"We are very suspicious. The state has its mind made up, and has their studies point in their favor. We don't see it as an independent study."
Look at highway's environmental impact will be made public by December
October 24, 2007
BY SONNY LONG
The Victoria Advocate
An environmental impact study on the Interstate 69 portion of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor is complete, but it may be December before the public knows what it contains.
The Federal Highway Administration is reviewing the study that should be made public "within the next couple of months," Doug Booher, Texas Department of Transportation environmental manager overseeing the project said during a teleconference Tuesday.
The project, a new "super highway" between Mexico and East Texas, has raised Texans' concerns about property rights, private foreign ownership of the roadway, and financing the $10-15 billion dollar endeavor.
Although no exact route has been selected, affected highways in the Victoria area could include U.S. 59 and U.S. 77. A series of public meetings on the study, 46 statewide, will be held during the first part of 2008. Then a final environmental impact report could be completed within a year.
The environmental study is a "30,000-foot view with most data collected from remote resources," said Booher. That data includes endangered species, wetlands, important streams, as well as cultural resources such as historic districts and cemeteries, a community's industrial and commercial areas, and existing rail lines.
Even without knowing the contents of the study, opponents of the corridor are wary.
"We are very suspicious. The state has its mind made up, and has their studies point in their favor. We don't see it as an independent study," said Russell Pruitt of the Victoria-based Citizens for Responsible Government.
David Stall of the group Corridor Watch, said he has seen the same process with other portions of the proposed corridor.
"They use it (the 30,000-foot view) as an excuse to gloss over a significant impact that will be there no matter the exact location," said Stall. "It's a shame the public is only involved after the environmental study, and not in the decision making process. We hope their study includes community impact and economic issues."
Interstate Highway 69 was named a national highway system priority corridor in 1994, explained Gabby Garcia, highway department spokesperson. The corridor concept was announced in January 2002 and studies of the project could take as long as 2013. The construction of the highway system itself would take "decades" to complete and be done in phases.
Environmental studies on the corridor project began in January 2004 and have two distinct phases or tiers. Tier II will look at a specific route and consist of on-the-ground research. That study could also take three to five years. After the second phase environmental study is approved right of way acquisition can begin.
Booher cited a growing population, an aging transportation infrastructure, and an increase in freight traffic as the reasons for constructing the new transportation system that could include a system of toll roads and rail lines.
Sonny Long is a reporter for the Advocate. Contact him at 361-275-6319 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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