Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Trans-Texas Corridor and Why You Really Do Care

"It will connect to Interstate and other major highways. However, by design it will not provide easy, if any, access to the communities it passes by. It will not spur commercial development along its frontage like our Interstate Highways. There will be no frontage. There will be no opportunity for the owners of property it abuts to develop new or expanded businesses with access to the Corridor. Moreover, it has provisions in the plan and the law to place all possible traveler services on the corridor itself."

"Every mile of Corridor will consume 146 acres of land. That's property that will [be] . . . removed from county and school district tax rolls everywhere it extends."

"With a right-of-way approximately 1,200-feet-wide, the proposed corridor could change the face of agriculture in Texas forever as it swallows up thousands of production acres of farmland."

"If you take comfort in the lengthy environmental process and public hearings for a highway project of this massive size, you're in for a rude awakening. The Federal Highway Administration announced on March 16, 2004, that the first segment of the Trans Texas Corridor (Hillsboro to San Antonio) has been granted 'experimental project' status and construction can begin before the environmental study is complete."
[Excerpted from]

This one has everything.

This one, the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), is the perfect illustration of shock-doctrine privatized predator capitalism brought home to the USA, and the all-encompassing symbol and manifestation of what "free trade" means for us, the people.

It has years of behind-the-scenes planning reminiscent of the Iraq occupation in more ways than I can count. It has corruption on at least the same order of magnitude. It benefits the same people for the same reasons by the same means. It is occurring without regard for the views of the people directly affected, without due process, with blissful disregard of the Constitution and Bill of Rights and of their deeper meaning for this beautiful country, and without regard for its impact on the people or the ecosystem.

It is being packaged and sold by a bunch of taxpayer-paid for lies and obfuscations, just as was the Iraq war.

Official rhetoric provides clues for the attentive about its connections to other domestic disasters that were utterly unfathomable before Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: an infrastructure left to crumble; a New Orleans left to rot, an endless train of immigration muck-ups, lousy guest worker programs, and the border fence BS, etc.

And if it isn't already, when it becomes a matter of "national security," like the border fence it so closely resembles in its RepubliCon dimension, an un-elected and utterly unaccountable Department of Homeland Security cabinet secretary will waive every law and regulation ever designed to protect workers, the people, their investments, the environment and ecosystems, the parklands, small agriculture, and the rest.

It is what it is, but it is also a gargantuan Trojan horse deliberately designed to enrich the richest, bleed and indenture the rest, and dismantle what is left of a legal system that was built on the understanding that community and commonwealth are intrinsically interconnected.

And if you imagine that the Party in power, which is run by exactly the people who are directly responsible for this catastrophe, will adandon this multi-billion cash cow and fascist wet dream, I sincerely believe you have a big think coming. I hope to God I'm wrong.

Why do you care? You care deeply, not just because this model is coming to a theatre near, you but also because you care about the people of Texas, who, like the people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, are about to be thrown under a very big bus.

You care deeply because a few dozen well-oiled, well-connected high rollers with deep links to the GOP, here and abroad (can you spell BUSH?), are systematically looting and gutting the USA, and this is an example that even the dimmest among us can possibly grasp. Before it's too late, I hope.

What is the TTC? A privately-owned, outsourced, uber-super commerce corridor whose priority routes alone will total 4,000 miles. The entire TTC will total 8,000 miles and consume one million Texas acres. It will be a quarter-mile—wide, transecting Texas in all directions. The Texas Department of Transportation (TX-DOT) describes it thus:

It "will include [ten vehicle lanes,] separate toll ways for passenger vehicles and trucks. The corridor also will include six rail lines (three in each direction): two tracks for high-speed passenger rail, two for commuter rail and two for freight. The third component of the corridor will be a protected network of safe and reliable utility lines for water, petroleum, natural gas, electricity and data."
The fourth component will enclose and franchise to select privileged owners as "state concessions" all the services that sustain human travel—hotels, entertainment sites, fast-food joints, etc., as well as all the myriad service and maintenance infrastructure required to keep things moving.

The entire TTC could take as long as 50 years to complete. The initial cost estimate, $200 Billion for the first 4,000 miles, was low even for 2002 dollars. Imagine what the price tag will be given 2008 gas prices.

Why the TTC? Eventually it will be the key link in the trade chain from Mexico to Canada, and from LA to Dade County. Note this official excerpt from TX-DOT. For a plan described recently as having nothing to do with NAFTA, the title of the official propaganda is more than interestingly titled: Crossroads of the Americas: Trans-Texas Corridor Plan. And check the contents:
Draw a north-south line from Mexico City to Chicago. Draw an east-west line from Los Angeles to Miami. The two lines intersect in Texas.

Texas has long been seen as the crossroads of North America, but this concept has never been more relevant as trade between North and South America continues to grow.

Most goods and commodities coming into the United States from Mexico and South America cross the Texas border and move north, sometimes all the way to Canada.

The reverse is true for exports. In fact, 79 percent of all U.S.-Mexico trade passes through Texas ports of entry. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, this international traffic will only increase.

A large percentage of the nation's cross-continent traffic also passes through Texas. And then there are the transportation needs of the 21 million people who already live here.

. . . Beyond that, much of Texas' transportation infrastructure is nearing the end of its design life. [Emphasis added throughout.]
From the same source:
"Four corridors have been identified as priority segments of the Trans Texas Corridor. These corridors parallel I-35, I-37 and I-69 (propose) from Denison to the Rio Grande Valley, I-69 (proposed) from Texarkana to Houston to Laredo, I-45 from Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston and I-10 from El Paso to Orange. . . . [Texas Republican] Governor Rick Perry wrote Transportation Commission Chairman John W. Johnson on January 30, 2002 to outline his vision for the Trans-Texas Corridor. The Governor asked the three-member commission to assemble the Texas Department of Transportation's top talent to create and deliver a Trans Texas Corridor implementation plan in 90 days."

From TX-DOT: "Connection between the corridor and nearby cities will be accomplished with the existing highway system. Proposed corridor segments will require interconnection with additional modes of transportation to enable passengers and freight to reach their final destinations in nearby cities. Privately funded franchises or public/private partnerships will provide transportation from the corridor to destination cities."

However, as toll roads always do, TTC will transverse many rural areas and towns without the customary on- and off-ramps. That is, it will cut existing towns and communities off from the sustenance of daily travel and commerce, and play havoc with developments and investments made but not yet realized all along its path.

How this New Jerusalem will affect the workers who are needed to staff all these facilities hasn't been publicly addressed, to my knowledge. Will they be "guest workers" imported for the purpose and housed in some out-of-sight Bahrain-style ghettos within the corridor, or will they be expected to commute, paying their own way from their homes to travel to and from the nearest access point? I don't know yet, but I'm betting it won't be an all-fees-paid vacation plan.

Obviously, the TTC will also carve great, hideous scars across the Texas landscape. It will bisect some areas and segment others--ranches, developments, parkland--into useless, isolated micro-parcels, and it will wreck the ecosystem in ways yet even to be imagined.

As horrifying as its physical structure and its implications for the people of Texas are its underlying financing and profit structures—public/private partnership (PPP) deals financed and managed through a new class of financial instruments called infrastructure funds.

This structure, based on Australia's Macquarie model, is being pushed hard by the Bush Federal Highway Administration on all state governments, despite having been reliably slammed for Enron-style "high debt levels, high fees, paying distributions out of capital rather than cash flow, overpaying for assets, related-party transactions, booking profits from revaluations, poor disclosure, myriad conflicts of interest, auditor conflicts and other poor corporate governance." Macquarie, not incidentally, is the partner of Cintro, the Spanish firm to which the TTC has – you guessed it – been outsourced. A big Macquarie investor until he ran for president? Giuliani. Its law firm? Giuliani's a partner in Houston-based Bracewell and Giuliani, known for big energy clients and TTC. Other domestic trough-feeders? Halliburton KBR. Duh.

And there's more. The TTC will be a toll road, but just one of many more toll roads proposed for Texas.

Last but not least, critics of the plan have noticed that clustering critical national life supports-–rail, highway, pipeline, electrical, and even data--into one neat 4,000-mile ribbon will provide any US enemy a handy way to slice a major artery in the US blood supply. Don't think only "terrorists." Think nations, too. Ostensibly the bet is that interlocking multinational trade interests will protect us from the latter, but even if that does work, what about the former?

Oh, and that reference to Texas ports of entry. Would I be delusional to imagine that one reason New Orleans is being left to rot could have to do with relocating its share of that commerce to Houston-Galveston?
Or, given this gem, would I be crazy to be concerned about Arizona: "Expanding the corridor beyond Texas will require a cooperative effort with Mexico, as well as Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico." Is an end-run planned for Arizona's I-10, Phoenix, Tucson, Nogales, and for I-17 and points north? A "heads-I-win/tails-you-lose" for Texas? I don't know, but I'll be asking around.

I believe the TX legislature has begun to put some breaks on this runaway train, but I need help finding the beef on that. More later as I learn more. Meanwhile, other sources on the TTC: corridorwatch, jobsanger, texastollparty, muckraker, burkablog


jobsanger said...

Thank you for this excellent post. The TTC would truly be a disaster for ordinary Texans.

And you are right, once Texas is done, it will spread to many other states. Americans need to wake up before much of their own land and road systems are given to foreign companies and turned into toll roads.

The only hope to stop this boondoggle rests with this November's election. We have to put a lot of new Democrats into office, botth in Texas and on the national level.

Pico said...

Thanks, buddy.

Regarding November, from your lips to God's ears.

Meanwhile, starting now, progressives need a keen eye on whatever committee in their state's legislature deals in highways, and on whatever office in their state doles out highway construction contracts. Especially if the legislature is majority RepubliCon and the governor is a RepubliCon. Nelly, bar the door.