Friday, December 21, 2007

"At this time it is uncertain as to how the final selection process for [advisory] committee representatives will be conducted in Austin.”

Cox likely choice for TTC group

December 21, 2007

Gainesville Daily Register
Copyright 2007

Though there have been many hearings and town hall meetings regarding a controversial toll road project, the Texas Department of Transportation hopes to make public input more official through the establishment of advisory committees.

Sheila Cox, a resident of southeastern Cooke County and a vocal opponent to the preliminary plans for Trans-Texas Corridor 35, said she is likely to be nominated as a county representative for Cooke County on a “segment advisory committee” of the project.

County Judge Bill Freeman said in an interview this morning he has “full intentions” of naming Cox to the committee to represent Cooke County. Freeman said he was only given one spot to fill on the segment committees, but could also make suggestions for appointees to a larger committee regarding the entire TTC-35 project.

TTC-35 is a proposed multi-lane toll road, railway and utility corridor to stretch from Laredo to Gainesville under current plans, which is part of a planned network of multi-modal roads, railways and hubs known as Trans-Texas Corridor. It would have limited on and off ramp access and would include various inland port areas to connect with other transportation systems.

The plans have drawn considerable protests in Cooke County and other counties along the proposed route, including a meeting in Woodbine which drew at least a thousand people. Some protesters say TTC-35 is part of plans to bolster the North American Free Trade Agreement and would increase illegal immigration. Supporters say the toll road is necessary to prepare for increased interstate highway traffic as the population increases.

On Dec. 14 TxDOT announced in a press release the Texas Transportation Commission recently approved rules establishing the committees which will not only make recommendations regarding an overall network of similar toll roads but also for individual corridor segments.

Committee members are expected to be formally named early next year. Cox said County Judge Bill Freeman appointed her.

“Last October, I sought the appointment to serve as the county representative for Cooke County on the segment advisory committee which will discuss issues facing the various segments of the larger corridors such as TTC-35,” Cox said. “Appointments are made by the county judge in counties where there will be an impact from the corridors and Cooke County Judge Bill Freeman has appointed me to serve in that capacity.”

Cox said she is of the understanding there would be a limit of 24 members on each segment committee.

“... So at this time it is uncertain as to how the final selection process for committee representatives will be conducted in Austin,” she said. “I certainly look forward to the opportunity to serve Cooke County in this capacity and to not only be a strong voice to share with them the concerns of our citizens in Cooke County, but also to offer suggestions for solutions to those concerns.”

Calls to TxDOT public affairs were not returned by press time.

According the press release from TxDOT’s central office in Austin, the advisory committees are being developed “to provide public input on where the Trans-Texas Corridor should be located and what it should look like.”

“The committees will enhance public involvement during on-going Trans-Texas Corridor environmental studies and provide guidance on how the corridor can be developed to best serve local communities,” the release said.

Ted Houghton, a member of the Texas Transportation Commission, said in the release the committees will have a significant impact in shaping the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“Through the advisory committees, local officials and citizens can be more involved in the planning process than ever before,” Houghton said.

Separate committees would be established for both the TTC-35 and Interstate Highway 69/Trans-Texas Corridor projects in general. Ideally, according to TxDOT, both the segment and the general project committees would include property owners, business owners, representatives of local governments, technical experts and other interested citizens.

I-69/TTC is being considered in a 650-mile long study area stretching from far south Texas to extreme northeast Texas.

All advisory committees will report their recommendations to TxDOT’s executive director, Amadeo Saenz, according to the release.

According to the Oct. 12 Texas Register, which chronicles rules passed by various state government bureaus, departments and commissions, TxDOT also seeks the input of economic development and chamber of commerce officials, “members of the environmental community,” TxDOT staff and professional consultants representing TxDOT.

The committees would be abolished by Dec. 31, 2009, unless the Transportation Commission deems otherwise.

“It is very encouraging for me to know that TxDOT is working with the Texas Transportation Commission to establish advisory committees for the TTC,” Cox said. “There has been a considerable amount of citizen complaints that advisory committees consisting of local representatives had not been part of the planning process for the corridors. Hopefully, this will be an effective remedy to those complaints and also that TxDOT and the Texas Transportation Commission will be attentive to the input received from the advisory committees.”

The Cooke County Judge’s office may be contacted at 668-5435.

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at
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