Monday, March 22, 2004

Another Trans-Texas Corridor meeting to be held in LaGrange

La Grange has questions about Trans-Texas Corridor plan


Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2004

LA GRANGE - How a 4,000-mile network of roads, rails and dedicated utility zones could impact Fayette County in the future, or, if it could mean farmers giving up their land for the building of a 1,200-foot wide roadway that will have separate lanes for cars and 18-wheelers, could be questions answered during a meeting Tuesday night in La Grange.

Mike Behrens, the executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, and John W. Johnson, the former chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, will address questions and concerns about the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor at 7 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 190 S. Brown St.

The corridor is a statewide transportation plan involving the building of multi-lane roads; high-speed passenger, commuter and freight rails; and a dedicated utility zone for water, petroleum pipelines, electricity and data.

The meeting will be the second one in less than a month held in La Grange to discuss the Trans-Texas Corridor, which will parallel segments of Interstate 35, Interstate 37 and the proposed Interstate 69 from Denison to the Rio Grande Valley.

Last month, transportation officials held public hearings in every county in Texas to present an overview of the project, but Fayette County Judge Ed Janecka said the Feb. 25 hearing in La Grange left more questions than answers, so he invited Behrens and Johnson to come for another meeting.

While Johnson is no longer chairman of the transportation commission, he is still a member of the five-member commission, which governs the department of transportation. Commissioners are appointed by the governor and serve six-year terms.

"I think the whole reason for this meeting is to have individuals' questions answered. I'll be honest with you, there are probably more questions than there are answers, but I believe everything should be put out on the table. Let it hit the light of day and let's look at it. That's how I am," Janecka said, emphasizing the importance of looking at both sides of an issue. "Let me just tell you something, when you look at anything, and I learned this a long time ago, especially as a judge, if you look at one side and say 'oh, this is horrible,' you always should give everybody the opportunity to see the other side.

"When you look at it initially, yeah, it looks like a horrible deal," he added of the Trans-Texas Corridor plan. "I mean how is this going to benefit Fayette County? There are a 1,000 questions that I have had, and I don't see the benefit from it for this county, but, like everything else, we have to be rational about this and let's see what happens."

Behrens said he looks forward to getting healthy input from the public at the meeting.

"We'll just go visit with the folks and see if we can have a good discussion," he said. "We're, basically, just going to talk about the same thing we did last time, and see if we can answer some of the questions that they have. Of course, there will be some questions we won't have all the answers for, but it's going to be an open meeting and another opportunity to visit with the folks and talk about transportation."

The corridor, which could be as wide as 1,200 feet, will be designed to alleviate traffic congestion in large cities, like Houston and Dallas, and it will be built to move people, goods and utilities more safely and faster than ever before, according to information from the Texas Department of Transportation's Web site.

"One of the things we're facing is we just have a growing population in the state of Texas, and demographers tell us it's probably going to double by 2040, so we're trying to think ahead and think about ways we can handle that kind of thing as the years go by," Behrens said. "And we wanted to go out and sort of put out some of the ideas that we've been thinking about, and see what the public feels about them, and see what kind of input they have. And that's what we're doing, and we're going to continue doing it."

The corridor is estimated to cost between $145.2 billion and $183.5 billion, said Gabriela Garcia, who works in the department of transportation's pubic information office in Austin. It would be funded in various ways including tolls, the sale of bonds and a partnership between the state and the federal government.

Janecka said he also invited Gov. Rick Perry, state Sen. Ken Armbrister and state Rep. Robby Cook to the meeting.

The judge said he has not heard from Perry's office. Mike Sizemore of Armbrister's office said the meeting is on the senator's schedule, but there may be a conflict and the Democrat from Victoria, whose district includes Fayette County, may not be able to attend. Cook, a Democrat from Eagle Lake, who also represents the county, said he will attend.

Ann Rundle is a reporter for the Advocate. Contact her at 361-277-6319 or .

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