Friday, January 28, 2005

TxDOT to create "Citizens Advisory Committee" to buffer Corridor criticism

Toll-road critics are invited to serve on advisory committee

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2005

HOUSTON--A state-sanctioned watchdog group will keep an eye on the construction of toll roads across Texas , and state leaders promise that those who are most critical of the idea will have a voice.

The Texas Transportation Commission voted unanimously Thursday to create an advisory committee for the Trans -Texas Corridor . The committee's first duty will be to oversee the design and construction of a toll road running roughly parallel to Interstate 35 from North Texas to San Antonio.

Commission members said they are inviting toll road opponents to join the advisory committee, which will answer directly to Mike Behrens, director of the Texas Department of Transportation.

The number of committee members and frequency of meetings will be decided by March. Members could be appointed as early as April, said Richard Monroe, the commission's legal counsel.

Critics are encouraged to submit ideas for how the committee should work, commission Chairman Ric Williamson of Weatherford said.

"We will be taking suggestions from government officials ... and anyone else who wants to take part," he said.

The Trans -Texas Corridor is the state's plan to build up to 4,000 miles of high-speed toll roads, rail lines and utility lines during the next half-century.

The first leg would bypass I-35, starting in Denison, running around east Dallas and continuing roughly parallel to I-35 near Waco, Austin and San Antonio. Madrid, Spain-based Cintra and San Antonio-based Zachry Construction have been selected to build and manage the $6 billion project.

Many critics worry that the toll road would hurt cities along I-35 that have built their economies around highway traffic, especially the constant flow of commercial trucks. Others want to make sure that farms are not divided and that toll road operators treat drivers fairly.

Serving on the advisory panel is critics' best chance to influence the toll road's route, Williamson said.

Transportation Department bylaws allow up to 24 members on a committee, but the corridor committee may be smaller, said Phillip Russell, director of the Texas Turnpike Authority Division. Committee members may include technical experts and representatives of city and county governments, neighborhoods, businesses, property owners and environmental groups.

The panel should have a balance of voices, including consumers and industry representatives, Russell said.

Where the committee will meet and how often are undecided.

The committee will attempt to reach local consensus on toll roads and high-speed rail projects, Russell said.


Be involved

* Residents interested in volunteering for the Trans -Texas Corridor advisory committee, or just keeping tabs on the project, may call the Texas Department of Transportation's main number in Austin, (512) 463-8585, or e-mail corridor

* Residents who want to comment on the advisory committee's governing rules should submit written comments to: Texas Turnpike Authority Division, 125 E. 11th St., Austin, TX 78701-2483. The deadline is March 14.

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816

Copyright 2005 Star-Telegram, Inc.

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