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Monday, November 5, 2007
Sen. Lloyd Doggett faces off with Fed. Transportation Secretary Peters over Trans Texas Corridor and "Sell back to toll" Fed. Hwys
October 25, 2007 - U. S. House Budget Committee Holds Hearing on Surface Transportation Investment
Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you, Madam Secretary, for your testimony and your service. I must say that I'm a bit surprised by your use of the term "tax and spend," because, of course, as you know from your long career, the tax-and-spend approach had its origin under Dwight David Eisenhower, who felt that the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act should be paid for as you go, and that the pay-as-you-go approach was the appropriate one as the Highway Revenue Act was enacted at the same time in 1956.
It is true that in the last seven years on everything this administration has preferred a borrow-and-spend approach for all of our national needs. But it would seem to me that the more fiscally responsible one is to pay for our highways as we
determine we need them.
Now, there is an alternative model that Texas has really been pioneering with. And as you know, we have a governor in Texas who seems to have never met a highway that he didn't think he could toll. If he had his way, we would have toll roads blossoming in Texas like the wild flowers in the spring.
I have some concerns about the fact that the administration in its budget proposal really seems to want to incentivize more toll roads such as by its proposal to tax and spend for grants for high- tech electronic toll booths that would encourage states to use that means of finance.
Let me ask you if you support the requirement that no tolling occur on federal highways in the state of Texas or anywhere else.
Congressman, I'd be happy to answer your question. The answer is no, the administration does not support that provision, and let me explain why.
Well, because my time is short, and I'll give you an opportunity to elaborate at the end -- but do you support prohibiting states from buying back federal highways that the taxpayers have already paid for in order to toll those highways?
Congressman, we prefer to let states make those decisions, and I think one of the fundamental problems that we have today is that decision-making in too many
cases has been moved away from state and local government and decisions are being made at the federal level.
Well, I guess the concern is that these highways were paid for with federal tax dollars. You're proposing in your budget to encourage the states to toll more highways, and you've just indicated by your answers that you do not support restricting tolls on federal taxpayer-financed highways, and that approve of the practice of the states coming and buying back highways taxpayers have already paid for and tolling them.
And I find that to be very problematic and something that I'm hearing from many people in Texas is not the way to go. And the partner to the tollway on every highway that the taxpayers have already paid for in Texas is, of course, the very controversial Trans-Texas Corridor, where the same governor is proposing to take swaths of land as wide as 10 miles that would separate someone's century-owned farm or ranch home from their pastures and their field.
This has been a very secretive process. As you know, the House has also passed bipartisan language concerning the Trans-Texas Corridor.
Is there any federal money of any type going into the planning of the Trans-Texas Corridor at present?
Congressman, I will have to check on that. I know at one time there was, but let me check on that and get back to you.
All right. The approach of doing so much of this in secret and treating our farmers and ranchers as just so much road kill when it comes to participation in the process is one that I know bothered not only me -- bothers not only me but bothers members on both sides of the aisle here.
That's why the House overwhelmingly approved legislation directed to the so-called NAFTA superhighway. I know the administration doesn't concede there is such a highway.
But as relates to participation in working groups concerning the Trans-Texas Corridor and the NAFTA superhighway, if it's to extend beyond Texas, does the
administration support the amendment that the House overwhelmingly approved in that regard?
Congressman, I would say that we have not taken a position on that issue yet, but let me explain...
Well, we passed it a long time ago. Do you plan to take a position as this measure moves through conference one way or the other? Do you object to the restrictions that the House approved by a vote of 362-63 in July concerning this matter?
Congressman, we believe that state governments should have much more latitude than they have today to make decisions.
So it sounds to me like you want to give them the authority to have a secretive process, to build a 10-mile-wide highway, tearing up farms and ranches and rural communities where these people will not even be able to access the tollway, perhaps built by a foreign firm -- that as long as that's the state decision, you're content to let them do whatever they want to do?
