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

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