Sunday, January 20, 2008

"I for one am not willing to sit back and let it gut this county."

County concerned over cost of proposed TTC

January 2008

Trinity Standard
Copyright 2008

GROVETON – Concerns over the possible local cost and lack of local benefits of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) highway project were voiced Monday, Jan. 14, by Trinity County officials.

During a relatively brief meeting of the county commissioners, local officials agreed they needed to gather additional information about the possible local impact of the proposed highway.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) will conduct public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project on Thursday, Feb. 7 at Trinity High School. The hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m and county officials indicated they planned to be there to learn more about the highway plan.

During Monday’s meeting, commissioners indicated preliminary information on the TTC project indicates there would be no on or off ramp from the highway in Trinity County, which would mean that local businesses would see no benefit from the traffic.

It was indicated that the closest on and off ramps probably would be located in Polk and Walker counties.

The proposed Interstate 69/Trans-Texas Corridor is designed to run from Laredo in far south Texas up to Texarkana in northeast Texas. The federal I-69 part of the project would continue north into the Great Lakes region and would effectively provide a direct highway route between Mexico and Canada.

The TTC component is being proposed by TxDOT and the study phase of the project was tied into the I-69 proposal because the two routes could follow the same path.

Under TxDOT’s plan, the TTC would eventually include 10 lanes of highway traffic – three north and three south bound lanes dedicated to passenger traffic as well as two north and two south bound lanes used only by trucks. It would also eventually include six rail lines – two high speed passenger lines, two freight lines and two commuter rail lines.

According to preliminary information presented to commissioners on Monday, the right-of-way needed for the project would be from one-quarter to one-half a mile wide.

Among the alternative routes for the project is one that would by-pass the Houston area to the west. That route would cut through Trinity County east to west to the south of Highway 287. It would run to the north of Trinity and turn south near the Houston County line, continue through the Kittrell area of Walker County, cross the Trinity river and intersect with I-45 several miles north of Huntsville.

County Attorney Joe Bell noted that this alternative route for the TTC could require almost 6,000 acres of Trinity County land.

“In the past TxDOT has required counties to purchase all of the right of way needed for a highway project,” Bell said.

“If that holds true for this project, the county would have to purchase almost 6,000 acres of land. At an average of just $1,000 per acre, that’s about $6 million,” he noted.

Bell noted that at present the county receives about $2.5 million per year in property taxes.

“If we’re forced to buy the right of way, we would have to more than double the tax rate and then spend it all on the highway project,” he said.

The only way the county could finance such a purchase would be through the sale of bonds, which Bell noted would have to be approved by local voters.

“What happens if the voters say no?” asked Pct. 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham.“I don’t know,” Bell said. “The state could make it an unfunded mandate and we would have to come up with some way to do it.”

Bell noted the state could decide to purchase the right of way itself and include the money for the land in the bonds that would have to be issued to build the highway. In that case, the matter would be placed on a statewide ballot.

County Judge Mark Evans noted that local officials who are concerned about the project should pass those concerns on to the “people who have influence over the funding.”

He said officials in the governor’s office as well as the lieutenant governor, staterepresentatives and state senators would have a major impact on what happens with the project because they will have control of the money.

The county attorney noted opposition to the plan has been building in a number of counties along the proposed western alternative route.

“Property owners in Grimes and Austin counties have been putting up signs saying ‘No Trespassing by TxDOT’,” he said.

Suzanne Waller, chairman of the Trinity County Historical Commission (TCHC), noted that she has been researching the TTC project and is very concerned with its possible impact on the county.

“This is our lifestyle were looking are here,” she told commissioners.

Waller told commissioners she moved to Trinity County from an urban area and does not want to see the negative impact that the TTC could have on the area.

“I for one am not willing to sit back and let it gut this county,” she said.

She added that TCHC is in the process of updating its list of historic cemeteries and of identifying cemeteries that should be designated as historic.

“We need to identify these cemeteries especially if they are within the boundaries of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor,” she said.

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