April 3, 2008

The Road Ahead: Group fighting Trans-Texas Corridor

Country World News
Copyright 2008

As proposed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2002, the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) would consist of a series of six-lane highways criss-crossing the state with separate lanes for cars and commercial trucks, high-speed rail lines and utility corridors. Each corridor could be as wide as 1,200 feet. The TTC is touted by Perry and other state officials as the best way to relieve traffic congestion on the state's highways.

If members of a small group with a long name - the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission - have their way, the highways will never get built. By utilizing a little known state law, the commission is ensuring the state hears what the commission has to say about the corridor.

The Texas Local Government Code, Chapter 391, requires state agencies "to the greatest extent feasible" to coordinate with local commissions to "ensure effective and orderly implementation of state programs at the regional level."

The Eastern Central Texas commission was formed in August of last year to battle TTC-35, the first leg of the proposed TTC system, which would run about 600 miles from Gainesville to Laredo, roughly parallel to IH-35.

The commission consists of mayors Mae Smith of Holland, president of the commission, Arthur White of Bartlett, Ronnie White of Little River-Academy and Billy Crow of Rogers along with Holland business owner Ralph Snyder. Five non-voting members are also included on the commission.

The commission has met twice with representatives of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Smith said the meetings were productive.

"We opened some eyes," she said. "When they (TxDOT officials) left our last meeting one of them said, 'We've got to go back and read some things.' All we're trying to do is make sure they work with us and follow the law."

White said that feelings against the TTC run deep in the rural areas that would be most affected. One proposed TTC-35 route would parallel State Highway 95, effectively cutting the towns of Holland, Bartlett, Little River-Academy and others in half.

"For us, this isn't about the money," White said. "It's about being happy. It's about taking up so much of this good river bottom land. It would destroy a lot of farms in this area, and once that land is gone, it's gone. When you come right down to it, we have to eat before we can drive anyway."

Last month the commission took its message and tactics to East Texas to help people in that region mobilize opposition to the I-69 project, a federal project that would cover seven states. The Texas portion would run approximately 650 miles from Laredo to Texarkana. According to the TxDOT website, the Texas part of I-69 will be developed under the TTC master plan.

Smith and Snyder represented the East Central Texas commission at the Lufkin meeting on March 17, which was hosted by the American Land Foundation, Stewards of the Range and Texans United For Reform (TURF). Around 50 people attended the meeting. Participants received a workbook detailing what is meant by "coordination" under Chapter 391, how to form a 391 commission and the correspondence necessary to notify both the state and federal governments of local demands.

"We went to Lufkin and told the people in East Texas that they have to get on the ball and form those commissions now," Smith said. "The Governor can call a special session any time he wants and change that law, because it allows for an effective, legal argument against the Trans-Texas Corridor. Even if we don't stop it, we can delay it for a long time and at least make sure the rural concerns are being heard."

Since that meeting, the City of Groveton in East Texas has passed a resolution to form a 391 commission like the East Central Texas model. Smith said that two more cities could join the commission.

Fred Kelly Grant is an attorney who serves as an advisor to the commission. He is also president of Stewards of the Range, a property rights group.

"This is one of the most important projects in the nation for stopping federal and state government in its tracks and it's all done by local people who represent our views," Grant said.

The TTC proposal has drawn harsh opposition from some cities along the proposed routes and especially from farmers, ranchers and private landowners. A public hearing on TTC-35 held in Temple two years ago drew more than 1,500 people, most of whom opposed the project.

Though no more public hearings are scheduled on the Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) for the I-69/TTC project, TxDOT has extended the public comment period to April 18 (the comment period began in December). TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz said in a statement on the agency's website that the agency has held 95 environmental meetings and hearings on I-69/TTC and received more than 14,000 comments.

TxDOT is in the process of narrowing the study area for the TTC-35 route, according to TxDOT spokeswoman Gaby Garcia.

Smith said the East Central Texas commission and others that form in its wake are not going to go away.

"Like I said, we may not stop them from building the Trans-Texas Corridor, but we're going to keep coming at them," she said. "We're going to show them plenty of reasons why they shouldn't build it. And we're going to make sure they follow the law."

Comments on the TTC can be mailed to: I-69/TTC, P.O. Box 14428, Austin, Texas, 78761 or submitted online at www.keeptexasmoving.com.

© 2008, Country World News www.countryworldnews.com

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