Thursday, January 17, 2008

"Many people expressed concern over effects of the proposed corridor, such as the loss of open space, private property, and environmental damage."

Corridor of change: East Texans express their opinions for and against the proposed

I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor during town hall meeting

January 17, 2008

The Lufkin Daily News
Copyright 2008

Hundreds showed up to a town hall meeting Thursday night in Lufkin, many with questions for Texas Department of Transportation officials about the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor that could run through or around Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Huntsville and other East Texas towns.

As it's drawn up, I-69/TTC would include toll roads, high-speed freight and commuter rail, water lines, oil and gas pipelines, electric transmission lines and telecommunications infrastructure in one corridor running north/south through Texas. One primary purpose of the corridor would be to help with the state's projected traffic congestion.

Texas Department of Transportation representative Cheryl Flood answers questions concerning the proposed route of the Trans-Texas Corridor at Thursday evening's town hall Meeting at Pitser Garrison Civic Center.

Although TxDOT directors assured everyone that nothing is set in stone and they want to hear the public's ideas, current plans have the corridor running through East Texas.

"One option is no-build," said TxDOT Executive Director Steve Simmons. "Another is a different alignment."

Many land owners expressed worry over the corridor being built directly over their land.

"There's a lot of 'ifs,' such as if it's going to come through my land," Gary Smith of Trinity County told the TxDOT officials. "I don't want to go somewhere else, but I'm only one person ... Who's going to buy this right-of-way, and what's going to happen to our lives?"

Phil Russell, TxDOT assistant director of innovative project development, explained how the process of buying someone's land works. According to Russell, an appraiser would be hired to assess the value of the property. The owner would be shown the value and given relocation assistance. If the owner didn't like the price offered, he could go through several more processes of trying to come to an agreement on a fair value.

Russell also encouraged everyone with such concerns to contact TxDOT so the agency could do what it can to avoid that property.

The possibility of turning state highways 59, 281 and 77 into toll roads also concerned many people. Russell said he believes that, if those roads are expanded, only the new lanes would be subjected to tolls.

Many people expressed concern over other effects of the proposed corridor, such as the loss of open space, the loss of private property (including ranches that have been in a family for generations), and damage to the environment. However, some expressed support of the corridor.

"I'm tired of building tunnels under roads so little frogs can cross the road," said J.T. Smith, a former transportation worker. "We need a better dream than the rest of the world. Let's build through downtown and keep our cities vital."

Houston County Judge Lonnie Hunt also expressed support for the corridor.

"Change is never easy, but change is coming," Hunt said. "I think it's important that we plan for it and that we plan well into the future. This will give you a greater connection to another part of the world."

The town hall meeting came right before 46 public hearings to be held in different part of Texas over the next couple months, beginning in Center and Huntsville on Feb. 4.

Lufkin's is scheduled for Feb. 12 at the Pitser Garrison Civic Center. All meetings are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.

© 2008 The Lufkin Daily News:

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