Friday, April 07, 2006

"In my opinion, it’s a bad thing when they use government to take that much private property.”

Environmental study released; Trans-Texas Corridor leans east of Metroplex

April 07, 2006

Galen Scott
The Weatherford Democrat
Copyright 2006

An environmental impact study released Tuesday indicates the most likely route of the Trans-Texas Corridor will travel east of Dallas, but a new rail proposition could bring TTC-35 infrastructure to East Parker County as well.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, the narrowed eastern study area was identified as the preferred corridor alternative because it best supports the purpose and need for TTC-35.

“The ultimate goal of TTC-35 is to relieve traffic congestion on Interstate 35,” said Gabriela Garcia, TxDOT public affairs specialist.

The east corridor alternative also incorporates the most miles of existing highways and rail – 195 and 214 miles respectively.

Cintra Zachry, the firm hired to plan the TTC-35, announced a proposal last month to add a rail line around southwest Fort Worth. The rail line would divert heavy rail traffic at Tower 55, the Downtown switch yard visible form Interstate 30, and could eventually be accompanied by a toll road looping the southwestern edge of the city.

The proposed rail line would connect to the Trans-Texas Corridor, a $6 billion commuter, freight and utility line mega-project running the length of Texas, beginning at the Mexican border in Laredo and extending to Oklahoma.

In a February 24 Weatherford Democrat article, TxDOT regional engineer Jimmey Bodiford said freight and rail segments of the TTC-35 could affect residents of Parker and Palo Pinto Counties sooner than areas chosen for new passenger traffic infrastructure.

Bodiford may not have been too far off the mark.

Malcolm Louden, president of Walsh Holdings, said he didn’t know anything about the new rail line until Wednesday.

Louden’s group recently announced plans to build 14,000 homes on a 72-acre development, the majority of which is located in East Parker County. He agreed the rail line could intersect the billion dollar planned community.

A meeting took place Friday morning in which Louden said he met with Secretary of State Roger Williams and Burlington Northern Santa Fe CEO Matthew Rose.

“Our development is zoned limited purpose annex,” he said. “I just can’t believe nobody told us about this.”

Louden said he plans to meet with former Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr who was appointed to the Trans-Texas Corridor Advisory Committee by Perry last year.

The city of Aledo, in East Parker County, already has as many as 30 trains a day thundering through its limits. An additional rail line in the area could function as a nexus between a large system of freight lines in Palo Pinto County and the Metroplex.

“But the new rail line is subject to the same environmental draft statements that affect the TTC-35 project,” said Garcia, who is handling media inquiries for TxDOT.

She explained the new rail line was a very conceptual proposal, but admitted it is a viable option. She added population density was considered at every step in the planning process.

“But of [Lowden] hasn’t been part of the process by now, he now needs to jump in the process and make his points,” Garcia said.

In addition to the newly proposed rail line, the TTC-35 amounts to what Parker County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Webster called the largest single engineering contract in the United States today.

The Corridor’s western reasonable alternative would devour approximately one-third of East Parker County, Webster’s precinct, and extend about 15 miles into West Tarrant County.

From a business standpoint, the corridor promises the kind of large-scale economic vitality pulled along by interstate commerce. Large sums of private money, along with toll fees, are expected to function as part of the funding scheme associated with the project.

Gov. Rick Perry, who is facing criticism from the state’s business sector due to a proposed tax increase to help fund public schools, is supporting the project.

“The Trans-Texas Corridor will provide unprecedented trade opportunities, a faster transportation system that moves freight and hazardous materials out of city centers, and thousands of new jobs,” Gov. Rick Perry said in a news release.

According to an April 4 article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Cintra Zachry, the private firm hired to plan the Corridor, along with state and federal leaders, “declined to follow the recommendations of the Metroplex’s Regional Transportation Council, which proposed building the project through the heart of Dallas-Fort Worth — to complement, not replace, the existing transportation grid.”

But debate about the final route is far from over.

Garcia emphasized the difference between study areas, depicted on TTC-35 maps, and actual lines depicting a route.

“Putting lines on a map is still years away,” she said.

The latest environmental study tentatively identifies a 10-mile stripe across Texas. Opposition from organizations like Corridor Watch, a group devoted to challenging the wisdom of TTC-35, could affect further refinement of the route.

TTC developers are also facing criticism from environmental groups and private landowners. According to the latest environmental study, the corridor could impact the habitat of more than 46 threatened or endangered species and 2,400 square miles of prime farm land potentially lie in the project’s course.

Webster said he was thrilled TTC-35 appeared to be going east of the Metroplex instead of west, where he thinks it was originally planned to go.

“It was going to take up about 5,000 acres of Parker County land,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s a bad thing when they use government to take that much private property.”

Webster said the alternate western route would be bad for Parker County businesses because it does not include plans for easy on-off access and would function mostly as NAFTA trade route for semi trucks.

“It’s just a north-south road for trucks coming from the Mexican border,” he said.

TxDOT is planning more that 50 public hearings along the proposed corridor route this summer, in addition to hundreds of public hearings that have already taken place.

Garcia said there were TTC-35 public hearings held in and around Parker County during previous years, and TxDOT would likely be in Parker County again.

“It takes a long time to get there, but think about the scope of the process,” she said.

© 2006 The Weatherford Democrat: