Friday, November 02, 2007

Note to Crony Commissioners Ted and Ned: Closed meetings on TTC-69 are not a joking matter to citizens

Inside Fort Bend

Turning U.S. 59 into I-69: controversial project is in motion

November 01, 2007

Zen T.C. Zheng
Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

A controversial state plan to turn U.S. 59 into Interstate 69, which would run from Laredo to Texarkana, is gaining momentum.

On Oct. 26, I attended a workshop at Sugar Land City Hall held by the I-69 Alliance featuring Texas Transportation Commissioners Ted Houghton and Ned Holmes. [LINK]

The meeting gathered engineers and planners from Texas Department of Transportation, county judges, county commissioners, municipal officials, economic development council and chamber of commerce heads from communities along the proposed I-69 corridor, as well as a few local residents concerned about the project.

Houghton on Oct. 3 told me that the meeting was closed to the public without giving me an explanation. I decided to go anyway. And it turned out that I had a free pass that day. Jenny Hurley, an officer of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party, said she called the state after reading my article asking why the meeting would be closed to the public. One resident at the workshop also posed the question to Houghton. Houghton said:

"I joked with Zen when I told him he couldn't come."

Well, I need to begin cultivating my sense of humor.

Fort Bend County Commissioners Tom Stavinoha and Andy Meyers were among the local officials at the workshop. County Judge Bob Hebert sent his executive assistant D'Neal Krisch instead of making his personal presence.

Hebert on Oct. 3 said "we need the road" but later through Krisch clarified with me that he doesn't have a formal stance on the issue or support the project. Krisch said the county chief welcomes the state effort in seeking local input on the project.

Houghton and Holmes urged local support to the project that they said would bring economic prosperity to the region through speedier cargo delivery to create more robust trade and thousands of new jobs along the route.

But the few residents at the meeting expressed skepticism and concerns about the impact on their quality of life with the creation of a gigantic network of highways, freight and high-speed commuter rails and infrastructure for water, electricity, oil and gas pipelines.

I-69 is part of the Trans-Texas Corridor plan that would eventually link Mexico with Canada through the U.S. heartland.

U.S. 59 is one of the two corridors picked by the state to form the I-69 network. The other corridor extends from Michigan and Illinois south through Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and ends at the terminus of U.S. 77 and U.S. 281 in the Rio Grande Valley.

An environmental impact study for the project is being completed by the state before a series of town hall meetings and public hearings will be scheduled next year.

Houghton said his commission will form advisory committees to assist with the project's planning and development. Each committee would have a maximum 24 members comprising the state transportation agency's staff, local government leaders, port heads, economic development and chamber of commerce officials, and representatives of metropolitan planning organizations.

According to guidelines being considered, committees will be required to mobilize support from the community for the project and to sign agreements to not disclose confidential information furnished them.

Houghton said the goal is to begin I-69 construction within two to three years.

Tell us what you think about this project.

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE