"Fire Rick Perry."
Gov. Rick Perry's challengers in the November election took turns Friday attacking his vision for the Trans Texas Corridor, a $184 billion plan to build megahighways around the state.
Appealing to a crowd of mostly rural residents concerned about losing land to the project, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell was joined by independent candidates Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman as he asked the crowd to "fire Rick Perry."
More than 700 residents attended the meeting in Seaton, a town just east of Temple where the first leg of the corridor will likely be built within a few miles.
"Gov. Rick Perry and his land-grabbing highway henchmen want to cram toll roads down Texans' throats," Strayhorn said in Saturday's edition of the Austin American-Statesman.
"In a Strayhorn administration, (the corridor) is going to be blasted off the bureaucratic books."
The proposed first phase of the project, a 300-mile stretch of tollway from San Antonio to the Oklahoma border, would run parallel to Interstate 35.
Texas farmers are worried they'll lose large chunks of land and be inconvenienced if a large highway splits their property. If the corridor is 1,200 feet wide in some areas as planned, a farmer could lose as much as 146 acres per mile, according to the Texas Farm Bureau.
"We need roads, we all know that," said Bell, a former congressman. "What we don't need is to have our land taken away to benefit private business."
The panel was organized by the Blackland Coalition, which formed last year to rally opponents of the plan. To the right of Strayhorn on the stage was a placard and seat for Perry, the Republican incumbent, who was invited but didn't attend.
A board member of the coalition, Inez Cobb, said the area around Seaton went Republican in the mid-1990s but "they better watch their step or it might not be for long."
Perry's spokesman, Robert Black, didn't think opposition to the corridor plan would hurt the governor in November.
"The governor believes that the vast majority of Texans, including rural Texans, understand that with a population expected to double in the next 40 years, the current Texas infrastructure can't handle that increase," Black said. "Something has to happen."
Friedman, the author and entertainer, saved his strongest remarks for the decision to let the Spanish consortium Cintra-Zachary build and run the project.
"It's like having Dubai run the ports of America," he said. "It means we'll be paying tolls to a cowardly Spanish company for 70 years."
Outside the building, volunteers for Friedman and Strayhorn gathered petition signatures to get on the November ballot. Independent candidates for governor must collect 45,540 signatures from registered voters who did not cast ballots in either the Republican or Democratic primaries March 7.
© 2006 The Associated Press: