Tuesday, February 14, 2006

TTC 35's environmental impact statement is being withheld from public by TxDOT

Some Trans Texas Corridor details are being kept very quiet


Carlos Guerra
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

Among the Trans Texas Corridor's most fervent opponents are farmers and ranchers who are closely tied to family land.

Many are like Susan Ridgeway Garry of Coupland, a small, rural community in the Austin area.

"When you say the Trans Texas Corridor 'will be built on state land handed to investors,' you leave out an important step," she wrote. "It is not currently state land, it is Texas citizens' land, some of which has been in the same family for generations."

Though they no longer farm, the Garrys live on land that has been in her husband's family for generations. But when the Texas Department of Transportation released a map of the planned corridor routes, they found their home within one of the corridor routes.

Like others throughout Texas, the Garrys joined neighbors in the Coupland Civic Organization.

"Little groups like ours are using the new technology to work together," she said. Through e-mails, they keep each other informed and reach out to educate others about what the corridor really is.

"People don't understand that (the Trans Texas Corridor) is not like the interstate, where there is access and communities along it prosper," she says. "This will cut off communities. It's a network of quarter-mile-wide dividing lines that will cut up the state, cut up agricultural areas and change the entire character of Texas."

Her points are amply detailed in "Crossroads of the Americas: Trans Texas Corridor," the Texas Department of Transportation's plans for the $184 billion project.

The state intends to take at least 548,000 acres of land — most of it from private owners through eminent domain — in swaths as wide as three football fields laid end to end. On the 4,000 miles of new right of way, the plans call for four sets of vehicular lanes, two rail lanes, and easements, both above and underground, for utilities.

The corridor will have no frontage roads, such as those along the interstate highway system that have fostered economic development in many communities.

Instead, vehicular access to the tollways will be only from interstate, U.S. and some state highways that intersect it through expensive interchanges.

Other intersecting roads — such as farm-to-market roads, county roads, local highways and two-lane state highways — will not provide access to the corridor. Instead, expensive "flyovers" will have to be built over the wide corridor for the larger roads, and smaller roads will simply end at the corridor's edge.

As planned, corridor routes will be leased to private-sector interests that will not only collect the vehicular tolls, but will also benefit from railway and utility leases and from real estate development within the right of way, such as motels, gas stations and eateries.

And even though decisions are being made and deals are being cut, many important details about the project are very hard to get.

"The corridor's Draft Environmental Impact Statement was due in December and it's not out," Garry said, explaining that it will more precisely plot the final route of the corridor. "My husband and I filed an open records request to see it," she says, "and TxDOT sent a letter saying they referred our request to the attorney general for an opinion on whether they must let us see it."

I know how frustrating that can be. And I hope the Garrys aren't too surprised if they don't see it until after the November election.

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News: http://www.mysanantonio.com