Toll Party Written Testimony to State Senate Transportation Committee

Submitted By:
Terri Hall, Director of a grassroots group called the San Antonio Toll Party with more than 5,000 supporters, and Founder of TURF, a new non-profit group that’s uniting concerned citizens across the state.

The people of Texas have had it. We’re in the midst of a Texas-sized tax revolt because these toll contracts are the epitome of selling off Texas to the highest bidder and a total betrayal of the public’s trust. It’s abundantly clear to citizens that our Dept of Transportation is not nor will it EVER listen to Texans with regards to this new shift to tolling and the controversial financing for them called public-private partnerships. This agency has violated its fiduciary duty to the public, and has instead become a tool for private corporations to enrich themselves at the expense of the taxpaying public.

The enabling legislation’s purpose has been perverted into something even lawmakers no longer support or recognize. Considering that even one of the author’s, Senator Steve Ogden, has come out in recent days stating he was duped by the original legislation and will work to right “his past sins,” it’s evident that TxDOT’s corruption, lack of accountability, and, frankly, arrogance, must be stopped by the Legislature.

We already pay a road user-fee, it’s called the gas tax. This myth that the gas tax is somehow insufficient is a farce. In fact, it’s been so efficient in funding our highways that there is enough leftover for 6,000 earmarks at the federal level, like the bridge to nowhere in Alaska, and over $9 billion in diversions on the state level for unrelated things like tourism promotion and cemeteries, not to mention the 25% diverted to public education.

The Legislature has stolen our highway funds, and WE THE TAXPAYERS demand you give them back. If that money had not been stolen from us, we would not be discussing tolls across Texas! We don’t lack funds; our politicians lack fiscal accountability.

We have $7 billion in mobility and revenue bonds available. TxDOT’s budget has tripled just since 1990, and doubled since Rick Perry took office. WE DO NOT LACK FUNDS! Couple this with the fact that TxDOT is tolling highways that we’ve already built and paid for like 281 in San Antonio, and the deal just signed on 121 in Dallas, and it’s further proof this isn’t about lack of money, accelerating road projects, or congestion relief, it’s greed, plain and simple. One of the companies bidding on toll projects all over Texas just posted a 76% increase in profits. Profit is one thing, but obscene profits through monopolies is exploiting the public’s roadways and amounts to thievery!

This same company, Macquarie, said this in an article in the Australian as quoted in the Waxahachie Daily Light, February 28, 2007 which “described Texas as ‘the toll road El Dorado’ in a recent online article that also referenced ‘vast toll road riches up for grabs in Texas.’ A Spanish term, El Dorado means ‘the golden one’ and typically is used as the name of a fabled land of gold and riches. More recently, the term has been used metaphorically to reference any place where wealth could be rapidly acquired, according to Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia.”

Then a recent report commissioned by the Governor’s own Business Council done by TTI at A&M shows we do not need toll roads to meet our future transportation needs. It also showed TxDOT over-inflated their projected needs by $30 billion. Governor Perry also stated in a Statesman article dated August 26, 2006, that TxDOT’s supposed “funding gap” is nothing more than a wish list if money were no object.

The economic impact of tolling existing corridors has not been properly studied. Businesses along toll corridors are nearly non-existent. This will hurt economic development in these corridors not bolster it as tollers claim. Tolling an existing corridor will also limit availability of gas, goods, and services for residents who now access these businesses. TxDOT’s assumption that projected growth in these corridors will stay the same both with and without tolls, is not only inaccurate, it’s implausible, and defies logic and economic principles. People change their behavior when you put a toll on a road. It creates avoidance rather than an attraction to that highway.

Toll roads that just opened here in Austin have toll rates of up to $1.50 a mile, and with the State Auditor’s report revealing the 12% guaranteed profit for these private companies, it explains the obscene toll rates we’re already experiencing much less the continued escalation WITHOUT limit that’s sure to come over 50 years! We’re talking about $2,000-4,000 per year, likely more than that, to use our PUBLIC highways. These insidious toll contracts take away our freedom of mobility to line the pockets of private corporations.

Truth is we don’t know what’s in these contracts that are being negotiated in SECRET, and even our elected officials cannot see the terms of these contracts UNTIL AFTER IT’S SIGNED and parts of them are still NOT DISCLOSED to the public to this day as these robber barons hide behind the term “proprietary information” that our own Attorney General thinks is bunk!

We wholeheartedly object to these non-compete agreements that will hold our free lanes hostage to private companies and replace them with inferior, less efficient access roads. The non-competes PROVE TxDOT’s version of tolls won’t solve congestion; they’ll manipulate it for profit.

Toll roads cannot work unless there is horrific gridlock on the surrounding free lanes. Over the next 50 years, these foreign companies stand to make billions on our PUBLIC infrastructure. Take the deal just inked for 121 in Dallas. The government gets $5 billion from Cintra and the taxpayers pay-up astronomical toll taxes expected to be $100 billion over the next 50 years for just that one highway. Cintra will make 20 times the money they invested! This is truly highway robbery!

And the Trans Texas Corridor…the real story is, they want this corridor to benefit foreign interests, mainly China, not Texas. Recent news articles tell us the Port Authority of San Antonio has been working actively with the Communist Chinese, to open and develop NAFTA shipping ports in Mexico that will enter the U.S. through the Trans Texas Corridor (or NAFTA superhighway) for the purpose of increasing its annual handling capacity from 100,000 containers to 700,000 containers initially, with possible expansion to two million containers by 2010. That’s the congestion problem they’re seeking to solve, the source is not Texas truckers and commuters but the massive new influx of Chinese goods into the U.S. via Mexican ports, trucks, and rail.

The State Auditor’s report affirms that TxDOT has overestimated the benefits and underestimated the costs of the corridor and it shows that taxpayer money will in fact be used to build this monstrosity.

The taxpayers have a right to vote on matters of such grave public interest. We are the owners of government, not an unelected bureaucracy behaving as dictators of public policy.

This amounts to increasing our cost of transportation from pennies a day under gas tax to dollars per day under an unaccountable toll system in the hands of a foreign company for private gain WITHOUT THE PUBLIC’S CONSENT! I cannot find a SINGLE study to show that raising the cost of transportation is good for the economy.

The taxpayers not TxDOT have the final say on the public’s roads. This agency and this Governor are corrupt, they’ve overstepped their authority, they’re guilty of abusing their oath of office, they’re not listening to nor serving the public, and it’s up to you to return our public highways and our government to the PEOPLE!

We URGE you to pass Senator Carona’s bill outlawing non-compete agreements, pass Rep. Kolkhorst’s and Leibowitz’ bills to abolish the Trans Texas Corridor, to pass Rep. Pickett’s bill to abolish the Transportation Commission and replace it with an elected officer accountable to the PEOPLE, and pass a host of other much needed reforms to return the highway system to the taxpaying PUBLIC!

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