Sunday, November 26, 2006

Plans for TTC-69 continue

I-69 project moving into fast lane

November 26, 2006

The Nacodoches Daily Sentinel
Copyright 2006

Since last year's coastal evacuation during Hurricane Rita, improvements to the former I-69 corridor have been on the fast track.

Previously, Interstate 69 from Texarkana to South Texas was introduced as a concept with minimal federal funding in 1994.

Eight years later, Gov. Rick Perry would introduce his concept of the Trans-Texas Corridor, which confused local residents and intermingled plans for the proposed Interstate corridor.

But it wasn't until last autumn, when the state learned what a nightmare a Houston evacuation could be on the existing U.S. Highway 59, that Perry instructed the Texas Department of Transportation commission to recast I-69 as TTC-69, using tools of the private marketplace to advance the project, which is now in high gear. Officials say construction could be well under way within the next seven years.

"It's proceeding much faster than it would have if it remained a federal project," Nacogdoches Mayor Bob Dunn said. "This is, in essence, the same kind of thing we did with Toledo Bend, when Texas and Louisiana got together to build that reservoir instead of waiting on the federal government to do it — and the result was they were able to do it sooner and cheaper."

A project timeline provided by County Judge Sue Kennedy shows that TxDOT should make final requests for proposals next month, and firms will submit their proposals sometime in the spring.

The next step, following the RFPs, Kennedy said, is for TxDOT to enter into a negotiated agreement with a developer, and to hold public hearings on the environmental impact study.

"And from what I understand, they could 'let' the design and construction contracts either by individual segments or for the whole thing," Kennedy said. "If they do segments, they will most likely construct those segments that will have the most positive revenue generation or the least expensive right-of-way acquisition costs.

"We need to encourage the public to look for the upcoming public hearings and attend them, because once we have the hearings, things will move pretty quickly from that point on," Kennedy said.

Dunn said he knew that having a northern evacuation route from Houston was a major player in the developmental process, but he said there were several other contributing factors, as well.

"This is a situation that has been brought about by a lot of circumstances," he said. "One of them is the huge expansion that has been done at the Port of Houston. That has put tremendous pressure on our Texas highways — and the people who travel U.S. 59 already realize that we are almost at capacity on that road, right now."

And while port expansion has necessitated a boom in port warehouse construction, Dunn said, many corporations are talking about constructing some inland sorting and distribution warehouses where the trains and trucks can load and deliver goods that arrive from the Port of Houston.

And if that happens along the 69-corridor before improvements can be made, Dunn said, East Texas may be "out of luck."

"If something were not being done to relieve congestion, they'd be in tough shape to try to get shipments in and out," he said. The project is moving a lot faster now than it was just a few years ago, and Dunn said East Texas had better be thankful.

"Because without it, we'd practically be land-locked in a few years with traffic jams," he said.

Dunn acknowledged that there has been a fair amount of criticism of the TTC project, especially in the area of landowners' rights. But he said East Texans need to step back and look at the big picture before making a decision.

"I know there are people who will be concerned about losing land to this roadway," he said. "Hopefully, they will all look not just at the present, but at the future and realize it will really benefit our area and all of those who follow us. I hope they can realize this, but I also know that that's sometimes hard to do when it's your own calf that's being gored."

© 2006 The Nacodoches Daily Sentinel: