TTC is NOT dead

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Trans Texas Corridor renamed, not dead

TURF supporters demand ACTION, not rhetoric

TURF reaction to TxDOT announcement:

The announcement by TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz at the Texas Transportation Forum that the "Trans Texas Corridor, as it was originally envisioned, is no more," is just another in a series of comments to lead opponents into believing the Trans Texas Corridor is indeed dead. TURF believes this is a deliberate move to dupe opponents into complacency, and we expect iron-clad action before we begin celebrating victory.

It's clear from the TxDOT Director's speech, that it's only a name change and the Trans Texas Corridor is, in reality, going underground.

This fact is evident in just about every news source across the state:

"'Amadeo told folks at the forum that the Trans-Texas Corridor, as it was originally envisioned, is no more,' Amacker (Saenz spokesperson) said. 'Instead, what we've got is a series of smaller projects.'

Those 'smaller projects' will apparently include the 300-plus miles of what has been called TTC-35 from San Antonio to the Oklahoma border and the I-69 project from the Rio Grande Valley to Texarkana. But they will not be called the Trans-Texas Corridor." -- Austin American Statesman

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"Other than backpedaling from the Trans-Texas Corridor brand, and the goals and priorities set over the years, the Trans-Texas Corridor remains intact.

TxDOT still plans to partner with private corporations to build and lease projects. Toll roads, truck-only lanes and rail lanes are also still on the table.

Environmental studies for the I-35 and East Texas corridor segments still chug through the pipeline. And a development contract with Cintra of Spain and Zachry Construction Co. of San Antonio, for projects paralleling I-35, is still valid." -- San Antonio Express-News

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"The renewed effort now will operate under the name 'Innovative Connectivity Plan.'" -- Houston Chronicle
_________________________________________________________

No law has been changed, no minute order rescinded, no environmental document re-done (as is required by federal law), and there are still two contracts signed giving two Spanish companies the right of first refusal on segments of the corridor previously known as TTC-35  & TTC-69. So by every real measure, the Trans Texas Corridor goes on full steam ahead. What today's hype was about is a political ploy to make the public go back to sleep while it gets built under a different name. While we welcome genuine responsiveness from TxDOT and a true repeal of the Trans Texas Corridor, this hardly qualifies.

Lets just say, we agree with Senator Robert Nichols' statement in the Dallas Morning News:

"If it is just a name change, and nothing more, I don't think that is going to do much to appease lawmakers," said Nichols, R-Jacksonville.

Judge hears evidence in TURF lawsuit against City of San Antonio

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Judge hears evidence in TURF lawsuit against City of San Antonio

City denied TURF permits to hang banners
above roadways
 
San Antonio, TX, January 6, 2009  – Monday, United States District Judge Xavier Rodriguez heard TURF’s motion for a temporary restraining order and motion for a preliminary injunction against the City of San Antonio for denying TURF permits to hang two banners in the public right of way, which TURF believes is a blatant violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

After hearing more than 3 hours of evidence and testimony, Judge Rodriguez did not rule but said he intends to rule by the end of this week. Rodriguez repeatedly and openly struggled with the fact that the City at one point approved the banners only to later deny them with no legal basis other than the arbitrary interpretation of City employees. He also stated he’s wrestling with the City’s discrimination based on viewpoint and other key legal arguments noted by TURF attorney David Van Os.

One City employee, Arturo Elizondo, who initially granted permission for the banners only to later deny them, contradicted the testimony of his supervisor, David Simpson, which, by his own admission, baffled the Judge. The explanation for their denial changed stories several times and morphed into what amounts to legislating on the fly in order divine some excuse to deny approval of the banners.

 
“First the City denied our banners saying we didn’t meet the ‘definition,’ now they’re saying they denied the banners because the content or message of the banners was ‘controversial.’ They’re making this stuff up on the fly, demonstrating for all of us that this is a politically-motivated gag order of citizens who dare oppose the politics of those in power. The City’s reasons for denial are NOT in the ordinance, plain and simple. The Judge even said so on several occasions,” states TURF Founder, Terri Hall.

“It’s no secret that Mayor Hardberger and many Councilmembers as well as City staff who sit on the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) have cast votes for and advocated toll roads. Based on the City’s actions, one can conclude that the City will not tolerate differing viewpoints or give fair and equal access to citizens’ groups wishing to utilize temporary banners to communicate important community information to its fellow citizens in the public’s right of way,” Hall added.

Background:
The City claims the speech/message of the banners is “controversial” and therefore the legal basis for its denial; however, the statute gives the City no such authority to deny permits based on content, which violates of the citizens’ First Amendment rights in the U.S. Constitution.

Through TURF’s efforts to inform the public about the gas tax original plan for 281 and the recall of pro-toll, flip-flopper District 8 Councilwoman Diane Cibrian, it applied for permits from the City of San Antonio to place banners above the roadways at key locations. TURF was originally granted permission only to have that permission later rescinded once the higher-ups at the City caught wind of TURF’s banner messages: one directing people to the www.281OverpassesNow.com web site and the other to the www.RecallDiane.com web site. One of the banners had already been made at a cost of nearly $700!

TURF sues City of San Antonio over free speech

PRESS ADVISORY

TURF sues City of
San Antonio for infringing on Free Speech
City denied TURF permits to hang banners
above roadways

San Antonio, TX  – On Monday, January 5 at 2:30 PM, United States District Judge Xavier Rodriguez will hear TURF’s motion for a temporary restraining order and motion for a preliminary injunction against the City of San Antonio for denying TURF permits to hang two banners in the public right of way, which TURF believes is a blatant violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution..

Through TURF’s efforts to inform the public about the gas tax original plan for 281 and the recall of pro-toll, flip-flopper District 8 Councilwoman Diane Cibrian, it applied for permits from the City of San Antonio to place banners above the roadways at key locations. TURF was originally granted permission only to have that permission later rescinded once the higher-ups at the City caught wind of TURF’s banner messages: one directing people to the www.281OverpassesNow.com web site and the other to the www.RecallDiane.com web site. One of the banners had already been made at a cost of nearly $700!

WHO: The concerned citizens of TURF

WHAT: Hearing for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the City of San Antonio for violation of citizens’ Free Speech

WHERE/WHEN: Judge Xavier Rodriguez’ courtroom on Monday, January 5 at 2:30 PM in Courtroom 3 on the first floor of the John Wood United States Courthouse at 655 E. Durango Blvd.

“Clearly, the City of San Antonio has no respect for Free Speech nor fair treatment of ALL groups, regardless of their make-up or message. The City denied our banners simply because it disagrees with the message of toll opponents. We the people own the public right of way, and the First Amendment protects the citizens from government gag orders on speech. We hope the court will right this wrong and allow our banners to be hung,” states TURF Founder, Terri Hall.

The City claims the speech/message of the banners is “controversial” and therefore the legal basis for its denial; however, the statute gives the City no such authority to deny permits based on content, which violates of the citizens’ First Amendment rights in the U.S. Constitution.

Citizens demand fix to 281 NOW

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Citizens demand fix to 281 NOW

San Antonio, TX, October 24, 2008  – Concerned citizens with the San Antonio Toll Party and Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA) joined District 122 Candidate for State Representative Frances Carnot in a joint press conference to demand the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) work with the citizens to fix the gridlock on US 281 (north of Loop 1604) now. TxDOT and the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority are misleading the public into believing NO fix to 281 can move forward for 3-5 years, which is patently false.

The environmental clearance got pulled for the US 281 toll project ONLY. There are provisions in the law that would allow the original gas tax funded 281 overpass and expansion plan (www.281OverpassesNOW.com) to move forward in just over 30 days.

Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) and Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA), whose lawsuit is still active in federal court despite TxDOT’s announcement to pull the clearance for US 281, have asked for a meeting to discuss an immediate solution with Transportation Commission Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi and she’s refused.

“Our desire is to work with TxDOT to alleviate the congestion on US 281 as quickly as possible, but they refuse. Instead, they continue to hammer weary commuters with their stubborn ‘toll roads or no roads’ club,” states an outraged Terri Hall, Founder the San Antonio Toll Party and Texas TURF.org.

“Even with the toll road off the table for the foreseeable future, TxDOT continues to behave like a rogue agency who puts profits over the public good. Politicians for the district, State Representative Frank Corte and Senator Jeff Wentworth, continue to sit idly by and let this crisis fester rather than demonstrate effective leadership and exercise legislative oversight over this out of control agency by getting the overpass plan built NOW,” Hall notes.

“Perhaps the citizens cries for help are being repeatedly ignored because Corte doesn’t even live in District 122? Does he even care what his constituents and the businesses in this corridor are needlessly suffering at the hands of a rogue agency over whom he has oversight?” asks Hall.

The citizens and businesses in the 281 corridor deserve better, and they plan to step-up their efforts with a 5 point plan to get the overpass plan built immediately. Step one: take their anger to the ballot box!

“From day one the citizens have insisted that the least invasive, most affordable solution be built on 281 immediately, and that’s clearly the original gas tax funded overpass plan. It’s one-tenth the price ($170 million versus the $1.3 billion toll project), half the size (10 lanes versus 20 lanes), and would take less than half the time to build (18 months versus 3.8 years). It’s inexcusable abusive government and sheer greed to hold commuters hostage a single day longer,” Hall insists.

TURF launches new campaign: www.281OverpassesNow.com

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TURF launches campaign demanding overpasses for 281 NOW

San Antonio, TX, Wednesday, September 10, 2008 – Citizens fed-up with delays to the fix on 281 have launched a new campaign to demand the gas tax funded fix to 281 be installed immediately, not a toll road. A new web site www.281OverpassesNow.com is chalk-full of documentation, videos, and data including a comparison of the “original” gas tax funded fix to 281 to the enormously expensive $1.3 billion dollar toll road plan.

“We don’t need a toll road, we need overpasses,” notes Terri Hall, TURF Founder. “The QUICKEST, most affordable, least invasive solution has been promised in public hearings since 2001 and funded with gas taxes since 2003. When they can fix 281 for $170 million and keep it a freeway instead of waste $1.3 billion and take nearly 4 years to make it a toll road few can afford, it borders on malfeasance to REFUSE to do the fiscally responsible solution IMMEDIATELY.”

After exhausting every other means to stop the toll road for three years, the citizens through TURF along with co-plaintiff’s Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas, or AGUA, filed a lawsuit in February to stop the toll road in order to advance the gas tax freeway fix. On the day the lawsuit was filed, the two parties announced there is NO opposition to installing the promised and funded overpasses and expansion of 281 from either group.

In what amounts to a total victory for the grassroots, TxDOT had to ask the court for a 60-day delay in the 281 lawsuit to buy time to persuade the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) NOT to yank its environmental clearance for the 281 toll project. Through the discovery process of the TURF/AGUA lawsuit, it's been discovered that TxDOT withheld key documents not only from the public and TURF attorneys, but also the feds!

TxDOT purposely withheld a key study from a geologist they hired that stated the potential long-term effects of the toll road on the Edwards Aquifer could be “severe.” Such a study didn't conclude what TxDOT wanted it to in order to get clearance from the feds, so they intentionally hid the report and failed to submit it to the FHWA who uses that crucial information in their decision on whether or not to give federal approval for the project.

There is also an email that shows TxDOT tried to "fix" the environmental work for 281 to pre-determine a "Finding of No Significant Impact" (or FONSI) BEFORE the study even began. TxDOT then hired a company, HNTB, to do the so-called "independent" environmental study even though HNTB has a MAJOR conflict of interest, in that, the tolling authority (ARMA) also hired HNTB to do the preliminary engineering for all their toll projects! So HNTB had a vested interest in a "Finding of No Significant Impact" (or FONSI).

“TxDOT and the RMA blame us for the delay instead of their own incompetence and deception. As usual, they seem to think they can wiggle out of their corruption without consequences simply by supplementing the record. They were FORCED to come clean through a lawsuit brought by concerned citizens, not by them being forthcoming,” said Hall. “We will NOT tolerate willful deception nor politicians’ stubborn refusal to give taxpayers the most affordable fix to 281. Give us the overpasses on 281 NOW.”
###

TxDOT caught hiding 281 docs from the feds

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TxDOT CAUGHT IN DECEPTION!
TxDOT hid 281 documents from the feds, asks court for 60 day delay on 281 case

San Antonio, TX, Thursday, August 7, 2008 - In what amounts to a total victory for the grassroots, TxDOT has to ask a Bexar County federal district court for a 60 day delay in TURF's 281 toll road lawsuit so they can beg the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) NOT to yank their environmental clearance for the US 281 toll project. Through the discovery process of the lawsuit filed by TURF and Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (or AGUA), Judge Fred Biery required TxDOT to hand over the complete administrative record for US 281, including all the financials and the documents from when the improvements were funded with gas taxes that would keep US 281 a FREEway. It's been discovered that TxDOT withheld key documents not only from the public and TURF attorneys, but also the FHWA!

There is an extensive email record that shows TxDOT tried to "fix" the environmental work for US 281 to pre-determine a "Finding of No Significant Impact" (or FONSI) BEFORE the environmental study was even conducted.

"They rigged it! That is a DIRECT VIOLATION OF FEDERAL LAW," says TURF Founder, Terri Hall.

TxDOT then hired a company, HNTB, to do the so-called "independent" environmental study even though HNTB has a MAJOR conflict of interest, in that, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) also hired HNTB to do the preliminary engineering for all their toll projects. So HNTB had a vested interest in a "Finding of No Significant Impact" (or FONSI).

Then, it's also been discovered that TxDOT purposely withheld a key study from a geologist they hired that stated the potential harmful effects of the toll road on the Edwards Aquifer. Such a study didn't conclude what TxDOT wanted it to in order to get clearance from the feds, so they intentionally hid the report and failed to submit it to the FHWA who uses that crucial information in their decision on whether or not to give federal approval for the project.


TxDOT now has to submit these documents to the feds who will completely re-consider their previous approval of the US 281 toll road. It's likely the feds will yank their environmental clearance for the toll road in light of this deception by TxDOT. If they don't, the court is likely to do it for them. So TxDOT is in total damage control mode and released a statement (see below) about their motion for a 60 stay in the US 281 lawsuit that tries to minimize what the documents reveal and, of course, blames the citizens who brought TxDOT's deception to light for the delay instead of their own incompetence and willful dishonesty.

"As usual, TxDOT seems to think they can wiggle out of their corruption without consequences simply by supplementing the record, and essentially telling the feds and the court, 'oops, we left out some key stuff, but approve our rigged process anyway.'  They were FORCED to come clean through a lawsuit brought by concerned citizens, not by them being forthcoming. The tactics at TxDOT never cease to amaze," notes an incredulous Hall.

For more information on the TURF/AGUA US 281 lawsuit, go here and here. .

TxDOT's official statement on the request for a stay in litigation:

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has asked a federal district court judge to issue a stay of the litigation regarding the expansion of U.S. Highway 281 in San Antonio.  We recently located documents which they feel may need to be reviewed by federal officials as part of the environmental evaluation of the transportation project.
 
In the process of responding to discovery requests for the lawsuit, staff identified documents that had not previously been submitted to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).  TxDOT will submit these documents to FHWA for their review.  FHWA will then determine whether the administrative record for the U.S. 281 project should be amended and whether the project's prior environmental clearance would need to be reconsidered.  In order to provide FHWA time to review the documents, TxDOT requested that the ongoing litigation be delayed up to 60 days.
 
"Every day that this project is delayed is another day that Bexar County drivers are stuck in traffic," said TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz.  "Nevertheless, we are committed to making sure that the 281 project complies with all federal and state requirements.  The extension we requested would allow FHWA to review these new documents and come to an independent decision about how to proceed.  We recognized that we should bring these documents to the attention of FHWA, and we want to make sure they have the time they need to review them."
 
Saenz said that the documents will be submitted to the FHWA out of an abundance of caution.  "A new, more conservative view of TxDOT’s records related to the 281 project would require these materials to be forwarded to FHWA," he said.  "We wanted to take the cautious advice of the attorneys and give the FHWA another opportunity to review this project.  On balance, this is a small addition to the 24,000-page administrative record, but it deserves scrutiny from FHWA."
 
In its filing with the court, the department wrote that it has no intention of delaying the proceedings but wants to ensure that the FHWA has ample time to examine the recently identified information to determine whether the administrative record should be amended.
 
We recently adopted new policies on how to assist FHWA in the preparation of the administrative record showing the environmental review of a transportation project.  "Preparing the administrative record for a complex transportation project is an enormous task.  We will do our part to make sure the process is the best it can be," said Saenz.

Adkisson elected Chair, declares war on toll roads

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Grassroots hail new Chair of MPO
Adkisson retains power to set agenda, declares war on toll roads

San Antonio, TX, Tuesday, July 28, 2009 – Commissioner Tommy Adkisson officially became Chair of the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Monday, but not without the usual powerplays and controversy that have surrounded toll roads in San Antonio.  A proposal to change its bylaws to strip the Chair of the power to set the MPO agenda and give it to the Executive Committee, was thwarted, after an intense debate, due to the failure to properly place it on the agenda. But the media left believing all the fireworks had gone off only to MISS the flame that ignited later in the meeting over keeping 281 and 1604 in the toll plans.

Read Terri Hall's article in the Examiner for details on the VICTORY, the players, and the betrayals here

TxDOT's top brass commit perjury

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TxDOT’s top brass perjures themselves

TURF releases explosive footage of depositions from ad campaign/lobbying lawsuit to Sunset Commission

Tuesday, July 15, 2008 – Some very damaging footage of TxDOT’s top brass under oath was presented to the Sunset Advisory Commission at its hearing on the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) today (view here or go to www.TruthBeTolled.com to view). As part of TURF’s lawsuit against TxDOT to stop its illegal lobbying and ad campaign called Keep Texas Moving to promote toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor in violation of Texas Government Code Chapter 556, several top officials of TxDOT were deposed under oath where they perjured themselves.

TURF gave each member of the Commission a DVD of a new documentary film, Truth Be Tolled TURF Special Edition, made about TxDOT’s Keep Texas Moving campaign that shows portions of legal depositions of TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz, Director of Government and Public Affairs Division Coby Chase, and Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton.



TURF showed the Sunset Advisory Commission that TxDOT has made an unprecedented push to win public approval for its controversial toll road and Trans Texas Corridor project, using public money, which is not only illegal, it unfairly stacks the deck against citizens.

Houghton swore under oath that TxDOT had not hired registered lobbyists when these invoices show they have (as well as Houghton’s own admission during a Town Hall Meeting in Hempstead). State law prohibits state agencies from hiring lobbyists and prohibits them from using public money for a political purpose. State agencies are to implement policy, not shape it. Video clips from the Town Hall meeting in Hempstead, January 22, also show Houghton trying to sway the crowd in favor of the Trans Texas Corridor while under oath he was adamant that TxDOT and he had not done so.



PULL ANY ADVOCACY CAMPAIGNS FROM TXDOT
Keep Texas Moving advocates the Trans Texas Corridor, privatization of infrastructure, and tolling. The information in this campaign only extols the benefits of tolling and privatization (and never includes criticisms).

The stated goal of the campaign found in TxDOT documents is:
"To shift perception among those who are opposed to or on the fence about the TTC" and to change the political environment to “make it less hostile to the TTC" and to promote the “benefits of TTC…and help inoculate it from negative attacks" as well as “increase support of TxDOT programs."

“This is no public information campaign. It’s a taxpayer-funded political ad campaign, which is not only illegal, but it also abuses the taxpayers in order to line TxDOT’s pockets with the MOST EXPENSIVE transportation tax,” says Terri Hall, TURF Founder who testified before the Sunset Commission.

TxDOT hired 5 registered lobbyists to the tune of $100,000/month to directly lobby Congress and other elected officials for more CDAs, the TTC, and tolling. Saenz, Chase, and Houghton all claimed ignorance of the law under oath, but Chapter 556.009 says all state officers and employees are given the law prior to taking a position with the State and a record of their acknowledgment of receipt is to be kept in writing.

“So any claim of ignorance of the law by the top brass is no get out jail free card,” Hall said.

This document shows TxDOT targeted County Judges in the path of the TTC-69. Houghton testified in the TURF lawsuit that lobbyist Gary Bushell is who arranged Houghton’s meetings with the County Judges. County Judges are key in appointing an arbitration committee between landowners and the State in eminent domain cases. So TxDOT’s lobbying effort was clearly to give the State an advantage in eminent domain proceedings for the Trans Texas Corridor.

Despite the TURF lawsuit and the suspension of hiring outside lobbyists, TxDOT recently hired an in-house lobbyist, Rebecca Reyes, to lobby Democrats in Congress through TxDOT’s Washington office and joined a lobby group named Transportation Transformation, or T2, with 4 other DOTs and private investors, like Goldman Sachs, to lobby Congress for more CDAs.

TxDOT also conducted push polls seeking to gain public approval of the TTC, which included asking overtly political questions like political party affiliation and if the respondent voted straight ticket in the last election.

In another document, it states TxDOT’s messages in the ad campaign would promote tolling over gas taxes with statements like, “tolls are better than gas taxes to fund roads.”

“The Sunset Commission needs to strongly recommend the repeal of Section 228.004 from the transportation code and remove from TxDOT any ability to promote toll roads. They’ve become an arm of private industry that cannot be trusted to expend funds in a way that protects the public interest,” insisted Hall.

END FREEWAY TO TOLLWAY CONVERSIONS
TURF and many of its supporters addressed the reforms the citizens demand in order to restore trust in the agency, anywhere from replacing the unelected 5 member Transportation Commission with a single ELECTED commissioner to fixing how decisions to toll roads are made (and giving the public real veto power), to getting an accurate figure of road funding needs independently of TxDOT, as well as ending freeway to tollway conversions.

The complete conversion of US 281 from a freeway, already built and open to traffic for decades, to a toll road shocked the Commission and was a central part of the hearing. Representative Linda Harper-Brown questioned TxDOT’s perversion of a state law, HB 2702, that prohibits conversions without a public vote and requires them to leave as many non-toll lanes that exist before adding toll lanes. But TxDOT is tolling every single express lane (or main lane) on US 281 and downgrading the non-toll lanes to access roads with slower speed limits and permanent stop lights, an unfair replacement say critics.

Even worse, the 281 improvements have been funded with gas taxes starting in 2003 ($100 million plan total), but it was turned into a toll road simply to generate revenue for other area projects, clearly a discriminatory, targeted tax. Now as a toll road, the pricetag has ballooned to a whopping $1.3 billion!

“With highway robbery of this scale, it’s no wonder the supposed funding gap for future roads swelled to $86 billion. This is insane! Rep. Joe Pickett once stated we can build 4 freeways for the price of one toll road. In the case of US 281, we can build 10 freeways for the price of one toll project!” notes an outraged Hall.

TURF also delivered disks of all the evidence in their lawsuit to the Travis County District Attorney’s office to press them to file criminal charges against guilty parties.

“Texans are tired of one legal standard for them and another for those in power. The Truth Be Tolled TURF Special Edition DVD (www.TruthBeTolled.com) is enough evidence to show TxDOT is guilty of lying under oath and prosecuting an illegal ad and lobbying campaign on the taxpayers’ dime. Blood’s in the water now, and the sharks are circling. The people demand justice,” Hall commented.

TURF reaction to TxDOT awarding TTC-69 to ACS of Spain & Zachry


IMMEDIATE RELEASE


TURF statement on TxDOT selecting private partner to develop TTC-69

Austin, TX, June 26, 2008

After the overwhelming public feedback preferred the “no build” option and after the Legislature made it clear it wanted time to slow down this train of privatizing our public infrastructure, TxDOT’s selection, today, of a private partner to develop TTC-69 is a total slap in the face to the people of Texas.

This proposal awarded to ZAI/ACS (Zachry American Infrastructure and ACS, based in Spain) is chalk full of egregious taxpayer exploitation. For instance, it tolls loops around Riviera, Driscoll, Corpus Christi and other cities (7 loops total) to fund non-toll improvements to Hwy 77 in yet another Robin Hood scheme. The deal gives ZAI/ACS a guaranteed 12% rate of return on their investment, and it relies heavily on public funds, like federal taxpayer backed private activity bonds (PABs) and TIFIA loans to front the vast majority of the construction costs and then gives all the profit to Zachry & ACS!


They also plan to use taxable zero coupon fixed rate bonds issued by the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority and controversial Transportation Reinvestment Zone (TMZ) funds, which will essentially heist property taxes. The deal also gives ZAI/ACS cherry-picking rights (or right of first refusal) on multiple segments for the TTC-69 without being subjected to a competitive bidding process. The sham of an announcement pandering to landowners promising to use existing highways for TTC-69 wasn’t a concession at all. The private “partners” informed them the new corridor route wasn’t toll viable so they reverted back to using existing freeways (which would have been the tollway’s biggest revenue “competitor”) so as to capture more toll revenue. It was Cintra and Zachry who determined the re-route, not TxDOT being responsive to an outraged public!

“If this isn’t a wake-up call to the Legislature that it’s business as usual at TxDOT until they forcibly restrain them via state law, we don’t know what is. This removes any requirement for competitive bidding, which on its face is an absolute failure of the State's fiduciary duty to protect the taxpayers from monopolistic sweetheart deals and what's certain to be inflated costs. We must make Legislators pay at the ballot box for their malfeasance in granting the authority for such no-bid contracts and for failing to rein-in TxDOT with a GENUINE moratorium last year BEFORE this next private sweetheart deal got signed. If they don’t completely clean house at TxDOT and end this public fleecing, there won’t be enough political cover for the consequences at the ballot box. Enough is enough. End this now!” notes Terri Hall, TURF Founder.

“At today’s Transportation Commission meeting, it was a lovefest between David Zachry and the South Texas politicos pushing this nonsense. TxDOT and their buddies at Zachry/ACS found a way to follow the bare minimum of the law to sign this CDA and continue to steamroll a plan the majority of Texans don’t want. It was also evident the Transportation Commission is desperate to come up with their own alternative reforms since they’re facing an angry public demanding TxDOT be scrapped, a discontented Legislature, and scathing Sunset Commission recommendations,” observed Hank Gilbert, TURF Board member and acting President of the Piney Woods Subregional Planning Commission who attended and testified at today's meeting.

For more detailed analysis of how TxDOT can legally award a Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA) outside the moratorium (SB 792), go to TURF’s web site here.

-30-

Link to article here.

Commission picks developer for I-69 project
Plan would build toll road loops around Corpus Christi, other cities
By JANET ELLIOTT
Houston Chronicle, Austin Bureau
June 26, 2008
AUSTIN — The Texas Transportation Commission on Thursday selected San Antonio's Zachry Construction Corp. and a Spanish toll road developer to plan a superhighway from Texarkana to Brownsville.

The $5 million contract calls for Zachry American Infrastructure and ACS Infrastructure to create a financial plan for the Interstate 69 segment of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

"This team represents the best in the balance of local and global expertise necessary to complete a project of this scope," said David Zachry, chief operating officer of Zachry Construction Corp.

The private developers' plan calls for seven new loops around Corpus Christi and other cities to be constructed as toll roads. Revenue would pay for bringing existing stretches of U.S. 77 up to interstate standards. U.S. 77, however, would not be tolled.

They also propose 60 potential infrastructure projects, including commuter rail along U.S. 90 northeast of Houston, a bridge to Bolivar Peninsula, a container facility at Freeport and a desalinization plant in Brownsville. Transportation commissioners said, however, that there was no guarantee any of those projects will be built.

Houston route unknown

The final decision on the route for the corridor will be made by the Texas Department of Transportation through an ongoing environmental study. It is expected to roughly follow U.S. 59 through East Texas and south of Houston, and U.S. 77 south of Victoria.
Earlier this month, TxDOT said it had abandoned plans to build part of the I-69 corridor through rural areas north and west of Houston. Instead, it said it would stick to major highways for most of the route.

The way through or around Houston has not been determined, although it could stay on U.S. 59 or go on Loop 610 or the planned Grand Parkway.

The developers' financing ideas boosted their proposal over one submitted by a joint venture led by another Spanish company, Cintra, which is developing a master plan for the segment of the Trans-Texas Corridor slated to run from Oklahoma to Mexico, east of Interstate 35.

Zachry is a Cintra partner on the project paralleling I-35.

"We feel (this proposal) is the best value to the state," said Mark Tomlinson, director of TxDOT's turnpike division.

An anti-toll road group called the method of financing a "Robin Hood scheme."

"TxDOT and their buddies at Zachry/ACS found a way to follow the bare minimum of the law to sign this (Comprehensive Development Agreement) and continue to steamroll a plan the majority of Texans don't want," said Hank Gilbert, a board member of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.

Toll roads operate locally

South Texas political leaders applauded the decision to move toward a longstanding goal of having the Rio Grande Valley served by an interstate highway.
"It's like getting indoor plumbing. We've waited that long for it, and it's really important," said Bill Summers, president of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, a chamber of commerce group.

The I-69/TTC corridor is part of Gov. Rick Perry's vision for a network of broad corridors linking major cities, with toll roads for cars and trucks, rail tracks for freight and passenger trains, and space for pipelines and power lines.

The corridor plans have been met with controversy due to opposition to tolls and concern that family farmland would be lost to development.

Corridor supporters say the routes would make the highways safer and improve the flow of goods by directing commercial traffic to designated lanes. Revenue from the state's gasoline tax is insufficient to fund improvements, they say.

The developers plan to work with local authorities to operate $1.5 billion worth of toll roads. TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott said that arrangement would meet the requirements of a law passed last year that forbids private companies to operate toll roads.

MPO power grab, round II

PRESS ADVISORY

MPO power grab, Round II

MPO may vote to give Chair, Mayor, & County Judge unilateral powers, change a quorum, make tolling easier

San Antonio, TX, Monday, June 16, 2008 – At Monday’s San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization (SAMPO) meeting, the Board will vote on proposed changes to its bylaws that would water-down what constitutes a quorum, allow the County Judge and Mayor to unilaterally appoint MPO alternates instead of the entire Council or Commissioners Court as stated in their charters (which may include UN-elected appointees in the place of elected ones), make changes to the scoring of projects that encourage more tolling, and give the Chair and Director more unilateral powers and decision-making.

“We the people have seen these tactics by the political establishment time and again just like the repeated attempts to kill term limits. If the taxpayers reject your UN-Democratic policies, just keep bringing them up time and again until you wear the voters out, catch them off-guard, or beat them into submission. Well, the public rejected this power grab last year, and we reject it again now,” observes Terri Hall, TexasTURF.org Founder.

Last year, this same attempt by the Mayor to appoint an unelected alternate (that would have voting powers in the place of an elected appointee) was soundly rejected by the public and tabled at the City Council. (See more history below.)


The changes to the quorum would allow unfilled vacancies NOT to count toward the 50% quorum needed to conduct business. Since the SAMPO is nearly half appointees, this would encourage the vacancies that most often are the result of a change of elected officials to remain unfilled, while appointees then make multi-billion dollar tax decisions with NO accountability to the taxpayers.

WHO: Taxpayers through Texans United for Reform and Freedom (TURF) and MPO Board members State Representative David Leibowitz and Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson.

WHAT: MPO meeting where they’ll vote on proposals to make UN-Democratic changes to the bylaws and change the scoring of projects to make tolling easier

WHEN: Monday, June 16 @ 1:30 PM

WHERE: Via Transit Center, 1021 San Pedro (near SAC)

The City Council has smooth transitions of power every two years and the MPO has survived all of them. Yet under the guise of the Mayor’s concern he can’t fill the vacancies with the new councilmembers for 2 months, he and Chairwoman Sheila McNeil again feel there’s an urgent need to re-write the rules.

Read about the past attempts by Mayor Phil Hardberger & former Councilman, now President of the Greater Chamber of Commerce, Richard Perez to make it easier to railroad their UN-Democratic policies at the MPO: here, here, and here.

TxDOT to change TTC-69 route

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TxDOT route change on TTC-69 requires new environmental study BY LAW

Citizens concerns remain since corridor still tolled behemoth in hands of private company

Austin, TX, June 11, 2008 – Today’s announcement by TxDOT that it will “consider” the use of existing right of way wherever possible on the TTC-69 Trans Texas Corridor project and its release of a new project map and study area requires a completely new environmental study per federal law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Also, TTC-69 can still be 1,200 foot wide land grabbing, privatized tolled corridor and it will toll existing right of way already paid for with gas taxes, which is DOUBLE TAXATION. TxDOT claims it won't toll existing lanes, but they've been downgrading the existing lanes to frontage roads all over the state.
 
“Why should we believe TxDOT now? The public has lost all trust in this agency that even the Sunset Committee calls ‘out of control.’ While certain landowners will no longer be affected and can breathe a sigh of relief, this project is still ill-conceived. This corridor was promised as a FREE interstate highway for decades, now they’ll convert existing freeways like Hwy 59 into privately-controlled toll roads. Somehow we feel in no mood to celebrate,” notes TURF’s Founder Terri Hall.

 

If TxDOT changes the scope of the project like a new route and study area, TxDOT has to, by law per NEPA, redo the environmental study totally and take public comment all over again, not just submit some letter to the FHWA reflecting the change. They are required to redo the document reflecting the new project route (see map here) and study the impacts of the new "alternative" selection using existing right of way replacing the new corridor "alternative" as the current document states.
 
While TxDOT says its reasons for the change are in response to the overwhelming public opposition to a new corridor, it lacks any credibility because nearly EVERY toll project in urban areas and the TTC-35 corridor also had record public comment against the projects and yet TxDOT has refused to listen to the public or change its railroading tactics.
 
“We feel this move by TxDOT may, in part, be in response to the forming of 391 regional planning commissions. They're playing legal games with semantics. Needless to say, we're very cautious about this announcement. We think it's to quell the forming of more commissions and to make concessions to the Legislature before the Sunset Commission/Legislature guts TxDOT if they don't ‘act’ more responsive to the public,” said Hank Gilbert, of TURF and acting President of the Piney Woods Subregional Planning Commission.
 
