|Trinity Standard - Local News
Stories Added - June 2008
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
I-69 moved back to U.S. 59 corridor
Trinity Standard - June 2008
AUSTIN – After months of protests from East Texas landowners, the Texas Department of Transportation has announced it is dropping the proposed Trinity County route for the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) Project.
During a press conference on Wednesday, June 11, TxDOT officials said the I-69/TTC would use existing highway facilities, which in this part of the state means U.S. 59 through Angelina, Polk and San Jacinto counties.
According to TxDOT, if additional travel lanes are added to existing highways, only the new lanes would have tolls.
Trinity County Judge Mark Evans said that after the strong opposition voiced by area residents and elected officials, he was pleased but not surprised by the decision.
“This had to have been the worst managed public information campaign that I’ve ever seen,” Evans said of TxDOT’s effort to win public approval for the I-69/TTC project.
“Years from now they will be showing this campaign to students in marketing school as an example of what not to do,” he said.
TxDOT had proposed bringing the “superhighway” that would require up to a 1,200-foot wide right-of-way through Trinity County, cutting through ranches and timber plantations. When completed, the proposed TTC would have up to 10 lanes for vehicles as well as rail lines and a corridor for utilities.
The announcement last week means they are dropping that plan.
“This was a project that had no benefit for rural areas. It wasn’t wanted and it wasn’t needed,” Evans said.
The judge attributed TxDOT’s decision to the vocal protest of East Texas residents who turned out by the thousands at public hearings and meetings throughout the region.
In addition to local opposition, nine members of the East Texas congressional delegation recently sent a letter to TxDOT asking that the I-69 project be separated from the state’s TTC plan.
The nine U.S. congressmen included U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, who represents southern Trinity County. They asked that the I-69 project be returned to its original path, which included existing highways such as U.S. 59.
In their formal announcement, TxDOT officials agreed the decision was made to comply with citizen comments received during its series of public hearings.
“After a dozen town hall meetings, nearly 50 public hearings, and countless one-on-one conversations, it is clear to us that Texans want us to use existing roadways to start building the Texas portion of Interstate 69,” said Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton.
“TxDOT’s recommendation would effectively shrink our environmental study down to roads such as U.S. Highways 77 and 281 in South Texas, State Highway 44 and U.S. Highway 59 along the Coastal Bend and U.S. Highways 84 and 59 in East Texas.
“We are dropping consideration of new corridors that would run west of Houston in addition to other proposals for new highway footprints in other parts of the state,” Houghton said.
TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz, in a letter to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), wrote “The preliminary basis for this decision centers on the review of nearly 28,000 public comments made on the Tier One DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact statement).”
Saenz added during a live press conference FHWA would review TxDOT’s documents for two to three years before the project moves into Phase 2 of the environmental study.
The overwhelming sentiment of these comments focused on the need to improve the existing transportation network rather than building a new corridor for the project.
TxDOT’s stated intention has been to focus on making needed improvements to existing and planned transportation facilities within the I-69/TTC study area.
In May, the Texas Transportation Commission adopted guiding principles and policies that will govern the development, construction and operation of toll road projects on the state highway system and the Trans-Texas Corridor. In addition they reaffirmed that only new lanes added to an existing highway will be tolled and that there will be no reduction in the number of non-tolled lanes.
Wherever possible, existing right-of-way would be considered for the development of new projects.
“We are closer than ever to realizing the promise and the potential of I-69, and we will move forward with this important Transportation Commission policy in the front of our minds,” Saenz said.
Saenz noted that the recently-named I-69 Corridor Advisory Committee will help guide TxDOT’s work on the project. Saenz said he looked forward to the appointment of Segment Advisory Committees comprised of local leaders who will help further develop I-69/TTC.
“We also want to keep working with our Congressional delegation and the Texas Legislature,” added Transportation Commissioner Houghton. “Legislative leadership, public involvement and local commitment will all be essential if we are going to build this long-awaited highway.”
TxDOT is preparing its report for FHWA following completion of the public involvement process for the environmental review of I-69/TTC.
If this recommendation is approved by FHWA, plans for a separate new corridor would be dropped from future environmental reviews, and the existing infrastructure would serve as the study area for future environmental review.
In the future, the northern and southern portions of I-69/TTC could be linked in the Houston area. Houston’s connection to I-69/TTC, including access to the Port of Houston, will be determined in coordination with elected leaders and transportation planners in the area.