January 31, 2009

Trans-Texas Corruption

By Dan Byfield
Standing Ground

Despite what anyone may have read in the papers, the Trans-Texas Corridor is not dead. It simply has a new name. “Innovative Connectivity” sounds more like a creative science class on electricity, but it’s our state’s “new” approach to building toll roads in Texas.

There’s a reason for the name change and it’s not because the state of Texas woke up one morning with a grand new vision. The reason is the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and Governor Rick Perry had a public relations nightmare on their hands.

The nightmare started after the Texas Legislature passed a transportation bill during the last two weeks of the 2003 Legislative Session creating the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC). When people realized what was in it – 4,000 miles of 1,200 foot-wide, 12-lane toll roads – they became enraged.

Two Legislative Sessions went by in 2005 and 2007, and nothing of consequence changed. Governor Perry, his transportation department, and their 50-year Spanish partner still had their master plan in place and were moving at warp speed.

There appeared to be nothing that could slow, let alone stop, this high-powered, elite project.

But, then amazingly, the press reported that Amadeo Saenz, the executive director of TxDOT, announced the TTC was “dead.” No, that’s no accurate. What Amadeo Saenz said was: “The Trans-Texas Corridor, as a single project concept, is not the choice of Texans. So we’ve decided to put the name to rest.”

That’s what’s known as the Texas two-step. All TxDOT did was change the name because the TTC had become such a political liability. But listen to the rest of what Mr. Saenz said.

“As of today (January 6, 2009), we are unveiling a new corridor program that makes use of all the innovative project development tools we have. This new plan, called Innovative Connectivity in Texas/Vision 2009 (now that’s real catchy) will usher in this new method of operation. Projects that had been developed under the heading of the Trans-Texas Corridor will now become a series of individual projects. To be clear: the Trans-Texas Corridor as it was known will no longer exist.”

Clearly, Amadeo was under a lot of stress and strain. The Texas Legislature was going into session exactly one week after this grandiose announcement and a few legislative members were calling for the elimination of his position. Clearly, TxDOT and the TTC were going to be the center of attention and without the ousted Speaker Craddick at the helm in the House, Governor Perry had to do something to head off the angry mob that was about to lynch his pet project.

It was a shrewd political maneuver that not only more than likely saved TxDOT’s and Saenz’ collective necks, but gave cover to every politician from the Governor on down to say the “TTC is dead.”

The announcement did exactly what the Governor wanted – it minimized public criticism, relieved immediate pressure to do something politically, and gave those who don’t want anything to change the opportunity to get through 140 days with no real deal busters so they can continue their scheme immediately upon the Legislature leaving Austin.

TTC Cash Cow

There’s another reason why the TTC isn’t dead. Over the past two Legislative Sessions, 67 lobbyists have been paid more than $6 million to make sure the TTC remained intact. Then, there are the dozens of corporate contributors making campaign contributions to all those legislators on the transportation take including Lt. Governor David Dewhurst at $466,850, Governor Rick Perry raking in $354,450, and that back-stabbing Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Carona stuffing his pockets with $41,000 – just to name a few. (Click Here to View TTC Recipients Charts )

Since the TTC statute was passed, TxDOT, according to their own Web site, has spent an impressive $131 million, including $30.7 million in the fiscal year that ended August 31, 2008, just on engineering and environmental studies. The total includes $59.4 million for the I-35 corridor, $67.9 million for the I-69 corridor, with a few more million on other toll roads and loops around major metropolitan areas that will complete the TTC from one end of the state to the other.

TxDOT also received a $25 million payment from Cintra, the Spanish consortium in 2005, to build the 300-mile 130 toll road from east of San Antonio to Oklahoma parallel to I-35. The road isn’t supposed to be part of the TTC, but it’s as close to the preferred route as they have come and already has 90 miles constructed. Cintra will receive toll revenue from the project for the next 50 years. TxDOT is now saying 130 will be expanded to become the TTC 35, but that’s only speculation at this point.

Local People Fight Back

The real nightmare for TxDOT and the reason they had to divert the heat came as a direct response to four small, rural communities that took the advice to form sub-regional planning commissions and demand coordination.

With all the lobbyists, attorneys, engineers, and politicians working diligently to get this corrupt project off the ground, they failed to notice one obscure, but powerful state law. A law that has forced TxDoT, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to the table of local people to coordinate their plans and policies.

We discovered Chapter 391 of the Texas Local Government Code that allows cities and/or counties to form regional planning commissions for just about any purpose, including transportation. The most important and brilliant section of that statute happened to be added by State Representative Rob Junell (D-San Angelo) in 2001. It reads:

“In carrying out their planning and program development responsibilities, state agencies shall, to the greatest extent feasible, coordinate planning with commissions to ensure effective and orderly implementation of state programs at the regional level.” §391.009 (c), Texas Local Government Code.

None of the politicians and lobbyists knew we had found the language that gave local government the power to force the almighty Texas Department of Transportation to the table and begin coordination proceedings. We knew prior to the beginning of the 2007 Session, but we told no one.

First 391 Commission Formed

After the Session ended in May of 2007, we met Ralph and Marcia Snyder, who had been fighting the TTC for years, but were frustrated because nothing was working to stop the toll road. We explained the 391 statute to Ralph and off he went to sell the idea to his local city and school leaders.

