Monday, February 4, 2008

Say No to Trans-Texas Corridor

The following is a statement I will try to deliver Wednesday night, when the Texas Department of Transportation comes to Livingston to give an open house on its attempt to include the proposed I-69 project as part of the Trans Texas Corridor toll road project.

In 2005 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Kelo v. New London that governments may use the power of eminent domain to take homes and property from one person and give it to another for the purposes of private profit. Here in Texas the Republican Party voiced their outrage at this ruling and promised to pass laws to forbid any such abuses within the state of Texas.

The eminent domain bill that actually came out of the legislature was a toothless, worthless document. It did not require that property owners be paid market value for their property or recompense for loss of access to property not taken. It allowed state and local officials to declare property "blighted", take it, and give it free to private developers. It had a list of exemptions a mile long- exemptions for new private wharves and yacht harbors in Freeport, exemptions for the new stadium for the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, and most notably Governor Rick Perry's Trans Texas Corridor project. Perry signed this measure, this sham of a law, and called it reform.

In 2007 the Legislature came back and tried to close some of these loopholes. It tried to remove the power to declare property blighted. It tried to force the government to pay fair market value for property seized. This bill passed with veto-proof margins in both houses.

Rick Perry waited until the Legislature adjourned, then vetoed it.

Why did Rick Perry veto this second, substantial reform? Because Rick Perry wants to take our homes. Rick Perry wants to give our property to a handful of toll road corporations and land developers. And Rick Perry does not want us to be able to stop him.

In 2002 Rick Perry announced his Trans Texas corridor as a solution to the problem of "rural interstate congestion." There is no such thing as rural interstate congestion. There is, however, such a thing as over $800,000 in campaign donations from toll road interests into Rick Perry's campaign funds in 2001 alone- with hundreds of thousands of dollars since.

Ric Williamson, Perry's hand-chosen head for the Transportation Commission, has told us that, quote, "It's either toll roads, slow roads or no roads." This is by design. In the biannual budget for 2007 Rick Perry assigned 40% of the state's highway budget to the Trans Texas Corridor. By an amazing coincidence, maintenance of existing roads amounts to 60% of the budget. Perry and his supporters, including our very own representative John Otto, have deliberately rigged the state budget to create a shortfall in the highway budget to both fund and justify building toll roads. To quote Commissioner Williamson again: "In your lifetime most existing roads will have tolls." This is their ambition: to force you to pay a toll every time you leave your driveway.

Governor Perry claims the only way Interstate 69 will be built is through the Trans Texas Corridor project. This is wrong. What will be built under Trans Texas is not an interstate. Nearly a third of the projected I-69 project is either already built or can be built with no additional taking of private property. Trans Texas Corridor would bypass virtually all this existing freeway.

In its place Trans Texas Corridor would build a highway with exits spaced as far apart as twenty miles, cutting off access to towns like Livingston, Corrigan, and smaller villages. The Trans Texas Corridor would be over five times as wide as a standard interstate... with no access roads. If the bypass around Livingston became the center of the Trans Texas Corridor route, everything from the Brookshire Brothers store to Long King Creek would be taken, flattened, and handed over to a Spanish corporation... and it still wouldn't be wide enough.

Furthermore, the developers of Trans Texas would build their own restaurants, gas stations, and hotels within the Corridor... property wholly exempt from county or city property taxes, causing all other residents' taxes to go up. The result would be not an expansion of the local economy, but a sharp decline.

Trans Texas Corridor does not help our area. Trans Texas Corridor will take half a million acres statewide to build over four thousand miles of toll road, almost entirely in areas where they are not needed. In urban areas such as Austin it will convert highways already built, paid for at taxpayer expense, into toll roads. It will take homes and pay homeowners pennies on the dollar. It will split counties in half and shut farmers and property owners out of their land. Worst of all, it will triple-tax Texas citizens- once to pay for the construction, then again for auto registration, then a third time for the toll.

Finally: in the past, toll roads were built to cover only the initial cost of construction, after which they were made freeways. This is not true of Trans Texas. The leases, contracts, and agreements involved with this project have terms of as long as seventy years. That means, if this project were completed tomorrow, not a single person in this room tonight would live to see the toll booths taken down. And those tolls would not go to maintain the roads or build new ones: they would go into the pockets of a handful of corporate interests. Instead our tax dollars- which would go ever higher- would be used to maintain these roads built not for our sake, but for the sake of rich men getting richer.

I am oppposed to the Trans Texas Corridor project. I am opposed to Rick Perry, Ric Williamson, John Otto, County Judge John Thompson, and all other supporters of the Trans Texas Corridor project. In November my votes will all be NO for this proposal and YES for those who will go to Austin, repeal the Trans Texas Corridor Act, and shut this project down.

We do not need this boondoggle.

We do not WANT this boondoggle.

Do not BUILD this boondoggle.

Anyone want to give odds on whether or not I'll actually be able to say a word of this?

Didn't think so.

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