The Huntsville City Council was joined by county officials Thursday afternoon for a workshop to hear a presentation from representatives leading the charge for a new interstate highway project that would connect the Permian Basin to East Texas.
John Thompson, the chairman of the Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition and a former county judge of Polk County, pitched the idea of the city following Walker County's lead in getting on board with the construction of Interstate 14, which is generally designed to follow U.S. Highway 190. Already there has been 25 miles of that highway between Copperas Cove and Belton designated as I-14.
Thompson told council members here that by joining the coalition, which carries an annual fee of $5,000, the City of Huntsville would be able to appoint someone to sit on the coalition's board of directors. The county has been part of the coalition since it began.
"Where the road goes is going to have to be decided by city and county leaders," Thompson said. "There will be segment committees that will be voted on and appointed by coalition members. Those committees will be you the city and you the county and will be the sounding board to (the Texas Department of Transportation) on where the route will go. It will be city and county folks, economic development folks and farmers and ranchers, land owners.
"You get everyone at the table."
The segment committee will determine where I-14 will travel through Walker County, but currently the plan is for I-14 to follow State Highway 21 through College Station to Madisonville, then merge with Interstate 45 until reaching Huntsville.
The new interstate, which will supposedly look like I-45, would then follow FM 2821 to State Highway 19 where it would connect to Highway 190 and head east toward Livingston.
Councilman Joe Rodriquez wanted to know why the route wouldn't follow Highway 30 from College Station since it was the more straight path than going to Madisonville and coming back down.
"Following Highway 30 would be a huge challenge, but that is something you can decide at the local level," Thompson said. "They like to build highways where people aren't. That is inside the city, out in the county, anywhere. The most direct route is Highway 30, but if that is what is not popular locally, or can't be sold to citizens, then the other option is to go to Madisonville. All those things are to be determined by you locally."
Walker County Judge Danny Pierce added that Highway 21 had more right of way than Highway 30.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Glen Reader expressed his concerns about the new interstate going out Highway 190. He also thought the U.S. Forest Service should come on board so the route could use the national forest and that the county "didn't need anymore land coming off the tax roll."
"There are people who were born out there and have lived there their entire lives," Reader said. "What about them?"
Thompson again stressed "those lines don't mean anything" and that local committee members would decide on the best path for I-14 to take.
Councilman Joe Emmett told a story about his uncle who had a small piece of land where Interstate 35 was built and that his uncle was well compensated for it when the state bought it.
"He never had to work again," said Emmett, who added that people who might have to sell land on Highway 190 could use that money to buy new homes if it came to that.
Thompson said the new interstate would serve the military and oil-and-gas industries, as well as economic growth across the state.
The project would use new and existing highways to connect Fort Bliss near El Paso with Fort Hood near Killeen and Fort Polk near Leesville, Louisiana, with the ports of Beaumont and Corpus Christi, which would improve military transportation needs and allow for safer traveling for citizens.
"There are a lot of issues that have to be worked out, but by joining the coalition you are going to work with experts who will help you with those," Thompson said.
The City Council will have to put the decision to join the coalition on a future meeting's agenda in order to take action on the matter.