October 31, 2008

Is Trans-Texas Corridor dead or only undead?

Fred Afflerbach
Temple Daily Telegram
Copyright 2008

Put a fork in it. That’s what two Texas politicians recently said about the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor.

“Everybody in Austin knows it’s dead. Everybody across the state knows it’s dead. It’s just something to be talking about,” House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, said at a debate in Midland on Oct. 19, according to a published report.

But folks fighting the corridor here in Central Texas call it election season bluster.

“Yes, they are still planning to do it,” said Mae Smith, Holland mayor. “That’s nothing but political talk. I don’t believe anything Mr. Craddick says, or any politician says prior to election.”

Ms. Smith is also president of the Eastern Central Texas Sub-regional Planning Commission, a group of mayors and school board members who are working to stop the corridor by pushing environmental impact studies. The commission says expansion of Interstate 35 is a viable alternative.

“We’re not denying there is a traffic problem. But keep it in the footprint of I-35 . . . and not destroy our prime farm land, school districts and towns,” Ms. Smith said.

A spokeswoman for Craddick responded Thursday.

“The House overwhelmingly voted to place a moratorium on the Trans-Texas Corridor because of various issues that were raised, such as property rights and toll roads. Currently, the House Transportation Committee, the House Appropriations Committee and the Sunset Advisory Commission, as well as the state auditor, have been investigating these matters. It is clear from what has come back from these committees that the Trans-Texas Corridor will be addressed once and for all in this next session of the Legislature.”

And that worries folks like Ms. Smith. Once the election is over, the Legislature will go back to work pushing the corridor.

Speaking from the Milam County seat of Cameron on Wednesday, State Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan - not up for re-election until 2010 - said he agreed with Craddick’s statement.

“I think the speaker had it right the other day when he said, ‘I think everybody knows it’s dead,’” Ogden said.

Rather than a Trans-Texas Corridor for utilities, motor vehicles and trains, Ogden believes efforts will be directed toward developing an interstate-quality highway from South Texas to East Texas parallel to Interstate 35.

Again, Ms. Smith said the commission adamantly opposes any new thoroughfare east of I-35, through the Blackland Prairie.

“They’re still wanting to stick it right on top of us. A smaller version, even more so, should go right in the footprint of 35.”

Another commission member and a small business owner, Ralph Snyder, said Craddick and Ogden supported the corridor from its inception and they weren’t changing direction now.

“It’s just a way to keep the people placated for the present time. It’s election time,” Snyder said. “It’s a done deal. It’s been a done deal for years.”

But Snyder isn’t saying raise the white flag. He says the commission could have some impact how and where the final project is built.

Meanwhile, down at the Texas Department of Transportation, spokesman Chris Lippincott said TxDOT was waiting on the results of an environmental impact study the Federal Highway Administration is conducting.

“It is a big complicated study,” Lippincott said. “It’s a big project.”

After the study is completed in early 2009, Lippincott said TxDOT would open the discussion for public comment. He would not elaborate on Craddick’s statement.

© 2008 Temple Daily Telegram: www.tdtnews.com

October 27, 2008

Is Trans-Texas Corridor a dead issue?

Craddick's declaration at debate fuels speculation - and a complicated answer.

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

"Everybody in Austin knows it's dead. Everybody across the state knows it's dead. It's just something to be talking about."— Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, Oct. 19, 2008

The "it" in that quote, uttered during a Midland debate last week with the Democratic challenger for Craddick's House seat, Bill Dingus, referred to the Trans-Texas Corridor.

When I heard about this early last week, my first reaction was, "Really? Uh-oh." As in, the Texas Department of Transportation quietly killed the whole effort to build a tollway parallel to Interstate 35 and another tollway from Brownsville to Texarkana called Interstate 69, and the Statesman's transportation reporter missed the whole thing. Big uh-oh.

And I figured that for those farmers and ranchers whose property is along the broadly defined corridors of TTC-35 and I-69, Craddick's words had to be a relief. I could envision them cracking open a cold one to celebrate the news that their grandbabies would still be working the land in 60 years.

Not so fast.

Turns out that accurately interpreting Craddick's words depends on the meaning of "it" and the definition of "dead."

I called Craddick's office and got his spokeswoman, Alexis DeLee, on the phone. So, I asked, are TTC-35 and I-69 dead? Is that what the speaker was saying? Because if so, then TxDOT, which has agency employees, consultants and two private toll road consortiums working on various environmental and engineering plans for both roads, is wasting a lot of money.

"We're not getting into I-69," DeLee said, adding that I-69 wasn't in the Trans-Texas Corridor plan. She didn't want to talk about TTC-35 much either. "The comment he made was about the Trans-Texas Corridor as it relates to its original plan laid out by Ric Williamson. And that is dead."

Actually, that original plan was laid out by Gov. Rick Perry at a Jan. 28, 2002, news conference, not by the late state Transportation Commission chairman (though Williamson tirelessly pushed for it). And the original map for the 4,000 miles of tollways, railways and utilities across the state clearly shows a corridor along I-69's route.

Here's the deal: Rural folks, including those in Craddick's district, hate the Trans-Texas Corridor. So Craddick was selling what people at that debate were raring to buy. And the truth is that in the six years since Perry's announcement, TxDOT hasn't lifted a finger to work on most of the lines on that corridor map. Who needs parallel tollways to roads like I-10 and I-20 with sparse traffic? No one.

And the railroad and utility aspects of the corridor plan have gone nowhere as well.

So, yes, overall, the Perry/Williamson Trans-Texas Corridor is dead.

But two pieces of it — TTC-35 and I-69 — the proposed tollways that have roiled Texas for three or four years, are very much alive. So hold off on sending flowers.

Getting There appears Mondays. For questions, tips or story ideas, contact Getting There at 445-3698 or bwear@statesman.com.

© 2008 Austin American-Statesman: www.statesman.com

October 23, 2008

EPA In Corrigan To Hear Concerns About I-69 TTC

By Christel Phillips
Copyright 2008

CORRIGAN, TX - A draft environmental impact statement prepared by TxDOT is at the heart of the I-69 Trans Texas Corridor debate. Members of the Trinity Neches Sub-Regional Planning Committee want to send TxDOT back to the drawing board.

Bob Dickens, President of the Trinity Neches Sub-Regional Planning Committee says, "We don't think the law and regulations were followed and we do not think TxDOT has taken into consideration the impact of the environment, our wildlife, our water districts, our cities, our school districts, and in essence, our way of life."

That's why the Sub-Regional Planning Committee met with the Environmental Protection Agency. The committee wants the EPA to use thier expertise to persuade TxDOT to do a better job in researching the projected highway building area.

Cathy Gilmore, Chief of the EPA Office Planning and Coordination says, "Our place is really to look at the environmental aspects of the project and whether or not they've addressed our concerns."

Pennington Water District services about 900 customers in East Texas, they told the EPA that the TTC would come straight through their water line causing a serious problems for residents.

Bill Wagner, Represenative for Pennington Water District says, "From what we hear there will be no on and off ramps to access the customers. It will stop service to new customers, it will stop maintenence, it's going to have a major impact on us."

Bottom line, the committee wants to TxDOT to redraft their environmental impact statement and address their concerns in the revision.

"We hope we presented adequate information where they will study it, re-think it and go with the I-59 Corridor," says Wagner.

The planning committee hopes that TxDOT will be able to meet with them next month so they can address today's concerns to them as well.

© 2008 KTRE-TV: www.ktre.com

October 22, 2008

More on Craddick saying TTC is "dead"

Susan Rigdway Garry
Anti-Corridor/Rail Expansion (ACRE)
Copyright 2008

The ACRE message about the quote from House Speaker Craddick that the Trans-Texas Corridor was “dead” has prompted interesting comments. Some who commented were concerned that people would think because Craddick said the Corridor was “dead” we didn’t have to struggle against it anymore. This is not the case; we do need to continue our efforts.

The quote is significant because Craddick had never said anything like this about the Corridor before. It is significant that so many politicians, including Craddick, in this campaign season think it is necessary for them to oppose the Corridor in order to get elected. This is a big change. When we started fighting against the Corridor, politicians weren’t saying this. This means that we are making progress.

We can’t say that the Corridor is dead until it is officially killed legislatively. So we all need to continue working toward this end, but I think it is encouraging that more and more politicians are coming out against it in their campaigns.

Here are comments from representatives of some of the organizations that have been in the forefront of the fight against the Corridor.

DAN BYFIELD, American Land Foundation:

“Don't believe that the TTC is dead. Politicians will say anything to get re-elected. Mr. Craddick had the opportunity the past two sessions to kill this, but why would he now reveal that it's dead? The Legislature is the only body capable of ‘killing’ the TTC, but they're not in session.

What is very revealing about this statement is his need, like so many other politicians running for office, to say anything about the Trans-Texas Corridor - especially something this negative. He realizes it is a hot button issue with his constituents and fellow House members (who will be voting for him for Speaker), otherwise he would never have mentioned it on the campaign stump.

We are making a difference, but if Mr. Craddick and others who voted for the TTC get back into office, nothing will change and the TTC will live on.”

AGNES VOGES, Blackland Coalition:

“I doubt seriously that Craddick has the truth in this matter. Granted, TTC may have hit a snag or two, but one way or the other, it is still happening. Again, the LAW has to be changed before this thing is dead. If not, then there is nothing that will keep it from being resuscitated at any time they can get their fingers on some money.”

LINDA STALL, Corridor Watch

“The law creating TTC remains and it should be changed . . . and some oversight legislation for PPPs put in place. We are hearing from a few people around the state that their Counties are getting into strangely oversized road projects, and we are concerned that the push will shift to developing ‘County projects’ that then are shifted to TxDOT and linked together . . . TTC under the radar.

“It is nice to hear that Craddick realizes it’s in his interest to say the Corridor is dead. I am always leery when a leadership official says something like that, just in case he's trying to get people to stop speaking out . . . and to undermine his opposition candidate's ability to make political mileage out of the Corridor as an issue.”

TERRI HALL, San Antonio Toll Party and TURF:

“Craddick's comments are no more true than saying the sun won't rise tomorrow. This is an election year, period. NO law has been changed or policies reversed to prove this statement correct. In fact, they've gone underground and are cheating in how they're supplementing the environmental record to make it appear they'll use existing right of way for TTC-69 using clever language rife with get of jail free cards. Also, TTC-35 is barreling forward unabated.

“It's huge he [Craddick] even feels the need to say it to get re-elected!”

© 2008 ACRE: acretexas.blogspot.com

October 20, 2008

Top leader says Trans-Texas Corridor is dead

Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2008

In a debate last night, Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick tried to put a gaping chasm between him and the governor's prized Trans-Texas Corridor and went on to say the project's dead, a television station reported.

"I want to clear this up. I did not vote for the Trans-Texas Corridor and you're welcome to look at the voting records," he said in a broadcast by KXAN in Austin.

Then Craddick, a Republican who was debating his Democratic opponent, Bill Dingus, in Midland, stuck a fork in the Trans-Texas Corridor and declared the ambitious plan done, according to KXAN.

"Everybody in Austin knows it's dead," he said. "Everybody across the state knows it's dead. It's just something to be talking about."

The broad network of toll lanes, rail lines and utility corridors was unveiled by Perry, also Republican, six years ago as the state's 21st Century map for new pathways. A strategy to fund it with private financing was hailed by free marketers nationwide and jeered by a spectrum of naysayers such as farmers and environmentalists.

View the KXAN broadcast: [HERE]

© 2008 The San Antonio Express-News: www.blogs.mysanantonio.com

October 16, 2008

Groups warn TTC projects still alive


Country World News
Copyright 2008

Recent reports of the demise of the Trans-Texas Corridor-69 have been greatly exaggerated by the state’s transportation department, according to a sub-regional planning commission formed to take on the massive highway project.
Connie Fogle with the Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission said an announcement by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) that recommended upgrading U.S. Highway 59 to an Interstate, rather than build the TTC-69 corridor, was simply a diversionary tactic.

“They wanted to put the people in East Texas minds at ease, but the new corridor alternative is anything but off the table,” Fogle said. “TxDOT is still very much considering the new corridor.”

The commission recently received a letter from Dennis Cooley, TxDOT’s District Engineer from Lufkin, indicating that the new corridor alternative will remain in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that it will submit to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) for final approval.

The letter from Cooley states that TxDOT will only recommend advancing the TTC-69 project along existing highway facilities where it is practical.
“The key word is ‘practical,’” Fogle said. “That gives them the leeway to decide where it’s practical and where it isn’t. They’re ready to put that into the Final Environmental Impact Statement, but the truth is, they haven’t made a study of the (project’s) impact on the environment. We had a meeting scheduled with EPA about this very matter, but we had to postpone it because of Hurricane Ike. But we’re not going to let it go.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry proposed the Trans-Texas Corridor in 2002 as a series of six-lane highways with separate high-speed rail lines, truck lanes and utility corridors criss-crossing the state. Each corridor could be as wide as 1,200 feet.

The Governor and TxDOT have promoted the TTC as a solution to the state’s transportation problems, but the project has met with formidable opposition, particularly in rural parts of the state where the corridors would have the biggest impact on small towns and agricultural interests.

The first leg of the proposed TTC system is TTC-35, which would run about 600 miles from Gainesville to Laredo, roughly parallel to IH-35.

TTC-69 would run generally southwest to northeast along a 650-mile long route first mapped for IH-69, from the Gulf Coast to Texarkana.

In the past year, several sub-regional planning groups have formed under the authority of Texas Local Government Code, Chapter 391, which 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.”

An Eastern Central Texas commission was formed in August of 2007 to challenge TTC-35. The Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission was formed in February of 2008 in response to TTC-69. There are now nine such planning commissions in the state.

“There is a lot at stake here,” Fogle said. “Once you concrete over that much land, it’s not coming back. You’ve lost all that agricultural land, plus, here in East Texas we have a lot of timber, and hunting is big business here too.”

In a June 11 press release, Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton said public input on I-69 led the commission to recommend using existing infrastructure whenever possible along the I-69 corridor.

“When needs are identified in the I-69 corridor, we will look at existing infrastructure and work with local officials to upgrade that facility to meet transportation needs,” Houghton said. “It just makes sense. As Texans pointed out to us, a facility built on new location may be unnecessary when an existing one can be improved to handle demand.”

Fogle said the Trinity-Neches sub-regional commission is not buying it.

“We believe, based on the way TxDOT has handled this from the first, that they are just saying that so people will think it (the new corridor proposal) is off the table,” she said. “They’re building this around a plan, not a need. We think they’re going to stick with the original plan if everybody eases up on them because they think they’re only going to use upgrade existing facilities.”

© 2008 Country World News: www.countryworldnews.com