Wednesday, June 11, 2008

‘‘The governor is pleased with this announcement and that the Trans-Texas Corridor project is moving forward. "

TxDOT changes TTC course

June 11, 2008

By B.J. Pollock
The Fort Bend Herald
Copyright 2008

Opponents of a proposed superhighway that would slice its way through private property across east Texas to Mexico rejoiced over Tuesday's announcement that state officials have decided to ditch that plan and use only existing roadways instead.

Needville-area resident P. Johnnie Cooper, a member of a task force appointed by the Texas Farm Bureau Association to oppose the proposed route, said Wednesday morning he is happy about the victory.

“We were disturbed with them not using the present (U.S.) 59 corridor as a priority. You're going to have to deviate from it somewhere, but they just threw it away,” he said of the original suggestion using U.S. 59 as the proposed corridor.

A statement released Wednesday morning by the I-69/TTC Project Office in Austin states the Texas Department of Transportation will recommend to the Federal Highway Administration that the corridor be developed using existing highway facilities wherever possible.

After holding about 50 public meetings and receiving some 28,000 responses from the public, TxDOT said the proposed corridor is “no longer under consideration.”

TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz said the public's overwhelming sentiment was that the state should focus on using existing roadways, rather than taking away privately-owned land from residents in order to build new ones.

Cooper cited as an example TxDOT's construction of I-10 through San Antonio, rather than north of the city.

“How many houses did that displace?” he asked, rhetorically. “How much did it cost to build I-10 right through San Antonio, instead of north of it?”

Still planning toll lanes

“It's an eminent domain thing that we're fighting,” he added. “We're not against highways - it's just the way they were doing it.”

Transportation officials said they will use only existing corridors such as U.S. 59 in east Texas from Texarkana to Houston in their environmental studies for the project. They also said if existing roadways need to be expanded, only the new traffic lanes would have tolls.

“We are against establishing a toll road,” Cooper said, explaining that if U.S. 59 becomes I-69 and a tollway, no improvements will be made to Highway 35. “They couldn't do anything to improve it because it would take away from the paying road. They won't do improvements to roads that run parallel to toll roads.”

Cooper said there was concern that an entity other than the state of Texas would build toll roads, such as what occurred near Dallas.

“They're making profits - why not the state? We didn't want some other country coming in here and building a toll road and making money off it,” he said.

The TTC is a proposed network of superhighway toll roads. Gov. Rick Perry and transportation officials have defended the project, saying it is necessary to address future traffic concerns. The tolls, they say, are needed because of insufficient road revenues from the state gas tax and the federal government.

$200 billion price tag

Cost of the project is already nearing $200 billion, and it estimated it will take up to 50 years to complete. Supporters say toll roads are the only way the state's growth can be accommodated without increasing gasoline taxes.

“Farm Bureau supports transportation and knows the need for it,” Cooper responded. “This conservative organization voted for index gas tax to fund roads.”

He said the organization opposes the corridor's proposed 1,200-foot easement that is being considered for railroads, pipelines and power lines.

“What is our gullibility if we are attacked by somebody, if we put all that in one place?” he questioned.

Another concern regarding a superhighway to Mexico, said Cooper, is the possible increase in the number of illegal immigrants crossing the nation's border each year.

He said Houston's 610 Loop “is not a practical approach at all, and Beltway 8 is not really that desirable” as a possible route for the proposed I69, although “we don't really object to them putting a transportation-expedient bypass around Houston.”

In a statement released Tuesday, Perry spokeswoman Krista Piferrer said, ‘‘The governor is pleased with this announcement and that the Trans-Texas Corridor project is moving forward. We are now closer to building this road than we ever have been before.''

TxDOT will complete a detailed review of the comments and prepare the final environmental impact statement, which it is expected to submit for approval to the Federal Highway Administration late this year or early 2009.

© 2008, The Fort Bend Herald

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