Coalition worries about impact of new trade route bypassing I-30, I-35
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Nov. 17, 2004 -- Texas cities along Interstate 35 from Laredo to Dallas and Interstate 30 from Dallas to Texarkana, including Sulphur Springs, are not included in a state transportation plan that would create super transportation corridors to carry people and goods across the state.

The Trans-Texas Corridor, introduced by Gov. Rick Perry in 2002, suggested approximately 4,000 miles of the new corridors that would almost completely bypass Interstate 35 from Laredo to Dallas and Interstate 30 from Dallas to Texarkana.

A majority of the cities along the interstate routes have joined together in an effort to oppose a state plan to create a system of super transportation corridors across the state.

The group, River of Trade Corridor Coalition, is gaining momentum, according to Sulphur Springs City Manager Marc Maxwell, who serves as its vice chairman.

"The whole goal here is, we want Texas Department of Transportation to pause for a moment and ask the question, 'What will this do to the communities on the existing trade route, I-35 and I-30?" Maxwell explained. "They [TxDoT] are putting lots of energy and money into the question of environmental impact, but haven't even conceived the question of economic impact yet. Until they do, we are not going to be satisfied."

The state's plan envisions a series of transportation corridors as wide as 1,200 feet. They would include a four-lane highway for passenger vehicles, similar lanes for truck traffic, two railroad tracks for high-speed passenger and freight trains, tracks for regional commuter and freight rail traffic, and additional right of way for underground transportation of water, petroleum, gas and telecommunications.

Maxwell said such rights of way would involve many thousands of acres of land across the state, and that many land owners have not been made aware of the potential impact.

"As the public discovers this the amount of land it is going to take, there will be a lot more interest," Maxwell said. "That will be a lot of land, and farmers don't know that yet."

The Trans-Texas Corridor, according to state agencies, would be an economic shot in the arm for the state, but also has the potential to unfavorably impact local economies in those cities and towns along the interstate highways.

For the most part, the concept would mean a departure from the existing I-30 and I-35 routes to new corridors from Mexico to Oklahoma and, Maxwell said, would not even pass through Hopkins County.

Of primary concern to coalition members is the future of those towns and cities along the trade routes. For example, the coalition highlighted towns along old U.S. 80 and the impact of Interstate 20 passing them by, communities such as Grand Saline in East Texas and West Texas cities such as Ranger, Eastland, Cisco and Sweetwater. Those communities have had to endure extreme economic hardships due to traffic being routed around them.

"That's what we are trying to avoid," Maxwell said. "We don't want to go the way of the little towns on Highway 80 after Interstate 20 was constructed."

In a letter from TxDoT Executive Director Mike Behrens to coalition members -- including Sulphur Springs Mayor Chris Brown and Hopkins CountyJudge Cletis Millsap -- the director agreed that congestion on Interstate 35 was of concern, that it is "choking with traffic congestion that threatens safety, the state's economic vitality and our quality of life."

Behrens said that 45 percent of all Texans live within 50 miles of I-35 ,and by the year 2050, there will be more than 15 million people along the corridor.

The TxDoT executive director said his department has studied what improvements would be needed for I-35 to handle traffic demands in 2025.

"The results were shocking," Behrens wrote.

While the state has conducted studies into future needs of transportation infrastructure and population growth, the coalition says TxDoT has not explored the economic impact on those cities and counties.

Maxwell said the primary focus of the River of Trade Corridor Coalition is to get the state to reconsider how its plan would affect all the cities and towns along the current routes, as well as those along their proposed corridor.

"They haven't done any kind of study on that question yet," Maxwell said. "It's a grand plan and certainly has vision, but we need to be cautious here, and I think that will happen because we are getting the attention of legislators who are keenly interested in this. And when we have the legislators' attention, we have TxDoT's attention."

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