Trans-Texas Corridor in Montgomery
Part of Trans-Texas Corridor may be in Montgomery County, TxDOT officials say
By: Howard Roden, Courier staff
THE COURIER Copyright 2005
The Texas Department of Transportation is in the process of identifying preliminary routes for its proposed Interstate 69/Trans-Texas Corridor, some of which could be located in Montgomery County.
According to Gaby Garcia, spokeswoman for TxDOT's Turnpike Authority Division, TxDOT will conduct approximately 38 public meetings this summer, at which time the proposed routes would be unveiled. A public meeting is tentatively scheduled in Montgomery County in August, she said, although the date and time have not yet been determined.
The initial study areas of the I-69/TTC corridor, which is to extend from Mexico to northeast Texas, range from 20 to 100 miles in width. A number of preliminary routes, possibly in excess of 20, will be identified and each of those routes will be approximately four miles in width.
Original plans called for the corridor to closely follow the existing U.S. 59 roadway, but a required right-of-way of 1,200 feet to accommodate freeways, freight railway lines, high-speed commuter railways and infrastructure for utilities make such a route through Harris and eastern Montgomery counties physically and financially prohibitive.
"Definitely it has to go around, and not through, downtown Houston," Garcia said. "Because of the sheer development, I don't know where you could find any additional room for expansion without taking down existing businesses and entire neighborhoods. The sheer cost would be enormous."
That is why TxDOT has looked to the west for an alternative. The agency has expanded its study area to include Austin, Grimes, Houston, Montgomery, Waller, Walker, Washington, and Zepata counties.
Although it was believed the I-69/TTC corridor would skirt Montgomery County, city of Montgomery Mayor Edith Moore received a letter from TxDOT Executive Director Michael Behrens dated May 9 informing Moore that the western portion of the county is in the initial study area.
"I would not say we have not given it quite a bit of discussion," Moore said Tuesday. "We realize that it (the corridor) is going to be a long time off, but it is certainly something we'll be aware of and will watch.
"We will be very interested in what takes place at that meeting."
The meetings scheduled for this summer represent the second round of public meetings for the I-69/TTC project. Eleven were held in 2004, but none were conducted in Montgomery County.
Even if a preliminary route were selected within a year, a second environmental study lasting three to five years must be conducted before TxDOT could received the green light on construction, Garcia said.
"Because of the size of the project, it is much more efficient to narrow down the (environmental) study in two steps instead of one," she said.
By then, the increasing amount of residential development in western Montgomery County could make it more difficult to select a route through that area, said Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador. His precinct includes significant portions of western and far northwest Montgomery County.
Meador is aware of several residential developers looking at property in far western Montgomery County, including a 650-acre tract between FM 1486 and the Grimes County line.
"Right now, in the next four to five years, you'll see a tremendous amount of development in the rural areas of this county we haven't seen before," he said. "If they (TxDOT) are seriously considering doing this thing around here, they need to quickly identify where the corridor is going to be, because all I'm seeing is more and more subdivisions popping up west of Montgomery."
County Judge Alan B. Sadler believes only a "small portion" of Montgomery County is involved inTxDOT's study area. Grimes and Waller counties were "relative wilderness" when compared to the economic growth of Montgomery County, he said.
"I'm not really concerned," he said. "The corridor would be much less costly in terms of right-of -way acquisition and eminent domain costs in those counties."
Garcia said TxDOT would make the final decision on the I-69/TTC corridor after receiving input from the public meetings, local government and civic officials, federal and state environmental agencies and TxDOT engineers. TxDOT's choice must then be presented to the Federal Highway Administration for final approval, she said.
Even with the corridor likely to be built west of Houston, Garcia said an "interstate spur" must be constructed to allow I-69/TTC traffic to flow in and out of the nation's fourth-largest city.
"There's going to be a connection between the corridor and the cities or it doesn't serve a purpose," she said. "It might involve existing suburban rail and other freeways, but the corridor cannot bypass the metropolitan area completely. The corridor is not designed to be a non-stop route from Mexico through Texas to other states. There has to be access to cities along the route."
Howard Roden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.