Wednesday, July 27, 2005

"Fulshear would cease to exist."

Loss of property major concern at corridor meeting

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Herald Coaster Copyright 2005

The potential loss of huge swaths of rural land was a major concern of attendees at a public hearing on the proposed Trans Texas Corridor.

The Trans Texas Corridor, as envisioned by Gov. Rick Perry, would run across Texas connecting major areas with a corridor that would include regular vehicular traffic, trail and utilities. The line intended to cut through this area would be starting at either Laredo or Brownsville and ending at the Arkansas border. A very large study area has been defined for the project, and a public meeting was held Tuesday night to let Fort Bend County residents examine the plan and provide input before the project advances.

While many specifics remain to be determined, the plan generally calls for highways with dedicated truck lanes, rail lines and even utility corridors running side-by-side throughout the state. The plan is being designed in conjunction with the proposed federal I-69 corridor, which will run from south Texas to Port Huron, Mich.

Transportation officials say the plan could address population growth and mitigate congestion as trade with Mexico and throughout Texas increases.

There are some, however, who say the benefits of the plan, if any, would come at a great cost.

Fulshear-area resident Sharon Moore described herself as no less than "appalled" that Fulshear lies in the study area. She said the presence of semi-trucks and a massive highway could ruin the country atmosphere of the town, which contains some of the county's highest valued property.

"Fulshear would cease to exist," she said.

Richmond resident Jeanette Hasse chose the term "atrocity," saying the potentially 1,200-foot wide project would ruin much of the state's rural areas.

"It's too much too soon," she said. "The rural areas have no traffic, so why are we putting all this concrete there?"

Also of concern to Hasse is what she calls "the fact that they're taking private land and giving it to a private company."

Federal and state funding has paid for many of the ongoing studies, but Perry has proposed that a private company construct the infrastructure at its own expense and recoup the costs with tolls.

Doug Booher, environmental manager for TxDOT, said the land would be acquired by TxDOT and remain in the ownership of the state of Texas.

Currently, the TTC lies in the first of a two-tiered environmental study. This first phase examines a swath of land between one-half and four miles wide. The study area will be narrowed further following the study.

Along with public input, TxDOT will be considering a wide range of factors such as population density, economics of communities, the presence of wetlands and endangered species, oil and gas wells and several other factors, said Booher.

The ongoing study will include an examination of the effects of taking no action, and how that may compare to the impact of building the TTC or other transportation improvements.

Not building a TTC would not necessarily mean no impact, said Booher, as a projected increase of traffic could lead to greater congestion and decreased safety.

"We see the changes coming, and we want to be proactive, not reactive," said Booher.

It is difficult to say the impact of the project on Fort Bend County, said Booher, but the project would "certainly" support the economy and reduce congestion.

Last year, the study area for the corridor and for I-69 was increased in size to allow the entire project to swing around Houston, and possibly, Fort Bend County.

The current tier of environmental studies will not be completed until 2006 or 2007, said Booher. Upon completion, tier one of the study will be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration.

If the FHA approves the plan, TxDOT will begin studying the project more closely for tier two, said Booher. This could mean examining, for instance, how the TTC could affect a particular school or neighborhood.

Booher concedes the project is a long way coming.

"It's a 50-year vision," he said.

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