TxDOT held public meeting last week in Freer

Sue Fleming, The Freer Press

A public hearing held by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) at the Freer Civic Center regarding the future construction of Interstate-69 drew a large number of concerned citizens last Wednesday.

Prior to the meeting, comments were submitted in written form or were submitted on record privately to the court reporter. TxDOT staff were also on hand to answer questions as people gathered maps and other informational material that were available for review.

According to the I-69/Tier One Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), the 650 mile Texas Trans Corridor route will also include a multi-modal transportation system involving specific lanes for cars, trucks, freight and passenger rail lines, with space for future utility use to improve international, interstate and intrastate movement of people and goods.

Maps showing the recommended preferred alternative location route in Texas would start south of Texarkana, going southward off of U.S. 59, then would split off east, south of Timpson.

The corridor would proceed westward of Houston, eventually shadowing State Highway 44, passing south of Freer, before going further southward to Laredo.

Officials said if the Tier One study, which is not authorized construction, is approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Tier Two studies will then focus on identifying a final route within the narrowed study area.

The purchase of property for the I-69 TTC will follow the normal acquisition process beginning after a final route has been determined in Tier Two studies.

Also, a contract called a comprehensive development agreement, which allows the state to hire a private firm to plan, design, construct, finance, maintain and operate the I-69 TTC will be used.

Public testimony followed after a short break in which a few locals voiced concerns regarding the vast project.

John S. McAnear stressed that engineers need to be sure to mandate that railroads are built large enough to handle larger loads of freight in the future.

"One inch of pipe will carry just so many gallons of water, and two-inch pipe will carry four times as much," he said. "I hope you consider it, and I think we will need it. Don't look years down the road and think, 'oh, we need it and you don't have it.'"

Buddy Temple asked that crossovers for wildlife be provided to prevent isolation from their home range.

"So ranchers can get their cattle to the other side of the highway - all those things that are so important in the everyday lives of the individuals," he said.

"Please also consider the pain that will be born by families that might have their land taken for any of the projects," he added.

David Smith said he felt the corridor would be a bad idea in general for all citizens.

"We'd be sacrificing the land far beyond the value of any gains that we'd receive," he said. "The whole plan should be modified to meet the specific needs of people in Duval County."

Bypassing the towns would be completely devastating, he said, sucking the lifeblood out of a town like Freer that depends on the income of traffic flowing through.

Ellen Temple stated she and her husband who have a ranch in Duval County loved the land.

"I encourage you to stay on the existing corridors and not invade any new lands," she said.

Shane Smith said as a business owner, he was concerned with the possible loss of traffic going through Freer if the corridor is built.

"Cutting a swath across Texas doesn't sound very reliable to me," he said. "It's going to hurt the small communities and help the big mega centers elsewhere."

Kenneth Sharber said he hadn't heard anyone stand up and say, "let's get it done. I hope you take in consideration what you're trying to do and who this is going to affect," he said.

"This is not going to help the local people. It's only going to pad the pockets of those who have a lot of money, that have a lot of power in politics," he said. "I hope you listen to the normal, everyday people at all of these hearings."

Add up the numbers of people that want to do it against the ones that don't want to, he said.

"I'm sure the number of people that don't want to do it will be way greater," Sharber concluded.

This hearing was one of 46 which have been held across the study region that began Feb. 4.

Information and maps may be accessed by visiting www.keeptexasmoving.com.

Written comments must be received by March 18, 2008 to be included in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and should be mailed to I-69/ITT, P.O. box 14428, Austin Texas 78761 or by submission at the TTC Web site at www.keeptexasmoving.com/comments_questions/com.