that Perry’s four gubernatorial opponents have used to bludgeon him throughout the campaign.

Democrat Chris Bell and independents Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman are opposed to the TTC, while Libertarian James Werner does support limited aspects of it.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose office had urged the release, this week called the timing of the announcement “interesting,” but stopped short of calling it a political move.

“It may or may not have had anything to do with the election cycle,” he said. In his opinion, the release date had more to do with the legal calendar than the upcoming gubernatorial battle.

The case was set to go to trial this week.

But even with the information out, the Trans-Texas Corridor will continue to be a campaign issue, and should be.

We’re talking about a major transportation project that will change the way Texans and cargo move across the state.

It’s an issue no one can afford to ignore. The Texas population is expected to double by the year 2040. Unless we’re all willing to forgo driving our individual cars and start seriously thinking about light rail or other mass transit options, privately financed transportation options have to be considered.

While I’m not crazy about a company profiting for 50 years by maintaining public roads, private investment seems the only realistic way to fund our needs.

Maybe in the future, politicians will look ahead to the state’s challenges and deal with them pro-actively rather than reactively. They could raise the gas tax incrementally, for example, rather than hide behind a “voters-will-never-go-for-it” mentality after it’s too late.

In other words, maybe political considerations will take a back seat to foresight when it comes to big-ticket items like transportation.

But I doubt it.

Advice for Kinky
It’s been a fun ride, but Kinky Friedman has fallen far short of proving his case to the Texas electorate. In the upcoming gubernatorial battle, Friedman seems to have traded a desire to boot the incumbent for 15 more minutes of fame.

If Kinky really believes that Perry no longer belongs in the Governor’s Mansion, he’ll take Chris Bell’s advice — proffered by the Democrat this week — hit the bench and help one of his fellow teammates work to unseat Perry.