Grassroots Coalition Issues Strong Support for Abbott’s I-35 Non-toll Expansion

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contacts: 
Terri Hall, Founder/Director
Texas TURF & Texans for Toll-free Highways
(210) 275-0640

JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director
Grassroots America – We the People PAC
(903) 360-2858

Grassroots Coalition Issues Strong Support 
for Abbott’s I-35 Non-toll Expansion
“Special interests plan to stall I-35 expansion to set Governor Abbott up
to break his no-toll promise to the people of Texas!”

 

(March 24, 2020 — Austin, Texas) Today, Texas Conservative Grassroots Coalition leaders from Grassroots America – We the People PAC, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), and Texans for Toll-free Highways released a statement strongly supporting Governor Greg Abbott and his Texas Transportation Commission’s decision to fully fund the Interstate-35 expansion through downtown Austin as non-toll. The Coalition noted the Commission has prioritized existing funding to get this major project underway without adding to the tax burden of working families.

Background: JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director of Grassroots America stated, “During his first gubernatorial campaign and throughout his administration, Governor Abbott consistently promised to fix state transportation woes without raising taxes, fees, debt, or tolls, and that’s precisely why 164 grassroots conservative political opinion leaders – influencers – representing 133 unique groups and districts across Texas – are supporting Abbott’s non-toll I-35 Expansion, which includes 12 segments on the state’s 100 Most Congested Roads List for 2019.  For Governor Abbott, it’s simply a matter of ‘Promises Made – Promises Kept.’  Now that state leaders are admitting the 87th legislative session budget process will be a painful nightmare with unfolding economic hits from the coronavirus pandemic and oil price collapse, we are stepping forward now to have the Governor’s back.”

Special Interests Working to Convince Abbott to Break His Promise: At least one group, Keep Texas Moving, funded by Texas Association of Business, criticizes Abbott for putting all of TxDOT’s discretionary money into one basket, supposedly depriving other areas of the state, but the Coalition notes that all TxDOT districts will still receive their normal levels of formula funding as programmed.

Grassroots Transportation Policy Expert Pushes Back: Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texas TURF and Texans for Toll-free Highways asserts that Keep Texas Moving has an ulterior motive — “Their backers want to stall Abbott’s non-toll expansion in favor of a tolled public private partnership (P3) or Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA). Cintra, one of the primary private toll operators in Texas just happens to sit on the board of Texas Association of Business. Pretty cozy, right?

“It’s obvious what’s going on here. A Spain-based global firm, Cintra, muscles its way onto the board of what used to be the premiere voice for Texas businesses – TAB – and forms a lobby group to sideline the Governor and one of the most significant highway projects of our generation to selfishly try, once again, to pass a bill authorizing a crony private toll road rather than allow it to be done as a freeway, using existing funding that gives access to all Texas drivers.” 

Hall adds, “Keep Texas Moving even brought on big name lobbyists with close ties to the Governor – John Colyandro, Mike Toomey, and Ray Sullivan to stall this absolutely critical project until they can lobby the Texas Legislature to bypass Abbott’s no-toll pledge to get CDA authority next session. 

“Texans have a visceral reaction to foreign corporations taking over our public highways and getting a 50-year right to gouge Texas drivers like they’re already doing in DFW with tolls that exceed $3/mile in peak hours. Fed-up Texans cannot afford this! We plan to help Gov. Abbott keep his promise.” Hall concludes.

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Trump coalition letter presses Abbott to keep ‘No Toll’ promise

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Coalition’s call for ‘No new toll taxes’ from Trump creates problem for Abbott in Dallas

Grassroots Coalition wants Governor to keep his promise, while they go on offense against Trump plan for tolls

(April 18, 2018 – Austin, Texas) The Texas Conservative Grassroots Coalition’s latest project – strong opposition to parts of the Trump infrastructure plan, which calls for toll roads and corporate welfare public/private partnerships – is being led by Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), Texans for Toll-free Highways, and Grassroots America – We the People PAC. The Coalition’s opposition was voiced in a letter to President Donald J. Trump and expresses widespread displeasure among Texas conservative grassroots leaders with Trump’s infrastructure plan.

“While some have called the Trump proposal DOA on Capitol Hill, we take nothing for granted and made the trip to D.C. to deliver it to the White House personally to ensure the President got the message from a BIG, red state with 38 electoral votes – we don’t want tolls!” declares Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texans for Toll-free Highways and Texas TURF.

JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director for Grassroots America – We the People PAC stated, “We are much more confident that Texas – under the leadership of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick – will make much sounder transportation decisions than the far-flung bureaucracy in Washington, which makes no actual progress in stopping wasteful practices or balancing the federal budget! This is why we support a federal block grant of our federal highway funds back to Texas with a bare minimum of federal strings.”

TURF hand-delivered copies to all U.S. House Members serving on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, as well as all U.S. Senators serving on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (the committee that handles surface transportation legislation). In all, TURF visited more than 75 offices in D.C. last week, many of which were sit-down meetings with Congressional Members and the President’s senior staff.

The Coalition also delivered the letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, urging the Governor to stand strong against tolls as he promised to fix Texas roads without new toll taxes, (which he reiterated last fall as he directed the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to rework 15 toll projects to be completed without tolls). Last week, the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) proposed to defy the Governor, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and other state elected officials, such as Sen. Bob Hall and Sen. Don Huffines, who represent the area. The RTC plan advocates adding two toll managed lanes as part of the expansion of I-635 E from US 75 to I-30. Rumblings from the Governor’s office appear to suggest he’ll go along.

Abbott’s Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Bruce Bugg made his intentions crystal clear in a letter to the RTC in March that he expected a non-toll solution or no deal. Angered by the apparent about-face, grassroots leaders have drawn a line in the sand and refuse to budge.

“Managed lanes are toll lanes. Tolls are taxes. This project is not toll viable per TxDOT’s own study and requires taxpayer subsidies. Everyone will pay for it, but only the few who can pay tolls (like the $1/mile on MoPac in Austin), will ever be able to afford to drive on them,” Terri Hall of TURF explains.

In 2015, the legislature passed House Bill 20, requiring TxDOT to put explicit policies in place to ensure the highest priority projects got funded first. Yet, that’s not what happened. The majority of the new funds were allocated to low priority projects, by design, so that TxDOT could claim there’s not enough money to fix the big urban projects. This incentivizes local governments to tap a toll revenue stream for the most congested roads, which creates unaccountable slush funds outside the reach of taxpayers.

Grassroots America’s Fleming says, “This is just another problem of TxDOT’s own making. The voters gave them $5 billion more per year in new funding (with passage of Prop 1 & 7), and they squandered it on low priority projects so they could cry poverty in urban areas and slap tolls on commuters already choking under the burden of toll taxes. Special corporate interests, promoted by anti-taxpayer local government shills, benefit most from these unfettered tolling and multi-leveraging schemes.”

Fleming added, “Working families across Texas have made it abundantly clear that they do not want more toll roads. In fact, 90% of Republican Primary voters approved of a March 6 ballot resolution that stated, ‘No governmental entity should ever construct or fund construction of toll roads without voter approval.’ This means the Republican base has Gov. Abbott’s back on his strong opposition to more toll roads and more debt. His base wants him to keep his campaign promises.”

The RTC’s actions indicate if local governments lobby the Governor and his Transportation Commission for toll ‘managed’ lanes, that they’ll consider giving toll projects a green light despite campaign promises.

“It’ll be used as a model by every other local board, and we’ll end up with tolls everywhere after the Governor promised no more,” Terri Hall predicts.

The Coalition applauds Abbott’s challenge to local governments on an array of anti-liberty and anti-taxpayer local ordinances, and they expect him to continue to keep his promises for the highway system directly under the jurisdiction of the State of Texas.

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