Friday, March 24, 2006

"We believe that this planning is not adequately considering the Texas citizens' concerns."

Land owners speak out against I-69

More than 200 attend public hearing Wed.

Ofelia Garcia Hunter,
Alice Echo-News Journal
Copyright 2006

Many South Texas landowners objected to the building of Interstate 69 Corridor if constructed west of Highway 281 and voiced their concerns Wednesday at a Texas Department of Transportation public meeting.

'We support the routing of Interstate 69 on (Highway) 77 and 281 and any routing west of that we are not,” said Berdon Lawrence, who has property on Labrocitas Creek Ranch. 'We have learned from past years that businesses began to crumble with the economy and we've seen many communities dry up.”

Lawrence said besides hurting businesses, the corridor would divide ranch property for many landowners. That would interrupt the farming industry and could obstruct wildlife.

About 200 South Texas residents packed a classroom at the Coastal Bend College Alice Campus to attend the TxDOT public meeting. More than a dozen individuals expressed their opposition to the construction of the I-69 Corridor.

Their concerns included the loss of property, loss of revenue for businesses that will be bypassed leading to decline in economic growth, historic sites that would be destroyed and foreign investors possibly controlling the highways.

No individual at the meeting spoke in favor of the corridor being built west of Highway 281.

Corridor officials said they are looking at three options - building the corridor on existing Highways 281 or 77 or re-routing another leg west of Highway 281.

The department is currently in its environmental study of the process and would release a decision by the fall of this year.

'All of these will be looked at independently and the one with the least environmental impact will be the one we select,” Corridor Assistant Executive Director Amadeo Saenz said. 'When you are identifying a corridor, you have to look at alternative properties.”

Corridor officials said the corridor was important to the trade industry, would free congested traffic, would bring opportunities for economic development south and west of Houston and provide a market-driven project to the area. The cost of the corridor would be between $28 and $30 billion to construct over a 30-year period.

'We are addressing the needs that extend to the next 50 years,” said Jack Heiss with the TxDOT Turnpike Authority Division.

Heiss said the corridor was designed in 1991 from Mexico to Canada. TxDOT officials said to maintain the roads in Texas takes about $2.3 billion a year and the state gas tax is barely meeting that revenue. Officials said that in 1920 there were about 4.5 million people in Texas and 456,000 vehicles. That number has risen to 22 million people and more than 26 million vehicles on the roads, or 1.2 cars per person.

TxDOT officials said the department cannot afford the project, so private investors would be sought.

'Are these private investors limited to American investors?” asked Mauro Garcia, a Falfurrias resident. 'You are disrespecting the historical traditions and culture even before the King Ranch existed. I hope you throw away the corridor in the trash.”

Homero Vera, Chairman for the Jim Wells Historical Commission, presented a map with historical Spanish and Mexican land grants in western Jim Wells County.

'We have cemeteries that are over 100 years old,” Vera said. 'There is a battle site near Premont and the Hinojosa site that's registered as an archeological site.”

Legislative representatives, State Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles and Sen. Jesus 'Chuy” Hinojosa both stated in the meeting they opposed the construction of I-69 west of Highway 281.

'Our transportation needs need to continue to grow,” Hinojosa told the group. 'There's been some talk to extend the corridor west of (Highway) 281 and I'm opposed to that.”

Audience members clapped in support of Hinojosa's statement.

'I'm here to support the expansion of (Highway) 281 and (Highway) 77,” Hinojosa continued.

Edwin Goldapp, a board member with the Farm Bureau, read a list of concerns about the corridor being assembled west of Highway 281.

'Remember, private ownership of the roads means toll roads, foreign investors' control and loss of taxpayer control,” he said. 'Times change and the population is growing...we believe that this planning is not adequately considering the Texas citizens' concerns.”

© 2006 Alice Echo-News Journal