TxDOT Executive Director Michael Behrens'
Letters To The Editor

April 1, 2004

Dear Editor:

I want to thank everyone who took time to attend last week's public hearing on the Trans-Texas Corridor in La Grange.

Clearly, you are very concerned about this project. Six hundred and ninety-six people signed in at the front door of the KC Community Center to listen to what we had to say, ask questions and offer comments.

I realize this second public hearing still may not have lived up to your expectations because there are some questions we simply don't have answers for this early in the process of studying the corridor.

We have been reviewing your questions and beginning with this letter and over the next few weeks, we will be trying to come up with more complete answers. This newspaper has graciously agreed to publish these answers.

First, I want to reemphasize a few important points:

  • Just as a rancher has to plan ahead to know how much hay he needs to get through the winter, TxDOT must look ahead to the future of transportation in Texas. The Trans-Texas Corridor is part of this forward thinking, a need to be addressed on the basis of population trends and transportation demands.

  • That said, right now our primary concern is the I-35 and I-69 corridors. We're going to build the corridor one logical step at a time, not all at once.

  • We understand your concerns about property rights and the impact the corridor could have on rural counties. We intend to do everything we can to work with the people of Texas to meet your transportation needs for the future.

Now, to get to some of your questions:

Why did the Transportation Commission wait until after approving the Trans-Texas Corridor plan to seek public input at these county hearings?

Instead of going out with a blank canvas, TxDOT drafted a plan that explains the basics of the Trans-Texas Corridor: what it could be, where it could go, and how it could be developed. With this basic information, we conducted meetings to begin the public dialogue.

How will the $20 billion Priority Corridor between Kerrville and El Paso relieve traffic congestion in San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Dallas or any other urban center?

First, the lines on the map are just lines, meaning that no final decisions have been made that a corridor between Kerrville and El Paso is needed. Also, based on future transportation demand, environmental studies and public involvement, the corridor element from Kerrville to El Paso could shift or not be built. While some corridors will divert traffic from our congested cities, others will simply support better mobility across the state.

Please describe the public input process under the new "streamlined" environmental review allowed by the Federal Highway Administration. Will the project start before the environmental review is completed?

Public input is welcomed throughout the detailed, federal environmental review that will be conducted for the Trans-Texas Corridor. There will be numerous formal opportunities for public involvement, including public meetings, which begin in April for the proposed Oklahoma to Mexico and I-69 elements of the corridor. Construction will not begin until we receive final environmental clearance from the Federal Highway Administration.

Please check the next issue of this newspaper for more of our answers to your questions.

Thank you,
Michael W. Behrens
Executive Director
Texas Department of Transportation

 

CorridorWatch.org response to TxDOT Executive Director's  letter to the editor that appeared in the Banner Press April 1, 2004.

Six hundred and ninety-six people, wow! Since we know people who refused to sign-in, we're going to stick with the 800 estimate. No matter which number you choose, that's significant public interest. It's also a lot of voters.

It is encouraging to have Mr. Behrens publicly address community concerns about the Corridor plan. We're very disappointed however, if TxDOT considers the Trans-Texas Corridor the future of transportation in Texas.

We would like Mr. Behrens to share the specific regional population trends and projected transportation demands that justify the 4,000 miles of cookie cutter corridor that are set forth in the Crossroads of the Americas: Trans Texas Corridor Plan.

Mr. Behrens tells us that his primary concern is the I-35 and I-69 corridors and he is going to build them one logical step at a time. So does that mean he has a plan to actually build segments of the Trans-Texas Corridor?  We ask because just last week Commissioner John Johnson stood before us and told us in no uncertain terms that the Trans-Texas Corridor was just "conceptual."

We would be much happier if Mr. Behrens will address our concerns about property rights and the impact the corridor will have on rural counties instead of just understanding those concerns. And, rather than intending to work with the people of Texas we believe that TxDOT should work for the people of Texas to meet our transportation needs for the future.

Why did the Transportation Commission wait until after approving the Trans-Texas Corridor plan to seek public input at these county hearings?

Behrens: "Instead of going out with a blank canvas, TxDOT drafted a plan that explains the basics of the Trans-Texas Corridor: what it could be, where it could go, and how it could be developed. With this basic information, we conducted meetings to begin the public dialogue."

CorridorWatch.org: Sounds good, but doesn't hold water. TxDOT held 254 public hearings in February of 2004, well after initial segments of the Trans-Texas Corridor were already in the works. In fact, months before these public hearings were started TxDOT was working on the I-35 corridor and selling the Corridor Plan to prospective European investors. Before the February hearings were even complete Spanish highway contractors were already in Texas being told of opportunities that included not only the I-69 corridor, but the I-10 and I-45 corridors. [more]

TxDOT has been very consistent and on the record in describing the Trans-Texas Corridor in very definite terms. As recently as March 16, 2004, a press release issued by TxDOT describes the project in detail, "The Trans-Texas Corridor will be a 4,000 mile transportation network that will include separate highway lanes for passenger vehicles and trucks, high-speed passenger rail and commuter and freight rail, as well as a dedicated utility zone." (emphasis added) [link]

TxDOT did not conduct these meetings to begin a public dialogue about the basics; or, what; or, how. They held these meetings because HB-3588 required at least one meeting be held in each effected county before corridor routes can be established. The materials presented at those hearing did not elicit input on any aspect of the Trans-Texas Corridor except where it should be placed. [more]

The Transportation Commission did indeed approve the Trans-Texas Corridor Plan without any public discourse as to design or need, especially without public input at the county level.  [more]

In the end, Mr. Behrens never answered the question asked, but perhaps that's because the question is invalid since the Transportation Commission has yet to ever seek meaningful public input on the Plan.

How will the $20 billion Priority Corridor between Kerrville and El Paso relieve traffic congestion in San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Dallas or any other urban center?

Behrens: "First, the lines on the map are just lines, meaning that no final decisions have been made that a corridor between Kerrville and El Paso is needed. Also, based on future transportation demand, environmental studies and public involvement, the corridor element from Kerrville to El Paso could shift or not be built. While some corridors will divert traffic from our congested cities, others will simply support better mobility across the state."

CorridorWatch.org: When is a line on a map not just a line on a map? According to Crossroads of the Americas: Trans Texas Corridor Plan officially adopted June 27, 2002, and numerous TxDOT documents issued since then, the line on the map is a corridor from El Paso to Orange that is described as having been "identified" by TxDOT as a Priority Corridor. [more]

We note that another line on the same map is the I-35/I-69 corridor. That line seems to be much more than "just a line" since Mr. Behrens now tells us that it is his primary concern. Sounds like a final decision has been made concerning that line.

Since Mr. Behrens didn't articulate how this corridor segment between Kerrville and El Paso will relieve urban traffic congestion, it must "simply support better mobility across the state." If that's the answer, then it must not relieve traffic congestion in any of our urban centers.

To our surprise Mr. Behrens says no final decision has been made that this corridor segment is even needed! This is an interesting observation since TxDOT Deputy Executive Director Steve Simmons testified before the Commission on June 27, 2002, (in the presence of Mr. Behrens) that this corridor from El Paso to Orange and three others are financially feasible and should be built. [more]

Of course we believe that the entire project is about financial feasibility (revenue generation) and not transportation need. Mr. Behrens comments seem to bear proof of our belief.

If one of only four Priority Corridors identified by the official TxDOT Plan in 2002 may or may not be needed as Mr. Behrens claims, how much credibility does the rest of the Trans-Texas Corridor Plan have?

Please describe the public input process under the new "streamlined" environmental review allowed by the Federal Highway Administration. Will the project start before the environmental review is completed?

Behrens: "Public input is welcomed throughout the detailed, federal environmental review that will be conducted for the Trans-Texas Corridor. There will be numerous formal opportunities for public involvement, including public meetings, which begin in April for the proposed Oklahoma to Mexico and I-69 elements of the corridor. Construction will not begin until we receive final environmental clearance from the Federal Highway Administration."

CorridorWatch.org: We look forward to full participation in the environmental review process.

 

 


 
April 7, 2004

Dear Editor:

I certainly appreciate this newspaper's willingness to continue to make space available for Texas Department of Transportation to respond to more of the questions that came up during the March 23 Trans-Texas Corridor public hearing in La Grange.

We had meetings in all of Texas' 254 counties, constituting only the first step in outreach efforts to get public input.

The next step in the corridor process has begun - federal environmental studies that will analyze and eventually determine possible routes. Throughout April and June, TxDOT will be having a series of environmental meetings for two of the elements: the Oklahoma-Mexico/Gulf Coast (TTC-35) and the I-69 elements.

In your area, a meeting on the Interstate 69 element has been set for 6-9 p.m. Tuesday, April 13, at the Victoria Community Center, 2905 E. North St. For the TTC-35 element, a meeting is scheduled for 6-9 p.m. on Wednesday, May 19, at Gonzales High School, 1801 Sarah DeWitt Dr.

We've promised the editor we won't take up too much space each week, so I'll get right to some more of your questions.

The plan approved by the Transportation Commission says "acquiring property for all components must begin as soon as possible." The plan also identifies a priority corridor that appears to go through Fayette County. Whether it comes through Fayette County or not, when will TxDOT begin acquiring land for the Interstate 10 priority corridor.

As I said at the hearing, Interstate 10 in Colorado and Fayette counties is in pretty good shape in terms of handling traffic capacity. Also, we have enough right of way to expand this roadway should the need arise. At this point, no plans exist to begin acquiring right of way in Fayette County. If that changes, you can be certain we will let the people in Colorado and Fayette counties know.

Is TxDOT actively pitching the Interstate 10 corridor to potential developers?

So far, the only proposals TxDOT solicited were for the TTC-35 element. TxDOT's door is always open to ideas and discussion on developing other portions of the Trans-Texas Corridor as needed.

Other than the general population growth speculation, what proof does TxDOT offer that all of these massive corridors are necessary?

