Fear and loathing along proposed Trans-Texas Corridor

| 1/29/2008

Some Texans are afraid of losing their land to the Trans-Texas Corridor while others loathe the thought of a quarter-mile-wide swath of toll roads and railway lines transforming the countryside into a superhighway.

People continue to turn out in droves at public meetings concerning the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor proposal, specifically the portion known as the TTC-69 proposed from Brownsville to Texarkana.

A meeting Monday, Jan. 28, at the fairgrounds in Austin County was no exception, drawing more than 1,000 people.

Opposition to the proposed corridor has come from people in all walks of life, said Chris Steinbach, chief of staff for Texas Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, a Trans-Texas Corridor opponent.

“It’s an interesting mix of Texas citizens,” Steinbach told Land Line.

He said the more “left-leaning people” are expressing concerns about free trade and America’s rights.

“Then you’ve got the very rural, agriculture-based people who have earned a living for generations on the land, and they see it as a huge issue and a land grab,” Steinbach said.

Rural citizens are concerned about the limited access such a high-tech corridor would offer.

“The turnpike concept is foreign to most Texans,” Steinbach said. “Overwhelmingly, to a staggering degree, the reaction is negative against it.”

Steinbach does give the Texas Department of Transportation credit for hosting 12 “town hall” meetings like the one in Austin County, leading up to the 46 public hearings scheduled to begin Feb. 21.

“To their credit, they’ve taken it on the road to get a temperature check,” Steinbach said.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry proposed the Trans-Texas Corridor in 2003.

Along with the governor-appointed Texas Transportation Commission, TxDOT is in charge of bringing the proposals into environmental compliance and putting contracts out for bid.

The first corridor phase, known as TTC-35, would parallel Interstate 35 and will most likely be built by Cintra-Zachry, a consortium made up of the Spanish firm Cintra Concessiones De Infraestructuras De Transporte and Austin-based Zachry Construction Corp.

Steinbach said the mere mention of private investors operating the roadway is enough to throw Texans for a loop, and their reaction magnifies when it’s a foreign-based investor.

“If you allow a private vendor to operate the facility, you allow one person to profit from the taking of someone’s land,” Steinbach said. “The idea that foreign companies and foreign nations would invest in this is not acceptable to Texans.”

On the issue of right of way, TXDOT officials said in December 2007 that planners would try to incorporate existing routes into the TTC-69 plan, including portions of U.S. 59.

But that might lead to tolls on roadways that are currently toll free.

“Everyone loses,” Steinbach said. “The truck drivers are going to be paying a toll to use a roadway that the rural people don’t want anyway.”

TXDOT has four more “town hall” meetings prior to the official public hearings.

Click here for the full list of meetings.

– By David Tanner, staff writer