According to Bob Nelson, one of the organizers of a meeting at Rad Ware elementary school in Woodbine to discuss information regarding the Trans-Texas Corridor, about 650 people were in attendance and about 500 of them signed a petition opposing the toll road project.

“The issues here are here to stay, and we’re going to have to grind it out — session by session,” said Warren Mayberry of the Texas Farm Bureau.

Mayberry’s comments summed up the theme of most of the presentations Tuesday evening, that progress on the Trans-Texas Corridor has continued unfettered and there’s a strong chance it may go through.

But “one tough grandma” said otherwise.

Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a candidate for governor of Texas, speaking toward the end of the meeting, said if the Trans-Texas Corridor project is stalled long enough for her to take office as governor, there may be a chance to “blast it off the books.”

While most of her speech critiqued the administration of Gov. Rick Perry, who is seeking re-election, the main theme was the Corridor.

She challenged the governor to a debate on the tollway.

“Bring it on!” she said. “... Anytime, anyplace. I’ll be there.”

“I’m proud to stand up with people saying ‘no’ to the biggest land grab in Texas history,” she said, meeting heavy applause and cheers.

She congratulated a recently formed organization “Save Our County” for their efforts in opposing the Corridor.

She said many of Perry’s initiatives, including the Trans-Texas Corridor project, were “mean-spirited” and “favor a special few.”

Strayhorn decried efforts to place “ancillary services” on the corridor’s property, such as gasoline stations, convenience stores and hotels.

“The government should not do what private businesses can do better,” she said, again meeting applause.

She said “ancillary services” once were handled by the free market and grew near highway entrance and exit ramps, and that same method could work with the Corridor.

Strayhorn said a Texas constitutional amendment is called for protecting private property rights from “quick take” eminent domain proceedings.

“Texas belongs to no special interest, no creed, no foreign business,” she said. “It belongs to Texas.”

She noted a contract between the state of Texas and Cintra-Zachry, the Spain-based company which has offered to fund the Trans-Texas Corridor and would own the road for 70 years, “cannot be seen by you or me.”

Strayhorn said she has demanded that the contract be made public. According to Associated Press reports, Perry has attempted to keep the contract’s contents private and the matter is being held up in litigation.

Strayhorn said in an interview that she suspects Perry is trying to keep is secret until election day.

“We want Texas Department of Transportation, not European Department of Transportation,” Strayhorn said.

She said there are many in state government, including Perry, who have not heeded the advice given by the citizens in many public forums on the Trans-Texas Corridor.

She said Perry “needs to know that these kinds of hearings are more than just dog and pony shows.”

In her speech, Strayhorn also opposed the national animal ID plan, calling it “a big government mandate at it’s worst.” She supported initiative and referendum (allowing popular elections to bypass Congress) in her speech, as well as tougher sentencing for child molesterers, pay raises for teachers and public finance of two years’ worth of community college tuition for each Texas resident.

Prior to Strayhorn’s speech, Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, took to the lectern and reminded the audience to focus on issues rather than personalities.

“There are no devils that we’ve found yet (pause) at the local level,” he said, meeting laughter.

Hardcastle said the Corridor project only has the power given to them by the Texas Legislature. While the project is already allowed by state law, he noted several efforts have been made, most notably in Texas House Bill 2702, to “rein in” the Corridor.

He corrected a former quote which appeared in the Register that the Trans-Texas Corridor would not happen in his lifetime.

“I don’t plan on living much longer,” he said flippantly,” but it may not get started in my lifetime.”

Preceding Hardcastle, Mayberry of the Farm Bureau and his associated Trey Blocker “tag teamed” to discuss the efforts made in HB 2702 to adjust plans for the Trans-Texas Corridor (see sidebar article).

Blocker said he no longer looks at the map of where the preferred route is, but focuses more on the underlying principles being promoted (or ignored) by the Trans-Texas Corridor project.

Blocker said the final route is expected to be approved by the beginning of 2006.

“So the clock is ticking,” he said.

He advised landowners in the path secure a land condemnation attorney, which could result in a 30 percent higher compensation for one’s property.

Matt Brockman, executive vice president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattleraisers Association, noted his organizations opposition to the project.

