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NAFTA Super Highway Debate Inflames Texas Governor's Race

Human Events | November 03, 2006
by Jerome R. Corsi

In Texas, the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC-35) has become a major issue in the gubernatorial campaign where incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry is viewed as a chief proponent for building this new, giant toll road parallel to Interstate-35.

This year, three major candidates are contesting Perry: Democrat candidate Chris Bell , Republican-turned-independent Comptroller Carole Keaton Strayhorn , and independent Kinky Friedman . Moving outside traditional party lines, the typically colorful Strayhorn presents herself as “One Tough Grandma.” Strayhorn's children include Scott McClellan, the former press secretary to President Bush. Kinky Friedman, who aspires to be the Lone Star state's first Jewish governor, is a 61-year-old country-and-western troubadour who is known by his trademark cowboy hat, mustache with limited goatee, and ever-present cigar.

All three contenders have slammed Perry for advancing TTC-35, a new toll road to be built four football fields wide from Laredo on the Mexican border to the Texas-Oklahoma border south of Oklahoma City. As disclosed by the Texas Department of Transportation , this road, characterized by this author as a “ NAFTA Super Highway ,” will be financed by Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transport , a Spanish investment consortium with ties to Juan Carlos and the ruling family of Spain, and built by San Antonio-based Zachry Construction Co. I have previously documented the extensive campaign contributions made by Cintra-Zachry to the Perry campaign.

Incumbent Under Attack

Each of Perry's contenders is attacking him (as well as each other), campaigning on a platform opposing TTC-35 construction. Democrat Bell notes that in 2001 as comptroller, Strayhorn recommended that Texas build new toll roads. Bell's campaign website rails against TTC-35, noting that the road would “destroy almost 1.5 million acres of prime farmland and strip Texas landowners of over 150 square miles of privately owned property.” Bell's argument strongly suggests graft:

The Trans Texas Corridor is a case study in corruption and cronyism, and one of my first acts as governor would be slamming the brakes on the whole plan and dragging it back into the public light.

Strayhorn's website is equally emphatic that TTC-35 is a politician's dream and a citizen's nightmare:

In this election, there are two sides and one choice – the Austin political establishment and its land-grabbing, secret, foreign-owned tolls versus the people and their desire for freeways. I stand with the people. I will shake Austin up.

A video clip of Strayhorn speaking at a vocal rally opposing TTC-35 can be viewed on the Internet. Here Strayhorn connected TTC-35 to NAFTA by claiming Perry's super-highway plan amounted to turning “Texas DOT into Euro-DOT.” In her speech to the rally, she also renamed the “Trans Texas Corridor” as “Trans Texas Catastrophe.” Strayhorn called for putting TTC-35 to a referendum, which prompted participants at the rally begin chanting, “Let the People Vote!”

Friedman's campaign website joins the anti-TTC chorus:

Kinky is opposed to the Trans-Texas Corridor since it relies on toll road construction. He feels that the TTC is a land grab of the ugliest kind, with land being taken from hard-working ranchers and farmers in little towns and villages all over Texas. The people who will ultimately own that land are the same people who own the governor.

Typically, Perry's campaign website defends TTC-35 as business as normal, just another highway needed to accommodate the state's growing population and burgeoning economy:

Texas' rapid population and commerce growth has strained our highway and rail systems to their limit. Rather than taking decades to expand these important corridors a little bit at a time, Governor Perry developed the Trans Texas Corridor plan. The Corridor plan allows the state to build needed corridors much more quickly and without a tax increase.

This past summer, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) held a series of final public hearings proposing the final route choices for TTC-35. Thousands of Texas residents showed up at these hearings to protest TTC-35, not realizing that the only question at issue was the specific route, not whether the super highway would be built. TxDOT has proceeded with a resolve to begin construction in 2007, as if TTC-35 were a “done deal,” regardless how much public outcry is heard in opposition. Ironically, since the Texas gubernatorial race is a plurality contest, Perry could win even if a majority of the votes go to a combination of his three opposition candidates. Thus, unless Texas voters opposed to TTC-35 are able to focus on one opposition candidate, Perry could win even if his TTC-35 plan is opposed by a majority of Texas voters.

Sal Costello , founder of the TexasTollParty.com and vocal opponent of TTC-35, has led the Internet charge against the proposed super highway. The TexasTollParty.com has produced two television commercials supporting the group's endorsement of Strayhorn in the governor's race. One commercial proclaims, “If you liked the Dubai Ports deal, you will love the TTC land grab,” while the other presents a cartoon figure of Perry who announces, “You will love my TTC land grab. It turns your property into foreign profits.” The ads have been aired thanks to People for Efficient Transportation PAC , a group which Costello also founded .

David Stall, another opponent of TTC-35, has created CorridorWatch.org , a website dedicated to disclosing information that TxDOT has not fully disclosed, including arguments contesting the ability of TxDOT to utilize eminent domain under the recent Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London to grab more than half a million acres of Texas private property and displace up to 1 million Texans from their homes, businesses, ranches, and farms in the process of building out the full 4,000-mile TTC network planned to crisscross the landscape throughout Texas.

A documentary opposing TTC-35, titled “ Truth Be Tolled ,” was premiered at the Austin Film Festival on October 26. Austin talk-radio host Alex Jones, an outspoken opponent of TTC-35, has archived videos of his in-studio radio interviews with both Sal Costello and David Stall .

A group of citizens in central Texas have formed an organization known as the Blackland Coalition , which has also created a PAC that is running newspaper ads in Texas opposing TTC-35.

Bloggers Ask Questions

While the mainstream media have largely ignored the issue super highway toll roads, bloggers in Texas have even picked up an issue HUMAN EVENTS first developed , namely that trade organizations such as North America's SuperCorridor Coalition (NASCO) have been supporting NAFTA super highways through endorsing the activity of their members, including TxDOT.

In an interview with the author, Todd Spencer, the executive vice president of the 145,000 member Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association , openly opposes TTC-35 on behalf of the group's 145,000 members who operate more than 240,000 individual heavy-duty tucks and small truck fleets throughout the U.S. and Canada. Spencer argues that the real purpose of the TTC-35 project is to open Mexican ports, such as Lázaro Cárdenas, so Mexican trucks can transport Chinese under-market goods into the U.S. at a reduced transportation cost.

“We are also concerned about security. There's no reason to think that just because there's a Mexican customs office in Kansas City that all Mexican drivers on the Trans Texas Corridor will stay on the route. The Mexican trucks will get off the TTC and go lots of other places and there won't be anything meaningful to stop them.”

Spencer fully expects TxDOT to make the TTC-35 toll road attractive by setting high speed limits, in the range of 75 to 80 miles per hour. Noting that TxDOT is planning on charging up to 40 cents per mile as a toll for trucks, Spencer commented that this was equivalent to charging an extra $2.40 a gallon in additional fuel taxes.

“Once the TTC is built,” Mr. Spencer commented, “TxDOT will attempt to force people to use the toll road.” How? “Simple,” Spencer responded, “just watch, once TTC-35 is completed, TxDOT will begin maintaining I-35 a lot less. You can count on Cintra to enforce a ‘no-compete clause' that is designed to prevent TxDOT from building an alternative road or even improving I-35.”

Congress Gets Involved

Just this week, Rep. Ron Paul (R.-Tex.) entered the TTC-35 debate, writing in his weekly column to express his opposition to the super highway. Paul expressed constitutional concerns over TTC-35:

By now many Texans have heard about the proposed “NAFTA Superhighway,” which is also referred to as the trans-Texas corridor. What you may not know is the extent to which plans for such a superhighway are moving forward without congressional oversight or media attention.

Paul has decided to co-sponsor H.C. Res. 487, introduced in the House by Rep. Virgil Goode (R.-Va.) on September 28. The resolution is co-sponsored by Representatives Tom Tancredo (R.-Colo.) and Walter Jones (R.-N.C.). It asks the House to not engage in the construction of NAFTA super-highways and to oppose entering into a European Union-style North American Union (NAU) with Mexico and Canada.

At a National Press Club news conference held in Washington, D.C., on October 25, I joined in forming a coalition co-sponsored by Howard Phillips, chairman of the Conservative Caucus, and Phyllis Schlafly, president of Eagle Forum, to support the House resolution. An online petition is available for readers to sign to indicate their support of this coalition in the battle to secure America's borders.

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