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Supersized Highways

February 8, 2005



One of the many comments about Texans is that they're not easily parted from their automobiles. And if Gov. Rick Perry has his way with a proposed superhighway system in the state ("the Trans-Texas Corridor"), he'll have paved the way for a lot more Texans and their cars to fill the roads.

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The TTC, a 4,000-mile network of asphalt, would consist of corridors a quarter of a mile across. Picture a total of six lanes for cars and four lanes for trucks. Then add six tracks for rail, and throw in room for oil and gas pipelines and utility lines, with high-voltage towers to boot.

The principal reason for the new roads: increased business from the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement, which has meant more NAFTA trucks on already busy interstates. In fact, such traffic has helped clog I-35, a heavily used north-south highway that traverses Texas from Laredo to the Oklahoma border.

But not everything gets better just because it gets bigger.

The state expects to take land by eminent domain (the roads will require some 9,000 square miles of right of way) and then sell or lease the property to private interests. Though appealingly financed with private money, taxpayers should still beware: The builders would charge tolls on the TTC. Texas highways usually have been paid for with gas taxes.

What are the environmental effects of such a mammoth road network on various ecosystems, such as wetlands and prairies? Even Texas cattle ranchers aren't so keen - they'd lose lots of grazing land. How will security issues be addressed on such a mammoth transit route? And what happens at the border of say, Oklahoma, as this giant corridor connects to an ordinary-sized interstate?

Ensuring the flow of goods and services from trade agreements remains a valid concern, but not at the expense of more enduring values. Instead of this colossus, why not create a smaller "NAFTA truckers only" highway, and have Texas legislators keep exploring high-speed rail and other transport options for their citizens?

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