Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"It's my land. It's my private property, and I have a right to know what's in that contract if it's going to affect me."

Landowners Filing Open Records Request To TxDOT

Sep 19, 2006

KXAN.com News (Austin)
Copyright 2006

Some Central Texas landowners are taking aim at yet another major transportation project. They're trying to pry information about the project, which has been kept secret for more than a year.

The Trans Texas Corridor could run parallel to I-35, east of the soon-to-be complete State Highway 130.

Last year, TxDOT and the private company hired to build the TTC filed a court challenge to keep certain portions of their contract from being released to the public.

What the landowners in Williamson County want to do is create a groundswell in the Austin region and elsewhere to get everything out in the open.

"It is beautiful and we love it, and we don't want to see it paved over," landowner Dan Byfield said.

These days, Byfield is doing his best to save his pastoral land in Williamson County from what would be the Trans Texas Corridor.

"If they're going to run over, I'd sure like to know," Byfield said.

The immense TTC would combine highway and rail from the Mexican border to north Texas. There's no specific route yet, but there's a wide swath of preferred corridor which includes areas near Austin's airport and other parts of Central Texas.

Byfield's land is in that path. He said he believes unreleased parts of the project's contract may reveal things that will affect many.

"I think they know where this route is going to go. They know where this highway is going to go, and they don't want landowners knowing that because that would get everybody up in arms," Byfield said.

A large number of other homeowners are now joining him in filing open records requests to send to TxDOT to get information the agency's been fighting to keep close to the vest.

TxDOT says it can't release certain portions because there were issues dealing with ongoing selection and bid processes. Almost a year later, they say they're close to finishing issues, but not yet.

While TxDOT says it's trying to protect sensitive information, residents like Byfield say the concept of open government should, but is not working here.

"It's my land. It's my private property, and I have a right to know what's in that contract if it's going to affect me," Byfield said.

As for last year's court challenge to keep portions of the TTC contract from being released, we're told a hearing on that could happen next month in Travis County.

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