Feb. 27, 2008
Speakers blast Trans-Texas Corridor at hearing
Poem, call for 'revolution' mark emotional event
By ZEN T. C. ZHENG
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
A poem depicting a dialogue between a spider and a fly, a rewritten 19th century letter by a hero of the Texas Revolution, and many emotion-choked speeches marked the second consecutive night of public display of opposition to the Trans-Texas Corridor plan in Fort Bend County.
The public hearing held Tuesday night by the Texas Department of Transportation at Katy High School Performing Arts Center drew about 220 residents from Katy, Fort Bend, Waller and Harris counties and surrounding cities. Like the protesters at a hearing in Rosenberg the night before, dozens of the speakers decried the state project as "un-American" and urged state officials to abandon the plan.
Opponents included many landowners who said their property would be lost to the proposed 1,200-foot wide corridor network. Others said the project would devastate the environment, spur illegal immigration and aid foreign economies by creating a North America Free Trade Agreement highway to connect Mexico to Canada through the U.S. heartland.
Dianne Hodge of Waller showed a project map and said the plan would destroy the 1880s-era house that she and her husband spent years restoring, homes of her siblings and their families and neighbors, a church and a natural habitat for barn swallows.
"You are destroying a way of life that families have spent generations building. You are destroying food-producing ranches and farms for Americans and taxing them through tolls in return and not allowing them to even vote on whether or not they want your corridor," she said.
"These are the things that started the American Revolution — the seizing of houses and land, and taxation without representation. If we need a new American Revolution to restore a government of the people, by the people and for the people, then let it begin in Texas."
Similar sentiment was echoed by Edward Dickey, whose parents live in Katy and plan to retire to Weimar where they own property.
"The town of Weimar would be wiped out by the corridor," said Dickey, who lives in Houston. "And if the corridor is built, I would have to pay a toll to visit my family. This corridor divides families and splits Texas."
He modified a letter that Col. William Barret Travis, the Texas commander in the Battle of the Alamo, wrote to Sam Houston, the first president of the Republic of Texas, to depict the state transportation agency as the enemy of the people and his resolve "to die like a soldier" to fight the project.
Attendees loudly applauded Waller County resident Alice McGuffie, who in her poem portrayed the state agency as a spider weaving a "Trans-Texas Cobweb" to lure people into the web like a fly.
"Come hither, hither, pretty fly, with pearl and silver wing; Cobwebs bring development, new jobs, growth and much, much more. There's money to be made here; just think — riches galore!" the poem reads.
The gathering was one of 46 public hearings held by TxDOT on a draft study on the environmental impact of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, particularly its Interstate 69 portion, along the project's path from the Texas-Mexico border to Texarkana.
The Trans-Texas Corridor network is conceived as a cross-state road system of new and existing highways, railroads and utility rights-of-way. It would have separate lanes for passenger and truck traffic, freight and high-speed commuter rails, as well as infrastructure for utilities including water, oil and gas pipelines, electricity and telecommunications services. One revenue option to support the network would be toll fees.
Several elected officials — including Waller County Commissioner Glenn Beckendorff; state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Katy; Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston; and Rep. Bill Calligari, R-Katy — also joined the residents to denounce the plan. Beckendorff presented a Waller County commissioners court resolution in opposition to the plan, saying it doesn't take into account the county's mobility plan.
Some speakers called on the U.S. Congress to initiate an investigation of Gov. Rick Perry and the state transportation agency in crafting the plan that they said serves foreign interests at the expense of Texans.
Karen Othon, a TxDOT spokeswoman, said the public comments will be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration with the draft environmental impact study for review this spring.
The administration is expected to issue a response in winter. If the federal agency approves the initial study, the study will be refined to map out a more detailed, narrowed-down project route.
Othan said that there is a possibility that strong public opposition to the project could result in the state halting the plan.
TxDOT is accepting public comments through March 19. Written comments can be submitted by mail to I-69/TTC, P.O.Box 14428, Austin, TX 78761 or via the Web at http://ttc.keeptexasmoving.com/comments_questions/comments_i69.aspx.