Within a few weeks, the cities of Bartlett, Holland, Little River-Academy, Rogers, and their school districts formed the first of nine sub-regional planning commissions. It was called the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC). TxDOT was immediately notified and by October of 2007, they held their first coordination meeting with the state transportation department. It was the first time in five years TxDOT was not in charge of a meeting dealing with the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The ECTSRPC has not only met with TxDOT, but Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Environmental Protection Agency, Region 6, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and have a third meeting scheduled with TxDOT in February.
Overall, the ECTSRPC has pointed out specific violations of the National Environmental Policy Act with a 26-page indictment of everything they have failed to do through their Environmental Impact Study. That document has also been sent to the Federal Highway Administration requesting a supplemental Environmental Impact Study be done. The local group instigated a federal study through NRCS that should have been done by TxDOT, but never was, showing how construction of the massive toll road will destroy critical prime farmland known as the Blackland Prairie. And, they have set the precedent for other 391 commissions to demand state and federal agencies coordinate this transportation project before any concrete gets poured.

Other 391’s Formed

The second 391 commission to form on the I-35 Corridor was the South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission southeast of San Antonio, Texas. The city of St. Hedwig and Wilson County formed the planning commission in the summer of 2008. Since then, they have added Marion City, Guadalupe County, and the East Central Independent School District. They are looking to add one more city and two more school districts to their commission.

Kathy Palmer, president of the commission stated: “We decided to meet with our neighbors and form a commission when we realized state officials were planning a Trans-Texas Corridor route that bisected our city — and nobody at the state level had contacted anyone at St. Hedwig to discuss it.”

Since forming, Palmer says coordination works. The SCTSRPC met with TxDOT in which the state engineer for the TTC project admitted the local group was better organized and “further along” in their planning stage than ever realized. Their meeting with TxDOT is the first time they’ve been able to express any meaningful issues with the state agency. “We in the St. Hedwig, Wilson County area and our neighbors will no longer be ignored when it comes to federal and state agencies making changes in our area without them first having a true understanding of what those changes mean to our citizens,” stated Palmer.

TxDOT has agreed to a second meeting in February. TxDOT has also agreed to use the 391 commission for “local” input and not go through the state-created advisory committees. “That is a major concession we were able to get from the state because we used coordination,” stated Palmer.

I-69 Corridor

TXDOT has a second high priority TTC corridor that runs along the eastern side of the state, bypassing Houston and connecting to Louisiana and Oklahoma. When the I-69/TTC was initially planned, it was to be a new Interstate that connected through several states ending in Indiana. TXDOT converted the project into a TTC superhighway, changing what was once a needed highway into a Texas sized controversy. The people didn’t want it, and turned out by the thousands to the public meetings to protest.

While the agency was finishing up their public hearing process on the Draft EIS for the corridor, four sub regional planning commissions were also forming along the route. The first two that organized, the Trinity Neches Texas Sub-Regional (TNTSRPC) and the Piney Woods Sub-Regional (PWSRPC) immediately noticed TXDOT that they would be required to coordinate the project with them. Both Commissions were in the path of the preferred new corridor alternative being pushed by TXDOT.

TXDOT made its first major slight of hand and publicly announced they would no longer be considering the new corridor as their preferred route. They then used this public stunt as a reason to tell the new Commissions that meeting with them was unnecessary, because they were no longer in danger.

The Commissions disagreed, and while TXDOT was arguing the need to meet with TNT, EPA Region 6 didn’t hesitate to hear from the local communities. TNT prepared a workbook for the agency with statements and detailed accounts from their school districts, sheriffs, water districts and other entities as to the human impact that would occur in the area which TXDOT had failed to study as required under the federal law.

When TXDOT finally agreed to meet with TNT, they brought with them a representative from the Federal Highway Administration. The Chairman of the Commission, Bob Dockens, asked the FHA rep if would provide a letter to the TNT which backed up his statement that the new corridor alternative was off the table. The rep said that he couldn’t make that guarantee from the FHA.

Connie Fogle, who spearheaded the effort to form TNT and the PW, says the TNT Commission has no plans to go away. In fact, they have now held their second meeting with TXDOT and are preparing for more.

The Piney Woods Commission took it a step further. In their first meeting with TXDOT, Doug Booher who is in charge of the environmental study, committed to President Hank Gilbert that the Commission would see the final EIS before it was sent to the FHA for approval – a clear signal that TXDOT understands its coordination duty to the local commissions.

TxDOT Responds

Immediately after the first 391 commission formed, TxDOT was on the defensive. For the first time, local people had a voice. TxDOT began with announcing several changes.

1. Agency Regulations

After being notified by the ECTSRPC that TxDOT had ignored local governments and would now be required to coordinate their plans with them, TxDOT rolled out a new set of Transportation regulations trying to undermine the authority of the 391 commissions.

These new regulations actually contained language that TxDOT would “coordinate with local communities” and gather advice from rural areas. However, the agency reserved the right to ignore their input. Not the case under Chapter 391 of the Texas Code where the agency must coordinate – defined as equal in rank and order, not subservient -- with the local governments. We still had TxDOT in a bind they could not ignore. They are required by state statute to coordinate their plans and policies with every 391 commission.

2. Advisory Committees

Then, in another effort to try and prevent from having to meet with local commissions, TxDOT formed Corridor Advisory Committees and Corridor Segment Committees to get “input from local leaders and various segments of the community.” However, TxDOT appointed the individuals that would serve on these “advisory” committees and had no obligation to listen to or take their advice. This was in direct response to the demands placed upon them by the 391 commissions requiring they coordinate their plans and policies. If need be, TxDOT wanted to be able to explain to a judge that they were “coordinating” with local people through their “ordained” advisory committees.

3. Rural Planning Organizations

TxDOT then came up with yet another scheme to make it appear as though they too had rural planning committees that were “advising” them on rural issues. They decided to use existing state Councils of Governments (COGs) to implement a new strategy called Rural Planning Organizations (RPOs), which would design transportation plans for rural areas outside the metropolitan areas of the state.

Amadeo Saenz said TxDOT had come up with federal dollars to reimburse the COGs to implement these RPOs and would be asking the state Legislature to codify their idea into law during the 2009 Session. Again, these RPOs are TxDOT’s attempt to thwart what the nine sub-regional planning commissions have forced them to do through coordination.

4. The I-69 Corridor “Dead”

Witnessing the effectiveness of the ECTSRPC on I-35 Corridor, local governments in East Texas formed three more 391 commissions for the I-69 Corridor. Once these commissions started forming and demanding coordination, TxDOT released a statement saying they would no longer be building a new corridor for I-69, but would instead use existing roads and highways for the project. This new strategy was designed to quiet the opposition to the new corridor, at least until the elections passed.

While many bought the public relations ploy, the Trinity-Neches Texas SRPC (TNT) and the Piney Woods SRPC weren’t fooled. TNT requested a letter from TxDOT’s Lufkin District Engineer confirming in writing that the new corridor was off the table.

What they received instead was acknowledgement that the new corridor would still be a part of the Final Environmental Impact Study (FEIS). The regulations allow an agency to change their alternative after the study has been finalized, as long as the route was studied in the original FEIS. TxDOT’s slight of hand was exposed and people realized they were just trying to deflect any opposition to their plan.

Later, the FHA representative refused to provide TNT with a letter confirming that the new corridor alternative would not be considered by the FHA.

5. The “TTC is Dead”

Then came the final announcement that the TTC was “dead” as explained above. For one and a half years, four 391 commissions have forced TxDOT into playing defense. Every time a commission has had a coordination meeting with the state, they have gone back to Austin and devised yet another plan to avoid accounting for the true impact of their super-corridor plans. This latest ploy of announcing the TTC is dead proves local people have tremendous power when they are organized and utilize the law in their benefit.

Coordination Times Nine

To date, there are nine 391 Commissions formed in Texas, with at least one Commission on each of the 3 north-south corridors. The Eastern Central Commission has since increased its jurisdiction by adding one more town and their school district placing a 30-mile wide gap in a critical part of the path of the I-35 super-corridor.

Chapter 391 of the Local Government Code requiring state agencies to coordinate with local governments will likely come under attack during the 2009 Legislative Session. Governor Perry cannot tolerate his pet project being derailed. There has been too much money paid to him, other politicians, lobbyists, and the state just to throw in the towel.

People have found a way to fight back. Hopefully, if the law gets changed those commissions that formed will be grandfathered and those areas will be able to continue the fight.

But, had it not been for the bravery of four small, rural towns in Bell County, Texas, with a combined population of less than 6,000 forming the first 391 commission, the condemnation of private property for the corridor would have already begun and pavement would have been poured.

How this fight will ultimately be resolved is unknown, but the Commissions have prepared the necessary groundwork to challenge the project in court and TxDOT has sufficiently ignored enough laws to make even the most hesitant judge skeptical of the state’s agenda.

Stewards of the Range and the American Land Foundation are committed to going the distance with the sub-regional planning commissions. For them, it is a matter of losing their local economies and way of life. For us, it is about losing more of our national sovereignty and private property. For every American it is about further eroding our economy and security.

Thankfully, the unassuming phrase “coordination” was waiting to be used, and once revealed, these local officials didn’t hesitate. The job is far from over, but as Kathy Palmer said: “We’re not going to back down” and TxDOT and our governor know it.

Click Here to View TTC Recipients Charts

Standing Ground is published by: Stewards of the Range, American Land Foundation & Liberty Matters
Executive Editors: Dan and Margaret Byfield
Publication Deisgner: Kelley Black
Editorial Office:
P.O. Box 1190
Taylor, TX 76574
(512) 365-8038
Members of Stewards of the Range, American Land Foundation and Liberty Matters receive
Standing Ground as part of membership. To order additional copies, call our offices (1-800-700-5922).
Standing Ground can be made available in bulk quantities. Please call for pricing.
Permission to reproduce articles is granted with proper attribution to the author and publishers.

Stewards of the Range is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization

© 2009 Standing Ground: www.standingground.us

January 30, 2009

TNT Committee meets with TxDOT concerning I-69, TTC issues

The Groveton News

The Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (TNT) met for the second time with TxDOT last week in Trinity.

TxDOT arrived with a large contingent of representatives. Among them were District Engineer, Dennis Cooley out of Lufkin and two other engineers, Doug Booher, an Environmental Specialist with TxDOT, brought two consultants from PBSJ and Joe Krejci with the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, Texas Division.

TNT also had full representation: the Mayors of Trinity, Corrigan, and Groveton, representatives from the Commission’s Water Suppliers, School Boards, Cattle Ranchers, Members-At-Large and concerned citizens.

TNT gave Mr. Cooley and Mr. Booher a letter formally requesting that TxDOT rescind the I-69 Trans-Texas Corridor Draft Environmental Impact Study and that TxDOT start the entire process over including a study of the existing facilities alternative.

Connie Fogle said that TNT’s legal council, Fred Kelly Grant, Attorney and President of Stewards of the Range, prepared a Legal Analysis that was given to TxDOT, which stated:

“The Administration Must Resolve Objections as to Consistency Raised by the Sub-regional Planning Commission Prior to Issuing a Final EIS for Public Review and Comment”.

Fogle said, “If, in fact the TTC is dead, why waste more time and money sending a document to the Federal Highway Administration for approval of a project they do not intend to build?”

Three TNT Members-At–Large presented information to TxDOT: Dee Dee King gave a presentation on what the I-69 TTC will do to some of our Historical Cemeteries and Archeological Sites, Bill Fogle discussed the noise factor, which will make it un-inhabitable to live within one mile of the Corridor and Craig Whealy discussed numerous environmental issues.

Also on the agenda TNT approved forming a Transportation Planning Committee to study the mobility needs of the three cities that make up the Commission. Each city will have a separate Public Forum in February to gather input.

Fogle feels that TNT is very fortunate to have the guidance of The American Land Foundation and Stewards of the Range helping their Commission through the Coordination process.

© 2009 East Texas News News: www.easttexasnews.com

January 22, 2009

Rescind I-69 TTC from the FEIS

BEFORE it is sent to the FHWA

Connie Fogle
Trinity-Neches Texas SRPC

Our TNT Commission appreciates Mr. Boohers comments, but, what the Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission is pursuing is for TxDOT to rescind the I-69 TTC altogether from the FEIS, before they send it on to the Federal Highway Administration.

Mr. Booher has stated that TxDOT cannot do what we asked without starting a new study all over again. Which is exactly what we feel needs to be done.

TNT's question for TxDOT is: why waste more tax dollars and time having a study approved, by the EPA and The Federal Highway Administration, for a plan which TxDOT does not really feel they will pursue?"
New Alternative to TTC Announced

By: Coleman Swierc

TRINITY, TX - Just weeks ago, the Trans-Texas Corridor plans were dissolved by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

Today in Trinity, alternative plans were revealed. "They are going to pursue in writing, with the Federal Highway Commission, the upgrade of 59 to I-69," said Bob Dockens, President of the Trinity-Neches Sub-Regional Planning Commission, "and are going to, according to their statement today, abandon what was called the preferred corridor, the one that ran west of Houston and came through Trinity county."

In essence, the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, was originally to run as a connector from I-10 west of Houston, through much of Walker, Trinity, and parts of Angelina county, was eliminated.

Now, TxDOT, is proposing the upgrade of U.S. Highway 59, to the new, Interstate 69.
"We are not going to recommend the study area that was in this area," said TxDOT representative Doug Booher, "we are going to recommend to the federal highway administration that the study area for I-69 be U.S. 59."

With the new proposal to upgrade 59, new environmental issues have come up.
Members of the Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission questioned members of TxDOT, on their initial enviromental proposal, claiming crutial historical sites were overlooked.

TxDOT defended thier proposal, stating that the initial tier 1 analysis of the study area, was taken on a very broad range.

"The original study, was at a very high phase, and although it did consider those things, it did not drill down into the very high level of detail we would do if the project would continue into the second phase," said Booher.

They also assured the commission, that pending approval of the 59 upgrade, that TxDOT would consider environmental issues in much greater detail.

Booher reiterated, "If the project were to proceed, we would take into consideration all of the specific individual concerns, such as cemetaries, historic buildings, archealogical resources, wetlands, all manner of things."

Dockens and the committee seemed to agree, "I was very satisfied with the answers that Mr. Booher gave us today."

According to TxDOT, an announcement on the new environmental issues and upgrade possibilites to 59, will be announced in the following months.

© 2008 KTRE-TV: www.ktre.com

January 16, 2009

PWSRPC Hosts Meeting with TxDOT, EPA Feb 5th

Press Release
Piney Woods SRPC
Copyright 2009

The Piney Woods Sub-Regional Planning Commission (PWSRPC) took another step in the process of maintaining local control of future highway construction during a meeting held with TxDOT representatives last week.

The over-flow capacity crowd of public supporters caused the PWSRPC-TxDOT meeting to be moved to a much larger meeting room in the Nacogdoches County Courthouse Annex. This did not miss the attention of the three TxDOT officials, two of which were from the Austin Office, and the panel of consultants TxDOT brought with them, as nearly a hundred local citizens turned out to hear the Planning Commission's President, Hank Gilbert, grill TxDOT as to their plans.

Doug Booher, 'on the scene' Environmental Manager stated, "We're not going to pursue the 4,000 mile network. We are going to continue to pursue two individual projects; one of them would be the I-35 corridor project and the other one would be the I-69 corridor project."
When asked the question from the attending audience about a loop that once was planned to go around the West side of Nacogdoches, Booher stated, "I'm sure those plans would be dusted off and looked at again."

He also stated the name 'Trans Texas Corridor' would be 'phased out' and mentioned several times that tolling and public/private partnerships (by foreign investors) would still be an option in TxDOT's transportation plans.

Hank Gilbert also expressed to PWSRPC members that he is concerned about legislation Governor Perry may try to pass that would eliminate SRPC's, such as the Piney Woods. "We have people watching out for such legislation and if it is introduced, we will need for the citizens of Texas to call their Representatives and let them know that they want to keep their local SRPC's," Gilbert stated.

The strong show of public support for the PWSRPC's meeting with TxDOT validates the desire of the public for input and information.

The NEXT Piney Woods Sub-Regional Planning Commission meeting will be with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Representatives on Thursday, February 5, at 10:00 a.m. in the Nacogdoches County Annex.

This will also be an open meeting and the public is urged to attend. As Board Member Larry Shelton has stated, "You are either at the table or you are on the menu."

© Piney Woods Sub-Regional Planning Commission: www.pineywoodssrpc.blogspot.com

January 13, 2009

Despite name change, TTC still exists

Nannette Kilbey-Smith
Wilson County News

ST. HEDWIG — As the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) unveiled its “updated vision” for the Tran-Texas Corridor (TTC) Jan. 6, members of the South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (391 Commission) watched with interest.

The commission formed to coordinate with TxDOT on transportation issues and concerns in the local area, primarily the impact of the TTC.

“The Trans-Texas Corridor, as it was originally envisioned, is no more,” TxDOT spokesman Karen Amacker told San Antonio’s WOAI News that day.

“Texans have spoken, and we’ve been listening,” said TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz in Austin, quoted in a TxDOT press release. “… I believe this transformed vision for the TTC and other major corridor development goes a long way toward addressing the concerns we’ve heard over the past several years.”

The local 391 Commission held its regularly scheduled meeting in St. Hedwig the following day. High on the list of updates were the latest revelations on the TTC. Commission President Kathy Palmer of St. Hedwig cautioned all present against celebrating the end of the TTC just yet.

“Yesterday, it was reported that the TTC was dead,” Palmer told members. “Actually, what’s dead is the name. The concept is still in place.

“It’s a little different,” she continued, adding that the width of the proposed transportation corridor has been scaled down from 1,200 feet to no more than 600 feet.

“Now, rather than a single-concept project, this will be a series of projects,” Palmer said. TxDOT will refer to the smaller projects by their segment names, for example, State Highway (S.H.) 130 or Loop 1604.

“They’re still thinking of the corridor as a whole to move goods from seaports to the north,” Palmer said. “San Antonio to Dallas is the priority now.”

The reason for the renaming of the project, Palmer said, is that the Texas Legislature is beginning its new session.

“The TTC had such negative connotations, TxDOT feared the Legislature would pull all funding for it,” Palmer explained. “Unless the draft environmental impact study [now awaiting approval with the Federal Highway Administration] and all funding is pulled, all that we heard in the last four years on this project is still a possibility.”

The new name TxDOT is using for the project is “Innovative Connectivity in Texas|Vision 2009.” View the full document HERE.

New segment committees have been formed to discuss individual projects that comprise the TTC. Palmer told the commission new rules for segment committees had been adopted; new representation would be invited by TxDOT to share citizen concerns with the committees.

New representatives on the 391 Commission include Marion city Councilman James Gray, Guadalupe County commissioners Judy Cope and Cesareo Guadarrama III, and East Central Independent School Board (ISD) President Steve Bryant.

Other entities with invitations to join the commission include the city of La Vernia, the La Vernia ISD, and the Marion ISD.

In other business, members raised issues to discuss with TxDOT during the commission’s next workshop, Feb. 25. Items include:
  • The potential increase in traffic from S.H. 130 on I-10 from Seguin to Loop 410 when S.H. 130 is complete.
  • Landowner access on stretches of S.H. 130 in Guadalupe County where properties will be split by the proposed roadway.
  • The impact on bus routes on small arterial roads within the East Central ISD if TTC construction begins.
  • The impact of potential TTC construction on residential access in Wilson and Bexar counties on F.M. 3432 and U.S. 87.
  • The impact of potential TTC rail and/or vehicular routes on the city of Marion, its school district, and its emergency services.
Members also agreed to cap the number of entities represented on the local 391 Commission; member entities can be municipalities, school districts, counties, and water utilities. At present, five entities are represented: the cities of St. Hedwig and Marion, Wilson and Guadalupe counties, and the East Central ISD.

Wilson County Pct. 4 Commissioner Larry Wiley expressed concern over the growth of the commission.

“If we get too large, we lose the interconnectivity we have with each other,” he said. “But I want to leave open the prospect for adding other entities that may need to join.”

“Some possible member entities already have a voice, because they have a seat at commissioners court,” Wilson County Judge Marvin Quinney said.

Bryant expressed concerns that Bexar County was not represented at the table, except by his district.

St. Hedwig city Councilman Susann Baker recommended capping the membership at eight entities and an adjustment to the bylaws to reflect this; the item met with full approval by the commission.

The 391 Commission will meet again Wednesday, Feb. 25, at 2 p.m. in the St. Hedwig City Hall. Although the meeting is open to the public, it will be a workshop with TxDOT; therefore, no public input will be permitted, Palmer said.

© 2009 Wilson County News: www.wilsoncountynews.com

January 11, 2009

TxDOT says TTC is dead; opponents not so sure

The Trinity Standard
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN – The death of the Trans-Texas Corridors (TTC) and the birth of a less ambitious highway plan was announced Tuesday by state officials in Austin.

During the Fourth Annual Texas Transportation Forum hosted by the Texas Department of Transportation in Austin, major changes in the state’s highway plans were unveiled.

Amadeo Saenz Jr., TxDOT’s executive director, said the ambitious proposal to create the TTC superhighways was being dropped and is being replaced by a plan to carry out road projects at an incremental, modest pace.

“The Trans-Texas Corridor, as it is known, no longer exists,” Saenz said.

The TxDOT official said the state will move forward with modification to proposed projects and will seek more input from Texans through additional town hall meetings and an updated Web site.

Saenz said the changes in the TxDOT plan are detailed in Innovative Connectivity in Texas/Vision 2009.

He indicated the change was in response to the large public outcry raised last year to the TTC proposal.

The plan called for up to 10 toll lanes – six for passenger vehicles and four for trucks – as well as six rail lines and a corridor to carry utility lines.

One of the TTC highways that was the center of heated opposition throughout East Texas was the Interstate 69/TTC. Under this plan, TxDOT proposed to extend I-69 through the region using the TTC concept.

Its proposed route would include a segment which followed the U.S. 59 corridor south from Nacogdoches through Lufkin down to Corrigan. There it would follow a new track westward through Trinity County south of U.S. 287 and then turn southeast near Trinity toward Walker County.

Under this plan, up to 5,800 acres of Trinity County land would be needed for the TTC right-of-way.

During a public hearing hosted Feb. 7, 2008, a standing-room-only crowd of opponents filled the Trinity High School gym to voice their concerns for the plan and the disruptions such a highway would cause.

In June 2008, TxDOT announced it was dropping the route through Trinity County and planned to stick to the U.S. 59 corridor all the way to Houston.

Saenz restated that position on Tuesday and noted that if the I-69 projected needed more lanes than currently existed for U.S. 59, the state will simply widen the roadway.

He added that should toll lanes be added to various roads, tolls would be assessed only on the new lanes and not those that currently exist.

Last year in response to the TTC plan, the cities of Trinity, Groveton and Corrigan formed The Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (TNT) to oppose the proposed TTC corridor through Trinity County.

State law gives commissions such as the TNT authority to negotiate highway changes with TxDOT and organizers hoped to use this power to challenge the TTC plan.

Connie Fogle of Trinity, a vocal critic of the TTC and a member of the TNT, said Tuesday that while she hopes TxDOT is being straightforward about the change, she and other TNT members have strong doubts.

“It would be wonderful if this were true, but I’m not so sure that it is,” she said, adding that in the past, TxDOT has played a game of “smoke and mirrors” to try to relieve public pressure.

“You know they are under pressure over this. The public was up in arms during the public hearings last year and the legislature’s Sunset Commission really raked TxDOT over the coals,” she said.

Fogle said she believes TxDOT hopes announcements such as this will prevent other sub-regional planning commissioners from forming.

“We, and other commissions, have been a real thorn in TxDOT’s side and this probably is a response to that,” she added.

She noted that despite the June announcement that TxDOT would follow the existing U.S. 59 route through East Texas, the Trinity County TTC corridor is still included in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that is being forwarded to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

“As long as the Trinity County route is still included in the DEIS, its still alive. If the DEIS is approved at the federal level, TxDOT could come back someday and say, ‘Oh, you know we tried to do it this way (follow U.S. 59), but it just didn’t work so we’re going to have to go back to the Trinity County route’,” she said.

She noted that TNT attorneys obtained copies of TxDOT’s Innovative Connectivity in Texas/Vision 2009 and are currently reviewing it.

“They already have noted that, as usual, TxDOT is leaving itself loopholes,” she noted.

She noted that in their announcement, TxDOT said the highway right-of-ways for things like the I-69 project would be no more than 600-feet wide – which is down from the 1,200-foot wide TTC plan.

“When our attorneys got to looking at the plan in detail, they found that it said the right-of-way would be not more than 600 feet ‘in most cases.’ They are not really limiting themselves, even though they are saying they are,” she said.

Fogle said despite the TxDOT announcement, the TNT will continue to operate to insure that the rights of local residents are protected.

They are scheduled to meet with local TxDOT officials during their next regular meeting set for 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 21, at the Trinity City Hall.

© 2009 The Trinity Standard: www.easttexasnews.com

January 6, 2009

TxDOT Announcement a Clever Ruse

Press Release
Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC)

Holland, Texas – Today’s surprise announcement by Amadeo Saenz, Executive Director of TxDOT, that the Trans-Texas Corridor is dead, has many believing this is nothing more than a clever political maneuver right before the 81st Legislative Session begins next week.

“If Mr. Saenz and TxDOT are to be taken seriously that the TTC is dead, then we call on him today to demand that the Environmental Impact Study for the TTC be rescinded and start the entire process over,” demanded Mae Smith, President of the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC).

Just a few months ago, TxDOT submitted a request for approval of their final environmental study for the Trans-Texas Corridor I-35 segment from the Federal Highway Administration and are awaiting its decision. “If they are not moving forward with the TTC concept, then why have they asked for its approval from the FHWA?” asked Smith, noting that until this action is taken, Mr. Saenz’s comments can be viewed as no more than a political statement.

The ECTSRPC was formed immediately after the Legislature adjourned in 2007, under a little-known statute of Section 391 of the Local Government Code. Section 391 allowed the five cities in Bell and Milam County which include Bartlett, Holland, Little-River Academy, Rogers and Buckholts, to form a regional planning commission to combat the Trans-Texas Corridor. Since that time, nine commissions have formed across the state forcing TxDOT to change their plans and appear to be working more closely with local governments.

“We appreciate the wisdom of the Texas Legislature to put laws into place in the Texas statute that gave us the ability to form a completely autonomous commission to fight the State’s lead transportation agency without any strings attached,” added Smith. “We hope the legislature will guard against any efforts to infringe on our local control.”

TxDOT has indicated it will be using their Corridor Advisory Committees and Corridor Segment Committees as a way to garner “local input” to guide them through their new plan. “That’s exactly why we formed our regional planning commission,” noted Smith who also pointed out that TxDOT’s corridor committees were not developed until after the local government commission began forming and requiring the agency to coordinate the TTC with their local governments.

TxDOT’s new plan does away with utilizing the Trans-Texas Corridor name and reduces the width of the corridor in most places from 1,200 feet to 600 feet. It also removes the “non-compete” clause from Comprehensive Development Agreements that prohibit improvements on existing highways.

“The only serious change is the removal of the ‘non-compete’ clause and most other changes are nothing more than window dressing,” stated Smith. “Although this is a great step in the right direction, we believe this is nothing more than a clever ruse prior to the Texas Legislature convening in Austin next week.” “There will be a new Speaker of the House and a new Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, which all legislation, good and bad for TxDOT, will have to pass through.What better political move could be made than an announcement that the TTC is dead right before the Session,” Smith concluded.

The ECTSRPC has held several coordination meetings with the agencies involved with the TTC project including Region 6 Environmental Protection Agency, TxDOT, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas Natural Resource Conservation Service and most recently the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. They have also received a letter from the FHWA making it clear they are currently in the process of reviewing the final environmental study for approval.

“We have no indication from TxDOT or any of the other agencies that they will be pulling back the TTC concept,” stated Smith.

Smith said the ECTSRPC’s next action will be completing the Draft Buckholts to Bartlett Rural Transportation Plan, which the 391 Statute authorizes them to prepare. “As the only planning agency in our region with the singular task of representing the rural communities in Eastern Bell County and Milam County, we felt it was critically important that we develop a transportation plan that reflects the view of the people who live here.” The first public meeting on the draft plan will take place January 13, 2008 in Holland at 6:30 p.m.

Contact: Mae Smith, President 254-657-2460

© 2008 Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission: www.ectsrpc.blogspot.com
We Are Not Going To Back Down

Kathy Palmer, President
South Central Texas SRPC

“The Trans Texas Corridor, as it was originally envisioned, is no more,” Karen Amacker (TxDOT spokesperson) told 1200 WOAI news just today.

Before we have “No More TTC Parties” however, let me explain what that means.
  • The TTC project instead of being one large project as originally proposed, will now be broken down into many smaller projects with each having their own individual name.
  • The width of the route will be changed from 1200 feet to approximately 600 feet in most places.
  • The route will still include in some areas, not only vehicular traffic, but rail and truck only lanes.
Please do not misunderstand me, this is a great accomplishment and one that would not have occurred had folks not decided enough was enough. What I hope to prevent however, is folks thinking we won the battle and therefore the war is over. It is far from over.

In TxDOT’s own Vision 2009 document (TxDOT-Vision-2009) page 5, you will see the following:

“What’s in a Name? Quite a lot. The Trans-Texas Corridor name has taken on unintended meaning that can obscure the facts. The Texas Department of Transportation has decided to put the name to rest. Instead, we will implement a corridor program that will house the tools of innovative project development and delivery springing from TTC events, but will use the names generally associated with individual projects from the beginning, such as State Highway 130, Interstate 69, and Loop 9.”

The DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) for the TTC concept is still under review and awaiting final approval from the Federal Highway Administration. TxDOT does not have any intent to dump that DEIS and start over, which means that if/when it is approved, it will have the original TTC concept in it thus allowing it to be used if TxDOT chooses to revert back to the original concept. I am not saying they will, but if folks do not stay vigilant and make sure they don’t, depending on who is in office and what the Texas Legislature allows or disallows, anything can happen.

Now you may ask, how does the Legislature have anything to do with the TTC Concept continuing?

The Legislature is who dictates the funding. If they withdraw the funding, then and only then will the project die. At that point, in order for any part of the project to move forward, funding must be found, whether it be state money, federal money or a combination thereof.

For those of us that have been involved in this for some time, we saw the writing on the wall of the name change when the Corridor Advisory Committee reports (See TTC I-35 report link HERE) stated that the TTC name evoked negative images in most Texan’s minds. We knew the only logical thing TxDOT could do was to dump the TTC name in the hopes that folks would then begin to back off.

I know I am not alone when I say that backing off now is the farthest thing from my mind.

I will be addressing the SCTSRPC in our meeting tomorrow and again tomorrow night at the East Central Citizen’s Forum to reiterate that now more than ever we need to stick to our guns and make sure our cities and the folks that live within them are protected.

It might take more effort now than before, since there may be more than one project related to the old “TTC” that will require coordination, but we did not form the Commission just to turn around and dissolve it at the drop of a hat.

I look forward to continuing working with TxDOT as we strive to assist them in providing for the transportation needs of the future while protecting what we have worked so hard to build in the past. Stay strong, stay focused, do your homework and research what you hear. Remember that knowledge is power.

Have a very Happy New Year!

© 2008 South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission: www.sctsrpc.blogspot.com
State Officials change Corridor Plan

By Donna McCollum
KTRE-TV (Lufkin - Nacodoches)
Copyright 2008

NACOGDOCHES COUNTY, TX - By trade Larry Shelton is a woodworker. When he's not building cabinets he joins the thousands of East Texas property owners in the fight against the Trans Texas Corridor.

"We were right in the middle of the proper corridor," said Shelton of his rural Nacogdoches County home. The voting member of the Piney Woods Sub Regional Planning Commission is the local voice facing state and federal agencies. He's not easily convinced hearing the news that TX Dot is calling TTC dead. "I'm not really surprised that it took TxDOT 5 years to come to the same conclusion that the people of Texas arrived at immediately," said Shelton.

In Martinsville, the corridor would have sliced right through the school district. Children wrote letters to government offices begging them to reconsider. But the children won't be learning a lesson of victory from their teacher, Jan Tracy, another grassroots advocate against the TTC. "It's very broad," referring to a law passed in 2003 supporting the transportation system. " "And until that law is changed in our legislative session this spring, they can still do whatever they want to do. That's what we're concerned about. "
You'll find the Independent Texans blog claiming "partial victory in fighting the mammoth Trans-Texas Corridor", but writers still call it a "TxDOT spin".

Major corridor projects will now comprise several small segments overseen by local interests. Nacogdoches County Judge Joe English is serving on the segment committee that runs from texarkana to the Angelina River bridge. "In the segment that will go through Nacogdoches County we'll have public hearings on it and get the public's input one more time. "

Like the corridor route, the debate is taking a different direction. You'll hear more opposition concerning toll roads and the use of private public contracts. The issues remain, no matter what the Trans Texas Corridor is called.

Gov. Rick Perry, during a conference call from Iraq, said the smaller version isn't a rejection of his vision. He says his office will continue to work with legislative leaders on building more highways.

Meanwhile, the Piney Woods Sub Regional Planning Commission will meet with TxDOT on January 22nd at the Nacogdoches County Courthouse.

