Thursday, June 12, 2008

“I think it’s a ruse. I think they’re fully committed to going forward, and this is an effort to satisfy political pressure.”

TxDOT scraps section of corridor

No word on highway plans in Central Texas


By Philip Jankowski
Taylor Daily Press
Copyright 2008

The Texas Department of Transportation announced Wednesday that proposed new highways for the Trans-Texas Corridor in East Texas will be scrapped in favor of improving existing roadways.

TxDOT said it based the decision on large amounts of public input from affected communities in the planned TTC-69 study area. The decision was already being touted as a victory for private property rights by some politicians a day before TxDOT made the formal announcement Wednesday morning.

“As a strong advocate of private property rights, I see this as a huge victory for the public,” State Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) said in a release Tuesday. “I believe utilizing existing infrastructure will be more cost efficient and have far less negative impact on family farms and small communities.”

The announcement makes no mention of corridor plans in Central Texas.

State Senator Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) said he was “pleased” with TxDOT’s decision, according to a spokeswoman from his office. Ogden authored a bill mandating TxDOT use existing roadways whenever possible and practical in the construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor. That bill passed the house and the senate but was vetoed by Governor Rick Perry.

In a letter to the Federal Highway Administration notifying them of the decision, TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz cited more than 28,000 public comments from public meetings, which overwhelmingly favored improving existing roads rather than constructing new ones.

The announcement comes on the heels of a near-vituperative Sunset Advisory Commission review of TxDOT, which blasted the transportation department as a badly managed, distrustful government entity.

That review called for the abolition of the five-member Texas Transportation Commission, replacing it with a single commissioner appointed by the governor. It also recommended the creation of an oversight committee in the state legislature.

TxDOT has been mum on the topic of Sunset’s recommendations, with no statement from Saenz, whose job would be eliminated should those changes be enacted.

Local property rights advocate Margaret Byfield, who is admittedly anti-Tran-Texas Corridor, was skeptical to the announcement, questioning whether TxDOT would follow through on the recommendation or if the decision was nothing more than political posturing in an election year.

“I think it’s a ruse,” Byfield said. “I think they’re fully committed to going forward, and this is an effort to satisfy political pressure.”

According to their release, TxDOT expects environmental impact studies for the new routes to be completed by late 2008 to early 2009, but Byfield said it would be closer to two to three years for those studies to be finished.

“Well if they actually do it, it’s good news. But just in watching them, I’m not convinced,” she said.

© 2008, Taylor Daily Press

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