CorridorWatch's David Stall speaks to group in the path of TTC-35
September 16, 2006
By ANTHONY TROJAN
Waxahachie Daily Light
ENNIS - Corridor Watch, a nonprofit organization designed to inform the public about aspects of the Trans-Texas Corridor, presented its perceptions about the highway project to an Ellis County audience Thursday evening.
The event was sponsored by Independent Texans and held at the Ennis Sixth Grade Center.
Corridor Watch, which was founded by Linda and David Stall of Fayetteville, is “first and foremost an educational entity,” said David Stall, who added that the group’s “biggest concern is stopping the Trans-Texas Corridor.”
Stall, speaking for the anti-TTC Corridor Watch, raised several questions about the TTC, ranging from its origins to its scheduled return to the state of Texas by Cintra-Zachry LP after 50 years of operation. These questions include the impact of the loss of tax revenues by local governments, perceived procedural improprieties, the wisdom of selecting Cintra Concesiones Infraestructuras SA of Madrid, Spain, as the primary contractor for the project and the dissemination of information about the agreements between Cintra and the state. He also discussed the group’s beliefs about the proposed eminent domain takings by the state and questioned the design and intentions of the project.
Tax Revenue Impact
Stall said any decrease in sales tax revenues would likely result in a corresponding increase in property taxes.
Using the finances of the city of Columbus as a basis for his statements, Stall said that if sales tax revenues were to decrease 25 percent due to a redirecting of traffic away from towns and their businesses, it is likely property tax revenues would have to increase 50 percent to make up the difference.
During the last fiscal year, Stall said Columbus had property tax revenues of about $250,000 and sales tax revenues of about $500,000, providing a 2:1 ratio. If the tax revenue ratio for another town were different, the resulting increase in property taxes may be less than 50 percent, but it could also be greater, he said.
Stall also said if businesses see their profits decrease, have to reduce staff and then go out of business due to the bypassing of towns by the TTC, the elimination of these businesses and their employees from the tax base would also negatively affect school district budgets.
The law approving the TTC was passed in June 2003 and was adopted the following September, with the Texas Department of Transportation holding a public meeting in each of Texas’ 254 counties in February 2004.
Stall said that as many as 32 meetings were held in a single day during the 28-day month.
He said the first meeting - at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday - was held in Fayette County’s county seat of La Grange.
According to Stall, Fayette County is predominately Catholic and Lutheran, and the evening was Ash Wednesday.
However, due to the efforts of his wife Linda, Stall reported that about 80 people attended the meeting, including County Judge Edward F. Janecka.
Janecka said the facility for the meeting was too small and that the crowd overflowed into the hallway. He said he informed TxDOT officials that it could not be considered a public meeting due to the facility inadequacy.
Stall said he also was told by the officials that his group would be allowed only three minutes of speaking time. After asserting that all present were there on their own accord, he said all were given time.
The second meeting for the county, held at the local Knights of Columbus Hall, was convened by TxDOT executive Director John Johnson and was attended by more than 800 people, Stall said.
Across the state, Stall said about 14,000 people attended the subsequent meetings, with about 97 percent of people going on the record in opposition to the TTC.
Additionally, Stall said TxDOT has rejected the input of regional mobility authorities, which normally play a role in approving new transportation projects.
Questions about Cintra
According to Stall’s report, the Comprehensive Development Agreement of March 11, 2005, between Cintra-Zachry and Texas was initially created and kept secret.
“For the first time,” Stall said, “a state agency has negotiated in secret and then announced after a deal was struck.”
After the Houston Chronicle filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for the document, the terms of the agreement were released after a ruling by state Attorney General Greg Abbott. However, the Conceptual Development Plan and Conceptual Finance Plan portions of the agreement have remained secret, with Cintra filing against the attorney general’s office, saying the two plans contain proprietary information.
TxDOT has joined in the lawsuit, which remains pending in court.
Stall found a similar occurrence of Cintra’s desire to maintain secrecy in the company’s handling of Electronic Toll Road 407 in Canada.
ETR 407 runs outside of Toronto and is operated by Cintra. However, in the first two years of its existence, Cintra would not disclose the agreement that gave it control of the road and was repeatedly sued by the government to release the terms. When the terms were released, Stall said the government found a document that effectively stripped it of its toll-setting abilities.
Stall said another question about the selection of Cintra to build 8,000 miles of toll road (the first four roadways to be built - TTC 35, TTC 69, TTC 10 and TTC 45 - will total about 4,000 miles) in Texas is its record. While Cintra does operate tollways in many countries, Stall said the company has only constructed 22 miles of roadway.
Cintra has formed a limited partnership with Zachry Construction Corporation, but this is a partnership in which Cintra controls 85 percent of the equity, with only 15 percent with the construction firm, Stall said.
Stall also discussed the actions of Cintra in Indiana, saying that ITR Concession Co., a subsidiary of Macquarie-Cintra (Macquarie is an Australian company), purchased tolling rights to the Indiana Toll Road in January. The company then placed barrels blocking the emergency crossings on the roadway. These barrels, each weighing about 100 pounds, have impeded the efforts of police, fire and emergency medical personnel, all of whom have requested that the barrels be moved, Stall said. While Cintra’s subsidiary has pledged to put into place a new system that will allow emergency vehicles access while denying access to the general public, Stall said the barrels are still in place.
According to TxDOT’s plans, the TTC will utilize a swath of land 1,200 feet wide. However, Corridor Watch asserts that engineers at the University of Texas in Austin examined the plan, which includes six lanes of car traffic, four lanes of truck traffic, six rail lines and utility easements, and discovered that of this 1,200 feet, 435 feet will not be used for the corridor itself. The extraneous land, which adds up to 146 acres per lane mile, “is being left over for property development,” Stall said, adding that once the 8,000-mile corridor is completed, the 435 extra feet will result in the taking of an extra 1.2 million acres or 1,875 square miles.
This is an area larger than the state of Rhode Island, which is 1,545 square miles, and the state of Delaware, which is 1,954 square miles, Stall said.
According to research done by the group, the path proposed by Plan No. 5, which would run between Waxahachie and Ennis, as many as 8,400 acres of land could be taken for the TTC.
“It’d be one thing to take 300 feet to build a corridor of roads,” Stall said. “It’d be one thing to take 400 feet. But they’re going to take 1,200 feet.”
Design and Intentions
“It’s not about transportation,” Stall said, saying, “It’s about generating revenue,” and adding, “It’s about generating revenue for transportation, I’ll give them that, but it is about money.”
Stall points out that the six-car lanes (three going each direction) are in the center of the proposed corridor, and that the only way to allow these cars to enter or exit would be via “flyover bridges.” However, Stall asserts that “in the entire plan, there is not a single dollar for a single on-ramp or off-ramp.”
Since the toll road would charge travelers a rate per mile for their axle-class, fewer exits mean that people may end up traveling farther on the tollway, thus increasing their tolls.
Stall also claims that in TxDOT literature, the reasoning behind beginning construction in the Dallas/Fort Worth area is due to the area’s “toll-generating potential.”
Noting that the agreement transfers the rights to the tollways after 50 years, Stall notes that the average lifespan of a highway is 45 years.
Stall said the law passed by the state Legislature does not prohibit the implementing of tolls on overpasses crossing the corridor. While the law does not say that a toll will be put into place, it does not say it will not be, he said.
According to Stall’s report, the cost of a paved county road bridge in 2002 was $2,661,750; for a two-lane highway overpass, the cost was $4,709,250. It is important to note, Stall said, that each of these bridges would “probably have to have 24 feet of clearance” since the double-stacking of trucks up to 22 feet would be acceptable on the corridor. Additionally, each overpass would have to span the quarter-mile width of the corridor.
History of Corridor Watch
Corridor Watch was begun in 2002 when Linda Stall first heard about the corridor project and requested materials from the Texas Department of Transportation and then began to investigate further.
Stall got her husband, David, then city manager of Columbus and now a city administrator in Shore Acres, involved in her investigation. He built the first of two Web sites he would design, www.corridorwatch.net. In 2004, the Web site became www.corridorwatch.org.
The mission of Corridor Watch, the Stalls said, is to educate the public about what they believe to be a negative development for the state of Texas.
Corridor Watch is a non-partisan organization and, according to David Stall, does not endorse political candidates. While Linda Stall works for the independent gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn campaign, she said her actions in supporting Strayhorn represent a personal endorsement, not an endorsement by Corridor Watch. It was acknowledged that Linda still plays a role in Corridor Watch’s activities.
Corridor Watch began with members in two Texas counties; it now has members in 186, David Stall said, noting that the Blackland Coalition has pledged its support for the group.
Of the five Texas gubernatorial candidates, Strayhorn, independent Kinky Friedman, Libertarian James Werner and Democrat Chris Bell have stated their opposition to the construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor. Incumbent Rick Perry, a Republican, initiated the project and has maintained his support for it.
On the Internet
Corridor Watch: www.corridorwatch.org
Chris Bell campaign site: http://www.chrisbell.com/
Kinky Friedman campaign site: www.kinkyfriedman.com
Rick Perry campaign site: http://www.rickperry.org
Carole Keeton Strayhorn campaign site: http://www.carolestrayhorn.com/
James Werner campaign site: http://www.werner4texas.com/
Trans-Texas Corridor: http://www.keeptexasmoving.com/
© 2006 The Daily Light: