Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Toll foes, environmentalists urge brakes on stimulus spending for highways

By Peggy Fikac - Houston Chronicle - March 03, 2009

Toll road opponents and environmentalists today said they want to put the brakes on the Texas Transportation Commission's plans to allocate $1.2 billion in stimulus funds for highway projects Thursday.

They're particularly conccerned about toll projects, which make up $700 million of the total.

"How many times do we have to pay to drive the same stretch of road?" asked Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.

One focus of criticism was the Grand Parkway project in Harris County, which one protester's sign dubbed the "Grand Porkway."

Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Chris Lippincott gave the quickest possible "no" when asked whether it's possible that the commission would put off Thursday's vote. The commission had already delayed action from last week after some legislative concern surfaced about the speed with which the agency is acting on stimulus funds.

Lippincott emphasized, as he has before, that the list was developed in coordination with local transportation officials. He said none of the projects is new, and that the commission had been clear that it wanted to spend stimulus money on projects that pooled resources, including revenue from tolls.

He also said that paying a toll is no different from paying to get into a high school football game at a stadium built with tax money.

While the protesters were at the Texas Capitol, Lippincott said, President Obama was making the case at the U.S. Department of Transportation that stimulus money should be spent "immediately and responsibly to keep our economy and our people moving."

The commission last week voted to approve $505 million in maintenance projects for roads and bridges, leaving $1.2 billion in stimulus funds under its purview to be allocated Thursday.
Read more in the Houston Chronicle

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