Monday, September 24, 2007

"This is just round one. This issue is definitely not over."

Toll roads opponent loses round in court

Judge refuses to keep state from promoting projects

Sept. 24, 2007

Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — A San Antonio activist lost a court round Monday in her effort to stop state transportation officials from spending public funds to promote toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor.

State District Judge Orlinda Naranjo refused to grant a temporary restraining order to immediately stop the spending as sought in a petition by Terri Hall of the San Antonio Toll Party and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.

Another hearing is expected as early as next week on a state motion to dismiss the case, which targets both the multimillion-dollar Keep Texas Moving campaign and any attempt by transportation officials to persuade Congress to allow more tolling, such as a proposal on potentially tolling interstates.

"This is just round one. This issue is definitely not over," said Hall, contending that transportation officials in promoting the divisive initiatives are violating a ban on using their authority for political purposes and on lobbying.

Naranjo noted another law cited by the state specifically allows the Texas Department of Transportation to promote the development and use of toll projects.

The state has said the Keep Texas Moving campaign is meant to provide information to the public as demanded by state lawmakers.

"It seems that the Legislature has weighed in ... and given the department the authority to promote toll roads," Naranjo said in denying the request for a temporary restraining order. Such an order is meant to maintain the status quo until a full hearing in a case.

As the legal proceedings continue, Hall's side will seek to show transportation officials' actions go beyond what's allowed in the law.

"We're confident that as the facts come out they're going to show that TxDOT is using public money for a political purpose, not just for providing information about toll roads," said Hall's lawyer, Charles Riley of San Antonio.

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