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Senators question transportation officials over toll road project

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TWC News: Senators question transportation officials over toll road project
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People from across the state traveled to the Capitol to speak out about the future of transportation in Texas.

Before a crowd of people angry over the Trans-Texas Corridor, state senators grilled transportation commissioners Thursday about the huge toll road project and why Interstate 35 couldn't be widened instead.

The commissioners gave some financial estimates of expanding the interstate and said they would provide more. But commission chairman Ric Williamson says the dense population along the interstate and lack of public money were reasons to opt for the Trans-Texas Corridor, a superhighway expected to be built by a private firm.

The debate concerned putting state roadways in the hands of private companies.

"Privatization of roads is ridiculous. This is Texas. The roads are in Texas and should be owned by the people of Texas," opponent Dana Young said.

Committee members heard favorable testimony from transportation experts who say privatizing Texas' toll roads would bridge funding gaps in future road construction budgets.

But some lawmakers say the project is fiscally impossible because it will require some state dollars.

"In the end the Trans-Texas Corridor is likely never to be built in my opinion, you can't economically justify it," Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said.

Many citizens there were outright opposed to the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“We're here in protest of the TTC [Trans-Texas Corridor.] It's basically coming through my little brother's house. My biggest problem is the apparent deception, getting it railroaded through on us. I mean, nobody's ever heard of it. I've been telling people about it all the time. I've made DVDs, I'm telling people and they still think this is just another toll road, just another highway," opponent Justin Stokes said.

In all, the project is envisioned as a $184 billion, 4,000-mile network of toll roads, rail lines and utilities across the state.

There are two initial parts of the Trans-Texas Corridor under consideration: One would parallel Interstate 35 from North Texas to Laredo. The other would be an extension of Interstate 69, from Texarkana to Laredo or the Rio Grande Valley.

The proposal calls for the Trans-Texas Corridor to be completed in phases over the next 50 years. TxDOT would oversee planning, construction and maintenance, but private vendors will be responsible for much of the daily operations.

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