Wednesday, June 11, 2008

“Bending to the public will (kind of).”

Scaled-back Trans-Texas Corridor hailed

6/ 11/08

By Lee McGuire and Courtney Zubowski
KHOU-TV (Houston, TX)
Copyright 2008

HOUSTON -- Several sources in federal and county government told 11 News Tuesday that the Texas Department of Transportation is ending its plans to plow a massive superhighway through rural Waller, Grimes, Montgomery and Walker counties.

State Sen. Robert Nichols sent a news release confirming TxDOT's change of plans.

In a statement, Nichols said the state transportation department “will no longer explore building the TTC 69 through undeveloped areas of East Texas.”

“As a strong advocate of private property rights, I see this as a huge victory for the public,” Nichols said. “I believe utilizing existing infrastructure will be more cost efficient and have far less negative impact on family farms and small communities.”

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said that high-ranking state officials told him last week that TxDOT would send a letter to the Federal Highway Administration, asking that the east Texas portion of the so-called “Trans-Texas Corridor” be limited to expanding existing highways, such as US-59 and US-77 near Laredo.

“This is a good move,” Emmett said, citing the thousands of people who showed up to public hearings opposing the project.

Odis Styers was happy as well. The Waller County landowner is among the thousands who have been fighting the Trans-Texas plans to run the superhighway through rural communities.

During dozens of public hearings on the plan, TxDOT heard 28,000 comments – most protesting the roadway.

“I think it’s probably the greatest news rural Texas has had in a long time,” Styers said Monday.

Emmett said the state’s decision is “kind of bending to the public will.”

A spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration says the agency has not received a letter from TxDOT. However, the state highway agency has scheduled a news conference for 1 p.m. Wednesday in Austin, to discuss the Trans-Texas. Agency officials said they would not comment on the record until 10 a.m. Tuesday.

The Trans-Texas Corridor is actually two huge projects: The I-69 corridor would run roughly from Laredo to Texarkana, cutting a path through rural land west of Houston. This is the portion of the project affected by the move.

With the new plan, the question now is what impact the new route will have on Houston.

“"I don't anticipate great widening of 59 through Houston, because the idea is to get some of this interstate traffic in and around Houston more easily. (That) means there will have to be a loop and there will also have to be port connectors,” said Emmett.

The other half of the project is much further along, and is not affected by this decision: TTC-35 would parallel I-35 in a north-south swath just east of Austin.

June has been a tough month for TxDOT. Just last week, the Texas Sunset Commission urged the Legislature to abolish the entire department, citing a lack of public accountability.

On Friday, nine members of the Texas Congressional Delegation signed a letter urging TxDOT to restrict its plans for I-69 to existing highways.

© 2008,KHOU-TV

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