Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"A huge groundswell of opposition."

Senator: I-69 to follow path of U.S. 59

June 10, 2008

The Lufkin Daily News
Copyright 2008

The proposed Interstate 69 will follow the existing U.S. Highway 59 route, meaning the cities of Lufkin and Nacogdoches — and fewer undeveloped areas of East Texas — are in its future path, the Texas Department of Transportation has decided, according to a press release issued Tuesday evening by state Sen. Robert Nichols.

TxDOT officials are expected to talk more on Wednesday about the agency's plans.

Attempts to reach Lufkin Mayor Jack Gorden for comment about the news were unsuccessful Tuesday night, but he has said he supports I-69 as long as it follows the path of U.S. 59. Gov. Rick Perry appointed Gorden, along with 17 other Texans, to an I-69 Corridor Advisory Committee.

Nichols, a Republican from Jacksonville who is a former state transportation commissioner, expressed concerns about the future of any tolled segments of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor 69 that may be financed by private companies, but said he was happy about the decision.

"I am pleased with TxDOT's decision today," Nichols stated in the release. "The department received comments from more than 28,000 Texans and the overwhelming majority of them are from East Texas. There has been a huge groundswell of opposition to the construction of a new corridor, and I appreciate that TxDOT listened to the public."

Nichols said he sees the TxDOT decision as a huge victory for the public.

"I applaud East Texas families, the Texas Farm Bureau and other groups for speaking loud and clear about their objections. Their hard work paid off," Nichols stated in the release.

Longview Mayor Jay Dean is disappointed that a proposed statewide transportation network won't be built near the city.

Instead, the Trans-Texas Corridor/Interstate 69 will be built along U.S. 59, which runs through Carthage, Marshall and Jefferson.

"The thing is, every community in East Texas would love to have that corridor run through or very near our communities," Dean said. "But common sense tells me that because of construction costs and where TxDOT is financially at this time, that it makes sense to run through existing infrastructure."

Officials have been considering two routes from the Mexican border north through East Texas. The corridor is expected to include roads, rail and utility lines. Construction is years away, with environmental studies and financing yet to be done.

Among citizens' comments was the concern that the corridor would harm farms and small communities, said Nichols, a former state transportation commissioner.

"There's been a substantial amount of opposition to the Trans-Texas Corridor," Harrison County Judge Anderson said. "The existing footprint of U.S. 59 will allay some of the apprehensions that we have about cutting a wide spot along our existing farmlands."

Before any road work can begin, TxDOT will make a formal recommendation to the Federal Highway Administration by the end of the year. It could be three to five years before an environmental impact study is complete, officials said.

Advisory committees will also study the area and recommend what should be built in various areas of the corridor.

Anderson added that he hopes TxDOT will separate the Trans-Texas Corridor from Interstate 69 and make them individual projects.

"The Trans-Texas Corridor has been very controversial, particularly in a post-9/11 world where you don't want to put the gas lines, the pipelines and the rails within a 1,500-foot corridor which could become victimized by attacks," he said.

"We need to diversify our transportation structure to make it more viable and beneficial to the people of the region and the entire country. It is a link between the South and the North."

The TTC-69 project is a statewide network of transportation routes that is expected to incorporate existing and new highways, railways and utility right-of-ways.

On the Web: www.keeptexasmoving.com.

Cox East Texas contributed to this story.

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