Monday, October 02, 2006

"Perry should give up his Aggie ring, his senior boots and his citizenship to Texas.”

Trans-Texas Corridor protestors send bags of soil to Perry

October 2, 2006

The Brenham Banner-Press
Copyright 2006

Joyce Covington held out several bags of black soil from Washington County, neatly packaged and labeled and ready to deliver to Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Accompanying the soil, Covington said Saturday, will be a clear message to Perry: he’ll get no more Washington County land for the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The “corridor,” in effect, is a massive highway that would carry vehicles and railroads through the middle of the state. Pipeline, utility and communications infrastructures would also be in the corridor’s right of way.

A rally Saturday morning on the courthouse square brought out a small crowd of TTC opponents. And the words “tar and feather” were tossed around, with the anger particularly aimed at Perry.

“He has lost his moral compass,” said Carol Reiss, an Austin County landowner who made the trip to Brenham for the rally. “He should give up his Aggie ring, his senior boots and his citizenship to Texas.”

Perry is a former yell leader at Texas A&M University.

While the proposed route doesn’t bring the TTC through Washington County, Covington, who organized Saturday’s rally, said the bags of dirt are symbolic.

“We’re saying, ‘You’re not getting anything else from Washington County,’” she said. “If something comes from every county ... it shows that there are people out there who are not happy.”

According to some routes, the massive highway would go through adjacent Waller County.

Perry, who proposed the corridor in 2002, has also come under fire from opponents and anti-corridor activists in part because of the secret contract.

Cintra-Zachry proposed paying $7.2 billion to build the first segments of the corridor, running roughly parallel to Interstate 35. The Spanish-American consortium said it would invest $6 billion to build a state-owned toll road and would pay the state $1.2 billion and get to operate the road and collect tolls.

State transportation officials now say the private money invested could total as much as $8.8 billion.

Cintra-Zachry initially had a development agreement to start working on the project. The company has said it always understood that once the master plan was completed and accepted by the Texas Department of Transportation, Cintra-Zachry’s development agreement would be released in full.

The first phase of the proposed corridor would be a toll road built from north of Dallas-Fort Worth to south of San Antonio, connecting to I-35 at those two points. The tollway would loop around Dallas and follow a path a few miles east of the interstate.

Construction could begin by 2011, pending environmental clearance.

Ultimately, the corridor would be a network crisscrossing the state and costing up to $184 billion, Perry has said. The corridor would be up to a quarter-mile across, consisting of as many as six lanes for cars and four for trucks, plus railroad tracks, oil and gas pipelines, water and other utility lines, even broadband transmission cables.

Opponents at Saturday’s rally said it is a “land grab” of historic proportions, complete with “closed door deals” and questionable financing.

“This is not eminent domain,” said Covington. “This is confiscating property for commercial purposes.”

Covington said the whole project reeks of politics and secret deals.

“If there are errors in this or what we’ve said here today, it’s because we haven’t been told the truth,” she said.

Cintra-Zachry would have total control of the mammoth tollway, from fuel stations to restaurants, critics say.

One opponent said at Saturday’s rally that “it’s time for some tar and feathers and to go to Austin.”

“Why don’t we just cut to the chase?” he said. “Cut them (Cintra-Zachry) a check.”

Others, however, say the corridor is vital for Texas’ growth.

“Texas is growing and our transportation system must grow too,” said Joe Krier, chairman of Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation. “Good roads positively impact all aspects of our lives.

“Texans should know that the alternative to not building the Trans-Texas Corridor is more gridlock, outrageously higher gas taxes and solutions that will take years longer to deliver. Opponents of the Trans-Texas Corridor offer no meaningful solutions.”

Opponents, however, are offering petitions calling for Perry to abandon plans for the highway.

© 2006 The Brenham Banner-Press :