NOTE: TxDOT resorts to threats and intimidation to SILENCE citizens and suppress the truth that’s found within their own public documents!
Forbids any discussion of tolls at public meeting even though it’s in their contract
New Braunfels, TX, June 21, 2006 – Concerned citizen and founder of SA Toll Party.com, Terri Hall, physically had the microphone removed from her hand by a TxDOT employee during public comment at a PUBLIC meeting regarding the highway expansion of SH 46 June 20 at New Braunfels High School.
“As soon as I turned to the page in the contract that mentions tolls, TxDOT grabbed the microphone, abruptly and rudely, physically wresting it from my hand!” stated a shocked Hall. “They did the same thing to another supporter, Michael Maurer. They were flanked with police throughout the building. TxDOT is using Gestapo-like tactics to suppress the TRUTH about their plans for Hwy 46 from being made public.”
TxDOT told the crowd that no one could use the word toll or discuss tolls during the public comment period. They also forbid the use of the term “outer loop of San Antonio.” Both terms are relevant to the Highway 46 expansion project since there is a provision in the contract (page 3 of pass through finance agreement) between Comal County and TxDOT that they can toll Hwy 46 in the future as long as the County and TxDOT agree.
Also, during the Transportation Commission meeting last November, TxDOT employee, Jennifer Moczygemba, repeatedly refers to Highway 46 as the “outer loop of San Antonio” (in the November Transportation Commission meeting read it here), which would more than ruffle a few feathers in Comal County…it could well lead to the quick demise of a few politicians! So rather than face the music from their own public documents, they simply SILENCED any discussion from citizens.
“How can bringing up the toll provision in the contract possibly be off-limits? It’s a legitimate concern; it’s in their own contract in black and white. If TxDOT gets away with forbidding citizens from using the word ‘toll’ and expressing legitimate concerns over project financing, how much longer will it be before it’s forbidden to publicly criticize elected officials in this country?” says a concerned Hall. “Where will this suppression stop? I thought this was America where protecting and defending our First Amendment Constitutional Rights are sacred.”
TxDOT and Comal County officials know from constituent feedback and the SA Toll party.com blog that this toll provision in the contract is a MAJOR sticking point with the public, and they also know that the vast majority of folks in Comal County DO NOT want our rural community (and our two lane highway) turned into a new 6 lane truck route between I-10 and I-35 dubbed the “outer loop of San Antonio,” especially on the Comal County taxpayers’ dime. The pass through financing agreement takes $16 million of Comal County tax dollars to pay for the project to be paid back through “shadow tolling” based on traffic volume.
“The PEOPLE are the owners of government and we pay TxDOT’s paychecks and yet they continually get away with gagging citizens from voicing their concerns about highway projects (see prior attempts to gag citizens: here and here, scroll down to March 30), particularly how they’re being financed. TxDOT has lost all objectivity when it comes to toll roads. They want to operate in secrecy like the private, foreign companies they’re brokering deals with in secret,” declares Hall.
The contract negotiations are done in secret (read story here), and given the fact that TxDOT and Cintra are suing to keep even the signed contracts secret from the public (read about it here), SECRECY is now what characterizes arguably one of the most powerful government agencies in this State. TxDOT can seize our private property, and now has the power to levy unlimited toll taxes, even on existing freeways.
Even our elected officials think the Legislature needs to change the focus of TxDOT (Collin County Commissioner Jerry Hoaglund, “I think that the Legislature needs to change the focus of TxDOT.” —McKinney Courier-Gazette, 2/16/06) and that TxDOT needs greater financial accountability (the Senate’s Executive Summary for Fund 006 had this to say about TxDOT’s financial management:
“The sheer size of the budget of the Texas Department of Transportation coupled with the significant new financial authority granted to the agency during the78th Legislative Session calls for improvements to the agency’s financial reporting methods.” Full report here).
“TxDOT is out of control and continues to overstep its authority. My question is, who is going to put a stop to the trampling of citizens’ free speech and our legal right to make public comment on highway projects? There is a dizzying number of public meetings and hearings this summer. TxDOT cannot be allowed to continue intimidating ordinary citizens into silence. They used similar tactics for public meetings for 281 (scroll down to March 30, on this post). If toll roads are the silver bullet to all of our problems, then why are they forbidding ANY discussion of them in public? Why won’t they answer the public’s questions? Are they accountable to no one? We’re the owners of government, and we’re simply trying to get to the truth,” shares a concerned Hall.