Texas Highways: Faster, Firmer, Freer?

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(Matt Dellinger – Transportation Nation) On June 17th, the same day Texas Governor Rick Perry vetoed a ban on texting while driving, calling it “a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults,” he signed another transportation bill that would allow higher speeds and designated lanes for heavier trucks on state roads. Yee-haw!

Highways in Houston. (Photo by Matt Dellinger)

House Bill 1201, now law, gives the Texas Transportation Commission latitude to allow trucks exceeding current weight restrictions “if supported by an engineering and traffic study that includes an analysis of the structural capacity of bridges and pavements, current and projected traffic patterns and volume, and potential effects on public safety.” The megatrucks won't be able to drive on Interstate Highways, which are still under the purview of the federal government.

The Commission can also now raise speed limits to 85 miles per hour on state highways, if “the commission determines, after an engineering and traffic investigation, that the established speed limit is reasonable and safe for that part of the highway system.”

(If you're driving a truck, however heavy or fast, please wear your seatbelt, TxDOT says.)

Those changes, though, were relatively minor pieces of a bill mostly devoted to undoing one of Perry’s great transportation innovations. The new law, “An Act relating to repeal of authority for the establishment and operation of the Trans-Texas Corridor,” was co-authored by Lois Kolkhorst, a fellow Republican who led the legislative charge against Perry’s ambitious plan to build multi-modal privatized corridors across the state.

Before the tea party uprising, Perry’s corridor concept caused a ruckus that found land-rights and budget-hawk conservatives marching side by side with John Birchers and lefty environmentalists.

The “TTC,” as it came to be know, has suffered many deaths. In January 2009, TxDOT tried to throw out the toxic brand name, but Perry continued to stand up for the concept of toll roads—and even gas tax hikes. "The name 'Trans-Texas Corridor' is over with. We’re going to continue to build roads in the state of Texas," Perry said. "Our options are fairly limited, due to Washington’s ineffectiveness from the standpoint of being able to deliver dollars, or for the Legislature to raise the gas tax," he said.

In October 2009, TxDOT made the backpedalling official when they put through a “no-build” recommendation on the first proposed Trans-Texas Corridor segment, a parallel to I-35, the comprehensive development of which was being handled, controversially, by a Spanish firm, Cintra.

This latest bill roots out every mention of the Corridor in the state code. As Austin American-Statesman’s transportation columnist, Ben Wear, put it, “The Legislature dropped a house on it, then melted it with water just to be sure.”

Perry signed it. Probably happily. The exorcism might help clear the path for a presidential run.

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.