Friday, January 25, 2008

"Many saw a lack of benefits in the TTC for their communities."

Houston-Galveston Area Council officials discuss TTC concerns

By TRACY DANG, Managing Editor
The Sealy News
Copyright 2008

The proposed Trans-Texas Corridor 69 has raised many concerns for urban and rural communities all over Texas.

As the Texas Department of Transportation conducts town hall meetings and public hearings to gather public input, county and city officials are making sure they are looking out for their communities' best interest.

The Houston-Galveston Area Council held a meeting Jan. 15 with public officials from its 13-county region to meet with Texas Department of Transportation representatives and discuss an overview and concerns of the Tier One Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC).

Many saw a lack of benefits in the TTC for their communities.

"I'm very concerned about the historical sites in San Felipe and how close it will come to them and will it bring positive or negative consequences," Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski said.

"It's going to conflict with our existing infrastructure," Wharton County Commissioner Chris King said. "This is going to inhibit further planning for future growth. It offers our county little to nothing in terms of mobility support."

Corridor Path

Local leaders suggested TxDOT consider using existing roads first whenever possible.

"I know you mentioned briefly using Hwy 59 as a possibility, and I want to emphasize that in our county," King said. "Our plan all along was to get interstate status on 59 and develop the footprints of 59 because the traffic flow in our county is totally manageable and has room for expansion. I do not see the corridor as being a method to improve or enhance our flow of nature."

"We're concerned with where it's going to cut across," Walker County Judge Danny Pierce said. "There are a number of large families that have been there for years. We hope to use the footprints of Hwy 30. Another proposal is going east-west crossing Hwy 6."

Some brought up the issue of Brazos Valley wanting the corridor to come through the Bryan-College Station area.

Whether the corridor uses existing roads or creates a new path, many were concerned the corridor's unknown alignment is prohibiting or delaying future improvements.

"If you look at the map in general, history tells you (transportation routes) basically loops around Houston," Waller County Commissioner Glenn Beckendorff said. "What the 2035 projection shows is the center of Houston is going to be Hwy 6 and I-10. This is going to mess up our plans that we're growing on the west side of Houston."

"The City of Sealy is going to be pulling a good amount of infrastructure into the area," Sealy Councilman Steve Wilson said. "How firm can we hold this segment through here as far as planning around it?"

Houston-Galveston Area Council Program Manager for Transportation Planning and Programming Pat Waskowiak explained the corridor moving west of the preferred study area near Sealy was probably unlikely.

"The recommended corridor does go east of Sealy," she said. "One of the things it does acknowledge is there are infrastructure improvements, and that was one rationale for moving it and the other was impact. Unless the City of Sealy says 'we want it to come here or on the west side,' then that's the corridor at that you see right there."

Others were concerned whose decision it was going to be when it comes to deciding whether an existing road should be used or if a new road should be built.

"I've been in the construction business all my life," King said. "Is TxDOT giving it to the developers as their discretion to work on existing footprints or build something new. If given the choice, they're going to build something new. It's cheaper."

Public Access

But whether the environmental impact statement suggested the corridor cut through the communities or bypass them, many did not like the concept of it being a limited access road.

"It makes a lot of difference since you cross a major interstate or major highway," Wilson said. "All of us need to know what you're thinking the next access point is. It's important to us because we don't know what we're dealing with, whether it's a block over our county or not."

Waskowiak confirmed the corridor is going to be a "limited-access toll facility" but said identifying those access points is part of another phase of the project.

"They are not defined yet in the study at this point," Waskowiak said. "(TxDOT) is going to look at local government plans and how access points will relate to those."

Another concern was a story the corridor would have no feeder roads.

"There was a question that was asked what facilities are going to be provided for stores and development, and the answer was there wasn't going to be any development in the right of way," Wilson said. "From the EDC standpoint for everyone in here is for us to have some say in that so it's a win-win for the community."

Project Merits

Others were just opposed to the whole concept of a massive corridor.

"1,200 feet will be devastating to the lost of acreage and everything else it does," Bilski said.

Her other concern was the future of the communities' quality of life.

"The goal is to push this to the counties that don't have the air quality problems that Houston does, but doesn't that bring the air quality problems to the areas that are clean?" Bilski asked. "Let me tell you, people come to Austin County to enjoy the fresh air, and I can't believe we can't think of that. If we stink and are polluted, who's going to want to come here."

TxDOT district engineer Bryan Woods of Bryan said the corridor is something that will meet the increasing transportation need for the future.

"You can't plan for 50 years and say you need 300 feet of right of way," he said. "Think about your county and city and what you want for your grandchildren. Everything comes with a cost, and we have to pay for that cost."

"I think the citizens of Austin County want their land," Sealy Councilman Nick Tirey said. "It's bad because it's taking family lands and family farms that have been there for generations. Sure they'll be compensated, but they don't want to give up their land."

However, not every county is against the corridor project.

"We want something that would relieve us from the congestion, and of course, Houston will get its break," Liberty County Commissioner Norman Brown said. "We do have the Grand Parkway, and one of the things I have been very supportive of is there any way this parallel comes together?"

Waskowiak said TxDOT is willing to work with the communities to make sure the corridor best fit what they need.

"Whenever possible, you would want the recommended corridor to have some connection to what you're already doing in your county, not replace it," she said.

Future Concerns

Still, many fear there are too many unknown aspects for a project that would create such a big impact on their communities.

"In the past, it hasn't always been 'we want to hear your comments,'" King said. "We've kind of evolved now that it's taken place. There's a certain amount of suspicion so we're a little wary of something that's going to go our way."

"There are people making indications that there are litigation projects that are going to be available to the city to help us cope with the improvements to the roadway," Wilson said. "However, I'm unsure whether or not they can fulfill their promises.

"There's two parts to this that I don't like," he said. "One was they're going to move the route on us. If this project is being backtracked, it's going to take all of the resources we can gather, and I hope that we can. The second thing is we have no idea what this thing is. I'm not as interested in fighting this thing as I am to figuring out what it is. If you have to put a pipeline somewhere behind your house and you don't know what it's going to be carrying, then you're going to want it as far away from your house as possible, even if it's still on your property.

"In a lot of ways, I'm very fearful we're powerless to control this at all," he said. "I hope we have a system that is set up that won't allow a drastic change to be made in the 11th hour that adversely affects us without allowing us to be heard."


Right now, TxDOT does not have any means of funding the project. However, many are convinced it is just a matter of time before construction begins.

"Overall, I think that if you read between the lines, the project is going to happen," Tirey said after the meeting. "Stopping it is not going to happen. What we need to concentrate on is where it's going to come so we can deal with it. The county and city have said they are against it. If it's going to come anyway, tell us where it's going to be and how big so we can address railroads and drainage and things. It's hard to say what you want from them if we don't know what it really is."

Still, there is the slightest hope there will not be a 1,200-foot I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor.

"We've all heard of the saying: 'if you build it, they will come,'" King said. "Maybe if we don't build it, they won't come."

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