Friday, November 21, 2008

"TxDOT's last 'assessment ' was sullied by contract discrepancies."

TxDOT stands by derailed U.S. 281 study

November 21, 2008

Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyrioght 2008

The Texas Department of Transportation, booted from the lead role on an upcoming environmental study for the U.S. 281 tollway, still thinks such a study is overkill.

A less intensive "environmental assessment" finished last year took a hard enough look, TxDOT Director Amadeo Saenz said in a letter last week to the Federal Highway Administration.

If another study needs to be done, then a new assessment rather than a full-blown "environmental impact study" is the place to start, Saenz said. However, he added, he does not object if others want to exceed the requirements.

"An EIS may help address concerns related to the complex natural and human environment that co-exist in this area of San Antonio," the letter states.

Such assessments determine whether further study is needed. Federal officials had signed off on two since 2005, both of which concluded that rebuilding U.S. 281 to add six toll express lanes would not cause major impacts.

Lawsuits, the latest filed by Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, wiped out those federal clearances. TxDOT's last assessment was sullied by contract discrepancies.

Now federal officials aren't taking any more chances. They wrote back that an assessment this time will be skipped and that a full study will be done. They also don't want TxDOT heading the study.

Meanwhile, it looks like the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, which took over the 8-mile toll project from TxDOT, will step up as the lead agency for the study.

© 2008 San Antonio Express-News

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