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Bills resurrect the Trans Texas Corridor

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Contracts kept SECRET from the public, grant private entity control for HALF CENTURY, where taxpayers pay toll rates of 75 cents per mile, pay private company for any losses

TURF Statement/Article for Submission on HB 3789

(with some thoughts from Melissa Cubria with Texas Public Interest Research Group)

(Austin, TX - March 29, 2011)  The Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) just won’t die. State Representative Larry Phillips has introduced HB 3789 which resurrects the TTC, without the reviled name attached. It’s a betrayal of Texans who were promised by nearly every elected official in the state that the TTC was DEAD.  Many believed it and voted to re-elect Rick Perry and others who swore it was over. 

The Texas Senate just passed the first bill, SB 1007, that would sell-off our public roads to the highest bidder on Wall Street (ie - private toll operator) for portions of the Grand Pkwy (SH 99 around Houston). There’s a flurry of other bills to do the same for other specific projects (listed on the Grassroots Action Center of the TURF web site), and several that give blanket authorization for other Texas infrastructure including highways (HB 3789, HB 2801, SB 1651), mass transit facilities; transmission and distribution systems; hospitals; schools; recreational facilities; public buildings; and technology infrastructure, services, applications, and even parking (HB 2432). There are 26 bills (about half are identical, companion bills) total that would sell our public infrastructure to private corporations in some fashion.

From the text of HB 2432:

(10)"Qualifying project" means:                      

(A) any ferry, mass transit facility, vehicle parking facility, port facility, fuel supply facility, oil or gas   pipeline, transmission system, distribution system, water supply   facility, public work, waste treatment facility, telecommunications or automated data processing facility,   hospital, school, medical or nursing care facility, recreational facility, public building, or other similar facility currently   available or to be made available to a governmental entity for public use, including any structure, parking area, appurtenance, and other property required to operate the structure or facility;                      

(B) technology infrastructure, services, and applications, including:                            

(i)  telecommunications, automated data processing, and word processing and management information   systems; and                           

(ii) related information, equipment, goods, and services;                      

(C) any services designed to increase the   productivity or efficiency of the responsible governmental entity   through the use of technology or other means; or                      

(D) any improvements necessary or desirable to unimproved real estate owned by a governmental entity.        

A little history is in order. The Trans Texas Corridor as originally envisioned was a 1,200 foot wide, 4,000 mile network of toll roads that would have criss-crossed the state. It was multi-modal including tollways, trucks lanes, commuter rail, freight rail, power transmission lines,  telecommunications, pipelines of all sorts…a terrorist’s dream. It would have displaced one million Texans for just the first corridor alone. The concessionaire would also have the exclusive right to develop all the restaurants, hotels, and gas stations along its tollway.

The TTC was to heist 580,000 acres of land from Texas landowners and hand them over to private, for-profit global toll concessionaires in sweetheart deals that amount to government-sanctioned monopolies for a half century. Hence, that’s why it was dubbed the biggest land grab in Texas history, if not in the entire United States.

Trans Texas Corridor repealed?

Now back to the 82nd legislative session we find ourselves in. First, the bill to supposedly repeal the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC), HB 1201, got hitched with a bad amendment to enrich the coffers of the Spanish-based company, Cintra, that is currently building the first leg of the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-35 project, called SH 130 segments 5 & 6.

This amendment allows TxDOT to raise the speed limit on Cintra’s tollway beyond the current legal limit up to 85 MPH for which TxDOT gets a bigger pay-off from Cintra (the theory is it would incentivize more traffic to take the high speed tollway so Cintra’s willing to pay the highway department for the anticipated bump in toll revenue).

The higher the speed limit, the greater the share of the toll revenues TxDOT splits with the foreign company, too (view Ex. 7 of the PPP contract with Cintra here). HB 1201 passed out of committee a few weeks ago. So even the repeal bill was tainted by special interests.

Trans Texas Corridor re-authorized

Within days of hearing HB 1201, Phillips filed HB 3789 which is a blanket re-authorization of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) and recreates the Trans Texas Corridor. It would grant the private toll road developers control of not only the toll lanes, but also non-toll lanes, frontage roads, buildings on the tollway, parking areas, rest stops, ancillary facilities, etc., just like the Trans Texas Corridor. It’s eminent domain for private gain all over again, which is what caused a Texas-sized backlash against the TTC in earnest in 2007, when a moratorium on PPPs was put in place. With the exception of a few projects, the contracts expired in August of 2009.

Though the bill deletes the words Trans Texas Corridor (under Section 223.202), the bill subsequently references Chapter 223 of the Transportation Code [Section 284.003 (a) 7], which is the chapter that authorizes the Trans Texas Corridor, and allows the contracts to proceed under the new guidelines of Phillips’ bill (which have less restrictions and public protections than under the previous moratorium). 

Public money for private profits

PPPs are sweetheart deals that have profit guarantees, massive public subsidies (ALL Texans' gas taxes), low interest taxpayer-backed loans (TIFIA loans or Private Activity Bonds), and non-compete agreements that prohibit or penalize the expansion of surrounding free roads (makes the taxpayers pay the private toll operator for any loss in toll revenue if competing free roads are built). We're seeing published toll rates for these types of contracts at 75 PER MILE to drive in peak hours. PPPs socialize the losses and privatize the profits for a HALF CENTURY.

“Rarely are efforts to undermine the popular will as clear as they have been this session, especially given the litany of irresponsible private toll road bills that have been filed in the House Transportation Committee,” said Melissa Cubria, Advocate, Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG).  “The public has protested privatized toll roads since Governor Perry first announced his plans to build the unpopular Trans Texas Corridor (TTC). Now, almost a decade later, Chairman Larry Phillips of the House Transportation Committee is proposing legislation to resurrect the TTC, a project state transportation officials once claimed was dead.”

Continues Cubria, “Chairman Phillips’ private toll road legislation includes no public safeguards nor does it protect property owners from profit driven land grabs for economic development purposes. While TTC-style private toll roads offer a hard-to-resist ‘quick fix’ for states facing huge budget shortfalls, they cost taxpayers more in the end, through the rising tolls they pay for generations, revenue which is not collected for public use.”

Public interest not protected, kept secret from public

HB 3789 would allow these PPP contracts to be negotiated and signed in SECRET, without financial disclosures (like toll rates, whether or not it contains a non-compete clause that prohibits or penalizes the expansion of free roads, or public subsidies), and it grants sole authority to TxDOT or a toll entity to negotiate the contract, removing oversight by the Attorney General, Legislative Budget Board, or any elected officials. The bill re-authorizes these PPPs and this time with NO sunset provision, so the authority is indefinite.

Phillips was appointed by Speaker Joe Straus to Chair the House Transportation Committee. Since the bill is authored by the Chair of the committee, it’s almost certain to pass the committee, unless Texans REVOLT as they have in years past. This bill will be heard on Wednesday in the House Transportation Committee in Rm. E2.028, which starts at 8:00 AM. 

TURF is asking Texans to call Speaker Joe Straus to ask him to bury the Trans Texas Corridor re-tread bill, HB 3789, and ensure the bill to actually repeal the TTC FINALLY becomes law.  

A coalition of groups are coming together to oppose the HB 3789, and any bill that advances Trans Texas Corridor-style agreements, including TURF, TexPIRG, Campaign for Liberty, Texans for Accountable Government, Galveston County Tea Party, and Central Texas Republican Liberty Caucus for starters.


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