In comments filed with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Texas Farm Bureau said the Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) for the proposed I-69 corridor “would not withstand judicial scrutiny.”
Under the terms of the National Environmental Policy Act, these detailed environmental studies are conducted under rules developed by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).
According to the farm organization’s comments, the failure of the DEIS to consider the environmental impact of using existing rights-of-way–rather than a single minded focus on building a completely new route–means the study could not hold up in court. Current law and actual practice in the only other state, Indiana, to file a DEIS on the massive interstate project dictate that existing rights-of-way be considered. Indiana’s DEIS did, in fact, consider existing rights-of-way.
“The completely new route, of course, would be the most disruptive in terms of displacing families and impacting the environment,” said Kenneth Dierschke, president of Texas Farm Bureau. “Once again, it seems that TxDOT is trying to influence policy rather than implementing it, this time by pretending that there is only one way to build the Texas portion of I-69.”
Another problem, according to the document submitted by TFB, is the insistence by TxDOT and FHWA that I-69 be “multimodal,” complete with space for separate truck lanes, rail and a multi-purpose utility corridor. The Farm Bureau charges that the two agencies have failed to demonstrate the need for this kind of space-eating approach.
“I-69, as proposed, will pass through seven states. Of these, Texas is the only one to mention, let alone require, a multimodal corridor in connection with I-69,” Dierschke said.
Dierschke said the state needs additional highways but Farm Bureau is concerned about the lost farm and ranch land along the proposed route. That, he said, is another flaw in the DEIS. According to the TFB document, farmland loss was not considered in the DEIS, as required by federal law.
“There doesn’t appear to be any effort to minimize the loss of farm and ranch lands or the productive capacity that might be lost,” Dierschke said.
The Farm Bureau document suggests that many problems arise from the intent to include I-69–not only in the federal corridor that includes seven states–but in the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor as well. The TTC is most often described as multimodal, requiring more space.
“We have to wonder if the rest of the TTC is getting this kind of half-hearted scrutiny,” Dierschke said. “We hope TxDOT and FHWA are approaching this planning phase with an open mind, but their efforts suggest otherwise.”