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

No comments: