"TxDOT still uses weasel words in their documents."
By TRACY DANG, Managing Editor
The Sealy News
The proposed Trans-Texas Corridor 69 has caused many concerns for urban and rural communities all over Texas. But the Texas Department of Transportation is letting the public know it is paying attention to the concerns.
With the help of the Federal Highway Administration, TxDOT released the Trans-Texas Corridor I-69 Draft Environment Impact Statement this week.
According to the report, TxDOT will need to do more studies on the project and ask for additional public comment regarding a narrower study area. The current study area is currently a 50-mile-wide path, and TxDOT wants to narrow it down to a 1/2- to four-mile-wide path.
The report suggested looking at the possibility of using existing highways first.
"This is a result of public comment we received up to this point - this is what they prefer we do instead of trying to build a totally new roadway," TxDOT spokesperson Mark Cross said.
Further study would confirm whether or not the idea is possible, but TxDOT said the option appears favorable.
"There are facilities out there that will allow us to utilize them as far as the corridor, and there are areas that it is safer and easier," he said.
Although there have been concerns about the proposed corridor, TxDOT said future transportation is something the state needs to address.
"In TxDOT's eyes, we're looking at the projections in future population," Cross said. "Those projections tell us we're going to be impacted greatly by an increase of vehicles on the highways of Texas in the future. We are preparing for that.
"One of those issues right now is all of the metro areas have a problem with congestion. A lot of it is through-traffic. The TTC would help divert that traffic around the metro areas and help ease the congestion through the metro areas. It also provides us another hurricane evacuation route out of the state or to the eastern part of the state."
State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst said TxDOT's report is "a step in the right direction" but believes it still needs work.
"Their proposed map for Austin County still appears to demand an enormous amount of private property," she said. "Last session, I led the fight to stop the sale of highways to foreign private companies. However, TxDOT can continue to propose the idea for a Trans-Texas Corridor but that doesn't mean they have the financial methods to build it."
But a step in the right direction is better than no improvements at all.
"I'm glad that TxDOT commissioners are reaching out to local people to hear their concerns," Kolkhorst said. "If a community doesn't want or benefit from the Trans-Texas Corridor I-69 project, then they need to let TxDOT know."
Many anti-TTC groups feel the same way.
"Overall, I think this reflects a shift with TxDOT," said David Stall, co-owner of CorridorWatch.org. "It's a scaled back approach to the TTC, aligning closer with existing highways as opposed to a completely new and independent route. It's moving toward more community input, and we're seeing greater communication with county and city officials. These are all positive shifts."
Still Stall said he is not completely satisfied with the project or how TxDOT is handling it.
"I'm still disappointed TxDOT is working hard to manipulate the outcome of the meetings. They're spending $9 million on a campaign to sell the corridor and allowing the community to reach their own conclusions.
"We have a great concern that they're continuing to have secrecy with the decisions being made. You may know they have an interest in setting up new committees along the route, but it's already been asked that members of the committees with have to sign a disclosure.
"And we've always had a concern with the size. TxDOT still uses weasel words in their documents, addressing rural concerns such as the 1,200-foot width. They say it may not be 1,200 feet wide, but the document still says it's 1,200 feet wide."
Nevertheless, Stall said the community still has an opportunity to voice its concerns.
"Everyone needs to stay engaged and involved so they can have an impact on what comes out the other end. This a project that's not going to happen in any particular way. We all have the opportunity to share the future of transportation."
TxDOT will begin holding town hall meetings along the TTC to answer questions about the corridor in January and public meetings for public comment starting in February.
In the meantime, the public can stay updated on the corridor's progress at www.KeepTexasMoving.com.
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