Texas Governor Rick Perry Celebrates 18 Lanes of “Freedom”

project3.jpgTexas officials this week marked the opening of new lanes on the Katy Freeway, a stretch of Interstate 10 that runs 40 miles west from downtown Houston. The state has added 20 miles of interior lanes, including 12 miles of HOV lanes, which officials say will eventually be converted to variable-rate HOT use. The rebuilt Katy Freeway is 18 lanes wide.

The ribbon cutting for the $2.8 billion project was attended by Congressman John Culberson and Governor Rick Perry. The Houston Chronicle was there and got some choice quotes.

"This project, for all intents and purposes, is complete," announced Delvin Dennis, interim director of the Texas Department of Transportation's Houston District. "Tomorrow morning the (high occupancy-toll) lanes open. If you're not doing anything, take a ride on them."

Perry noted the roar of traffic below, above and around the crowd, which was gathered on a frontage road overpass.

"This is the sound of freedom we hear," he said. "These people need roads to get to work, to church and to school."

One kind of freedom Texans don't need, according to the state and Rep. Culberson, is freedom of choice.

Despite its size, the widened freeway adds "just one new 'free' lane, a pair of toll lanes and no significant transit improvement," said Robin Holzer, chair of the grass-roots Citizens Transportation Coalition.

"Too bad it does not have a space for a commuter rail like our design did," said environmental attorney Jim Blackburn, who tried unsuccessfully to force the state to revise its plans, add mass transit and lessen the project's impact on neighborhoods.

Some still hold out hope for the addition of light rail -- the transit authority chipped in to have overpasses reinforced for train traffic. But the Chronicle reports that Culberson, "whose ability to get federal dollars was crucial to the widening project, pledged not to give up a single freeway lane for Metro rail."

Culberson may not have much of a say after January, though, depending on the outcome of his tightening race for re-election. As it happens, Culberson challenger Michael Skelly made his fortune in wind energy.

Photo: Federal Highway Administration