"It will eat this town up."
By JOHNNY JOHNSON,
The Natchitoches Daily Sentinel
When L.M. Wheeler walked into the room, she skipped the video introduction, the historical-background displays and the traffic pattern diagrams; she wanted some specific answers on how the I-69/Trans Texas Corridor was going to affect her property, so she headed straight for the big maps where a crowd had already gathered.
"Everybody tends to gravitate toward the maps," local TxDOT spokeswoman Kathi White said.
The Texas Department of Transportation set up Wednesday's "open house" meeting to tell Nacogdoches residents everything they know about the future construction of a proposed international trade route that would connect Mexico to Canada.
Unfortunately, as dozens of property owners found out, there are still lots of possibilities, variables and unknowns.
"They don't have any answers yet," Wheeler said. "I thought maybe I could come here tonight and get some, but it's still too early. I don't want to say it's still just a rumor – it's a little bit beyond a rumor – I guess you could say there are three rumors."
All three different "rumors" would all affect Wheeler in different ways. One is that the route would be near her residence, another would be near her business, and a third would bypass them both.
It's a confusing process that Wheeler said seems to be changing every time she turns around.
"A few years back they sent out these letters that said 'this is where you are, and this is where (I-69) is going to be,'" Wheeler said. "And I said 'fine. Just call me when you want me to move out.'"
But that all changed when Gov. Rick Perry unveiled his new vision for Texas transportation.
State Rep. Roy Blake, who attended Wednesday's meeting, said he was serving on the I-69 Alliance when everything changed.
The I-69 planners were moving forward with proposed route studies, and according to Blake, the governor was ready to take his vision from an abstract to a conceptual stage.
"The projects were combined almost overnight," Blake said.
Doug Booher, TxDOT spokesman from Austin, said it made sense to combine the I-69 motor-vehicle route and the governor's motor vehicle/heavy truck/railroad/utility model because both the state and the federal government were essentially looking at the same corridor area for their routes.
"We don't want to pay for the same study twice," he said.
But as a result of that combination, the actual "nailed down" route became less certain.
Perry's plan calls for separate lanes for passenger vehicles and large trucks, freight railways, high-speed commuter railways and infrastructure for utilities including water lines, oil and gas pipelines, and transmission lines for electricity, broadband and other telecommunications services.
Portions of the proposed route would split up those concepts while others would incorporate all of them, running side by side.
It's a little much for Wheeler and other landowners to take in.
"It's a huge project," she said. "It's almost unimaginable. It will eat this town up. Can you imagine if someone has to try to cross that road?"
Coming to Nacogdoches by way of California, Wheeler said she's used to large speedways, but she's not sure how that will fit into rural East Texas.
"I hope it will be a good thing for this area," she said. "It will certainly be grandiose while they are building it, but what happens when they're done? We'll have all this traffic coming through here, but they're not going to be stopping."
Wheeler said the main question that continues to burn on her mind was "when?"
Currently there is no funding on the state or federal level for the trade route, according to transportation officials at the meeting. And there is still a question as to how toll roads may fit into the scope of the overall project.
"Every meeting we go to, people want to know how long it's going to take," White said. "I tell them it's a long process."
It's not the answer Wheeler wanted to hear, but she said she had a feeling it was the one she was going to get.
"I wanted to know – should I keep my property or should I sell it?" she asked. "I know now that it's not a question for my generation. I'll never see (the corridor), and I'm not putting my life on hold. We're going to have to leave this one to our kids."
Johnny Johnson's e-mail address is email@example.com.
The Natchitoches Daily Sentinel: