"We feel we need to do something to try to block this effort."
TxDOT official says there's 'just so much emotion' about the project
March 25, 2007
BY DAVID TEWES
The Victoria Advocate
A Victoria-based watchdog group called Citizens for Responsible Government is organizing local opposition to the Trans-Texas Corridor, a futuristic highway network that state officials say is needed to keep traffic moving.
"We feel we need to do something to try to block this effort," said Russell Pruitt, one of the leaders of Citizens for Responsible Government.
"I think the key to that is the people knowing what's going on," he said. "That's what it's all about."
District Engineer Lonnie Gregorcyk with the Texas Department of Transportation Yoakum office said he doesn't want to debate those opposed to the project. He said he understands their concerns, but he also understands the need for the Trans-Texas Corridor project.
"There's just so much emotion with this concept," he said. "Any time you have change like that, it's going to generate a lot of discussion and controversy."
Specific routes have not yet been determined for Trans-Texas Corridor highways, although footprints have been outlined showing general areas that could be affected.
In and around Victoria, the general area would be along U.S. 59 between Houston and Victoria. South of Victoria, it could continue on U.S. 59 toward Goliad and Beeville or along U.S. 77 toward Refugio.
Pruitt, whose group successfully pushed for a property tax freeze for senior citizens in Victoria County, said Citizens for Responsible Government has several reasons for opposing the plan.
He said one of the big ones is that it will require additional right of way, and that means taking private property from the owners. In some cases, that might be done through eminent domain. He said also he's heard that, in some cases, a two-mile-wide swath would be needed.
He said once the land is taken, the concern is that it would be sold to a company based in Spain, which would run the highway system. He also said it appears the state is attempting to keep those types of details from the public.
"You can't find out any information about this," Pruitt said. "Everything about this is scary. This is just the tip of the iceberg."
Gregorcyk said the plans call for taking no more than a 1,200-foot-wide swath of land for the right of way. "But we're not selling it."
He said the land would still belong to the state, although a private company could be allowed to build the superhighways in exchange for charging a fee in some areas to recoup costs.
Gregorcyk said it's possible that eminent domain might be needed to get some of the property, but the property owners would be fairly compensated.
"We're surely sympathetic to that," he said. "But it takes property to build a new road."
Gregorcyk said the state doesn't have the money to build the corridor highways, which is why it's considering a deal that would let a private company do the work and charge a fee.
"We're facing a major shortfall in transportation funding," he said. "It's here. It's already occurring."
Gregorcyk said the transportation department has conducted hundreds of public meetings across the state. Information is posted on the department's Web site devoted to the project, and civic groups and elected officials have been given briefings.
He said some people may think the state is hiding information because it hasn't nailed down all of the details yet. "We don't have all the answers and we don't pretend to have all the answers."
David Tewes is a reporter for the Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6515 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this story here.
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