December 31, 2008

Trans-Texas Corridor
Special Edition

(Part 1 of 12)
As a holiday surprise and an educational public service, Storm Pictures has provided links to the film,"Truth Be Tolled: TTC Special Edition" in its entirety. Of course, YouTube does not accurately represent the true image and sound quality of the film.

The YouTube version is divided into twelve parts; part one is shown above.

All twelve can be found [HERE]

Please consider donating to the nonprofit organizations mentioned in the movie, and/or purchasing a DVD.

© 2008 Truth Be Tolled:

December 23, 2008

East Central school district joins 391 Commission

Nannette Kilbey-Smith
Wilson County News

EAST CENTRAL — The East Central Independent School District (ISD) is the newest member of the South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission, or 391 Commission. District trustees approved membership during the regular board meeting Dec. 16.

Organized by the city of St. Hedwig and officials from Wilson County, the commission serves as a liaison between its member entities and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). In addition to the founding members and the East Central ISD, the commission also includes the city of Marion and Guadalupe County.

District board President Steve Bryant attended the last 391 Commission meeting in St. Hedwig and told trustees the district could benefit from membership.

“Especially with the Trans-Texas Corridor [TTC-35], which will cut right through our district,” Bryant said. “It’s critical we have a place at the table to mitigate circumstances caused by TTC-35.”

Bryant was impressed with the discussions between TxDOT and the commission’s existing members.

“The attitude of TxDOT toward this commission was much better than their attitude toward the general public when they held their [TTC] meetings,” he said. “I was also impressed with Kathy Palmer, who chairs the commission. She has really done her homework, and TxDOT knows it.”

Board approval to join the 391 Commission was unanimous.

© 2008 Wilson County News:

December 17, 2008

Sunset for TxDOT board? Lawmakers prefer single chief

But 'sunset' report is only advisory to Legislature. Some want to retain five-member board, while others want to elect TxDOT leader

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman

The five-member Texas Transportation Commission should be abolished and replaced with a single commissioner appointed by the governor, the Texas Sunset Review Commission decided Tuesday.

However, the 7-5 vote by the commission, as well as many other changes for the Texas Department of Transportation included in the commission's report, amount only to suggestions to the Legislature. The narrow vote, and the opposition of four of the five senators on the commission, suggests that the question of how to govern TxDOT is far from settled.

"I suspect you may have a problem getting it out of the Senate," commission co-chairman Carl Isett, a Republican House member from Lubbock, said immediately after the vote.

One member pointed out one significant impact of having a single commissioner: no more open meetings of the commission, which makes key decisions. And some members, reflecting the bulk of public comment in recent months, said they would prefer that Texans elect a transportation commissioner. State Rep. Ruth McClendon, D-San Antonio, said she'll carry legislation to make that change in 2009.

"We'll continue to have this discussion for 140 days" during the coming legislative session, said state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, also a co-chair of the Sunset commission.

The discussion, which lasted most of Tuesday afternoon, was another in a string of unpleasant ones for the TxDOT executives lined up in the Capitol hearing room's front row. The Legislature in 2007 began and ended the session in open revolt against what many lawmakers of both parties see as the high-handed tactics of TxDOT during the past five years or so. That official restiveness had the bad luck, from TxDOT's vantage point, of coming just as the once-every-12-years sunset review was scheduled to occur.

Make that once-every-four-years, at least for now. The commission approved giving the agency just four years until its next turn on the griddle. In addition — all of these changes would only become law if they are included in a final sunset bill for TxDOT next spring — a newly created Transportation Legislative Oversight Committee would examine everything TxDOT does and how it does it in the coming years. A consultant company would be hired to conduct what would amount to a management audit of the agency. And four divisions of TxDOT, including vehicle licensing and its motor carrier office, would be broken off into a new Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.

"We are trying to restructure an agency," Isett said.

But he opposed the single commissioner idea, arguing that for a service like transportation where large sums of money are spent on roads throughout the state, it would be better to retain the five-member commission and stipulate that the members come from five geographic districts. Historically, governors have attempted to maintain some sort of rough balance in their appointments of transportation commission members, but Isett would put that requirement in law.

Isett said that the real problem with TxDOT isn't the appointed leaders, but rather the "culture in that building across the street" (TxDOT's headquarters on 11th Street) of making it difficult for outsiders to accurately gauge what is going on.

But state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham , one of TxDOT's harshest critics in recent years, said changing to a single commissioner will make it clear who is responsible for the agency's actions.

"It sends a clear signal," Kolkhorst said, "that we do want change."

© 2008 Austin American-Statesman:

December 11, 2008

Agency not part of corridor planning

Country World News
Copyright 2008

The state's environmental agency told a sub-regional planning group recently that it has not been involved with the planning process of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) and does not plan to get involved until the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is released.

Clyde Bohmfalk, a program specialist with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), told the East Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission that the agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) in 2002 specifically for transportation issues, but that TCEQ has not been involved with the planning process up to this point.

The memorandum between TCEQ and TxDOT states that "TxDOT is committed to performing early identification efforts to assess potential environmental concern related to proposed transportation projects, and initiating coordination with TNRCC (now TCEQ) during the early planning stages of these projects."

Mae Smith, president of the Eastern Central Texas planning commission, said the commission had a good meeting with TCEQ, but she was disappointed to find out that the environmental agency has not been involved with the planning process for the TTC.

"We were prepared with dozens of questions regarding air quality, water runoff, flooding, erosion and concerns about the Trinity Aquifer, but TCEQ said they weren't sure if they had even seen the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the TTC," Smith said. "It's hard to imagine the state's leading environmental agency didn't have a larger role in the planning stages of such a huge project, but that's been how TxDOT has operated from the beginning of the whole process."

If TCEQ waits until the final EIS is released, it will be too late for the agency to have a say in whether or not the TTC gets built, she added.

"TCEQ keeps saying 'Phase II, Phase II, but that's too late," she said. "By Phase II, it will already be decided that the TTC will be built. This is the largest transportation project in the history of our state and the fact that our primary environmental agency isn't involved in the planning stages of the EIS is unbelievable."

The Environmental Impact Study is currently awaiting final approval from the Federal Highway Administration.

Gov. Rick Perry first proposed the Trans-Texas Corridor in 2002, as a series of six-lane highways, each one as wide as 1,200 feet, with separate lanes for cars and commercial trucks, high-speed rail lines and utility corridors. Perry, TxDOT and others have touted the TTC as a way to relieve traffic congestion on the state's highways.

Rural towns, agriculture producers and the Texas Farm Bureau have opposed the TTC from its inception. The opposition led to the formation of sub-regional planning groups that formed under the 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." There are now nine such sub-regional planning commissions in the state, of which the Eastern Central Texas group was the first.

The Eastern Central Texas commission is made up of representatives of the cities of Bartlett, Buckholts, Holland, Little River-Academy, Rogers and their respective independent school districts.

Smith said the commission's primary complaint against the TTC has been that it will take about 6,000 acres of prime farmland out of production and that a large chunk of land will be taken out of local school districts' tax bases and given to the state forever.

"Right now, our planning commission knows more about the environmental issues in our jurisdiction than TxDOT and it's our hope we can get TCEQ to assist by holding TxDOT's feet to the fire," she added.

In other news related to the Trans-Texas Corridor, a citizen's advisory group has issued a report rejecting the concept of TTC-35. The report, issued last month, recommends a "more inclusive solution that respects local communities and private property rights while addressing statewide and local transportation needs."

The committee, one of two citizens' advisory committees appointed to advise the Texas Transportation Commission on planning issues in the I-35 and I-69 corridors, recommends that TxDOT coordinate with Texas Farm Bureau and other agriculture groups to minimize the impacts on farmers and ranchers. A report from the I-69 citizens' committee is expected soon.

© 2008 Country World news

December 9, 2008

Katy will mull joining sub-regional planning group

The Katy Sun
Copyright 2008

The city of Katy will wait before they make a decision to join the Waller County Sub-Regional Planning Commission.

The commission was formed to fight against the Trans-Texas Corridor, in it's original representation that would cut through rural areas of the greater Houston region. Even though most rural areas appear safe, the sub-regional planning commission exists to help coordinate projects across all levels of government.

“The purpose [of the commission] requires state and federal officials to coordinate activities that effect local communities,” Don Garrett, a member of the commission, said.

Texas created laws in 1965 and 2001 to help strengthen local communities and empower them to have a say in projects funded by the state and federal government.

While the Texas Department of Transportation said in June it would explore highways that already existed to create the Trans-Texas Corridor, Garrett said “Waller is not off the map.”

Garrett said if Katy joined they would be able to find out state and federal projects being planned that would impact the community. There is no cost to join the sub-regional planning commission.

The commission is a “protective and coordinating mechanism so we are not left out in the process,” Garrett said. It's “very worthwhile.”

City council voted Monday to wait until their January meeting to make a final decision on joining the planning commission.

© 2008 The Katy Sun: