Membership in the Alliance for I-69 Texas has always been voluntary, but commissioners have decided to end that relationship because of what they see as the alliance's lobbying that could hurt the county's ability to build its own toll roads. In its original form, I-69 would have upgraded Highway 59 through Harris County to an interstate. Those plans changed a few years ago and are now part of what's known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, a proposed maze of roads, pipelines and railway across the state. Harris County Judge Ed Emmitt says that's not what the county signed-up for.
"When it started years and years ago the idea was to get together, lobby Congress, try and get funds for upgrading the highway and I think a lot of people even in East Texas are going to be very disappointed when they realize the highway that's going to be built is not a interstate highway that serves their town. Instead it's going to be a private toll road 10 or 15 miles out of town."
The I-69 alliance has lobbied against a bill in Austin that would put a two-year moratorium on contracts between the state and private companies that want to operate toll roads because private toll roads are a big part of the Trans-Texas corridor plan. Judge Emmitt says he wants to retain local control, a position now at odds with the alliance's plans.
"Trans-Texas Corridors have become very controversial all across the state of Texas and in Harris County we firmly believe that the Harris County Toll Road Authority does a much better job of building toll facilities than some outside interest from perhaps even a foreign country. So we want to make sure that we maintain control of our toll roads in Harris County."
The county has already paid $50,000 in dues this year to the I-69 alliance and commissioners now want part of that money back. Alliance chairman John Thompson says he hopes the relationship can be salvaged.
"This is a decision they have chosen to make and we wish they hadn't made it. The effort is going to go forward. We represent 34 counties and many, many municipalities up and down that long corridor and we hope over time we'll be able to have conversation again with Harris County, bring them back on board. But in the interim, our plans are to continue to move forward and try to build Interstate 69 from border to border."
Earlier this week, the state senate passed a compromise bill that did more to satisfy both sides. The house is expected to approve the measure later this week, but Harris County is still not expected to rejoin the I-69 Alliance anytime soon.