Many people will remember the I-27 or Ports to Plains TXDOT hearing in the mid-90s. The hearing here in San Angelo was packed, a a good many of us rode a chartered bus from here to Lubbock for another hearing before the same panel. City leaders, business owners and just plain concerned citizens such as myself attended because we understood how critical it was to our future that San Angelo not be left out of any such project.
In my remarks to the hearing here I pointed out the lovely, but abandoned courthouse in Sherwood. Everyone knew Sherwood, located on a year round flowing stream, was going to be the county seat of Irion County. Then some enterprising souls discovered the line manager of the railroad then pushing westward was a man named Mertz. The town of Mertzon was platted out northwest of Sherwood, the railroad went through Mertzon and Sherwood is now a scenic, but largely forgotten backwater.
Too little attention has been paid to two huge projects which can do for most of West Texas what the railroad did to Sherwood. The Trans-Texas Corridor is the 800 pound gorilla, and the one with the big political support. As proposed, it will be a quarter-mile wide collection of superhighway with truck-only lanes, non-commercial lanes and eventually aggregate oil pipelines and railways in the same wide corridor, the current model starting in McAllen, going north through San Antonio, Austin, Dallas/Metroplex connecting north to Kansas City. The other is an I-69 project from Laredo and going along the Texas coast and up our eastern border.
Did I mention Kansas City? That is to be the new Customs Port of Entry. A truck entering at Laredo could be sealed, and then processed by Customs in KC. Plans and funding for that facility are already moving through Congress as TTC comes closer to a done deal. The eventual intent of this project, accompanied by Mexican match-ups, is to provide a cheaper alternative for Asian goods to enter the US than San Diego. Much of this freight will simply transship through Texas. I-70 could become the most important east-west Interstate in America.
Are you getting a picture of what this mega-corridor could do to all of West Texas? Sherwood could bloom without a railroad, but with one bypassing it, the town withered on the vine. This could happen, long-term, to everything west and north of San Antonio.
The TTC is to be built by a Spanish company, Cintas, which plans to invest at least $7 Billion in the project. They also plan to make big bucks on the 50 year deal. Based on their Canadian tolls, estimates of a Dallas to Austin fare are about $60. The deal includes a sort of “non-compete clause”, under which the state agrees to make no substantial improvements to existing I-35. Maybe the state will at least adequately maintain what we have, but maybe they will claim budget shortfalls (when do they not?) and encourage users to get with the TTC program.
So far, this has been a much bigger issue in East Texas, where people are concerned with the land grab aspects and mostly the local costs and inconvenience of constructing this monster. Genuine concerns, but focused on the short term. The term “I-35 divide” already has political and demographic meaning due to the way prosperity tends to follow transportation routes. This I-35 squared will make Ross Perot's “great sucking sound” in reference to Mexican maquiladoras sound like a whisper to West Texas as commerce rearranges itself along the path of least resistance. The TTC may not be in our back yard, but it will have a huge long term effect on our economic prospects.