Saturday, June 21, 2008

"Nothing has changed. The Commission and TxDOT are hell bent to sign deals and give away the farm before the legislature can rein them in. "

TxDOT Ready to Sign TTC-69 Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA)


David Stall
Copyright 2008

The Texas Transportation Commission never fails to amaze us.

Bottom line - this leopard has not changed its spots. Nothing has changed. The Commission and TxDOT are hell bent to sign deals and give away the farm before the legislature can rein them in. Rain, sleet and snow won't stop the mail; and, moratoriums, legislative intent and a sunset review won't stop TxDOT.

Just a week ago TxDOT tried to impress everyone with how responsive they could be as they announced their recommendation that TTC-69 focus on using existing facilities rather than building a new highway. The only thing that changes is where the TTC is built.

That action was a slap in the face to tens of thousands of Texans who are still in the path of TTC-35, which is still marching forward at full speed. Apparently they don't rate the same consideration as the Texans in east Texas.

Today we have discovered that TxDOT is about to slap the entire Legislature across the face. Remember the moratorium?

Last year Senate Bill 792 added section 223.210 to the Texas Transportation Code and put a moratorium on certain terms placed in Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs) of toll projects. The key limitation is that a CDA may not contain a provision permitting a private participant to operate a toll project.

The Texas Transportation Commission will meet in Austin next Thursday, June 26, 2008. Item 6a on page three of their agenda reads: "Act on the recommendation of department staff concerning: (1) the selection of the best value proposal for the planning, development, acquisition, design, construction, financing, maintenance, and operation of the element of the Trans-Texas Corridor System from Northeast Texas to the Texas/Mexico border (I-69/TTC); and (2) the execution of a comprehensive development agreement for I-69/TTC"

That's right, selecting a proposal for among other things the operation of TTC-69 and execution of a CDA. Wouldn't that be a CDA permitting the private participant to operate a toll project?

We have little doubt that TxDOT legal staff has spent plenty of hours carefully preparing a loophole that they think they can stretch wide enough to get their TTC CDA past the law. But even if they can, was the legislative intent so dim that they couldn't see that our law makers wanted them to wait another 12 months?

We can't wait to see this loophole. Will TxDOT pretend that TTC-69 isn't necessarily a toll project? No they couldn't be that stupid could they? Could they? Maybe they'll strip the offending "operation" element out of the proposal. Can they do that after the competitive proposal solicitations was issued?

Last week TxDOT told us that they were listening to the people wanting to work with their Congressional delegation and the Texas Legislature; this week their pants are on fire!


© 2008, CorridorWatch:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Friday, June 20, 2008

"The first of an expected long line-up of major infrastructure companies to go to the sharemarket for a handout."

Toll road operator shifts into reverse

June 20, 2008

Scott Rochfort
Sydney Morning Herald
Copyright 2008
TOLL road operator Transurban has become the first of an expected long line-up of major infrastructure companies to go to the sharemarket for a handout, after it yesterday announced plans to raise around $1 billion in capital in an effort to reduce the level of debt on its balance sheet.

In a stark reversal to Transurban's deliberate strategy of gearing-up its balance sheet under former chief executive Kim Edwards in late 2006, the group's new CEO Chris Lynch said the model of using debt to fund distributions was "not sustainable in this market".

Advocating a "new investment proposition to the market", Mr Lynch said the increased cost and difficulty in raising debt meant the company needed to return to a "more basic business philosophy".

"This is more a fair dinkum business that we're talking about here. What we've got are great assets and we've got strong cash flows that will grow coming off [the equity raising]," Mr Lynch said.

Transurban, operator of Sydney's M2 motorway and Eastern Distributor and Melbourne's CityLink, maintained its guidance of a 58c payout this financial year.
But in a rude shock to Transurban unit holders reliant on the distributions paid by the company, it said distributions would fall to 22c next financial year.

But Mr Lynch stressed the capital raising and new distribution policy would put Transurban on a sounder footing to allow it to fund new initiatives, such as Vancouver's Port Mann Highway project for which it is shortlisted.

