Thursday, January 31, 2008

"High Opposition"

Residents unhappy with governor


By Holly Green
The Huntsville Item
Copyright 2008

The majority of residents from Walker and area counties made it clear Wednesday night how they feel about the proposed I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor.

They are strongly opposed to it.

An estimated 800 people took action on the controversial issue.

The second town hall meeting in Huntsville, offering a chance for open dialogue between residents and the Texas Department of Transportation, took on a different tone than the initial meeting Jan. 23 at the Walker Education Center.

With the main building at the Walker County Fairgrounds able to accommodate the large crowd, property owners and other residents expressed their dissatisfaction with Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Transporation Commission.

Speakers addressing the three TxDOT panelists blamed Perry and not necessarily the state agency for the plan that could require thousands of acres of Texas land.

They said Perry created the plan and then dumped it into TxDOT’s lap.

The proposal also generates opposition from the standpoint of how it would be funded and constructed, especially since TxDOT says it does not have money to build needed roadways in the state.

In attendance were 22 TxDOT representatives, including moderator and district engineer Bryan Wood; and panelists, deputy executive director Steve Simmons, director of Texas Turnpike Authority Phil Russell and director of transportation and planning of the Bryan district Bob Appleton.

Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton was unable to attend the meeting.

Residents, representing several generations, raised questions about the acquisition of land, toll roads, project funding, border security, the project process and the project timeline.

The I-69/TTC proposal has also received high opposition in other communities in the state, including Hempstead, Bellville and Victoria.

Wednesday night’s meeting, along with other town hall events along the corridor path, were planned in preparation for 46 official public hearings that will take place Feb. 4 through March 3.

The public hearings, that will limit residents to submitting questions and comments without receiving answers or responses, will specifically address the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that was released on Nov. 13, 2007.

Walker County’s public hearing will take place Monday at the fairgrounds at 6:30 p.m.

Doug Booher, TxDOT environmental manager for the Texas Turnpike Authority Division, said that residents have until March 19 to submit comments that will be officially recorded in the DEIS.

Booher addressed all questions concerning the DEIS and the overall process.

“After comments have been submitted, they will be analyzed and given responses,” Booher said. “Then a final Environmental Impact Statement will be prepared, narrowing down the corridor to a one half to four mile area.

“The document will then be put up for review again, giving people another 30 days to submit comments.”

The project, now in tier one (or phase one), according to Booher may never reach tier two.

“There’s no guarantee the project might not make it to tier two,” Booher said. “There has to be a need and we have to know where the funding will come from before we can move forward.”

Booher said it could be three to five years before the “black line” is drawn.

“It could be the middle of 2009 before we actually know exactly where the Interstate would be on the ground,” Booher said. “The most important thing is for the public to stay involved, stay informed and continue to participate in the process. We need their help.”

Booher said the ultimate decision for the I-69/TTC, if it ever makes it that far, will ultimately lie with the Federal Highway Administration.”

According to the TTC’s Web site, Keep Texas Moving, “I-69 is a planned 1,600-mile national highway connecting Mexico, the United States and Canada. Eight states are involved in the project.

“The proposed I-69/TTC extends from Texarkana/Shreveport to Mexico — possibly the Rio Grande Valley or Laredo.”

The initial study area is roughly 650 miles long.

Kolkhorst seemed to give residents a boost with a brief speech expressing her firm opposition and willingness to fight for a better plan for the future of transportation in Texas.

However, she also said she continues to have faith in the powers that be.

“I think we’re all a little tired of top-down (government) — I know I am as a citizen,” Kolkhorst said. “It’s time for us to go from down-up. It’s what our founding fathers wanted when they created our government.

“I still believe that Gov. Rick Perry will listen to you. I still have that faith and I’m counting on TxDOT to bring the message of Walker County and the people back to him.”

Walker County Precinct 1 Commissioner B.J. Gaines Jr. was the first resident and local official to speak and liked what Kolkhorst had to say.

“It’s a real treat to have (TxDOT representatives) back because I don’t think we’re convinced or Walker County is convinced that we know what this road is going to do besides send a lot of people to the unemployment office,” Gaines said. “It was said at the last meeting that it was possible to stop this thing and I’m not sure we really got an answer on how to do that besides showing up here. But I think I have an idea and that’s to replace Mr. Perry with Ms. Kolkhorst.”

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