Saturday, June 14, 2008

"We must continue to hold TxDOT’s feet to the fire."

Texas Farm Bureau praises I-69 decision


The Liberty Vindicator
Copyright 2008

Texas farmers and ranchers are hoping that the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) recent announcement to make use of existing roadways in its plan for Interstate 69 is a positive sign when it comes to the ongoing battles with the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“We are glad to see that TxDOT is beginning to listen to what so many members of our organization have said for the past four years,” said Kenneth Dierschke, president of the Texas Farm Bureau.

Some 28,000 Texans — many of whom are members of the state’s largest farm organization — aired grievances during public meetings held at various locations by TxDOT officials along the proposed highway path.

Nearly all expressed some concerns over land lost to the multi-lane corridor, diminished access to their properties or property split by the project.

Farm Bureau has actively urged state officials to make use of existing rights-of-way whenever planning roadways to meet the transportation issues of a growing Texas.

Despite those urgings, TxDOT plans for the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor have often called for all-new tollway constructions outside existing highway footprints.

On June 11, however, the agency officially announced it would make use of existing highway rights-of-way for the I-69 construction. Newly-constructed lanes will be tolled; however, existing lanes will remain free. Most of that project will follow the path of Highway 59.

“This is a great first step,” Dierschke said of Wednesday’s announcement. “But we must continue to hold TxDOT’s feet to the fire during the next legislative session to ensure they keep these promises.”

Dierschke noted that the proposed I-69 project is only part of the Trans-Texas Corridor plans that have been released by TxDOT.

The agency’s announcement this week does not affect the project proposals along Interstate 35, which still has miles of some of the state’s best farm land under consideration as alternative stretches to the expansive highway project.

For more on TxDOT’s announcement and Trans-Texas Corridor plans, visit them online at

© 2008, The Liberty Vindicator

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Friday, June 13, 2008

Senator Nichols "violated a requested news embargo by the Texas Department of Transportation."

State senator jumps the gun on TxDOT I-69 announcement

June 13, 2008

Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2008

A state senator’s news release Tuesday violated a requested news embargo by the Texas Department of Transportation.

TxDOT had asked that the announcement of its recommendation to build the I-69 portion of the Trans Texas Corridor only along existing roadways be held until a 10 a.m. Wednesday news conference in Victoria.

State Senator Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, a former TxDOT commissioner, issued the release Tuesday night opening the “floodgates” for media outlets to use the information. State legislators and media statewide had been briefed on the announcement earlier in the day.

“Maybe we weren’t clear on the ground rules, but one legislator sent something out Tuesday night,” said TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott.

“The CBS television affiliate (KHOU) in Houston picked up on it and it was all downhill from there. We begged and pleaded that they not use it, but to no avail.

“That was the crack in the dam. I feel bad for the other media who struck to our agreement.”

The Associated Press ran a story about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

The highway department held a news conference in Victoria on Wednesday to make the announcement of the recommendation to the Federal Highway Administration news conference it had hoped would be the first news of the recommendation.

“We wanted a uniform release time. Victoria was to be the kickoff point. The folks in Victoria were as engaged as anyone across the state about using existing roadways,” said Lippincott. “We wanted to make the announcement there to honor those people.”

The Advocate abided by the requested embargo until early Wednesday morning when it became apparent other media had already run the story. A story was then posted to about 8 a.m.

Nichols, who also sits on the Senate Committee on Transportation and a select committee on Private Public Partnerships, was unavailable for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Sonny Long is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. He can be reached at 361-580-6585, by e-mail at, or comment on this story at
Be the First to Comment on this Article.

© 2008, The Victoria Advocate

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“We need to keep a close eye on this.”

Risky Business

Tolls for Tots

June 13, 2008

The Texas Observer
Copyright 2008

Texas’ School Land Board is set to invest $100 million of public school endowment funds in a controversial company that privatizes public assets of cash-strapped cities and states that need billions of dollars to support aging infrastructures.

The company, Macquarie Infrastructure II LP US, hopes to build private toll roads in Texas and across the United States.
Its Australian parent, Macquarie Group Ltd., already owns private toll roads, airports, and other infrastructure assets around the globe.

So far, Macquarie has made a handful of unsuccessful bids on toll roads in Texas, including State Highway 121 and U.S. 281-Loop 1604 in San Antonio. It is still waiting on the results of an offer for Interstate 635 in Dallas. Recently, Macquarie also entered negotiations to lease Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Another subsidiary of the Macquarie Group owns several small-town newspapers in Texas.

General Land Office Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who oversees the School Land Board, said he sees nothing wrong with investing public funds in private toll roads. “With a 15 to 16 percent annual rate of return, I don’t see a problem,” he said. “My duty is to make money for the Permanent School Fund.”

Patterson said the fund would invest nationwide and not necessarily contribute to toll roads in Texas. “This is a bluechip fund that is not just limited to toll roads,” he said.

Dallas Republican state Sen. John Carona, chair of the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, takes a more cautious view on the investment. He said this summer his committee will look closely at the policy implications of public pension fund and endowment investment in companies like Macquarie that privatize publicly owned properties.

“The state needs to invest very carefully and with significant due diligence,” Carona said. “We need to keep a close eye on this.”

Carona is concerned about reports in business publications charging that Macquarie has overpaid for projects and engaged in risky financial schemes. In a 2007 Fortune article, the magazine was critical of what it termed the “Macquarie Model,” whereby the company buys the rights to run toll roads from cash-strapped governments and then sells the roads back to the public via a stock offering.

Last April, an independent New York-based corporate governance service, RiskMetrics Group Inc., slammed the Macquarie Group for elevated debt levels, high fees, inadequate disclosure, and poor corporate governance.

Macquarie defended the performance of its funds in the 2007 Fortune article. The firm pointed out that its funds have returned an average of 19.8 percent annually and sold assets for more than twice their purchase price.

“It’s risky,” said Carona of the land board’s investment in Macquarie. “But then, with higher risk, there is a higher return.”

© 2008, The Texas Observer

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Rick Perry: "I'll see you on the battlefield."

Perry rallies GOP delegates at convention

But some question whether he should run for a third term as governor.

June 13, 2008

By W. Gardner Selby
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

HOUSTON — Gov. Rick Perry entered the Republican Party of Texas state convention Thursday and, backed by a blast of "Deep in the Heart (of Texas)," made a strong play at soothing doubts about his leadership among delegates not necessarily inclined to embrace him.

"Alone, one person can only do so much," Perry said as a horn soloist tootled. A uniformed band popped out behind him after he said Republicans amounted to a movement transforming Texas.

"So let's march on together; let's serve together; let's win together," Perry closed. "I'll see you on the battlefield."

Confetti rained on Perry and his wife, Anita, as delegates stood and applauded.

"He's a very good pitchman," delegate Kevin Massey said after Perry had finished.

The 30-minute speech ranged from Perry's fresh vow to restore the fire-damaged Governor's Mansion to a recap of measures adopted during his seven-year-plus watch intended to restrict frivolous lawsuits and abortion, ban gay marriage, cut taxes and encourage job growth.

Before Perry spoke, Massey was among some delegates who volunteered misgivings about the West Texas native who succeeded George W. Bush in the state's top elected position in late 2000.

Perry, whose tenure as governor will set a record later this year, revealed this spring that he plans to run for a third full term in 2010, making him the first major figure to declare his intentions.

Massey said he'd prefer Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst or U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison for governor.

Like some other delegates, Massey took issue with Perry's advocacy of toll roads around the state.

Dewhurst likewise critiqued Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor plan, telling delegates: "Folks, you can't build toll roads in rural Texas. For heaven's sake, don't mess with Texas private property rights."

Massey also singled out Perry's ultimately rebuffed order last year that teenage girls be vaccinated against a virus that can cause cervical cancer, and what he called Perry's lax stance on enforcing security on the U.S.-Mexico border. Perry has said he doesn't see the practicality of a border wall.

"I'm going to keep my eye on him," Massey said. "A man can say all he wants; it's what he does where the rubber hits the road."

Perry told delegates he'll ask the 2009 Legislature to find a way to return to taxpayers, through tax cuts or another mechanism, what he said will be $10 billion in surplus tax revenue by 2010-11. Dewhurst said likewise.

House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, who says the surplus will be closer to $15 billion, later told delegates: "It's your money; we need to give it back."

Perry, Craddick and Dewhurst separately drew roars from delegates by saying the Republican-led Legislature needs to pass a proposal requiring voters to present photo identification to vote. Democratic senators, saying the change would discourage voting, united in the 2007 session to stop an ID proposal.

Perry, speaking to U.S.-Mexico border security, said he would ask lawmakers to launch a state plan combatting drug gangs who help fuel criminal activities along the border.

The governor, who initially supported former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for president, called on activists to rally around presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee.

Other speakers among Republicans, who have held every statewide office since early 1999, included state Comptroller Susan Combs, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Michael Williams, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission.

They thanked about 3,000 delegates who had signed in by early afternoon for helping Republicans stay in power.

Leaders also took shots at Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Perry attended a breakfast hosted by the Texas Republican County Chairmen's Association and reminded the crowd that he'd just returned from France and Sweden before taking note of Sweden not adding net jobs since 1970.

"That's the type of socialistic program that Obama wants to bring to America," Perry said, referring to a proposal offered by Obama and other senators to require the president to devise and carry out a policy for cutting extreme global poverty in half by 2015.

In his campaign's pavilion near the floor, the governor signed poster-size photographs of himself standing grim-faced near the Rio Grande.

By noon, he'd also signed about 100 copies of his book, "On My Honor," extolling the Boys Scouts and excoriating the American Civil Liberties Union.

Christopher Harvey, a Pearland delegate who posed with Perry, said he'll be open to other gubernatorial candidates, though Perry could still draw his vote because of his record — including the appointment of Wallace Jefferson, an African American, to the post of chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

Perry's "a good, Christian man," Harvey said.; 445-3644

© 2008, Austin American-Statesman

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"It's too early to breathe a sigh of relief because TxDOT makes no guarantees that all of I-69/TTC will remain within existing corridor routes."

Legislators pleased with 'corridor' decision

June 12, 2008

By B.J. Pollock
Fort Bend Herald
Copyright 2008

Sen. Glen Hegar, R-Katy, and State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, each issued press releases Wednesday lauding the Texas Department of Transportation's (TxDOT) announcement that it will use existing roadways for the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), rather than carve out new ones through private land.

While the declaration is a welcome one that “provides some evidence that the department has finally begun to listen to the voices of local residents,” stated Hegar's press release, “this long saga is by no means over, as many questions regarding key portions of the route remain unanswered.”

He said the decision was doubtless made as a result of overwhelming public opposition and the Legislature as well. Among TxDOT's shortcomings, Hegar continued, is that is continually turns “a deaf ear” to both.

“The public showed its strong concerns early this year when some 12,000 Texans attended the I-69/TTC hearings and 28,000 comments poured in on the subject,” he stated. “The legislature targeted TxDOT with 23 interim charges and one of its arms, the Sunset Advisory Commission, issued a scathing report that took the department to task for its lack of openness, disjointed planning practices, and refusal to follow the department's core mission of listening to the people they serve -Texas taxpayers.”

Hegar described TxDOT's announcement as “a foundation for the host of further reforms that must be instituted by the department,” and said landowners can take comfort that their land is no longer threatened by eminent domain.

However, he added, it's too early to breathe a sigh of relief because TxDOT makes no guarantees that all of I-69/TTC will remain within existing corridor routes. Questions remain, he said, over whether new routes will be needed to bypass existing cities.

“Fundamentally, transportation decisions must not be based on politically timed decisions, but instead based on a sound policy of moving Texans and giving Texans true reasons to once again put their trust in the department,” said Hegar.

The “unfortunate reality” of TxDOT's announcement, he said, is that it reaffirms “what thousands of Texans had already determined a long time ago: that the construction of an entirely new route is neither economically feasible nor practical.

Hegar said if the declaration is the beginning of anything short of “a fundamental shift,” it will prove to be based on “political convenience,” rather than “a good-faith effort” to regain the trust of the public and the Legislature.

Conversely, Zerwas said he received the news of TxDOT's announcement “with much joy,” and is looking forward to the organization new focus of “upgrading the existing footprint of the existing U.S. Highway 59 to create the long-awaited Interstate 69 in order to meet the current and future demands of our transportation infrastructure.”

“I am excited to hear of this great news for Waller, Wharton and Fort Bend counties,” Zerwas said, adding he has been “working diligently” on a grass-roots effort to stop the TTC since being elected. “This is a huge victory for private property rights.”

Zerwas thanked all those who “made their voices heard and aggressively took a stand for their rights as Texans.”

He described TxDOT's announcement as part of a series of “positive changes” in response to pubic concern.

“I look forward to the challenging task ahead and stand encouraged by the cooperation between TxDOT and the Legislature,” said Zerwas. “While this announcement brings great relief, be assured I will remain vigilant in the important challenge of creating a transportation policy that meet the needs of the people of Texas and respects private property right.”

© 2008, Fort Bend Herald-Coaster

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

“We need to stay strong against the forces out there who want to sell off our highway infrastructure to foreign financiers."

Opponents laud TTC decision

June 12, 2008

Brenham Banner-Press
Copyright 2008

Opponents of an East Texas segment of the widely unpopular Trans Texas Corridor say they consider a decision to use existing rights of way a victory.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) announced Wednesday that it will recommend that the I-69/TTC Project be developed using existing highway facilities wherever possible. If additional travel lanes are added to existing highways, only the new lanes would have tolls, according to TxDOT.

“I’m glad to see TXDOT continue to move away from a corridor plan in our area,” said state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham. “Today the real heroes who deserve the credit are the constituents.

“I want thank the thousands of people who joined me in fighting the TTC I-69 for the past five years, writing letters, calling, e-mailing and attending the meetings to make their voices heard.

“This is good news about a retreat from the corridor, but the controversy over how we pay for our roads will continue.

“We need to stay strong against the forces out there who want to sell off our highway infrastructure to foreign financiers. As I have said before, Texas is strong enough to build its own highways and to make sure any toll money stays here in Texas working for Texans.”

Organized opposition sprung up in several counties, including Waller and Fayette.

TTC, proposed by Gov. Rick Perry, would be a multi-lane “super” highway that would carry vehicles and railroads through the middle of the state. Pipeline, utility and communications infrastructures would also be in the corridor’s right of way.

CBWC vice president Trey Duhon, vice president of Citizens for a Better Waller County, which opposed a proposed TTC route that would have taken it through that county, said, “Obviously, CBWC is ecstatic about the news that Waller County is no longer in the pathway of TTC-69, but many concerns remain for all Texans. Concerns such as eminent domain, public private partnerships, and the proliferation of toll roads in Texas.”

“Waller County citizens can breathe a sigh of relief, but as Texans, we should all continue to stay involved in these issues.”

CBWC officiials said scaling back TTC-69’s proposed routes is a step in the right direction, but concerns remain about the other TTC projects.

“Let’s not forget about TTC-35 (in the Austin area),” said David Stall, founder of the Fayette County-based CorridorWatch. “More than 14,000 Texans objected to that project, just as stridently as those along TTC-69. In 2006, the then Transportation Commission chairman Ric Williamson declared that Perry’s TTC-35 trumps such opposition.”

CBWC president Don Garrett said, “This is a check in the win column for some of the study areas, however, we’ve got some real concerns that the bigger war is raging on. I’d like to encourage everyone to continue to stay involved particularly as the Sunset Advisory Commission will hold a public hearing on the future of TxDOT on July 15 in Austin.

