It'll hurt the watershed, have a negative economic impact, create more congestion in Harris County & trap Gulf Coast residents by a wall of a highway.
By BARRY HALVORSON
While the attending public's consensus during Monday night's public hearing was the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor should not get a go ahead, alternatives did receive universal backing.
Some of those attending the hearing held in the Wharton High School Auditorium said the preferred option should be to take no action at all while others acknowledged the need to improve the state's transportation system. That group included county resident Edward Campbell, who recommended upgrading existing roadways like U.S. Highways 59, 281 and 77.
"We don't need new roads," he said. "It will hurt the watershed, have a negative economic impact, create more congestion in Harris County and the residents of the Gulf Coast will be trapped by a wall of highway. But I don't believe this project will be stopped by just the will of the people."
He concluded his presentation by saying the most effective way to fund highway improvements and expansion was to place tolls on cargo and goods being transported than to create toll roads.
Egypt area resident Cameron Duncan also favored a more conservative approach in his three minutes to speak. One of the owners of the Duncan Ranch, he said the property contained a lot of history and was in the path of the preferred draft environmental impact statement corridor being discussed during the meeting.
But Duncan added it wasn't just his families property he was concerned with.
"I think it represents an imminent threat to land owners," he said. "The TTC will fracture Wharton County into two halves, cannibalize our existing roads, expose us to pollution and hazardous materials. The state should only build what is reasonable. And until the public has more input in the decision making process, nothing can be considered reasonable."
A high percentage of those at the public hearing were members of the Glen Flora-Spanish Camp Historical Society and emphasized the history of the area. They were also critical of the Texas Department of Transportation for not doing more research as part of the draft study.
During a video presentation prior to the start of the public commentary, it was pointed out such research would be part of the Tier 2 environmental study, a point TxDOT Environmental Consultant Lori Cole pointed out during the open house that proceeded the hearing.
"We've been taking an overhead look at things using existing resources," she said. "What's on the ground will be detailed in the next tier study. A lot of people have been giving us information in pieces and we're looking at getting down to the truth. The public hearing process is a fact-finding mission for us."
TxDOT Yoakum District Engineer Lonnie J. Gregorcyk was also at the meeting. The Yoakum District includes Wharton County.
"A lot of what we're hearing is that people want us to maximize the use of existing right of way, have eminent domain concerns and want to minimize the impact the project has on historical sites," he said during the open house.
"Right now we are just looking at a planning area and before we come up with any exact route, there is still a lot of work to do. Right now the hard thing is trying to convey to people that we are interested in what they have to say and that no specific route has been selected or will be selected until the funds exist to actually consider construction."
Gregorcyk added he tries to encourage the public to educate itself on the topics while also pointing out the current Tier 1 study will not be completed until late this year or early next year.
The opposition to the TTC at the meeting was well organized and vocal about their concerns, passing out anti- TTC stickers as well as having their own table in the foyer area.
Among those taking a turn at the table was Waller County resident Martha Estes, who also spoke during the public hearing.
"I'm representing Corridor Watch and other groups opposed to the TTC," she said. "We're trying to unite the people against the danger this project represents. People in this state should not stand still when their property rights are being put in jeopardy as they are by this project."
A member of the Citizens United for Texas, a group opposed to property tax abuse as well as the TTC, El Campo resident Debrah Tolson emphasized the negative impact potential.
"I'm against their chopping up Texas like this project would do," she said. "Actually, I think these hearings are a smoke screen and they're just letting us ask questions to placate us. But if this project happens, we'll lose a lot of property tax revenue that is taken off the tax rolls and a lot of sales tax from stores operating in these communities. I don't think the residents of the area are taking the threat seriously enough."
In addition to offering area residents the opportunity to speak at the hearing, with a court reporter on the record or submit a written comment during the evening, Gregorcyk said people can submit comments or questions online at www.keeptexasmoving. com or mailed to I-69/TTC at P.O. Box 14428, Austin, Texas, 78761.
All comments must be received by March 19.
Area residents will also have the opportunity to attend two more public hearings locally.
Those meetings are scheduled in El Campo at the El Campo Civic Center on Feb. 21, East Bernard at Riverside Hall on Feb. 25.
An additional area meeting will be held in Sealy at Sealy High School on Feb. 26.
The schedule for the various meetings is the same as the one used in Wharton with an open house scheduled from 5-6:30 p.m. followed by a public hearing starting at 6:30 p.m.
More information on the meetings or meeting locations can be found on the Internet at keeptexasmoving.com.
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