Executive Director, Environment Texas
Executive Director, Environment Texas
Austin, TX – A diverse group of anti toll-road activists, environmentalists, and public transportation activists from across Texas converged at the State Capitol to demand that Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) halt a plan to approve $1.7 billion in new highways without providing proper public review. The groups call on TxDOT, which is poised to approve the stimulus funding at their meeting on Thursday, to slow down and make sure that these transportation dollars are spent wisely.
“We must ensure our federal stimulus isn’t wasted on boondoggles!” said Robin Holzer, board chair at Citizen’s Transportation Coalition.
In February, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) allocated $2.25 billion in federal transportation funds to Texas. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) will allow states up to one year to decide which projects to build. Legislators have criticized the Texas Transportation Commission for making rushed decisions without transparency or oversight. In addition, while polls show the vast majority of the public prefers improving public transportation and building communities that encourage people not to drive, TxDOT’s spending priorities include a chock full of wasteful projects, including the Grand Parkway in Houston, the US-281 toll road across the Edwards aquifer in San Antonio, more toll roads to nowhere, and sprawl highways through environmentally-sensitive areas.
“We should use this money to put Texans back to work, but we should be careful to spend it in a way that is consistent with Texan’s priorities. TxDOT is trying to rush through bad projects without a proper vetting process with the public,” said Alejandro Savransky, Environment Texas Field Organizer.
“Stimulus funds SHOULD NOT be used for toll projects. We’ve been told the excuse for this massive shift to tolling is because there’s no money for roads. Now there’s a new source of funding and they’re STILL tolling our freeways! It’s a DOUBLE TAX and a rip-off. How many times do we have to pay to drive the same stretch of road? We should NOT be spending stimulus money this way, period!” said Terri Hall, founder and director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF).
“TxDOT is using money from the federal stimulus package to prop up a project that could not be justified on its own merits. In doing so, it’s subverting the intent of the stimulus package to fund needed projects that are truly “shovel ready.” Moreover, if the shovels for this project ever hit the ground, they’ll be tearing up a treasured Texas prairie and devastating wildlife habitat in the project’s path,” said Brandt Mannchen, Air Quality Chair with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.
According to the Sunset Commission, an official and independent state review agency, TxDOT is “out of control, advancing its own agenda against objections of both the Legislature and the public.” Furthermore, the commission said that, “[TxDOT] could not be an effective state transportation agency if trust and confidence were not restored.” TxDOT must slow down the allocation process of stimulus funds and make sure that these proposed projects are going to benefit the majority of Texans.
“Texans from across the spectrum are coming together to bring open government and fiscal accountability together for a permanent marriage until our government, at all levels, listens to the people they are supposed to serve,” said Linda Curtis, from Independent Texans.
A recent poll by the National Association of Realtors and Transportation for America shows that the majority of the public shares these sentiments. According to the 2009 Growth and Transportation Survey “Americans favor improving intercity rail and transit, walking and biking over building new highways. When asked what the federal government’s top priority should be for 2009 transportation funding, half of all respondents recommended maintaining and repairing roads and bridges, while nearly one third said expanding and improving bus, rail, and other public transportation. Only 16 percent said expanding and improving roads, highways, freeways and bridges.”
“TXDOT must be reminded that the largest portion of Stimulus funds, the portion in the Surface Transportation Program, can be flexed for other uses, including passenger rail,” said Melissa Cubria, Advocate and Spokeswoman for Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG). “This has always been the case for STP funds, but this is the first time that the funds can be applied to intercity rail. Investing in intercity rail would create long-term, sustainable transportation solutions for Texas. If TXDOT continues to act hastily, they will miss a great transportation funding opportunity.”
“I am worried about the economic, social, and environmental costs of the proposed Grand Parkway,” said Jay Crossley, Program Development Director with Houston Tomorrow. “Proponents claim future Houstonians will want to live in carbon-intensive, low density, auto-based residential areas devoid of jobs and services, but the many transportation needs of current Texans take priority over this speculation. Surveys of actual Houstonians, such as the Houston Area Survey or Envision Houston Region, have continuously shown they would prefer for the Texas Department of Transportation to provide infrastructure for more compact communities in already developed areas as opposed to building new roads into open green space.”