Groups hit Texas Capitol to oppose spending stimulus money on toll roads
By DAVE MONTGOMERY
AUSTIN — Beverly Branham’s message to lawmakers was neatly summarized in the four-word placard on her bright red hat: "No Stimulus Toll Road."
The Fort Worth grandmother and scores of like-minded Texans fanned out across the state Capitol on Tuesday, demanding that legislators spend not one penny of federal stimulus money to finance toll roads.
"It’s double taxes," Branham said, "and we’re already tax slaves."
The daylong lobbying mission was organized by several transportation watchdog groups, which contend that using federal stimulus money for toll roads essentially represents a double whammy on their pocketbooks: First, through the federal taxes that finance the huge stimulus package, and second, through the fees they will have to pay at the tollbooth.
"Taxpayers should not have to pay for the roads through repayment of stimulus funds and pay tolls to use the highways," according to a statement from the Arlington-based DFW Regional Concerned Citizens.
Branham and Nina Spears, also of Fort Worth, drove to Austin together. They said they are also concerned about foreign companies’ involvement in toll-road projects and the development of a "NAFTA highway" to funnel international shipping through Texas. The groups outlined their priorities in a midmorning news conference and through visits with lawmakers.
"If anybody grins at us, we walk up and talk to them," Branham said.
The groups also demanded that lawmakers clamp down on the Texas Department of Transportation and scrap any vestiges of Gov. Rick Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor, which originally called for a $184 billion network of toll roads.
"TxDOT needs to pull back its horns a little bit," said Jimmy Simmons of Waxahachie, a retired engineer at the General Motors plant in Arlington.
Asked whether he thought lawmakers should ban the use of stimulus money for toll roads, Branham responded: "I wish we wouldn’t take any."
Many of the protesters oppose toll roads in general.
"Generation after generation is going to be paying for these roads," said Bruce Burton of Austin. A woman nearby clutched a sign reading, "Texans Against Tolls."
DAVE MONTGOMERY, 512-476-4294