Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"Proper infrastructure is owned by the people and managed by the people, not an overseas company."

Toll road opponents speak up

Jul. 18, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

FORT WORTH -- Political barbs were exchanged Monday during a hearing on the Trans-Texas Corridor, including a salvo between gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn and one of her supporters and Tarrant County Commissioner Glen Whitley.

Strayhorn, an independent, was among more than 50 people who signed up to speak during the hearing, one of 54 being held statewide this summer as the Texas Department of Transportation considers allowing a Spanish-based private firm to build a toll road from Gainesville to Seguin, near San Antonio.

Strayhorn called the 50-year plan to build toll roads, rail lines and utilities across the state "the governor's $184 billion boondoggle." She also said the tolls were "a double tax" that Texans would have to pay to escape gridlock.

But Whitley backed the Trans-Texas concept, originally unveiled by Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2002, saying privately backed toll roads were a creative way to make up for a lack of highway funds. Then he took a shot at Strayhorn.

"Ms. Strayhorn has been to three hearings, and she has not yet offered a solution," Whitley said. "I applaud TxDOT for trying to come up with a solution for our funding shortfall."

More than 300 people attended the hearing at the Will Rogers Memorial Center, including representatives of several candidates who handed out anti-toll road literature at the doorways. About 50 to 100 people in the crowd appeared to back Strayhorn, but they were vocal.

As Whitley left the podium, one woman yelled "Boo!" repeatedly and called him an "idiot." There were gasps from the crowd before state officials on the stage urged calm. Whitley did not respond to the woman.

The hearing continued and was mostly civil, but Trans-Texas opponents still cheered those who agreed with their position.

The Trans-Texas hearings this summer have been attended by many people against the plan, not only Strayhorn supporters, but also supporters of gubernatorial candidates Chris Bell, a Democrat, and Kinky Friedman, an independent.

But the Fort Worth hearing was different. State officials heard a mix of support and opposition. They also got a clear message from several dozen of the Metroplex's elected leaders that they like the Trans-Texas concept. However, they oppose it as currently drawn, bypassing the Metroplex east of Dallas.

The region's leadership has offered a counterproposal that instead would route traffic northward onto a Texas 360 toll road extension near Mansfield, then east and west on a new road connecting Fort Worth and Dallas south of Interstate 20. Eventually, an outer loop would be formed around the two cities.

"It just makes better sense," Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief said while giving the agency unequivocal support for the Trans-Texas concept. "It's a better mousetrap."

Others speaking in favor of Trans-Texas included Arlington Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon, four North Richland Hills council members and many other elected officials.

One opponent was Nile Fischer, a special projects manager for state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth. Fischer opposed foreign control of roads.

"Proper infrastructure is owned by the people and managed by the people, not an overseas company," he said.

Gordon Dickson, 817-685-3816 gdickson@star-telegram.com

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram: www.dfw.com