The state government has been trying to foist toll roads on the citizens of Texas behind their backs. As the plans become clear to more and more people, however, the opposition grows louder and stronger. The issue is likely to play an important role in the state elections later this year.
Carlos Guerra has an article in today's San Antonio Express-News summarizing the situation:
It has taken awhile for people to understand what elected — and unelected — officials have planned for them, which is why only now are the Texas Department of Transportation's toll-road plans coming under intense fire.
When Gov. Rick Perry unveiled the Trans Texas Corridor, I warned that it could turn into a huge boondoggle. But few readers responded, and some called me an alarmist. And even in late 2004, Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said that "in your lifetime, most roads will have tolls," and Time magazine asked if our state's plans weren't "a Big, Fat Texas Boondoggle." But only a few more people wrote in.
Recent columns about toll roads in the far North Side, however, triggered waves of e-mails from all over Texas expressing strong opposition to tollways and anger that voters are powerless to stop them.
"Why don't they put it out in the marketplace of ideas?" asked one. "If (toll roads) are really that great, people will vote for them."
It won't happen. While radically changing how Texas builds roads, lawmakers decided that road building is too important to let those who pay for them have a say.
TxDOT will turn some existing roads into tollways, and add toll lanes to other existing roads. You will have zip to say about it, or about plans for 4,000 miles of new toll roads — with railway and utility easements — that will be built on state land handed to private investors. The Trans Texas Corridor will take 584,000 acres of land in quarter-mile-wide swaths at a cost of an estimated $183.5 billion.
These projects are well on their way. But only now are many realizing that the "small" tollway proposals close to them are not isolated, one-of-a-kind projects, but part of a bigger scheme. Controversies are erupting throughout Texas, and very diverse constituencies are coalescing in opposition. Their only recourse may be at the ballot box, however.
Later, Guerra asks some fundamental questions: "Can anyone explain how building more highways over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone will not increase the chances of catastrophic spills? And why is there such a rush to build more highway miles when both San Antonio's and Austin's commute times are still way below the national average?"
He also suggests an answer.
Check that group's Web site [San Antonio Mobility Coalition], and you will see that its membership is a veritable who's who of big construction interests. Could it be that these projects are more about fat construction contracts than about improving transportation?
So we can all check out this suggestion, here is that web site.