"We'll have a lower yield than we would have if we targeted the aggressive debt-based distribution," he said.

"But we'll also have a much better growth story because we'll have an underlying business that can do some things other than figure out how it's going to feed this big distribution."

Transurban said a placement of 120 million shares managed by UBS would be fully underwritten by the Canadian Pension Plan, with which it has partnered several toll-road projects.

A further 75 per cent of the group's planned $239 million (29c per security) second half distribution reinvestment plan has been underwritten by UBS, and up to $100 million of stock will be offered to retail shareholders via a share purchase plan. The purchase plan will be capped at $5000 per unit holder and at a 2.5 per cent discount. In all, the raising will represent about 16 per cent of Transurban's current market value.

Transurban shares remained in a trading halt yesterday but the move was enough to trigger a sell-off in other toll road operators, such as ConnectEast, the owner of Melbourne's yet-to-open EastLink. Its shares plunged to a new low.
Macquarie Infrastructure fell 24c to $2.68, while the ports operator Asciano plunged to a new low of $3.32 on concerns it could be forced to raise capital to ease its crippling debts.

It is less than two years since Transurban started loading more debt on to its balance sheet.

At the group's annual meeting in 2006, Mr Edwards argued the re-gearing of Transurban's balance sheet would not raise its cost of debt.

© 2008, Sydney Morning Herald:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"The Billion-Dollar Bottleneck"

Worst bottlenecks in North Texas? Right here in Tarrant


By Bud Kennedy
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2008

We’re No. 1.

But not in a good way.

Northeast Loop 820 in Hurst is the worst bottleneck in all of North Texas, according to a new study that ranks the region’s roads among America’s most choked, behind only Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Washington.

There’s more bad news.

Not only is the 820-Airport Freeway interchange the No. 1 bottleneck — worse than anyplace in Dallas— but the Loop 820 exits at Denton Highway and Rufe Snow Drive are Nos. 2 and 3.

Overall, Northeast Tarrant County drivers face worse traffic than anyone in Dallas or Houston, according to a study of truck GPS data compiled by INRIX Inc. of Seattle.

Only Austin — where Interstate 35 amounts to a 5-mile-long elevated parking lot — has a freeway as crowded as Loop 820, and that city’s traffic overall is nowhere near as bad as Fort Worth’s.

What’s more, the region’s No. 4 worst bottleneck is Interstate 35W north of downtown Fort Worth. It’s congested an average of 7 hours a day.

Basically, Houston and Dallas already fixed their roads. We’re waiting for state money.

I would like to assure you that every county and city official is working on the problem.

But I couldn’t find many of them yesterday. For all I know, they were stalled in traffic at Holiday Lane.

When North Richland Hills Mayor Oscar Trevino called back, he was weaving down neighborhood streets to escape U.S. 377.

He described Loop 820 as "just ugly."

"The people who have to drive that every day don’t say nice things," he said. "It’s bad for our city. Businesses want to come, but they see the traffic and say, 'Why would I get into this?’ "

County Judge Glen Whitley is very familiar with the time-waste potential of Loop 820. He lives in Hurst.

"It’s a big drawback to the whole county," he said. "The traffic north of Fort Worth is so unreliable that nobody can predict how long it’ll take to get to work."

There’s a solution in the making. But lots of Texans won’t like it. Three Spanish-owned companies are in the running for a $1 billion contract to widen Loop 820 and operate two private toll lanes. The toll would be $4 each way.

The project is part of the North Tarrant Express, a new tollway network slow off the drawing board in Austin.

"We can’t get Austin to move forward," Whitley said. "It’s ridiculous that this is the last part of Loop 820 to be improved."

A public hearing July 1 at 7 p.m. at Richland Hills Church of Christ will give both residents and tollway-haters a chance to vent about both the slow plans and high tolls.

Terri Hall of San Antonio leads an anti-tollway group, Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom (TURF). She said she opposes any private tollway. "The bottom line is, this the most expensive way to expand that road," she said. "It means the highest possible cost to taxpayers and drivers, and hands over money to foreign companies. When the state has a record budget surplus, it’s hard to see how there’s not money for that road."

