Defending citizens’ concerns about toll roads & eminent domain abuse
Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate the public on our government’s new shift to tolling using controversial financing methods called public-private partnerships (called Comprehensive Development Agreements or CDAs in Texas), the tolling of existing corridors, and the eminent domain abuse inherent in these plans (confiscating private land to give to a private company for commercial gain). TURF also educated the public about the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC), the first of the planned NAFTA Superhighways, and eventually helped pass a complete repeal of the TTC from state statute in 2011. TURF also helped secure a moratorium & sunset of controversial public private partnership road contracts in 2007 and was also the first grassroots group to oppose the use of stimulus money for toll roads in 2009, which garnered national coverage by the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Fox News.
TURF is a grassroots group of Texans asking for reforms through accountability and good public policy as well as promoting non-toll, sensible transportation solutions. TURF remains committed to ending eminent domain abuse and works tirelessly to secure a pro-freedom, pro-taxpayer, fiscally solvent, freely-accessible public road policy for all Texans.
TRANS TEXAS CORRIDOR
A 4,000 mile network of toll roads taking 580,000 acres of private land in TX alone to provide new trade corridors to transport foreign goods into the United States. It's part of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) which is the primary step in the economic integration of North America. Both the Democrat and Republican Party platforms as well as over 30 Texas counties formally opposed the Trans Texas Corridor, "because there are issues of confiscation of private land, State and National sovereignty and other similar concerns." In 2011, TURF helped secure a repeal of the Trans Texas Corridor from state statute, but aspects of the NAFTA superhighway plan remain a threat through public private partnerships and federal legislation. The Texas Department of Transportation gave the plan a new name - 'Innovative Connectivity Plan,' which will implement virtually the same plan piece-by-piece in smaller road segments using the original road names (like I-69 or Loop 9).
Our concerns with toll roads…
TRADITIONAL TOLL ROADS vs. FREEWAY TOLL ROADS
We have no objection to traditional toll roads, where they are BRAND NEW ROADS (totally new right of way, not in an existing highway corridor), where the people get to vote on the project, and where the money and control stay local.
In contrast, freeway tolls:
• Permanently take current and future public expressways away from drivers.
• Double tax drivers since they are funded with gas tax dollars.
• Create more congestion on frontage roads with stop lights and other parallel roads through the use of controversial non-compete agreements (see Texas Monthly’s December 2007 article His Way or the Highway).
• Fail to provide important viability studies that investors demand with traditional toll roads.
• Cost much more for construction, right of way, utility relocation, maintenance and service than non-tolled roads.
• Create corporate welfare as privately owned corporations profit off publicly owned assets.
• Add bureaucracy: Regional Mobility Authority.
• Allow non-elected people (toll authority board members) to set the tax rate (toll tax) for our public highways without limits.
• Create unfair & punitive taxation as one portion of a region pays a toll to drive an expressway while others drive their expressways free. A recent Statesman article (February 12, 2007) reveals toll rates as high as $1.50 per mile on an Austin tollway.
• Produce a second inefficient, unaccountable tax on top of the gas tax with no protection from further raiding of gas taxes or toll revenues to fund things other than transportation. The November 2006 Texas Transportation Institute report commissioned by the Governor’s Business Council clearly states that we do not need tolls across Texas in order to meet transportation needs (http://www.texasgbc.org/Reports3.htm).
• Will never be removed, as the sloppy revenue slush fund gets spent on other political pet projects (not good government).
• Give road project location decisions to the private sector to be based on profitability rather than need and environmental considerations.
UNACCOUNTABLE BUREAUCRACY AND DOUBLE TAXATION
The Texas Comptroller, Carole Strayhorn, exposed freeway tolls as double taxation and found no bid contracts given to non-elected board members and their friends in her report on Central Texas RMA: http://www.window.state.tx.us/specialrpt/ctrma05/
FORCING DRIVERS TO PAY
Non-compete agreements and other means to force drivers onto the freeway tolls are also at issue. TxDOT's internal presentation shows a TxDOT plan to force drivers onto tolled public expressways by limiting or avoiding frontage roads: see it here (slide #10). (See Texas Monthly’s December 2007 article His Way or the Highway).
Freeway Tolls on Hwy 91 in Orange County, Calif., was torpedoed by a lack of vision for the future. Investors paid $130 million for the right to build and operate four express toll lanes for an existing highway. In 1995, the lanes opened. Drivers paid tolls electronically and tolls went up during high-traffic hours. The non-compete portion of the contract, however, prevented the state from modifying the alternative lanes or adding new interchanges. By 2003, the alternative frontage roads needed $1.6 billion in improvements. So Orange County paid $207.5 million to buy back the express lanes. (See Texas Monthly’s December 2007 article His Way or the Highway).
Therefore, we are strongly opposed to:
1. Tolling our existing FREEways. It amounts to DOUBLE TAXATION. There is no justification for charging the taxpayers to use a FREEway they have already paid for.
2. The Transportation Commission's toll only mandate passed on Dec. 18, 2003. It deprives local communities of exercising other funding options, like bonds, ATD sales tax (unique to San Antonio), and traditional gas tax revenues.
3. Plans to privatize our limited public infrastructure handing our highways over to foreign corporations for 50 year monopolies using secret contracts that violate Open Government, create unbridled and excessive taxation due to administration costs and built-in profit, and overall work against the public good.
4. These excessively larger, more expensive toll plans where free lanes are permanently congested (due to non-compete agreeements) and some even downgraded to frontage road lanes leaving us with less efficient long distance travel and longer idle time at traffic signals for the majority of users.
5. Turning neighborhood streets into highways as drivers seek alternative routes to toll corridors rather than provide efficient travel for all taxpayers on highways. (Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison introduced into the congressional record in May 2005 statistics on what happened to neighboring streets with a tollway nearby in Ohio. Traffic tripled and likelihood of accidents increased 17 times!)
We feel unelected bureaucrats (TxDOT) are DICTATING this to us without a vote of the PEOPLE! This toll mandate defies common sense, good government, transparent government, and good fiscal policy. We, the taxpayers, ask for an immediate, independent audit of the entire Texas Department of Transportation and EVERY toll plan.
It's time to restore responsive, ethical, and fiscally responsible government of the PEOPLE, by the PEOPLE, for the PEOPLE!