Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"Unfortunately, I-69 was wrapped up into the Trans-Texas Corridor"

Trans-Texas Corridor re-routed

June 11, 2008

By Kevin Sieff
The Brownsville Herald
Copyright 2008

After a storm of opposition from Texas residents and politicians, the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor has been re-routed.

The corridor will run from North Texas to the Mexican border, and past plans called for the creation of roadways that would have necessitated the seizure of private land. However, the Texas Department of Transportation announced Wednesday that only existing highways will be a part of the project.

TxDOT's initial plan proved to be controversial at more than 50 public hearings earlier this year and might have hindered plans to improve infrastructure in the Rio Grande Valley.

"Upgrading state highways 77 and 281 - as originally proposed in the I-69 plan - to interstate standards is essential for greater economic development in our region," U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, wrote in a statement. "Unfortunately, I-69 was wrapped up into the Trans-Texas Corridor, which took private property rights from many rural communities and residents."

TxDOT received 28,000 comments about the I-69/TTC project.

Friday, nine Texas lawmakers, including Ortiz and U.S Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, wrote a letter urging TxDOT to reconsider the highway's route.

Ortiz called the Valley "the only area in the U.S. with over one million citizens that do not have access to an interstate highway."

The revised plan will allow for the widening of existing roadways but precludes the construction of a new highway in the Valley, according to Amy Rodriguez, spokeswoman for TxDOT in the Rio Grande Valley.

"The Valley was one of the areas that responded very positively to the project (in public hearings)," Rodriguez said. "But in other areas, they didn't want new roadway locations."

Much of the recommended route will follow Highway 59 from Texarkana to Victoria.

From there, the route will branch into three sections to reach the Rio Grande Valley. The project is a part of the much larger I-69 corridor, which will connect the U.S.-Mexico border to the U.S.-Canada border.

The Texas segment will be completed within the next three to five years. The currently recommended route could change again as the project enters its second phase, which will call for additional public hearings.

According to TxDOT, only new lanes added to an existing highway will be tolled, and there will not be a reduction in the number of non-tolled lanes.

© 2008, The Brownsville Herald

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