Proposed Interstate 14 Comments Needed!
TXDOT has recently shared information about their proposed route for I-14, a new interstate intended to connect southeastern states from Texas to Georgia. I-14 is proposed to travel along US HWY 190 and US HWY 287 turning these country highway systems into a major interstate, rivaling I-10.
This proposed route directly impacts several of our east Texas treasures, including Martin Dies, Jr. State Park, the pyramid magnolias, the Big Thicket National Preserve and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Lands.
How would the interstate affect the Big Thicket National Preserve? Although the proposed route does not touch the Preserve, all of the waterways that intersect the route drain through the Preserve, potentially carrying litter and pollution through the precious ecosystems found there.
A major interstate running through the middle of Martin Dies, Jr. State Park would have devastating effects. This project would certainly change the way the park functions. I-14 as it is proposed now, would greatly damage the visitor experience and conservation efforts that have been in place even before the land was protected as a State Park. I-14 would limit visitor access to the park and bring many damaging consequences of a major interstate such as litter, noise pollution, traffic, and fatal wildlife collisions.
The Pyramid Magnolia, is an uncommon tree. It is listed as Globally Endangered by the Red List (Magnolia fraseri var. pyramidata (Pyramid Magnolia) (iucnredlist.org)) In Texas, it is restricted to the eastern counties of Jasper and Newton, found only in deeply wooded sandy ridges.
In the most recent listening session, this project announced it would “Avoid federal, state, local and tribal lands to the extent practicable (National Forests, Big Thicket National Preserve, military installations, Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas)”. However, the projected route runs through Sam Houston National Forest, the Big Thicket National Preserve, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas as well as Martin Dies, Jr. State Park. Not one of these areas have been avoided. (I-14 Listening Session Master Summary (txdot.gov))
Right now, TXDOT is asking for stakeholder feedback. You can leave comments relating to specific locations on their interactive map https://txdot.mysocialpinpoint.com/i14systems/map#/. You can also read the comments and concerns of other community members on the interactive map. Comments must be made by August 11th.
You can review the Online Engagement Site https://txdot.mysocialpinpoint.com/i14systems to learn more about the project.
NOW is the time to advocate!
Please share this message, and act NOW to support our sensitive lands.
Save the Big Thicket Parkway!
Summary of TxDOT Action on
Big Thicket Gateway/Hwy 69
The Texas Department of Transportation Beaumont District is undertaking a project to widen and make design improvements to the US 69 Corridor, known as the Gateway to the Big Thicket Segment. A large portion of this highway expansion is occurring through and near the Big Thicket National Preserve along HWY 69 from FM 1003 (north of Kountze in Hardin County) to FM 1943 (near Warren in Tyler County).
- US 69 is a primary evacuation route in East Texas with an evaculane on the US 69 northbound shoulder and a major freight corridor connecting I-10 and the future expansion and improvement of I-14 with the Port of Beaumont.
- US 69 is designated by the Texas Transportation Code as the Big Thicket National Preserve Parkway between Beaumont and Lufkin.
- The proposed expansion would require acquisition of new right-of-way at a width of 300 feet at the widest and require mitigation to offset impacts. Based on the presence of over 24 acres of wetlands and over 13,000 linear feet of streams it is likely that coordination with the USACE will be required in the form of an Individual Permit (IP). Over two linear miles of streams will be impacted. Those streams flow into Village Creek (located within park boundaries) and then to the Neches River. Stream mitigation went to a bank in Angelina County – not to the Preserve.
- Project design was expected to be finalized in Spring 2022 with construction anticipated to begin in 2024.
Public involvement into this proposed highway project began in Spring 2017 and has been robust with public meetings, and engagement with an annual environmental roundtable meeting composed of local and interested conservation groups to talk through issues of concern with the project. TxDOT invited this coalition of environmental partners to participate in these environmental roundtables and with every invitation, the coalition participated and worked with TxDOT to provide input. In October 2021, after completion of an environmental assessment, TxDOT issued a finding of no significant impact.
Throughout the process, the conservation groups worked closely with TxDOT staff overseeing the project to identify options for mitigation, support plans to build the expansion in a way that kept the scenic character of the region and offered opportunities to grow recreational access to the creeks and woods of the surrounding area through trailheads and trails.
In August 2022, the conservation groups involved with the environmental roundtable were individually notified and requested to come to a meeting with the new District Engineer. In these individual meetings, representatives of the conservation groups were told that the plan for the project has changed. We don’t know the full extent of the design changes because we haven’t been given them. The main changes we are concerned with are the clearcutting of an additional +-145 acres of trees from the median, the impact of the removal of the trees to the hydrology in the surrounding area and the location of project mitigation. TXDOT has also determined that a new Environmental Assessment would not be needed according to their own interpretation of NEPA. The TxDOT staff who collaborated with the community and the conservation leaders on Updated September 20, 2022, the Gateway to the Big Thicket project has been reassigned and is no longer leading this expansion effort.
No public notice has been given of the changes, or notification of mitigation purchased. From these decisions, a significant portion of the input from the public on the project has been disregarded and scope of the project could have much different impacts than originally assessed and proposed.
Concerns of the conservation groups from the changes that we know of, include:
- Clearcutting of trees in the project median and implications of tree removal to flooding in the region and change of hydrology for the park and surrounding area.
- Mitigation being accomplished in a watershed away from the Preserve.
- Lack of oversite on the environmental impacts since TXDOT used their own interpretation of NEPA to decide that another EA was not needed – those findings have not been shared even after requesting them.
Numerous groups across the state are raising concern about the lack of public input and coordination that TxDOT is undertaking as it builds new highway projects across the state. NPCA is following these groups and will be reaching out to them to see if there are opportunities to connect and build a larger coalition going forward.