"All of the meetings were dominated by overwhelming opposition to the state's plans."
March 15, 2008
By MATTHEW STOFF, MICHELE MARCOTTE
The Nachodoches Daily Sentinel
The first round of public comments on the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor will end Wednesday, March 19, when the Texas Department of Transportation will stop receiving input on the draft environmental impact statement. That document, consisting of hundreds of pages of maps, policy and proposed routes for the superhighway, was the subject of 46 public meetings in February up and down the corridor route, which runs from Texarkana and Shreveport, La. to Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley.
The meetings provided the public opportunities to learn more about the planned 1,200 foot wide corridor of roadway, rails and utility lines that have outraged thousands of Texans. All of the meetings were dominated by overwhelming opposition to the state's plans, which transportation officials say are necessary to hedge against a growing population and outdated infrastructure. Citizens, including over 700 from Nacogdoches who attended a meeting at the Fredonia Hotel, spoke for hours against eminent domain, foreign developers and other elements of the multi-billion-dollar project.
After all "substantive" public comments — received at meetings, through the mail or online — are evaluated by TxDOT, the agency will incorporate them into a final environmental impact statement, to be evaluated by the Federal Highway Administration, which can advance the project, edit the project or cancel it outright.
Though public input on the first draft of the document will end Wednesday, TxDOT officials have said the public will have the chance to weigh in on a Tier Two impact statement if the project advances to that level.
Many have argued against the construction of a new highway in favor of expanding existing roads, like U.S. Hwy 59. TxDOT policy, officials say, is to consider that option first, in spite of many challenges involved in upgrading existing facilities.
The complexity and divisiveness of the issues have bred grassroots uprisings and several sophisticated organizations set on halting the TTC project. Corridor Watch, a group claiming members in 199 Texas counties and 44 states, published citizens' guides to the public hearings that provide interesting if decidedly anti-corridor information to citizens.
Founders of the group, David and Linda Stall, hosted a meeting in Nacogdoches County Saturday, in the small community of Libby. At the quaint community center decorated with pale blue walls and lace curtains, David Stall criticized the TTC on multiple counts. Stall said a highway that does not connect any major urban centers could not effectively reduce traffic congestion, and he said the lack of frequent exits would make the highway both inconvenient and unsafe to everyday traffic.
"This is not your father's interstate," he said.
Some who attended the meeting were interested in bringing more national media attention to the issue, and asked for suggestions. Linda Stall said in addition to writing letters to local officials, citizens should pressure newspapers and TV stations to expand their coverage. Citizen activism, too, she said, is an effective tool as well.
"Meetings like this help all you connect with each other," she said. "They help you spread the word."
Corridor Watch is not alone in galvanizing local efforts against the project. On Monday, TexasTURF, American Land Foundation and Stewards of the Range will host an all-day workshop in Lufkin about sub-regional planning groups, a form of local government the groups say will help bring greater weight to public outcry over the highway.
TexasTURF organizers are also planning a thousands-strong march on the state capitol in April, with horses and tractors to demonstrate rural solidarity and discontent.
Comments on the draft environmental impact statement may be submitted online at http://ttc.keeptexasmoving.com/comments_questions/comments_i69.aspx or by mail to I-69. TTC P.O. Box 14228 Austin, TX, 78761.
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