Call it the Billion-Dollar Bottleneck.

© 2008, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Thursday, June 19, 2008

"They can dust off the preferred alternative corridor and when the financing is in place and the election cycle is past us, proceed as planned."

Caution! Don’t Be Fooled!

Related Link: Texas 391 Commission Alliance


Letters to the Editor
The Groveton News
Copyright 2008

Dear Editor,

I would encourage you to ask some tough questions on the TTC-69 project to those politicians who are taking credit for its demise.

I am an associate member of the Trinity-Neches Sub-Regional Planning Commission, which was formed this spring under Texas Local Government Code Chapter 391,

Our commission was formed to prevent TTC-69 or other multi-modal transportation systems from coming through Trinity and Polk Counties. Members include Trinity mayor Lyle Stubbs, Groveton Mayor Troy Jones, Corrigan Mayor Grimes Fortune and local businessman and former elected official Bob Dockens. We are in the process of bringing in associate members from the Trinity ISD, Groveton ISD, Apple Springs ISD and Camden/Corrigan ISD as well as 3 Water Districts. The commission’s jurisdiction includes over 600,000 acres within these two counties.

To fully understand the language contained within the existing Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) specific to TTC/I-69. This is a very important document that is the basis for all “build/no-build” projects within TxDOT. It is federally mandated and trumps all financing issues. Without federal approval, nothing happens.

TxDOT chose to use a “tiered” process to construct the DEIS. In Tier One (the current version that was a basis for public comment) they present only two (2) alternatives for discussion: 1) NO BUILD; or 2) the Preferred Alternative Corridor, which is the path that snakes around Houston to the north and destroys farms, ranches and timberland through some of the most pristine parts of East Texas. At the public meetings this past Winter/Spring everyone had the choice between these two options. As I understand it, some 28,000 comments were submitted with the overwhelming majority choosing the NO BUILD alternative.

TxDOT chose to move ALL DISCUSSION and ANALYSIS of Existing highways (ie—US 59, US 77, etc) to the Tier Two analysis citing that they simply do not have the data available to accurately analyze this alternative. This is interesting, since you would think an existing highway would have volumes of information on costs, environmental considerations, etc. I found quite a bit of cost information on past projects related to widening US 59 north of Humble during a brief internet search.

Many of us, including the Sierra Club, find this prejudicial and not in keeping with the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) guidelines for the administration of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), which sets the guidelines for an acceptable DEIS report.

Approval of the current even if they claim to be using the existing highways “whenever possible” does not preclude the use of the preferred alternative corridor at some point in the future. They can simply dust it off and, when all of the financing is in place and the political election cycle is past us, proceed as planned.

I cite documents from Deputy Director Steve Simmons in last week’s press: “In addition to the main route, the agency also will consider access connections to the regions of the state that want to be connected to TTC-69 through other routes, such as Bryan-College Station.” Simmons then went on to say: "TxDOT intends to secure a consultant contract on TTC-69, just as they did 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.”

Wait a minute – they say they were going to use the existing right-of-way on current highway. Why do they need to plan the route? It should be self-evident. And then there is the discussion of the “connectors” to places such as Bryan-College Station; well, if you look at the map of the preferred alternative corridor that everybody opposed in the Tier One Process, we are right back to where we started – only now if the DEIS goes to Final, we won’t have any say where or how they build. All options currently identified in the Tier one Study of the existing DEIS will be fair game.

© 2008, The Groveton News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"TxDOT is hoping everyone will take the bait and it seems as though they have."

The Bait and Hook Scam

Related Link: Texas 391 Commission Alliance


Letters to the Editor
The Groveton News
Copyright 2008

Concerning the Trans-Texas Corridor

By now everyone is East Texas has heard it on the 5 o’clock news or read in some newspaper about TxDOT changing the TTC course and it will not be going through East Texas. And we did this merely by voicing our opposition at the TTC hearings!!!

I cannot tell you how many excited calls I have had saying “We won; they won’t be going through Trinity /County.”

