Transportation systems, driven by a simple need to move people
and goods from Point A to Point B, are as old as civilization. Well-constructed roads and bridges held the Roman Empire together. The inability to expand and maintain that transportation system was
one of the key factors that brought about the empire’s eventual
Native Americans operated Texas’ first transportation system. Their paths followed well-worn animal trails leading to sources
of water and food. Later, these first Texans developed a network of footpaths and eventually horse trails to connect with trading
points and landmarks ranging from strategic to sacred.
After Spain claimed the Southwest, a trace known as the El Camino Real—the King’s Highway—cut across Texas from the Sabine River on the east to the Rio Grande on the southwest. For years, this roadway—actually a series of routes that amounted to Texas’ first transportation corridor—remained the gateway to
Texas and Mexico.
Other routes developed to tie into this Spanish colonial road, a happenstance version of what engineers today call connectivity.
Connectivity still is an important concept.
A second significant transportation corridor to span Texas was
the Butterfield Overland Mail Route. This 2,700-mile stagecoach road began in St. Louis, entered Texas across the Red River north of Dallas and moved through the state to El Paso for an eventual connection to San Diego. The Civil War cut short the route’s
useful life, but it demonstrated the national importance of being able
to move people and goods over long distances. The mail route also foreshadowed development of the nation’s first trans-continental railroad.
After the Civil War, the Chisholm Trail connected Texas to the railhead in Kansas. Texas cattlemen pushed 5 million head of Longhorn cattle "up the trail" to market, reinvigorating Texas’ shattered economy.
Soon railroads began building into and across Texas. With
completion of the Texas and Pacific line in 1881, the state had its first high-speed transportation corridor. Of course, high speed is a
relative term. Steam engines of the era running full throttle pulled cars about 40 miles per hour. Still, that was faster than anyone had
ever been able to move across Texas and speeds soon increased with development of more powerful locomotives. The new rail system,
as transportation always has done, extended settlement and created jobs. Abilene, Sweetwater, Colorado City, Big Spring, Midland
and Odessa all trace their beginnings to this railroad line.
Rail remained the principal mode of long-distance travel in
Texas until the development in the early 1900s of inexpensive and reliable motor
vehicles. That brought about the need for paved roads.
The state got into the business of designing and building
highways in 1917 with the creation of the Highway Department, now the Texas
Department of Transportation. Within a year, Texas’ fledgling transportation
agency had prepared a map of a proposed statewide highway system. Many of the
state’s roadways followed or were close to the old trails used by Native
Americans and the other cultures which followed them.
Now, at the beginning of the 21st Century, it’s time for Texas
to look down the road. Texas proposes to build a new type of transportation
system, a network of wide corridors designed to move people and goods faster and
more safely than ever before. Beyond that, the corridor will feature a wide
utility zone for the transmission of oil, natural gas, electricity, data and a
substance critical to the future of the state—water.
The Trans Texas Corridor is the largest engineering project ever proposed for Texas, a world-class concept. The planning and work involved in the corridor will far exceed any public works
project in the state’s history. The first cross-state railroad, the
Galveston seawall, Texas’ present highway infrastructure, the Astrodome…nothing compares in scope to the corridor.
This is not the first time Texas has started with a vision and transformed it into a useful reality. Texas’ pink granite
Capitol is a monument to state-of-the-art 19th Century engineering and innovative financing—the state traded 3 million acres of public land to pay for the building. But the best example is our
Interstate highway system.
Planning for a "National System of Interstate Highways," first envisioned in 1939 and expedited during World War II because of its importance to national defense, began in 1944.Within three years, the routes had been selected. A Texan, the late Frank
Turner, played a key role in the planning process. In fact, the 1929
Texas A&M graduate is considered the "father of the Interstate
system." Construction finally began in 1956 after President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law a measure creating the National Highway Fund.
Within 14 years, the Interstate system in Texas was essentially complete. A 3,234-mile network of multi-lane highways engineered for speed and safety connected the state’s major cities.
But the similarity between Texas’ portion of the Interstate
system and the Trans Texas Corridor ends there. The Interstate system was a nationwide effort, primarily funded with federal dollars. Though other state transportation agencies also are looking to
the future, no other state has proposed such an ambitious and
visionary project as the corridor.
The concept is simple. Texas will be connected by a
4,000-mile network of corridors up to 1,200 feet wide with separate lanes
for passenger vehicles (three in each direction) and trucks (two in
each direction). The corridor also will include six rail lines (three
in each direction): two tracks for high-speed passenger rail, two
for commuter rail and two for freight. The third component of the corridor will be a 200-foot-wide dedicated utility zone.
The corridor paves the way—literally—to the future of Texas. The Trans Texas Corridor will allow for much faster and safer
transportation of people and freight. It will relieve our congested roadways. It will keep hazardous materials out of populated areas.
It will improve air quality by reducing emissions and provide a safer,
more reliable utility transmission system. It will keep Texas’
economy vibrant by creating new markets and jobs. Finally, as the King’s Highway and the railroad did in previous centuries, the corridor will lead to the development of new cities while increasing the importance of existing cities.
Funding for the corridor will be as innovative as the corridor
itself. Texas voters provided the framework on November 6, 2001 when they approved
Proposition 15. That constitutional amendment
allows Texas more flexibility than it has ever had to pay for
transportation projects through a variety of means. These include
public-private partnerships called exclusive development agreements, and
funding options like toll equity, the Texas Mobility Fund and regional mobility authorities. Beyond these mechanisms, this report
outlines other possible sources for funding the corridor.
The Trans Texas Corridor plan sounds futuristic and it is.
Nearly a half-century ago, the proposed Interstate highway system seemed
as avant-garde. But this new vision is achievable.
Sam Houston, the first elected leader of the Republic of Texas, understood the importance of transportation. After Texas’
admission to the Union, the hero of San Jacinto went to Washington to
serve the new state as one of its two senators.
In 1858, during debate on what route the nation’s first
transcontinental railroad should take, the tall Texan rose in the upper house of Congress to put the issue into perspective.
Transportation, he said, "is…of vital importance, and we must
all lay our hands to it as a great and mighty work of national
interest and concernment, divested of everything sectional or local in
its character. If its accomplishment is to be secured, it must be
done with united hands and united hearts, with reference alone to the public good and its accomplishment on the most reasonable terms that the national resources will justify."
Houston’s words, spoken as an earlier generation looked down the road, are as appropriate today as they were then.