- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2002

DALLAS Texas Gov. Rick Perry, facing a tough election campaign against formidable Democratic opposition, has stunned even some of his backers with a far-ranging transportation plan the most expensive ever considered in the nation's history.
Mr. Perry last week announced the development of the Trans Texas Corridor, which seeks to build 4,000 miles of new toll roads, high-speed rail lines and pipelines, connecting dozens of cities and towns El Paso, Texarkana, Amarillo, Brownsville, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth and Corpus Christi.
The proposed super corridor would cut swaths some 1,000 feet wide above ground six lanes of highway and six lanes of rail for high-speed freight and passenger moving. It also seeks to develop massive projects underground such as oil and gas lines, fiber-optic cables and telecommunications feeder lines.
"This plan is as big as Texas, as ambitious as our people," said the governor as he presented the plan last week in Austin. The blueprint offered by Mr. Perry is projected to cost upwards of $175 billion spaced out over 50 years.
Mr. Perry and supporters of the plan say that traffic in major cities already is highly congested and the state's population is expected to double in the next 20 years. Hence, unless major improvements are implemented, the state's transportation system will be in crisis.
"I say nothing is too big for Texas when economic security and quality of life are at stake," Mr. Perry said.
"We need a transportation system that meets the needs of tomorrow, not one that struggles to keep up with the needs of yesterday," he added.
However, two of Mr. Perry's 2002 gubernatorial opponents, Democrats Tony Sanchez and Dan Morales, are skeptical of the plan. They have questioned where the money for Mr. Perry's proposal will come from.
"Any concept that calls for using broad swaths of new land should be of concern to all Texans," said Mr. Morales, a former state attorney general.
"We need to be careful not to build new roads over a mountain of debt," warned Mr. Sanchez, a Laredo businessman.
"Perry's intentions sound good on the surface," said Democrat state Chairman Molly Beth Malcolm, "but the road he's paving could lead to more fiscal troubles, higher taxes and runaway debt."
"His plan doesn't even address the potential $600 million shortfall in federal highway funds," said Glenn Smith, campaign manager for Mr. Sanchez. "We wish we had more faith that Mr. Perry fully understands his own $175 billion transportation proposal."
Mr. Perry, however, has vowed that the program could use recently approved funding methods to pay for the massive building program. He has said that it could be done without increasing taxes.
Mr. Perry has given the Texas Department of Transportation until this summer to offer its assessment of the plan and provide design details and financing alternatives.
He said the transportation system, once completed, will invigorate economic growth in some of the state's poorer rural communities.
Mr. Perry became governor last year following George W. Bush's election to the presidency. Although Mr. Perry has no Republican primary opponent, he must face a Democratic challenger for the gubernatorial contest in November.


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