Wednesday, January 07, 2009

“What it’s going to mean for us is a new name. It’s really the same concept."

State officials scrap Trans-Texas Corridor


By Tim Woods
Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2009

Some local and state officials expressed relief at Tuesday’s announcement that plans for the Trans-Texas Corridor have been called off, while others said the project is simply taking on a new name.

State officials said Tuesday that they are scrapping the proposed network of toll roads known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, a massive transportation project that critics called an expensive boondoggle. Gov. Rick Perry had promoted the plan as a way to relieve Texas highway congestion and meet the exploding demand for freight along a corridor serving four of the state’s six largest cities.

The original corridor route would have stretched from the Texas-Mexico border to the Oklahoma state line, passing just east of Waco parallel to Interstate 35.

“The days of the Trans-Texas Corridor are over, it’s finished up,” Perry said Tuesday on a conference call during a Defense Department trip to Iraq. “The name ‘Trans-Texas Corridor’ is over with.”
However, Texas Department of Transportation Waco-area spokesman Ken Roberts said though the proposed projects replacing the corridor will be smaller in scale, they are not going away altogether.
“What it’s going to mean for us is a new name,” Roberts said. “It’s really the same concept, from the standpoint of expanding our transportation infrastructure through our area in order to meet our future demands for increased infrastructure through Central Texas.”
For local landowners whose property was threatened by the original corridor route, statements like Roberts’ coming from the department are ominous, and worries remain that their land may be taken by eminent domain. “For us on this route, (the Trans-Texas Corridor) still exists,” said Kathryn Pilant, who owns a historic home in Eddy that was threatened by the original corridor route.
Pilant’s Victorian house was built in 1881 and was the childhood home of U.S. Sen. Tom Connally.

Pilant was relieved, though, that the roadway width now being discussed was reduced from 1,200 feet to 600 feet.

State Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, shared Pilant’s concern Tuesday.
“When you get right down to it, today’s announcement doesn’t really change much,” Averitt said. “The individual pieces of the corridor puzzle are still potentially in play, and the Legislature must continue to vigilantly monitor TxDOT’s projects and operations because the concerns of the individuals affected will remain the same.”

Amadeo Saenz, the department’s executive director, unveiled new guidelines Tuesday for developing a network of toll roads, rails and pipelines that have grown ever more controversial since Perry began promoting the idea in 2002. Associates of Perry have said for weeks that the corridor would not take shape as originally envisioned.

Saenz said major corridor projects now will contain several small segments closer to 600 feet wide. Original plans called for corridors up to 1,200 feet wide to allow for rail and other types of transportation and utility transmission lines.
Texas Farm Bureau officials — who have been staunch opponents of the Trans-Texas Corridor — say their worries remain that property owners will lose land or access to it without fair compensation.

“No one disputes, certainly no one at the Texas Farm Bureau, that Texas needs to beef up its transportation infrastructure,” said Texas Farm Bureau spokesman Gene Hall. However, he added, “There’s still going to be some new roads built, and it’s very important. With Texas having one of the worst situations in the nation with respect to eminent domain, we need to pass eminent domain reform that includes fair compensation and compensation for diminished access when property is taken.”

Hillsboro Mayor John Erwin and Baylor University professor Don Greene, who served on the Trans-Texas Corridor Advisory Committee, said Tuesday’s announcement falls in line with the committee’s report to the department.

“The report recommended dropping any references to Trans-Texas Corridor,” Erwin said. “And not only simply dropping the references to it, but to drop the concept of the 1,200-foot-wide monstrosity that was proposed and to continue with specific projects in the various segments of Interstate 35 as needed for current and future traffic loads.”

Erwin said the original corridor plans had Hillsboro residents and business owners worried that commerce in the Hill County seat would be harmed. The corridor would have run well east of I-35, which brings heavy traffic through the city every day.

“We’re highly dependent on Interstate 35, and I feel that this is going to assure that Interstate 35 and any associated projects are going to stay close to (the current I-35) footprint, and that is very good news for Hillsboro,” Erwin said.

Averitt said he would stand behind landowners’ and residents’ desires with respect to future infrastructure plans.

“As I’ve said from the beginning, if Texans don’t want the Trans-Texas Corridor — or whatever name TxDOT gives it tomorrow — it will not happen,” Averitt said.

Staff writers Regina Dennis and Wendy Gragg and the Associated Press contributed to this story.


© 2009 Waco

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