Saturday, September 17, 2005

TxDOT commissioner derides Corridor "conspiracies"

Luncheon "dispels corridor concerns"

September 17, 2005

Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2005

Government and business officials in favor of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor and U.S. Interstate 69 attended a luncheon Friday at the Victoria Country Club ballroom to dispel rumors and encourage state officials to decide on the location.

The lunch followed a meeting between the Alliance for I-69 Texas board and Texas Department of Transportation officials.

The Alliance for I-69 Texas is a membership-based organization created in 1994 to promote the development of I-69 in Texas. Membership includes government and business interests in 34 counties from East to South Texas, according to its Web site

David Garcia from Cameron County said that the board meeting facilitated a good dialogue between the alliance board and state transportation officials to make sure that the corridor is done in the correct way.

At the luncheon, TxDOT commissioner Ted Houghton Jr. discussed the recently passed federal reauthorization bill, saying that the bill did not provide any funds with which to begin "turning dirt" in construction of the corridor.

Houghton said that the Trans-Texas Corridor and Interstate 69 would link Mexico to Canada via Laredo and Port Huron, Mich., and that it has the potential to become the trade corridor in North America.

Houghton said that the corridor would create opportunities for economic development, citing the recently constructed 4 million-square-foot Wal-Mart distribution center in Baytown, but, "We all have to come together to make it work."

Ed Pensock Jr., director of corridor systems for the state, said, "Texans deserve more out of their transportation system than they traditionally get."

Texas has transportation problems that need to be resolved by more than highways.

"We do not know if there are going to be rails all the way up and down the corridor," Pensock said, "but it needs to be constructed so that the highway does not preclude rails."

When questioned about the possibility of tolls being charged on the proposed corridor, Pensock said, "There is a possibility of tolls."

However, he added that the state would not convert existing roads to toll roads, and that only new roads or new lanes could have toll booths.

Pensock dispelled the rumor that the corridor would result in foreign entities becoming owners of stretches of land in Texas. He said that, while foreign companies may be contracted to do construction work and may become investors in the corridor, "I-69 will always be a state highway, and the land will always be owned by the people of the state of Texas."

He also addressed the concern that the state wants to pump groundwater from beneath the proposed corridor and sell it to other areas.

"Everybody loves conspiracies, and everyone has their black helicopter stories," he said, adding that TxDOT, by state law, cannot pump groundwater and furthermore, never had any intention of doing so.

However, he said that the corridor would provide an ideal location to run water pipelines and electric utilities without having to divide the state any further.

"Existing facilities need to be a part of the Trans-Texas Corridor," Pensock said.

Former Victoria County Judge Helen Walker narrated a slide show that traced the history of roads in Texas from the Camino Real to the Chisholm Trail to the proposed I-69 project.

During the slide show, Walker went over some projected benefits of I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor: improving the quality of Texas air because of traffic diverted from Houston and Dallas, providing an alternative to shipping ports in California, and enabling quicker deployment of military forces stationed at forts in Texas.

Bee County commissioner Susan Stasny said that Bee landowners support expanding existing Highway 59 into I-69, because "their land has already been divided once."

Pensock said a primary Department of Transportation study is to transform portions of U.S. Highway 59 into Interstate 69.

If the state decides to do that rather than build a completely new highway, Stasny said, "Go for it."

David Flores, of the tri-county coalition of Bee, Goliad, and Live Oak counties, said his basic concern was the tendency of the transportation department to "paint everyone with the same stroke. You can't paint everyone in Texas with the same brush."

He said that someone in El Paso has different concerns and views than someone from South Texas, and the state needs to keep that in mind.

Flores added that he thinks the state should begin construction in Laredo, where international traffic is the greatest. "It only makes sense."

Larry Meyers, an Alliance consultant in Washington, D.C., said that the most pressing issue was for the transportation department to decide exactly where the corridor is going to be. He added that he is a proponent of converting existing U.S. Highway 59 and portions of U.S. Highways 77 and 281 in the Rio Grande Valley.

"The sooner they say, the sooner all opposition is going to go away."

# Patrick Brendel is a reporter for the Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6535 or

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