Well, I hate to burst everyone’s bubble, but this is just another ploy to get the counties who have failed to establish a Sub-Regional Planning Commission to quit trying. TxDOT is hoping everyone will take the bait and it seems as though they have.

In my mind, you put it all together and the agencies have set up a scam a bait and hook” –the bait is to get all commissioners to back away with the general public and consider that TxDOT has done the right thing, from public pressure; the hook is when the public and commissioners do that, the prey is trapped. Then, sometime in the next 3 or 4 years, when all financing and plans are ready for construction, Tier 2, which will have begun without scrutiny, will suddenly find why they must go from established routes to a route that destroys the ecosystem, which we’re trying to save. And, then its: “Oh my”, “we tried so hard, but we’re sure the people will understand that we tried and it just didn’t work. Sorry…

The Houston Chronicle on June 11, 2008 reported Amadeo Saenez, TxDOT’s Executive Director as saying: He will recommend to the Texas Transportation Commission, which sets policy for TxDOT, that only existing highways, principally US 59, will be considered for the route. “Anything not on an existing highway will be set aside and not moved forward, adding that in the distant future—perhaps 50 years from now—that may become necessary.”

The Huntsville item wrote on June 11, 2008: 'TxDOT to look at using existing roads for corridor." Saenez was quoted as saying “Any route that was a new location is no longer going to be moved forward—it’s out of the mix. I can’t say it’s never going to happen, because 50 years from now someone might need to build a second or third loop around Houston.”

Quiz: Can you find the loophole at the end of each statement?

This is not a dead issue by any means. The Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission and the Piney Woods Sub-Regional Planning Commission are working diligently to ensure that TxDOT does not get to Tier II of the DEIS.

I urge all those counties that have not yet established a Sub-Regional Planning Commission to DO so ASAP. This is the only legal way to have control over whom and what goes through your jurisdiction.

Connie Fogle, member-At-Large,
Trinity–Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission

© 2008, The Groveton News:

Related Link: Texas 391 Commission Alliance:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"TxDOT is legally obligated to start its entire environmental-study process over ."


Trans-Texas Corridor slims down


By Joshua A. Hughes
San Antonio Current
Copyright 2008

Unable to ignore the 28,000 Texans who complained about the 650-mile Trans-Texas Corridor, which is slated to cut through east Texas on its route from Mexico to Louisiana, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has agreed to improve existing highways, not build new ones, to construct the TTC.

This is a change from TxDOT's plan to use eminent domain, the state's legal ability to acquire land for public-works projects, regardless of whether or not the owner wants to sell. The citizens, farmers and small businesses who would have been uprooted by this plan expressed their opposition in meetings held this winter and spring along the proposed route.

The primary highway improved will be US-59, which will be brought up to interstate standard, according to TxDOT spokesperson Mark Cross.

In a March 19, 2008, letter that was released to the public, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison expressed her opposition to using eminent domain to construct the highway. She applauded TxDOT's recent decision, saying, “By using existing right-of-way, TxDOT will more efficiently utilize taxpayer dollars while also limiting the negative impact on farm land and businesses.”

With a change in the route comes new problems, however. Citizens have called for a new environmental survey and many are worried that tolls will accompany the new project.

"The rural areas don't have enough traffic to be toll viable," Terri Hall, founder and executive director of the non-profit group Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, said, which she speculates will lead to tolls on existing roads in more urban areas. Tolling roads that have already been paid for through taxes is a double tax, Hall said.

Hall predicted that TxDOT will use sleight of hand to do this by turning existing freeways into access roads, with traffic signals and slower speed limits, and tolling the new freeways built in their place.

Cross denied the allegations that existing roads would be tolled or relegated to access roads. "The only thing that could possibly be tolled would be additional new lanes that could be built" Cross said. "We would not take away the free, main-lane access."

Cross said that now that the route has been settled, TxDOT can narrow its environmental-study plan, simply refining the studies already completed. He predicts that this will be completed by spring 2009.

But Hall says TxDOT is legally obligated to start its entire environmental-study process over however, which would include public hearings and surveys. Hall says that she has spoken to three experts on the National Environmental Policy Act, all of whom said that TxDOT is legally obligated to start over.

© 2008, San Antonio Current

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Stall: "This isn't an honest reaction to public opinion. It’s more of a reaction to political popularity--not to the responsible needs of the people."

TTC/I-69 plans scrapped in Austin County


By Tracy Dang, Managing Editor
The Sealy News
Copyright 2008

Residents of Austin County and surrounding rural areas will not have to worry about a possible 1,200-foot corridor going through historic farmlands that have been in the family for generations.

The Texas Department of Transportation announced it will only consider expanding existing highways in future proposals of the Trans-Texas Corridor/Interstate-69 project.

“Any corridor that was not on existing highways will be set aside,” TxDOT executive director Amadeo Saenz said. “It will not move forward. It’s out of the mix.”

The decision was based on approximately 28,000 comments received from the 47 public hearings and 12 town hall meetings along the route, where residents showed strong opposition to the project.

“A lot of the comments were, in essence, ‘We don’t want you; we don’t want the TTC; we don’t want you going across our farms,’” Saenz said. “A lot of people also said, ‘Why don’t you go out there and use existing corridors? You already expended them in some ways.’”

TxDOT’s change of plans means future proposals of the route will remain primarily along U.S. 59 and fork off U.S. 281, U.S. 77 and/or Texas 44 in the south, where many support the TTC.

In Houston, there is a possibility it will follow Loop 610 or the planned Grand Parkway, while proposed routes to the north and west of Houston have been permanently removed from the project.

“If you look at Austin County, U.S. 59 does not go through Austin County,” Saenz said. “The proposed route will be set aside. (Residents) don’t have to worry about that as far as the I-69 project is concerned.”

Even though TxDOT’s recent decision applies to the TTC/I-69 project, it does not eliminate the possibility of future projects to address growing transportation needs.

“I can’t say it’s never going to happen,” Saenz said. “Fifty years from now, someone may need to build a third loop around Houston or build another road.”

That is why some feel it is important for residents to “not let their guard down.”

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Rep. Lois Kolkhorst said. “ We have to be sure when we talk about the loop around Houston. It’s a grey area, and we need to be careful about our options and how we’re going to make sure that it still doesn’t impact our district. I think we need to stay very cognizant that we are still going to have to look at issues on how to fund highways, and I’m still under the impression that Texas is rich enough to fund its own highways.”

“I believe that we still have to approach the 2009 legislative session to limit the tools that TxDOT has ready in terms of our roadways in Texas,” said Martha Estes, a member of Citizens for a Better Waller County who has been active in the anti-TTC effort.

“If it’s not I-69 or U.S. 59, then it’s whatever next road is proposed,” she said. “All of the grassroots people should not feel like we can rest easy if those tools are still there.”

Others say the change of plans does not remove other concerns they have about the project.

“It’s certainly a tremendous relief to the lives that were in the direct path of the corridor, but we think the ones along the I-35 corridor merits the same consideration,” said David Stall, cofounder of the anti-TTC group

“The biggest issue we have is this is not an honest reaction to public opinion,” he said. “It’s more of a reaction to political popularity and not to the responsible needs of the people. There are millions of people being thrown under the bus.”

Still, the decision is a victory to those in the rural areas.

“I’m super-duper proud of the people and the constituencies that came out and took the time to go to the town hall meetings and took the time to write letters,” Kolkhorst said.

“It’s a perfect example of the grassroots’ ability to engage their elected officials in their needs and desires,” Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski said. “We as a local government have worked really hard in the proper channels to be our voice for our citizens and our residents, being respectful of the fact that we have transportation needs, but not at the expense of our historical sites and farms and ranches that have been in the families for more than a century and showing the respect for our drainage and wildlife concerns.”

“Nobody wanted it,” Sealy Mayor Nick Tirey said. “We didn’t want it cutting off our county. We were worried about our emergency services - what was going to happen and where we were going to be able to get through. Plus the fact that it was going to go through Frydek and homes that have been there for 100 years. We have to address our transportation needs. We know there’s something else that is going to be coming, but we avoided what we didn’t want.”

TxDOT said it will complete the Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement and submit it to the Federal Highway Administration for approval.

“The final EIS, we’re probably looking at very late 2008 or early 2009,” Saenz said. “Then we’ll start looking at left or right of U.S. 59 and if it’s going to highway, truck lanes or rails. That will take another two or three years after that. It’ll be another three to fives years before we will have a final EIS for Tier 2.”

For more information about the proposed TTC projects, go to

© 2008, The Sealey News

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"After the November elections the original plans may resume, pending exactly who gets put into office."

'A victory for the little people'

TxDOT's revised plans for Trans-Texas Corridor/I-69 remain a concern for many East Texas landowners

June 15, 2008

The Lufkin Daily News
Copyright 2008

For years, government officials, Texas Department of Transportation spokesmen and rural landowners have gone toe-to-toe over where the Trans-Texas Corridor/I-69 would be placed and over whose land it would run through. Highway opponents have said some of the proposed routes would have threatened farms, family cemeteries and natural lands.

Concerns seemed to be quelled however, when TxDOT officials stated at a Wednesday press conference that the old format had been abandoned and the new route would encompass the already laid track of U.S. 59, one of the main thoroughfares through Angelina County.
Joel Andrews/The Lufkin Daily News

But with the new plan comes an old issue, the "S" idea, in which the superhighway would snake around Diboll and Lufkin, resulting in rural lands yet again being placed in I-69's path.

While some local land owners are once again up in arms over the decision, some politicians, like state Rep. Jim McReynolds (D-Lufkin), said they were pleased with Wednesday's announcement.

"I think this is a victory for the little people, people like me," McReynolds said Wednesday. "You know, 18 percent of us live on 80 percent of the Texas land mass. They need to listen to us and they have. Today is a first step."

McReynolds said the original plans would have greatly impacted the region.

"Both the small and large land owner that the TTC would have crossed would have suffered. Many people would have lost their livelihood. Timber is a 30-year crop, with many generations planted," McReynolds said. "No longer would we get to enjoy hunting, fishing and camping. Some people's ancestors are buried where the road would have gone, and there's no way to put in the corridor without cutting off county roads that people have used for decades."

The state representative believes the announcement will quell landowner's concerns and that TxDOT will be further scrutinized to make sure that they stay on track.

"Approximately 25,000 people testified against this. We're telling TxDOT: 'We'll help you plan this stuff, fund you, do what we need to do, but you're through telling us where to build highways,'" McReynolds said. "The folks in East Texas can have satisfaction now, and take down their signs. I know I'm saving mine to bring back out and look at 20 years from now."

But not everyone is ecstatic about the announcement.

Hank Gilbert, a board member for the watchdog group Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, said he has been talking to local landowners and that the resounding reaction is not a happy one.

"TxDOT made a revelation that they are abandoning the corridor idea," Gilbert said. "Now they'll revisit the plan they came up with several years ago, a loop running from the north of Nacogdoches to the south of Diboll, which will be a tremendous amount of land taken out through the counties. Nobody seemed to be taken aghast about it, but if I lived in that area I would be concerned."

Gilbert is worried that TxDOT is saying one thing and doing another, playing a "shell game," and that after the November elections the original plans may resume, pending exactly who gets put into office.

"What's scary about TxDOT's language about using existing roadways is that they're telling people that existing lanes are gonna be free, only new lanes will be tolled. What they're gonna do is make existing lanes into frontage roads," Gilbert said. "According to the announcements yesterday, that's back on the planning board. We're going to make recommendations that rather than building the 'S' loop they can make modifications to the existing loop, which will be very minute in land acquisition. The people in Diboll and Angelina County have another monkey on their back and, either way, they're gonna have to look at some outer loop to get away from those red lights."

The Sunset Committee, an oversight group designed to monitor state agencies, is convening again this fall and the TTC will fall under scrutiny, according to McReynolds, but Gilbert said he and TURF aren't so sure the project will get the attention it deserves.

