February 28, 2009

Local input received on area mobility plan


Trinity Standard
Copyright 2009

TRINITY – A handful of suggestions for changes and additions to the local highway system were presented last week during the first of three public forums hosted by the Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (TNT).

Additional traffic control lights and an overpass were the needs listed by the public during the meeting regarding a draft transportation study being prepared by TNT.

During the meeting, TNT Member-at-large Connie Fogle explained that the study was being developed as a means of countering what the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) formerly called the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC).

“State law says TxDOT’s plan must be compatible with our plan,” Fogle said. “That’s why were here today. We want to draft a mobility plan for the Trinity, Groveton and Corrigan areas and we want the public’s input.”

Fogle noted the TNT was organized last year as a means of fighting TxDOT’s plans to route the massive TTC highway system through Trinity County. By drafting a mobility plan for the area that does not include the proposed new highway route, she indicated TNT would have additional ammunition in their battle.

Fogle told the group of about a dozen audience members that while the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has agreed that the name “Trans-Texas Corridor” is dead, the proposed route through Trinity County is not.

It was noted that in TxDOT officials have agreed to “use existing highway right-of-ways” such as U.S. 59 through East Texas for the proposed I-69 connecting Mexico to Canada, new right-of-way through Trinity County is still included in TxDOT Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that it plans to submit to the Federal Highway Administration.

“The public didn’t like the name Trans-Texas Corridor, so (TxDOT) changed its name; and the public didn’t like the 1,200-foot-wide footprint, so they decided to narrow it where they can, but they’re still sending in the environmental impact statement as is,” Fogle said.

It was noted that some TxDOT officials now refer to the route through Trinity County as “I-69 Alt.” or alternate Interstate 69.

Fogle said the TNT will continue to work to halt the TTC and I-69 Alt. route and was seeking suggestions for things to include in the transportation plan they are now preparing.

“This is a work in progress. We will be taking suggestions tonight and at public forums planned in Groveton and Corrigan. We also will be taking written suggestions,” she added.

Among the suggestions presented during the Feb. 19 meeting, was the installation of a traffic control light on Highway 19 in front of the Trinity Brookshire Brothers grocery store.

Trinity Mayor Lyle Stubbs noted the city has been asking TxDOT for years for such a light but has always been turned down.

“They’ve got the traffic data and information on the number of accidents that have occurred there, but we still don’t have a light,” he said.

Stubbs also noted that in the past the city has asked TxDOT to put in an overpass to allow traffic on Highway 94 to cross the railroad tracks.

Stubbs, who also is a member of the Trinity Volunteer Fire Department, noted there have been incidents in the past where a train passing through the city has prevented firefighters from responded to building and other fires.

He noted that to help solve this problem, TVFD not has fire-fighting equipment on both sides of the tracks.

However, since most firefighters work on the west side of the tracks during the day, there are times where not enough manpower can get to a fire when the tracks are blocked.

“We’re probably too small to get (an overpass) but it won’t hurt to ask,” Stubbs said.
Dee Dee King of the Saron Community near Trinity suggested a caution light be placed at the intersection of Highway 94 and FM 3188 northeast of Trinity.

“It’s a dangerous place and we need at lease a flashing light there to warn people,” King said.

Fogle noted that the second public forum was held in Corrigan on Tuesday, Feb. 24, and the third and final meeting was set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 26, at the Groveton City Hall, 115 W. Front Street.

She noted the Groveton meeting had originally been set for Feb. 17 but was rescheduled due to a conflict with a girls’ basketball playoff game.

Copies of the draft mobility plans are available at the Trinity, Groveton and Corrigan city halls. Written comments will be accepted through May 20.

After comments have been received, TNT will finalize the plan and publish notices in local newspapers. Copies of the final plan will be available at the city halls for public review.

Following a 30-day comment period on the final plan, the TNT will give their final approval and deliver it to state, federal and regional transportation agencies as well as to the governor’s office.

© 2009 Trinity Standard: www.easttexasnews.com

February 19, 2009

Revised corridor plans still under review

Country World News

In the wake of a recent announcement that the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) proposal is dead, Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials have met with several sub-regional planning commissions to clarify what projects associated with the TTC will still go forward.

Members of the sub-regional commissions, which were formed in response to the corridor, have expressed concern that while last rites for the TTC have been announced, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the corridor has continued.

Doug Booher, an environmental specialist with the Texas Turnpike Authority, told the commission that the state EIS is continuing because individual corridor projects are still being planned.

“The documents for the EIS, as it relates to the Trans-Texas Corridor as a whole concept, have to be revised,” he said.

Mark Tomlinson, director of the Texas Turnpike Authority Division, said the TTC-35 and I-69 programs will go forward as individual projects rather than as part of a larger system. The turnpike division is responsible for toll roads and other financing options for TxDOT.

The TTC-35 project calls for a highway running roughly parallel to Interstate 35 from the Red River to the Mexican border. The I-69 project would create a highway running from Texarkana to Laredo or the Rio Grande Valley.

“The overall goal of the (EIS) document is the same,” he said. “How we plan to implement the projects has changed. For example, the overall width of the corridor projects still under consideration was conceptualized at 1,200 feet but are now closer to 600 feet.” He added that the proposed paths haven’t changed, and that the widths weren’t considered when the first proposed routes were drawn.

Gov. Rick Perry first proposed the TTC in 2002 as a $175 billion, 4,000-mile network of highways, rail and communication lines through the state. The elaborate system was designed to ease overcrowding on current highways and accommodate future growth.

