Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"This is about revenue, not roads, and it is being fueled by corrupt politicians."

People at Diboll meeting say they don't want I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor


The Lufkin Daily News
Copyright 2008

DIBOLL — State Rep. Jim McReynolds urged people to say what was in their hearts Monday night as the Texas Department of Transportation held one of 47 statewide hearings at the Diboll Civic Center. The hearing gave community members a chance to voice their opinions regarding the proposed I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor.

The opinion was overwhelming, at least among those who spoke, that the corridor was unwanted and unnecessary. Concerns included the large amounts of land that would be used (the corridor could be as wide as 1,200 feet in some places), the possibility of toll roads owned by a foreign company, and the amount of compensation that would be provided for people's homes and land.

"I strongly oppose the TTC, as it would take farm, ranch, and timber land from hard-working people, decrease the gross domestic product of Texas, and increase greenhouse gas from the reduced number of trees and other plants," said Bill Tetly. "There is no land available to replace what will be taken, and it would put people out of business with no possibility of continuing in their respected agricultural field."

According to TxDOT, the purpose of the corridor is to accommodate the projected increase in population and traffic both on highways and rail facilities in South and East Texas. The I-69/TTC is in an infancy stage and the hearings are part of an environmental study that will be evaluated next month. The project study area is approximately 650 miles long and generally follows U.S. Highway 59 from Texarkana and Shreveport, La., to Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley following U.S. 77 and U.S. 281. The study is a two-tiered approach, and if the Tier One study is approved by the Federal Highway Administration, Tier Two studies will focus on identifying a final route within the narrowed study area. If a final route is approved, the state will hire a private firm to plan, design, construct, finance, maintain and operate the I-69/TTC.

"This is about revenue, not roads, and it is being fueled by corrupt politicians," said Arlen Foster, a candidate for state representative from Polk County. "This would be the largest taking of private property in the United States, and they aren't even giving us the chance to vote."

Portions of the corridor could be tolled by a private company out of Mexico, an idea that does not sit well with some Texas residents.

"Why would we want to send money to foreign countries?" Tetley asked. "If the purpose of the I-69/TTC is to improve truck traffic, then we should focus our time and money into rail lines, which would only require a fraction of the land needed."

Michael Parish, a third-generation cattle and timber farmer, expressed his dissent for the corridor by challenging TxDOT to come to his farm and tell him that the compensation given would be enough.

"I have a 42-inch gas pipeline that is being constructed across my farm as we speak, and I'll be the first to say that the state's idea of just compensation differs from my own," Parish said. "Are they (the state) going to find me other land with the same high timber-producing index? Are they going to pay me for having to drive 45 minutes to another part of my land that took 45 seconds to get to before a corridor was built in the middle of it? I'd like to hear these answers, because what it looks like they are doing is taking my land and my livelihood and giving to a private company."

Texans will not have the opportunity to vote on whether or not the corridor is constructed, but the comments made at the public hearings will be considered before the project advances any further.

"We just want to provide everyone with the opportunity to get their opinion out there and let it be heard," said TxDOT official Kathi White.

In Diboll, the opinion was one-sided.

"We have not been allowed to vote, and it seems like the politicians in Austin are only interested in helping their construction and trucking buddies," Tetley said during a second turn on the microphone. "We should spend money widening existing highways, and not destroying the natural beauty of Texas."

Another hearing will be held Tuesday night at the Pitser Garrison Civic Center in Lufkin, with open house beginning at 5 p.m. and the public hearing starting at 6:30.

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