Unable to ignore the 28,000 Texans who complained about the 650-mile Trans-Texas Corridor, which is slated to cut through east Texas on its route from Mexico to Louisiana, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has agreed to improve existing highways, not build new ones, to construct the TTC.
This is a change from TxDOT's plan to use eminent domain, the state's legal ability to acquire land for public-works projects, regardless of whether or not the owner wants to sell. The citizens, farmers and small businesses who would have been uprooted by this plan expressed their opposition in meetings held this winter and spring along the proposed route.
The primary highway improved will be US-59, which will be brought up to interstate standard, according to TxDOT spokesperson Mark Cross.
In a March 19, 2008, letter that was released to the public, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison expressed her opposition to using eminent domain to construct the highway. She applauded TxDOT's recent decision, saying, “By using existing right-of-way, TxDOT will more efficiently utilize taxpayer dollars while also limiting the negative impact on farm land and businesses.”
With a change in the route comes new problems, however. Citizens have called for a new environmental survey and many are worried that tolls will accompany the new project.
"The rural areas don't have enough traffic to be toll viable," Terri Hall, founder and executive director of the non-profit group Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, said, which she speculates will lead to tolls on existing roads in more urban areas. Tolling roads that have already been paid for through taxes is a double tax, Hall said.
Hall predicted that TxDOT will use sleight of hand to do this by turning existing freeways into access roads, with traffic signals and slower speed limits, and tolling the new freeways built in their place.
Cross denied the allegations that existing roads would be tolled or relegated to access roads. "The only thing that could possibly be tolled would be additional new lanes that could be built" Cross said. "We would not take away the free, main-lane access."
Cross said that now that the route has been settled, TxDOT can narrow its environmental-study plan, simply refining the studies already completed. He predicts that this will be completed by spring 2009.
But Hall says TxDOT is legally obligated to start its entire environmental-study process over however, which would include public hearings and surveys. Hall says that she has spoken to three experts on the National Environmental Policy Act, all of whom said that TxDOT is legally obligated to start over.