Thursday, August 10, 2006

"Many at Wednesday’s meeting felt the concept was being shoved down the public’s throats."

TxDOT hears from angry Seguin crowd

August 10, 2006

By Bryan Kirk
Seguin Gazette-Enterprise
Copyright 2006

SEGUIN — The battle lines for and against Texas’ most ambitious highway project became slightly less muddy during a public hearing Wednesday night.

The purpose of the hearing inside the Seguin-Guadalupe County Coliseum was to solicit public input on the Trans-Texas Corridor project and possible alternatives, but there were some who’d already made up their minds.

Standing at the top of the steps leading into coliseum, Martha Estes, a retired social studies teacher from Waller County, was joined by hundreds of people who turned out to voice their opposition to the multibillion dollar project.

Indeed, the pro-TTC-35 and pro-toll road advocates were vastly outnumbered by the more than 500 residents who turned out to oppose the massive highway endeavor.

“I didn’t speak up last time because I was just too chicken,” said Poth resident Amber Lyssy, who was wearing a shirt declaring TTC is bad for Texans.

Lyssy and her husband, who ranch about 600 acres, said she would be standing up to be heard because for too long, rural people were not being informed.

“We are really concerned because this isn’t all over the media,” Lyssy said. “This is going to move at least a million people from their homes.”

Gabby Garcia, Texas Department of Transportation spokesperson, said opposition to a project of this magnitude is expected and has been the standard at meetings throughout Texas.

“There are certainly a lot of misconceptions, and based on that, they are using it as a reason to oppose the project,” Garcia said. “I think once you get through the clutter of misconception and get to what we are talking about, I mean this is a transportation issue. This is not about political rhetoric, it’s about transportation.”

However, some felt it was about property.

New Berlin City Councilman Nick Milanovich said many are concerned the city of nearly 500 people will be wiped off the map.

“They talk about intelligent development without overextending the rights of the individuals and how they can help us, then all of a sudden, you see this,” Milanovich said.

Milanovich said he intended to report on the meeting at the next City Council meeting in two weeks.

The Trans-Texas Corridor was reportedly proposed by Gov. Rick Perry as a way to alleviate the current and projected traffic congestion on Interstate 35 and provide travel routes from the Rio Grande Valley to north Texas.

Since the project was unveiled in 2002, there have been hundreds of meetings and public hearings hosted by TxDOT.

However, many at Wednesday’s meeting felt the concept was being shoved down the public’s throats.

Gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who spoke first, blasted Perry and the massive highway project.

Strayhorn said Texans had a right to know what their state government was up to and vowed to scrap the plan if she wins the governor’s race in November.

“I am proud to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Texans who are saying ‘no’ to the biggest land grab in Texas history,” she said. “We once had a freeway system the envy of the nation, and we can do that again. I am adamantly opposed to this massive toll plan. Perry calls it Trans-Texas Corridor, but I call it Trans-Texas Catastrophe, and as governor, I will blast it of the bureaucratic books.”

Strayhorn’s comments were met with raucous applause, as were many of the subsequent comments from people who supported her view.

I can’t believe our land would be better off paved over and not producing food,” said Seguin resident Sarah Langford.

David Van Oss, a candidate for Texas attorney general, spoke as a concerned citizen and like Strayhorn, railed against the proposed highway project and the potential ramifications that could result between the state government and the citizens.

“Forcible imminent domain will fundamentally alter the proper relationship between the individual and the government,” he said. “If this is completed, it will be one of the most gigantic single exercises of forcible imminent domain in the history of the United States.

Amid all of the talk, there is still a long way to go before ground is ever broken on the proposed project.

TxDOT is still working to complete the environmental impact statement, which will not be completed until this fall, followed by a possible record of decision that has to be rendered from the Federal Highway Administration, expected this time next year.

TxDOT spokesperson David Casteel sat quietly listening to the comments before echoing Garcia’s sentiment of misinformation about the project.

“When you look at statistics, it is painfully obvious that we can’t continue with Interstate 35 as our only source of traffic. I have heard a lot of people say there is a problem, but not a lot of other solutions have come forward,” Casteel said. “We have to address trade, traffic and safety issues in this corridor, and this is the most reasonable alternative we could find.”

© 2006 The Gazette-Enterprise. :