Sunday, January 22, 2006

Strayhorn: "What is going on is not a democracy, it is highway robbery. "

Anti-toll road group touts its campaign


Amanda Reimherr
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

What started as a grass-roots organization that met in school libraries a little more than six months ago is now a political force to be reckoned with — and its reach is growing by the day.

The San Antonio Toll Party, an extension of the Texas Toll Party, is a nonpartisan community organization opposed to the establishment of toll roads on highways that have already been paid for with tax dollars. Currently, toll roads are proposed along U.S. 281, Interstates 10 and 35, Loop 1604 and Wurzbach Parkway.

The construction for a toll road on U.S. 281 was set to begin this month. However, a lawsuit filed by the People for Efficient Transportation, the legal arm of the Texas Toll Party, and Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas based on the National Environment Policy Act halted the groundbreaking.

The SATP has won several victories and has continued to grow since its inception, under the leadership of its passionate director, Terri Hall.

"We are determined to keep our Texas freeways free," Hall said after a rally Saturday in a car dealership parking lot off of U.S. 281 North outside of Loop 1604. "These highways have already been paid for by our tax dollars. If they try to make us pay toll on it, it is nothing short of double taxation. I think the number of people we have reached and gotten involved is a testament to the depth and breadth of this issue."

The group has made a name for itself through the support of several political candidates using the opposition of toll roads as a platform or key issue in their campaigns.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, Democratic attorney general candidate David Van Os, state Senate District 18 candidate David Stall, District 73 state representative candidate Nathan Macias, District 52 state representative candidate Barbara Samuelson, Bexar County Commissioner Precinct 2 candidate Enrique Barrera and Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson have associated themselves and their campaigns with the group.

More than 200 attendees braved cold winds at Saturday's rally as they listened to and cheered for 11 speakers, munching on popcorn, waving signs and holding balloons.

SATP members dressed in orange vests emblazoned with the group's logo passed out fliers and bumper stickers. Not by coincidence, the backdrop to the stage was cars and 18-wheelers roaring past as they drove along U.S. 281.

Strayhorn has made toll roads a core issue in her gubernatorial campaign and discussed her intentions at the rally.

"What is going on is not a democracy, it is highway robbery. ... As long as there is a breath of air in my lungs, Texans will have a strong voice in Austin, and this voice is dead set against toll roads," Strayhorn said.

Other organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Bexar County Homeowner-Taxpayer Association have voiced their support for the efforts of the group as well. However, SATP is excited and more determined than ever to fight tolls because of the involvement of politicians such as Strayhorn, Van Os and Bell, director Hall said.

"Every single candidate for Texas governor is talking about this issue. This is a major issue in many political campaigns, because this is a major issue for the citizens of Texas. Even Kinky (Friedman) is talking about it," Hall said.

The support of politicians with very recognizable names brought out interested people to the rally.

"Gov. Perry is acting like a dictator. He can't do this to us. If we don't speak up now, they will keep destroying our countryside. Toll roads is just one example of that, and I am tired of it," said Adrienne Carabetta, a rally attendee.

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News: