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Misplaced priorities: $350 million subsidy to road for ExxonMobil

Grand Pkwy poster-child of all that’s wrong with road policy in Texas

(Austin, TX, May 25, 2011) – As TxDOT hosts its final public hearings on its Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), a broad coalition of groups are protesting the misplaced priorities of the highway department that’s choosing to allocate scarce resources to funding Grand Parkway around Houston ahead of all 100 most congested roads throughout the state. The Texas Transportation Commission voted on April 28, 2011 to make Grand Parkway Segment E a statewide “priority” and assigned ~$350 million of statewide discretionary funds toward the project that’s being pushed ahead of other projects because ExxonMobil want to build its headquarters there. Construction of Segment E is slated to begin this summer.

Grand Parkway in its entirety has also been designated to become a privatized toll road using a Comprehensive Development Agreement or CDA (which is currently in the TxDOT Sunset Bill SB 1420). Over 100 grassroots groups have gone on record opposing CDAs (also known as public private partnerships) and such public subsidies that benefit private corporations.

Two press events were held by the coalition, one in Austin and one in Houston, to bring attention to what it feels is the poster-child of the bad road policy in Texas, Grand Parkway. Among the grassroots groups opposed to public subsidies for private toll roads are: Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), Citizens Transportation Coalition, Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG), Independent Texans, Central Texas Republican Liberty Caucus, Texans for Accountable Government, Houston Tomorrow, and Sierra Club along with over 100 more groups that signed onto an Open Letter opposing public private partnerships and such public subsidies.

STIP revisions include advancing funds both to engineer and construct portions of SH-99 Segment E. Refer to the STIP quarterly update for details (SH-99 projects begin on page 17): http://ftp.dot.state.tx.us/pub/txdot-info/tpp/stip/rev/fy_11_14/highway/houston_hwy_072510.pdf

“So TxDOT can come up with $350 million for the Grand ‘Porkway,’ a greenfield project to nowhere to benefit developers and ExxonMobil, but can’t fix the highly congested Hwy 290 without making Texans pay toll taxes ‘cuz we’re out of money to fix our roads’? Truth is TxDOT has plenty of money to subsidize toll projects to benefit their buddies, but refuses to fix our freeways and keep them free because of their political agenda to pick winners and losers,” contends Terri Hall, Founder, Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom, “These misplaced priorities are obvious to anyone with a pulse. It’s public money for private profits and it’s this sort of piracy of the public’s assets that has caused the public to mistrust TxDOT and the elected officials who allow this abuse of public funds to continue.”

“Five of the top 10 most-congested roads in the state (35 of the top 100) are in Harris County, but TxDOT would rather waste our tax dollars building a new toll road across the Katy Prairie,” notes Robin Holzer Board Chair of Citizens Transportation Coalition (CTC) in Houston, “TxDOT’s unelected Commissioners have ‘found’ billions for a speculative toll road that will destroy the Katy Prairie in order to subsidize a few private land developers. Meanwhile, a quarter million taxpaying commuters will sit in traffic on US-290 indefinitely. TxDOT’s gross misallocation of our tax dollars is appalling.”

“The Grand Parkway is a giveaway to special interests,” said Melissa Cubria, Advocate, Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG). “According to TxDOT officials, ExxonMobil’s consideration to build its headquarters outside Houston is contingent upon the completion of portions of the Grand Parkway. So TxDOT has declared the Grand Parkway a high priority, using scarce resources to pay for its construction, while Texans remain stuck in traffic and thousands of unsafe bridges are left to crumble.”

Linda Curtis of Independent Texans is already looking ahead, focussing on holding lawmakers accountable for these decisions made by them and a rogue agency they refuse to clean-up, “Texans made a big mistake giving one party super-majority control of both chambers. The ‘Porkway’ sausage we’re supposed to eat is just the topping on an unpalatable cake cooked up by the Governor and mega-special interests. Truly independent Texans must come out of the shoot next week ready to clean house in upcoming elections.”

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