Saturday, February 16, 2008

"This will only aid human traffickers, drug dealers and politicians. We don’t need any more of those three.”

Residents rally against Trans-Texas Corridor

February 16, 2008

By Sara McDonald
Galveston County Daily News
Copyright 2008

TEXAS CITY — A massive superhighway that Texans have protested at public hearings statewide drew heated opposition among Galveston County residents, who said they feared the toll road would cripple the local shipping industry and do nothing to improve insufficient hurricane evacuation routes.

The Trans-Texas Corridor would wind from Laredo to Corpus Christi, wrap around the western edge of Greater Houston, parallel Interstate 59 through East Texas and leave the state in Texarkana.

But residents at a public hearing Thursday night in Texas City questioned the real purpose for the road, which would also be part of a national Interstate 69 corridor that would stretch from Texas to Minnesota.

Gary Newman said he didn’t think the highway would help Texans at all.

“You only need to look at the direction of these roads to see who it will help,” he said. “It will transport goods through Texas, not to Texas. This will only aid human traffickers, drug dealers and politicians. We don’t need any more of those three.”

The 1200-feet wide, 650-mile long highway would be a quick way to get goods from Mexico through the state with separate lanes for high-speed rail, utilities, 18-wheeler truck traffic and passenger vehicles.

No construction contracts have been signed for the roads, and its exact route isn’t set. The state doesn’t have a way of fronting the estimated $200 billion it would cost to build the road, so a private company would pay for the road and then collect the tolls, said Norm Wigington, regional spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation.

A Road To Mexico?

Residents worry the road is aimed to help Mexico import Chinese goods into a port on Mexico’s west coast — a proposition they fear could damage Galveston, Texas City and Houston ports.

“The maps that have always been published stop at the border, but we all know the extension of this probes all the way to the west coast of Mexico,” Frances Bertling said Thursday during a public hearing in Texas City.

“Who will ship their products to Houston, Bayport, Galveston or Texas City with this? I don’t want more jobs going overseas like they have the past 10 years.”

Whether the port development on Mexico’s west coast and a highway system to connect to the Trans-Texas Corridor will ever materialize isn’t certain.

Wigington said while he’s seen “schemes like” those include a Mexican highway, he’s unsure if one will ever be built.

“I don’t know about anything beyond the borders of Mexico,” he said.

Port of Galveston Director Steven Cernak, who wasn’t at the hearing Thursday, said he supported the Trans-Texas Corridor.

He said he thought the superhighway would help Galveston imports get around the country faster, especially because he expects the demand for Galveston’s port to increase after the Panama Canal is widened.

“It’s not a threat at all,” he said. “I view it as a balance of road, water and rail infrastructure. The economics of it are going to reach a balance point.”

Port of Houston spokeswoman Lisa Whitworth said directors there support a direct route to Mexico, also.

But the thought of Mexican imports passing through Texas concerned Ruth Pifer, who said she didn’t think Mexican imports would be inspected thoroughly.

Howard Segal said he thought that the highway would have such a concentration of goods that it would become a terrorism target.

“Whose idea was it to put all our assets in one little space?” he said. “If you were going to attack us, where would you do it? It’s stupid is what it is.”

Crumbling Roads

Other speakers, such as Herbert Turner, urged the state to use money spent researching the project on improving existing roads.

“Our roads are crumbling,” he said. “People from Galveston County are still evacuating on the same road that was built 40 years ago. That’s where our resources would be better spent.”

Wigington said although the state plans to widen Interstate 45 to improve hurricane evacuation routes, it doesn’t have money for that or an idea when that would start.

Newman said he’d rather see the state focused on fixing that problem.

“Do y’all remember Rita?” he said. “Are we not going to do anything about that?”

The transportation department will take public comment on the project until March 19, when it will summerize content from the 48 hearings across the state and present its findings to the National Highway Federation.

If the plan gets approval from it, the state will then start the second tier of its study, which would identify the exact route.

Wigington said no one at any of the public hearings he knew about supported the road.

Several speakers at the hearing asked for the corridor to be placed on the ballot so Texans could decide whether it should be built.

“This is the largest land acquisition in history,” resident David Boswell said. “We dad gum should be able to vote on it.”

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