Tuesday, May 10, 2005

TxDOT creates its own "Myths & Realities" in PR Campaign

Common myths about Trans-Texas Corridor

By Gabriela Garcia
Texas Transportation Commission

The Texas Department of Transportation provided the following information about the Trans-Texas Corridor, a system of integrated transportation infrastructure and easements proposed by Gov. Rick Perry. The department provided responses to "myths" it identified from public comment about the corridor.

MYTH: There will be no access to the corridor. Small towns and rural areas will be bypassed or cutoff from the Trans-Texas Corridor.

REALITY: A transportation system with no access serves no purpose. There must be access from the Trans-Texas Corridor to small towns and rural areas. The facility must be able to feed and unload the system or it won't work. The frequency and location of entrance and exit ramps will be determined as a project is being designed. It is impossible to do that level of design work now because we don't know where the corridor will be located.

As we do on any project, TxDOT will work with local officials to determine where access should be located so that it meets local needs and benefits statewide transportation.

MYTH: Farmers and ranchers whose property is divided will be forced to drive many miles out of their way to reach the other side of their property so that they can move their livestock and crops.

REALITY: As with other highways, TxDOT will consider routes for the corridor (that) are between properties. TxDOT will work to minimize the impact on the landowner. Examples include reconnecting severed roads, providing crossovers, constructing limited access roads or through some other means. Where appropriate, livestock crossings may be included.

MYTH: The corridor will remove thousands of acres off the property tax rolls and cripple local governments' ability to provide services.

REALITY: It is true that some land, much of it undeveloped, will be taken off the tax rolls. But more and more local governments are realizing that new infrastructure brings new economic development opportunities. Development that springs up within and around the corridor will bring in greater tax revenues than what undeveloped property would bring.

MYTH: A 10-mile wide swath of land will be purchased for the Oklahoma-Mexico/Gulf Coast element of the Corridor.

REALITY: Not true. If approved by Federal Highway Administration, a 10-mile wide study area would become the starting point for a second phase of environmental studies. During the second phase, the additional studies will be conducted within the 10-mile wide study area to identify 1,200 feet or less for the location of the project. To minimize the amount of right of way needed, incorporating existing highways and railroads is being considered.

MYTH: TxDOT will transfer its eminent domain authority to a private entity or consortium hired to develop the corridor.

REALITY: Absolutely not. TxDOT cannot delegate the power of eminent domain to a private or third party. No developer for the corridor will be condemning anyone's land. The Trans-Texas Corridor is a state-owned project and any land purchased or transportation improvements built will be done so in the name of the state.

MYTH: TxDOT or its developer will condemn property adjacent to the corridor to develop other business interests.

REALITY: Not true. TxDOT can only acquire property for transportation facilities that directly benefit the users of the corridor. TxDOT cannot acquire property adjacent to the corridor for non-transportation related purposes.

MYTH: TxDOT will build service centers that will compete with locally-owned businesses.

REALITY: Customer service centers will be considered where they are needed to give motorists a convenient place to get gas and food or other necessities. Where there is sufficient right of way and the demand from corridor users, the private sector could lease the property on which to locate their business.

TxDOT will not be operating customer service centers. To the extent there is competition, it will be among private businesses and any revenue earned will be subject to state and local taxes.

MYTH: If a developer is unable to make payments to its lien holders, then the road would be shut down and the state would have to bail out the developer to keep the facility open.

REALITY: No. The Trans-Texas Corridor is a state-owned project and would remain open regardless of a developer's ability to make payments to the bondholders. All financial obligations for payments are between the developer and the bondholders. By law, the state cannot be held responsible for a private developer's financial obligations on a turnpike project, such as the Trans-Texas Corridor.

MYTH: TxDOT will pump groundwater located under the Trans-Texas Corridor and transport it to other parts of the state.

REALITY: TxDOT is not in the business of selling groundwater. Furthermore, it does not have the authority to transport water. The only reason that TxDOT may access groundwater beneath state property is if it is needed for the transportation facility, such as a restroom or customer service center.

MYTH: The utility corridor and its water pipelines would be exempt from local groundwater conservation districts.

REALITY: Not true. The transmission of any utilities located in the corridor is not exempt from any laws. Any business interested in transporting water, electricity or other utility must comply with all related state and federal laws. HB 3588 did not change these requirements.

Locating a utility on the Trans-Texas Corridor does not excuse anyone from following the laws.

MYTH: Once TxDOT takes over property, the department or the developer will strip the minerals beneath the surface.

REALITY: Absolutely not. TxDOT has no interest or authority to drill for minerals on state-owned land. Nor will TxDOT allow any private developer to engage in this on land intended for the Trans-Texas Corridor.

TxDOT has not routinely purchased mineral rights on state highways since 1946. The bottom line is that the owners of the mineral interests control the decision on the mineral rights, not TxDOT.

MYTH: Large tracts of land will be taken only to wait decades for the corridor to be built.

REALITY: One of the guiding principles of the corridor is that it will be built over time as the transportation demand warrants. Right now, the immediate need is for an alternative to I-35 and an interstate facility connecting Mexico to Northeast Texas, such as I-69. Environmental studies are ongoing for these two projects. Land can only be purchased after federal environmental clearance has been given. Even then, road and rail likely will be built in segments as needed. To preserve future transportation corridors, the state can sign an agreement with a willing landowner for an option to purchase the property at a future date.

Taylor Daily Press: www.taylordailypress.net