Transportation Department Begins Hearings on the Trans Texas Corridor
By Marla Crockett
Dallas, TX –
Marla Crockett, KERA Reporter: This is All Things Considered on KERA 90.1. I'm Marla Crockett. In 2002, Governor Rick Perry proposed a 50-year vision to update and expand the state's transportation system. His Trans Texas Corridor, costing billions, includes toll roads with separate lanes for cars and trucks, freight and commuter railways, and the infrastructure for utilities and telecommunications. The Texas Department of Transportation is studying where to put the corridor, and Monday in Sherman, Ennis and Gainesville, the agency will conduct the first of 54 hearings on or near the I-35 corridor, where the first phase of the project is likely to be built. At least 20 groups across the state have organized against what they've seen so far. Amy Klein, a physician who lives just east of Gainesville near the Oklahoma border, chairs one of them:
Amy Klein, Chairman of Save Our County: We own some property in Callisburg. We own a home as well. We have cattle on our property. I'm concerned about pollution. I'm concerned about my property values decreasing, I'm concerned about access from one side of the county to the other.
Crockett: Klein and several others formed Save Our County a few months ago after the Transportation Department released a map of a 10-mile wide study area where the Trans Texas Corridor might go. In early June, they attracted hundreds of residents to two informational meetings at a local elementary school--and launched a petition campaign to stop the proposal:
Klein: The preferred route goes directly through Cooke County, especially eastern Cooke County. We are in the direct path. And even if the highway does not run over your property and there's not asphalt on your property, it will affect everybody in Cooke County.
Crockett: Dallas City Councilman Bill Blaydes is also unhappy with the Department of Transportation's map, but for a different reason. He and many other officials in North Texas don't feel the corridor runs close enough to Dallas-Fort Worth. TxDOT puts the toll road east of Dallas, running mostly through Rockwall County:
Blaydes: It is imperative we keep this transitional system-road system- inside Dallas County to continue to promote what we're doing in the southern sector.
Crockett: As head of the city's Economic Development Committee, Blaydes has been working for the past 18 months to bring an inland port to South Dallas. The huge warehouse district planned around I-20 and I-45 could produce thousands of jobs for workers who'd inspect, store, assemble and ship out goods coming in from the West Coast and Mexico:
Blaydes: Because of the new shipping patterns coming from China and coming through the NAFTA, it puts Dallas right in the heart of the new transportation system. We're trying to make sure we expand on that and take advantage of that opportunity.
Crockett: Working through the North Central Texas Council of Governments, Dallas, Fort Worth and other cities in the region came up with a route more to their liking. Ric Williamson, Chair of the Texas Transportation Commission, says that's fine by him, because nothing's final:
Ric Williamson, Chair of the Texas Transportation Commission: One of the most difficult hills to climb for us is to say repeatedly- until people finally accept it-that we don't have a position on a route.
Crockett: Williamson says the study area that the public will comment on was the product of federal and state guidelines and a series of questions:
Williamson: Where are existing roads? Where are existing houses? Where are existing lakes, watersheds, industrial locations, cemeteries, national landmarks, state landmarks? So, you begin your study by saying, where do none of these physical barriers appear to exist?
Crockett: Still, Williamson acknowledges that whenever Texas builds a road, people lose their land. And even though the state's willing to just lease or rent the property, the fear of loss is what's driving opposition to the Trans Texas Corridor in rural parts of the state. At the Save Our County meeting near Gainesville, lobbyists for the Texas Farm Bureau and Cattleman's Association laid out in painstaking detail how they won concessions during the last legislative session to protect farmers and ranchers. But they-and State Representative Rick Hardcastle-warned that they're dealing with hard political reality:
State Representative Rick Hardcastle: There are 26 representatives from Houston, 24 from Dallas, 14 from Fort Worth. And then there are the rest of us out in the country. So, you should keep that in mind. So, keep that in the back of your mind. A lot of these negotiations are with people who don't have a care about how we live.
Crockett: But this is also an election year. Governor Perry's opponents--Democrat Chris Bell and Independents Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton Strayhorn--have all come out against the Corridor. And when Strayhorn walked into the Gainesville meeting at the end of a long evening, she energized the crowd:
Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Independent Gubernatorial Candidate: It's great to be an American, it's great to be a Texan and the first woman Comptroller, but I want you to know it doesn't get any better than being with hard-working men and women of Cooke County who will stop Governor Perry and his land-grabbin' highway and henchmen from cramming toll roads down Texans' throat. He calls it the Trans Texas Corridor. I call it the Trans Texas Catastrophe, and in a Strayhorn administration, it's going to be blasted off the bureaucratic books.
Crockett: Strayhorn's biggest applause line came when she blasted the state for hiring a foreign company, Cintra of Spain, to develop the project. Governor Perry declined to be interviewed, but Transportation Commission Chair Ric Williamson says Cintra offered taxpayers the best deal:
Williamson: The Spanish firm was the only firm that a proposal that didn't require Texas to take any risk. We don't have to sign a note, issue a bond or take any gasoline tax money and put it into their deal. They are taking all the risk and building a 50-year asset.
Crockett: Despite the debate over how the Trans Texas Corridor will be built and where it'll go, there's little doubt in transportation circles that something like this is needed. Williamson says the plan will correct 20 years of neglect, relieve congestion, improve air quality and promote trade in one of the fastest growing states in the country .To see a schedule of the public hearings on the corridor--and the proposed maps--go to our web page at kera.org.
Contact KERA's News and Public Affairs staff about this piece
Schedule of Trans Texas Corridor hearings
Department of Transportation's environmental study, including maps
North Central Texas Council of Governments' proposed route for the Trans Texas Corridor