TTC-Lindsay

Reviewing the route Sheila Cox (center) reviews a map of the Cooke County “preferred route” study area provided by the Texas Department of Transportation Thursday night at Conrad Hall in Lindsay. Also pictured are Wayne Bell (back), area TxDOT engineer and Danny Brown (front), district planning and development engineer. A public hearing is set for 5 p.m. today to allow Cooke County residents to give opinions on the Trans-Texas Corridor for official record.

“There will be either an overflow facility or an overflow night,” said Danny Brown, district planning and development engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation at a meeting Thursday night in Lindsay regarding the Trans-Texas Corridor project.

The Texas Department of Transportation has scheduled one of 54 hearings on Trans-Texas Corridor-35 — one road of several in the Trans-Texas Corridor network — tonight at the Gainesville Civic Center, 311 S. Weaver St.

Brown asked the Lindsay crowd Thursday to arrive early and to be assertive in “fighting the crowd” to leave a comment.

Sheila Cox, one of the organizers of Save Our County, a group opposing TTC-35, requested the sign-up table be moved outside the Civic Center. She said she is expecting thousands to attend.

The hearing is intended to give the public an opportunity to comment on the narrowed study area and participate in the decision-making process, according to a TxDOT press release.

Those present may ask questions during the open house portion of the meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m., review and comment on maps and other project information.

Brown said court reporters are scheduled to be there, to transcribe spoken opinions for the record, as well as laptop computers for visitors to enter their own comments electronically.

The opinions, as well as those received from across Texas, are to be reviewed by a TxDOT panel between now and summer 2007, when the “tier 1” environmental impact study is expected to conclude. The comments will then be placed in an “environmental impact statement” to be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration for review.

(Public comments may also be directed to TxDOT via the Internet. The deadline for public comments is Aug. 21.)

A public hearing is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. after the open house, which includes a brief presentation by TxDOT on the toll road project.

The posted capacity for the Gainesville Civic Center building is 484 persons. At that point, the fire marshal may take measures to prevent the entry of persons into the building.

Gainesville Fire Marshal Jody Henry was out of the office by press time and could not be reached for comment.

Henry is scheduled to be there, according to Gainesville Fire Chief Steve Boone.

Boone said a plan is in place by TxDOT to handle an overflow, but the fire department will be there to make sure the plan is implemented. He said the fire department would not lock people inside the building once the room reaches capacity, but they would prevent the entry of additional persons into the Civic Center. He said there is “panic hardware” on the inside doors, so the doors cannot be locked from the inside.

“Our main concern is safety,” Boone said.

Sherman also has a hearing scheduled tonight — 5 p.m. at the Municipal Ballroom, 405 N. Rusk St.

A Denton hearing is set for 5 p.m. tomorrow at the University of North Texas Gateway Center Ballroom, 801 North Texas Blvd. (formerly Ave. D), off Interstate 35.

In an interview Thursday, Gabby Garcia, a spokesperson from TxDOT’s Austin office, said the details of the Trans-Texas Corridor are “not set in stone, yet,” which is why TxDOT is seeking public opinion.

She said the goal before TxDOT currently is to “set a master plan” so company Cintra-Zachry (a combination of a Spanish holdings firm and an Austin road construction company) can move ahead.

She said a contract between TxDOT and Cintra-Zachry, as signed by Gov. Rick Perry, is available on the TxDOT Web site.

“It doesn’t say Cintra-Zachry will build anything,” Garcia said of all written agreements so far. “It only sets to put together a master plan. The question, obviously, is where do you start?”

Garcia said the environmental impact study method used by TxDOT to make plans for the Trans-Texas Corridor has never been utilized before. She said the method has many drawbacks, as the people have been given an incomplete picture of how the road will be built, financed, managed, etc.

“There’s a lot of questions and not a whole lot of answers,” she said. “And the reason is because there’s still so many steps we have to go through.”

She said an example of that incomplete picture is the “amber circle” mentioned at several grassroots meetings regarding TTC-35. The general, local consensus so far is that area is earmarked for a warehouse district. Garcia said TxDOT is uncertain on its use, but noted that it probably will be a changeover area with several exit and entrance ramps and bridges if the Trans-Texas Corridor is built.

“Simply put, they’re there to note that we haven’t forgotten those areas. These yellow circle areas are important areas to work with, but what to do with those areas is to be answered later in tier 2 and tier 3,” she said.

Garcia said she hopes the TxDOT hearing will help fine-tune the picture for the many Cooke County residents concerned about the project.

She said there have been 117 meetings so far and more than 4,000 comments registered.

Garcia said there’s always room for more comments, and dialogue with TxDOT officials at the hearing is encouraged.

“It’s that one-on-one dialogue that you normally couldn’t have with project staff,” she said.

On the Net:

A map of the narrowed study area and a complete list of the public hearings are available on www.keeptexasmoving.org

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