With the 391 commissions, TxDOT has to do what these local governments require of them by invoking the coordination mandate in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) "to the greatest extent practicable." That puts TxDOT in a HUGE legal box they cannot wiggle out of. The wording of this TTC-69 TxDOT statement (and the transportation commission's minute order from a few weeks ago. Read more here) is very intentionally saying they'll simply "consider" existing right of way, that is NOT a mandate to do so which the 391 commission by contrast can force. So anyway, TxDOT isn't giving up much, they're playing legal games. Needless to say, we're very cautious about this announcement. We think it's to quell the forming of more commissions and to make concessions to the Legislature before the Sunset Commission/Legislature guts the agency if they don't "act" more responsive to the public.

Commission engages in empty political posturing to quell opposition

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
Transportation Commission Minute Order all talk, no teeth


Austin, TX, May 29, 2008 – Today’s Transportation Commission Minute Order designed to quell opposition was all talk and no teeth according to TURF’s Founder Terri Hall.

“Don't believe the hype. Today the Texas Transportation Commission adopted a Minute Order designed to fool people into thinking they've changed their stripes. The reality? It's all posturing,” notes Hall.

New Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi wants the Senate to confirm her, and the Commission knows the Sunset Review will bring serious legislatively mandated changes they want to avoid. There's nothing about a Minute Order that is even binding. TxDOT can change this at their whim and violate it anytime. Add to that, many of these provisions are already not allowed or required by state law.
 
 
Here's a summary of the gaping holes and inadequacies of this Minute Order:

• The prohibition on non-competes doesn't mention that a competing facility could require compensation (taxpayer payments to investors if TxDOT expands or builds a competing road)

• There's no mention of stripping non-competes from bond agreements (they only addressed CDAs or PPPs contracts today). Bond companies require non-competes and create the same guaranteed congestion on non-toll routes.

• Also, there's no prohibition against taking existing highway lanes and tolling them leaving the only non-toll lanes frontage roads (totally different in function and speed and stop light times can be manipulated to drive traffic to the toll lanes, etc.). That's the crux of much of the angst on urban toll projects.

• They also failed to address their illegal ad campaign and lobbying. If they seriously wanted to build trust, they would have moved to cease those practices unconditionally.

“Until the Legislature takes the power of decision-making of this type AWAY from an un-elected, unaccountable agency run amok and gives it back to the PEOPLE and their representatives, this whole exercise is a non-starter,” promises Hall.

______________________________

Associated Press Newswire

May 29, 2008

AUSTIN (AP) - Transportation Commission Chair Deirdre Delisi led
her first meeting today and expressed a desire to build public
trust in the transportation agency.

The commissioners adopted an order governing toll projects and
the Trans-Texas Corridor. They also set out to improve citizen and
legislative access to Texas Department of Transportation's
financial data.

The commission unanimously agreed that:
- all Texas highways will be owned by the state, not private
developers;
- the state may buy back the interest of a private road
developer;
- only expansions to existing highways will be tolled and
existing free lanes won't be reduced;
- and that "non-compete clauses" will be banned, meaning no
state contract will limit improvements to nearby existing roads.
Transportation Chair Delisi's political ties to Gov. Rick Perry
drew criticism when he appointed her.

TxDOT brings lobbyists in-house

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TxDOT still engaging in illegal lobbying

Chronicle reports TxDOT hired former lobbyist to lobby Democrats in Congress


Houston, TX, May 27, 2008 –  A May 25 Houston Chronicle article) reveals that while TxDOT ceased hiring OUTSIDE lobbyists, it hired Rebecca Reyes using taxpayer money to work in TxDOT’s Washington office. Reyes is the daughter of Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso.

TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott expressly stated she was hired because she has a background in “lobbying.” TURF filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for its taxpayer-funded political ad campaign to advocate toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor (in violation of Texas Government Code Chapter 556), and it found evidence TxDOT had also illegally hired registered lobbyists. Lippincott tried to spin it by claiming they stopped hiring outside lobbyists due to budget cuts.
 

“TxDOT has ceased hiring outside lobbyists in response to being caught red-handed in violation of the law, but now it’s obviously still engaging in lobbying members of Congress by bringing a former lobbyist in-house. Both the Texas Government Code (Chapter 556.004) and federal law prohibit a government agency from engaging in lobbying and using taxpayer money for a political purpose. TxDOT is just getting more sneaky in how they do it,” says an incredulous Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (or TURF).
 
“Where is the OUTRAGE from lawmakers and where is the Travis County District Attorney to put a stop to this illegal activity at taxpayer expense?” asks Hall.

The applicable federal law is found in the Hatch Act:

5 C.F.R. 151.121 -  "a state or local officer or employee may not…directly or indirectly…command…a state or local officer or employee to pay, lend, or contribute anything of value to a political party, committee, organization, agency or person for a political purpose."

What TxDOT calls “outreach” and “education” is, in reality, an advocacy and political ad campaign (www.KeepTexasMoving.com) using public relations firms and political strategists to “sell” the public on a privatized, toll roads, and this sales job includes members of Congress as evidenced in TxDOT’s Forward Momentum report asking them to relax federal legislation in order to buy back existing interstates in order to toll them.

Through TURF’s lawsuit, it uncovered detailed logs showing a concerted campaign to lobby politicians, particularly newly elected officials, which is a BIG no-no for a state agency that must remain apolitical. Alliance for I-69 Lobbyist Gary Bushell was hired by TxDOT to personally lobby more than two-dozen elected officials in the path of TTC-69 prior to the Town Hall meetings.

Houghton admits TxDOT violated the law!
At the packed Town Hall meeting in Hempstead last February, Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton said he also personally met with every county judge in the path of the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 as he defended the necessity of TxDOT hiring lobbyists to lobby elected officials.

This action is in DIRECT VIOLATION OF THE LAW!

Texas Government Code:

§ 556.005. Employment of Lobbyist

(a) A state agency may not use appropriated money to employ, as a regular full-time or part-time or contract employee, a person who is required by Chapter 305 to register as a lobbyist. Except for an institution of higher education as defined by Section 61.003, Education Code, a state agency may not use any money under its control to employ or contract with an individual who is required by Chapter 305 to register as a lobbyist.

"TxDOT has now publicly admitted, on camera, that it has violated the LAW! Are government agencies under the rule of law or not? Who is going to step in and prosecute this rogue agency?" asks an outraged Hall.

TURF also discovered in a memo to TxDOT dated November 8, 2007, that Rodman & Co. marketing gurus drafted positive, pro-TTC quotes on behalf of elected officials in order to place them as positive quotes in press releases about the TTC-69 project.

Political Poll conducted on taxpayers’ dime
TxDOT also hired Governor Rick Perry’s political polling outfit, Bacelice & Associates, to conduct a poll that included asking one’s political party affiliation in its questions.

“What does a person’s political party have to do with a supposed ‘public information’ campaign? Nothing, it’s clear this ad campaign is about pushing a political agenda and brainwashing the public with pro-toll talking points like ‘tolls are better than gas taxes to fund roads.' C’mon, this is politics run amok and an agency run amok. Who’s going to rein them in?” criticizes Hall.

TxDOT’s behavior demonstrates why there are laws prohibiting the government from using its power and OUR money against the taxpayer. The citizens have the deck stacked against them when their own government forcibly takes their money and uses it to clobber them.

Like TTC-35, TTC-69 plans to convert some existing highways into privately controlled toll roads, making Texas taxpayers pay twice for the same stretch of road as well as to force Texas landowners to give-up their farms and ranches for a massive new stretch of road in order to complete the entire Trans Texas Corridor project.

Read more about TURF’s lawsuit against TxDOT’s misuse of taxpayer money for an ad campaign advocating tolls and against its lobbying activities here.

Read TURF’s formal complaint against TxDOT’s illegal use of taxpayer money filed with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle here.

281 toll project to cost 3 times more than freeway plan

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tolling Authority votes to increase cost of 281 fix by THREE times!
Losing bidder, Zachry, to get $325,000

San Antonio, May 14, 2008 – Today the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA), a fancy term for tolling authority, voted to have a consortium headed by toll road extraordinaire Fluor Corporation pay over $330 million to bulldoze US 281 and rebuild it as a toll road. Even worse, the losing bidder, Zachry Construction, will get paid $325,000 simply for losing the bid!

“The original FREEway plan to build overpasses and expand the highway as promised in public hearings in 2001 (and funded with gas taxes in 2003) came to $100 million and would have taken 18 months to complete (versus 3 1/2 years to build the toll road). Now the ARMA is deliberately deceiving motorists by saying a 5-year delay is somehow speeding things up.

