The focus of the new edition of the documentary “Truth Be Tolled” is the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) blatant bias and extralegal actions in its highly publicized Keep Texas Moving campaign—designed to sell the public on expensive tolls roads as the wave of the future of state transportation, while relentlessly pushing the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC).
Videotaped depositions of TxDOT officials included in the film show them admitting a number of things, while hedging on other points, all indicating that the neutrality expected and required from an executive agency is, by and large, not evident. Furthermore, TxDOT documents obtained by toll road opponents show that TxDOT officials view the citizenry with an uncomfortable degree of hostility. “Keep calm,” states a Keep Texas Moving training document shown in the film, referring to toll road-TTC opponents. “Leave the wrestling to the pigs. They always end up looking like pigs.”
American Free Press attended the film’s debut screening Oct. 30 at the Palladium Theater, where this writer interviewed producer-director Bill Molina, as well as Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) leader Terri Hall, both of whom spoke on camera for AFP news videos.
Molina cast Ms. Hall as the main spokesperson in the film to shine a light on TxDOT’s apparent corruption and clarify the troubling issues involved. She is perhaps the most visible TTC-toll road opponent in Texas; he is an award-winning filmmaker whose earlier editions of Truth Be Tolled laid out the truth about the much-despised TTC, which is Texas’s portion of the NAFTA Superhighway.
The TTC could gobble up at least 584,000 acres of land and 4,000 new miles of right-of-way for an expressway designed for legions of trucks to pass through Texas with minimal on-off ramps and interchanges. Railroad and utility lines would follow the right-of-way, which could be 1,200 feet (a quarter-mile) wide in some areas—three times the width of a typical interstate. The median likely would have hotels, eateries and fueling stations, which would deny such business to providers off the TTC.
The TTC is mainly for delivering Asian-made products shipped across the Pacific on a route that would bypass secure U.S. ports at Long Beach and Los Angeles, Calif. Instead, the shoddy products would be shipped to Pacific Ocean ports in Mexico, especially the Lazaro Cardenas port that’s controlled by shady Chinese shipping companies. From there, everything is hauled north by truck and rail. Kansas City, smack dab in the middle of the U.S., is seen as a major customs “port,” as AFP learned in earlier travels.
Molina’s new film centers on TxDOT’s hiring of registered lobbyists against state law and its improper use of taxpayer money for marketing the TTC and toll roads, instead of giving impartial information on all transportation options, including mass transit and the normal use of gas taxes for freeway upkeep and new construction. But, as the film shows, TxDOT’s Keep Texas Moving “campaign” (TxDOT itself uses the word campaign) is a full-court press to promote tolls roads in general—which could squeeze out freeways altogether—and the TTC in particular.
Numerous points in the film chronicle TxDOT’s conduct and related matters. The following are among the most signficant:
* On U.S. 281, a north-south route that connects southernmost Texas with the San Antonio area, there is a seemingly relentless TxDOT effort to “toll” this freeway. Ms. Hall noted that the money from gas taxes is definitely there to maintain, repair and, if necessary, expand the freeway. “They’ve hijacked that road for five years—they’ve had the money for five years,” she stressed. She noted in past AFP interviews that the apparent tactic is to toll as many freeways as possible so there is no free competition if and when the planned mega-tollway, the TTC, is built.
* The tolls under consideration, said Ms. Hall, could be 25 cents a mile, based on “what the market will bear.” This stems from the idea that American roads are now seen as a profitable asset for the Wall Street crowd, rather than being a public investment/service where tolls only need to be high enough to reflect construction and maintenance costs and to retire related debts. Even 25 cents per mile is like adding another $5 to a gallon of gasoline, she explained. Comparatively, the combined federal-state gas tax comes out to only a few cents per mile in Texas.
* As TxDOT gathered public input across Texas in latter 2007 and into 2008, it held two types of meetings: “Town halls” and official public hearings. Hall, taking into account 12 town halls versus 46 public hearings, said that perhaps 200-300 people attended each hearing where their comments were actually recorded for the public record. But up to 1,000 people were apparently baited to attend each of the town halls so TxDOT could “take public input” on TTC 69, a part of the TTC charted to run north-northeast, first shadowing highways 281 and 77 (that run parallel from the Rio Grande Valley up to the greater Corpus Christi area). From there, TTC 69 would head toward Houston and way beyond along the highway 59 route. Ms. Hall estimated that TxDOT diverted 10,000 people, overall, into attending these phony town halls just so they could vent steam. “None of these [Town Hall] comments were actually part of the legal record,” she said.
* The SB 792 bill passed by the Texas Legislature that seemed to stop the TTC and other toll roads (as AFP initially assumed last year) did no such thing. This “counterfeit moratorium” imposed the “market valuation” method that paves the way for levying high tolls that far exceed actual road costs and debt retirement, according to Ms. Hall.
* TxDOT’s documents released for ongoing lawsuits filed by TURF—to argue that tax dollars are being illegally used to actually market and lobby for toll roads and the TTC—show evidence of manipulative “push-poll” methods being used to survey the populace about transportation issues. Push-poll questions are slyly worded to bring the reader to favored conclusions.
The film also stresses that the infamous 2005 Kelo vs. New London (Connecticut) U.S. Supreme Court decision that set the stage for “eminent domain” government land takings on behalf of private interests (instead of genuine public works) also set a major legal precedent for the Texas state government to engage in such takings, especially for the TTC. A special state panel would offer Texans money for their land, but takings are the next logical step toward those who refuse to sell, as officials hint on the film. On a more positive note, Waller County, Texas went on record against the TTC, not wanting to be in the path of this monster tollway that would gobble up huge tracts of prime ranch land that has been in the same families for generations.
Perhaps most damning of all, though, is the Texas Ethics Commission’s listing of Gary Bushell as a registered lobbyist. It turns out TxDOT hired him in an advisory/consultative function, although the Texas Government Code (556.005) fordids state agencies from hiring registered lobbyists regardless of the reason or function. Texas highway commissioner Jim Houghton, a master of doublespeak, did admit to the hiring of Bushell but, strangely, answered “no” when asked if he was concerned when he found out Bushell was a registered lobbyist.
Notably, state legislative committees have investigated TxDOT’s conduct. The legislature reconvenes early next year. AFP plans to attend key hearings whenever possible.
So much more could be said of the film’s latest edition, which gets into more TxDOT details than the previous edition which covered the “big picture” of the TTC. Check it out at the website www.truthbetolled.com. Other sites include www.Texasturf.org American Free Press