By Terri Hall l July 12, 2012
State Highway 130
On July 11, TURF warned the Texas House Joint Committee of Government Efficiency and Reform and State Affairs that the controversial public-private partnerships (P3s) that sell-off Texans’ public infrastructure to private corporations represents eminent domain abuse and grants state-sanctioned monopolies. While the Committee focused primarily on privatizing government services, Reason Foundation promoted P3s for everything, including public infrastructure.
TURF opposed the legislation that gave the state this authority, SB 1048, and cautioned against the use of P3s that have long-term detrimental effects on property rights and state sovereignty in return for apparent short-term gain – some quick cash for the state.
When it comes to infrastructure projects like roads and public buildings, it involves eminent domain that forcibly condemns private property in the name of a ‘public use.’ With P3s, that land, including any amount of adjacent property a developer claims it needs to re-coup its investment, is handed to a private developer for private gain.
So in the case of the City of Bee Cave, Texas, the developer built its city hall building, but gained hundreds of acres of adjacent private property under the guise of a ‘public use’ that they turned into a massive shopping mall for private profits. That’s a deplorable abuse of private property rights.
Trans Texas Corridor resurrected?
P3s fell into disfavor almost immediately in Texas when it became known that they were the financing mechanism behind the planned development of the Trans-Texas Corridor. Texans had a visceral reaction to having their land taken in the name of a ‘public use,’ a road, and having it handed over to a private, even foreign, corporation for private profits.
TURF notified the Committee that the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) just released a Request for Information (RFI) on the SH 130 tollway, the only stretch of the Trans-Texas Corridor, TTC-35, to ever be built, seeking information from potential developers to build ‘ancillary facilities’ along SH 130 that could include gas stations, restaurants, hotels, and rest area development within the highway’s right of way.
In turn, TTC-35 is a major route of the NAFTA Superhighway Trade Corridor and Toll Road System spanning the state – one of four trade corridors branching out of Laredo, Texas from Mexico connected to its western ports for expanded trade with China.
It’s apparent TxDOT is getting into the land development business as part of its larger scheme to build more of the NAFTA Superhighway. This concept is identical to the Trans-Texas Corridor that the 82nd Legislature repealed from statute last year. So where does TxDOT get the authority to lease the public’s right of way? Section 228.053 of the Texas Transportation Code that reads the Department may “contract with a person for the use of part of a toll project or system or lease part of a toll project or system for a gas station, garage, store, hotel, restaurant, railroad tracks, utilities, and telecommunications facilities and equipment and set the terms for the use or lease.” Consider this to be on the chopping block when the 83rd legislature convenes in 2013.
Crony Capitalism at its worst!
This is an horrific abuse of the public trust and outright legalized theft, all in the name of global trade. This abuse of eminent domain creates a monopolistic cash cow for a single developer along with the State of Texas. Why shouldn’t the original landowners be afforded the opportunity to develop that land instead of the State? How can other facilities (gas stations, etc.) off the toll road remain financially viable when there is a monopoly controlled by the state and a single developer actually located on the tollway itself?
When it costs patrons money to get on and off the tollway in order to access the facilities located off of the tollway, they don’t stand a chance at ‘free market’ competition when the state will have granted a single developer a monopoly inside the tollway. The state has no business selling gas or being in the restaurant business.
TURF predicted that the naturally occurring economic development alongside our interstate freeways will disappear if the state gets away with picking the winners and losers and monopolizes all the economic development by containing it within public rights-of-way, rather than among private landowners. This also impacts local governments which will lose their potential commercial tax base alongside our highways.
In its RFI, TxDOT is specifically asking about funding sources and possible revenue sharing ideas. So, the state wants to get in on the profiteering as well. The Texas taxpayer may also be on the hook for some of the cost to develop the facilities (and hence potential losses), since TxDOT wants the chance at revenue sharing, no doubt to leverage its funding capability for further construction.
TURF believes such takings for private gain sparked the national defiance to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo decision all across the country. Texans deserve to be protected from such eminent domain abuse, not to have their state government launch headlong into private economic development nor a P3 infrastructure program.
This is a train wreck waiting to happen, and Texans will awaken to the re-imposition of the larger NAFTA scheme and do what it takes to put a stop to it.
Terri Hall is the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), which defends against eminent domain abuse and promotes non-toll transportation solutions. She’s a home school mother of eight turned citizen activist. Ms. Hall is also a contributor to