“On top of that, they’re crowing ‘we saved you money’ while charging taxpayers THREE times the price of the FREEway plan! The RMA also says there will be non-toll lanes, but fails to tell commuters their only non-toll option will be access roads with slower speed limits and permanent stop lights. That’s not a choice, it’s highway robbery,” notes Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) whose organization teamed up with Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA) in filing a lawsuit to stop the US 281 toll road and FORCE TxDOT to install the funded FREEway improvements.

The taxpayers have demanded TxDOT install the cheaper, faster, and funded gas tax FREEway improvements on US 281 from day one (see the proof it's been funded since 2003 here.. For more than 3 years, the Texas Legislature, the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization (SAMPO), and the ARMA have repeatedly thumbed their noses at the thousands of taxpayers who have attempted to reverse these organizations’ votes to toll US 281.

TURF has also asked for a public vote on ALL toll projects, especially a freeway to tollway conversion. Make no mistake, this is a conversion. Every single lane motorists drive on today will be converted to toll lanes, and the NEW lanes will be frontage roads with non-highway speed limits and permanent stop lights.

“This is thievery pure and simple. It’s criminal that our politicians have repeatedly voted to rip-off taxpayers in a massive money grab. There is NO excuse for failing to build the FUNDED FREEway improvements other than to make money. They can’t make money off a freeway, only a toll road. In fact, 281 users need to know their FREEway will be converted into a toll road to fund improvements to 1604 in a BIG, FAT, UNFAIR Robin Hood scheme. It’s a targeted new tax on driving at a time with record high gas prices with no end in sight,” Hall said.

The US 281 toll project will also include a non-compete agreement where the ARMA agrees not to expand or improve ANY roads surrounding the toll road, which means Blanco Rd., Stone Oak Pkwy., Redland Rd., and Bulverde Rd to name a few. The ARMA says a non-compete would not prevent TxDOT, the City, or County from expanding roads, but none of those entities would dare put the toll bonds in jeopardy by expanding nearby roads and violating a non-compete investors demand. The ARMA is also declining to insure the bonds for this project putting the taxpayers on the hook if the road goes belly-up.

The ARMA is also relying on it’s a risky traffic projection adding 25% to the already aggressive growth projections the SAMPO uses. Considering the soaring price of gas and the trend toward moving inside Loop 1604 and 410 to shorten commutes, the failure of the US 281 toll road is likely. Express-News columnist Ken Allard seemed to agree in his column last week (read it here.).

“This is fast becoming a risky boondoggle in a time of economic crisis. There will not be enough political cover for the politicians when this hits the fan,” Hall finished.

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson fired off a letter of concern about the financial viability of toll roads in this economic climate with high gas prices forcing people to change their behavior to reduce costs. Adkisson and ARMA Executive Director Terry Brechtel met today, but neither changed the other’s mind.
-30-

Stop the TTC march and rally a success!

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Thousands turnout for Trans Texas Corridor protest rally
 
Austin, TX – Saturday, April 5, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) hosted thousands of citizens for a march up Congress Avenue and the Don’t Mess with Texas TURF protest rally to stop the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) and tolls across Texas on the South Capitol steps. Front row center was a contingent from the City of Kendleton, whose Mayor Carolyn Jones spread misinformation telling constituents the “TTC-69 project was dead so you don’t need to go to that rally Saturday.” One of her constituents quipped that “she must think we didn’t learn to read or write. Well, we did and we’re not stupid. We couldn’t wait to get to this rally.”

A similar contingent from Walker County attended in protest of Senator Steve Ogden's (R - Bryan) comments stating the TTC-69 project was "dead" (though he modified his remarks to claim he said "dead in Walker County").  TxDOT's official statement in response said the project is "not dead," and they, in fact, just extended the public comment period for TTC-69. Some folks believed the rumors, which made constituents hopping mad. Saturday's rally couldn't come soon enough.

Texas farmers, ranchers, and ordinary citizens from all over Texas (East Texas, North Texas, Houston, San Antonio, and everywhere in between) as well as folks from out of state (as far away as Michigan) attended the rally.

Oklahoma Senator Randy Brogdon (R – Owasso) told participants the TTC is a threat to liberty and to our sovereignty. Brogdon mentioned a transportation bill he helped kill in the Oklahoma State Legislature that had the potential to erase our borders and destroy our country’s sovereignty, giving unfettered access to Mexican and Canadian truckers on U.S. interstate highways and would have erased Oklahoma’s 11th Amendment rights.
 
“Folks, it is plain to me that anything designed to tear down and eliminate our borders is a direct attack on the sovereignty of this Nation. And anyone involved with helping to destroy our Nation’s sovereignty is involved in a treasonous act and should be held accountable,” Brogdon proclaimed with conviction.
Brogdon’s also spoke of the needed u-turn in the TTC when it hits the Oklahoma border.
 
“Well, Governor Rick Perry is going to have to build the largest Texas turnaround ever built in the State of Texas, because the NAFTA Superhighway ain’t crossing the Red River into Oklahoma,” roared Brogdon to the enthusiastic crowd.

Texas State Representatives David Leibowitz (D- San Antonio) and Nathan Macias (R – Bulverde) both encouraged grassroots supporters to continue the fight to stop the TTC and tolls.

“Our congressional delegation was asleep at the switch when NAFTA was passed. They didn’t ensure Texas got enough funding for the increase in traffic due to NAFTA and now they’re asking us to pick-up the tab,” noted Leibowitz.

“Thank you for your commitment to the cause, and please don’t give up the fight,” emphasized Macias.

Macias noted the Republican Party platform from 2006 had a plank against the TTC and against tolls on existing corridors. He stated the platform is a document created by the grassroots. He recognized many legislators aren’t listening to the citizens, and he encouraged them to stay involved in order to return our State government to one that’s of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Mae Smith, Mayor of Holland and Chair of the first Sub-Regional Planning Commission putting a roadblock in the way of TTC-35 gave attendees the tool they can implement TODAY to stop the TTC. By forming a commission allowed by Local Government Code Chapter 391 in the Texas Statutes, it forces TxDOT to coordinate with local units of government before they can proceed with building the TTC.

The booklets explaining the 391 commissions compiled by two private property rights groups called American Land Foundation and Stewards of the Range went flying off the TURF table.

Other speakers touched on themes of loss of sovereignty, runaway taxation, eminent domain abuse, outsourcing of jobs, and the overall threat to the freedom to travel.

Participants also enjoyed some home-grown entertainment by The Texicans (singers/songwriters of Trans Texas Corridor Blues) and Jack Motley (featured in Truth Be Tolled.com movie).

Speeches and photos from the event will be posted shortly on the TURF web site.

Next year's rally will be on Saturday, February 28, 2009 on the South Capitol steps.

-30-
View Photos of the Event


Speeches from some that attended the event, and letters from some who could not attend:
Letter - Marcy Kaptur (OH Congresswoman)
Letter - Virgil Goode (VA Congressman)
Letter - Ron Paul (TX Congressman)
Speech - Randy Brogdon (OK Senator)
Letter - Jimmy Hoffa Jr. (Teamsters)
Speech - Terri Hall (TURF Founder)
________________________________________________

Press coverage...

Link to article here.

TRANS-TEXAS CORRIDOR

Trans-Texas Corridor foes march on Capitol
Critics say proposed toll-rail-utility routing will usurp property rights and harm the environment.
By Patrick George
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Sunday, April 06, 2008

For Peyton Gilbert, the battle over the Trans-Texas Corridor is reminiscent of the moment in 1836 when Lt. Col. William Travis drew a line in the sand at the Alamo and invited those willing to fight thousands of Mexican soldiers to step across.

"That line in the sand is the Trans-Texas Corridor, and it's a threat to our sovereignty again, just like at the Alamo," said Gilbert, 14, who is from Whitehouse, near Tyler.

Gilbert was among a large crowd of people who marched down Congress Avenue to the Capitol on Saturday afternoon to demonstrate against the proposed highway-rail-utility corridor and the placement of toll roads on existing freeways. The corridor would go from the Texas-Mexico border to the Oklahoma state line and have special trucking lanes, rail lines and communications and utility cables.

Opponents say Gov. Rick Perry's plan for 4,000 miles of cross-state tollways will usurp private land, will use private companies to operate toll roads and could hurt the environment. The corridor is slated to be built by private contractors, primarily Spanish firm Cintra.

"In a nutshell, we are against it because of the devastation it's going to cause rural and urban landowners, the effect it will have on the middle class and the consequences it will have on our liberty," said Hank Gilbert of Texas TURF, or Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, the San Antonio-based group that organized Saturday's rally.

"TxDOT says these corridors are for trade out of Mexico and ultimately China, but it's Texans who will have to pay out the nose for it," said Gilbert, Peyton's father.

Both spoke at the rally.

Supporters of the corridor and toll roads say they are the only way to accommodate the state's growth without increasing gasoline taxes.

"Texans need and deserve real solutions to our growing traffic challenges, not just blind opposition to new lane and highway construction," said Bill Noble, a spokesman for Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation, a pro-tollway group. "Every day we delay building new roads means higher construction costs and more frustration for drivers."

In the warm, breezy spring weather, most rally participants carried signs with slogans like "No TTC!" and "Who does TTC benefit?" while listening to the band the Texicans play "The Trans-Texas Corridor Blues."

Many sported shirts and paraphernalia from Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Paul's presidential campaign, expressing their support for the Libertarian-leaning lawmaker.

"Ron Paul stands up for the Constitution," said Charles Walker, who hails from Lake Jackson, which is in the lawmaker's district. "He was one of the original people to oppose the corridor."

______________________________

Link to article here.

April 5, 2008
Toll road opponents rally in Austin against Trans-Texas Corridor
Houston Chronicle

© 2008 The Associated Press

AUSTIN — A crowd marched through the heart of downtown Austin to the state Capitol on Saturday to protest Gov. Rick Perry's plan for 4,000 miles of toll roads across Texas.

The Trans-Texas Corridor, a proposed network of superhighway toll roads, rankles opponents who characterize it as the largest government grab of private property in the state's history and an unneeded and improper expansion of toll roads.

Rally participants carried signs with slogans like "No TTC!" and "Whodoes TTC benefit?" while listening to the band the Texicans play "The Trans-Texas Corridor Blues," the Austin American-Statesman reported for its Sunday editions.

"In a nutshell, we are against it because of the devastation it's going to cause rural and urban landowners, the effect it will have on the middle class and the consequences it will have on our liberty," said Hank Gilbert of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.

Texas Department of Transportation officials and Perry have defended the project as necessary to address future traffic concerns in one of the nation's fastest-growing states. They also say the project is vital because of insufficient road revenues from the state gas tax and the federal government.

Cost of the project has been estimated at approaching $200 billion, and it could take as long as 50 years to complete.

Supporters of the corridor and toll roads say they are the only way the state's growth can be accommodated without hiking gasoline taxes.

"Texans need and deserve real solutions to our growing traffic challenges, not just blind opposition to new lane and highway construction," said Bill Noble, a spokesman for Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation, a pro-toll roads group. "Every day we delay building new roads means higher construction costs and more frustration for drivers."

Ogden: Trans Texas Corridor is dead

NOTE: Senator Ogden's office is now saying the Senator said: "TTC-69 is dead in Walker County" and that we "misinterpreted" his comments. Commissioner Gaines was very clear with TURF that Ogden told him the TTC-69 is dead (the whole enchilada, not just Walker County), and that news was spreading in East Texas enough to panic our supporters who were encountering people who said they were no longer going to the rally because the TTC-69 project had been scrapped.

Then, in another incident, we have a witness who was in the room when the Mayor of Kendleton, Carolyn Jones, also said the TTC-69 project is dead and over, and then went on to say "so there's no need to attend that rally in Austin Saturday." She directly tried to suppress attendance at the rally and deliberately gave out false information to the public. Kendleton and Huntsville aren't even near one another, yet this news hit the same day and we heard about it in two different regions. Jones indicated she had attended a meeting Monday morning, March 31, where she was assured the TTC-69 project was dead. Yet TxDOT's official statement to a CNN reporter yesterday was this: "We just extended the public hearing process on the project. No, the project is not dead."

So who's responsible for holding that meeting Mayor Jones referred to, and why would anybody want to tell all these elected officials that TTC-69 is dead (the same week as our rally, conveniently not during the public hearings) when all the official documents and public information say otherwise? The conclusion is clear: this misinformation is being spread to suppress turnout at the rally and minimize the embarrassment of the politicians in the path of these corridors.  

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Ogden says TTC-69 scrapped, elected officials discourage attendance at TURF rally
 
East Texas, April 2, 2008 – Yesterday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Senator Steve Ogden told Walker County Commissioner, B.J. Gaines, that the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) I-69 project is over, scrapped, finito. The word is spreading like wildfire among elected officials in the path of TTC-69, including the Mayor of Kendleton, just in time to tell constituents: “There’s no need to attend that rally in Austin this weekend since the TTC-69 project is over.”

Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) is organizing a march up Congress Avenue and rally on the South Capitol steps Saturday, April 5 from 12:00 PM - 4:00 PM, and they’re crying foul for what appears to be an effort to suppress grassroots turnout. TURF has been getting calls from panicked supporters who are hearing some residents now believe the TTC-69 has been stopped.

“At this juncture, it’s naïve to believe word one from politicians or TxDOT, an agency run amok, that is misusing our taxpayer money to lobby in favor of the Trans Texas Corridor and prone to $1 billion accounting errors! The TTC-69 public comment period isn’t even completed yet, and the environmental hearings were completed only weeks ago, and now they’re trying to convince taxpayers the project is dead? Who are they kidding?” notes Terri Hall, Founder of TURF.


“You’d think the first call they’d make is to grassroots groups like ours to call off the dogs. The fact that they haven’t called, tells us this claim is an attempt to suppress turnout at what could be a thousands-strong march to the shame of many Texas politicians, and yet another example of our own government lobbying against the people,” Hall believes.

“The claim the TTC-69 project is over is an underhanded eleventh hour dirty trick to sabotage the people’s right to protest this project, and we’re asking for every state law, every Transportation Commission Minute Order, every local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and tolling authority plan authorizing the Trans Texas Corridor be immediately revoked IN WRITING. Until that’s done, we’re pressing ahead. It’s clear we can’t trust a word that comes out of the mouths of TxDOT or politicians,” says Hank Gilbert, TURF Board member and Rally Coordinator.

The Don’t Mess with Texas TURF, Stop the TTC & Tolls Rally will have a host of national, state, and local speakers including the Teamsters, Eagle Forum, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, Oklahoma Senator Randy Brogdon (who passed legislation to stop the Trans Texas Corridor from coming through Oklahoma), Texas State Legislators and local leaders like the Chair of the first Sub-regional Planning Commission putting a roadblock in the way of TTC-35.

CNN's Lou Dobbs couldn't believe Texans would allow Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature to steal our land and allow the TTC to be built. "What happened to 'Don't Mess With Texas?'" (see it here). Texans through TURF plan to show Lou Dobbs and our politicians who are discouraging attendance at the rally…don't mess with Texas TURF!

WHAT: STOP the TTC & Tolls Across Texas RALLY, with a march up Congress Avenue then rally on the south Capitol steps in Austin

WHO: Texas farmers, ranchers, and ordinary citizens from all over Texas. Also, entertainment by The Texicans (singers/songwriters of Trans Texas Corridor Blues) and Jack Motley (featured in Truth Be Tolled movie)

WHEN: Saturday, April 5

March begins - 12:15 pm

(the staging area for the march will be at the parking lots at the corner of Cesar Chavez St. & Red River St.)
Rally from - 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm

WHERE: South Capitol steps, Austin, TX

Stop the TTC & Tolls Rally April 5

PRESS ADVISORY

Stop the TTC & Tolls Rally

Don’t mess with Texas TURF


Austin, TX –Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) is organizing a march down Congress Avenue and rally on the South Capitol steps Saturday, April 5. Invited speakers include: Congressman Ron Paul (R – TX), Congressman Virgil Goode (R – VA), Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D – OH), and Oklahoma Senator Randy Brogdon (all of whom have introduced and/or passed bills or resolutions to stop funding the Trans Texas Corridor), along with many Texas State Legislators and local leaders like Mayor Mae Smith of Holland, Chair of the first Subregional Planning Commission putting a roadblock in the path of TTC-35 and Michael Quinn Sullivan of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility .

CNN's Lou Dobbs couldn't believe Texans would allow Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature to steal our land and allow the TTC to be built. "What happened to 'Don't Mess With Texas?'" (See it here). Texans through TURF plan to show Lou Dobbs and the WORLD: Don't mess with Texas TURF!

WHAT:

STOP THE TTC & TOLLS ACROSS TEXAS RALLY, with a march down Congress Avenue then rally on the south Capitol steps in Austin

WHO:

Texas farmers, ranchers, and ordinary citizens from all over Texas, also entertainment by The Texicans (singers/songwriters of Trans Texas Corridor Blues) and Jack Motley (featured in Truth Be Tolled movie)

WHEN: Saturday, April 5

March begins - 12:15 pm

(The staging area for the march will be at the parking lots at the corner of Cesar Chavez St. & Red River St.)

Rally from - 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm

WHERE: South Capitol steps, Austin, TX

TURF headed to court for lawsuit to stop TxDOT's lobbying

PRESS ADVISORY

TURF headed to next court hearing in lawsuit to STOP TxDOT’s illegal lobbying


(Austin, TX) - In Travis County District Court on Thursday, March 20, 2008, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) and TxDOT Attorney Kristina Silcocks will square off at a hearing where TxDOT will challenge the court’s jurisdiction over the lawsuit to halt the misuse of taxpayer money for advertising tolls/TTC and lobbying by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).


WHO: Texas taxpayers through TURF
WHAT: Lawsuit seeking to halt TxDOT’s taxpayer-funded ad campaign & lobbying activities
WHEN: Thursday, March 20, 2008 @ 9 AM
WHERE: Travis County District Court, 1000 Guadalupe, Austin, Texas (Judge to be drawn that morning)
HOW: The press needs to register request for cameras in the courtroom in advance through the court clerk. Contact Warren Vavra at (512) 854-9093 for more information.

This lawsuit is brought pursuant to § 37, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. TURF believes the law clearly prohibits TxDOT’s expenditure of public funds for the Keep Texas Moving pro-toll, pro-Trans Texas Corridor propaganda campaign.

TxDOT has violated § 556.004 of the Texas Government Code by directing the expenditure of public funds for political advocacy in support of toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor, and have directly lobbied the United States Congress in favor of additional toll road programs as evidenced in its report, Forward Momentum.

“TxDOT is waging a one-sided political ad campaign designed to sway public opinion in favor of the policy that puts money in TxDOT’s own coffers,” says an incredulous Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.

On August 22, 2007, TURF filed a formal complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle to investigate TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and asked him to prosecute TxDOT for criminal wrongdoing. See the formal complaint here. TURF's petition seeks to stop TxDOT's misuse of taxpayer money in a civil proceeding.

Citizens file lawsuit to halt 281 toll project

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TURF, AGUA file lawsuit to halt 281 toll project
Citizens call for gas tax funded improvements be installed immediately


San Antonio, TX, February 26, 2008 - Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), a grassroots group defending citizens from tolls on existing roads, and Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA), advocates for protection of the Edwards Aquifer, have joined together to file a lawsuit in federal court today asking that plans to convert US 281 to a toll road be stopped pending full compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit alleges TxDOT failed to do a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this massive project over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, the sole source of water for over 1.2 million people as well as failed to study the cumulative effects of the combined 281 and Loop 1604 projects on the region’s economy, property values, tax revenues, businesses, residents, neighborhoods, and motorists.

“The controversy is indisputable. The overwhelming majority of citizens do NOT want their freeways converted into toll roads. This practice is now against the law without a public vote (HB 2702), but that hasn’t stopped our politicians from continuing this highway robbery,” Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), fumed.

SMOKING GUN
PROOF THEY’RE TOLLING EXISTING ROADS

TURF posted a video on YouTube of State Representative David Leibowitz asking Alamo RMA Executive Director Terry Brechtel if, in fact, they are tolling existing roads/right of way already paid for by the taxpayers, and she answers, “That is correct.”

Together the highway expansions and toll projects of US 281 and Loop 1604 will cost well over $1 billion (US 281 is now up to $475 million, and Loop 1604 is approximately $1 billion). Yet TxDOT's environmental assessment claims there is "no significant impact" to residents, motorists, and businesses who will now be charged a toll to use what today is toll-free.

Hall pointed out that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) forced TxDOT to do a full EIS on the Bandera Road toll project (http://texasturf.org/images/stories/pdf/FHWA-Letter_Bandera-Road-EIS.pdf) citing the toll controversy as the reason. She noted the obvious contradiction of FHWA’s own policy of recommending a full EIS on controversial projects by its approval of 281 without an EIS compared to its mandate forcing an EIS on Bandera Road.

Hall thinks the only difference is that the politicians near Bandera Road are reflecting the citizen opposition against the toll road (Helotes, Grey Forest, and Leon Valley have all passed resolutions against the Bandera Rd toll project) while the politicians in the 281/1604 area, Frank Corte and Jeff Wentworth, are not.

“The politicians representing this area are pro-toll even though over 90% of the public feedback is opposed to the toll projects. It’s that stubborn refusal to step in and stop this double taxation that lands us in court today,” Hall concluded.

"Charging a toll will only hurt local businesses and residents who have invested in the 281 corridor. This is clearly taxation without representation. School boards and municipalities have to come to the voters to approve massive bond measures, and yet the Alamo RMA is about to sell $1 billion in toll revenue bonds without voter approval. What a horrific injustice to taxpayers!” said Hall.

Hall continued, “Special interests will profit from these tolls, since road contractors stand to make four times the money ($475 million) for converting 281 into a toll road instead of making the promised freeway improvements that have been funded with our gas tax money since 2003 (total freeway plan cost: $100 million). TxDOT and our politicians who enable them have continued to jam this down the taxpayers' throats over the public's opposition. It's time to install the gas tax funded overpass & expansion plan now.”

In public hearings in 2001, TxDOT promised improvements to 281 would be begin in 2003, but then did a bait and switch and decided to convert the entire 281 freeway into a toll road. Prominent businessmen auto dealer Ernesto Ancira and Tetco President Tom Turner both sent letters asking the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to revert back to the gas tax improvement plan in January of 2007 to no avail. The citizens have done the same.

Concerned citizens through TURF feel TxDOT and elected officials have forced them to go to court just to get them to comply with the law and to halt the toll project. Once the toll project is on hold, the citizens are demanding the gas tax FUNDED plan for overpasses be installed immediately.

“Most people believe TxDOT and the RMA’s lies that the ONLY way to get congestion relief is toll roads, which is patently false. They’ve had the cash in hand to fix 281 for 5 years, but they’ve hijacked our freeway simply to raid our wallets,” says Hall.

“This lawsuit is really about common-sense. It is ridiculous to say there is no significant impact from adding $1 billion worth of infrastructure over the recharge and contributing zones.” said Enrique Valdivia, President of AGUA. "TxDOT and US Fish & Wildlife issued a 'Finding of No Significant Impact' (FONSI) for highway 281, and a 'not likely to adversely affect' finding for endangered karst invertebrate species and the golden-cheeked warbler. Obviously,we think paving over 300 acres of recharge is pretty significant to everyone who depends on the aquifer."

The Edwards Aquifer is a karst aquifer that is highly vulnerable to water pollution because surface water quickly enters the aquifer through recharge features without significant filtration. Many toxic pollutants, such as benzene, are being found in aquifer wells and are common components of highway and parking lot run-off.

The plaintiffs are represented by Save Our Springs Alliance. SOS Alliance’s litigation docket and information on the adverse affects of highways can be found at www.sosalliance.org.

TURF also has a lawsuit pending against TXDOT for its misuse of taxpayer funds to "sell" the public toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor and for lobbying using taxpayer money.

View the filed complaint

AGUA's website is www.aquiferguardians.org

TURF's website is www.TexasTURF.org

Ft. Bend Town Hall packed with corridor foes!


Link to article here.

Fort Bend folks don't care for Trans-Texas Corridor either
Friday, January 25, 2008
By Vicente Arenas / KHOU 11 News



TxDOT is finding few supporters for the plan as they conduct a series of town hall meetings
If Texas Department of Transportation officials were looking to gain support for the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor Thursday night, Fort Bend County wasn’t the place to be.

The folks who packed the Rosenberg Civic Center Thursday night were angry.

“This will wipe me out. How is this in my best interest?,” East Bernard resident Dee Bond asked of state transportation officials.

“Why can’t you work with what ya’ll got? Instead of going off in a different direction,” asked Houston resident Doug Bilbrey.

Also online
Copy of proposed route of Trans-Texas Corridor (pdf)Keep Texas Moving Web site, including schedule of upcoming public meetingsTURF, Trans-Texas Corridor opposition group Web site
Most of the 600 people who crowded Rosenberg’s Civic Center Thursday are landowners who are afraid the proposed highway will swallow up their homes and prime farmland that’s been in families for generations.

“If this is gaining so much opposition, do we want this road or do we not want this road?” said Wharton resident Dianne Coan.

The response to the state’s plan was just as hostile in Fort Bend County Thursday as residents in Waller County were the night before.

“I don’t know why they are blowing smoke and tell us what they want this road,” El Campo resident David Coan complained.

The Trans-Texas Corridor, also known as I-69, would have lanes for 18-wheelers as well as space for trains and it would stretch from the border to near Houston and on to Arkansas.

It would eventually criss-cross the state. But no one at the meeting Thursday wanted it.

TxDOT says the highways are needed to help keep up with the state’s booming population and make it easier to transport goods between the U.S., Mexico and South America.

TxDOT told the crowd the highway is still years from being built, but that was little comfort when it’s your land in the crosshairs.

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