Tuesday, April 04, 2006

TTC-35 could displace nearly 1 million residents

Trans Texas Plan Unacceptable To Some Leaders

April 4, 2006

Clif Caldwell Reporting
CBS 11 News (Dallas-Fort-Worth)
Copyright 2006

NORTH TEXAS A proposed toll road stretching from North Texas to Laredo could affect more than 2,400 square miles of prime farm land and displace nearly 1 million residents, according to a federal report released Tuesday.

About half of those in the path of the $6 billion project are minorities and nearly a quarter are below the poverty level. The findings were included in a 4,000-page draft environmental study by the Federal Highway Administration.

The tollway, which officials hope to open by 2015, is part of the Trans Texas Corridor, a $184 billion plan to build thousands of miles of highways, railways and utilities crisscrossing the state.

Part of the purpose of the plan is to cut down the amount of traffic on already-overloaded I-35. A state transportation study says in 20 years, there will be 132% more trucks on the highway than there are today.

The plan has widespread support among business owners and government officials, but not in its current version.

Ric Williamson, with the Texas Transportation Commission, said, "We believe the I-35 corridor is the single most important economic generator in the state of Texas." The version of the plan released today would put the road far east of Dallas, near Terrell and Greenville.

Dallas City Council member Bill Blaydes says that route is too far from the metro area. He said, "We will not be accepting the plan as it currently exists."

Instead, Blaydes and some other North Texas leaders want to use Highway 360 in Arlington and Mansfield as the route through North Texas.

Some rural farmers are opposed to the plan. They are worried about losing large chunks of land. If the corridor is 1,200 feet wide in some areas as planned, a farmer could lose as much as 146 acres per mile, according to the Texas Farm Bureau.

The federal study also reports the 521-mile tollway could impact the home of 46 threatened or endangered plant and animal species. Thirteen square miles of parks could be affected, too.

The plan calls for the 10-mile-wide corridor to begin at the Red River and skirt around the eastern side of Dallas County before running parallel along Interstate 35.

In 2004, Spanish consortium Cintra-Zachary signed a $3.5 million project development agreement with the state to help plan the corridor.

About 50 public hearings are scheduled around the state to give residents a closer look at the plan.

Last month, more than 700 residents attended a meeting with gubernatorial hopefuls in Seaton, about 60 miles north of Austin and near the path of the corridor. Democratic nominee Chris Bell and independent candidates Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman blasted the plan. Gov. Rick Perry, who supports the tollroad, did not attend.

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