He said he has seen several grassroots situations “take hold and have a real impact,” while has seen others dissipate.

Brockman recommended those in the audience write Joe Pensock, director of Turnpike Corridor Systems at TxDOT, and express their grievances.

Brockman mentioned his previous experience as a legislative aide for Rep. Charlie Stenholm and how on one issue his office received 5,000 telegrams — thus changing Stenholm’s mind.

“Writing these letters and making those calls does make a difference,” he said.

He also said attending meetings is significant, as state officials will return to Austin or other headquarters and say “Wow, did you see the crowd out there?”

Brockman also recommended the audience be informed.

“Trans-Texas Corridor is an emotional issue,” he said. “When we get an emotional issue like this, it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, to find out what TTC is all about.

“... Whatever you do, don’t go home and throw your hands in the air and say ‘They didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear.’ Be engaged. Stay in the process ... and be patient.”

A question-and-answer period followed, where Hardcastle, Mayberry and Blocker each took turns answering questions submitted by the audience anonymously on notecards.

One question asked if a class-action lawsuit could halt the project. Blocker said it would not, as the state is sovereign in such matters according to the Texas Constitution. He suggested the Legislature should pass an amendment limiting eminent domain powers.

Another question was whether the Legislature stood a chance of canceling the Trans-Texas Corridor project. Mayberry said the chances of that happening are “slim to none” as the governor must sign any legislation sent to him. He reminded the audience that Perry was the one who originated the idea.

Blocker asked how many had heard of the Trans-Texas Corridor a month ago. About half of the audience raised their hands. He then asked how many heard of it half-a-year ago. About one-third of the audience indicated they had. A handful raised their hands when asked if they had attended a TxDOT meeting on the project in 2005.

Amy Klein, one of the organizers, stressed that the goal of the meeting was for each person to make up his/her own mind.

No speakers came out in favor of the Trans-Texas Corridor in their remarks.

Klein explained Trans-Texas Corridor 35, if built, would be 400 to 1,200-feet wide with six rail lines, and would span Texas from Gainesville to Laredo.

She said the toll road could take up to 580,000 acres.

The “preferred route” for Trans-Texas Corridor 35 (TTC-35, the portion of the tollway network which is planned to run roughly parallel to Interstate Highway 35), presented by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), cuts through southeastern Cooke County. TxDOT presented a map in March which included a 10-mile study area through Burns City, Callisburg, Collinsville, Gainesville, Lake Kiowa, Mountain Springs, Oak Ridge, Whitesboro, Woodbine and points in between.

“We are in the direct path,” Klein said. “... Many of you who attended the meeting last week brought up a very important question — what can we do?”

Klein said there are several avenues of action a Cooke County resident can take, such as writing the governor, members of the Texas House of Representatives, members of the Texas Senate, writing federal lawmakers, writing area newspapers as letters to the editor, keeping informed on the progress of the project through media outlets and writing TxDOT officials such as engineer Larry Tegtmeyer.

Hardcastle urged members of the audience not to use form letters, as he noticed TxDOT officials have two piles — one for “real letters” and the other for identically worded correspondence.

A handout at the event gave several addresses and phone numbers of state and federal officials to call. She noted Save Our County is taking donations to fund advertisements opposing the corridor.

Another important course of action is to attend an official hearing July 10 at the Gainesville Civic Center hosted by TxDOT. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. for an open house, with comments to follow.

Tom Carson, station manager of KGAF-AM, 1580, emceed the event. In his opening remarks, he alluded to a riot in the late 1800s in reaction to the presidential election results, where wagons were overturned and buildings set ablaze.

“... Then they found out the results were not correct,” he said.

Carson said history teaches that Cooke County residents should not react violently or irrationally, but should simply seek answers.

“We’re Texans that want answers,” he said.

Unfortunately, not all of the answers are available this early in the project. Mayberry said the project is still in “tier 1.”

Another question from the audience asked if the Trans-Texas Corridor, if built, does not turn a profit, will it cut funds for Interstate 35.

“No one has a crystal ball, here,” Mayberry said.

On the Net:

www.corridorwatch.org

www.keeptexasmoving.com

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at andyhoguegdr@ntin.net





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