Toll Road Threatens Wetlands in Big Thicket National Preserve
A proposal for a ten-mile toll road from north Beaumont to Vidor has sparked concerns over the economic feasibility of the project and the impacts it will have on local communities and natural resources. There are many problems and many unanswered questions, according to civic groups opposing the project.
As proposed, the controversial 105 Toll Road would stretch from the intersection of US 96/69 and Texas Hwy 105 to Interstate 10 in Vidor. This would entail crossing a portion of the Big Thicket National Preserve and would require a new bridge over the Neches River, proposed near Colliers’ Ferry Park and the Beaumont Country Club.
According to information and materials presented to the Jefferson County Commissioners Court by Creative Development Services, LLC, representing the Texas Turnpike Corporation, the 105 Toll Road would be owned by a private limited partnership. New private toll road corporations are no longer allowed under Texas law, but the Texas Turnpike Corporation was grandfathered in when the laws against private toll road corporations were passed. The Texas Turnpike Corporation is owned by the principals of Public Werks, Inc. If built, the 105 Toll Road would be the only privately-owned toll road in Texas.
“The Big Thicket National Preserve is a jewel of the National Park System, but the negative impacts to the national park are not the only reason we oppose construction of the 105 Toll Road,” said Jan Ruppel, President of the Big Thicket Association. Among the concerns expressed by Ruppel are impacts to the several miles of wetlands that would be affected by the toll road. Wetlands play a key role in reducing storm surges during hurricanes and other flooding events.
“The projection of $9 billion in revenues over 50 years is a red flag,” added Janice Bezanson, executive director of Texas Conservation Alliance, a 45-year-old statewide organization which looks at the economics of public projects as well as their environmental impacts. “That’s $180 million per year. At the $2.00 to $2.50 per car toll that’s being suggested, it would take 8,000 to 10,000 cars per hour, 24 hours a day for five decades to produce those revenues. That’s totally implausible.”After receiving a number of emails in opposition to the 105 Toll Road, Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick tabled a county resolution that would have supported the project, saying he wanted to hear how the toll road company and the Texas Department of Transportation respond to the concerns expressed.
The issues posed in the emails included impacts on wetlands, impacts on neighborhoods, and condemnation of property. Citizens in the area northeast of Dallas vociferously opposed a toll road proposed by the Texas Turnpike Corporation in that region in 2014, State Representative Cindy Burkett sponsored a bill in the Texas Legislature to take away the power of private toll road corporations to condemn land under eminent domain. HB 565 was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott in June 2015, removing the Texas Turnpike Corporation’s authority to force people to sell their property. Under current law, any acquisition through eminent domain would have to be done by a city, county, or state governmental entity.
Concerned citizens and opponents spoke before the Beaumont City Council Tuesday after a briefing on the proposed toll road. The Vidor City Council will hear the toll road sponsors’ presentation on Thursday.
The Big Thicket Natural Heritage Trust and the Golden Triangle Group of the Sierra Club join the Big Thicket Association and Texas Conservation Alliance in opposing the toll road.
- The amount of revenues claimed for the toll road — $9 billion over 50 years — don’t add up. All four lanes would have to be used at maximum capacity all day every day to reach that level of revenue.
- Landowners will be forced to sell land and people living near the toll road will have their lives permanently disrupted.
- The Big Thicket National Preserve is a national park — crossing the Preserve is unacceptable.
- Detailed studies have not been done of whether the toll road would truly benefit the community, not just the company developing it.
- There are many hurdles before such a project could be approved.
- Tell the county commissioners and city council members that a resolution in favor of the toll road would be very premature.