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TEXAS WANTS 4,000 MILES IN TOLL ROADS; DOES PUBLIC?

Leon Little's farm near Corpus Christi would not be seized for Texas' proposed $184-billion-plus superhighway project for five or 10 years, if ever.

But Little was alarmed enough to show up Wednesday night with hundreds of his South Texas coastal neighbors to do what the Texas Department of Transportation has been urging: "Go ahead, don't hold back."

Texans have gotten the message, grilling and excoriating officials about a colossal traffic makeover known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, an unrivaled public-private partnership that would stretch well into the century and, if completed in full, end up costing around $200-billion.

"Is your road more important than the foodstuffs we put together for you?" asked Little, glaring at transportation officials at the town meeting.

The plan envisions a 4,000-mile network of new toll roads, with car and truck lanes, rail lines, and pipeline and utilities zones, to bypass congested cities and speed freight to and from Mexico.

Critics abound, but experts say Texas is addressing a worsening problem: the price of gasoline is rising but revenue from gasoline taxes is not, and with the rise of fuel-efficient vehicles, less money is being raised for highway projects, as traffic grows.

So transportation planners are increasingly looking to the private sector to put up construction money for roads in return for toll revenue from motorists.

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