"I'm upset that they're building this road in the first place."
MAGNOLIA - Residents and officials from Montgomery County can breathe a collective sigh of relief because the recently released route for the proposed Interstate 69/Trans-Texas Corridor shows it most likely would miss the county entirely.
Texas Department of Transportation officials unveiled their choices for the recommended "reasonable" I-69/TTC links through Southeast Texas during a public meeting Aug. 8 at the West Montgomery Community Development Center. And with the exception of a relatively small area at the extreme northwestern tip of the county, the proposed federal superhighway would follow a path through Waller, Grimes and Walker counties before turning east toward U.S. 59 and deep East Texas.
Initial study areas of the I-69/TTC corridor, which extends from Mexico to Northeast Texas, included a number of preliminary routes. Virtually the whole western half of Montgomery County was part of that original survey. But TxDOT Project Manager Jack Heiss, of Austin, said Montgomery County's current and projected population density made any route physically and financially prohibitive when it came time for TxDOT to narrow its choices.
"When we started looking at routes, this (Montgomery County) was an area we first considered," he said. "But by the time we really got around to looking at the 2004 aerial photography - especially the possibility of routes across the southern section of the county - development had totally shut it off for consideration."
Heiss said the Sam Houston National Forest and Lake Livingston required that the I-69/TTC route be moved farther north.
The news was just as good for east county. Originally, the corridor was to follow the existing route of U.S. 59. That included the portion of highway that runs through Porter, New Caney and Splendora. However, TxDOT has shifted a proposed eastern segment of the corridor into Liberty County.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Craig Doyal, who attended the meeting, acknowledged his satisfaction that TxDOT officials have elected to avoid Montgomery County. While he would prefer that the agency direct more of its energy toward local issues, Doyal said the close proximity of the 1,200-foot-wide corridor to west Montgomery County could attract commercial economic growth to the area.
In addition to highway lanes, the quarter-mile right of way is supposed to accommodate freight railway lines, high-speed commuter railways and infrastructure for utilities.
"The possible access to the I-69/TTC corridor could turn out to be a big boon for us," Doyal said. "It would provide job opportunities where people wouldn't have to commute to Houston. And it's imperative we balance the residential with the commercial to take the tax burden off the homeowners."
Although Doyal is not convinced of the potential volume of traffic traveling through the area from the southwest to the northeast, he thinks the new corridor could one day provide greater mobility for residents in southwest Montgomery County.
Mike Kurkowski and Kathy Story are neighbors who live approximately eight miles south of Magnolia. Although both are relieved the reasonable routes for I-69/TTC remain to the west of their homes, they voiced their concern that the superhighway would bring increased growth.
"I'm upset that they're building this road in the first place," Kurkowski said. "We moved out to the county to get away from development."
Story said she was worried what impact the corridor would have on the property values of homes in its path. Heiss said it could be at least 2009, maybe 2010, before TxDOT receives the environmental go-ahead to begin buying land. It might take 20-25 years before actual construction would begin, he said.
"Those people won't be able to sell their land if everyone knows it will be a freeway five to 10 years from now," Story said. "I'm upset for those people. I think it's just wrong about what will happen."
Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador can empathize with the landowners in extreme northwest Montgomery County should TxDOT decide to place the corridor in that area. Rapid development is unlikely, but families whose ownership can be traced back for generations own most of the land.
"They would upset some old family ranchers." Meador said. "It won't bother me a bit if TxDOT misses that area entirely."
Mark and Katrina McDonald live about four miles east of Magnolia on FM 1488. And while their property stops at the Waller County line, the young couple said they're not resting easy.
"Study areas can move around over the years," Katrina McDonald said.
Howard Roden can be reached at email@example.com.
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