“We’re still not convinced that political appointees are the best way to run TxDOT. We believe elected officials are the only way to hold that department accountable.”

CBWC will host a legislative update Monday, June 23 at Royal High School where state Sen. Glenn Hegar and state Rep. John Zerwas will be answer questions on the Sunset Advisory Committee and the future of TxDOT.

Congressman Michael McCaul said the TxDOT decision was a “victory for property owners.”

The eastern portion of McCaul’s 10th District was included in the initial review for potential routes of I-69/TTC.

Now, McCaul said, landowners in Austin, Waller and Washington counties are now completely out of the path of the proposed toll road. Tomball and Cypress in western Harris County are now barely on the fringe of the proposed route.

“We are fortunate that most of the people in my district appear to be spared the wrath of TXDOT confiscating their land to build a toll road. But we still have work to do to make sure that peoples homes and land in the farthest reaches of my district, that have been in their families for generations, are not paved over,” McCaul said.

“The people of Texas and in my district have spoken loud and clear and the state finally got the message.”

© 2008, Brenham Banner-Press

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


“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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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Federal law requires TxDOT to re-do it's entire environmental study with their new map, new route, and new study area for the FHA's consideration."

Route Change Needs New Study

So say watchdogs looking over plans for Trans-Texas Corridor.

June 12, 2008

Bill O'Neal
Copyright 2008

It's pretty simple. A change in plans does not mean x can simply pick up where it left off with the Trans-Texas Corridor-at least according to one watchdog group that has been keeping a close eye on the proposal.

"It's obviously completely different than the route they originally promoted in the public hearings and took public comment on. Yes, they absolutely have to re-do this-there's no way around it," Terri Hall with Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom said.

"It is clear that federal law requires TXDOT to now re-do it's entire environmental study of the Trans-Texas Corridor-69 project route-given they are now submitting a new map, a new route, and a new study area to the Federal Highway Administration for consideration," Hall said, maintaining the change in plans should essentially put officials back at square one.

"They're playing some legal games with very subtle changes in language that really doesn't hold them and their feet to the fire like necessary," Hall said.

© 2008, Clear Channel

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


“As soon as it becomes fiscally viable, it will come back--like the monster in a horror movie."

TxDOT: Trans-Texas Corridor to only use existing highways


The Pasadena Citizen
Copyright 2008

In a move that took many by surprise, the Texas Department of Transportation announced June 11 that, in the words of TxDOT executive director Amadeo Saenz, “it had narrowed the study area for TTC I-69.”

In a conference call with reporters, Saenz said that as the proposal moves forward TxDOT “is going to be considering only existing highway” and “any area that is not along an existing highway will not be considered.”

This narrowing to pre-existing right-of-ways is a marked shift from TxDOT’s previous study area, which was 1,200 feet wide and was widely viewed as excessively intrusive by many Texans.

Saenz said that after 47 town hall meetings, TxDOT was listening. In fact, the TxDOT website states that “the preliminary basis for this decision centers on the review of nearly 28,000 public comments made on the Tier One DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement).”

Although the study area is now limited only to existing highway facilities and largely to existing right-of-ways, the final route is far from being set. TxDOT is currently considering two routes.

The first runs straight up U.S. 59 from Laredo to Texarkana and bypasses Corpus Christi; however, that is not a very popular idea.

“Laredo and Corpus Christi need to be linked,” Saenz said.

Because of the economic necessity of overland trade in south Texas, TxDOT is considering a proposal that utilizes U.S. 77 from Victoria through Corpus Christi to the Brownsville-McAllen area. Also under consideration is a proposal that uses U.S. 281 from Live Oak to Hidalgo as well as one that incorporates SH 44 from U.S. 59 to Corpus Christi.

Once the route passes Corpus Christi, it becomes fairly straightforward.

“We’re no longer considering anything other than 59 to connect through Houston,” said Saenz. This means that the proposed I-10 interchange in Waller County around Sealy is currently off the table, although it may resurface later.

“No one has determined where I-69 is going to go through Houston,” Saenz said. “It will be determined with planners in Houston.”

What has been decided is that the already existing lanes that are on U.S. 59 will not be retrofitted as toll lanes and communities will not lose their exits.

“If you have existing access to 59, that access will be maintained,” Saenz said. Saenz also stated that now that the Tier I phase of the study has been completed, it will take another three to five years before a Final Environmental Impact Study (FEIS) will be produced for the whole project.

After the FEIS is produced, the Segment Advisory Committee will begin considering the areas of the state that are projected to possibly need a portion of I-69 sometime in the future. Although Saenz did not provide the names of who is on or will be on the Segment Advisory Committee, he did say that the committee is made up of “elected and appointed officials” and that the committee group will determine, “based on traffic, population growth and other factors,” where segments need to be built.

Even though the announcement limiting TTC I-69 to U.S. 59 is corridor is welcome news for many in rural Texas, not everyone is ready to put it in the victory column.

“It’s a move in the right direction,” said David Stall of the anti-TTC group CorridorWatch. Stall explained that as far as CorridorWatch is concerned, TxDOT’s announcement was “motivated by two things: financial ability and political expediency.”

According to Stall, TxDOT never had the financial wherewithal to build the massive multi-lane project they envisioned and that private contractors were getting sticker shock at the thought of the construction prices. On top of that, he added, there is a hostile political climate with which to deal.

