Link to article here. Read TURF’s response to TxDOT announcement here. This isn’t as it appears…the new corridor isn’t toll viable so they have to revert back to the existing “free” competition to a toll road and toll it, so they get their monopoly in place!
TxDOT says TTC won’t mess with rural Texas; Review urges agency overhaul to restore public trust
By Zen Zheng
June 13, 2008
After waves of public protest, the Texas Department of Transportation has decided that it would not mess with rural Texas with its proposed Interstate-69/Trans-Texas Corridor that would stretch from Mexico to Texarkana.
The project route, it announced, would instead be confined to the right of way of existing major highways. (See a map of the proposed route below.)
To opponents of the project, the dark clouds didn’t dissipate, but has only changed its shade.
TxDOT’s wording maintains a degree of vagueness as it said it would “consider” sticking to existing highways “wherever possible,” Terri Hall, founder of the opposition group, Texas United for Reform and Freedom, pointed out.
Hall said that despite TxDOT’s announcement, the corridor “can still be a 1,200-foot wide land-grabbing, privatized, tolled” facility. She said because the right of way of existing highways is already paid for with gas taxes, building the corridor as a tolled facility would be “double taxation.” She added:
This corridor was promised as a free interstate highway for decades, now they’ll convert existing freeways like (U.S.) 59 into privately-controlled toll roads. Somehow we feel in no mood to celebrate.
If TxDOT changes the scope of the project like a new route and study area, TxDOT has to, by law per (National Environmental Policy Act), redo the environmental study totally and take public comment all over again, not just submit some letter to the (Federal Highway Administration) reflecting the change.
Much of the route would now go along U.S. 59. In the Houston area including Fort Bend County, in addition to U.S. 59, Loop 610 and Grand Parkway remain TxDOT’s options for the corridor, according to Amadeo Saenz, the department’s executive director.
The Harris County Toll Road Authority is pushing for the construction of the northwest segment of the planned Grand Parkway, which would be tied into the namesake road through Fort Bend.
It is unclear how the changed I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor plan would affect our region. While the exact route is yet to be determined, earlier plans had shown that areas near Huntsville, Navasota, Prairie View, Waller, Sealy, Wallis, Kendleton, Richmond and Rosenberg would be in the corridor’s path.
Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert Friday called the TxDOT’s decision “a good first step” but cautiously said “there is a great deal of work left to be done.” On the possibility of the corridor coming through Fort Bend County, he had this comment for me:
One thing I will work to assure is that the existing portions of US 59 and the Grand Parkway within Fort Bend County are not used as part of a Houston by-pass. The growth of local traffic demands on those two highways prohibits such a use.
Two Republican state lawmakers were quick to praise TxDOT’s announcement.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison hailed the decision as “a major victory” for landowners, farmers and ranchers who have feared that their land could be taken by the government by eminent domain.
Rep. Kevin Brady from The Woodlands, who led a nine-member state congressional delegation to push for the corridor to stay out of the way of rural communities, said he wants to also push for upgrading existing highways, including U.S. 59, to “interstate standards.” Doing so would “restore public support” for the Trans-Texas Corridor, he said.
Observers, however, doubt that the public would ever support the TTC project. Residents, community leaders and officials at various government levels, including some Fort Bend County commissioners, have repeatedly expressed frustration with TxDOT’s alleged lack of regard for local and community input in many of its projects. Public trust in the state agency has been greatly eroded, they say.
The Sunset Advisory Commission, which reviews agencies regularly on their performance, in its report issued this month, among a host of recommendations, calls for the replacement of the current five-member Texas Transportation Commission, which is TxDOT’s governing board, with a single commissioner and shorten the term of office from presently six years to two years.
Here is an excerpt from the report:
The Sunset review of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) occurred against a backdrop of distrust and frustration with the Department and the demand for more transparency, accountability, and responsiveness. Many expressed concerns that TxDOT was ‘out of control,’ advancing its own agenda against objections of both the Legislature and the public . . . tweaking the status quo is simply not enough.
Nevertheless, critics said that even with the downsizing of the TxDOT’s governing board, the lone commissioner would still be appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, who led the crusade for the unpopular Trans-Texas Corridor plan. Critics noted that the current commissioners have been advancing the very agenda of one who appointed them.