Wednesday, January 07, 2009

"Once agricultural land is gone, it’s gone forever. We’re already dependent on other countries for gas and oil..."

State scraps plans for Trans-Texas Corridor


By Ron Maloney
The Seguin Gazette-Enterprise
Copyright 2009

SEGUIN — The Trans-Texas Corridor, a much-maligned toll road network championed by Gov. Rick Perry since 2002, dropped from the fast track this week.

On Tuesday, the state transportation commission announced a scaling-down that would half its footprint — and cast doubt over whether parts of it would ever be completed.

Texas Department of Transportation executive director Amadeo Saenz unveiled new guidelines for developing the corridor, a series of interstate-style highways combined with other infrastructure such as railroads, gas and electric lines in a single, 1,200-foot-wide right-of-way.

The first thing to go will be the name, officials say.

Instead of a single, overall project, the corridor will be broken down into its originally-included series of smaller projects, which would be scaled down to fit in a 600-foot right-of-way.

The corridor was intended to provide a series of routes around heavily congested highway.

Perry, who was on tour in Iraq on Tuesday, said the scaled-down version is still in keeping with his vision of relieving traffic.

He added that the state’s current interstate highway grid is congested — particularly around metropolitan areas such as Austin and San Antonio — and needs relief.

A couple years ago, State Rep. Edmund Kuempel, acting on a resolution from Guadalupe County commissioners, made a recommendation to the state that the Trans-Texas Corridor make use of existing highway rights-of-way wherever possible. In Guadalupe County, such a route would use Interstate 10 from where State Highway 130 will enter it in the Kingsbury area to Loop 1604 in Bexar County, and then continue on southward to Interstate 35 and on to Interstate 37.

“This has been in the works for a pretty good while,” Kuempel said. “I think it finally imploded this morning.”

Tuesday’s decision, Kuempel said, does not affect the State Highway 130 project, which he said he hoped would be completed in Guadalupe County by mid- to late-2012.

“That will provide the connection between Interstate 10 and Interstate 35 north of Austin,” Kuempel said. “That connection will be completed, for sure.”

After that, Kuempel said, locals probably shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for the next step.

“The Trans-Texas Corridor was a long term vision over 20 or 30 years,” Kuempel said. “This wasn’t going to happen in two, three, four, five or 10 years.”

Still, Kuempel said, Texas has to look at its future transportation needs and try to prepare for it.

“We do need to look at our transportation system, but they took the input of the citizens of Texas — which has been more negative than positive — to heart, and they’re putting the Trans-Texas Corridor under a rock and looking at other alternatives.”

Kuempel’s chief concern, he said, is that the project not needlessly churn up and destroy farm land.

“I was against going through any more raw land,” Kuempel said. “We need to use existing roads wherever possible, and Interstate 10 and Loop 1604 are two very good roads.”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Judy Cope, who lives off FM 775, said she believed the residents of Guadalupe County would be glad for anything that reduced the scale of the Trans-Texas Corridor — particularly in rural regions like Guadalupe County.

“If it is dead in its current form, I think that’s good for the people of this area,” said Cope, whose home lies in a 10-mile wide “study zone” in south Guadalupe and north Wilson counties proposed as a possible route through this region. “If this is factual, it would be great. This project would have taken out a lot of farm land that could never be replaced.”

When the project’s possible impact on Guadalupe County became known, Cope said she asked state officials when locals would have a plan to view, and she was told it would be years.

It wasn’t easy for Cope or her constituents to hear.

“It left a lot of questions about where it would be, how it would affect the land and how it would affect the people on their land — some of whom have been on the land for generations and hope to hand it down to their descendents,” Cope said. “Nobody knew just where it was going and what they needed to be doing.”

Like Kuempel, Cope said she understood Texas needed to address transportation issues.

“Caterpillar is coming here, and I think Randolph Air Force Base could be fixing for a big expansion and Texas is in far better economic condition than most states,” Cope said. “We’re looking at a lot of people coming to Texas and to this county, and we don’t need to be gridlocked, but we’ve asked that they follow the routes already established by other freeways.”

Once agricultural land is gone, it’s gone forever, Cope said.

“We’re already dependent on other countries for gas and oil,” Cope said. “Certainly, we don’t want to depend on them for our food, too.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

© 2009 The Seguin Gazette-Enterprise

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