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Perry pushes fast track for widening Katy Freeway

Aug. 13, 2001
Associated Press, via the Houston Chronicle

It's called the Katy Freeway, but to the thousands of west Houston motorists who jam it every day, other four-letter words might come to mind. That commuter cursing might be history by 2009 if Gov. Rick Perry and local officials get their way on an expedited widening program, which Perry hopes is one of many major Texas mobility projects to get green lights soon. "I have sat in that dreadful rush hour traffic the people of Houston experience routinely, even on weekends," Perry said today. "It is time that commuters saw a little light at the end of the tunnel."

The $952 million reconstruction of the Katy Freeway, a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 10 running from the West Loop freeway westward to the city of Katy, is set to begin in 2003. Today Perry requested fast-track funding for the project from the Texas Transportation Commission. With commission chairman John W. Johnson on hand for Perry's announcement, the three-member board is expected to grant the governor's wish at its Aug. 30 meeting.

"The Katy Freeway is west Houston's main street," said U.S. Rep. John Culberson, the Republican who made improving the highway a major plank in his campaign last fall. Culberson, a freshman member of the House Transportation Committee, has pledged to make sure federal money is available.

Perry said the Clinton administration punished largely Republican Texas when it came to highway funds, a trend he was confident will reverse under homegrown President Bush. "The good news is that we have a president who understands the needs of Texas," Perry said. "Texas has not gotten its fair share over the last eight years. We have clearly been discriminated against in (U.S. Transportation Department) discretionary funding that an administration has control over." Another funding mechanism might be Harris County Judge Bob Eckels' plan to incorporate a toll road alongside the Katy Freeway, though the current plan does not rely on toll proceeds. Houston's smog problems might curtail other area road projects, Eckels said, but he and others said the Katy expansion is actually seen as a smog-reducer because vehicles will spend less time on the road. "A lot of the pollution we have now is the result of those cars sitting on those freeways," said Bill Marshall, mayor of Bunker Hill Village, one of six small communities on the eastern end of the project that have negotiated proposed land seizures needed for the widening.

Though the Katy Freeway construction should proceed with or without the expanded range of highway funding set forth by Proposition 15, Perry said other projects around the state might benefit from the November ballot issue, which allows bond-financed construction by a "Texas Mobility Fund." "Under our current system of highway funding, when the state commits to build a stretch of road in a metropolitan area, funding is authorized slowly over a number of years," Perry said. "It's time we allow innovative financing for highways as a fiscally responsible way to build the transportation infrastructure we need more quickly." Perry also promoted Proposition 2, aimed at improving roads in border colonias.

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