Monday, March 20, 2006

"People see these maps and they panic."

Officials eye narrowing path of Corridor-69

Brooks, Jim Wells, Hidalgo officials to address concerns

March 20, 2006

By Brandi Dean
Corpu Christie Caller-Times
Copyright 2006

Ideas for Trans-Texas Corridor-69 are slowly but surely rolling right along.

The concept, which was known as Interstate Highway 69 until 2002, has been around for more than a decade, but Gaby Garcia, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation's turnpike division, said it's getting closer to becoming a reality.

"What we're looking at now is taking all the comments we've received and identifying a narrowed study area," Garcia said. "That's where we get a specific area where people can say, 'How would this affect my property?' "

Right now, she said, the projected path for the corridor cuts a 20-mile-wide swath stretching from Texarkana to Mexico, with possible branches shooting off in different directions. The transportation department's next step is to narrow that to a path about four miles wide.

In the meantime, Garcia said, there's another question to start considering:

"How do you put it on the ground once you find a route?" she said.

In April the department will begin requesting concept proposals from private businesses for answers to that question. It's looking for a team - a construction firm working with developers and financial advisers - to bring to the table all the resources needed to make the corridor happen. Garcia said the department is taking the same approach with Trans-Texas Corridor-35, which generally parallels the existing Interstate Highway 35.

The proposal process will take a year to complete. Public hearings on the narrowed path won't start until fall or winter. But The Alliance for I-69 Texas, a group of government and business officials from 34 Texas counties, isn't waiting for that to let those with a special interest in the project know what's going on.

"Now we're at a point where, because the Trans-Texas Corridor is taking on more form and shape, people along that corridor are turning to the alliance to say 'We have questions,' " said Anne Culver, a member of the alliance.

To answer those questions, the group is facilitating a series of meetings with the transportation department and stakeholders along the corridor's path. The next one is scheduled for Wednesday in Alice for a group of government officials, business leaders, ranchers and property owners in Brooks, Jim Wells and Hidalgo counties.

"What I've been getting from these local meetings is people see these maps and they panic," Culver said. "But it isn't finished. It's a work in progress."

© 2006 Scripps Texas Newspapers, L.P. A Scripps Howard newspaper.