Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"If this is such a good idea, it should be put to a vote."

State corridor hearing echoes small-town concerns

Feb. 13, 2008

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2008

Farmers and ranchers in the rural counties around Houston have voiced a resounding "no" to having the Interstate 69/Trans-Texas Corridor built in their backyards. What wasn't known was how people in the big city felt about it.

Tuesday's audience at a public hearing on the project numbered only 233, compared with more than 1,000 in tiny Bellville, but they were just as opposed to the idea.

When the hearing adjourned shortly after 9 p.m., not one of the 49 speakers was in favor of the plan.

Steven Driskell said the corridor project would increase crime in rural areas by creating access for drug smugglers and other illegal activity.

"These rural communities, they are the heart of Texas. We can't just let this happen," he said.

Chris Zora called the project nothing but "a get-rich scheme" for people who own land nearby.

"I can tell you right now that this is never going to happen," he said. "Texans will never let it happen."

Gary Suydam said the construction would cause soil errosion and pollution from construction, as well as the noise and light that traffic would bring.

"If this is such a good idea, it should be put to a vote."

Suydam's remarks, like most of the others', drew loud applause.

Kathryn Wilson, said she moved to a small farm in Waller County from Bellaire. Wilson said the project will also harm wildlife, as well as air quality and drainage. "The eyes of Texas are upon you, and the eyes of the entire United States are on Texas," she said to more applause.

Several speakers raised the issues of illegal immigration and the prospect of U.S. sovereignty being deluded into a North American union with Canada and Mexico.

"There's a bigger agenda behind all of this. It's the North American Union and that's a fact," said Edward Dickey.

Dani Trees said, "There will not be another American truck driver left after this road is built."

The hearing in the Arabia Shrine Center, 2900 N. Braeswood, will be followed by three weeks of others in Houston-area counties, as required by federal law, to gather comment on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

Named for the hoped-for Interstate 69, which it would replace in TxDOT plans, the tolled I-69 / TTC would eventually run from Texarkana to Mexico, most of it west of U.S. 59, with spurs to the Port of Houston from the north and west, as well as to Corpus Christi and to the Louisiana state line near Shreveport. Parts of it, however, would be east of U.S. 59.

I-69/TTC and TTC-35, planned to run parallel to Interstate 35, are parts of a massive corridor network proposed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2002.

Eventually, Perry said, these could include toll lanes for trucks and cars, tracks for freight and passenger trains, and space for pipelines and power lines. However, TxDOT officials agree that segments are likely to be built piecemeal, starting in high-traffic areas such as bypasses near major cities.

Although no contract for I-69/TTC has been signed, TxDOT wants to negotiate a long-term lease with a private company to build, maintain and operate the corridor.

TxDOT would oversee the operation and control the toll rates charged, the agency says.

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