TxDOT--the very same agency created by the will of farmers and agriculturalists--is now saying 'This [TTC] matters more than you or your industry.'
April 17, 2008
By CAROLYN ROST
Country World News
On April 5, protesters marched on foot, rode on horseback and drove their tractors down the streets of Austin, then rallied at the Capitol steps where several speakers voiced their opposition to the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC).
As proposed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2002, the TTC would be a multi-use, statewide network of transportation routes with separate lanes for cars and commercial trucks, high-speed rail lines and utility corridors. According to the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) website, TxDOT would oversee planning, construction and ongoing maintenance and private vendors would be responsible for much of the daily operations.
The march and rally was organized by Hank Gilbert, a cattle rancher from Whitehouse, for the TURF (Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom) organization.
Gilbert, along with Terri Hall of San Antonio, formed TURF - a statewide grassroots anti-toll, anti-TTC organization - in December of 2006. Gilbert said people in the organization are not only from Texas, but from all over the country.
According to their website, one of TURF’s missions is to educate the public about the TTC, the first of the planned NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) superhighways connected to the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) and coming merger with Mexico and Canada through the North American Union (NAU).
Through TURF, Gilbert and Hall are “educating more and more people as to what is going on.”
“In a very short time span of a couple of years,” Gilbert said, “Our little organization, that started with two ticked off people - one cattle rancher and one homeschool mother- has made great strides in trying to bring accountability into the process of TxDOT, as well as trying to stop the taking of public land for private use in the toll roads and this Trans-Texas Corridor project.”
The march was the second annual march down Congress Avenue protesting the TTC and the tolls across Texas. Gilbert vows to hold the march every year “until we get rid of this thing.”
Before the march, several people stated their concerns over the TTC project.
Jennifer Duhan, who lead the march of protesters on her horse, Waco, is a landowner from Waller and feels the TTC is flawed.
“I’m not against new roads. I’m not against progress. But this concept is not the right concept for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s border security issues, whether it’s the green issues, whether it’s toll lane or public/private partnerships — the whole thing is flawed. It’s not an interstate.”
Billy Hintzel of Navasota also stressed that the TTC is not an interstate and said it will not help the counties.
“It’s going to actually hurt the counties because it is taking land away from our tax base.”
The TTC will also split Grimes County in two, he said.
Bastrop County farmer, Jim Lee, said the TTC will go right through his 225 acre farm which has been in the family for generations.
“My great-grandfather settled in the area in the 1840s. Perry’s toll roads will take the equivalent of our farm every mile and a half. We are very much against this Trans-Texas Corridor,” said Lee.
Under its proposed, or recommended, route, the TTC is going to consume over 100,000 acres of prime farmland, said Gilbert.
“This is where we predominately grow a lot of our grains in the state - corn and milo. Where we grow a lot of cotton. And in some areas it’s good grassland.
“Taking that land out of production is going to relate to millions of dollars of lost revenue in the agricultural industry. It’s going to relate to millions of dollars of lost revenue in our state’s economy. It’s going to relate to thousands of agricultural jobs lost in our state,” said Gilbert.
According to Gilbert, not only is the TTC a big issue for Texans, “it’s going on all over the country and people don’t know what to do about it or how to stop it.”
Due to the state’s proximity to the Mexican border, the TTC “lives or dies here in Texas,” he said.
“China is going to bring all these goods into Mexican ports and then bring them across our borders through the NAFTA agreement, which means that they won’t have to pay tariffs and they won’t have to pay import fees on those products.”
Gilbert said through the TTC and NAFTA superhighways, China is going to try to transport these goods through Texas to points beyond in the United States.
“Texas landowners are being told that their rural agricultural land is where these roads need to go.”
The roads for the TTC, he said, will be very limited access.
“The only places they have to offer access is at the State U.S. and Interstate Highways. So if you live in a small community that doesn’t have one of those highways, guess what, you are not going to have an exit to get on or off of it and you may have to drive for miles before you can find a place to cross it.”
The TTC will also be a toll road, an issue which Gilbert and the TURF organization strongly oppose.
“A toll is the most unfair tax you can impose and its the highest tax you can impose. If you are going to toll a road and you are still charging a gas tax, then basically the traveling public are being double-taxed for that road.”
A gas tax, he said, is the fairest form of tax because everybody pays it.
“Even if you don’t live in Texas - if you are traveling through Texas and you buy gas - you are supporting the infrastructure of the state. So it’s a fair tax.”
The toll roads are being built primarily for freight traffic, he said.
“They are expecting the freight containers coming in and through Texas by 2012 to double what they are now so they need these freight corridors. The amount of air and noise pollution that it is going to bring to these areas will be astounding. Texas will be ranked right up there with California as some of the dirtiest places in the United States.”
The biggest injustice of all, he said, is what the TTC is going to do to the people in the rural parts of Texas who worked hard all their life. They and their ancestors, “worked their butts off all their life to acquire this property and to make or supplement their living from this property.”
By taking their land, TxDOT is basically telling them “their property is inconsequential.” Gilbert said looking back at history, TxDOT was founded from farmers.
“They appealed to the state government to build them some hard surface roads where they could get their product from the farm to the market. Hence our farm-to-market roads, which were the first paved roads we had in the state.”
Those farmers “willingly gave up their land in order to develop that transportation system, and in essence, to develop that agency,” he said.
“Now that very same agency that was created by the will of the farmers of this state and the agriculturalists of this state are now looking at those very same people and saying, ‘you don’t matter anymore. Your industry doesn’t matter anymore. This matters more than you do.’
“That’s not the Texas I grew up in and that’s not the Texas that most rural Texans grew up in. We are not going to allow it to happen.”
For more information about TURF, visit www.texasturf.org or contact Hank Gilbert at (903)871-2424.
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