First, TxDOT is not saying the entire Trans-Texas Corridor is necessary right now. We are saying it is time to start planning for the future and that highways, rail and utilities should be a part of the plan. A wide range of growth indicators point to the need to plan ahead. Since 1990, vehicle miles traveled in Texas has increased 40 percent; registered vehicles have gone up more than 26 percent; Texas' population has jumped approximately 23 percent and the number of Texas workers has increased more than 20 percent. During the same period, the number of new lane miles has increased less than 4 percent.

Is TxDOT absolutely positive that all 4,000 miles of 10-lane, 6-track corridor is required?

No. TxDOT has never maintained that the entire corridor is needed right now. This is a project that will be considered in phases, as components are needed.

Sincerely,

Mike Behrens
Executive Director, TxDOT
 

 

CorridorWatch.org response to TxDOT Executive Director's  letter to the editor that appeared in the Colorado County Citizen April 7, 2004.

The plan approved by the Transportation Commission says "acquiring property for all components must begin as soon as possible." The plan also identifies a priority corridor that appears to go through Fayette County. Whether it comes through Fayette County or not, when will TxDOT begin acquiring land for the Interstate 10 priority corridor.

Behrens: "As I said at the hearing, Interstate 10 in Colorado and Fayette counties is in pretty good shape in terms of handling traffic capacity. Also, we have enough right of way to expand this roadway should the need arise. At this point, no plans exist to begin acquiring right of way in Fayette County. If that changes, you can be certain we will let the people in Colorado and Fayette counties know."

CorridorWatch.org: Mr. Behrens statements continue to be squarely in conflict with his own TxDOT, Crossroads of the Americas: Trans Texas Corridor Plan.

The Plan clearly states, "To preserve the corridor for future generations, acquiring property for all components must begin as soon as possible." Certainly it is the intent of the Plan that Corridor right-of-ways be acquired now, without regard to current conditions or need. [plan page 44]

The Plan was officially adopted by the Texas Transportation Commission on June 27, 2002 following testimony of TxDOT Deputy Executive Director Steve Simmons. Among other things, Mr. Simmons testified that the I-10 Corridor is financially feasible and should be built. [more]

The Plan set out four factors used by TxDOT in identifying priority corridor segments:

  • Congestion relief for metropolitan areas.

  • Existing hazardous material routes.

  • Corridors most likely to generate toll revenue.

  • Opportunities for economic development.

Using that criteria the Plan identifies four Priority Corridors, one of which is the I-10 Corridor. [more]

We note that none of the Priority Corridor factors have anything to do with "handling traffic capacity" or the lack of available right-of-way. Nowhere in the Plan are existing (built) highways expanded to meet capacity needs, such as suggested by Mr. Behrens.

Is TxDOT actively pitching the Interstate 10 corridor to potential developers?

Behrens: "So far, the only proposals TxDOT solicited were for the TTC-35 element. TxDOT's door is always open to ideas and discussion on developing other portions of the Trans-Texas Corridor as needed."

CorridorWatch.org: Not exactly 'no' to the question is it? Maybe pitching and soliciting are two different things? TxDOT solicited proposals for the TTC-35 element after they received an unsolicited proposal.

TxDOT's door is wide open, and they're inviting contractors inside. They have made presentations to groups who could submit additional unsolicited proposals. Those presentations have included all of the Priority Corridors, including the I-10 Corridor.

Other than the general population growth speculation, what proof does TxDOT offer that all of these massive corridors are necessary?

Behrens: "First, TxDOT is not saying the entire Trans-Texas Corridor is necessary right now. We are saying it is time to start planning for the future and that highways, rail and utilities should be a part of the plan. A wide range of growth indicators point to the need to plan ahead. Since 1990, vehicle miles traveled in Texas has increased 40 percent; registered vehicles have gone up more than 26 percent; Texas' population has jumped approximately 23 percent and the number of Texas workers has increased more than 20 percent. During the same period, the number of new lane miles has increased less than 4 percent."

CorridorWatch.org: What parts are necessary and when? Traffic lanes are only one element. What about the rail? What about the utilities?

It just doesn't seem logical that the exact same number of lanes, tracks, and utilities will be required for all 4,000 miles now or in the future. In 2002, former Commission Chairman David Laney told the Senate Committee on State Affairs that Houston and Dallas - Ft. Worth accounted for half the states population and that by 2025 they will have 60-percent of the state's resident population.

Certainly the demand for transportation capacity will be greater between major urban centers, such as Houston and Dallas - Ft. Worth, than in rural west or northwest Texas.

Is TxDOT absolutely positive that all 4,000 miles of 10-lane, 6-track corridor is required?

Behrens: "No. TxDOT has never maintained that the entire corridor is needed right now. This is a project that will be considered in phases, as components are needed."

CorridorWatch.org: We're back to the beginning. It is clearly the intent of the Plan to acquire all Corridor right-of-ways now, without regard to current conditions or need. [plan page 44]

How much better would it be to have the state own 580,000 acres of once private land and never build the Trans-Texas Corridor?

 

 

Thank you for your time and interest.

 

This Page Last Updated: Wednesday January 17, 2007

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