Monday, March 05, 2007

"The TTC stands as the latest example of big business manipulating the country's legislative process to the benefit of the few over the common good.”

TTC issues addressed in Austin

March 5, 2007

By Sharon Wallingford
Fort Bend Herald
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN - Thousands of Texas residents from across the state gathered at the state capitol Thursday and Friday to protest the issues of public private partnerships, the Security and Prosperity Partnership between Canada, Mexico and North America, and the issues surrounding the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Only a public all-day hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security on Thursday and a protest march on Friday by anti-toll parties from across the state settled the angry and frustrated mood of many who entered the capitol doors or stood on the steps.

Bus-loads of residents and elected officials descended on the capitol steps Friday to protest transportation issues and to support pending legislation that would provide roadblocks to the corridor. In attendance were buses from Wharton, Waller, and Colorado counties, including residents of Fort Bend County.

Committee Chairman Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, has filed several bills this session to reduce the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to build toll roads and put them in the hands of private companies.

“The immediate benefits (of private road investments) are attractive, but the long-term risks are unknown,” said David Stahl of Fayette County, co-founder of Corridor Watch, an opponent of the corridor. “We are on the verge of relinquishing control of vital public infrastructure in ways that we cannot predict today.”

He said the Legislature has not raised the state's 20-cent per gallon gas tax since 1991. Carona has filed a bill that would increase the state gas tax by tying it to the increase in road construction costs. Many addressing the issue throughout the day fear Gov. Rick Perry's veto power may stop legislation aimed at curbing the corridor and toll roads.

“We believe the impact of the TTC will be devastating to the agricultural industry and to rural communities,” said Marc Scott, McLennan County Farm Bureau president representing the Texas Farm Bureau.

The lack of access due to the division of family farms and ranches, the massive condemnation proceedings that would trail in the wake of corridor approval and the usage of regional water resources for the construction were all listed concerns raised before the committee.

“All 1,700 acres that I produce are all within the footprint of the proposed TTC,” he said. “My livelihood depends on the outcome of the TTC.”

Scott said the Texas Farm Bureau is urging lawmakers to use existing rights-of-ways whenever new road or highway construction is under consideration, provide access points for landowners divided by roadways and ensure FM roads would not be spliced by highways.

The organization is also pressing state reforms on eminent domain law, urging lawmakers to consider relocation costs for families affected, as well as good faith offers on the land's best and highest use when condemnation proceedings occur.

“The Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) stands as the latest example of big business manipulating the country's legislative process to the benefit of the few over the common good,” said Charles Wicke of Rosenberg, who along with his brothers and other family members took the bus trip to Austin on Friday.

“As it now stands, the state is ready to arbitrarily confiscate the ancestral farms of thousands of Texans in order to build the TTC,” he said. “Because this confiscation is arbitrary, it is certain that the compensation given to land owners will not be commiserate with the land's commercial value. It is time to consider the tragic consequences of this proposed toll road.

“The immediate impact will be to hurt the actual landowners involved. This will also set a dangerous precedent for arbitrary property confiscation in years to come. These consequences cannot be calculated yet in purely economic terms. It will also increase immigration from Mexico, which will hurt our culture and our economy. In fact, the chief investor to the TTC is a foreigner (CINTRA). The investor should have a true stake in this country.”

The corridor cartel will monopolize all business along the corridor, he added.

"They will decide where exits will be, who will set up businesses with the corridor and even what repairs will be allowed on adjacent 'competing' roadways," said Wicke.

He feels if constructed as planned the TTC will actually exercise veto power over whether Texas roads can be repaired if the TTC feels that these roads may bite into their profits.

“The small businesses along the corridor will actually consist of hundreds of franchises. Truly small, local businesses will be elbowed aside. The TTC will cut off hundreds of small Texas towns and ancillary businesses, actually destroying the very local population it moves through.”

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