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Of Texans and toll roads

 by Carolyn Kahant    May 12, 2005

    Last week I traveled with a group of Texas CattleWomen to the 
steps of the Capitol in Austin to join the Trans-Texas Corridor 
protest rally. Joan Bushong graciously made room for me in her
comfortable Suburban, along with five others of her group, all 
native-born Texans who live on the land and are passionate about 
private property rights. They see the Corridor as a 
huge, unadulterated land grab by the state.
    In case you know little or nothing about the TTC, it is a planned 
network of 4,000 miles of transportation corridors, up to 1200 ft. 
wide, that will include 8 passenger and truck toll lanes, 6 rail 
lines, plus utility lines for water, petroleum, natural gas, 
electricity and data.
   Supposedly the brainchild of Governor Rick Perry and the Texas 
Dept. of Transportation, Perry claims the TTC is necessary for Texas' 
future population growth and development. Transportation Commissioner 
Ric Williamson has said the future of Texas will be either "toll 
roads, slow roads, or no roads." Their attitude is: We have no choice, 
so get used to it.
    Indeed, a Spanish corporation, Cintra, has already been contracted 
to build the corridors and collect the tolls for 50 years, as 
repayment. Construction has begun. The State has no supervisory or 
regulatory authority over tolls, fees, fares, or other usage charges, 
which may be as high as .20 per mile. Like the Patriot Act, the 
TTC was voted into law without most lawmakers knowing what they were 
voting for. Some are now having second thoughts.
    At the rally, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn blasted Perry and 
his "land grabbing highway henchmen". Rep. Robby Cook, co-author of HB 
3363 that calls for a 2-year moratorium to allow further study of the 
Corridor's impact on communities, said, "How many think government can 
take private property and give it to private enterprise for a profit?" 
Our own Harvey Hilderbran, who after the rally became HB 3363's third 
co-author, called it "government out of control."
    For you to decide, here are some facts.
    More than one-half million acres of private land will 
become government property through the power of eminent domain, used 
not only for transportation but also as state owned rental property in 
direct competition with private business.
    Additional land may be taken for "ancillary facilities", described 
as any unrelated industrial, commercial or agricultural use that 
benefits the corridor.
    And, adjoining right of way may be leased to a private entity 
for any purpose, including billboards, hotels, restaurants and gas 
    As state land, the utility corridor and its water pipelines will be 
exempt from conservation district limits, with no law prohibiting 
water from being transported wherever the state decides, including 
outside of Texas.
    The Corridors will not directly connect any large cities; in fact 
they are meant to be direct routes through Texas, with limited 
traveler access to existing communities and businesses. Entry and
exit points will be few and far between.
    The subject of double taxation and the real cost of the corridors 
to taxpayers will be discussed in my next column. You can learn both 
sides of the issue, and see pictures of the rally, by going 


Highway conversion is "wave of the future"

by Carolyn Kahant  May 26, 2005


    Remember the number 3588 ... that's the name of the landmark, 300-page House Bill that in 2003 gave the Texas Department of Transportation powers to authorize not only the Trans-Texas Corridor project (discussed in my last column), but also the conversion of existing free roads into toll roads.


   The exact wording, in Sec. 370.176(a), reads, "An authority may impose a toll for transit over an existing free road, street or public highway transferred to the authority under this chapter."

As Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson has outrageously declared, "In your lifetime, most existing roads will have tolls."


   No less than the White House has endorsed the Texas plan, saying it represents the future for highways. Mary E. Peters, President Bush's federal highway administrator, said the administration is trying to make it easier for states to convert car pool lanes to toll lanes, and in congested areas to allow states to charge user fees for virtually any stretch of an interstate. "It's a big and important shift, and we in the Bush administration think its time has come."


   Apparently there is no money in Washington for new roads either.


   Critics say this amounts to double taxation - we've already paid for these roads at the gas pump, the vehicle registration counter, and the auto supply store. They say a toll is a tax, even if called a "use fee" that will only affect you if you use the toll road. They argue you can also avoid paying the gas tax by not driving your car!


   The above-mentioned gasoline and lubricant taxes, and registration fees are dedicated to the State Highway Fund though, so the newish Texas Mobility Fund, created by constitutional amendment to finance new projects, is authorized to come up with other ways to generate income. Thus, tolls. And debt. And private investment.


   As David Stall of likes to point out, it's all about generating more state income ... without calling it taxes.


   Or as Michael King has written in the Austin Chronicle, "Highway tolls are ... designed to push the burden of public costs downward on to the average taxpayer/driver, while the lion's share of the benefits go to the industries demanding state-subsidized mobility and infrastructure."


   Other real, but hidden, costs of the toll plan are its impact on local economies by:

1) altering traffic patterns, causing some to lose business,

2) adding to everyone's cost of goods,

3) trucks moving into neighborhoods to avoid paying tolls,

4) creating a growing class system of those who can pay and those who can't.


   Erik Slotboom, author of "Houston Freeways", did a detailed analysis of state highway traffic and found that our problem is urban congestion, not traffic between cities. To solve the problem with the I-35 Interstate, he suggests adding two more lanes between Austin and San Antonio (now considered an urban route), paying for it by adding ten cents to the state gasoline tax. Texas currently has a 20 cent per gallon state tax, well below comparable states like New York, California and Florida.


   Slotboom cautions that pay-as-you-go served us well in the past, but today's politicians favor "big ideas" like the Trans-Texas Corridor that we can't afford. Reminding us that the Camino Columbia turnpike near Laredo went bankrupt in 2001, one year after opening, he says, "If the toll lanes are underutilized, then they may toll existing interstates to make up the cost."





Plot thickens in Trans-Texas Corridor story

by Carolyn Kahant   August 18, 2005


Those who believed the claims by TxDOT and the Transportation Commission that the Trans-Texas Corridor would create jobs for Texans got a reality check last week when it was announced that the Spanish corporation Grupo Ferrovial SA was buying Houston-based Webber Group Construction for $220 million. How does this change the picture? Well, let's take a look at how it might work.


Grupo Ferrovial SA is the parent company of Cintra, the Spanish corporation that has been contracted by TxDOT to build the corridors and collect the tolls for 50 years. To assuage the fears of Texas taxpayers who get nervous about too much foreign influence in their great state, Cintra  partnered with Zachry Construction of San Antonio, calling it a joint Spanish-American partnership to build the corridors. However, what's now called Cintra-Zachry is made up of 80% Cintra and only 20% Zachry, not exactly a equal arrangement.


But now, with the purchase of Webber Group Construction, which includes W.W. Webber Inc, Southern Crushed Concrete and Webber Management Group, we have a real-life, locally-based but Spanish-owned construction company. And Webber just happens to be on TxDOT's Prequalified Contractor list, with plenty of Texas toll road experience.


Is this just the tip of the Spanish-Texas toll road empire? 


To complete the picture, we need to factor in the reality that the Trans-Texas Corridor will be a magnet for illegal Hispanic immigrants seeking these jobs. According to an extensive series of reports in the Omaha (Nebraska) World-Herald newspaper, scores of illegals have been used to build major public projects all over the country, many hired through a dubious set-up that shaves contractor's costs but leads to untold losses in federal and state tax revenue. The winners in this situation are employers and the affluent. The losers are American low-skill workers, first, and then all the rest of us through the burden put on schools and public assistance programs by the more than 10 million illegals nationwide.


The latest census data for Texas indicates that our illegal immigrant population is costing state taxpayers more than $4 billion a year for education (12% of K-12 children) and $.7 billion for medical care and incarceration. The estimated tax contribution of these workers is $1 billion, leaving a $3.7 billion balance. This comes to $725 annually per Texas household headed by a native-born resident, says the Federation for American Immigration Reform.


Additional costs not included in these figures are things such as special English instruction, welfare programs used by the U.S.-born children of illegals, and welfare payments to U.S. workers displaced by illegal alien workers.


We can't blame giant construction companies (and the politicians they support) for preferring this arrangement, as they reap big profits from utilizing non-demanding workers, while passing the hidden costs off onto the long-suffering taxpayer. But when are we, the taxpayers and voters, going to wake up to this outrage?






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