Friday, September 08, 2006

Corridor Objections Fall on Deaf Ears

Perry Scope


The Texas Observer
Copyright 2006

TTC From the Right

Gov. Rick Perry’s plan to pave Texas with a 4,000-mile system of futuristic toll roads has made enemies among those he usually counts as supporters. Known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, the proposed network of superhighways will crisscross the state and contain as many as 16 lanes for trains, trucks, and cars, as well as a utility corridor. Madrid-based Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte has teamed up with San Antonio’s Zachary Construction Corp. to propose building a corridor segment that will parallel Interstate 35.

Phyllis Schlafley, the conservative doyenne who almost single-handedly defeated the Equal Rights Amendment, recently criticized the plan. The galactic-sized highways caught Schlafley’s attention when she realized that they would bisect the entire country–not just Texas. A supporter of tough immigration laws, Schlafley says the most egregious aspect of the plan is the fact that the highways would be “designed to bring in Chinese goods from Mexican ports in sealed containers, first by rail, then by Mexican trucks, none of which would be inspected until Kansas City.”

Conservative Republicans are opposed to the idea that a foreign company will be given carte blanche to raze homes, churches, schools, businesses, ranchland, and farmlands for private toll roads that will be cash cows for the next 50 years or so. “Because there are issues of confiscation of private land, state and national sovereignty, and other similar concerns, we urge the repeal of the Trans-Texas Corridor legislation,” states the Texas GOP party platform. The platform speaks even more harshly of the concept of eminent domain, saying it should not be used to seize “private property for public or private economic development or for increased tax revenues.”

The Texas Farm Bureau has equally strong anti-corridor language in its 2006 legislative blueprint. Nonetheless, the bureau’s political arm, the “Ag Fund,” supports Perry’s re-election. Perry hails from Paint Creek, a farming community roughly an hour north of Abilene. In 1990, he was elected to the statewide post of Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, and up until now he has always benefited from rural support. Explains Farm Bureau spokesman Gene Hall, “The Texas Farm Bureau is not a single-issue organization.”

TTC From the Center

Ric Williamson, Texas Transportation Commission chairman and a Perry appointee, has come up with a novel way to sell the unpopular Trans-Texas Corridor—the new superhighway will be a boon to the environment. According to Williamson, the corridor will reduce congestion, improve air quality, and increase safety.

But experts for Environmental Defense, who reviewed the state’s 4,000-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the corridor, say the superhighways would be “an environmental disaster,” wreaking havoc on waterways, farmland, wildlife habitat, air quality, human health, and rural communities.

Given today’s price of oil, opponents also maintain the corridor project is already obsolete and will only increase urban sprawl, traffic growth, and greenhouse gases. “In the history of the U.S. and probably the world, there has never been a transportation project like the big, precedent-setting Trans-Texas Corridor,” writes Mickey Burleson of Environmental Defense. “This system is the most destructive in the world,” she continues, noting that the four priority corridors will eventually claim over a million acres, much of it in rural Texas.

The corridor project will also damage the Texas Hill Country, where millions of tons of rock will be blasted and crushed and hauled out for roadbeds. Ironically, the trucks used to haul the rock will further damage existing roadways, she says.

The corridor project has proven fertile ground for Gov. Rick Perry’s gubernatorial rivals. Democrat Chris Bell, whose poll numbers have been edging up in recent weeks, says the plan is “rife with insider dealing, cronyism, and conflicts of interest.” Kinky Friedman, cigar-chomping maestro of the one-liner, claims the project is nothing more than a greedy land grab that will eventually cost more than the Iraq war. And Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the state comptroller who’s running as an independent, promises that if elected, she will “bust” any contracts between the state Transportation Department and private companies. “Texas property belongs to Texans–not foreign companies,” she says.

Perry TTC Consequence Free

During a normal statewide campaign, Rick Perry undoubtedly would have to at least give the appearance that he cares about his constituents who are angered at the prospect of having their property paved over with superhighways. But with three other candidates dividing the vote in the gubernatorial race, Perry needs only 26 percent to win a third term. As of late August, polls showed he had 35 percent of the vote.

So when rural Texans complain, a Perry spokesman doesn’t have to be particularly conciliatory. Texas is facing an “infrastructure crisis,” and farmers and ranchers whose property is going to be gobbled up by superhighways are just going to have to suck it up. That’s basically the message from the Perry campaign these days, though spokesman Robert Black hastened to add that the governor is “sympathetic” to his rural constituents. “Every road in the state of Texas was once on private land,” he said. “All those roads were vehemently opposed. Now they’re the lifeblood of the state.” Black went on to say that the country’s founders predicted the day would come when the taking of the land would be necessary for the greater good. “We are in a time like that,” he said.

© 2006 The Texas Observer: