“It's the fear of the unknown that's causing landowners problems.”
By Matt Joyce, staff writer
The Texas Department of Transportation went on the offensive Friday to quash rumors that it was surveying land in Central Texas for the Trans-Texas Corridor or preparing to acquire property for the proposed tollway project.
“We have taken this unusual means of releasing a special statement to assure the people of Bell and McLennan counties that this rumor is untrue,” the department said in a statement.
Some local officials and corridor critics said they had encountered similar rumors, which they attributed to uneasy landowners who fear the state's plan to build a 1,200-foot-wide network of roads, railway and utility infrastructure roughly paralleling Interstate 35.
“Any time landowners see (the transportation department) surveying, they get nervous,” McLennan County Commissioner Wendall Crunk said. “It's the fear of the unknown that's causing landowners problems.”
Spokeswoman Gaby Garcia said the department had received calls in Austin and at district offices about the possibility that survey crews around Waco and Temple had represented themselves as department employees or said they were working on the Trans-Texas Corridor.
“I don't know quite where these rumors come from, other than they are rumors,” Garcia said. “The department is in no way, shape or form close to any right-of-way negotiations, procedures or action.”
Gov. Rick Perry proposed the corridor in 2002 as a means for alleviating I-35 traffic and accommodating growth. The Legislature has since authorized the corridor's creation, and the Texas Transportation Commission has entered into negotiations with Cintra-Zachry, a development consortium, to fund the road's construction in exchange for operating the corridor as a toll way.
Parts of a 50-mile-wide study area for the corridor run through McLennan and Bell counties, and now the department is conducting an “environmental assessment” to narrow the potential route to a 10-mile-wide area from which the final alignment would be selected.
The department hopes to settle on its 10-mile-wide study area by late fall, but it also estimates that the final alignment will not be identified for four years.
Garcia said neither the department nor Cintra-Zachry was surveying in the area.
“If we don't even know where it's going to go, how can we determine if we need someone's property?” Garcia said.
Crunk, who spearheaded a commissioners court resolution opposing the corridor concept, said he had been contacted by a few rural residents with concerns about surveying activity along County Road 107 in eastern McLennan County. He said he did not believe it was related to the corridor.
The rumor also made its way to Chris Hammel, a board member of the Bell County opposition group Blacklands Coalition. Coalition members told him they saw surveying activity on Farm-to-Market Road 2268 near Holland, he said.
“It was almost like a neighborhood watch situation,” he said.
Hammel said he drove by the site and saw survey markers, but he did not assume any connection with the Trans-Texas Corridor.
“I have no earthly idea what it was for,” he said. “It would be rash to say it had something to do with the transportation department.”