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Battle with feds brewing over 'superhighway'

A battle between Texas and the Bush administration is brewing over construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor after the state legislature passed a two-year moratorium.

The Texas House passed HB1892 Wednesday after the Senate last week approved an earlier version of the moratorium on a project some critics see as part of a “NAFTA superhighway” system and ties with Canada and Mexico that threaten U.S. sovereignty. The bill has been sent to Gov. Rick Perry for signature by May 14, but it passed with veto-proof margins of 27-4 in the Senate and 139-1 in the House.

The Bush administration appears determined to fight the moratorium.

WND reported last week FHWA Chief Counsel James D. Ray wrote a four-page letter to Michael Behrens, executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, threatening the loss of federal highway funds if the legislature were to pass a two-year moratorium of the public-private partnership financed by Cintra, an investment consortium in Spain.

WND previously has reported TTC-35, the nation’s first NAFTA superhighway, is a four-football-field wide car-truck-train-pipeline toll road the Texas Department of Transportation plans to build parallel to Interstate 35 from Laredo, Texas, to the Texas-Oklahoma border south of Oklahoma City.

TTC is a public-private-partnership heavily promoted on the FHWA website, largely because the corridor will be financed by Cintra, an investment consortium in Spain that will manage the toll road under a 50-year lease.

On Tuesday, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R–Texas, wrote to the Federal Highway Administration objecting to a threatening letter the agency recently wrote the Texas Department of Transportation.

Hutchinson wrote J.Richard Capka, the FHWA administrator, charging that Ray’s letter “placed a cloud over current actions being taken in the Texas Legislature.”

Hutchinson further wrote that as “someone who has worked to increase Texas’ share of federal transportation dollars, I understand the need to make sure that Texas has all options to leverage funds.”

Hutchinson cautioned, “While the administration plays a valuable role in providing technical guidance and assistance for states considering legislation which may impact federal funds, there is a fine line between analysis and advocacy in those deliberations.”

Hutchinson invited Capka to take steps to remove the threatening impression caused by Ray’s letter.

In the looming battle, the Bush administration can expect to find an ally in Rep. Mike Krusee of Williamson County, Texas.

WND has confirmed a previous report that Ray’s letter was prompted by a request Krusee sent to FHWA asking for an opinion specifically on HB1892, the version of the moratorium that passed the Texas House.

WND also previously reported Krusee was a prime mover of the enabling legislation the Texas legislature passed paving the way for the TTC project. In November 2006, Krusee barely won re-election to the Texas legislature, after a campaign in which his support of TTC development was hotly contested.

In a scathing attack on Krusee, the Texas blog EyeonWilliamson.org posted charges that Krusee has pursued a private consulting contract to help consultant Wilbur Smith Associates, a transportation infrastructure consulting firm, shepherd a proposal through the Department of Transportation’s “Corridor of the Future” grant competition.

Wilbur Smith Associates proposes to build a new cross-country toll road along the Interstate 10. The Wilbur Smith proposal was designed to meet the “Corridor of the Future” emphasis on public-private partnerships of the type Krusee has pushed for years through the Texas legislature.

On Feb. 1, Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters announced that the Interstate-10 proposal was among the eight “Corridor of the Future” finalists.

Krusee was also invited Feb. 9 to speak at an invitation-only White House “Transportation Leadership Summit,” which EyeonWilliamson.org took to be “evidence of Krusee’s ever-increasing favor with the Bush administration.

WND contacted Krusee’s office and asked a series of specific questions, including whether Krusee had a business relationship with Wilbur Smith Associates, as charged by EyeonWilliamson.org.

Instead of answering the specific questions, James Walpole, a spokesman for Krusee, e-mailed to WND a press release.

The statement affirmed Krusee had asked FHWA for an opinion on the moratorium bill

“Since I had questions about whether the tollway moratorium now passed by the Senate would jeopardize precious federal highway funding,” the press release read, “I asked the federal highway administration to give its opinion.”

WND also has reported the Texas ports of Houston and Corpus Christi are planning to accommodate megaships from China that will pass through an expanded Panama Canal. Both ports are working with the Texas Department of Transportation to connect with TTC projects for the Chinese containers to be transported inland.

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