The TTC is dead! Long live the ICP!

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The Texas Department of Transportation announced today that the Trans Texas Corridor program “no longer exists” and has been replaced by the “Innovative Connectivity Plan,” which was described as “a series of individual transportation projects, tailored to the needs of the regions where they are located, and connected to the rest of the state.” What’s innovate about that I’m not sure. Perhaps “Just Doing the Same Thing We’ve Always Done Plan” didn’t have a real ring to it.

TxDOT’s document makes it clear: branding matters:

What’s in a Name? Quite a lot. The Trans-Texas Corridor name has taken on unintended meaning that can obscure the facts. The Texas Department of Transportation has decided to put the name to rest. Instead, we will implement a corridor
program that will house the tools of innovative project development and delivery springing from TTC events, but
will use the names generally associated with individual projects from the beginning, such as State Highway 130,
Interstate 69, and Loop 9.

But what of the substance? So now we have a new program that we don’t really know the form or extent of, shaped by public input in a fashion that TxDOT has not specified. But then it replaces another program we didn’t really know the form or extent of: the TTC.

What was the TTC?

  • Was it a broad corridor that contained a highway with freight rail, commuter rail, high speed rail, and pipelines in the center? That was the picture TxDOT showed, but they never really seemed to do any planning for the rail or pipeline components.
  • Was it a private toll road? That’s what contracts were signed for.
  • Was a it a nebulous “modal transition zone” that could have included any transportation project in the greater Houston region, from the Grand Parkway to freight rail improvements? That’s what some of the maps showed.
  • Was it a way to carry traffic from Canada to Mexico? Yes, but the NAFTA moving-jobs-to-Mexico boom had been replaced by the moving-jobs-to-China boom by the time planning started. Conveniently, the TTC then became a way to move Chinese containers from Mexican ports to the United States.
  • Was it a way to get Nacogdoches, Victoria, and Brownsville onto the Interstate network? That’s what local boosters there thought.
  • Was it a way to evacuate when hurricanes came? That’s what the billboard said, but the proposed routes didn’t work for that.

The TTC was a catch-all, a grand plan that was oddly unspecific. It was a power grab, a new way of doing things (public-private financing) wrapped in the mantle of an infrastructure project that was intended to seem ambitious and visionary like like the Interstate system.

One hopes that this move is the beginning of a new TxDOT that will take public input seriously, that honestly presents its budgets and the needs of the state, and that realizes that it is a transportation agency, not just a highway agency. The ICP document (pdf) certainly says some very good things. But this may simply be the beginning of the election campaign of Governor Rick Perry, who got only 39% of the vote in 2006 and may face much more popular Kay Bailey Hutchinson in 2010. Now, in a stroke of a Powerpoint, the Trans-Texas Corridor, his most controversial program, is gone.

Our forums are “a series of individual information posts, tailored to the needs of the subjects which they concern, and connected to the rest of the forums.” Innovative? Be the judge.

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