Texans call for repeal of proposed toll network

| 3/1/2007

Even without the existence of a state-of-the-art network of toll roads and railway lines paralleling Interstate 35, hundreds of Texans still made it just fine to a public hearing at the State Capitol in Austin.

They arrived Thursday, March 1, by any means necessary to speak out against Gov. Rick Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor, a proposed 4,000-mile network of toll roads, railway lines and utilities. According to the Austin Statesman-Journal, the committee already collected more than 500 written comments. About 100 were scheduled to make verbal comments before the committee, but not all got the opportunity to say their piece.

Many of the speakers at the Texas State Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security hearing said they felt the proposed corridor was little more than a land grab - and a dangerous one at that.

"If this project continues it will be a threat to our security and sovereignty," said one retired school teacher.

Speakers included rural Texas ranchers worried about the corridor dividing or devouring their land, state transportation and elected officials with a wide variety of claims and comments, environmentalists, and a man who played a guitar and sang a song opposing the proposed road construction.

State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the senate transportation committee, challenged many aspects of the corridor plan, from funding and revenue estimates by a private investor in the proposal to the accountability of the Texas Department of Transportation.

"When there is secrecy and a lack of open records, people are led to believe there is some other agenda," Carona said.

Commission Chairman Ric Williamson spoke to defend Gov. Perry and the Trans-Texas Corridor proposal. He said he believes it is the best solution to date for present and future congestion problems from Dallas all the way to Corpus Christi.

Those speaking at the hearing discussed property values, the potential use of eminent domain for the developer to acquire land for the proposed corridor, and the environmental and economic impact such a project would have.

State Auditor John Keel and his staff highlighted findings of a recent state audit of the Trans-Texas Corridor proposal. Some of the audit findings raised concerns about the accountability of TXDOT and how public dollars are being spent.

A private-sector company, Cintra-Zachry, consisting of Cintra of Spain partnering with Austin-based construction corporation Zachry, holds the development contract for the first 560-mile leg of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, known as TTC-35.

Speakers also attacked that deal, saying the state's present and future assets should not be transferred to a foreign-led consortium.

"The state has the authority to build toll roads," said Mark Scott, representing the Texas Farm Bureau. "Why do we need foreign companies to do so?"

- By David Tanner, staff writer