Friday, February 15, 2008

“It will ruin the face of Texas as we know it.”

Trans-Texas Corridor draws heated debate

February 15, 2008

By John Lowman
The Facts (Brazosport, TX)
Copyright 2008

LAKE JACKSON — Depending on who’s talking, the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor could be either a “fascist” project that will erode American sovereignty or a tool to enhance delivery of goods from Texas ports.

At an open forum Wednesday at the Lake Jackson Civic Center, Texas Department of Transportation officials heard more negative comments than positives about the project. About 20 of the 125 people attending spoke against the project. No one spoke in favor.

“It will ruin the face of Texas as we know it,” said Phillip Oswald of Angleton. “This will only bring misery and despair to rural Texas. This will all be toll roads and you will no longer be able to travel free across Texas.”

Oswald’s family has owned property in Brazoria County for a century, and he doesn’t want to see the government take anyone’s land in the name of progress, he said. Oswald and other detractors are unhappy residents haven’t been allowed to vote on whether to build the highway.

Wearing a “No TTC” T-shirt, Oswald said the roadway will negatively affect 500,000 acres and 8,000 miles of the state’s landscape.

“It was shoved down our throats by TxDOT and Gov. Rick Perry,” he said. “It will increase drug trafficking, human trafficking and only put money in the pockets of foreign corporations.”

Brazoria County is grouped with Houston as a Modal Transition Zone in which local governments will have most control over how the road connects with existing routes, transportation department Environmental Manager Doug Booher said. Such zones have too dense a population for the state to make accurate assessments, he said.

Neither the impact of the road nor a completion date are determined, Booher said.

“It takes a long time, and right now it’s hard to say what the impact will be,” he said. “The process is ongoing. It can change and probably will as we go through the process.”

Brazoria County Commissioners have had no formal hearings on the corridor, County Judge Joe King said Thursday.

The road is not planned to traverse any of Brazoria County. The 650-mile long project would stretch from Texarkana to Laredo and is part of the proposed national I-69 Corridor running from Canada to Mexico, said Gary Trietsch, moderator and Department of Transportation Houston District Engineer.

The project is in Phase I, an impact study open to the public until March 19. Information gathered will be added to a plan study. If approved, the plan would proceed to a Phase II study, which “could take years,” Trietsch said.

The corridor could follow the current route of Highway 59, involve new routes or could be eliminated.

“It could be a combination of all three, and it may not happen at all,” Trietsch said. “Anything is possible at this time. If it’s built, it would be in phases for years. Right now, we just need to find a route.”

Texas seaports are keeping an eye on the proposed highway, which could help move goods as ocean-going traffic increases, Port Freeport Executive Director Pete Reixach said between comment periods Wednesday night.

“One of the challenges we face is transport of goods inland,” he said. “New infrastructure, such an interstate, would help facilitate transport of goods whether we like the project or not.”

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Lake Jackson, doesn’t like the plan, spokesman Jesse Benton said at the meeting.

“Dr. Paul is very concerned about this and will try to block any federal funding of the Trans-Texas Corridor,” Benton said. Paul wants Texans to have final say whether the road will be built, not the federal government.

Mark Holmes lives in southern Grimes County, near Navasota. He called the acquisition of land for the corridor “a shameful terrorist nightmare.”

Holmes said the interstate is an effort on the part of the Department of Transportation “to terrorize Texans.” The road would cause increased emissions and use of U.S. roads by Mexican and Canadian vehicles.

Joe Jennings introduced himself as a member of the Texas Democratic Party and called the project “fascism.”

Linda Curtis said Perry “manipulated 254 hearings hoping no one would show up.”

Brazoria County resident Corrie Bowen said clean water and readily available food are more important than the roadway. The project would hurt grasslands north of the county which feed aquifer recharge zones here, he said.

A final Phase I environmental document will be made public early next year and include recommendations whether to proceed, Trietsch said.

John Lowman is a reporter for The Facts. Contact him at (979) 849-8581.


Public comment:

Deadline for public comment on the current Tier I Environmental Impact Study is March 19.

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