Friday, April 01, 2005

Advisory Panel to Review Decisions that are Already Made

Advisory panel named as public watchdog of corridor project Committee includes critics and will review pending decisions.

April 1, 2005

Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

The Texas Transportation Commission, saying criticism won't weaken plans for the Trans Texas Corridor , appointed an advisory committee Thursday to serve as a public watchdog for the mammoth project.

"We can only get stronger from it," said Commission Chairman Ric Williamson.

The 21-member advisory committee includes critics of the 50-year project to build a 4,000-mile network of toll roads, rail lines and utility lines across the state.

Committee members who have voiced concerns in the past include Linda Stall of and Dallas City Councilwoman Sandy Greyson, who leads a coalition of cities worried about the corridor 's potential impact on commerce along Interstate 35.

The only person from San Antonio on the advisory committee is K. Stephen Bonnette, vice president of Pape-Dawson Engineers Inc. He is a member of the San Antonio Mobility Coalition and the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, and is a former Plano city councilman.

Transportation commissioners reviewed 251 applications for the committee, including four from San Antonio.

"I looked for geographic diversity within the state, different experience, like utility experts, agriculture people and opponents," said Commissioner Robert Nichols.

Williamson said the panel will review pending decisions or thought processes as corridor options are presented to the commission.

"They can make their comments individually or by a majority vote," he said. "We will have a cross-section of citizens to watch what we're doing."

Each route of the Trans Texas Corridor , using existing and new highway lanes, will include six car lanes, four truck lanes, six rail lines for freight and passengers trains, and a utility zone for water and gas lines. The cost could total $184 billion in public and private money.

State officials signed a contract last month with Cintra of Spain and Zachry Construction Corp. of San Antonio to develop plans for the 600-mile segment that will run east of Interstate 35 from Mexico to Oklahoma.

Concerns about the corridor include loss of farmland and wildlife, lack of access to its express lanes, bypassing of businesses and communities linked to I-35 and impacts that rising oil prices could have on driving habits and toll revenues.

In other action Thursday, commissioners agreed to let staff negotiate a contract to give the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority a $13 million grant.

The mobility authority will use the money to buy land and start designs for a 10-mile tollway along Loop 1604 from I-10 to Texas 151. Work could start in two years and be finished by 2010, said Director Tom Griebel.

That project will connect with a 22-mile toll-road system that the Texas Department of Transportation will soon start constructing on Loop 1604 between I-10 and I-35, and on U.S. 281 north of the loop.

© 2005 San Antonio Express-News: