Fort Bend residents reject Trans Texas "monstrosity"

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Residents reject Trans-Texas “monstrosity”
By Zen Zheng
Houston Chronicle blog
January 26, 2008
Finding a spot at the Rosenberg Civic Center’s parking lot Thursday night was a challenge.

At least 600 residents packed the main hall to attend the sixth of the 11 town hall meetings the Texas Department of Transportation has been holding in cities in the path of the proposed Interstate 69 route.

The gathering on the controversial I-69 proposal aimed to allow residents to ask questions and get instant responses from state officials. Originally set for 6:30-9 p.m., it dragged for nearly five hours as scores of residents waited for their turns to tell the officials how upset they were with the proposal.

Residents came from several counties including Fort Bend, Wharton and Waller. Some had attended previous public meetings and decided to continue to protest at the meeting Thursday.

Jeff Ritz of Tomball, who attended the forum in Hempstead, reappeared at the Rosenberg Civic Center entrance to hand out anti-Trans-Texas Corridor stickers. He said to me:

I can’t give this thing out quick enough.

In the lobby, while state officials laid out tables on one side to register speakers and distribute official literature to promote the project, Hank Gilbert, who formed a Texas Uniting for Reform and Freedom organization opposed to toll roads and the proposed corridor, had a table on the other side to gather signatures for a petition to the state.

Throughout the night, residents’ negative sentiment about the project struck me as overwhelming. Officials on the four-person panel including Texas Transportation Commissioner Ned Holmes and TxDOT’s Executive Deputy Director Steve Simmons kept their cool as opponents denounced the proposed 1,200-foot wide, 600-mile long toll road as a “monstrosity.”

Opponents said the proposed corridor would uproot their homes and livelihood and destroy their environment and communities while fattening the pockets of foreign companies and threatening our nation’s security with the open corridor that would link Mexico with Canada through the Unites States heartland.

Holmes and Simmons said the project is needed to address population growth that would worsen roadway congestion and to drive economic development.

When asked why the officials were against popular will as no single voice endorsing of the project was heard at the meeting, Simmons said there were people speaking in support of the proposal at other meetings.

Gilbert was quick to point out that those in support were a handful elected officials who failed to represent the people.

Some residents urged a popular vote on the I-69 idea.

Holmes said if it’s determined that people don’t want I-69, the project could be stopped.

Richard Morrison, a Sugar Land-area attorney, called the statement “a lie.” He said the officials’ mind was already made up before coming to the meeting.

Following the town hall meetings, a series of formal public hearings will be held, in which the officials will not respond to any questions and comments from the public speakers. While the public comments made at the town hall meetings are not officially documented, those from the public hearings will.

The hearings next month include one to be held at Arabia Shrine Center, 2900 North Braeswood in Houston on Feb. 12, at Rosenberg Civic Center, 3825 Highway 36 South, on Feb. 25, and at Katy High School Performing Arts Center at 6331 Highway Boulevard the next day.

Were you at the Jan. 24 town hall meeting? What do you think about the discussion that night? What do you think about the proposed I-69 and Trans-Texas Corridor?