Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"We do not need toll roads along existing rights of way in order to move our freight and our people along highways they have already paid for."

Interstate 69/Trans-Texas Corridor route won't go through Longview

June 11, 2008

Longview News-Journal
Copyright 2008

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. State officials are set to make a formal announcement today. State Sen. Robert Nichols broke the news Tuesday.

"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 rail and utility lines. Construction is years away, with environmental studies and financing yet to be done.

Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and Harrison County Judge Richard Anderson said they are pleased the state will not consider undeveloped land for the corridor.

"I think this is a positive development because we will not be looking at a 1,500-foot right of way cutting through the county — Harrison County or any of the counties to the north and south of us," Anderson said.

The announcement comes after TxDOT reviewed more than 28,000 comments from people who largely opposed building the new corridor.

Among public 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," 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 also will study the area and recommend what should be built in various areas of the corridor.

Much attention has been focused on the proposal to allow private construction firms to build portions of the corridor as tollways. Nichols said he's concerned about that, and Anderson said he did not want to see toll roads locally.

"We do not need toll roads along existing rights of way in order to move our freight and our people along highways they have already paid for," Anderson said.

He 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."

Roads or railways that will be built will depend on traffic and the population moving into an area, TxDOT officials said. An aspect that will be considered is how to connect the corridor with existing highways.

Longview leaders have wanted a route between Marshall and Hallsville that would make I-69 a 20-minute drive from Gregg County.

"The way I look at these types of projects is what's good for one community in East Texas is good for all communities in East Texas," Dean said. "We will have some residual economic benefits, surely. But not as much as if it was closer."

© 2008, Longview News-Journal

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