I think we have some responsibility with federal tax dollars to try to safeguard property rights and involve the public in participation in these decisions.
Let me just close, because I can see my time is up, and I know the vote is under way, by also commenting about what you call your dirty little secret on earmarks.
It is not a dirty little secret that both of the federal transportation authorization acts were approved by Republican Congresses with Republican
chairs, that the so-called Bridge to Nowhere was the project -- a totally Republican project.
There is not one earmark in either of these transportation acts that would be there if this administration and the Republican leadership had wanted to cut them out.
Why is it that the administration has been so quiet for so long and has not done anything about these earmarks until the fact that we now finally have a Democratic Congress?
Well, Congressman, let me take two answers. First of all, with all respect, you misinterpreted my comments about the Trans- Texas Corridor.
Second, there is no NAFTA superhighway. There is no NAFTA superhighway at all. And we certainly believe in public disclosure as projects are developed.
This administration also has a long record, a long, long record, in speaking out against earmarks, speaking out against using the public's money in a way that is not publicly disclosed. And we will continue to stand behind that opposition.
Just specifically on the NAFTA superhighway, then, is there anything, since you believe in letting the states do essentially whatever they want in this area,
to prevent the Trans-Texas Corridor, when it goes from Mexico to the Oklahoma border, from being connected to an Oklahoma Trans-Oklahoma Corridor, and then a Kansas Trans-Kansas Corridor, all the way up to the Canadian border?
Congressman, there are restrictions about connecting to interstate highways, access points to interstate highways. Any time that a road accesses or intersects with an interstate highway, that does have to be approved.
But you are putting money into -- you have put money in the past into the Trans-Texas Corridor.
As I said sir, I will research that and get back to you.
I think you said you had done it in the past. You weren't sure if you were doing it now.
I said I thought we had, sir.
And you said that I have not correctly interpreted your comments about the Trans-Texas Corridor. Would you just elaborate on what your position is on the Trans-Texas Corridor?
I would be happy to, sir. We believe that there should be a full disclosure process, a process that involves not only the potential users of a highway but those who are affected by the highway. This is required by the National Environmental Protection Act.
And those types of processes, those open public processes, where the public has an opportunity to participate in decision-making, is absolutely something that we do support.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Madam Secretary.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
The question comes up often at debates about the Trinity toll road:
What about mass transit?
In fact, Dallas Area Rapid Transit is doing precisely that. By 2030, the agency plans to double its light-rail mileage and ridership. Included in those plans are a new Green Line and its offshoot Orange Line that will, in places, roughly parallel the route of the Trinity toll road.
But transportation planners caution that neither those added rail lines nor other mass-transit improvements in the works – such as greatly increased use of HOV lanes – can, by themselves, address the region's growing traffic problems.
"Any kind of solution that we implement to fix traffic congestion in downtown Dallas has to be done with multiple modes," said Jeff Neal, principal transportation planner for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
"We can't do it just with rail, and we can't do it just with road construction, and we can't do it just by improving bicycle and pedestrian access. We have to use all of the tools at our disposal."
He said that in determining the need for the Trinity Parkway, as the toll road is officially named, regional planners factored in all of the improvements that DART plans to make – every mile of rail that will be built between now and 2030.
And even taking those into account, he said, "we still end up with 110,000 cars a day on the Trinity Parkway."
That figure is the high estimate for what the toll road would carry.
By comparison, DART's total existing rail system, stretching from Plano and Garland to South Dallas and west Oak Cliff, carries about 60,000 people a day.
Doubling that ridership in the next 20 years or so would certainly help with road congestion.
But like it or not, planners say, new highways will continue to be part of any solution.
"We have 100,000 to 150,000 people moving into our region every year," said Doug Allen, DART's executive vice president for program development.
"They're not bringing their highways with them, and they're not bringing rail cars with them. But they are bringing their automobiles."
On Tuesday, Dallas voters will consider a ballot proposal that would kill a planned high-speed toll road inside the Trinity River levees. That measure, Proposition 1, was placed on the ballot by TrinityVote, a group led by Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt.
