Austin, TX, June 11, 2008 – Today’s announcement by TxDOT that it will “consider” the use of existing right of way wherever possible on the TTC-69 Trans Texas Corridor project and its release of a new project map and study area requires a completely new environmental study per federal law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Also, TTC-69 can still be 1,200 foot wide land grabbing, privatized tolled corridor and it will toll existing right of way already paid for with gas taxes, which is DOUBLE TAXATION. TxDOT claims it won't toll existing lanes, but they've been downgrading the existing lanes to frontage roads all over the state.
“Why should we believe TxDOT now? The public has lost all trust in this agency that even the Sunset Committee calls ‘out of control.’ While certain landowners will no longer be affected and can breathe a sigh of relief, this project is still ill-conceived. This corridor was promised as a FREE interstate highway for decades, now they’ll convert existing freeways like Hwy 59 into privately-controlled toll roads. Somehow we feel in no mood to celebrate,” notes TURF’s Founder Terri Hall.
If TxDOT changes the scope of the project like a new route and study area, TxDOT has to, by law per NEPA, redo the environmental study totally and take public comment all over again, not just submit some letter to the FHWA reflecting the change. They are required to redo the document reflecting the new project route (see map here) and study the impacts of the new "alternative" selection using existing right of way replacing the new corridor "alternative" as the current document states.
While TxDOT says its reasons for the change are in response to the overwhelming public opposition to a new corridor, it lacks any credibility because nearly EVERY toll project in urban areas and the TTC-35 corridor also had record public comment against the projects and yet TxDOT has refused to listen to the public or change its railroading tactics.
“We feel this move by TxDOT may, in part, be in response to the forming of 391 regional planning commissions. They're playing legal games with semantics. Needless to say, we're very cautious about this announcement. We think it's to quell the forming of more commissions and to make concessions to the Legislature before the Sunset Commission/Legislature guts TxDOT if they don't ‘act’ more responsive to the public,” said Hank Gilbert, of TURF and acting President of the Piney Woods Subregional Planning Commission.
With the 391 commissions, TxDOT has to do what these local governments require of them by invoking the coordination mandate in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) "to the greatest extent practicable." That puts TxDOT in a HUGE legal box they cannot wiggle out of. The wording of this TTC-69 TxDOT statement (and the transportation commission's minute order from a few weeks ago. Read more here) is very intentionally saying they'll simply "consider" existing right of way, that is NOT a mandate to do so which the 391 commission by contrast can force. So anyway, TxDOT isn't giving up much, they're playing legal games. Needless to say, we're very cautious about this announcement. We think it's to quell the forming of more commissions and to make concessions to the Legislature before the Sunset Commission/Legislature guts the agency if they don't "act" more responsive to the public.