TxDOT cuts I-35 projects to push Trans Texas Corridor

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I-35 ‘threat’: Fraser: TxDOT ‘playing games’ with its funding, has money to complete planned projects
by Tammy LeythamTelegram Staff Writer
Published April 2, 2008

The Texas Department of Transportation has the money to complete Interstate 35 projects and “there’s no need to even slow down on that project,” said state Sen. Troy Fraser, R–Horseshoe Bay.
The assertion came a day after Bell County commissioners discussed an e–mail from a TxDOT official that indicated projects to widen I–35 from two to three lanes through Bell County could be in danger.

“The funding situation is so serious that all work to expand I–35 through the Waco district may come to an end or at the very least be significantly delayed for years unless both the state and federal transportation funding forecast can be changed . . . , ” said the memo from Richard Skopik, Waco District engineer.

Fraser said that “memo is what I would refer to as a veiled threat.”

No road projects have been canceled, Fraser said, adding that legislators had a meeting with TxDOT about three weeks ago to discuss funding.

“We believe they have the funding,” Fraser said. “They have the ability to sell bonds, which would give them sufficient money.”

Those bonds include a short–term financial boost, Proposition 14, which provides $1.5 billion in funding through fiscal ’09.

In addition, Proposition 12 bonds, which were approved by voters in 2007, provide $5 billion in bonds for highways.

That money will have to be used on current projects, Fraser said.

“The money could not be used for the Trans–Texas Corridor,” he said.

Fraser said he believes TxDOT is “playing games in order to promote the Trans– Texas Corridor.”

As a result of concerns about the use of funds, the Legislature has ordered an audit of TxDOT.

“We believe they have sufficient revenue. That is the reason for the audit,” Fraser said. “They not only have the money for I–35, but the loop (363) project as well.”

The state audit of TxDOT is ongoing, he said.

In Skopik’s e–mail to Bell County commissioners, he wrote, “A total of 10 to 14 lanes through Central Texas are predicted to be needed in 2025 to properly address growing congestion . . . This is the very reason TxDOT feels strongly that a parallel corridor of some type is needed, long term, to truly address this matter.”

Fraser said he “absolutely” believes the indication of lack of funding by TxDOT for I–35 widening is connected to the Trans–Texas Corridor.

“TxDOT is intent on building the corridor,” said Fraser, who added he is not a fan of the project.

Ken Roberts, TxDOT spokesman, said funding allocations from the federal government that in years past have been reliable have been cut.

Roberts said such cuts coupled with material, transportation and fuel costs have made the budget tight.