© 2009 WorldNow and KTRE: www.ktre.com
Transportation plan stays, but name goes

By Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News

AUSTIN — Seeking to renew enthusiasm for a massive road-building plan that scared people by its very name, the Texas Department of Transportation has decided to reinvigorate it — by dropping the name.

“We've decided to put the name to rest,” Director Amadeo Saenz told more than 1,000 people Tuesday morning at the Texas Transportation Forum, according to a text of his speech. “The Trans-Texas Corridor, as it was known, will no longer exist.”

The corridor actually hasn't existed “as it was known” for years now, Saenz explained later. It's been evolving, often under fire, ever since Gov. Rick Perry unveiled the 50-year blueprint in 2002.

Back then, the vision showed 1,200-foot-wide swaths of toll lanes, rail lines and utility lines criss-crossing the state.

TxDOT officials later said the roads and rails might not be in the same corridors, and so the rights of way wouldn't have to be so wide. They also said segments would be built only as needed, and existing roads would be widened instead where possible.

But many people couldn't shake the wide berth shown in the original drawings. They added up acreage and projected the paths of the 4,000-mile network — and got scared.

“A lot of fear developed,” recalled state Sen. Robert Nichols, who at the time served on the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees TxDOT. “With that fear came opposition.”

Anger from thousands of landowners and activists flooded public hearings, first in 2006 for the corridor's twin along Interstate 35 and again last year for a route through East Texas.

TxDOT refined plans, announcing that adding lanes to I-35 south of San Antonio was the priority over a virgin route. Last year, the Transportation Commission broadened that intention, promising to always first consider using existing rights of way for any corridor project.

On Tuesday, Saenz said the agency also will try to keep widths within 600 feet. Going wider, especially if roads and rails are put together, would be the exception rather than the norm.

“The right of way will be whatever you need to build the asset,” he said. “But the chance of it being all put together in one corridor is slim.”

Other than backpedaling from the Trans-Texas brand, and the goals and priorities set over the years, the corridor remains intact.

TxDOT still plans to partner with private corporations to build and lease projects. Toll roads, truck-only lanes and rail lanes also still are on the table.

Environmental studies for the I-35 and East Texas corridor segments still chug through the pipeline. And a development contract with Cintra of Spain and Zachry Construction Corp. of San Antonio for projects paralleling I-35 still is valid.

The difference now is that instead of referring to the Trans-Texas Corridor name, officials will identify each segment of the original plan separately.

Booting the corridor's name could freshen the concept and maybe clear the air some before this year's transportation-heavy legislative session starts next week.

“We can now focus on the real issue, which is additional road capacity and the means to finance the same,” said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas.

State lawmakers plan to put TxDOT, toll roads, privatization, gas taxes and other issues in the frying pan. Carona said all financing options will be needed.

“It's going to be a big chapter, it's going to be a great chapter,” he said of the upcoming session.

Perry, speaking from Iraq on a conference call with reporters, concurred that the state needs private investments in roads.

“Our options are relatively limited due to Washington's ineffectiveness from the standpoint of being able to deliver dollars or the Legislature to raise the gas tax,” he said. “So we have to look at some other options.”

Still, the name change has roused excitement.

“We're real pleased that a project once described as unstoppable has now screeched to a halt,” said David Stall of the citizens' group Corridor Watch.

He said his group will continue to watch developments.

R.G. Ratcliffe and Janet Elliott of the Austin Bureau contributed to this report.

Portions © 2009 San Antonio Express-News.www.mysanantonio.com
Perry: TxDOT killed Trans Texas Corridor name, not initiative

The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry, talking from Iraq to reporters, suggested that the Texas Department of Transportation's decision to pull the plug on one of his biggest initiatives – the Trans Texas Corridor – was mostly a name change, and that public-private partnerships on toll roads would continue.

"The name 'Trans Texas Corridor' is over with. We’re going to continue to build roads in the state of Texas," Perry said.

He said toll roads will continue to play a major role in highway planning because there are limited ways to get infrastructure funding.

"Our options are fairly limited, due to Washington’s ineffectiveness from the standpoint of being able to deliver dollars, or for the Legislature to raise the gas tax," he said.

A week before the Legislature is to convene – and in the midst of a shift in House leadership – Mr. Perry accepted a Department of Defense invitation to join two other governors on a trip to visit troops in Iraq.

Perry, who has yet to lay out his legislative agenda, said it was the right thing for him to do.

"Texas is a big state, and we’ve got a lot of friends around the world," he said.

The governor said Texas has about 3,800 troops serving in Iraq, probably more military personnel than any other state.

"I think it’s important for me to see them, to tell them they’re doing a great job. I’m the commander in chief of the Texas state forces," he said. "I think it’s appropriate and the right thing to do."

Perry has raised his national profile in recent years, including speaking on behalf of GOP presidential candidates and serving as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

As he seeks a third term, he is engaged in a potential high-stakes 2010 primary contest against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Perry was asked about Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, becoming the presumptive Texas House speaker. Straus has gathered pledges of support from more than 100 of the 150 House members, and all other contenders having dropped out of the race. The governor had a sometimes rocky relationship with outgoing Speaker Tom Craddick, even though they shared a socially conservative agenda and the support of the base of the Republican Party.

"I’m a very strong supporter of Joe," Perry said. "I know that the House will get their business done and will elect a new speaker. Whoever that individual is, we’ll look forward to working with them and moving the state forward."

Perry left on the Iraq trip on Monday, but word of it was not released until today for security reasons.

He is joined by Govs. Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Christine Gregoire of Washington.

© 2009 The Dallas Morning news: www.dallasnews.com