"We want to make sure that TxDOT does what they're supposed to do and is less intrusive to property owners," Gilbert said. "TxDOT's under the gun by the Sunset Committee, but every legislator on the committee voted for these bills, so I don't think they'll get anything done. There's a lot of money on the table, and people need to be aware of who their representatives are taking it from. Here in East Texas, the people's rights have not been represented."

James Glover's land, near Angelina County airport on U.S. 59, falls directly in the path of the proposed "S" route, but he doesn't seem to think the TTC will have too much of an impact on his home.

"I know it's gonna be a mess when they build that freeway," he said. "I sit out on my front porch and, Lord have mercy, there's so much traffic up and down 59 right now. I know it's gonna hurt business in Diboll if they pass it up, but I don't think it would bother me if they built the thing close to my property."

Glover said TxDOT originally planned to buy his land, which sits on the east side of the freeway, but later they decided to build on the opposite side instead.

"I think it'd be a good thing if they build it," he said, "but I don't know if I'll ever live long enough to see it happen. They've been talking about building it for years."

© 2008, The Lufkin Daily News

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Slowly Devouring a White Elephant

Texas Corridor detour: Officials nix land grab

Toll plan tossed: 'Any area that is not along an existing highway will not be considered'

June 14, 2008

Copyright 2008

Opponents of a plan to build a Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) road and rail system from Mexico to Oklahoma received welcome news this week, as Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials announced their strategy would no longer include building new highway routes southwest of Houston, a plan that would have annexed huge tracts of private land.

The $184 billion TTC project originally called for a 4,000-mile network of transportation corridors, 1,200 feet wide, to be built across Texas. The plan would have taken about a half million agricultural acres out of private hands, leading to a maelstrom of objections from Texas landowners.

But now TxDOT executive Director Amadeo Saenz says plans have changed. In a conference call with reporters he said TxDOT "had narrowed the study area for TTC I-69" and that the department "is going to be considering only existing highway" routes, and "any area that is not along an existing highway will not be considered."

"This is great news for landowners," said John Means, president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. "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."

The TxDOT website states that "the preliminary basis for this decision centers on the review of nearly 28,000 public comments made" on the issue. Saenz added that 47 town hall meetings with Texas residents had further influenced the decision.

Brehham, Tex., State Rep. Lois W. Kolkhorst, who joined in the battle to protect rural lands from the project, told The Huntsville Item, "The real heroes who deserve the credit here are the constituents. I want to thank the thousands of people who joined me in fighting the I-69 TTC for the past 5 years, writing letters, calling and attending meetings to make their voices heard."

Though opponents of the TTC celebrate victory in this battle, they have been quick to point out that the war is not over.

"This is good news about a retreat from the corridor," Kolkhorst said, "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 sources."

"This is a great first step," said Kenneth Dierschke, president of the Texas Farm Bureau. "But we must continue to hold TxDOT's feet to the fire during the next legislative session to ensure they keep these promises."

David Stall of the anti-TTC group CorridorWatch is also wary of crying victory too soon. Speaking of TxDOT, Stall told a Houston Community Newspaper, "They've never taken the public's input into consideration before."

Part of the concern is that the announcement to limit the TTC's scope only included project proposals south and west of Houston. The announcement did not mention plans for the northern I-35 corridor.

"We want (Saenz) to send the same letter to the Federal Highway Administration for TTC I-35 that he sent about I-69," Stall said. "There was as much public input about I-35 as there was about 69."

Stall also worries that TxDOT was motivated largely by "financial ability and political expediency," warning, "As soon as it becomes fiscally viable, it will come back."

For now, landowners in southwestern Texas are breathing a sigh of relief and preparing for future battles if necessary.

Last year Amy Klein, a member of CorridorWatch, quoted Stall in the Gainesville Daily Register with words that are just as meaningful now to the group as they were then. "You eat an elephant one bite at a time," she quoted. Then she added, "I think we're slowly devouring this elephant."

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