Texas Turnpike Rebellion Against the Tollways


While the operational SH-130 toll loop around Austin, Texas, is a suspected component of the long-planned “NAFTA turnpike” — known in Texas as the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) — grassroots Texans now are battling the proposed Blacklands-Northeast Gateway Toll Road in east Dallas.

Staunch Texans do not want corporate power to unduly influence or override state and local officials and convince them to convert freeways to tollways or establish new, punishingly-expensive toll routes in investment schemes notorious for massive cost overruns.

And in Texas, as in several other states, unsuspecting motorists are having their license plates read by sensors on toll routes that lack access booths and are devoid of toll workers.

Typical toll bills received in the mail can be $15 or $20, or more, at a pop, with interest charged for tardy payments. Simply put, usury has entered the world of driving.

This grassroots coalition just turned up the heat to oppose this latest toll route, while thanking a number of localities which have passed official resolutions against it.

A coalition consisting of Texans United for Reform and Freedom (TURF) and Texans for Toll Free Highways (TTH) held an Oct. 14 morning press conference in Greenville, near Blacklands’ proposed route, just before the Hunt County Commissioners Court meeting nearby.

These opponents, who had to demand to be heard at the commission meeting, describe their effort as “a full-court press to pressure remaining cities and counties to pass resolutions opposing the toll road.”

Yet, as of Oct. 14, seven communities had already passed resolutions: Fate, Josephine, Lavon, Nevada, Rockwall, Sasche and Wylie.

Additionally, the Rockwall County Democratic Party passed a resolution opposing the toll scheme.

Over the last eight years or so, there has been a sustained uprising in Texas against foreign-owned investment entities seeking to privatize freeways and convert them to tollways — or to build new toll routes and toll loops from scratch. TURF-TTH spokesman Bryan Slaton said that SH-130 needed an extra $30 million in repaving before it even opened, due to the cheap materials initially used to get it built.

Backers predict the 27-mile Blacklands route will cost between $500 and $800 million, even though the operational Chisolm Trail Parkway, also 27 miles long, came in at a dizzying $1.4 billion. All that upfront money has to be recovered through tolls. Blacklands won’t even break even until 2034 if it’s built.

This writer has followed this issue for years, while seeing the TTC start and stop. Sometimes it has been declared “dead.” But like a modern soap-opera star, the TTC has new episodes that miraculously bring it back to life under different banners. This “dragon” is not easily slain.

Slaton noted: “The public’s outrage over a private company wielding the power of eminent domain has gotten [local] officials to take notice.”

His colleague, activist Terri Hall, clarified that while, in the past, private toll-road developers like foreign-owned Cintra have had to depend on the eminent domain (legal land condemnation and acquisition) powers of the state, Blacklands’ owners have their own eminent domain power—independent of the state.

She considers it unprecedented and disturbing that a private entity can possess powers equal to that of the state, in her view.

The Texas Turnpike Corp. (and Public Werks) based in North Dallas, would own and operate Blacklands. Reportedly, there would be no foreign investors involved.

“That’s what they promised, no foreign investors,” Slaton told this writer, with a hint of skepticism. But Hall noted that, to the extent that Blacklands project’s domestic owners need to borrow money to complete their toll route, foreign investors might, and likely will, get involved by purchasing bonds.

Stiff opposition recently forced the Texas Turnpike Corp. to cancel its series of “informal” meetings on Blacklands, and the Regional Transportation Council postponed its vote to adopt Blacklands into its official plans.

At the press conference, Slaton explained how the grassroots have swelled their ranks in just four weeks — going from 700 signed online petitions to more than 4,000.

Mark Anderson is a veteran journalist who divides his time between Texas and Michigan. Email him at truthhound2@yahoo.com.

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2014


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