By Wendell Cox
Vision looms large in American history. John F. Kennedys vision rook us to the moon, Ronald Reagans vision led to the end of the Soviet Union, and Dwight D. Eisenhowers vision produced the Interstate highway system, which has done so much to make this nation one and to fuel its unparalleled economic growth.
But in the increasingly politicized environment of America, vision seems to have taken a long holiday.
That is until Governor Rick Perrys TransTexas Corridor plan, which would build wholly new transportation networks throughout the state. Perrys vision is the first serious innovative thinking in transportation in a half-century. The TransTexas Corridors would be wide lights-of-ways bypassing the metropolitan areas, providing expedited travel on separated truck and automobile roadways, while providing capacity for freight and passenger rail Most importantly, in a time of severe funding challenges the corridors would largely pay for themselves.
Texas and the rest of the nation are overdue for the Perry vision. The state of Texas, like so many others, is suffering from an inability to handle growing traffic congestion. To some degree this is due to the influence of those who erroneously claim that more highways create more traffic, on the assumption we sit around waiting for new toads to open so we can spend more time behind the wheel, In fact, automobile use has increased in recent decades because groups of people who have had less access to mobility in the past have or are moving Into the mainstream – such as women and minorities. Progress is still required in minority auto ownership, which means that driving will continue to increase at a higher rate than population increases. This is as it should be.
Additional increases will be fueled by NAFTA-driven freight volumes, both by truck and rail. The truck traffic will be diverted to innovative truckways which are separate lanes designed specifically for heavy-trucks. The truckways will make the passenger vehicle lanes safer, less congested and less stressful for regular traffic.
Freight rail traffic is expected to double or triple in the coming years. Perrys Corridor plan will prevent additional rail-induced gridlock in communities that are already dissected by slow-moving freight rail lines.
Then there is the matter of money there just isnt enough gas tax money to build all the roads that are needed. Indeed, it is time to bury the gas tax as a source of additional highway revenues. Virtually all of the highest priority expansion needs are in and around the states largest metropolitan areas, and politics simply will not permit spending all of the tax money from around the state in just a few places.
Serious improvement to transportation in Texas requires user-pay mechanisms, as Gov. Perry is proposing. Infrastructure companies will submit proposals to build corridors across the state and around the cities using tolls and rail access fees. Even though large cost estimates are being tossed around, very little of the funding will come from the public treasury.
But there is a risk. Around the world are examples of success and failure in infrastructure development. For example, the Channel Tunnel (connecting England with the European continent) and the new Denmark bridges are self-financing, with little or no government assistance. On the other hand, high- speed rail projects in both Florida and Texas, advertised as self-financing, were abandoned after the firms reneged on their promises and sought significant government support. It will be important for Texans to tell the difference between serious infrastructure players who are prepared to take risks, and the firms that have so often played bait-and switch games with taxpayer money, The TransTexas Corridor plan will need strong safeguards to ensure that commitments are kept.
Effective safeguards will prevent the infrastructure industry from dipping into money that is so needed for better metropolitan roadways.
Legitimate concerns have also been raised, about the viability of the passenger rail portions of the plan. But it is well to remember that the Perry plan is self-financing. If a private firm can figure out how to make money and provide passenger rail service, more power to it. The key, again, is to make sure that the public vault is securely locked.
Governor Perry has articulated a vision that can transport Texas and its people to a better future. It is likely that within months other governors will offer similar proposals. But Texas has led the way. More importantly, skilled administration by the governor, the legislature and Texas Department of Transportation will help propel the state to economic preeminence and a better future for all.
Wendell Cox is a senior research fellow for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a visiting fellow of the Heritage Foundation, and a visiting professor at the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers in Paris.
(Wendell Ccx is a senior research fellow for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a visiting fellow of theHeritage Foundation, and a visiting professor at the at the Ccnservatoire des Arts et Akriers in Paris.)
By Wendell Cox