Following criticism of Perry, Strayhorn rolls out road plan

AUSTIN – After months of complaining about Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s transportation plan, independent gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn put forth her plan Monday for unclogging Texas roads.

Strayhorn said she wouldn’t rely on toll roads, as Perry’s plan does, and that she would expand capacity on Interstate 35 using existing rights of way. In some congested areas that could mean double-decker highways, she said.

“Texas once had and can again have a freeway system that is the envy of the nation,” Strayhorn said. “I am adamantly opposed to any toll roads in Texas.”

Strayhorn also said she would step up the “ports to plains” highway plan to send more traffic through West Texas on existing roads; increase the use of Texas sea ports; improve the state’s rail system along existing rights of way; and encourage telecommuting to stagger work schedules and relieve traffic congestion.

Her plan came on the last day for public comment on the initial segment of Perry’s proposed Trans Texas Corridor.

In 2000, Strayhorn expressed general support for toll roads, saying that toll financing can speed a project to completion. But in her current campaign, she’s been outspoken against toll roads in general and Perry’s plan in particular.

Perry’s campaign called her plan “bad science fiction” and listed the reasons it said her proposals won’t work.

“Carole Strayhorn’s latest plan to solve Texas future transportation needs is so unrealistic, she might as well have proposed using the transporter system from the Starship Enterprise,” said Perry campaign spokesman Robert Black. He said Texans are smart enough to see “there is no substance behind her smoke and mirror transportation tricks.”

For instance, Black said, I-35 expansion is costly and already is under way where existing rights of way can be used. But he said that still doesn’t do enough. Double decking I-35 would cost $10 billion and would take decades, he added.

Perry proposed the Trans Texas Corridor in 2002, envisioning a combined toll road and rail system that would whisk traffic across the state.

The initial Oklahoma-to-Mexico stretch that’s currently under discussion would run roughly parallel to Interstate 35. It would be the first link in a 4,000-mile, $184 billion network that could include oil and gas pipelines and other utilities.

Strayhorn, the state comptroller, said she would give the Texas Department of Transportation two reports it already has on expanding I-35 and routing more traffic through the West Texas plains.

She offered few funding specifics, but said the state has billions of dollars to use on transportation improvements through Texas mobility bonds, revenue bonds and federal and state gas tax money.

However, Black said $4 billion in mobility funds already is dedicated to relieving traffic congestion in major metropolitan areas, and $3 billion in revenue bonds is mostly dedicated for similar projects.

Strayhorn didn’t say exactly how she would encourage telecommuting in the private sector, other than to say the state should be a role model. She said in her state agency 15 percent of workers are telecommuting.

One of the first phases of the Trans Texas Corridor is intended to relieve traffic on I-35, the north-south freeway that runs through the middle of the state.

Almost 50 percent of the state’s population lives along I-35, and increased trade and population growth means the highway can’t handle all the traffic projected along its route in the coming years, according to Perry and his aides.

The U.S.-Spanish consortium Cintra-Zachry proposes paying $7.2 billion to build the first segments of the Trans Texas Corridor. In return, Cintra-Zachry would get to operate the road and collect tolls for years to come.

Perry’s other major election opponents, Democrat Chris Bell and independent Kinky Friedman, have criticized his Trans-Texas Corridor, but Strayhorn has been the most vocal, calling it the “Trans Texas Catastrophe,” a “$184 billion boondoggle” and a “land grab” of historic proportions.

She showed up at several public hearings the state transportation agency held on the project this summer, often drawing big applause from landowners and others when she promised to get rid of the plan if she’s elected governor.

Some of those corridor opponents stood beside her and cheered her at her campaign headquarters Monday as she rolled out her road proposal.

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