Thursday, October 16, 2008

“TxDOT wanted to put the people in East Texas minds at ease, but the new corridor alternative is anything but off the table.”

Groups warn TTC projects still alive


Country World News
Copyright 2008

Recent reports of the demise of the Trans-Texas Corridor-69 have been greatly exaggerated by the state’s transportation department, according to a sub-regional planning commission formed to take on the massive highway project.

Connie Fogle with the Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission said an announcement by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) that recommended upgrading U.S. Highway 59 to an Interstate, rather than build the TTC-69 corridor, was simply a diversionary tactic.

“They wanted to put the people in East Texas minds at ease, but the new corridor alternative is anything but off the table,” Fogle said. “TxDOT is still very much considering the new corridor.”

The commission recently received a letter from Dennis Cooley, TxDOT’s District Engineer from Lufkin, indicating that the new corridor alternative will remain in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that it will submit to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) for final approval.

The letter from Cooley states that TxDOT will only recommend advancing the TTC-69 project along existing highway facilities where it is practical.
“The key word is ‘practical,’” Fogle said. “That gives them the leeway to decide where it’s practical and where it isn’t. They’re ready to put that into the Final Environmental Impact Statement, but the truth is, they haven’t made a study of the (project’s) impact on the environment. We had a meeting scheduled with EPA about this very matter, but we had to postpone it because of Hurricane Ike. But we’re not going to let it go.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry proposed the Trans-Texas Corridor in 2002 as a series of six-lane highways with separate high-speed rail lines, truck lanes and utility corridors criss-crossing the state. Each corridor could be as wide as 1,200 feet.

The Governor and TxDOT have promoted the TTC as a solution to the state’s transportation problems, but the project has met with formidable opposition, particularly in rural parts of the state where the corridors would have the biggest impact on small towns and agricultural interests.

The first leg of the proposed TTC system is TTC-35, which would run about 600 miles from Gainesville to Laredo, roughly parallel to IH-35.

TTC-69 would run generally southwest to northeast along a 650-mile long route first mapped for IH-69, from the Gulf Coast to Texarkana.

In the past year, several sub-regional planning groups have formed under the authority of Texas Local Government Code, Chapter 391, which requires state agencies “to the greatest extent feasible” to coordinate with local commissions to “ensure effective and orderly implementation of state programs at the regional level.”

An Eastern Central Texas commission was formed in August of 2007 to challenge TTC-35. The Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission was formed in February of 2008 in response to TTC-69. There are now nine such planning commissions in the state.

“There is a lot at stake here,” Fogle said. “Once you concrete over that much land, it’s not coming back. You’ve lost all that agricultural land, plus, here in East Texas we have a lot of timber, and hunting is big business here too.”

In a June 11 press release, Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton said public input on I-69 led the commission to recommend using existing infrastructure whenever possible along the I-69 corridor.

“When needs are identified in the I-69 corridor, we will look at existing infrastructure and work with local officials to upgrade that facility to meet transportation needs,” Houghton said. “It just makes sense. As Texans pointed out to us, a facility built on new location may be unnecessary when an existing one can be improved to handle demand.”

Fogle said the Trinity-Neches sub-regional commission is not buying it.

“We believe, based on the way TxDOT has handled this from the first, that they are just saying that so people will think it (the new corridor proposal) is off the table,” she said. “They’re building this around a plan, not a need. We think they’re going to stick with the original plan if everybody eases up on them because they think they’re only going to use upgrade existing facilities.”

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