Trans Texas Corridor TTC-35 still alive and well

Link to article here.

Looks like Rick Perry’s Trans Texas Corridor is still alive and well to me…(see end of article). Also, looks like TxDOT can get FREEWAY improvements paid for when they set their minds to it. Note the many pots of money…

I-35 Strike Force Formation Discussed
August 31, 2009
Hillsboro Reporter

Staying on top of Interstate 35 construction projects through Central Texas is expected to be the major goal of a strike force that is being proposed by state-elected officials.

Representatives Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, and Charles (Doc) Anderson, R-Waco, were in Hillsboro recently to meet with local business leaders and elected officials at the Hillsboro Area Chamber of Commerce.

While other transportation corridors have been discussed, the interstate was identified as the “absolute common corridor” for commerce across Texas.

Those in attendance learned the significance of Prop. 12, Prop. 14 and TIGER grants, when it comes to highway funding.
Among the Texas Department of Transportation officials on hand were John A. Barton, assistant executive director in charge of engineering operations; Coby Chase, director of the government and public-affairs division; Richard Skopik, Waco District engineer; and Tony Moran, area engineer.

According to Barton, an ongoing cooperative effort should accelerate the development of the Interstate 35 corridor.
The immediate goal is to have the interstate at least six lanes from San Antonio to the east-west split north of Hillsboro, and then to Dallas and Fort Worth.

That has been accomplished with the exception of TxDOT’s Waco District, which stretches from the Williamson County line in the south to the northern boundaries of Hill County.
But, Barton explained that could change in the coming years with the recent commitment of the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC).

The widening project from farm roads 310 to 1304 south of Hillsboro has now been funded and is scheduled to be let for bids in March of next year.

Money for the project was allocated from Proposition 14 or Prop. 14 bonds that were funded during the July special session of the Legislature.

The proposed safety rest areas south of Hillsboro are not expected to be bid until toward the end of the widening project to assure service roads and ramps are in place, Barton said.

Where the exit ramps at Farm Road 1304 will be located has yet to be settled.

A rider that left the ramps unchanged was attached to the transportation bill, but it failed to be passed during the regular session.

The configuration approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) would move the southbound exit back to the north near the proposed rest area.

Skopik said that his staff is looking at plans that would move the ramp about 1,000 feet rather than the proposed 2,000 to 3,000 feet to the north.

“We have to educate the FHWA and get them to agree to the decision since it was approved in a public setting,” the district engineer said.

Voters approved $5 billion in general-revenue transportation bonds in 2007, but due to the economic downturn, only $2 billion were funded during the special session.

According to Representative Pitts, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, the state couldn’t afford the payments on the full $5 billion.

Of the $2 billion, half was placed in TxDOT’s Infrastructure Bank, which provides funds for local entities to borrow against for transportation-related projects.

The other $1 billion was made available to the TTC for projects of their choice.

Federal stimulus money has been allocated to reconstruct I-35 from just south of Salado into Temple. That work will be let in May.

The other state-funding source for projects includes Prop 12, which is known as the Texas Mobility Fund, which was created by voters in 2003.

According to Skopik, those bonds must be repaid with gas-tax or vehicle-registration revenue rather than general-fund revenue.

“But we’re about to use up the authorized spending from Prop 12,” the district engineer added. “It is projected by 2011 or 2012 TxDOT will have fully used that funding.”

TIGER is the latest funding acronym to surface in transportation circles.

Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants are the last subset of the federal-stimulus money, Skopik explained.

It makes $1.5 billion in competitive grants available nationwide for highway, rail and ports.
The amount each state can receive is $300 million, according to Chase.

“Interstate 35 is main street Texas, and there will be agonizing decisions on where the money will be spent.

“We will be working with our friends (Texas delegation) in Washington to make sure we get a fair shake,” Chase added.

The competitive grant process has a September 15 deadline, and the Waco District is seeking money to reconstruct the interstate from Bellmead to just south of West.

If that project is funded, it would just leave a stretch from south of West to north of Abbott and between Waco and Temple to be widened to six lanes.

A second commitment of Prop. 14 funds from the TTC in January puts the engineering of those remaining sections on the front burner.

According to Barton, the commission has provided the funds to have all sections in the Waco District and up I-35E ready when right-of-way and construction funds become available.
Skopik and his staff have until the end of 2011 to complete the engineering work.

A similar deadline has been given to the Dallas District office for I-35E from the Hill County line north to Dallas.
The roadway is currently six lanes from Dallas south to near Waxahachie.

The money has yet to be allocated for engineering on Interstate 35W to Fort Worth because “the demand is not quite there,” Barton said.

Hillsboro Mayor John Erwin, who serves on TxDOT’s I-35 segment committee, questioned what happens after the interstate is expanded to six lanes.

Barton said that he was “optimistic” that the end is near on getting the funding to widen the interstate to six lanes.

“We don’t need to wait, we need to talk today about what we will do after I-35 is expanded as much as possible,” the assistant executive director pointed out.

Chase pointed out, from a statewide perspective, widening I-35 to six lanes only keeps up with the congestion, it doesn’t relieve it.

Mayor Erwin said that he thought high-speed rail needed to be a major part of the solution.

Hillsboro has remained active in the Texas High-Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation, which has the Texas T-Bone plan to run high-speed rail from Dallas-Fort Worth to San Antonio and “T” off at Killeen to go to Houston.

The results of an environmental impact study on the old Trans-Texas Corridor that passed through eastern Hill County remains in the pipeline.

A ruling on the study by the FHWA is expected by the end of the year.

Barton said that TxDOT had to follow through with the process, but there has been no decision on what to do with the study if it is approved.

The corridor system proposed by Governor Rick Perry fell by the wayside following political pressure from rural Texas residents.