"This 'highway' will be the most catastrophic thing that will ever touch Trinity County.”
February 3, 2008
Polk County Publishing Company
TRINITY – With the formal hearing set Thursday, Feb. 7, on the Trans-Texas Corridor, over 100 area residents gathered last week to voice opposition to the plan.
During the informal meeting held Jan. 31 at Trinity High School, the film “Truth Be Tolled” was screened. Produced by opponents of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) program, the film deals primarily with the Texas Department of Transportation’s TTC plan along the Interstate 35 corridor in central Texas.
During the TxDOT public hearing was set for Feb. 7, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed route of the Interstate 69/TTC through East Texas was the topic of concern.
The I-69/TTC project is designed to run from Texarkana in northeast Texas to Laredo on the Rio Grande River.
One proposed route for the highway calls for it to follow the existing U.S. 59 corridor south through the Nacogdoches and Lufkin area and then swing to the west at Corrigan and move east to west through Trinity County south of the existing U.S. 287 corridor.
The route would cross highways 19 and 94 north of Trinity and then turn to the south before reaching the Houston County line and cut through the Kittrell area of Walker County, cross the Trinity River and then cross I-45 northwest of Huntsville.
Although it would be built in stages, the TTC plans would include six traffic lanes for passenger vehicles, four lanes for trucks and up to six rail lines.
During the meeting last week, one of the organizers, Mary Anne Tyler of Trinity, said she attended a “Town Hall” meeting held by TxDOT in Huntsville earlier this month and learned that the plans do include TTC on and off ramps near Trinity.
Tyler told the group that TxDOT officials assured her at the meeting that entrance and exit ramps would be built – “probably in a cloverleaf design” -- when the TTC crosses a state or U.S. highway.
“That would mean we would have ramps on both Highway 19 and Highway 94 near Trinity,” she said.
Tyler said the big question would be whether or not an overpass would be built for FM 355. She told the group that TxDOT does not plan to overpass all Farm-to-Market highways but would consider each on a case by case basis.
She noted that there probably is a good chance such an overpass would be built because of the way the highway would split the county.
“We’re not talking about an on and off ramp there, just an overpass,” she added.
Tyler also told those who planned to speak at the TxDOT hearing this week that they needed to provide specific reasons for any opposition they might have to the TTC.
It was noted that at the public hearing, there will be no question and answer exchange between the public and TxDOT. Those signing up to speak will be able to make objections or other comments, which will be recorded by TxDOT.
“You need to tell them why you don’t want it,” Tyler advised. “You need to give them a reason and not just get up and say ‘I don’t want it’.”
Tyler explained that under provisions of state or federal law, TxDOT would be required to respond in writing to any objections or concerns voiced during the public hearing.
“If you give them a reason for your objections, they will have to respond in writing. It may take them a year to do it, but they have to respond,” she said.
Most of the local residents speaking during last week’s meeting indicated their objections are centered on the impact taking 5,800 acres of Trinity County land would have on the tax rate and local lifestyle.
John Copley of Trinity noted that removing that much land from the local tax rolls would have an impact on the tax rates assessed by the county and school districts.
“I’ve heard people at the other end of the county say that they don’t care if this comes through Trinity County or not because it’s not going to have any impact of them,” Copley said.
“But when you removed 5,800 acres from the tax rolls, the tax rate will have to go up to make up for the loss of that money. That means this highway will affect everyone, regardless of whether or not you live on the other side of the county,” he said.
Copley also noted that the highway will have other negative effects such as the possible destruction of prehistoric oyster beds located off White Rock Creek near Trinity.
Susanne Waller, chairman of the Trinity County Historical Commission, also voiced concern for the impact the TTC would have on the local quality of life.
Waller said she also attended the Town Hall session in Huntsville and when she raised the question of taking 5,800 acres of Trinity County land, she was told that “it would not be that much.”
She said during last week’s meeting that the plan calls for the construction of 39 miles of highway through Trinity County with a right-of-way that’s 1,200 feet wide.
“With 146 acres per mile, a 39 mile highway would take close to 5,800 acres,” she said.
Dan Barnes of Trinity, who manages a large area of timberlands in the area, noted that from the maps he has seen, the highway will not touch any of the property he oversees.
“I say that so you know that my ox is not being gored, but I feel this highway will be the most catastrophic thing that will ever touch Trinity County,” Barnes said.
“We’ve got to do something to stop it,” he added.
In the movie, “Truth Be Tolled,” representatives of several groups opposed to the TTC plan presented arguments against the statewide highway program being formulated by TxDOT.
They noted that the four TTC corridors envisioned by TxDOT would consume three times more land than all of the Interstate Highways not located in Texas.
They noted that while the right-of-ways for Interstate Highways are from 300 to 400 feet wide, the TTC plan calls for a 1,200-foot wide right-of-way.
According to the movie, the I-35 TTC corridor would claim 100,000 acres of “the richest farm land in the state” and would become the largest “eminent domain” project in U.S. history.
Eminent domain is the process by which a government – such as the state – takes land against the owner’s wishes for a public project.
Because the TTCs being planned would be operated by a private company – based primarily in Spain – they would be financed using tolls.
Opponents to the plan charge that the TTC plan would benefit a foreign corporation at the expense of Texas residents.
The movie argues that most of the highway congestion in Texas today is centered in the metropolitan areas and that no real problem exists in rural Texas.
They contend that if any highway expansion is needed, it is primarily needed in the metro areas.
During the meeting, websites for various groups opposed to or in favor of the TTC plan were listed for the audience.
Websites of groups opposed to TTC included www.corridorwatch.org, www.texasturf.com and www.texastollparty.com.
A pro TTC website is www.keeptexasmoving.com.
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