Thursday, February 07, 2008

"It will take a united effort to stop this thing."

Growing Pains

TxDOT plan for proposed interstate meets stiff opposition

February 07, 2008

By Steve Bandy,
Marshall News Messenger
Copyright 2008

The vast majority of the 100 people attending Thursday night's public hearing opposed the proposed Interstate Highway 69/Trans-Texas Corridor. Only four of the 13 who spoke publicly favored the project.

The hearing was sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation to receive comment on the Tier One Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed transportation project from Texarkana and Shreveport, La. to South Texas.

Mayor Ed Smith said he supported the project and felt that most of the citizens of Marshall did as well.

"This will be good for the economic development not only of Marshall, but of all of Northeast Texas," Smith said.

He referred specifically to the TTC, which, according to the broad plans presented by TxDOT, would branch off from I-69 just south of Timpson. I-69 would continue on a more eastward course to meet up with the Louisiana section of the interstate below Shreveport. The TTC, a TxDOT initiative for accommodating the state's growing transportation needs envisioned as a multi-modal system providing separate truck and passenger vehicle lanes, freight and passenger rail lines and space for future utility use, would extend northward, roughly paralleling U.S. Highway 59, skirting Carthage and Marshall to the Texarkana area.

"If this route through Northeast Texas is delayed, then traffic that diverts to the east through Louisiana will result in economic development along that route," he said. "It would be hard — if not impossible — to recapture that traffic."

Allen Livingston IV, however, opened his three-minute address by saying "the mayor does not speak for all of Marshall," drawing loud applause from the audience.

Livingston called the proposed TTC "the largest land-grab in Texas history" and urged TxDOT to modify its plan to include only those roadways and rails that are available today. He said the right-of-way required for the multi-lane TTC — up to 1,200 feet — would eat up 146 acres of land every mile.

"This will kill rural Texas towns and will cause towns like Marshall to slowly deteriorate," he said.

Linda Curtis of Bastrop is a member of an organization known as Independent Texans, which she said "represents tens of thousands of Texans opposed to the project." Her group presented a form letter which calls for a congressional investigation regarding the actions of Gov. Rick Perry and TxDOT, outlining 10 points she said "deserve further inquiry."

The letter puts forth such allegations as deceptive lobbying efforts leading to the passage of a transportation bill implementing the corridor, the misuse of public funds for the purpose of "selling" the project to the public and the withholding of public documents, specifically a signed contract with CINTRA, a Spanish-based toll road consortium which appears to have favored status to build the corridor.

"It will take a united effort to stop this thing," Curtis said.

James Mason of Carthage also spoke against the project, saying the massive right-of-way would "divide communities, divide school districts, divide people from their churches and families" and generally create a lot more travel for residents trying to get from one side of the corridor to the other.

"Until we use all of the Highway 59 right-of-way it is of no use to obtain additional right-of-way," he said.

Mason also said citizens of Shelby County are currently trying to convince their county commissioners to adopt a formal resolution in opposition of the corridor. "Are the people in Shelby County smarter that the people in Panola or Harrison counties?" he asked.

Dennis Dugan's family owns and operates a farm directly in the path of the proposed corridor.

"The threat of losing their land is putting hundreds of Texans at risk," he said. "How can you sell land that may or may not be taken by the government? How can you build or plant on that land?

"In a time when we should be focusing on guarding our borders and protecting our citizens, instead they're making crossing the border more comfortable for them and they're taking the family farm to do it."

Daryl Ware of Marshall called the project a "property rights" and "national sovereignty issue" that threatens to "obliterate our borders with Mexico and Canada."

Dennis Weis and Dr. Jim Harris appeared to agree to disagree.

Weis urged TxDOT to abandon the "outrageous" plan for a new corridor and upgrade the existing U.S. Highway 59.

Harris said he believes "an I-69/TTC in the footprint of U.S. 59 would be one of the biggest things that will ever happen to Marshall."

John Melvin Dodd of Gilmer, however, said he opposed the TTC "anywhere" in the state.

"Our elected officials are betraying the wishes of the vast majority of Texans," Dodd said, adding that, though the corridor is not currently considered in Upshur County, "all of Texas will be affected by it."

Fuzzy Harmon of Marshall was the only speaker to contest claims that the corridor would benefit economic development in the city, explaining that businesses already established along the U.S. Highway 59 corridor would be hurt with the change in traffic patterns should the TTC take the bulk of traffic away from the center of Marshall.

"The whole community is dependent on the current traffic flow along Highway 59," he said. "If the traffic is moved west or east of the city, those invested along (U.S. Highway) 59 will hurt. I don't think this is good for our local business."

City Manager Frank Johnson spoke in favor of it after thanking TxDOT officials for hosting what he said was the third meeting in Marshall on the proposed project.

"Transportation is the lifeblood of any community," he said. "Communities on major transportation routes thrive and prosper while those not on these routes struggle."

Johnson said about 29,000 vehicles currently cross intersection at U.S. Highway 59 and U.S. Highway 80 on a daily basis. "Taking into consideration the projected 60 percent population growth in the next 25 years, we will have between 47,000 and 48,000 vehicles a day there," he said, "and traffic along Highway 59 will slow to a crawl."

He thanked TxDOT for its effort "to relieve what we all know will be future transportation problems."

Retired County Judge Wayne McQuarters of Marshall was last to speak favorably of the project.

"We have good transportation. Good roads and transportation are essential to a community, essential to job creation," McQuarters said.

He said the improved transportation system would improve the economy of the area.

"This is our chance to bring jobs back," he said. "I-69 is a compatible counterpart to I-20. We should be unselfish for the benefit of our children."

Bob Ratcliff, the TxDOT district engineer, conducted the meeting, explaining that all comments — those presented publicly along with those presented in writing and to the various court reporters stationed throughout the room — will be taken under consideration and "all concerns will be answered" in the Tier Two Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Deadline for presenting additional comments on the Tier One DEIS is March 19, he said. Following development of the next DEIS, more public hearings will be held. To comment on the plan, visit

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