Corridor Watch presents more information
September 27, 2006
By ANDY HOGUE,
A flawed process gives us a flawed project, said the organizers of a resistance movement against what could be the largest transportation project in Texas history.
David Stall, co-founder of CorridorWatch.org with his wife Linda Stall, spoke to a sparse crowd at the State Theater Tuesday night.
David Stall said with a $184 billion project, “you’d think the people would know what it’s about.”
“Sadly, they do not,” he said.
He said the Trans-Texas Corridor, a proposed network of multi-lane, multi-mode toll highways across Texas —including TTC-35, which is earmarked to pass through Cooke County — is a “completely new animal.”
He said the Trans-Texas Corridor would disrupt agricultural life and siphon away traffic from businesses that thrive from travelers along state highways and interstates.
He said he and his wife own a 90-year-old farm house near Fayetteville, and have cows for neighbors. He commutes more than 100 miles to his job at the Houston Yacht Club.
“And, frankly, we like it that way,” he said.
He showed on the former movie theater’s wall a DVD copy of an Aug. 8 KHOU-TV news clip from the Houston area. The reporter reviewed Columbus, a town south of Houston, and its dependence on traffic from Interstate Highway 10.
David Stall followed up by saying Interstate Highways were built as close to existing cities as possible to avoid disrupting their economies.
“With a corridor that is closed and further away that is not likely to happen,” he said.
He continued to criticize the project, and questioned the wisdom of its planning. He said the governor’s office came up with the plan, which was given to the Texas Department of Transportation to implement. He said Texas A&M University, known for its engineering faculties, was not consulted.Showing an overhead view of I-45 in Houston, a 15-lane road took 300 feet in width and consisted of eight commuter lanes, six frontage road lanes and one high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane. TTC-35, comparatively, is projected to take up 1,200 feet in width, and consist of several commuter lanes, truck lanes, high-speed commuter and freight rail lines and space for pipelines and other utilities.David Stall questioned the safety of the toll road, noting the high-speed rail requires race track-like embankments for the train to make curves. He said the Trans-Texas Corridor routes would be kept fairly straight to allow for the high-speed rail.“TTC is nothing like the interstate system,” he said.He said the Trans-Texas Corridor is not simply a network of roads to ease traffic congestion in Texas. He noted the name of the plan — Crossroads of the Americas: The Trans-Texas Corridor Plan.” He said “crossroads” is plural, noting a connection to other states and the Republic of Mexico.“This is bigger than the road, and we all know that,” said William Baldwin during an audience question and answer period.He said TxDOT has received memorandums of understanding from several Mexican states regarding the expansion of North American Free Trade Agreement routes. He said Gov. Rick Perry included utility lines in an agreement with Mexico, assuming Texas may be shipping water to Mexico.
Much of the details have been kept “proprietary” and secret, David Stall said. He said a conceptual development plan between TxDOT and Cintra Zachry, L.P. (a consolidation between a San Antonio-based construction company and a Spanish holdings company) as well as the conceptual design plan, were the subject of a struggle between a newspaper and the courts system.
He said the Houston Chronicle filed a freedom of information request to TxDOT for the information on the conceptual plans, and Attorney General Greg Abbot ruled in the Chronicle’s favor. However, TxDOT sued Abbot and has effectively tied the information up in court, David Stall said.“Your department of transportation is suing your attorney general to keep you from seeing these documents,” he said.The issue is set to go to trial Oct. 10, “before the election,” he said.
David Stall reviewed the possible costs of the Trans-Texas Corridor, even to non-users. He said since the road would be managed by the private sector there would be no control over the toll fees. He said freight companies, which normally include a “fuel surcharge” on their bills to consumers, would pass along the cost of tolls.
“Do you think they’ll absorb the cost? I don’t think so,” he said.
David Stall said an estimated half-million acres in Texas could be taken, or more. He said Cooke County could have 2,800 acres taken by eminent domain for the project, and Grayson County may have 5,200 taken. He said this could increase the cost of living in Texas due to property going from taxable land for school districts becoming non-taxed state land.
He then showed examples of other Cintra-related projects, including ETR 407 in Canada and a toll road in Indiana that he did not name. He said the Indiana toll road encountered difficulty from Cintra when emergency turn-around lanes were blocked to prevent drivers from cheating the toll booths.
“That’s what we’re getting in bed with for the next 50 years — maybe longer,” he said.
He said the Trans-Texas Corridor plan “is not a done deal” and residents should do everything they can to stay informed. But more importantly, he said, “to live life as you normally would.”
He said, though, unless electoral action is taken toll roads will continue to be a part of life in Texas. He said Texas Transportation Chairman Ric Williamson has a goal to make most public highways tolled.“It seems to me the only way to stop this is to elect a new governor,” a member of the audience said during questions and answers.
David Stall said Corridor Watch attempts to be non-partisan, so his wife, Linda Stall, who joined the campaign of independent gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn, had to leave the staff.
Linda Stall did speak, however, and said Strayhorn is the only candidate in the five-way race for governor who has taken a bold stand against the Trans-Texas Corridor.
No one spoke representing the campaigns of incumbent Gov. Rick Perry, Democratic nominee Chris Bell, independent Richard “Kinky” Friedman or Libertarian nominee James Werner.
Linda Stall borrowed a statement used by Cooke County’s “Save Our County” organization and said, “The world is run by those who show up.”
“That puts you in the drivers’ seat — but it is a position of responsibility. And you have to tell people,” she said.
Linda Stall said she had safety concerns about the “closed corridor,” especially what would happen in the event of another hurricane evacuation. She said she was caught in traffic during an evacuation from Hurricane Rita, and at times she considered fleeing the jam on foot.
Sheila Cox, Collinsville-area resident, said she was concerned about rumored 16-foot-high “barrier walls” on each side of the corridor.
“Should there be a need for mass evacuations that will be unattainable with barrier walls,” she said.
David Stall noted his concerns about biohazardous material on closed-in corridor.
The theater was staffed with eager volunteers for the Stayhorn campaign and Corridor Watch. At one point during the speeches, a young boy placed a sticker opposing the Trans-Texas Corridor on this reporter’s back.
Linda Stall announced another opportunity for volunteers to act — Saturday at the Cooke and Grayson county courthouses. She said at 10 a.m. Saturday anti-Trans-Texas Corridor activists will join hands for “hands across the corridor,” and later at the Grayson County Courthouse at noon.
“We encourage everyone to come and bring a cup of dirt ... and send the governor a message ‘that’s all you’re getting from me.’”
Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at andyhoguegdr[at]ntin.net
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