"I think we have to clamp down on Governor Perry. I think the legislature has given Governor Perry too much power."
By Roger Gray
In 2002, Governor Rick Perry recommended a veritable 4000-mile spider-web of toll roads all built by and making money for private contractors overseas.
Now though, everyone says the idea is dead, but is it?
"There are a lot more people against the Trans Texas Corridor concept than there are for it," said Corridor critic, and Whitehouse rancher Hank Gilbert.
$175 billion dollars was the price tag for the Governor's vision, the Trans-Texas Corridor; part of a north south behemoth of a highway from Canada to Mexico.
It would have run down Interstate 35, and here in East Texas, down Interstate 59. And it would have been the largest eminent domain land acquisition in state history.
"Closer to a million acres by the time you take in non-accessible land."
That's the equivalent of condemning 90% of Rhode Island," Gilbert said.
It was based on a cherished political mantra, "the private sector always does it better and cheaper."
But, deregulation in higher education and the power industry have sent costs in those two sectors heading steadily toward low-earth-orbit. Other state privatization schemes all ended up costing more. So, the logical question is, what are you thinking?
Lauren Reinlie, of Texans for Public Justice, said the wheels for the corridor were greased with money.
"The Governor received $3.4 million from the companies who later landed contracts under the TTC plan," Reinlie told us. "And those same companies spent $6.1 million for lobbyists. It's tough for grass roots people to stop money."
Hank Gilbert pointed out that Rick Perry's former press secretary, former chief of staff and his legislative director all lobbied for contractors in the project.
"Now it's such an intermingled cast between these public/private partnership contractors and the Governor's office," according to Gilbert.
"We see that in a lot of cases,' Reinlie replied. "That people who have been working for the Governor then leave the governor's office to go to work for private companies and those companies are often given contracts."
And the Texas Department of Transportation was virtually unstoppable.
Gilbert said, "TxDOT in its current state is run by a five member commission. Those five men are appointed by the Governor."
"TxDOT and the companies even went so far as to sue the Attorney General to keep the contracts secret," Reinlie revealed.
And then it all fell apart. In town hall meetings across the state the virtually unanimous response was a loud and emphatic "No."
"When you had over 30,000 people comment against this project, it got their attention," Gilbert observed.
It got the attention of legislators like Tommy Merritt.
"I think we have to clamp down on Governor Perry," Merritt told us. "I think the legislature has given Governor Perry too much power."
So, now, TXDOT says the Trans-Texas Corridor is dead, but is it really?
"It's kind of like setting a hog trap out there in the pasture and you catch that big old sow. Do you really think your pasture's not going to get rooted up anymore? Don't bet on it," concluded Gilbert.
The lesson here is that public opinion really does matter. It's worth remembering when the next big idea out of Austin or Washington heads down the corridor toward your wallet.
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