Saturday, July 22, 2006

Some see an assault on private property rights; some object to putting the project in foreign hands; and some dislike the secret contract.

Texans Who Oppose Highway May Spell Trouble for Governor

July 22, 2006

The Associated Press
Copyright 2006

HILLSBORO, TX — Farmers and landowners across Texas are angry about a proposed 600-mile superhighway, and that could pose a problem for Gov. Rick Perry as he runs for re-election.

Mr. Perry, a Republican , proposed the project, the Trans Texas Corridor, in 2002, envisioning a combined toll road and rail system that would whisk traffic from the Oklahoma line to the border with Mexico.

That would be the first link in a 4,000-mile, $184 billion transportation network. The corridors would have up to six lanes for cars and four for trucks, railroads, energy pipelines, utility lines and broadband cables.

The route has not been drawn up, but many farmers and landowners would lose property to the state. Construction could begin by 2010.

The opposition comes in several forms: Some see it as an assault on private property rights; some object to putting the project in foreign hands (the state accepted a proposal by a United States and Spanish consortium to build and operate it); and some dislike that part of a development contract with the consortium, Cintra-Zachry, is secret.

Of Mr. Perry’s major opponents — Chris Bell, a Democrat, and Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman, independents — Ms. Strayhorn stirs the most fury. She calls the plan the “Trans Texas Catastrophe” and a “land grab” of historic proportions.

Cintra-Zachry proposes paying $7.2 billion to build the first segments. For that, it would get to operate them and collect tolls for years.

“The governor recognizes the concerns that rural Texans have,” Robert Black, Mr. Perry’s spokesman, said. “But he also believes that you have people out there who are spreading bad information.”

Supporters say the corridors are needed to handle an expected boom in the flow of goods to and from Mexico and in Texas’s population. The state will own the land and will oversee toll amounts, Mr. Black said.

Anger percolated at a recent public hearing in Hillsboro.

Janet Walters said she believed that Mr. Perry would eventually see that the corridor was a critical campaign issue. “I don’t think Rick Perry will back off until he feels like, ‘This is going to cost me the election,’ ” Ms. Walters said. “Then he’ll back off.”

The New York Times: