Thursday, March 01, 2007

"Two things that farmers hate to hear is the weatherman saying 'no rain' and the government saying 'eminent domain.' "

Residents Swarm Capitol To Halt Texas Tollway

March 1, 2007

KXAN NBC (Austin)
Copyright 207

Hundreds of people swarmed the Texas Capitol Thursday to put a stop to the Trans-Texas corridor.

It was the first public hearing lawmakers have had on the toll road project, giving Texans a chance to voice their concerns.

"I want to say, 'We want a do over,'" said Willa Kulhavy of the citizens group Against Trans-Texas Corridor, to applause.

In December, TxDoT completed State Highway 130, which could become part of the corridor.

In 2003, legislators passed House bill 3588, which gave the Texas Department of Transportation the authority to hire private companies to build and lease 4000 miles of tolled highway, which would run parallel to Interstate Highway 35 and run through an estimated million acres of farmland.

The public hearing was still going on at 6 p.m. Thursday - more than 10 hours after it had started, with a packed auditorium and three overflow rooms.

When these Texans cast votes that helped give the state the right to build the corridor, most said they didn't know what they were voting for. None had attended the public hearing on the bill, because they said they didn't know the bill even existed.

"Two things that farmers hate to hear is the weatherman saying 'no rain' and the government saying 'eminent domain,'" said Hank Gilbert of Against The Trans-Texas Corridor.

Senators called the corridor a beast bigger than they ever thought and have begun to ask the questions the public has been asking for months.

"I want to understand how this deal works and where the money is going," said Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso. "I want to understand where every penny is and what the rate of return is on this deal."

TxDoT said if legislators decide to stop the toll roads, they'll continue to build highways with tax money, but it will take longer and will do little to relieve the congestion.

"The congestion crisis they face is a quality of life issue," said TxDoT spokesman Randall Dillard. "We are very aggressive in using whatever tools the Legislature gives us to try and address those needs."

TxDoT said no construction has been done on the corridor, although SH 130 could become part of it. They said before anything can be done, there has to be an environmental review. TxDoT said the law states that no roads that are free now will have tolls without some type of public vote.

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