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toll road authorities. Made up of representatives from one or more counties, they have many of the same powers as TXDOT. They can issue bonds, borrow money, and enter into contracts with private developers. The new layer of bureaucracy, as one lobbyist put it, allows TXDOT to control the purse strings Perry’s announcement set the stage for construction of the massive toll projects. But it was Krusee’s 2003 transportation bill, House Bill 3588, that allowed TXDOT to slough off many of the stuffy old rules governing how highway contracts were awarded, and to get down to business with its multinational friends from Spain, Australia, and Sweden. Krusee’s bill essentially serves as a “charter” for the publicprivate road-building partnerships and new financing mechanisms now being used, said consultant Poole. Perry was only too happy to sign the bill into law. Within months, though, several grassroots groups sprang up to fight the toll roads. Unusual alliances formed: urban dwellers and rural farmers; Republicans and Democrats; rich people and working people. “There needs to be a revolution,” one farmer remarked darkly at a recent meeting of activists. “I was once a staunch Republican, but I’m not anymore?’ Dollie Cole, a wealthy landowner who lives on a ranch near Lockhart and whose late husband was president of General Motors Corp., has refused to let highway officials on her land. She’s vowed to fight the construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor and urged her neighbors to be wary of TXDOT’s promises. “Don’t be fooled;’ she said. “You are paying for a road twice and will continue to pay throughout your life and throughout your childrens’ driving life.” Judging from Krusee’s near-defeat in this year’s House District 52 race, support for toll roads is, well, taking its toll. Democratic challenger Karen Felthauser, a substitute teacher who had no political experience and only a fraction of Krusee’s financial backing, came within approximately 2,000 votes of capturing the district. Despite the growing opposition, transportation officials haven’t detoured from their plans. “The Transportation Commission is using scare tactics and old-fashioned, mobster-type arm-twisting to further their gains;’ says State Rep. Joe Pickett, an El Paso Democrat. Other state legislators and businessmen are also concerned about the toll projects, Pickett said, but they’re afraid to speak up because of the department’s enormous clout. “There isn’t anyone who will talk about it. If they’re in the business sector, they’ll get blacklisted. If it’s a state rep or senator like myself, they’ll get their projects cut?’ Although Pickett’s not against all toll roads, he believes the massive projects, which will be financed in part by bonds, loans, and toll income that has yet to be collected, will leave the state in a perilous financial condition, with a fractured, unequal transportation system. “TXDOT is looking at the here and now. They’re not looking at the future. They’re just trying to sell everybody a bill of goods. Some people are going to get rich, become millionaires or billionaires, and 10 years from now the state will be messed up pretty bad?’ TXDOT officials have a rosier view, saying the privately financed and operated toll projects will allow roads to be built more quickly and ultimately lead to less congestion, less air pollution, and fewer accidents. They also point out that the concession fees and the revenue they’ll get from private toll operators can be used as seed money to build other badly needed infrastructure. \(In reality, though, it seems this revenue will more likely be used for the construction of feeder roads, bridges, and overpasses that will funnel motorists into the forHouse Bill 3588, like subsequent legislation, has clauses buried within it that should raise enormous public concern. An anticompetitive clause, for example, puts a two-year moratorium on TXDOT’s ability to build or improve roads that would compete with a toll road. TXDOT officials say Interstate 35 is exempt from that clause, as well as some other roads identified in its 20-year plan, but that clause ensures that customers on additional toll roads won’t be siphoned off to a free highway during the critical period in which the toll facility is ramping up. Another section of the legislation requires TXDOT to construct connections to and from the Trans-Texas Corridor. By doing so, TXDOT will help prop up a private developer’s operation, and quite possibly divert funds from free roads elsewhere that need improvement. A third provision provides a limited waiver of sovereign immunity, giving greater financial protection to developers by making it easier for them to sue the state and force TXDOT or the commission to comply with its obligations. And a fourth allows the state to enter into contracts on other than a low-bid basis. Also buried in Krusee’s bill was the legal language that explains why TXDOT is now paying million in stipends to losing bidders. It went unnoticed by the public. But the roadbuilders cleared their desks, sharpened their pencils, and got to work drafting proposals. They had a win-win situationeven if they lost 0 ne of the first projects for which stipends were awarded was State Highway 130, a 49-mile toll road that will extend from 1-35 north of Georgetown to U.S. 183 southeast of Austin. Although TXDOT officials are still being cagey about the alignment of the TransTexas Corridor superhighway that will parallel Interstate 35 and run from the Mexican border to Oklahoma, it’s highly likely that SH 130 will become the first leg of that corridor. Three firms made the short list to build the project. They included: *Lone Star Infrastructure, a consortium led by Fluor Corp., a multinational company and longtime government contractor. *Four Rivers Developers, a joint venture whose largest partner was Granite Construction Inc., a publicly traded company headquartered in Watsonville, California that makes gravel and concrete, and oversees huge construction jobs. continued on page 26 DECEMBER 15, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11