Trade paranoia and the Trans Texas Corridor

Houston Chronicle:

Minutes south of Interstate 10 and Sealy, the pastures along FM 1458 are their own silent world in the morning. Mists lift to reveal black cattle, brown and spotted horses, snow-white egrets underfoot in lush green grass.

Then a concrete mixer comes churning down the blacktop.

Just up the road is a small subdivision. More are sure to come as city dwellers, including weekenders and retirees, move out in search of a quieter, simpler life — and relief from city traffic.

Although the gradual influx may bring greater changes in the long run, what disturbs residents most is the planned Interstate 69/Trans-Texas Corridor, or I-69/TTC for short.

If it is built, the corridor likely will start out as a four-lane divided tollway. Eventually, the Texas Department of Transportation could expand it to 1,200 feet in places, with toll lanes for cars and trucks; tracks for freight and passenger trains; and space for pipelines, power lines and communications.

The exact route has yet to be determined. TxDOT has recommended the route come from a study corridor, ranging from a quarter-mile to four miles wide, between Texarkana and Mexico. Most of the route will stay close to U.S. 59, the agency says, but to speed traffic around Houston, it veers through rural land west of the city.

It is from there — the ranches and small towns of Walker, Grimes, Waller, Fort Bend and Austin counties — that some of the most unyielding opposition has come.

January through March, residents up and down the study area jammed town hall meetings and public hearings to speak against the project.

Among them were Dennis and Edith Mlcak, whose ranch is on FM 1458 near Frydek, a crossroads community founded by Czech immigrants near the turn of the century.

She grew up in Frydek and he in nearby Mixville, but the Mlcaks are part of the urban migration too. They spent 30 years in Houston before coming home.

Although TxDOT has heard a nearly unanimous negative verdict from residents of the area, Dennis Mlcak is not sure how much that matters.

"They keep pushing this thing, and it keeps marching in a forward direction, so we can't really wait and see if it will die of its own accord," he said.

The Mlcaks' friends, Dane and Maxine Rudloff, whose property lies along I-10 near Sealy, have been through this before. When I-10 was built in the 1960s, the family had to sell 13½ acres for right of way. The road cut off 50 acres from what was left.

"We could see it, but eventually we sold it," Dane Rudloff said. "My mother-in-law went to her grave fuming about that."

At least the interstate and its frontage roads were useful to local residents, he said.

The tolled I-69/TTC, he said, would be a barrier for school buses, as well as the San Felipe-Frydek Volunteer Fire Department, which serves both communities. Although Frydek residents now get water from wells, Dane Rudloff said the corridor could prevent lines from being extended there from Sealy someday.

It also would weaken social ties, Dennis Mlcak said. Although both families live outside the study area, a little cluster of buildings that includes two gathering places — St. Mary's Catholic Church and Emil Ermis' store — is well inside its boundaries.

"The bottom line is that no matter where it goes, it's going to have the same effect on the communities," said Dennis Mlcak, "and once that's severed, it's gone forever."

At the town hall meetings, residents again and again raised the same arguments: The corridor would divide communities and properties while taking valuable land out of production and off the local tax rolls.

Some said the corridor's main purpose is to carry Chinese imported goods from Mexico to northern states and Canada, with little or no benefit to Texans.

Contraband and smuggling will increase, they said, and the toll profits will go to foreigners who operate the road, while Texans would be barred from building competing routes.

...

My rich uncle made a lot of money by buying property along planned exits of I-20 in Alabama. I just don't buy the argument that this new road will harm communities or cut access. If anything it will enhance access and business development. Washington County, where my place is, will not be effected by the current plans so it is easier for me to take a more detached view of the project.

I like the fact that it will be paid for by the users. Toll road projects in Houston have greatly increased the mobility in the area. They also increased development along the routes used by the rodes.

Nearly all developments now require a drainage plan be included, so farmers worried about that should just ask to see what the plan is to see how their property will be protected.

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