Ms. Hunt and other TrinityVote supporters say the proposed highway would spoil the downtown park that is also planned inside the levees, part of the city's overall effort to improve the Trinity River corridor.
Opponents of the ballot measure, led by Mayor Tom Leppert, say the toll road is needed if Dallas is to have any hope of addressing its ever-worsening highway congestion.
A report issued in September by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University ranked the Dallas area as the nation's fifth worst for traffic delays. Drivers here waste an average of 58 hours a year in stalled traffic, the study found.
And no one expects that to get better, at least not before it gets a lot worse. North-central Texas remains one of the fastest growing and most rapidly sprawling urban areas in the U.S.
The Trinity toll road would run from U.S. Highway 175 southeast of downtown Dallas to where State Highway 183 branches off from the Stemmons Freeway near Texas Stadium. It's envisioned as a reliever route that would help ease congestion along the Stemmons and in the knot of overcrowded freeways that come together just south of downtown.
In public forums, Ms. Hunt does not dispute the need to deal with downtown traffic. But if the toll road is the answer, she contends, it can go somewhere else.
"We're not saying don't built it – we're saying don't put it in our park," she said.
The mayor and other opponents of Proposition 1 steadfastly maintain that there are no good alternative routes. The best of a bad lot, they say, would be to run the toll road up Industrial Boulevard and Irving Boulevard.
That would require relocating hundreds of existing businesses and the condemnation of hundreds of parcels of privately held land. According to estimates from the North Texas Tollway Authority, which would build and operate the Trinity toll road, putting it along Industrial would cost about $300 million more than building it inside the levees: $1.6 billion for the Industrial route, vs. $1.3 billion inside the levees.
DART's new Green Line will run from north Carrollton, along a route just east of the Stemmons Freeway, to the Victory rail station near American Airlines Center. From there, the line will head through downtown (along the Pacific Avenue route now used by DART's Red and Blue lines) and turn south to serve Deep Ellum, Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas and Fair Park. The Green Line will end at Buckner Boulevard and Elam Road in Pleasant Grove.
The first leg, from Victory to Fair Park, is to open in 2009. The line is to be completed by 2010.
An offshoot, the Orange Line, will branch off from the Green Line in the Bachman Lake area, then head west, crossing the river near Storey Lane (Spur 482) not far from Texas Stadium. From there, it will have stops serving the University of Dallas, Las Colinas, North Lake College and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
The first leg of the Orange Line is to open by 2012, with completion of the line by 2014.
Other improvements planned throughout the DART system include extensions of rail lines into South Dallas, West Dallas and Rowlett; development of an east-west express line through Far North Dallas and northern suburbs out to D/FW along the Cotton Belt freight line corridor; bus service improvements; and dozens more miles of HOV lanes along highways including Interstate 30, North Central Expressway and LBJ Freeway.
"We have a very full plate between now and 2030," DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said.
The North Central Texas Council of Governments predicts that by that year, the population of the 10-county region around Dallas and Fort Worth will swell to 9.1 million, up from 5.1 million in 2000. Employment is expected to grow similarly. (The 10 counties are Dallas, Tarrant, Wise, Denton, Collin, Rockwall, Kaufman, Ellis, Johnson and Parker.)
DART's long-range plan, unanimously adopted by the agency's board a year ago, outlines the Sisyphean challenge that such growth presents.
"Nearly doubling the region's population and employment translates into a comparable increase in vehicle miles of travel and fuel consumption," the plan says.
"Although these factors increase by a factor of nearly two, congestion delay – the amount of time people are stuck in traffic – is expected to increase by a factor of five.
"This means that transportation improvements in the region cannot keep pace with population growth."
Does that mean that no matter what's done, fighting congestion is a losing battle?
Mr. Allen, the DART vice president, wouldn't concede as much.
"But," he said, "it is certainly a daunting task."
Transportation writer Michael A. Lindenberger contributed to this report.
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