June 19, 2008

Caution! Don’t Be Fooled!

Letters to the Editor
The Groveton News
Copyright 2008

Dear Editor,

I would encourage you to ask some tough questions on the TTC-69 project to those politicians who are taking credit for its demise.

I am an associate member of the Trinity-Neches Sub-Regional Planning Commission, which was formed this spring under Texas Local Government Code Chapter 391,

Our commission was formed to prevent TTC-69 or other multi-modal transportation systems from coming through Trinity and Polk Counties. Members include Trinity mayor Lyle Stubbs, Groveton Mayor Troy Jones, Corrigan Mayor Grimes Fortune and local businessman and former elected official Bob Dockens. We are in the process of bringing in associate members from the Trinity ISD, Groveton ISD, Apple Springs ISD and Camden/Corrigan ISD as well as 3 Water Districts. The commission’s jurisdiction includes over 600,000 acres within these two counties.

To fully understand the language contained within the existing Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) specific to TTC/I-69. This is a very important document that is the basis for all “build/no-build” projects within TxDOT. It is federally mandated and trumps all financing issues. Without federal approval, nothing happens.

TxDOT chose to use a “tiered” process to construct the DEIS. In Tier One (the current version that was a basis for public comment) they present only two (2) alternatives for discussion: 1) NO BUILD; or 2) the Preferred Alternative Corridor, which is the path that snakes around Houston to the north and destroys farms, ranches and timberland through some of the most pristine parts of East Texas. At the public meetings this past Winter/Spring everyone had the choice between these two options. As I understand it, some 28,000 comments were submitted with the overwhelming majority choosing the NO BUILD alternative.

TxDOT chose to move ALL DISCUSSION and ANALYSIS of Existing highways (ie—US 59, US 77, etc) to the Tier Two analysis citing that they simply do not have the data available to accurately analyze this alternative. This is interesting, since you would think an existing highway would have volumes of information on costs, environmental considerations, etc. I found quite a bit of cost information on past projects related to widening US 59 north of Humble during a brief internet search.

Many of us, including the Sierra Club, find this prejudicial and not in keeping with the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) guidelines for the administration of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), which sets the guidelines for an acceptable DEIS report.

Approval of the current even if they claim to be using the existing highways “whenever possible” does not preclude the use of the preferred alternative corridor at some point in the future. They can simply dust it off and, when all of the financing is in place and the political election cycle is past us, proceed as planned.

I cite documents from Deputy Director Steve Simmons in last week’s press: “In addition to the main route, the agency also will consider access connections to the regions of the state that want to be connected to TTC-69 through other routes, such as Bryan-College Station.” Simmons then went on to say: "TxDOT intends to secure a consultant contract on TTC-69, just as they did Cintra Zachry on TTC-35. That partner will work with TxDOT to plan the route; determine the phasing based on demands and traffic and explore financing options.”

Wait a minute – they say they were going to use the existing right-of-way on current highway. Why do they need to plan the route? It should be self-evident. And then there is the discussion of the “connectors” to places such as Bryan-College Station; well, if you look at the map of the preferred alternative corridor that everybody opposed in the Tier One Process, we are right back to where we started – only now if the DEIS goes to Final, we won’t have any say where or how they build. All options currently identified in the Tier one Study of the existing DEIS will be fair game.

© 2008, The Groveton News: www.easttexasnews.com

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