Wednesday, August 10, 2005

TxDOT "Road Show" faces skeptics in Huntsville

Citizens voice concerns over new highway proposal

By Matt Pederson/Staff Writer
The Huntsville Item
Copyright 2005

One of the proposed routes, in blue, takes the transportation corridor through the western and northern areas of Walker County. The Texas Department of Transportation has denoted the areas in orange as "avoidance areas" for the corridor.

While Huntsville's chamber of commerce may be excited to see the Trans-Texas Corridor come through Walker County, citizens here don't seem to be convinced another major highway will be such a good thing.

Many landowners who live outside the city attended an informational meeting with the Texas Department of Transportation on Wednesday night at the Walker County Fairgrounds to voice concerns over land that has been in their families for generations.

While the final location of the proposed Interstate 69 is undetermined, it may cross Interstate 45 as close as five miles north of Huntsville, coming way too close for some local landowners' comfort.

"I own land in Walker County and my mother owns land in Walker County and we live close to the route that they have," Bruce Williams said.

Tommie Middleton is a Walker County landowner as well, and even if his land does not come into question, he is concerned about the traffic and the noise it will bring with it.

"I own a small piece of land in the north part of Walker County and I didn't want to be in this," Middleton said. "I can already hear (Interstate) 45 from my house and I don't want to hear 69."

As it is currently proposed, each route of I-69 will include separate lanes for passenger vehicles, large trucks, freight railways and high-speed commuter railways.

While passenger traffic may be opened up with I-69, Middleton believes there are ulterior motives for constructing the highway.

"All of this is just so Mexico can do trade up north," Middleton said. "This doesn't have a thing to do with traffic or the quality of life in Huntsville and Walker County, Texas. This is for Mexico."

Jack Heiss, the project manager for the I-69 Trans-Texas Corridor, acknowledged that it will give Mexico another way to trade with the United States, but said it will also give the U.S. another way to export goods to its southern neighbor.

"We're looking at half the vehicles in this corridor that are commercial vehicles," Heiss said. "From our initial estimates, we're looking at a lot of imports coming up from the south and exports, too, going the other way, because of its alignment to the midwest and the industrial northeast."

While the roads will no doubt be used heavily for trade, Williams is concerned about what, specifically, may be traded using the highway.

"I think it's a bad deal, because they're going to come in and take these landowners' property and they're fixing to open up a major drug highway from Mexico to Canada," Williams said.

While TxDOT is busy making informational meetings all over Texas, the reality of I-69 is still far off in the distance. The project itself will take close to 50 years to reach completion, but before ground is even broken, they need approval from the Federal Highway Administration.

Right now, they are in the middle of close to a three-year process of putting together an environmental study. Now that they have outlined the area they would like to look at, they are getting input from people in the potentially affected areas.

"The meetings are for two basic purposes," Heiss said. "The first one is to provide the public with information on the project and its current stage of development and secondly, and probably most importantly, to let the public give us feedback on their opinions and their local knowledge and anything else that might help us in making the project better."

Final approval for the TTC and I-69, if granted, is expected in winter 2006.

Matt Pederson can be reached at (936) 295-5407 ext. 3023 or by e-mail at

The Huntsville Item: