MONSTER BILL THAT WOULD HAVE SPAWNED NAFTA SUPERHIGHWAY DEAD
Legislative session ends; ‘NAFTA turnpike’ dealt major setback
AUSTIN, Texas—Texans who oppose the Trans-Texas
Corridor, the conversion of freeways to toll ways, and foreign ownership and
tolling of U.S. highways in Texas were outraged over the back-room deals that
almost led to the passage of House Bill 300, a massive bill that would have
unleashed the Texas Department of Transportation to continue pursuing broad
development of the TTC and other projects that could pave over the people’s
Meaningful oversight of the Texas Department of Transportation
(TxDOT) would have been lifted had the bill passed, and the agency likely would
have ramped up its use of tax dollars to promote the TTC and related
projects, instead of remaining neutral.
But thousands of concerned
Texans rang their legislators’ phones off the hooks and successfully
“cattle-prodded” them to kill H.B. 300. As of midnight on May 31, the
ballooning 2,000-page bill that nobody had time to read expired on the eve of
the last day of the regular 2009 legislative session. The next regular session
is not until 2011. Citizen pressure and legislative infighting doomed the bill.
Removal of a 10-cent gas-tax hike from H.B. 300 prompted a number of lawmakers
to cast the bill aside.
“State Rep. Yvonne Davis, a northern Democrat, threatened
to filibuster H.B. 300 if they brought it to the House floor [at the designated
time of 11:40 p.m. May 31],” Hank Gilbert, of Texans United for Reform and
Freedom, told AMERICAN FREE PRESS on the morning of June 1. That threat, he
said, helped keep H.B. 300 caged until midnight when it expired.
As of the morning of June 1, Republican Gov. Rick Perry had
wanted a special session beyond June 1 just to save the Department of
Insurance and TxDOT from literal extinction. This is because a “safety-net
bill” (H.B. 1959) also was supposed to be passed on May 31 to prevent the two
agencies from sunsetting under Texas
“sunset” provisions that require periodic performance reviews of all government
agencies. But Democratic State Rep. David Leibowitz of San Antonio actually filibustered H.B. 1959, so
it died, too.
Asked by AFP if this all amounts to winning a major battle
but not the overall war, Gilbert replied: “That’s a pretty good summation.”
“For about 16 hours, TxDOT was officially abolished! Oh, I
slept well last night...” commented Terri Hall, in her San Antonio Toll Party
news bulletin issued later on June 1. With Gilbert and others, she has led the
charge against the TTC and related matters for several years.
“Today [June 1] the House was only to do technical changes (like remove
conflicts within bills, mismarked section numbers and the like), but they
again broke their own rules and managed to extend TxDOT for another 2
years ... through a resolution [instead of by statute]. Lawmakers would do
anything to avoid a special session, so they snuck the continuation of TxDOT
into a resolution on [federal] stimulus funds (and where to deposit them),” Ms.
Hall also wrote.
With the state House officially adjourned, she also noted:
“While we didn’t reform the agency [TxDOT] and get the good provisions
passed, we averted disaster, and CDAs, that sell our highways to foreign
companies, sunset August 31. If CDAs die, TTC-35 dies with it.”
CDAs are another name for public-private partnerships
that merge government coercion with corporate financial muscle.
However, the TTC-69 part of the overall TTC “was [exempted]
out of the moratorium bill last session (which we vehemently opposed), so CDA
contracts for that corridor can continue until 2011,” Ms. Hall added, showing
that the war is far from over.
Importantly, she added that local governments can form
bodies under Texas law to throw roadblocks in front of the TTC: “The local
government 391 Commissions we’ve been forming all over the state will now be
the only thing (aside from litigation) standing between East Texas and a
possible 1,200 foot wide Trans Texas Corridor,” she wrote, referring to TTC 69,
which is a TTC branch that would roughly shadow Interstate 77 and Interstate 59
north toward Houston and onward to Port Huron, Mich., and into Canada if the
whole snake is ever built.
Earlier this year, the Perry administration tried to say
that the TTC was being dropped and that a new scaled-back plan was taking
its place. Called the “Interconnectivity” plan, it envisions a
narrower “footprint” for tollways and the use of more existing pavement,
which means needing less land for new pavement along new rights-of-way.
Notably, AFP is attending upcoming meetings and gathering
strong evidence which indicates that various south-Texas “loop highway”
proposals and new interstate highway designations, which appear to
be TTC-69 friendly, are being pursued piecemeal for expansion later.
Notably, TTC opponents do not necessarily want TxDOT itself
to expire. Gilbert noted that thousands of people would be laid off if that
happens, and TxDOT’s essential functions are needed in a huge state with a vast
transportation system that is heavily used and needs constant upkeep. So, in
the unlikely event that TxDOT (and the insurance agency) both are allowed to
sunset, they would die in September when the budgetary cycle runs out.
H.B. 300 started out relatively benign with about145 pages.
Legislators piled in amendments, many of which would have spelled bad news for
taxpaying motorists and Texas’s
famed ranch owners whose properties have been in the same families for
A number of these ranchers have valuable land in the path
of what appears to be the largest highway/toll-way proposal ever devised in
human history, if the entire NAFTA Superhighway system within and beyond Texas
is considered. Just the Texas
portion would require 600,000 acres of land converted to highway and related
uses, with 4,000 miles of new pavement.
The words “eminent domain”—government land-takings from
private owners at the bequest of corporate interests, carried out with the
force of law—could take on a whole new meaning if TTC backers ever figure out a
way to get past tenacious grassroots Texans who are determined to defend their
state from the financial/political elite that see Texas as a gateway for the
NAFTA Superhighway from Mexico to Canada. Would calling the TTC the “North
American Union Tollway” be an exaggeration? Probably not.
Conceptually, some parts of the TTC itself would be a
quarter-mile wide, with parallel rail and utility lines; possible fueling
stations, eateries and hotels in the medians to keep drivers from patronizing
businesses in nearby towns; and very few overpasses and off ramps – meaning
that it would be for rushing huge shipments of foreign-made goods
into, but mainly through, Texas (hence the prefix “Trans,” which
means over or through) en route to a U.S. Customs hub in Kansas City and to
various retail warehouses in America for retail distribution, before ending up
Worst of all, the TTC – like similar schemes coming from
Canada into the U.S. that need to be more closely watched – would allow even
more Asian-made products to be trucked and “railed” into the U.S., since this
delivery system would connect with Pacific Ocean ports in western Mexico,
namely Lazaro Cardenas which is under the effective control of Chinese shipping
interests. That would mean even less employment for American longshoremen at
the Ports of Long Beach and Los
AFP toured the Long
Beach port in March and spoke to a Longshoremen’s
Union representative, who had mixed feelings about the situation.
In summary, had H.B. 300 passed, depending on its
final form, it could have ended the private-toll moratorium (to hand Texas
public highways to private, foreign toll operators), kept the TTC alive, opened
a new loophole to toll existing freeways, raided public-employee pension funds
to invest in risky private toll-road deals, reduced the number of elected
officials on transportation boards, and more, according to Ms. Hall, the
founder of TURF and the San Antonio Toll Party – two groups that have fought
this monster ever since the TTC was born in 2003 in H.B. 3588.
MARK ANDERSON is
AFP's corresponding editor. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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(Issue # 21,
May 25, 2009)