Monday, October 01, 2007

"The Trans-Texas Corridor would not have been approved at all if Texans had been better informed."

Group opposes proposed transportation corridor

October 1, 2007

by Janice Francis-Smith
Oklahoma Journal Record
Copyright 2007

OKLAHOMA CITY – David and Linda Stall said they want the people of Oklahoma to be informed regarding a proposed transportation corridor linking Mexico and Canada.

The Trans-Texas Corridor plan has progressed to the point where developers will soon be knocking on doors in Oklahoma to extend the corridor, said the Stalls. But perhaps the plan would not have been approved at all if Texans had been better informed, the co-founders of the Corridor Watch group said.

Public/private partnerships can be a good thing if they are executed properly, said David Stall, but many of the contracts approved as part of the Trans-Texas Corridor plan are heavily weighted to benefit the private partner at the expense of taxpayers. Some lawmakers did not thoroughly read the legislation that allowed for such contracts, and had voted for the plan ignorant of the lack of accountability inherent in the Trans-Texas Corridor deals, said the Stalls.

Under some of the contracts, private businesses are given the power of eminent domain to seize private property, and are provided the assistance of law enforcement to collect tolls. However, many of those contracts are not subjected to competitive bidding processes, which ensure taxpayers get the best price for construction projects. And though they are making use of public funds, the private companies involved are not required to disclose their financial information to the public.

Many of the contracts – which may extend for 30, 50 or even 99 years – also include a “non-compete” provision, preventing municipalities from building roads for miles around. Municipalities in Texas have been defeated in court in their attempts to alter the terms of such contracts in light of changing circumstances decades after such contracts have been approved, said Linda Stall.

When state agencies build a toll road, the state has the power to alter the amount of the toll. If more money is needed to maintain the road, the price may be increased. If lawmakers’ constituents complain about the cost of the toll, the state can lower the price. But when a toll road is operated by a private entity, the state has no control over the amount of toll that is charged, said Linda Stall.

The Stalls were invited to Oklahoma by Oklahomans for Sovereignty and Free Enterprise, or OK-SAFE, headed by retired U.S. Air Force Col. George Wallace. Wallace said his group has begun a grass-roots campaign to withdraw the state of Oklahoma from membership in NASCO, North America’s SuperCorridor Coalition.

“NASCO members include cities, counties, states, provinces and private sector representatives along the Corridor in Canada, the United States and Mexico, dedicated to maximizing the efficiency and security of their existing trade and transportation infrastructure,” reads NASCO’s Web site. “The NASCO Corridor represents the existing trade and transportation infrastructure roughly shadowing U.S. Interstate Highways 35, 29 and 94, and the connecting transportation infrastructure in Canada and Mexico critical to national and international trade. This includes major intermodal “inland ports” along the corridor and under development.”

Wallace questioned if trucks loaded in Mexico or Canada would be thoroughly checked before allowed to travel in the U.S. In addition to safety concerns regarding the weight and cargo of trucks entering the U.S., such vehicles could also be used to transport illegal aliens and/or terrorists, said Wallace. Furthermore, many of the design-build-operate contracts are being awarded to foreign companies.

© 2007 Oklahoma Journal Record:

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