“TxDOT is going though a tough sunset review this year,” Stall said. He continued on to say that, for a few months, TxDOT executives have been talking amongst themselves about pulling back to the 59 corridor.

“We don’t feel it’s a new lease on being responsive to citizens,” Stall said. “They’ve never taken the public’s input into consideration before.”

In order to test what Stall and his wife Linda perceive to be TxDOT’s newfound public responsiveness, CorridorWatch has issued a challenge to Saenz.

“We want him to the send the same letter to the Federal Highway Administration for TTC I-35 that he sent about I-69. There was as much public input about I-35 as there was about 69,” Stall said. Stall is referring to the formal declaration Saenz sent to the U.S. government stating that TxDOT is only going to consider the 59 corridor.

Despite TxDOT’s assurances, Stall and other anti-TTC activists still are skeptical.

“As soon as it becomes fiscally viable, it will come back,” Stall said, “like the monster in a horror movie.”

© 2008, Houston Community Newspapers Online

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

“Why should we believe TxDOT now?"

Choice of existing routes along TTC-69 met with skepticism

Agency officials say choice of route was based on public feedback, not pressures from lawmakers or the Sunset Commission.

June 11th, 2008

By: Harvey Kronberg
The Quorum Report
Copyright 2008

The Texas Department of Transportation can’t catch a break.

Even today’s announcement that TxDOT would narrow its study area on I-69 TTC and use existing highway facilities whenever possible along the route between East Texas and the Texas-Mexico border was met with suspicion from Trans-Texas Corridor critics.

David Stall of the CorridorWatch issued a bulletin last night and called the decision a public relations move that lacked sincerity from TxDOT.

“Faced with pressure from state and federal officials, an unhappy Sunset Advisory Commission, and pending report from the State Auditor, it was time for TxDOT to find something they could give up,” Stall wrote. “Hello, TTC-69.”

Terri Hall of Texans United For Reform and Freedom was scornful.

“Why should we believe TxDOT now? The public has lost all trust in this agency that even the Sunset Committee calls ‘out of control,’” Hall said. “Certain landowners will no longer be affected and can breathe a sigh of relief, this project is still ill-conceived. This corridor was promised as a FREE interstate highway for decades, now they’ll convert existing freeways like Hwy 59 into privately controlled toll roads. Somehow we feel in no mood to celebrate.”

Still, TxDOT has decided to use existing roadways for I-69/TTC. That means long stretches of US Highway 59, along with segments of US Highways 77 and 281 in South Texas; State Highway 44 in the Coastal Bend; and US Highways 84 in East Texas out to Texarkana. Such a configuration would give access points to the highway on the south out of the Valley and Laredo -- possibly a TTC-69E and TTC-69W like IH-35E and IH-35W -- plus north-end access to both Texarkana and Shreveport, Louisiana.

Executive Director Amadeo Saenz, who was in Lufkin for today’s press conference with Phil Russell, said the choice came out of feedback up and down the corridor. Asked by media in Houston why the agency had changed its mind, Saenz said the agency rolled out its initial draft environmental impact statement with both existing and new alignments. Comments out of the communities stated existing roads as the preferred route.

Russell added the choice of a preferred route came when it should have, at the point where the agency sent its environmental impact statement to the Federal Highway Administration. Once that’s approved next spring, the agency will do another round of hearings to narrow down the route further and consider some of the initial options on routing through the metropolitan areas of Corpus Christi, Houston and Texarkana.

“You asked why this is so late,” Russell told the reporters from Houston. “My response is that we did not anticipate this sort of decision. That is what shows the public involvement has worked. It has taken a couple of years, but, ultimately, I think that the process of gathering public comments and doing additional analysis worked. This is exactly the right time to make the decision.”

The TTC-69 route will serve a number of purposes. While much of the initial publicity on the 600-mile route focused on Mexico-Texas commerce, Deputy Director Steve Simmons, in Austin on today’s teleconference call with Turnpike Director Mark Tomlinson, said there is still plenty of activity and new business on the north end of the I-69 highway project to make predicting the phasing of the project difficult. Construction phasing along the route could start on the north end as easily as the south end, depending on traffic, Simmons said.

Simmons said TxDOT intends to secure a consultant contract on TTC-69, just as they did with Cintra Zachry on TTC-35. That partner will work with TxDOT to plan the route; determine the phasing based on demands and traffic; and explore financing options.

Financing is still a question mark on TTC-69. Simmons said the agency would pursue any and every financial option available to the agency to build the road, from gas taxes to bonds and tolling. In addition to the main route, the agency also will consider access connections to regions of the state that want to be connected to TTC-69 through other routes, such as Bryan-College Station. Connections to the ports at Corpus Christi, Houston and Beaumont also are on the table. Funding for those connections could come from public or private funding, as well as state and local options.

In any scenario, tolling will be part of the financing solution for TTC-69, Saenz agreed, but that tolling will be limited to new capacity on the project. This is not a privately tolled road. Lanes that were free before expansion will be free after TTC-69 is complete, Saenz said. If there were four free lanes before construction, there will be four or more free lanes after the construction of TTC-69 is complete.

One of the bigger challenges for TxDOT and its partners – other than the sheer challenge of financing TTC-69 -- will be figuring out how to cross Houston. Certainly a route through the downtown Highway 59 canyon would be difficult, if not impossible. That could leave an option such as the Grand Parkway, although agency staff brush aside such speculation, which is a fairly wise thing to do given the wide number of local stakeholders out of Houston: HCTRA, HGAC, Harris County and local cities.

It’s hard to argue that some kind of reliever for Highway 59 won’t be welcome in Houston. Anyone gridlocked on Houston freeways during Hurricane Rita almost three years ago also understands what Simmons means when he suggests Houston could use additional, or even better, hurricane evacuation routes out of town.

Public meetings on the route are unlikely to happen for another year, at least. The will be part of the second phase of the draft environmental impact assessment. In the meantime, TxDOT intends to appoint segment advisory committees, which will make recommendations along the overall Trans-Texas Corridor citizen advisory committee.

A reporter in Houston – home to the 16 lanes of concrete now known as the Katy Freeway – asked whether rail was an option over the typical concrete. TxDOT official agreed the route could include transportation modes beyond new lanes.

“The TTC legislation is a procurement mechanism,” Saenz said. “It allows us to build rail and utility corridors. We would have to look at the options available.”

© 2008, by Harvey Kronberg

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"The policy applies only to the I-69 project and not the I-35 corridor leg of the Trans Texas Corridor."

Texas to consider existing roads for I-69 project

June 11, 2008

Associated Press
Copyright 2008

AUSTIN - Responding to concerns that a superhighway project running from East Texas down to the Mexico border could cut through private lands, state transportation officials said Tuesday they'll only consider putting it along existing roadways.

State officials have held nearly 50 public meetings and received about 28,000 responses from the public over the proposed Interstate 69 project and the so-called Trans-Texas Corridor.

The "overwhelming sentiment" of the public comment was for the state to focus on using existing roads instead of carving new ones out of the countryside, said Amadeo Saenz, executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation.

Transportation officials said they would only use existing corridors, such as U.S. Highway 59 in East Texas from Texarkana to Houston and U.S. Highways 77 and 281 in South Texas, in their environmental studies for the project. If existing roadways need to be expanded, only the new traffic lanes would have tolls.

While many people said they want the project built, many others were concerned they would lose land to the superhighway system, Saenz said.

"We are dropping consideration of new corridors that would run west of Houston in addition to other proposals for new highway footprint in other parts of the state," said Ted Houghton, a member of the state transportation commission.

The existing roads policy applies only to the I-69 project and not the I-35 corridor leg of the Trans Texas Corridor project, which is separate and under contract, Saenz said.

The Trans-Texas Corridor, a proposed network of superhighway toll roads, rankles opponents who characterize it as the largest government grab of private property in the state's history and an unneeded and improper expansion of toll roads.

Gov. Rick Perry and transportation officials have defended the project as necessary to address future traffic concerns in one of the nation's fastest-growing states. They also say the project is vital because of insufficient road revenues from the state gas tax and the federal government.

Cost of the project has been estimated at approaching $200 billion, and it could take as long as 50 years to complete.

Supporters of the corridor and toll roads say they are the only way the state's growth can be accommodated without increasing gasoline taxes. In the Lower Rio Grande Valley, people in the fast-growing border area between Brownsville and McAllen have noted with frustration that it is the state's largest metropolitan area without an interstate highway.

Last month, the Texas Transportation Commission adopted guiding policies for developing toll road projects in the Trans-Texas Corridor and the state highway system. They include that only new lanes added to an existing highway would be tolled and there would no reduction in non-tolled lanes.

The state also is to use existing rights-of-way whenever possible for developing new projects.

"The governor is pleased with this announcement and that the Trans-Texas Corridor project is moving forward," Perry spokeswoman Krista Piferrer. "We are now closer to building this road than we ever have been before."

© 2008, The Associated Press

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"It’ll be a constant battle to fight eminent domain and protect our property rights."

TSCRA Praises TxDOT Decision On Trans-Texas Corridor


Cattle Network
Copyright 2008

FORT WORTH--“This is great news for landowners,” said Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association President Jon Means of Van Horn in response to the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) announcement that it would use existing highways to build a large part of the Interstate 69/Trans-Texas Corridor.

“TSCRA appreciates the agency’s decision to not build the toll roads through rural lands that would threaten the private property rights of many of our members,” he said.

TxDOT’s Executive Director Amadeo Saenz made the announcement Tuesday, citing intense public opposition to the possibility that the original plan to build the superhighway, a part of the network of toll roads that would run from East Texas to the border with Mexico, could run through private lands. Saenz said he would recommend to the Texas Transportation Commission, which sets policy for TxDOT, that only existing highways be considered for the route.

TSCRA First Vice President Dave Scott of Richmond attended the briefing provided by the Governor’s office ahead of the announcement. “The decision not to bring the route west of Houston brings many of my ranching neighbors and me great relief as the original plan would have affected rural property and small towns in our area. Unfortunately, as the population of Texas grows, more pressure is going to be applied to us. It’ll be a constant battle to fight eminent domain and protect our property rights,” noted Scott.

Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association is a 131-year-old trade organization whose 15,000 members manage approximately 4 million head of cattle on 51.5 million acres of range and pasture land, primarily in Texas and Oklahoma. TSCRA provides law enforcement services, livestock inspection, legislative and regulatory advocacy and education opportunities for its members.

© 2008, Cattle Network

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Spared from the wrath of TxDOT?

Rural areas safe from Trans-Texas Corridor


Fort Bend Sun
Copyright 2008

Existing highway corridors will be used to build the Trans-Texas Corridor instead of construction in rural parts of north and west Houston, the Texas Department of Transportation announced Wednesday.

“It is clear to us that Texans want us to use existing roadways to start building the Texas portion of Interstate 69," Ted Houghton, Texas Transportation Commissioner said in a statement. “We are dropping consideration of new corridors that would run west of Houston in addition to other proposals for new highway footprint in other parts of the state.”

The announcement came to the relief of those living in Austin, Waller and Washington counties.

These areas encompass the lower portion of the 10th Congressional District, where U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul saw the announcement as a victory for his constituents.

“We are fortunate that most of the people in my district appear to be spared the wrath of TxDOT confiscating their land to build a toll road,” the Austin Republican said in a statement. “We still have work to do to make sure that people’s homes and land in the farthest reaches of my district, that have been in their families for generations, are not paved over.”

The department will study improving roads like U.S. Highway 59; though how the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor makes its way through the greater Houston area remains unclear.

A new map leaves Houston-area residents from Cypress into Montgomery County, southern portions of Liberty County, Galveston and all of Galveston County, south to Freeport through Brazoria County, and east Fort Bend County through the Richmond-Rosenberg area wondering how I-69 will effect them.

Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert said the plans in the area are yet to be determined.

Plans for the Houston area are still in progress due to “the fact that we are limited in expanding capacity on I-59 in the Houston area,” Hebert said in an interview.

He said looping around the metro area and Fort Bend will be the likely solution, but whether it will be done to the north or the south hasn’t been determined, a sentiment echoed by TxDOT.

“There is a lot more planning yet to be done before getting the project under way,” Hebert said.

While the Texas Department of Transportation has been running low on money to support the project, the Texas Transportation Commission announced earlier this month that any new lanes added to the existing highways, like I-59, would be tolled.

The existing lanes would not become toll roads.

But Hebert said that the possibility of tolling new roads may not come to fruition and will depend on the findings of the department’s review under the state’s sunset provision.

“Paving roads is expensive,” Hebert said. “But the way in which the department is managed and its financial resources are under close scrutiny, so [the tolling of new lanes] may or may not change.”

© 2008,Houston Community Newspapers Online

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"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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“They’re just doing it, and doing it under cover.”

New Trans-Texas Corridor route a bumpy road

June 11, 2008

By Lee McGuire / 11 News
Texas Cable News
Copyright 2008

HOUSTON -- On Tuesday, 11 News reported that the Texas Department of Transportation is ending its plans to plow a massive superhighway through rural Waller, Grimes, Montgomery and Walker counties.

While many are thankful the Trans-Texas Corridor won't run roughshod through their rural property, many more are concerned that the project will lead to a traffic nuisance.

And if the Trans Texas Corridor is ever going to be built, TxDOT will need people like Sean Trobaugh’s support and so far, he’s not happy.

You see, when the buzz saw’s off you can hear the Grand Parkway, even get a peek at it from his front yard.

He says he doesn’t mind the traffic, but he minds the concept. “The conceptual idea of having a massive eight lane freeway that goes from Mexico to Canada is not something I think we should be doing.”

That’s the same argument TxDOT heard from farmers west of Houston.

They said that the corridor is secretly part of a superhighway linking the U.S. and Canada.

TxDOT now wants the road to come up Highway 59 and do “something” when it gets to Harris County. No one knows what that “something” is.

“The connection in Houston is a complicated issue because there are so many variables that come into play,” said Steve Simmons. He’s TxDOT’s deputy executive director.

On Tuesday, TxDOT’s director told 11 News that one option is expanding the Grand Parkway. That expansion would begin where it meets Highway 59.

After all, the road was built with an eye for eventual expansion.

But some of that Grand Parkway option would mean plowing over farmland in the areas north of I-10.

Most residents in the area have always known the Grand Parkway was likely to expand eventually.

Another idea is completing a Grand Parkway Loop to meet the Port of Houston or TxDOT could widen the 610 Loop.

Trobaugh doesn’t trust any of it. “They’re just doing it, and doing it under cover.”

By law, county officials call most of the shots when it comes to building toll roads in Fort Bend and Harris Counties.

That means TxDOT has to work with local governments before it can do anything.

The project, if approved, won’t get started for at least three to five years.

© 2008, Texas Cable News

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"No one is removing their 'No TTC' signs just yet."

Grassroots Opponents To TTC Not Going Away

Related Link: Texas 391 Commission Alliance


by Donna McCollum
Copyright 2008

During Trans Texas Corridor hearings before the Texas Department of Transportation you found ranchers to business owners. There were retirees to school children. And strict conservatives to far left liberals. More than 28,000 of them united in the fight against the Trans Texas Corridor. Their hard work paid off.

Jan Tracy, a landowner and advocate said, " We're thrilled that TxDOT has come to their senses and that they have decided to sue the existing footprint of 59. I mean that is wonderful news, certainly for our school district and for our area. "

We first visited Tracy in her elementary classroom where children wrote letters to state and national leaders. She sees TxDOT's decision as a victory for their future. Tracy said, "Not having a 1200 foot swath coming through here is great news for all of us here."

But no one is removing their 'No TTC' signs just yet. There are still serious concerns regarding this issue.

Larry Shelton, President of the Piney Woods Alliance said, " As long as there is still a highway of this magnitude that is coming through Nacogdoches County we have every reason to stay involved, so the Piney Woods Sub-Regional Planning Commission is not going to go away. We're going to continue to engage the planning process and protect the local interest here. "

A CorridorWatch newsletter criticizes TxDOT for its lack of sincerity writing, " Faced with pressure from state and federal officials, an unhappy Sunset Advisory Commission, and pending report from the state auditor, it was time for TxDOT to find something they could give up. Hello TTC-I 69. " Shelton said, " The decision you see today has not as much to do with listening to the people as it does with election year politics. There are a lot of politicians that are afraid of losing their jobs come November. "

A changed route for TTC is a won battle for East Texas landowners, but they're far from saying the TTC war is over.

© 2008, KTRE-TV

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"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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"We don't want you, we don't want the route, and we don't want you across our farm."

Trans-Texas Corridor plans take a detour
I-69 Trans Texas Corridor

State rules out building roads through rural areas and now says it will stick to major highways

June 11, 2008

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2008

The Texas Department of Transportation said Tuesday it has abandoned plans to build part of the controversial Interstate 69/Trans-Texas Corridor through rural areas north and west of Houston.

Instead, TxDOT said, it will stick to major highways — principally U.S. 59 — for most of the route. Through the Houston area, it could stay on U.S. 59 or go on Loop 610 or the planned Grand Parkway.

In South Texas, where many residents welcomed the corridor plan, part of the superhighway would go on U.S. 281, U.S. 77 and Texas 44.

The change of plans comes after months of grass-roots opposition from rural residents in the areas under study for the route in East Texas and counties west of Houston.

Merchants along U.S. 59 who had supported the idea of making the route an interstate highway were incensed at TxDOT's announced plan to name a private partner to build and operate the corridor as a toll road and develop its own concessions along it.

The revolt spread to elected officials at all levels, leading the Legislature in 2007 to impose a two-year moratorium on long-term privately operated toll projects.

"Thank God. That is the best news I have heard in a long time," said Dennis Mlcak, who ranches in Frydek, near Sealy. The small Czech community is in the former corridor study area.

Lloyd Koppen of nearby Mixville, whose ranch lay near the center of the study area, was brief in his response: "Whooo!"

"Maybe now we can get on with our lives and make some repairs that we have been putting off," Koppen said.

TxDOT officials had planned to publicly announce the change today after briefing reporters privately Tuesday.

The story broke early, however, after others, including state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Palestine, spoke to news media about the change.

Grand Parkway in the mix

Nichols, a former member of the Texas Transportation Commission, said he sees the change as "a huge victory for the public," KHOU-TV reported.

"I believe utilizing existing infrastructure will be more cost efficient and have far less negative impact on family farms and small communities," Nichols said.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said the change would have little impact on Harris County "because we already have a fully developed U.S. 59 and they're not allowed to go in and toll. They can't lease a highway that's already been built."

The Harris County Toll Road Authority is eager to develop the northwest segment of the planned Grand Parkway, which was being considered as long ago as 2000 as the route for a future Interstate 69. That project was folded into Gov. Rick Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor plan, announced in 2002.

Under legislation enacted by opponents of the corridor idea, the county has first shot at developing the Grand Parkway if it can reach an agreement with TxDOT on its value.

Amadeo Saenz, the department's executive director, said Tuesday that TxDOT is "working closely with HCTRA" on the project. "They are just as interested in getting this built as we are," he said.

Saenz said a large share of the 28,000 comments received in 47 public hearings and 12 town hall meetings along the route expressed opposition to the project.

"A lot of them said, in essence, 'We don't want you, we don't want the route, and we don't want you across our farm,' " Saenz said. "And a lot of people said, 'Why don't you expand 59? You have a perfectly good road in 59.' "

Saenz said he will recommend to the Texas Transportation Commission, which sets policy for TxDOT, that only existing highways, principally U.S. 59, be considered for the route.

"Anything not on an existing highway will be set aside and not moved forward," he said, adding that in the distant future — perhaps 50 years from now — that may become necessary.

He said TxDOT no longer is considering bringing the route west of Houston. Earlier plans had showed the study area passing near Huntsville, Navasota, Prairie View, Waller, Sealy, Wallis, Richmond and Rosenberg, drawing intense opposition from residents.

To be built in segments

Although the revised route sticks mostly to U.S. 59, there still are spurs to the ports of Houston and Corpus Christi.

Through Houston, Saenz said, the corridor might follow U.S. 59, Loop 610 or the planned Grand Parkway. In each of eight segments, he said, the route would be decided by TxDOT with input from advisory committees of local residents and officials.

The initial phase likely would involve adding toll lanes to the present lanes of U.S. 59 and building bypasses around many built-up areas, Saenz said.

Other corridor components, such as dedicated lanes for trucks or cars, tracks for passenger or freight rail and easements for utilities, could be added later as needed, he said.

The project likely would be built in segments as needed, based on traffic growth and forecasts indicating that tolling a segment would be profitable, Saenz said. No existing free lanes would be tolled, he said.

© 2008, The Houston Chronicle

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