Wednesday, January 07, 2009

“If they are not moving forward with the TTC concept, then why have they asked for its approval from the FHWA?”

TxDOT Announcement a Clever Ruse


Press Release
Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC)
Copyright 2009

Holland, Texas – Today’s surprise announcement by Amadeo Saenz, Executive Director of TxDOT, that the Trans-Texas Corridor is dead, has many believing this is nothing more than a clever political maneuver right before the 81st Legislative Session begins next week.

“If Mr. Saenz and TxDOT are to be taken seriously that the TTC is dead, then we call on him today to demand that the Environmental Impact Study for the TTC be rescinded and start the entire process over,” demanded Mae Smith, President of the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC).

Just a few months ago, TxDOT submitted a request for approval of their final environmental study for the Trans-Texas Corridor I-35 segment from the Federal Highway Administration and are awaiting its decision. “If they are not moving forward with the TTC concept, then why have they asked for its approval from the FHWA?” asked Smith, noting that until this action is taken, Mr. Saenz’s comments can be viewed as no more than a political statement.

The ECTSRPC was formed immediately after the Legislature adjourned in 2007, under a little-known statute of Section 391 of the Local Government Code. Section 391 allowed the five cities in Bell and Milam County which include Bartlett, Holland, Little-River Academy, Rogers and Buckholts, to form a regional planning commission to combat the Trans-Texas Corridor. Since that time, nine commissions have formed across the state forcing TxDOT to change their plans and appear to be working more closely with local governments.

“We appreciate the wisdom of the Texas Legislature to put laws into place in the Texas statute that gave us the ability to form a completely autonomous commission to fight the State’s lead transportation agency without any strings attached,” added Smith. “We hope the legislature will guard against any efforts to infringe on our local control.”

TxDOT has indicated it will be using their Corridor Advisory Committees and Corridor Segment Committees as a way to garner “local input” to guide them through their new plan. “That’s exactly why we formed our regional planning commission,” noted Smith who also pointed out that TxDOT’s corridor committees were not developed until after the local government commission began forming and requiring the agency to coordinate the TTC with their local governments.

TxDOT’s new plan does away with utilizing the Trans-Texas Corridor name and reduces the width of the corridor in most places from 1,200 feet to 600 feet. It also removes the “non-compete” clause from Comprehensive Development Agreements that prohibit improvements on existing highways.

“The only serious change is the removal of the ‘non-compete’ clause and most other changes are nothing more than window dressing,” stated Smith. “Although this is a great step in the right direction, we believe this is nothing more than a clever ruse prior to the Texas Legislature convening in Austin next week.” “There will be a new Speaker of the House and a new Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, which all legislation, good and bad for TxDOT, will have to pass through. What better political move could be made than an announcement that the TTC is dead right before the Session,” Smith concluded.

The ECTSRPC has held several coordination meetings with the agencies involved with the TTC project including Region 6 Environmental Protection Agency, TxDOT, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas Natural Resource Conservation Service and most recently the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. They have also received a letter from the FHWA making it clear they are currently in the process of reviewing the final environmental study for approval.

“We have no indication from TxDOT or any of the other agencies that they will be pulling back the TTC concept,” stated Smith.

Smith said the ECTSRPC’s next action will be completing the Draft Buckholts to Bartlett Rural Transportation Plan, which the 391 Statute authorizes them to prepare. “As the only planning agency in our region with the singular task of representing the rural communities in Eastern Bell County and Milam County, we felt it was critically important that we develop a transportation plan that reflects the view of the people who live here.” The first public meeting on the draft plan will take place January 13, 2008 in Holland at 6:30 p.m.

Contact: Mae Smith, President 254-657-2460