Friday, June 03, 2005

Concrete Thinking: Toll Roads Trump Education in Texas

Historic Blackland Prairie in Central Texas
Blackland Prairie

TxDOT's Blacktop Prairie
Blacktop Prairie

Concrete is King in Texas.

The Lone Star State ranks 50th in the high school graduation rate, but Texas roads are ranked number one by truckers. The way things look, our legislature would like to continue that "Texas Miracle."

As the 79th Legislative Session ended, our pols in Austin were slapping each other on the back for a job "well done."

They failed to pass their "number one" goal, school finance reform, but the Texas Department of Transportation got almost everything they wanted, including a big "thumbs up" on the $184 billion Trans-Texas Corridor.

The proposed TTC will be a massive network of redundant quarter mile wide toll roads and "ancillary facilities" stretching across the state parallel to existing interstate freeways. "TxDOT is as happy as can be," gushed Mike Krusee, Chairman of the House Transportation Committee. And why wouldn't they be? (click here)

A couple of years ago, Governor Perry's political appointees at the Texas Transportation Commission were granted unprecedented powers by the state legislature.

TxDOT is a now a kingdom unto itself.

TxDOT can negotiate comprehensive development agreements (CDA's) with foreign corporations. And TxDOT, with the blessing of our good-haired governor, is in the process of creating the biggest special interest pork funnel west of the Potomac.

If TxDOT has its way, the first leg of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC-35) will be designed, built, and leased by Cintra, a Spanish public works company, for the next 50 to 70 years.

The TTC project was pushed by Perry's appointees as the "only" viable solution to problems with urban congestion. This happened after an already completed and approved study for I-35, including rail and truck lanes--no toll roads--was dumped after Perry took office in 2001. (click here)

That year, $800,000 in campaign contributions from toll road interests were dropped into Perry's lap. Around that time, the TTC plan suddenly appeared to our "visionary" governor. (click here, here, and here).

Constitutional amendments, Prop. 2 and Prop. 15, marketed by some of those same contributors, were passed in 2001. (click here)

These amendments said nothing about Perry's pork dream. (click here)

Maybe that's because the already approved I-35 corridor plan and study, completed in 1999, would have cost $11 billion. Perry's TTC-35 pork pike alone is expected to cost at least $27 billion plus an additional 81,000 acres of private property.

The TTC plan was unveiled by Perry in January 2002 and approved by his appointees at TxDOT five months later with NO STUDY.

"Once the Governor decided that this is where we needed to head, he wanted to remove it from the political flow of the state, he wanted it to become policy as opposed to politics, and that was one of the reasons he asked us to move so fast, and we've done an admirable job...." --Ric Williamson, Texas Transportation Commissioner

When the TTC plan ran into skeptics and roadblocks , it was determined that Perry's appointees at TxDOT needed more power. The lobbyists rallied again to change the state law. With the help of Rep. Krusee's lawyering squad, a massive transportation bill (HB 3588) was cooked up and rubber-stamped by the Texas Legislature in 2003.

After that, it was pretty much smooth sailing. TxDOT courted overseas contractors in 2003 and 2004. The winning bidder from Spain, Cintra, went public on the European stock market less than two months before TxDOT picked them. Now a lobbyist and former legislator, who just happened to be working for Cintra three months before they were awarded the contract, is on Governor Perry's staff--as an advisor on transportation legislation (click here,here, and here).

Imagine that (click here).

The comprehensive development agreement with Cintra, quickly negotiated by TxDOT, was signed by Perry in March 2005. A substantial portion of the CDA is still being kept from the public. I guess they figured it was their business (click here).

Sure, they hit a speed bump after their scheme got some bad press, but after a little legislative shake 'n bake to throw folks off (House Bill 2702), the Soveriegn Kingdom of TxDOT and their Trans-Texas Toll Collector were safe and sound.

Which is why Representative Krusee's main constituents, TxDOT, Cintra and their associates, are so happy.

If things continue to go as planned, TxDOT will be very busy in the coming years, kicking Texans off of their land for the new Spanish Corridor. By many estimates, they will need to take more than half a million acres of private property to make their whole TTC boondoggle a reality.

As more and more information about the Corridor trickles out, folks are getting angry. You see, in spite of our school system, Texans can still read and do math. Some have done their homework and learned that the numbers simply do not add up.

Traffic congestion occurs mainly during commuting times in the metro areas --not rural areas-- and, yes, traffic is bad around Austin. But to hear the pork doctors talk, the entire state will need ten lanes of bypass surgery-- and Quick! Never mind that their enormous scheme will cost close to $200 billion.

Rural Texans aren't the only ones who will pay dearly for TxDOT's emerging "Toll Road State." Urban commuters will pay ever higher tolls on their local roads to finance this boondoggle. A substantial chunk of the toll tax won't even go back into Texas roads. Those dollars will be converted to Euros and wired to Madrid.

Backland Coalition Joins Corridor Watch
As storm clouds loomed in Central Texas, 1,000 people gathered to voice their opposition to the Trans-Texas Corridor. They learned that they were on the fast track to be paved by the "priority" TTC-35 Corridor. For more information about the Rally click HERE.

A graphic of the proposed TTC, superimposed on the Blackland Prairie in dark green, can be seen below. The priority corridors are orange.

Blackland Prairie TTC

The Blackland Coalition is apparently endorsing the law firm of Barron, Adler & Anderson for legal advice related to condemnation and eminent domain.

Among other legal developments, the Texas Attorney General has told TxDOT that Cintra's financial and development plans for their CDA cannot be withheld from the public. Also, the United States Supreme Court will soon rule on Kelo v. City of New London, and the Texas Supreme court still says the current state law for funding Texas schools is unconstitutional.

The courts may ultimately determine if future generations of Texas dropouts must pay to drive on the best damned roads in the country.

RELATED LINKS: The Great Texas Land Grab

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