Thursday, April 06, 2006

"I think we have more than a transportation problem. We have a leadership and integrity problem."

TTC-35 Study Area Too Far East For Officials

April 6, 2006

The Hillsboro Reporter
Copyright 2006

Taking the concept of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) to the next level, state officials held a press conference at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport Tuesday morning, April 4, to announce a route study area for TTC-35, the Interstate 35 leg of the system.

Representatives from the Texas Transportation Commission, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) made the announcement.

Release of the study area completes the initial work on the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) process that started in early 2004.

Governor Rick Perry has proposed the corridor system to handle truck and car traffic, passenger and freight rail lines and utilities.

TxDOT was charged with devising a plan to identify a 1,200-foot corridor to handle all the transportation needs.

The FWHA signed off on the 4,000-page DEIS Tuesday morning prior to the press conference.

But the study area that cuts across the southeast part of the county and then east of Dallas wasn't what officials across North Central Texas was looking for.

City of Hillsboro officials had pushed to have the area located close to the existing I-35 roadway.

The North Texas Council of Governments supported a study area that would also bring the route close to Hillsboro and then up through the center of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex along Highway 360.

Members of the River of Trade Corridor Coalition, which is made up of cities and counties along the traditional I-35 NAFTA trade corridor, blasted the state's proposal at a second news conference.

Among the Hill County delegation on hand for the announcement were members of the commissioners' court, Hillsboro City Council and local economic-development officials.

The study area stretches from just northwest of Hubbard to near Bynum, based on the state's map. It apparently includes the cities of Mount Calm, Penelope, Malone, Irene and Mertens.

With the study area eight to 10 miles east of Hillsboro, Mayor Will Lowrance told the crowd that the location "would kill us. It's too far east.

"We were hoping for a route that would allow travelers to exit and support our retail or commercial venues."

While the mayor was concerned about the map and the environmental impact statement, he was much more concerned about the secrecy of the process itself.

"The process overlooked local input," he said. "Where is our Open Records Act. Since when does federal environmental regulations trump our Open Records Act?

"I think we have more than a transportation problem. We have a leadership and integrity problem."

The mayor urged residents to contact their legislators.

"In the first press conference, you heard (Texas Transportation Commission) Commissioner (Ric) Williamson say that 'Rick Perry made up his mind to solve the transportation problem.' I think Texans want to be involved in finding a solution," he added.

Dallas County Commissioner Ken Mayfield described the public meetings conducted by TxDOT leading up to the DEIS as "art shows," because there was no official public input.

"This (study area) is no where near what the North Texas Council of Governments approved," Mayfield said.

The commissioner then attacked Williamson for diverting gas-tax revenue away from TxDOT while he served in the Texas Legislature in the mid-1980s.

Dallas City Council member Bill Blaydes said that a corridor passing well east of Dallas would draw jobs and economic development away from his city.

He challenged the media to compare what happened in cities like Terrell after Interstate 20 bypassed the town.

Hillsboro could be put in that same boat when the I-35 bypass was built in the 1960s and businesses along Waco Street closed.

The announcement of the study area triggers a round of 53 public hearings along the route.

Dates of those hearings are expected to be announced by TxDOT over the next couple of weeks.

© 2006 The Hillsboro Reporter: