Friday, October 12, 2007

“This new toll road will have a negative impact on all of our communities.”

Hundreds marshal forces against Grand Parkway

October 12, 2007

By Don Munsch
Fort Bend Herald
Copyright 2007

Concerned citizens who attended a public meeting to hear about the Grand Parkway Project at Williams Elementary School were greeted by children holding signs in the school's front yard protesting the idea.

As they entered the school, audience members were given coupons for a free Chick-fil-A sandwich.

Inside the packed cafetorium, organizers were not necessarily in a “fowl” mood, so to speak, but their messages were as clear as those on the children's signs outside: No new toll road near their homes and businesses.

The public meeting was a way for organizers and residents to have a dialogue with elected leaders and proponents, particularly David Gornet, executive director of the Grand Parkway Project.

Gornet, who was occasionally heckled by a few audience members but mostly treated in a civil manner, stood on the stage and answered several inquiries, including many pointed questions from organizers, all of whom are affected by the four-lane concept. Organizers of the meeting, like the overwhelming majority of the folks who showed up, are opposed to the project on a variety of fronts, including the effect a new toll road would have on the environment, residential areas and businesses. Around 400 people attended the meeting, according to organizer Jesse Cuellar, who said the venue had seating for 300 but ended up being a standing-room-only event.

Among the elected officials there was Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert, who answered a few questions from audience members, including one man who stood on a chair in the back of the room and repeatedly demanded to know whether Hebert supported the proposal. Hebert said he didn't see the urgent need for the Segment C project, which will connect U.S. 59 to Texas 288.

“I don't have a clue why we're out here this far in advance of this project, going through this drill, but I think it's good,” Hebert said after the meeting. “But I think it's good the earlier they find out about it. But normally, you pick your fights when you're ready to do something.

“Here's the problem: The whole plan may change in the next 10 to 15 years, and they may have to go through this whole drill again,” Hebert explained. “So there's a tremendous amount of energy being expended here, when probably we should wait until we all agree that it's three to five years out and then hold those hearings and figure what we're going to do. But it's not my call - this is a state highway.”

Cuellar complained about numerous aspects of the toll road, from deviation from its original conception to traffic it would cause to the amount of time that residents and others had to register their comments about the project. Cuellar said people should have been given 60 days to offer their feedback after a public meeting about the project in August at George Ranch, but Gornet said after the meeting that 10 working days is a standard period allowed by the Texas Department of Transportation to give input on a project.

“This new toll road will have a negative impact on all of our communities,” Cuellar said at the beginning of the meeting.

The meeting included a PowerPoint presentation of the road's location and a testimony from a local business owner whose business would be affected. Quart Graves, operator of two local Chick-fil-A restaurants, said that the new road project would force the closure of his store at the Riverpark Center because TxDOT would need to acquire territory that currently includes his store. A 17-year resident, Graves said he has never seen people so angry about an issue in the community, pointing out that all but a few people are against the road and some are “violently opposed” to the project. He said not only would his business be lost, but others would evaporate, as well, and disappearing with those businesses would be 140 jobs.

“A lot of tax revenue would go away overnight,” he said.

Gornet said that TxDOT would not be able to acquire rights of way in advance, that the agency would have to wait until its ready to build the roadway. Other people were upset about the specifics of the construction project itself, and others sounded off about the possible foreign ownership of the roadway. One patron, a World War II veteran, stood up during the brief public comment portion and said that he didn't fight for his country so that foreign interests could take control of public projects.

© 2007 Fort Bend Herald:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE