Saturday, March 03, 2007

Former Texas Transportation Commissioner Nichols on TTC-69: 'Not in my back yard?'

Nichols opposes TTC route through Montgomery County


Howard Roden, Senior Writer
The Courier (Montgomery County, Texas)
Copyright 2007

While state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, is not opposed to creation of the I-69/Trans Texas Corridor, he has thrown his full support against placing the controversial project through a historic corner of Montgomery County.

The lawmaker also is "very worried" about equity agreements that involve ownership of future toll roads financed by public/private partnership. Those concerns have prompted him to consider legislation that would protect local governments and taxpayers.

Nichols, whose 16-county district includes the Bays Chapel area in far northwest Montgomery County, said he is "100 percent" in favor of keeping the proposed super highway out of that area. He made that announcement Thursday after the state Senate Transportation Committee conducted a public hearing regarding the multi-billion dollar project.

The I-69/TTC project is designed to provide toll roads, high-speed rail and utility easements in a 1,200-foot-wide path from Mexico to Northeast Texas.

Although sparsely populated, Bays Chapel is replete with farms and ranches that have belonged to families for generations. A handful of residents attended the day-long hearing in Austin, while Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador went before the committee to voice his opposition to a proposed 3.5-mile-long route through Bays Chapel.

During his three-minute speech, Meador stressed to the committee how the Bays Chapel area is "steeped" in history.

"I told them it is a very special place," he said.

A ranch owner himself, Nichols praised Meador for his support of the area, and said it was important to "protect that corner" of Montgomery County.

"I'm with those folks. Commissioner Meador did a fantastic job of informing the committee the importance of preserving the Bays Chapel area," Nichols said. "I'm a ranch owner, but I don't have a piece of land that has the history that area has. I'm 100 percent in favor of trying to protect their land."

Nichols joins state Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, in declaring opposition to the corridor's presence in Montgomery County.

Bays Chapel resident Sharon Scott, who attended the hearing with her husband Milton, was "real happy" Nichols supports keeping the corridor out of her area.

Terri and Floyd Hurry, of Bays Chapel, also attended the public hearing. Learning of Nichols' support "gives me cold chills," Terri Hurry said. "I wish this would work out for everyone who lives along (the proposed corridor)."

Four other counties in Nichols' district - Angelina, Nacogdoches, Polk and Shelby - are slated to have the I-69/TTC project built in their backyards. Polk County Judge John Thompson spoke before the senate committee Thursday. He advocated the completion of Interstate 69 but did not address the issue of the Trans Texas Corridor, according to Nichols spokeswoman Alicia Phillips.

"Sen. Nichols is not opposed to the corridor," she said. "However, the way it is executed makes all the difference in the world."

A former member of the Texas Transportation Commission, Nichols seeks a revision in the framework of contracts that would involve the construction of toll roads funded through public/private partnerships. Right now, those "model" contracts allow for a "buy-back" by governments based on toll revenue projected many decades into the future, he said.
"It's hard for any of us to anticipate what revenue a particular toll road is going to generate a half-century from now," Nichols said. "What we don't want is there to be a situation where the purchase cost is based on speculative future revenues."

Nichols favors a provision that, should a county, city or the state decide to buy the road back from the private company, the price would be based on a "formula" that could be calculated by "any certified public accountant" to allow a good profit or bonus for the investor who took the risk.

"Otherwise, you could have a buyout worth many times than the original cost of the contract," he said.

Nichols also objects to the inclusion of a "penalty clause" in the contract. A local government could be liable to a large penalty - payable to a private developer -- should the governmental entity decide to build a road in the general vicinity of a privately-funded toll road.

"I wanted to make certain that clause wasn't in the model contract, but it's in there," he said. "I'm very worried about what's in those contracts."

Nichols said he would be filing some legislation that would "add some protection" to road project contracts between the state and private firms, possibly as soon as next week.
Howard Roden can be reached at

© 2007 Houston Community Newspapers Online:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


“For those who live high on the low hill of character … we are here today to knock on their door because this is our property, too.”

(Eighth in a series)

Protest at the Capitol

March 3, 2007

The Waxahachie Daily Light
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN - Protestors of the Trans-Texas Corridor capped two days at the state’s Capitol with a march up Congress Avenue and rally on the south steps Friday afternoon.

The event was a combined protest against not only Gov. Rick Perry’s massive transportation plan but also against a proposed mandate that would require animal identification and tracking.

“I stand here today with one message for our governor,” Peyton Gilbert said. “Help us with our education and health care, but don’t tag Texas.”

Gilbert is the teen-aged son of one of the rally’s organizers, former ag commissioner candidate Hank Gilbert of Troup.

At the conclusion of the three-hour rally, Gilbert said he was pleased with the turnout, estimating it at several thousand, and not including about 1,000 people he said had attended the previous day’s public hearing with the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security.

“I think between the Senate hearing and today, we’ll see some results,” he said. “If not, you can bet in the 2008 elections, we’ll see results.”

Participants staged south of the Capitol to march up Congress Avenue, with the march six blocks in length and including not only people, but a variety of farm animals and equipment.

“I think we had a good cross-section of the state here,” said Gilbert, noting he met with people everywhere from the Panhandle to South Texas. People also had come in from out-of-state, he said, because of their concerns as to what was happening in Texas.

Linda Curtis of Independent Texans agreed that the people at the rally represented all walks of life.

“I think the legislators are getting the message,” she said. “But we can’t sit back and say that. The legislators do have a problem, and that is the governor.”

Acknowledging the governor’s veto power, Curtis said her organization would be prompting legislators to make sure their legislation is voted on in time to still have time left to override a Perry veto.

Independent Texans also has other “cards to be played,” she said, adding also that if officials don’t heed the concerns, they will “get un-elected.”

Throughout the rally, different speakers voiced their concerns on the two issues of toll roads and animal tagging, often drawing thunderous cheers and chants.

“We’re here from everywhere and we’re here to send a message,” Gilbert said in addressing the crowd. “And what’s that message?”

“Don’t tag Texas,” yelled the crowd, several of who carried replicas of the Gonzalez flag bearing the words, “Come and take it.”

Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance spokesman Judith McGeary, who was among the event’s organizers, voiced her opposition to animal tagging and tracking mandate and thanked everyone for their attendance.

“You are making your voices heard by being at this rally,” she said.

Jimmy Vaughan of the Fabulous Thunderbirds said he was in opposition to the animal IDs and toll roads before singing a new song written especially about the issues.

“ ‘Down with Big Brother,’ I said, ‘Shame on Big Brother,’ always trying to track and trace me,” Vaughan said as many in the crowd joined in on the chorus.

Several legislators joined the list of those speaking, including state Reps. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston; Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde; and Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham.

“I want to thank you all for exercising your rights as citizens and telling the man (Perry) in that office right there that he’s wrong,” Coleman said, noting efforts in the previous session to make some changes and noting also legislation filed this session, several of which call for the outright repeal of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“We can stop this because of your work,” he told the crowd, saying that Texas shouldn’t be a state where “you’re going to have to be rich to drive on our highways.”

Saying there is still “a long way to go in this process,” Coleman expressed his appreciation to state Sen. John Carona, who heads up the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security.

“I want to thank him for going against the grain to make sure Texans are treated properly,” Coleman said of Carona’s holding of the public hearing. “We want to make sure that you won’t have to drive on roads that you’ve paid for twice.”

Kolkhorst discussed the legislation she has filed, and acknowledged lawmakers erred in passing the bill that enabled the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“This session will see more aggressive efforts to take the Trans-Texas Corridor out of the code,” she said. “This is just one of many things to take away our freedom.”

The issues are not Republican nor Democrat, Kolkhorst said, saying, “This is a Texas issue. It’s about the United States. ‘Don’t mess with Texas’ is right.”

She said she had met with the Lt. governor and House speaker - and both were listening.

“I think you’re going to be amazed at some of the things that come out,” she said. “We’re going to take our roads back. We’re going to take our mistake back and take our nation back. No North American Union.

“You got it, baby,” Kolkhorst told the cheering crowd.

McGeary encouraged those in attendance to take the time to visit with their local legislators.

“Go in and talk to them,” she said.

Macias said it was an honor to speak at the rally.

“I stand before you here on Independence Day, and the winds of change are blowing again in Austin,” Macias said, adding, “You as Texans have chosen to stand up and speak your mind to your elected officials.”

Macias said he personally didn’t agree with the scope of the Trans-Texas Corridor or plans to toll other roadways in the state.

“Let’s work together with public, private and citizen input to solve our transportation issues, now and in the future,” Macias said.

A spokesman for Libertarian Congressman Ron Paul of Texas said the Capitol belonged to Texans.

“For those who live high on the low hill of character … we are here today to knock on their door because this is our property, too,” she said, saying the nine most terrifying words are, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.”

“When someone is stealing your rights, it’s time to follow the money,” she said. “It’s time to stop the highway robbery, it’s time to stop the Trans-Texas Corridor.”

The project has connections to NAFTA and the North American Union, she said, asking the crowd, “Are you going to pledge allegiance to the flag of the North American Union?” and urging people to contact their respective lawmakers.

During the rally, concerns were expressed by several of the speakers about possible far-reaching implications of the Trans-Texas Corridor and animal identification project, especially relating to the potential for a North American Union that would unite the United States, Canada and Mexico under one flag, currency, identification card and government, they said.

“Once you can ID something uniquely, you can track it. Once you can track it, you can monitor it. Once you can monitor it, you can control it,” said Liz McIntyre, author of “Spy Chips,” a book about the use of radio frequency identification computer chips.

“It’s all about ID-ing, tracing and controlling inanimate objects, animals and even us,” she said. “There are plans afoot to chip everything … and every highway will be a spyway if we let it happen.”

Terri Hall of Texas Toll Party noted some of the testimony given during Thursday’s Senate committee hearing, saying one expert testified that it costs the taxpayer 50 percent more to have a public/private partnership.

That expert noted it “is always better to keep these contracts in the public sector,” Hall said. “These are not a foreign country’s roads. These are our roads.”

Saying that opponents of the Trans-Texas Corridor are gaining the ear of legislators, Hall pointed out questions raised by the senators on the committee, especially in light of a recent audit released by the State Auditor’s Office.

“Perry is lying when he said there is no taxpayer dollars in the TTC,” Hall said. “The audit showed $90 million of taxpayer money has already been dumped into this project. A single law firm got $18 million.”

Noting questions about the Texas Department of Transportation’s coding of expenses - some of which could be illegal under law - Hall said an investigation by the State Attorney General’s Office should be conducted and any wrongdoing found should result in prosecution.

Corridor Watch co-founders David and Linda Stall said progress was being made in the fight against Perry’s transportation project.

“It’s about money, all of this is about money,” David Stall said. “It’s not about transportation. It’s about revenue-generating. We have to stop this, and we can’t stop now.”

Saying Carona had referred to TxDOT as a “rogue agency,” Stall said the Trans-Texas Corridor has become a “hot topic” and grown into a national issue.

“Texans can either stand up and show what we are about or we can become the laughingstock of the nation over the corridor,” he said.

“We have momentum,” Linda Stall said. “You have been heard. We have to keep pushing.”

Wharton County Commissioner Chris King said the Trans-Texas Corridor will change the face of rural Texas.

“It’s going to change the way we live in rural Texas, and I tell you right now, I’m not for it,” King said. “Rick Perry is not my governor.”

Former state attorney general candidate David Van Os told the crowd to “say no to corporate hogs at the trough.”

One-hundred-seventy-one years after Texas’ Independence Day, the government shouldn’t be talking about handing over commerce and transportation to private, foreign corporations, Van Os said, noting the “Come and take it” message of the several Gonzalez flags being displayed in the crowd.

“Say no to all of it,” he said. “We the people own this plot of ground. We the people own our beautiful state of Texas and we’re not going to let crooks and robber barons take our Texas away from us.”

In his closing remarks, Gilbert told those at the rally that they represent “thousands of people” back home and for each of them to have others who weren’t at the rally to also contact legislators to urge the repeal of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Make the legislators commit their support to the repealing legislation, Gilbert said. “If they wont’ support it, let them know that you will make sure this is the last session they spend in Austin representing you.”

Also online:

E-mail JoAnn at

© 2007 The Waxahachie Daily Light:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Kolkhorst: "This is not a Republican or Democrat issue, this is a Texas issue…We’re going to take our roads, our state and our nation back.”

Protestors rally over threats to farmland

March 03, 2007

The Palestine Herald
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — With the shout, “Texas is not for sale,” thousands of people from across the state made their way up Congress Avenue to the Texas Capitol to tell lawmakers to stop the Trans Texas Corridor and the National Animal Identification System.

The rally was set up by the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, a grass roots organization dedicated to fighting the implementation of NAIS. For Texas Independence Day, the group joined forces with Texans fighting the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) which carries the possibility of losing thousands of farm and ranch acres to eminent domain for the construction of the 1,200-foot wide corridor.

Harris County Republican Precinct Chairman Stuart Maypers, who spoke at a Senate Transportation Committee meeting on Thursday, was at Friday’s rally to reinforce his opposition to the corridor.

The corridor, Maypers said, will not only confiscate a large amount of property from private individuals, but he also believes it will end up costing Texas’ taxpayers millions, maybe billions, of dollars.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that there has already been a private road constructed in Texas,” Maypers said. “The Camino-Colombia Toll Road was a private road constructed for $75 million and was opened in 2000 in Laredo.”

Laredo, Maypers noted, is the largest inland port in the United States. Forty percent of the goods that enter the United States from Mexico come through Laredo.

Even with that high concentration of traffic, Maypers said the road was not a success.

“After three years the 22-mile road was sold at auction for $12.1 million at the Webb County Courthouse,” Maypers said. “The bond failed and then the bondholders foreclosed on the $75 million road.”

In the end, taxpayers were left having to pay for the road nobody traveled, which caused Maypers to ask, “If a private road fails in a high-density traffic area then how will a larger one work going through mostly rural areas?”

Along with the problems presented to rural land owners by the TTC, NAIS, which originally was scheduled to become mandatory in 2007 but because of public backlash has become a voluntary project, would have forced ranchers to register their property or premises; assign individual identification numbers to their livestock; and eventually report all animal movements. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the information would be held in private databases and only available to government entities in the event of a disease outbreak.

While the program is currently voluntary, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance organizer Judith McGeary said the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) was given the power by the state legislature to make the program mandatory at the TAHC’s discretion.

Rallies, such as the one held at the capital on Friday, are what it takes to make legislators take action.

“Officials say (NAIS) protects us from terrorism,” McGeary said. “Does al-Qaeda really care about grandma’s chickens?”

When pressed for the real reason behind NAIS, McGeary said officials said it is needed for the country’s export markets. In the end, McGeary said it came back to money.

Currently, there are two pieces of legislation in the Texas House that would take away TAHC’s authority to make NAIS mandatory. The bills are HB 461 and 637. They are not perfect, McGeary said, but they will help.

“This is more than about food,” McGeary said. “It’s about our way of life.”

As Charlie Tomlin, an ag teacher and rancher from George West, sees it, both the proposed corridor and NAIS will have drastic effects on the state’s agriculture industry.

“None of this is set up (to help) agriculture,” Tomlin said. “With the corridor there’s only going to be stuff coming in and nothing going out.

“NAIS is also going to hurt a lot of people with livestock,” Tomlin continued. “Who’s going to regulate it, who’s going to do it (manage information databases), and what kind of security we as landowners are going to have?”

When looking at both measures, Tomlin said he can’t see anything good for Texas producers.

“Right now there is a lot of Mexican traffic going out (into the U.S.),” Tomlin explained. “Their trucks don’t have good brakes, no safety inspections, they don’t have to abide by our safety laws. That road with Mexico is a one-way street.

“They (politicians) are just trying to put a job on us. There’s a lot going on under the sheets here,” Tomlin added.

State Rep. Garnett Coleman, D-Houston, said every Texas taxpayer is going to have to pay for the corridor when the bond paying for it has been defaulted.

“Then, Cintra (the company from Spain contracted to build the transportation corridor) will go back to Spain with all of our money,” Coleman said, who added the project has to be stopped.

One state lawmaker said she recognized the significance of Friday, and said she is working through her position as a legislator to look to the future of the state and its people.

“(Trans Texas Corridor) is one of many things that threaten our freedom,” State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst said. “This is not a Republican or Democrat issue, this is a Texas issue…We’re going to take our roads, our state and our nation back.”

To help do that, Kolkhorst has introduced legislation that will stop the corridor. To go along with that, Coleman has filed HB 998 that will put a moratorium on any toll road in Texas that hasn’t been built.

The first corridor to be built would start in the Rio Grande valley, run parallel to Interstate 35 and Interstate 37 north to Denison. There also are three more priority corridors that, if all were built, would span approximately 4,000 miles across Texas and use about a half-million acres of land.

If built, the TTC, according to the Trans Texas Corridor Web site, would feature separate lanes for passenger vehicles and large trucks; freight railways; high-speed commuter railways; and infrastructure for utilities including broadband and telecommunications services.

For more on the Trans Texas Corridor visit or visit these other Web sites concerning the massive transportation plan at;;; or

For more on NAIS, visit the Texas Animal Health Commission’s Web site at or visit the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance Web site at


Wayne Stewart may be contacted via e-mail at

© 2007 Palestine Herald-Press :

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Perry camp shrugs off TTC protest. Comparison with 'farm to market roads' of the 50's is made (again).

Austin protest targets toll road 'tyranny'


Gary Scharrer, Austin Bureau
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — A protest against toll roads highlighted a rally on the Capitol steps Friday, but the Texas Independence Day holiday put folks in the mood to raise hell about other grievances as well.

Many also complained about a national animal identification tag. Some grumbled about the state's loss of control of its borders. A few warned about the coming "North American Union." And some excoriated the United Nations for wanting "to take your gun," exhorting anyone within earshot to "get us out of the U.N."

The "liberty or death" chant of a thousand or more protesters marching up Congress Avenue to the Capitol conveyed a decidedly serious intent on an otherwise sunny Friday afternoon.

Famed blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan elevated those feelings midway through the rally when the spotlight fell on him, and both he and audience connected with such lyrics as "I got the blues about tyranny" ... "Don't want no shackles on me" and "Down with Big Brother."

Much of the crowd quickly joined him.

"I want to be free. It's all about liberty," Vaughan said later. "I was born here. I'm going to die here, and I don't want to give it away to somebody else."

Many of the protesters fear that state leaders are going to give away Texas soil to a foreign country via toll roads. The Spanish company Cintra could build some of the state's toll roads under a 50-year contract.

"We feel that if we don't get heard now, we're going to be paying it out for the next 50 or 75 years. We're very upset with our own government supporting these foreign intrusions," said San Antonian Robert Throckmorton, a retired Air Force pilot.

"We just want all this toll madness to stop," San Antonio small-business owner Byron Juen said. "We will work diligently like we have done in the past (to defeat politicians who support such projects). We have a track record of ousting politicians that don't heed our warnings."

He singled out former state Rep. Carter Casteel, R-New Braunfels, who supported the Trans-Texas Corridor project.

Her successor, Rep. Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, told the audience he agrees Texas faces serious urban transportation congestion but disagrees with the toll road agenda pushed by state leaders.

"Let's work together, public and private, to solve our transportation challenges," he said.

Much of the protesters' wrath was aimed at Gov. Rick Perry, whom they blame for orchestrating the Trans-Texas Corridor project and associated toll roads.

"We all know that the buck stops at the office of Governor Thirty-nine Percent. He refuses to listen," said Hank Gilbert of Troup, referring to the percentage of votes Perry garnered in November to win re-election.

Gilbert made opposition to the TTC a centerpiece of his unsuccessful run as the Democratic candidate for Texas agriculture commissioner last year.

The Perry camp shrugged off the criticism.

"In the '40s, some protested against the farm-to-market road system, in the '50s some protested against the interstate highway system, and today some protesters will leave the rally against the TTC using those very same roads," Perry spokesman Robert Black said. "Ain't progress great!"

© 2007 2007 KENS 5 and the San Antonio Express-News :

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


Friday, March 02, 2007

"It's evident that TxDOT's deception, lack of accountability, and frankly, their arrogance must be stopped by this Legislature."

Texans speak out against corridor

High costs and funding problems inspire little public confidence


By Michelle West
The Daily Texan
Copyright 2007

Committee members asked the audience to maintain its composure as the crowd groaned in disapproval at statements made by a controversial transportation official addressing a state Senate panel Thursday.

The public hearing by the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security addressed the topics of toll roads, public-private partnerships and the Trans-Texas Corridor. These issues, along with Texas Department of Transportation Chairman Ric Williamson, evoked negative reactions from the vast majority of a witness list - that as of 8:30 a.m. numbered more than 80 - testifying in front of an audience of more than 1,000 people, many of whom opposed the buiding of the corridor.

The corridor, first proposed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2002, received the lion's share of input from citizen groups, farmers, municipal officials and others.

Parallel highways would be built along Interstate Highways 35, 37 and 69 from Denison to the Rio Grande Valley, I-69 from Texarkana to Houston to Laredo, I-45 from Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston, and I-10 from El Paso to Orange, according to a 2002 commission report. These highways would include a passenger, commuter and freight rail roadways separating passenger from commercial traffic and a "dedicated utility zone."

Revenue gained from the state gas tax, remaining at 20 cents per gallon for 15 years, is insufficient to fund future roadway projects that are necessary to deal with the state's rapid population growth, Williamson told the senators. Private equity firms offer a solution to the funding problem, he said.

Last month, the committee's chairman, Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, called for the replacement of Williamson, reasoning that his handling of the project in a push to see the corridor through has alienated many in the public. Adding to controversy, a recent state audit found errors in the department's accounting, and the agency was criticized for keeping details of a contract from being released in a public information request.

"It's evident that TxDot's deception, lack of accountability, and frankly, their arrogance must be stopped by this Legislature," said Terri Hall, regional director for the San Antonio Toll Party.

The first project of the I-35 segment, State Highway 130, is being built in conjunction with an international private firm Cintra Zachry. When asked why existing roadways could not be expanded in order to deal with the population increase, Williamson replied that one additional lane on I-35 would cost an additional $2.9 billion.

"The emphasis and the apparent zeal to build the corridor is so strong, and the disregard for public concern has been so high that when you hear a statement made like, 'One lane costs $2.9 billion,' I got to admit it [would make] me wonder, 'Is it really 2.9, or are these folks just telling me this, because they've got an agenda?'" Carona said.

Williamson defended the need to build parallel roadways instead of expanding existing ones. "The construction cost of a parallel is so much cheaper than an expansion of the existing lanes," Williamson said. However, a report released by the Texas State Auditor's Office points out shortcomings in the department's budgeting. "Weaknesses in the department's accounting for project costs create risks that the public will not know how much the state pays for [the I-35 project], or whether those costs were appropriate," according to the report.

Some speakers criticized the use of private contractors for the construction and development of the project and the use of tolls to supplement funding. "We are on the verge of relinquishing control of vital public infrastructure in ways we cannot fully appreciate today," said David Stall, founder and spokesman for CorridorWatch. Contractors would choose to build roadways where it is most profitable and feel free to charge toll rates undesirable to commuters, he said.

© 2007 The Daily Texan:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Privatization of roads is ridiculous. This is Texas. The roads are in Texas and should be owned by the people of Texas."

Senators question transportation officials over toll road project


News 8 Austin Staff
TWEAN News Channel of Austin
Copyright 2007

People from across the state traveled to the Capitol to speak out about the future of transportation in Texas.

Before a crowd of people angry over the Trans-Texas Corridor, state senators grilled transportation commissioners Thursday about the huge toll road project and why Interstate 35 couldn't be widened instead.

The commissioners gave some financial estimates of expanding the interstate and said they would provide more. But commission chairman Ric Williamson says the dense population along the interstate and lack of public money were reasons to opt for the Trans-Texas Corridor, a superhighway expected to be built by a private firm.

The debate concerned putting state roadways in the hands of private companies.

"Privatization of roads is ridiculous. This is Texas. The roads are in Texas and should be owned by the people of Texas," opponent Dana Young said.

Committee members heard favorable testimony from transportation experts who say privatizing Texas' toll roads would bridge funding gaps in future road construction budgets.

But some lawmakers say the project is fiscally impossible because it will require some state dollars.

"In the end the Trans-Texas Corridor is likely never to be built in my opinion, you can't economically justify it," Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said.

Many citizens there were outright opposed to the Trans-Texas Corridor.

"We're here in protest of the TTC [Trans-Texas Corridor.] It's basically coming through my little brother's house. My biggest problem is the apparent deception, getting it railroaded through on us. I mean, nobody's ever heard of it. I've been telling people about it all the time. I've made DVDs, I'm telling people and they still think this is just another toll road, just another highway," opponent Justin Stokes said.

In all, the project is envisioned as a $184 billion, 4,000-mile network of toll roads, rail lines and utilities across the state.

There are two initial parts of the Trans-Texas Corridor under consideration: One would parallel Interstate 35 from North Texas to Laredo. The other would be an extension of Interstate 69, from Texarkana to Laredo or the Rio Grande Valley.

The proposal calls for the Trans-Texas Corridor to be completed in phases over the next 50 years. TxDOT would oversee planning, construction and maintenance, but private vendors will be responsible for much of the daily operations.

© 2007 TWEAN News Channel of Austin:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"It's incumbent upon us as elected officials, when we're off course, to change course."

If tolls fall, tax may rise

Mar. 02, 2007

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN -- Texans who are demanding that the state stop building toll roads may get their wish.

But they might not like the alternative: Higher state gas taxes.

There is broad support in Austin for increasing the state's 20-cents-a-gallon motor fuel tax , says a lawmaker leading the effort to strip the Texas Department of Transportation's authority to build toll roads and enter into agreements with private companies. The Texas gas tax has not gone up since 1991.

"The message is loud and clear. You couldn't not hear it. People want us to build roads, and they're willing to pay for it, but they're not willing to pay with tolls," said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

The gas tax probably would go up a little at a time -- perhaps a penny or two every five years or so -- to keep up with the cost of building roads.

Motorists currently pay 20 cents a gallon in state tax and 18.4 cents a gallon in federal tax.

"If the gas tax is going to be the primary vehicle for paying for these roads, we have to make sure it keeps pace," Carona said.

Carona also predicted that the Trans-Texas Corridor toll road "will likely never be built" because of its high cost and political opposition.

"It's incumbent upon us as elected officials, when we're off course, to change course," Carona said.

The committee met all day Thursday and heard from more than 100 people, including dozens of Texans -- county officials, environmentalists and farmers -- demanding that laws allowing privately run toll roads be repealed.

"Can a project with this much political clout be stopped? That is my ... prayer," said Clare Easley, whose family has lived on a central Texas farm near Georgetown since the 1850s.

Tarrant projects threatened

Metroplex officials testified that the anti-toll sentiment could seriously delay many Tarrant County projects for which private bids are being sought.

"It would be devastating to Dallas-Fort Worth," even with just a two-year moratorium on toll projects, said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

He noted that construction is scheduled to begin next year on the Texas 114/121 DFW Connector project in Grapevine and the 35W/820/183 project in Fort Worth and Northeast Tarrant County; if the laws are changed, both projects could be delayed many more years. The state intends to farm out both projects, which include the construction of toll lanes, to a private contractor.

Power struggle

Transportation Department officials are fighting to keep four years of gains in political clout. Since 2003, the agency has been allowed to use many types of financing, including debt, to build roads.

Transportation Commission member Ted Houghton of El Paso downplayed the possible rollback of power. He noted that earlier this week, the Spanish firm Cintra agreed to build and manage the Texas 121 toll road in Denton and Collin counties -- and pay $2.8 billion for Metroplex officials to use on other projects.

"What legislator is going to pooh-pooh $2.8 billion?" Houghton said.

But Jere Thompson of Dallas, a former state turnpike official and Dallas energy executive, said tolls and private investment wouldn't be necessary if the Transportation Department would spend less of its money in Austin and rural areas and more in Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

The Metroplex was shortchanged $2.8 billion from 2001-06 because it didn't receive its fair share of funds compared with other parts of Texas, he said. Transportation officials later said the figures Thompson was using didn't tell the complete story.

Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson of Weatherford defended the agency's toll strategies, saying they are the result of years of inadequate state funding.

Funding essential

Williamson said there is no easy way to plan for Texas' future road needs. In the committee room, he displayed a map using Texas Data Center statistics that shows the Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio metropolitan areas essentially touching by 2040, as congestion stretches from Sherman to Laredo.

"We collectively in this state face a problem that transcends any problem we've faced before," Williamson said. "For 20 years, we've built virtually no increased capacity into our transportation system and our population is growing faster than any other industrial state in the nation."

The anti-toll road crowd, which had been hissing at Williamson's other comments during the day, didn't say anything about that.

Gordon Dickson, 817-685-3816

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


"Deals with private companies are being negotiated largely in secret, and many state lawmakers are worried taxpayers are being sold down the road."

American Kleptocracy

Aired March 2, 2007 - 18:00 ET

Copyright 2007


Opponents of a proposed superhighway from the Mexican border through Texas today held a major protest.

Now, the highway would speed trucks from Mexico into the heart of this country. Critics say it's a threat to our national security. It's part of a plan for a North American integration being carried out by government and corporate elites without congressional or voter approval.

And as Lisa Sylvester reports, Texans aren't giving up without a fight.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Not a sight you see every day, farm tractors rolling down the streets of Austin to the Texas capital. A diverse coalition marched opposing the Trans-Texas Corridor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're selling out our infrastructure, and it's really about a part of the NAFTA superhighway creating Mexico, the United States and Canada. It's the first piece.

SYLVESTER: The proposed Trans-Texas Corridor would be a patchwork of superhighways and railroads stretching 4,000 miles from the border of Mexico, cutting through Texas, to Oklahoma.

DAVID STALL, CORRIDORWATCH.ORG: We'll lose control of public infrastructure. We will continue a trend of losing transparency and accountability in government. I think it will set a tone that we'll all come to regret.

SYLVESTER: The Texas Transportation Department says the corridor will improve mobility and safety, create jobs for Texans, and inject billions of dollars into the state's economy. But at a hearing, there were loud complaints from residents. State lawmakers looking at other toll projects, like the Chicago Skyway and the Holland Tunnel, worry that their tolls were increase to a staggering level based on contract formulas.

ELIOT SHAPLEIGH (D), TEXAS STATE SENATE: You're looking in this situation. If you had a $19.27 (ph) toll at one, you get to $185. I think many of us at this table would not be elected if we let that happen.

SYLVESTER: Lawmakers also expressed concern over another road project. A lease has been signed that would make Texas Highway 121 a toll road. A private Spanish company won the bid to billed and collect the tolls for the next 50 years. These deals with private companies are being negotiated largely in secret, and many state lawmakers are worried taxpayers are being sold down the road.


SYLVESTER: In 2003, the state senate gave the Texas Transportation Commission the authority to enter into these agreements with private contractors. Now some state lawmakers believe they gave up too much authority. One bill proposed calls for a two-year moratorium on these new toll roads -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Lisa Sylvester.

And that brings us to the subject of tonight's poll.

Should foreign companies be allowed to control vital transportation infrastructure in this country? Yes or no?

Cast your vote at We'll bring you the results later in the broadcast.

Even today, highways are the primary way drugs are smuggled into this country from Mexico. The State Department's international narcotics report says legitimate commercial traffic provides ample opportunity for smugglers to move drugs across our borders.


© 2007 Cable News Network:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Giuliani has a friend in TxDOT

Giuliani looking to secure a fan base in San Antonio


Greg Jefferson
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who's gaining ground in the long race to the GOP presidential nomination, will stop in the Terrell Hills neighborhood for a fundraiser Saturday night.

Several recent polls showed Giuliani widening his lead over Arizona Sen. John McCain, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney trailing much farther behind.

But the primaries are a year away, and it's an open question how conservative voters — who have a lot of sway in picking the party's nominees — will react to Giuliani, who is pro-choice and supports gay rights.

State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, is on the host committee for the tonight's fundraiser at the home of DFB Pharmaceuticals President John Feik.

"I don't back people based on who may or may not win in the primary," Wentworth said. "I back people based on principle. I back the person who would make the best president."

Wentworth, also a moderate Republican, said he's been a supporter of Giuliani's since watching him at the 2004 Republican National Convention, and has already sent a $1,000 check to his presidential exploratory committee.

The host committee also features, among others: Texas Transportation Commission member Hope Andrade; San Antonio Spurs Chairman Peter Holt; lobbyist W. James Jonas III; state Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio; and Valero Energy Corp.'s political action committee.

City Councilman Kevin Wolff, who lived in New York during the waning years of Giuliani's administration, plans to attend the fundraiser.

He'll be shopping but not necessarily buying.

"I have a very favorable impression of his performance during 9/11," Wolff said, "and a mostly favorable opinion overall of his time as mayor. Other than that, I'm taking a wait-and-see attitude."

A spokeswoman for Giuliani's exploratory committee said the fundraiser, which is scheduled to run from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., would not be open to the news media.

McCain, who announced his candidacy this week on the David Letterman Show, also has been piecing together an organization in Texas. San Antonio businessman B.J. "Red" McCombs, former Gov. Bill Clements and ex-Secretary of Commerce Robert Mosbacher of Houston are honorary chairmen of his exploratory committee. James Huffines, chairman of the University of Texas board of regents, is leading McCain's efforts in Texas.

Without a Bush on the ballot, the votes of Texas Republicans are considered in play this election cycle. The state primary is March 4, 2008.

Richard Langlois, chairman of the Bexar County Republican Party, said many local GOP leaders and activists are quickly lining up behind Giuliani and McCain — which means steering clear of about a dozen other hopefuls.

Langlois is one of them: He's supporting Giuliani, a tough-on-crime former prosecutor.

"I think he's the person who can lead the Republicans to victory," he said. "I just don't feel John McCain has a lot of popularity among voters."

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


"Think of all the land that these people are going to be taking away because they can."

Concerns Grow over Texas Corridor


Reporter: Daniel T. Gotera
KXII-TV Sherman, Texas
Copyright 2007

Five years ago, the Texas Transportation Commission drew up plans for a 4,000 mile network of corridors that they say would connect the entire state and reduce traffic. It sounds like a plan people would like, but that’s not been the case.

"This land has been in our family for over 150 years," said Whitfield.

It's been five years since the Trans-Texas Corridor was proposed and feelings about it are still strong, especially at Lavender Farms in Cooke County.

"It's the most horrible thing you can think of, think of all the land that these people are going to be taking away because they can," said Whitfield.

In Austin a rally took place Friday morning to protest the projected project.

"When we give up a work day when we have to give up a day of Independence from our jobs from our families to come here and express our feelings to our reps, it means we need some help," said a member of the rally.

The last two days, the 4,000 mile long corridor has been a hot topic at the State Capital.

Dr. Amy Klein from Calisburg was one of those opposed to the plant that spoke at the hearing yesterday, put on by the Texas Transportation Commission. "We don't want our land taken for profit whether its for the state or private, this stands to ruin homes, businesses across Texas," she said.

But not all those who spoke were against the plan. Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation Chairman Joe Krier was for the plan. "Hurricane Rita taught us that our existing transportation infrastructure is not able to handle large scale evacuations during emergency situations,” he said. “Additional roads, both traditional and toll roads will provide for faster evacuations for Texas families potentially saving lives.”

That is a statement which owners of Lavender Farms agree with. "We do need some additional highway because the trucks are taking over the roads and the traffic is pretty thick, this is absurd, it’s absurd," said Whitfield.

The corridor that would cut through that would cut through Grayson and Cooke County is considered to be part of one of the four primary corridors and would be one of the first built. Those affected are hoping the legislature hears the public’s cries.

"We just need to raise the awareness; it’s the only thing we can do at this point."

© 2007 The Associated Press:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"We do not know if they're going to take our land, and we do not know where we're going to go. "

Ranchers, farmers march against Trans-Texas Corridor

March 2, 2007

Copyright 2007

Farmers and ranchers from Amarillo to Houston, Texarkana to the Valley and various points in between wanted to send a message to Governor Perry and legislators Friday afternoon. They're opposed to the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Tractors, horses and protesters marched up Congress Avenue to the State Capitol seeking answers on the Trans-Texas Corridor.

"We do not know if they're going to take our land, and we do not know where we're going to go. And if we feel this way, I'm sure lot's of others feel this way," said Sherry Moore.

The Trans-Texas Corridor is a proposed multi-use, statewide network of transportation routes that will incorporate existing and new highways, toll roads and railways. Supporters say the Trans-Texas Corridor is the best solution for today's traffic congestion and tomorrow's transportation needs. Friday, hundreds of protesters disagreed.

Richard Sullivan is a farmer in Bosque County, about a hundred miles north of Waco.

"I have no problem putting a toll road in for a congested city such as Austin, but you know up my way, 200-300 miles, we get a car every five to six minutes," Sullivan said. "We don't need a major toll road bulldozing through our property, where we can't own any cattle, we can't do any farming. It completely puts us out of business and there's just no reason for it."

Protesters point to the proposed quarter of a mile width of the roadways and that access roads will be only be state, U.S. and interstate highways, which usually don't run through rural areas.

"Therefore those people would not be granted access. But it's going to cut their farms in half, it's going to cut their ranches in half," said Hank Gilbert, rancher. "It's going to disproportion what they have, and they're going to have to travel miles in either direction to get from one side to the other."

The other issue of concern for protesters is the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). It would require anyone owning livestock to register that livestock and individually track that livestock through a data base. Many here say that would unnecessarily increase the farmers' expenses and cost all of us more at the grocery store. The Texas Animal Health Commission currently has the authority to make the NAIS mandatory at any time.

© 2007 KVUE Television, Inc.:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"I think [the TTC] is a burden on taxpayers, and it's not necessary."

Toll Road To Open As Protests Continue

March 2, 2007

KXAN NBC (Austin)
Copyright 2007

The drive in Northwest Austin is about to improve, because another toll road will open up tomorrow.

Highway 183-A is 11.6 miles, and it will connect Leander and Cedar Park.

Not all of the work is complete, however. The main toll plaza near Park Street still is under construction. The rest of the project should be finished within 120 days.

Officials said drivers have to wait until Saturday afternoon to try out the road.

"We expect to start opening the road in phases around 3 p.m.," said Steve Pustelnyk, Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority communication director. "It will take several hours, safe a planned manner."

When it comes to using 183-A, drivers have two months free and then an additional month with 50 percent off for TxTag holders.

To celebrate the opening, there will be a 5K race on Saturday morning followed by a community festival with live music and free barbeque on the toll road near the Park Street exit.

But not everyone was celebrating this toll extension.

People were still speaking out at the Texas Capitol Friday afternoon, saying Texas does not need the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The rally started with several anti-toll groups, families and individuals from around the state marching from Cesar Chavez up Congress Avenue to the Capitol.

Protestors said they don't want roads to be put in the hands of private companies, and they don't want a tolled highway that will run through an estimated million acres of farmland.

"I think it's a burden on taxpayers, and it's not necessary," said protestor Louise Whiteford. "It is just large corporations bringing goods from China!"

The Texas Department of Transportation has said in the past that if it stops the toll roads, it will have to rely on taxes to build highways, which will take years longer.

© 2007 WorldNow and KXAN:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"These toll contracts are really the epitome of selling off Texas to the highest bidder and a total betrayal of the public trust."

Opposition grows to toll road expansion

March 2, 2007

Copyright 2007

The state announced this week that when state highway 121 is done, a Spanish company, Cintra, will collect the tolls and maintain the road.

In return, Cintra will pay almost $3 billion that'll be spent on other road projects in North Texas.

The deal builds 121 faster, without raising state gasoline, and Governor Perry says this is the way to go.

"A new era of transportation is upon us and I'm proud to say North Texas is leading the way," he said.

If the current plan is followed, North Texas motorists will be driving on a lot of toll roads over the next 25 years.

In addition to existing toll roads run by the north Texas Tollway Authority, new toll roads are planned, like Loop 9, that would circle the entire metro area.

Then toll lanes would be opened along side the existing lanes on freeways like I-30 and airport freeway.

But hundreds of citizens told the senate transportation committee, that so many toll roads across the state is not the way to go.

"We're in the midst of a Texas-size tax revolt because these toll contracts are really the epitome of selling off Texas to the highest bidder and a total betrayal of the public trust," said Terri Hall from the San Antonio Toll Party.

Senator John Carona of Dallas chairs the committee.

He wants the gas tax, last increased in 1991, to track the rising cost of road construction and build more freeways.

"It's incumbent upon us as elected representatives when we're off course to change course and do what people are telling us to do," said Senator John Carona (R) Dallas.

But anti-tax forces in the house and Governor Perry want to stay the course and keep the dirt flying to build tollroads.

© 2007 WFAA-TV:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Senate Hearing: “The room was full, and overflow rooms were opened up.”

Locals speak out against toll roads

March 02, 2007

Gainesville Daily Register
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — At least four Cooke County residents traveled to Austin Thursday to give the Texas Senate and a state transportation committee a small piece of their minds on a project which plans to take a rather large piece of Cooke County real estate.

Amy Klein, a local obstetrician and an activist in the movement to oppose the Trans-Texas Corridor, said she and Norman Miner, Rose Miner and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Gary Hollowell attended a hearing at the Texas Capitol hosted by Sen. John Carona.

“The room was full, and overflow rooms were opened up,” Klein said of the crowd in an interview this morning.

She said the committee seemed appreciative of the comments.

“Sen. Carona said that they appreciated all of the citizens taking time out of their busy days to make our statements, and wanted to take time off work to come,” she said.

Hollowell said each speaker had three minutes, and all he could squeeze in was reciting Cooke County’s resolution against the Trans-Texas Corridor — a proposed network of limited-access, high-speed toll roads to be operated by a private company. The project is envisioned as a $184 billion 4,000-mile network of toll roads, rail lines and utilities.

“I think it went well. There were probably 250 people in the auditorium,” Hollowell said this morning. “The committee was very genuine in their concerns and they were very receptive. They wanted to review the financing and discuss whether public-private partnership is the best way to proceed.”

Hollowell said the senators “asked some really tough questions and created debate between TxDOT experts and third-party witnesses who studied other toll roads.”

He said many of the witnesses called said privately operated state highways do not save money.

“What they said was private-public isn’t the way to go,” he said “Tolls would be more expensive to offset upfront money. You’re not going to see any intial savings ...”

According to Associated Press reports, before the public comments began, senators grilled transportation commissioners about the toll road project and why Interstate 35 couldn’t be widened instead.

The transportation commissioners present gave some financial estimates of expanding the interstate and said they would provide more at a later date.

But commission chairman Ric Williamson said the dense population along the interstate and lack of public money were reasons to opt for the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Its first segment would run a few miles east of and parallel to Interstate 35 down the center of Texas. That plan has infuriated rural land owners in its path who stand to lose farms and ranches and longtime family property.

Their complaints figured heavily into the Texas governor’s race last year — the Trans-Texas Corridor is a pet project of Gov. Rick Perry — and they highlighted Thursday’s daylong public hearing of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

“We’re ranchers. Our business is dependent on our land,” said Rosemary Gambino of Waller County, president of the Texas CattleWomen. “I plead with you that you not concrete over my ranch.”

When Williamson, a Perry appointee, and other transportation commissioners appeared before the Senate panel, Sen. John Carona, the committee chairman, asked questions he said were on the minds of many in the room.

Carona noted that Williamson and Perry were close, and Williamson acknowledged that, while offering praise for the governor’s decision to tackle the state’s transportation problems.

“I do think a great deal of him because I think he stuck his neck way out before an election,” the commissioner said. “And I will say, I find him to be remarkably evenhanded about solving problems.”

Carona wondered about the cost and feasibility of widening I-35, possibly with loops around heavily congested the metropolitan areas.

Williamson showed detailed maps about the population and congestion along I-35. He said 83 percent of the state’s population lives in a crescent covering the urban areas of Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and Houston.

Carona, a Dallas Republican, also said many Texans have been skeptical of the toll road project because of the aura of secrecy surrounding it.

“When information isn’t shared, when open records are ignored or are challenged in court, people are always led — it’s human nature — people are led to believe that there’s some other agenda,” Carona said.

Some sections of the state’s contract with the Spanish-American consortium Cintra-Zachry to develop the Trans-Texas Corridor were kept secret for 18 months and were the subject of a court case brought by the company and the Texas Department of Transportation. That lawsuit was filed after the attorney general ruled the contract was a public record.

The secret sections of the contract were finally made public in September.

State auditors testifying before the Senate committee Thursday mentioned that open records dispute and cited findings from a report they released last week on the Trans-Texas Corridor. They noted that some invoices at the transportation department were coded incorrectly and listed under engineering when they were really for public relations.

“Oooohhhh,” many in the audience said in unison, in disapproving fashion.

Kelley Shannon reported for the Associated Press. Register reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at

© 2007 Gainesville Daily Register :

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"My land was part of the original Spanish land grant. I would love not to have to give it back to Spain."

TTC protest today

March 2, 2007

Waxahachie Daily Light
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN - A rally against the Trans-Texas Corridor is set for this afternoon, with protestors planning a march up Congress Avenue before staging on the south steps of the state Capitol.

The rally comes in the wake of a Senate hearing relating to Gov. Rick Perry’s much favored massive transportation plan - a plan that has come under increasing fire in recent weeks.

It was an overflow crowd that greeted members of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security on Thursday - and almost all of the testimony given by members of the public during the almost eight-hour hearing was decidedly anti-Trans-Texas Corridor. Also testifying were members of the State Auditor’s Office and the state’s Transportation Commission, including chairman Ric Williamson, a Perry appointee and close friend.

Those testifying came from across the state and represented a diverse cross-section of Texans.

“My land was part of the original Spanish land grant,” one woman testified near the end of the hearing. “I would love not to have to give it back to Spain.”

“We’ve been waiting for you all day long,” said committee chairman Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, drawing applause from the large crowd still on hand.

“The whole state is going to be one massive public parking lot and highway if we don’t find (another way),” another woman said. “I want you to know I’m fighting for liberty and democracy (and) where is our democracy here in this country?”

Complaints ranged from loss of farm and ranch land that has been in families for generations to loss of livelihood, as well as economic devastation for rural Texas, which many feared will be bypassed and or cut off by the transportation project that could - if built out completely - encompass 8,000 miles of roadway criss-crossing the state.

Perry’s plan would encompass not only lanes for passenger vehicles, but would also bundle lanes for large rigs, freight rail, passenger rail and other utility easements into a bundle that would be 1,200 feet wide. Opponents to the project say thousands of acres would be taken from property owners in eminent domain proceedings.

“We’re ranchers. Our business is dependent on our land,” said Rosemary Gambino of Waller County, president of the Texas CattleWomen, earlier in the hearing. “I plead with you that you not concrete over my ranch.”

“The people in Texas have had it,” another speaker said. “It’s abundantly clear that TxDOT will not listen to the citizens.”

The agency is violating its fiduciary responsibility to the public and lawmakers no longer recognize the legislation they wrote that has resulted in the Trans-Texas Corridor, the man said of the legislation’s public private partnership component. “This isn’t about money, it’s about greed. Profit is one thing but obscene profit amounts to thievery.”

David Stall of Corridor Watch testified as to his concerns with the project.

“Enormous financial decisions are being made as we rush toward private public agreements. The immediate benefits are attractive, but the long-term risks are unknown,” said Stall, whose organization has members in 199 of the state’s counties.

Stall cautioned that private developers of toll companies could pick the most attractive routes, set their tolls at the highest possible levels, use the state to collect their tolls and be compensated for any revenue losses.

“I hope we don’t have to wait until 2058 to fix this,” he said of the public private partnerships that are being set up as 50-year leases.

“The political process was circumvented and the people of Texas were the losers,” said Corridor Watch co-founder Linda Stall, who criticized the state agency for a limited public hearing process on the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“For a project of this scope and scale that will affect Texas for 50 years, that is unacceptable,” she said, saying the agency scheduled 254 meetings in 28 days with limited public notice.

“If you want to slow down TxDOT, you need to give them very specific legislative guidelines,” she said. “Otherwise, they will do the very minimum.”

Most of those testifying acknowledged the need for additional transportation-related infrastructure, but said they disagreed with allowing private companies to operate toll roads for profit. Several said they would agree to an increase in the gasoline tax to provide TxDOT with money to handle the projects itself as opposed to seeking funding in the private sector.
“We need transportation planning, but it needs to come from the ground up,” Stall said. “It needs to come from committees that understand their community’s unique needs.”

TxDOT’s actions since the passage of the enabling legislation for the Trans-Texas Corridor have not gone unnoticed by members of the Legislature, which has seen a number of bills filed this session ranging from reining in the agency to repealing the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“TxDOT is failing to adequately respond to the concerns of the Legislature,” state Sen. Kip Averitt, R-McGregor, told constituents from Ellis County on Wednesday.

“I’m looking forward to watching Sen. Carona’s hearing,” said state Rep. Jim Pitts, whose district includes Ellis and Hill counties - both of which would be impacted by the TTC-35 portion of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“It’s refreshing to see so many members asking tough questions of TxDOT,” the Waxahachie Republican said on Wednesday. “I’ve been pressing TxDOT for answers to some of these questions for more than a year, and it’s time they gave members of the public a straight answer on how the corridor will affect them and how these toll roads will be managed.”

Among the several hundred people speaking or providing written testimony Thursday was McLennan County Farm Bureau president Marc Scott.

“We believe the impact of the TTC will be devastating to the agriculture industry and to rural communities. As a personal note, the 1,700 acres that I produce on are all within the footprint of the proposed TTC,” said Scott, a cattle and hay producer. “So this issue is very near and dear to my heart. My livelihood depends on the outcome of the TTC.”

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

A Texas Farm Bureau press release indicates the state’s largest family farm organization is also pressing state reforms on eminent domain law, urging lawmakers to consider relocation costs for families affected by something as large as the corridor, as well as good faith offers on the land’s best and highest use whenever condemnation proceedings take place.

“The delegate body of the Texas Farm Bureau has voted overwhelming to continue to oppose the TTC,” Scott said. “Our county leaders have spent four years studying this project and attending public meetings held in counties throughout the state. While we readily admit that many changes have occurred to lessen the sting of the corridor, there are still more issues which need to be resolved.”

During Thursday’s hearing, Williamson told the senators that the dense population along the interstate and lack of public money were reasons to opt for the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Carona noted that Williamson and Perry are close, and Williamson acknowledged that, while offering praise for the governor’s decision to tackle the state’s transportation problems.

“I do think a great deal of him because I think he stuck his neck way out before an election,” the commissioner said. “And I will say, I find him to be remarkably evenhanded about solving problems.”

Carona wondered about the cost and feasibility of widening I-35, possibly with loops around heavily congested the metropolitan areas.

Williamson said 83 percent of the state’s population lives in a crescent covering the urban areas of Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and Houston.

Carona, a Dallas Republican, said many Texans have been skeptical of the toll road project because of the aura of secrecy surrounding it.

“When information isn’t shared, when open records are ignored or are challenged in court, people are always led - it’s human nature - people are led to believe that there’s some other agenda,” Carona said.

Some sections of the state’s contract with the Spanish-American consortium Cintra-Zachry to develop the Trans-Texas Corridor were kept secret for 18 months and were the subject of a court case brought by the company and the Texas Department of Transportation. That lawsuit was filed after the attorney general ruled the contract was a public record.

The secret sections of the contract were finally made public in September.

Williamson assured the senators that TxDOT intended to utilize the audit report’s recommendations.

On the House side, Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, issued the following statement prior to the hearing: “I am very glad to see the audit concerning the Texas Department of Transportation. I appreciate its clarification of the policies and procedures the agency is following.

“Many members have concerns over such issues as the Trans Texas Corridor, and I welcome any suggestions for improvement,” Craddick said, noting that House Transportation Committee chairman Mike Krusee, R-Austin, and House Appropriations Committee chairman Wayne Chisum, R-Pampa, will study the audit.

“I look forward to their feedback,” Craddick said.

Cintra-Zachry, a Spanish-American consortium, plans to build the Trans-Texas Corridor, a state-owned toll road. The consortium, made up of Spain-based Cintra and San Antonio-based Zachry Construction, would get to operate the road and collect tolls.

Today’s rally is expected to last several hours.

“Not only will the TTC be a new tax for Texans to pay, but thousands of acres of land will be condemned, taking valuable property away from Texas land owners,” said Gina Parker Ford of the National Eagle Forum, who will be among the speakers.

“Some will come on horses, some on tractors, and many more on motorcycles - all united together against wasteful spending, questionable tactics by Gov. Perry, and a virtual double-tax on our roadways through toll fares,” Ford said.

The Australian, a newspaper based in Sydney, described Texas as “the toll road El Dorado” in a recent online article that also referenced “vast toll road riches up for grabs in Texas.”

A Spanish term, El Dorado means “the golden one” and refers to a fabled land of gold and riches. More recently, the term has been used metaphorically to reference any place where wealth could be rapidly acquired, according to Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia.

Companies from Australia and Spain have been among the foreign bidders on U.S. toll roads.

Senate Finance Committee chairman Steve Ogden, who pushed the 2003 bill that helped set up the toll road initiative, said he was “asleep or not smart enough” to recognize potential problems.

“We are giving away a public asset and don’t have much say about it for 50 years,” said Ogden, R-Bryan.

Cintra-Zachry, a Spanish-American consortium, plans to build the Trans-Texas Corridor. The consortium, made up of Spain-based Cintra and San Antonio-based Zachry Construction, would get to operate the road and collect tolls.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2007 The Daily Light