MMBlog

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Selling the roadway to dissent

By MIKE McILVAIN

Good highways are like computers – great when they work, but absolute horror and frustration when they don’t.
The proposed Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), part of the proposed North American Supercorridor, has raised red flags and battle flags up and down the length of the possible routes. This possible superhighway toll road works for some, but not for others.
The TTC could serve to widen or parallel Interstate Highway 35, and activists continue organizing against it while Gov. Rick Perry spearheads the drive to make it a reality.
State government’s connection to the Spanish-partnered Cintra Zachry consortium to construct the big wide road, which could cover 1,200 feet from side-to-side, are two key points of contention. The loss of private lands, property, businesses, and expected high costs also spark considerable comment and dissention.
Tentative TTC plans include a 600-mile freight-rail line from Dallas to the border. The Texas Department of Transportation says that could pull one million trucks per year off of Interstate Highway 35, and it would be the most extensive addition to Texas’ rail system since the early 1900s.
Some local governments, utilities, and school districts have taken formal stands against the road, but others are waiting to see if the road will ever be built. Several believe legal action to protect homes, businesses, farms, schools and cemeteries in the TTC path could put a permanent hold on the road’s construction.
“It’s controversial and not the solution to any problems we have, and it takes up a large amount of land,” Linda Stall, founder of Corridor Watch, said by phone from Austin.
Laredo activist Enrique de la Garza has heard that the TTC might never be built -- or at least not until some time after lawsuits cast the project up in the air “until the time mankind learns to levitate” -- but he notes that the state has already invested plenty of money in its relationship with Cintra Zachry.
“I don’t know if they’ll go for the whole enchilada,” he said. “It’s not right, and they may be messing up aquifers along the way.”
De la Garza believes the TTC will stop at Encinal is also concerned about water. He says three major and six minor aquifers could be affected.
“Laredo has voted Democrat since the party was invented. Only Webb County votes Democrat many times and who is in power?” de la Garza asks.
Del Rio activist Jay Johnson notes that House Bill 578, passed last year by Texas lawmakers, orders the Texas Water Development Board to design a pipeline system with reference to the TTC.
“On completion of the map and using existing water pipelines and other facilities, the board shall design a complete pipeline system that provides each region of the state access to an undepletable emergency source of water,” HB 578 reads. “The design may be coordinated with the design and implementation of the Trans-Texas Corridor.”
Texas Department of Transportation spokesperson Gaby Garcia argues from Austin that proposed TTC routes are only mapped out in study areas on TxDOT’s Web site at www.keeptexasmoving.org and any assumption that it would stop at Encinal is incorrect. Garcia and the site also say the TTC will only use water for regular roadside purposes.
The related Laredo-area map shows the local TTC extension passing Encinal to the Callaghan Ranch-area, some 25 miles north of Laredo.
“We don’t know where it will stop,” Garcia said.
“Laredo and TxDOT are in discussions. A map during the summer had Laredo in a big gray area,” city spokesperson Blasita Lopez said. “I don’t know.”
TxDOT attempts to answer many of the numerous questions about TTC online on that Web site, including those around increasingly important water issues, which could seem related to the project.
“TxDOT will pump groundwater located under the Trans-Texas Corridor and transport it to other parts of the state,” says a myth in the Web site’s Get The FAQs section, listing myths against reality. It answers: “TxDOT is not in the business of selling groundwater. Furthermore, it does not have the authority to transport water. The only reason that TxDOT may access groundwater beneath state property is if it is needed for the transportation facility, such as a restroom or customer service center.”
Stall says more legal action is more likely north of Laredo because it would be affected first and could involve more landscape change, including quality agricultural turf. The San Antonio to Laredo segment serves to widen Interstate Highway 35 and little more.
Stall says Cintra Zachry has already drawn some attention through work in building part of a loop around Austin – the State Highway 130 project – which is likely to be part of the eventual TTC.
The expected 1,200-foot width of the TTC has activists seeing properties and communities chopped up in a very different concrete and asphalt Texas – drastically different from the one they grew up in.
“It is a lot of land,” Stall said. “It looks like the state is in the land speculation business.”
Stall and de la Garza both note the concern over future eminent domain rulings after the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling for the city in Kelo v. New London, Conn.
LaSalle County Judge Joel Rodriguez says concern there eyes the loss of ranchland, but he is comfortable with the proposed widening of I-35. Rodriguez says LaSalle County became interested in the project two years ago when the matter was first visible.
“We resolved not to grant cutting anymore ranchland,” Rodriguez said by phone from Cotulla. “For a while they planned to go through eastern La Salle County, and we would have to support it, furnishing ambulance, fire (department), and water. Smaller counties can’t support it.”
Rodriguez says LaSalle County has also met with TxDOT.
“It is very hard to predict the future, but people do like to leave something for their kids,” he said.
LaSalle County is listed among 30 counties, which have resolutions against the Trans Texas Corridor on the Blackland Coalition Political Action Committee’s Web site. Those counties range from tiny Rains in the northeast to Brewster in the southwest around the Big Bend National Park.
Blackland’s Web site also lists 12 cities, eight utilities and four school districts – all in Central Texas -- also filing resolutions against the proposed superhighway.
The organization meets in rural Bell County, but played host to gubernatorial candidates Chris Bell, Kinky Friedman, and Carole Keeton Strayhorn in a political gathering on March 24. Blackland’s Web site says incumbent Rick Perry was invited, but declined to address the group based midway between Waco and Austin.
“Everybody wants traffic to go faster, but it’s extremely controversial,” U.S. House District 28 Representative Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said. “There are some big property concerns.”
Cuellar also believes the TTC could take a long time to happen with legal action halting, or slowing construction. He noted serious opposition in his district in the Seguin-area.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in its Sept. 28 edition that parts of the toll road — 260 miles’ worth — would be under construction within five years and open by 2014. Tolls would be about 15 cents a mile for cars, 59 cents for trucks.
Star-Telegram figures have total cost of designing and building the corridor at $8.8 billion. Private companies would pay that cost, plus fees totaling $1.9 billion, for the right to collect tolls for 50 years. The state Transportation Department would use that money on other work.
Perry defends the project, despite serious opposition, through a page on his re-election-related Web site and devotes an entire page to the issue at www.rickperry.org/pages/ttc.
“The Trans Texas Corridor is a new way to move commuters and cargo, remove hazardous cargo from city centers, reduce air pollution, and expand economic opportunity,” Perry’s site says. “It is a major project that ensures needed infrastructure gets built sooner and at less expense to Texas taxpayers. Like any major infrastructure project, it generates a lot of questions, and even criticism, that warrant a response.”
Candidates Kinky Friedman, Chris Bell, Carole Keeton Strayhorn and James Werner all oppose the TTC and point to other factors around it.
“Kinky is opposed to the Trans-Texas Corridor since it relies on toll road construction. He feels that the TTC is a land grab of the ugliest kind, with land being taken from hard-working ranchers and farmers in little towns and villages all over Texas,” Friedman’s site says. “The people who will ultimately own that land are the same people who own the governor.”
Democratic nominee Chris Bell is less polite in his online posted stance.
“The Trans Texas Corridor is a case study in corruption and cronyism, and one of my first acts as governor would be slamming the brakes on the whole plan and dragging it back into the public light. This deal would never hold up in the light of day. This is corruption you could see from space. Rick Perry just can’t justify giving billion dollar sweetheart deals to his largest contributors,” Bell said.
Wes Benedict, Austin-based executive state director for Werner’s Libertarian Party says Cintra Zachry will get a monopoly because local governments will be prohibited from constructing competing toll roads.
Benedict says that will be a major problem for the capital city.
“The Austin-area is going to have more toll roads than anywhere in the state and toll roads cost more to put up, so they are not cost-effective – running them, constructing toll booths and all that,” Benedict said. “There are better ways to improve public transportation.”
Strayhorn favors using more existing structure to deal with the expected heavy growth Texas faces.
“Texas property belongs to Texans, not foreign companies,” Strayhorn says online. “To meet our transportation needs we need freeways not toll ways, and we must use existing rights of way and increase efficiency of existing roadways and ports. We must not destroy our precious farm and ranch land.”
Strayhorn's site says her plans would expand IH-35 using existing rights of way, implement the ports to plains initiative, increase efficiency and use of existing rail lines and appoint an inspector general to oversee the agency and a transportation ombudsman to talk to Texans.
Strayhorn calls it the Trans-Texas Catastrophe -- the largest land-grab in Texas history under a still secret agreement to let a foreign company control and “toll our roads for a profit for over fifty years.”
District 13 State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, agrees with Strayhorn’s secrecy assessment and is concerned over rural lands, but believes Perry has heard the public’s concerns and hopes he would adjust if re-elected on Nov. 7.
“None of us have ever seen the contract. What have we agreed to?” asks Kolkhorst by phone, driving through rural Grimes County in the Houston-area. “I’m for Gov. Perry, but this issue, he and I don’t agree on. I have faith in this governor. I don’t think it’s my way or the highway, pardon the pun.”
Kolkhorst says she will be at the doorstep of whomever wins the election with her concerns. She says her four-county district counts 70 churches and cemeteries that would be affected by the width of the project.
Kolkhorst echoes Strayhorn’s desire to see more transportation work by Texans, but recently attended an anti-TTC rally in Walker County.
“They would just as soon not have it,” she said. “Texas is growing and we want a good highway system, but when you dice up old, developed farmland -- and we have some very historic sites here in Texas history -- people don’t give up easily.”
Kolkhorst knows that all of those factors generate the passion the TTC’s opponents exhibit. She says she has talked to several South Texas ranchers and knows their worries, too.
Kolkhorst believes there is more to the TTC than simply a big highway and rail line.
“I’m not convinced this is for us. I’m not sure that NAFTA and CAFTA are good,” she said, seeing where we might be stooping to benefit the economies of other countries through the TTC. “It could be about blurring borders and our national sovereignty. It’s bigger than Texas.
“Tell Texans the truth and they’ll make good sense of things. I think power should be from the ground up and not the other way.”
Texas A&M International social sciences professor Michael Yoder would agree with Kolkhorst and sees TTC connections to economies in Asia, Latin America, the container ship business, unions, the Panama Canal and he sides with Cuellar, believing it will never be built.
“It’s too big, too expensive, too many people fighting it, too many interests against it,” Yoder said. “The TTC seems to rely heavily on the Mexico connection.
“One plan that seems sleazy is to use Mexican truck drivers to kill the unions and it would hurt the independent truckers, so I think that part of it stinks. Meanwhile, they’ll charge exorbitant prices for people to use it.
He doubts that current hotbed economies like those in Asia will maintain their pace and doesn’t see Mexico’s toll road offerings strong enough to help support it.
“It could be too ambitious. If they have the idea that it will pay for itself I think they will find themselves disappointed,” Yoder said. “They are banking on trade with Mexico and stuff from China. It’s overkill.”
The TTC’s value would also weaken – and Mexico’s Lazaro Cardenas port -- through a wider Panama Canal for larger container ships. Serious discussions have also risen in Nicaragua and Honduras for proposed freight-oriented transportation plans for canals, bigger highways and increased rail service between the Pacific and Caribbean.
And Panamanian voters stumped some experts by voting on Oct. 21 to widen that canal, too.
The TTC and its connected 4,000 miles of North American supercorridors don’t look cost-effective in Yoder’s book. It does not work in his computer.
“There’s not enough to justify what they are talking about at $184 billion,” he said.
At least, if this particular roadway is to be built it could certainly use a stronger selling job.

Note: This is the blog version of a very similar story, which appears in the October 2006 issue of LareDOS, available at the paper's office at 1812 Houston, in Laredo, and other sites around Laredo. Also available online, in pdf, at www.laredosnews.com.

2 Comments:

At 5:58 AM, Blogger Sal Costello said...

CorridorWatch.org ISSUES 2006 CANDIDATE REPORT CARD - 10/26/06

CorridorWatch.org is a non-partisan organization formed to educate and inform, not to participate in politics. CorridorWatch.org is not a political action committee (PAC) and therefore does not support or endorse candidates.

However over our four year existence we have observed and interacted with many of the individuals who are on this November’s ballot. During this time we have developed informed opinions about these candidates.

Our goal in presenting the following Report Card is to let you know how CorridorWatch.org feels these candidates reflect the beliefs and concerns of our members and others who are opposed to the Trans Texas Corridor.

The following candidates have been graded on information available to CorridorWatch.org and reflect our assessment of their position on the Trans Texas Corridor and related issues such as tolling, toll conversion private property rights and eminent domain taking for economic development. The grade also reflects the effectiveness (in our opinion) that the candidate would have in effecting positive change if elected.

U. S. Senator
"A" Barbara Ann Radnofsky DEM
"B" Kay Bailey Hutchison - Incumbent REP
"C" Scott Lanier Jameson LIB

Governor
"A" Carole Keeton Strayhorn IND
"C" Chris Bell DEM
"C" Richard "Kinky" Friedman IND
"D" James Werner LIB
"F" Rick Perry - Incumbent REP

Lieutenant Governor
"B" David Dewhurst - Incumbent REP
"B" Maria Luisa Alvarado DEM
"C" Judy Baker LIB

Attorney General
"A" David Van Os DEM
"B" Greg Abbott - Incumbent REP
"C" Jon Roland LIB

Comptroller of Public Accounts
"B" Susan Combs REP
"B" Fred Head DEM
"C" Mike Burris LIB

Commissioner General Land Office
"C" VaLinda Hathcox DEM
"C" Michael A. French LIB
"D" Jerry Patterson - Incumbent REP

Commissioner of Agriculture
"A" Hank Gilbert DEM
"C" Clay Woolam LIB
"F" Todd Staples REP

State Senator - District 3
"F" Robert Nichols REP

State Senator - District 25
"C" Kathleen "Kathi" Thomas DEM
"C" James R. (Bob) Thompson LIB
"F" Jeff Wentworth - Incumbent REP

State Representative - District 13
"A" Lois W. Kolkhorst - Incumbent REP
"D" Charles Stigall LIB

State Representative - District 17
"A" Tim Kleinschmidt REP
"B" Robby Cook - Incumbent DEM
"D" Roderick (Rod) Gibbs LIB

State Representative - District 20
"B" Jim Stauber DEM
"D" Dan M. Gattis - Incumbent REP

State Representative - District 20
"B" John Zerwas REP
"C" Dorothy Bottos DEM

State Representative - District 52
"B" Karen Felthauser DEM
"B" Lillian Simmons LIB
"F" Mike Krusee - Incumbent REP

State Representative - District 57
"B" Jim Dunnam - Incumbent DEM
"D" Neill Snider LIB

State Representative - District 62
"C" Peter "Pete" Veeck DEM
"F" Larry Phillips - Incumbent REP

State Representative - District 90
"B" Lon Burnam - Incumbent DEM
"D" Rod Wingo LIB

State Representative - District 117
"A" David McQuade Leibowitz - Incumbent DEM
"D" Ted Kenyon REP

This Report Card is also available at:
http://www.corridorwatch.org/ttc/expand/ReportCard2006.htm

Subject to changes and/or additions.
CorridorWatch.org

 
At 9:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most Highways Nationwide to be Tolled to Pay for NAFTA Super-Corridors

The massive land grab feature of the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) is also present in other NAFTA Super-Corridors. But, what makes the events in Texas so unique, are how they are related to other issues, and how they will affect all Americans.

The NASCO (North America Supercorridor Coalition) board, which is heavily influenced by Gov. Perry, successfully lobbied to have money for the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) moved “off budget.” It seems as though one of the affects of this Enron-style accounting trick is to force the federal HTF to go broke by 2008.

In August 2005, President Bush and Congress signed into a law a major transportation bill called SAFETEA-LU. One of the provisions of it is to immediately use all money that is expected to be placed into the federal HTF through September 2009. In December the U.S. Chamber of Commerce concluded nearly all funds had been used. The federal HTF will go broke by 2008.

Consider TxDOT Commissioner Ric Williamson's statements, which are not limited to Texas:

"It's either toll roads, slow roads, or no roads." (May 2004)

“...in your lifetime most existing roads will have tolls." (October 2004)

It’s clear provisions in SAFETEA-LU, plus lobbying by Gov. Perry via NASCO has been engineered to force the federal HTF into a deficit for as long as they can get away with it. Therefore, states will no longer receive funding from the federal HTF. (Half of Texas’ DOT budget comes from it.) Therefore, to make up for that, roads will be tolled.

And there’s more. Texas Gov. Perry and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, who sit on the Texas Bond Review Board, have been trying to use money from Texas Mobility Fund ONLY to fund TOLL roads. The one who has prevented Perry’s travesty is the third member of the board -- Comptroller Strayhorn, who is an independent candidate for governor.

In and around Austin, toll roads have been built and will open in a week, are under construction, or planning to be built. Yet, there are adequate funds to build those roads without levying tolls.

The TTC contract had been secret for 17 months. It was made available weeks before the election. One of the secret items in the contract is for Texas to pay for relocating railroad lines -- to the tune of $16 billion. How would that be financed? Toll roads.

So, clearly steps are being taken to force most highways nationwide to be tolled in order to pay for the NAFTA Super-Corridors.

 

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