The plan was controversial from the first. The massive amount of land needed for the project drew critical attention from farmers, ranchers and rural landowners.

Agriculture groups, such as the Texas Farm Bureau and others, spoke out loudly against the proposal at a series of public hearings to gather public input on the TTC.

Fred Kelly Grant, a lawyer and legal adviser for the sub-regional planning commissions, asked the officials if they have worked within the provisions of the Farmland Protection Policy Act in drafting the EIS.

“That (Farmland Protection Policy Act) is not the only factor we have to consider,” Tomlinson said. “We looked at unique farmland on both sides (of Interstate 35) but we also have to look at the Endangered Species Act, which comes into play a lot more on the western side of the highway. Until it’s an actual project, we can’t say for sure how the Farmland Protection Act will come into play.”

Richard Skopic, district engineer for TxDOT, said the federal stimulus plan could have an impact on TxDOT’s ability to fund projects like TTC-35 and I-69, but added that it is too early to tell what impact, if any, it will have.

“Part of the plan, as it stands now, calls for $27 to $30 billion for highways, bridges and transportation,” Skopic said. “I think we could expect Texas to get just under $2.5 billion. When you look at that amount of money, it’s less than what we spent on similar projects over the last five years.”

TxDOT Executive Director Amando Saenz announced at a transportation conference in Austin last month that the name Trans-Texas Corridor, as a single-project concept, is not the choice of Texans and that the name will be put to rest. He also announced the Innovative Connectivity in Texas/Vision 2009 program, which includes a policy of meeting with local groups for input on transportation projects.

Dan Byfield with the American Land Foundation, a private property rights group that advises the sub-regional commissions, said that TxDOT has held several meetings with the local commissions.

“The Pineywoods group got a letter from Amando Saenz saying that the department looks forward to working with them on the I-69 project,” he said. “That’s a step in the right direction.”

© 2009 Country World News: www.countryworldnews.com

February 12, 2009

TxDOT agrees to work with county group on project

Waller County News-Citizen

WALLER – In a letter dated Jan. 21, addressed to the Waller County Sub-Regional Planning Commission, Amadeo Saenz Jr., executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, agreed to coordinate with the WCSRPC in regards to the plans and programs of the I-69/TTC project.

“We welcome the opportunity to work with your group on transportation issues that are important to Waller County citizens,” Saenz stated in his letter.

The letter further details that Saenz has instructed TxDOT Houston District staff to coordinate these efforts with the WCSRPC and to arrange a meeting, because the Houston District is best positioned to understand regional issues.

“This is a significant step in the process for Waller County citizens and the WCSRPC,” stated Maurice Hart Jr., president of the WCSRPC.

“As long as Waller County remains on the Environmental Impact Statement for the I-69/TTC project as an alternative route, we are going to require TxDOT to coordinate with us so that any potential project that is done in our area is consistent with the transportation and mobility plans and goals of our area and of our citizens,” Hart added.

Trey Duhon, vice president of Citizens for a Better Waller County, feels that this is a significant accomplishment for the WCSRPC, “This letter shows that TxDOT is acknowledging Chapter 391 of the Texas Local Government Code. Waller County now has the ability to sit at the table with a state agency like TxDOT as equal partners in the transportation process. The ultimate winners will be the citizens of Waller County. CBWC is extremely pleased that coordination efforts are now moving forward.”

Despite recent announcements by TxDOT that the Trans Texas Corridor project is dead, Duhon expressed caution, “After many years of working against the Trans Texas Corridor, the recent announcement is encouraging, but we can not let our guard down. The recent announcement seems to be more of a name change than anything else. As long as Waller County remains on the EIS as an alternative, there is a danger to our area. We have gone too far to relax now and get caught off guard. The WCSRPC will be an effectively tool to monitor TxDOT's real intentions.”

The WCSRPC was initially formed in April of 2008 by Waller County and the cities of Waller, Pine Island, and Prairie View. Since that time, the city of Pattison has become a member along with Waller ISD and the Brookshire Katy Drainage District, which became new members at the commission meeting that was held on Feb. 2. Don Garrett, president of CBWC, has also been appointed as a non-elected citizen director.

Hart stated, “We still have standing invitations to the cities of Hempstead, Brookshire, Katy, Hempstead ISD, Royal ISD, Bluebonnet Water District, and Emergency Services District No. 200 to be a part of the process in joining the WCSRPC. This organization will facilitate communication between Waller County cities, the county, and other important entities so that we can all work together to improve the quality of life for all Waller County citizens in relation to any state or federal project in Waller County. With TxDOT’s agreement to coordinate, it is important for everyone to have a seat at the table. We are looking forward to our first meeting with TxDOT officials.”

The Commission also voted to extend an invitation to Katy ISD to join the WCSRPC.

The WCSRPC is also looking at zip codes issues in Prairie View and Pattison, in addition to drainage issues in Waller County.

For additional information and updates on the WCSRPC, you can visit their website at http://wallercountysrpc.blogspot.com. As soon as a meeting date with TxDOT is set, the website will be updated with that date and time. The WCSRPC meets regularly at 7 p.m. on the first Monday of every month at the Road & Bridge complex in Hempstead across from DiLorio's on Business Hwy 290.

Meetings of the WSRPC are open to the public.

© 2008 Waller County News-Citizen : www.hcnonline.com