INTERVIEWEE: Linda Stall (LS)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT)
DATE: February 24, 2008
LOCATION: Fayetteville, Texas
TRANSCRIBER: Krispin Harker and Robin Johnson
Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.
DT: My name is David Todd and I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It is February 24, 2008. We are in Fayetteville, Texas and we have the good fortune to be visiting with Linda Stall, who, with her husband David Stall, was instrumental in getting a group called the Texas—oh Corridor Watch dot org off the ground and it’s a group that is monitoring a pro—a project called Trans-Texas Corridor which is a network of some four thousand miles of highways and utilities and other kinds of infrastructure that are planned to crisscross the state but that may not be happening because we’ve got Linda Stall on the job, and I look forward to hearing about your story of organizing this group and trying to lead the effort to slow this project down. Thank you very much for your time
LS: Well, thank you for the opportunity, to talk about it.
DT: Good!, well; I thought that we might start, in 2002, which I think is the first time that y’all got notice of this pending project and I was curious how you learned about it, and what your response was.
LS: Well in 2002, my husband David was the city manager of the city of Columbus, which is a small community on Interstate10 between Houston and San Antonio. And TxDOT sent out letters to city managers and mayors and—and people in city government about their new project, the Trans-Texas Corridor, which was, in their mind, going to improve transportation across the state with these varied corridors as you described crisscrossing the state paralleling—roughly paralleling our existing freeway. So, paralleling I-35, I-10, and the proposed I-69 corridor. And, David received a letter about the project, and we had just moved to Fayette County about 2000—the year 2000. So, we were new residents; David’s family had been here for about twenty years but we were relatively new residents and chose Fayette County because of its peacefulness and its beauty and just the—the pleasure of living in a place where people live and work, you know, on family land that’s been in their families for generations. Its—Fayette County is the second largest cow-calf producing
county in the State of Texas. It’s a—it’s a beautiful community where, Czech and German immigrants came here and settled and we just loved it and, me in particular. We have an old farmhouse and we’re just really fond of the area and David brought home this letter and said, “You won’t believe what TxDOT is planning on doing. They’re developing a 1200 foot wide corridor that could potentially run through this area,” and I was appalled. So, that’s what got us started, was that—that letter. And we went to a Chamber of Commerce luncheon and heard the executive director of TxDOT, Michael Behrens, talk about the corridor project in glowing terms. They were just really excited that this was something that the governor had suggested and they had in—created this project, and it was going to save us all from this congestion that, sadly, is non existent in most of the areas that they had proposed the corridor for. I mean, we do have traffic congestion in the urban centers in Dallas and
Houston and San Antonio, and Austin—but not in rural Texas, and the project is designed to go through rural Texas. Well, we don’t have traffic congestion in rural Texas. We have pristine environment in—in rural Texas. And so, when I saw this—this proposal and all of the legislative changes they were asking for, et cetera, et cetera, I just started making phone calls, and called my local Farm Bureau representative, and called my state representative, who assured me TxDOT would never get any of those legislative changes that they needed in order to make that project come to fruition. And, David was a member of the Rotary Club in Columbus at that time, and the Lion’s Club in Columbus at that time, and he said, “Well, if you need a speaker, have my wife come and talk to you about the Trans-Texas Corridor.” And TxDOT was kind enough to send me an entire box of brochures about the Trans-Texas Corridor, which I distributed when I went and spoke against it. And, that’s
really how we got started and then it just sort of took on a life of its own. And, Corridor Watch—we actually named it Corridor Watch in 2004, but we have members in a hundred and ninety-nine counties, now, in forty-four states.
DT: To you give a little background or context to the corridor project; if you could describe what the different infrastructure they were planning for this might involve, and where it was supposed to go, and what’s some of the legislative changes that they felt they’d need in order to fund this, and make it a reality.
LS: Well, the corridor project is, by design 1200, feet wide, and it’s multi-modal. It would include vehicle lanes for cars, separate lanes—ultimately separate lanes for trucks, a—and a—a utility corridor, water pipelines, a high-speed rail, freight rail, so designated hazardous materials route. It’s designed as a toll corridor. Not just a toll road, but toll utilities and toll rail, which is also a change in the way we do things. Changes that they needed legislatively—they needed the ability to do a public/private partnership with an entity that would design, build, and operate the road. For example, if the road was the first portion that was done, would—would operate it and collect the tolls and give a share back to the—to the state.
DT: Okay, well that gives a good background for this. And you’re saying that in ’02 you were concerned about the project. What was your, I guess maybe top three concerns about this project that led you to contact Robby Cook, your state representative, and try to slow this down or at least learn more about it?
LS: Well, our biggest objection primarily was that it was that it was happening without anyone knowing anything about it; that it was a fait accompli; that the government had contracted TxDOT to develop this plan, and they had developed it from A to Z, put it in place, and it was now the project going forward, that all prior plans to expand 35 or create 69—an inter—as a traditional interstate project which had been a goal of elected officials down in the valley for about a decade. They had been working on developing a traditional interstate to serve that area, and the—this was now the new plan. And they had not consulted transportation planners in any of these communities, by design, they had intentionally not included transportation planners and local elected officials in the plan. Ric Williamson, who was, at the time, a member of the transportation commission, testified before the House Transportation Committee that the governor did not want this to be politics. He
wanted it to be policy. He wanted to take it out of the realm of politics, and make it policy. So, TxDOT was moving forward with this project and nobody had any idea what they were doing. And then it’s a massive land taking. All of those elements that I described have—don’t require the width that the project is designed to be. Ultimately it’s a fifty-year plan, and over that fifty-year build out, a third of it has no designated use. So you have an excessive land taking; it’s 146 acres per mile with a 1200 width. All of the elements described could be fit into 800 feet. A traditional interstate is only about three or four hundred feet wide with multiple lanes, I mean, and that includes the frontage roads. So, it’s not necessary to take that much—much land. And, the way it’s laid out, it goes primarily through rural Texas. So, when you put all those things together, you have a project done without consulting local
traffic planners, the local transportation planners, elected officials, you have a massive land taking that’s not necessary, and you have it running through mostly rural Texas which is our ag community. That’s our agricultural land. I mean, in Fayette County, it’s cow-calf production, but if you go north and you go into Bell County, for example, that’s the Blackland soil which is a natural fertile ground for raising crops and not at all suitable for putting roads. It’s very unstable. It’s very difficult to build roads in that area. People who live there will tell you the roads crack as soon as they put them in because of the—the consistency of the soil. So, here you have this huge road project designed to go through that most unique environment, suited for agriculture, not road projects. So, on those—those three bases alone,
caught my attention and made me object. And when House Bill 3588 passed and they—they did get those legislative changes, and they came into the communities in ’04 to do public hearings, that’s when we started speaking out in—in groups; I mean, in Colorado County and in Fayette County, people started turning out and objecting.
DT: Maybe you could tell us a little about the legislative changes that they would have required in order to fund, I guess it was over 500,000 acres of take, and then also the construction of the actual infrastructure. How are they going to do this, and what sort of legislative authority would they have needed to make it happen?
LS: Well, ideally, they want to establish the footprint from the beginning. This is what the transportation commissioner has—would say; that while the project would not be built all at one time, it was necessary to establish the footprint so they could be sure they had the right of way acquired to build out the project. So, the private partner will decide which segments of the road project they want to build, and they will do that strictly on its ability to gen—generate revenue. So, it’s really not about transportation. It’s really about revenue generation. So, the private partner for—for TTC 35 is a company called Cintra, and they’re based in Spain. They signed a contract with TxDOT in ’05, and they will choose, after all of the environmental hearings are done and the Federal Highway Administration gives their record of
decision approving going ahead with the project, they will decide which segments they would like to build first, and they will build toll segments. They will, in essence, just come in and build small sme—segments of toll road, where they can generate enough revenue to make the project worthwhile for them. And the authority that—TxDOT has the authority to build the Trans-Texas Corridor. I-30—I mean, Senate Bill 30—I mean, House Bill 3—sorry; the House Bill 3588 is very vague on what constitutes the Trans-Texas Corridor. The definition is very, very loose. It’s—Ric Williamson described it once as “a state of mind”. It’s a very ethereal (laughs) concept; and it is basically whatever they say it is, and they can include things into it at will. And that’s how I-69 became TTC 69.
DT: So, what sort of authority did they need to start, I guess this is basically a public/private partnership that wouldn’t have been possible prior to House Bill 3588…
LS: And, also, Proposition 15, which is constitutional change. That was passed in 2002 by the citizens, not really realizing what they were voting for. Prior to that, TxDOT did not have the ability to, or the state did not have the ability to incur debt to build roads. We had a pay-as-you-go system; and, with the passage of Proposition 15, the citizens who thought they were voting on new financing tools to build roads and the ability to issue bonds to raise funds to build roads, what they real—what they found out later is that what they had done is authorize the Trans-Texas Corridor. It—nothing in the—in the ballot language says that. Nothing in the ballot language says anything about fifty-year projects, with private partners and toll collection with rail and utilities, but that is the—the constitutional change that TxDOT looks back to and says, “yes, you authorized it; you voted for it.” And that was the change that allowed them to—to incur that debt.
DT: And you—3588, this house bill; what did that provide TxDOT with?
LS: Oh, it’s 300 pages long. It—it provides them with description. It allows them to—to develop ancillary facilities, to take additional land for any commercial or non-agricultural use. It allows them to take additional land and then lease it back to the original land owner. That allows you the opportunity to have the State of Texas be your landlord if you have ag land that’s taken for this road project but not used immediately, they will give you the opportunity to lease it back from them, and you can still run cattle on it, and you can pay your rent to the State of Texas. It is very long, and very detailed, in—in the areas like that. I mean, to the extent that they can put in—all of the traveler services will be within the corridor, so to the extent that you would have gas stations, food service, even hotels within the footprint, effectively nationalizing tourism in the State of Texas. No longer would you exit into
a small town off an interstate and eat lunch on the cou—you know, on the square, and enjoy the county courthouse, you know, that’s been refurbished. You would just go straight through from Mexico to the Oklahoma border, or to Texarkana on this corridor with all of the services provided within it.
DT: So it sounds like it’s—it’s partly as if—if it’s sort of a traditional highway and utility corridor, but it’s also a way to provide land that would be used for hotels, motels, restaurants; it would be owned by the franchisee?
LS: By the State of Texas.
DT: Okay. And—see if I’ve got this right. So, the State of Texas would, in partnership with Cintra and Zachary Scott, HP Zachary, rather, would actually own these facilities and pay rent to whom?
LS: Well, the state will condemn the land. That is one of the things the private partner needs the state for. Otherwise they could come build their own private toll road and pay market value for the land. They need the state’s power of eminent domain to make the land affordable to do such a big project. Then, they control—the private partner has the authority then to control who are the individual concessionaires within the corridor. So, they will decide which major vendor, for example, does the food service, or the gasoline service. They also control who has access. So any development along the frontage—which, there—there is not a traditional frontage; this is a closed toll corridor. And the element—the additional element of high-speed rail means you have high fencing. It’s creating huge barriers across our state with—with high fencing on either side. It—it doesn’t have the ingress/egress that an interstate would have. So you won’t find the little mom and pop businesses coming up alongside of it. It will all be controlled by the concessionaire.
DT: Well these seem like pretty major changes to the traditional way that highways have been built in the past. How did they manage to get the political support to pass 3588 if they didn’t coordinate with the highway planners and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex who had congestion problems or those down in the valley who were lobbying for interstate? How did they collect the political support and willpower to pass this bill?
LS: Well, it was a unique sequence of events. We had a Republican governor who put one of his oldest friends on the transportation commission, and they worked very—ri—ri—Ric Williamson—and they worked very closely with Mike Krusee, who was the chair of the House Transportation Committee, and at the same time, that particular legislature in ’03 was a Republican majority for the first time in a long time. So you had—or ever—you had a huge number of freshman legislators, inexperienced, enthusiastic, sort of heady with this new majority, with lots of bills to pass, and it is not unusual for the omnibus transportation bill to be passed in one session, and then picked over during the interim, and then corrected in the next session. And some of the legislators that we’ve talked to, the senior legislators, are kind of casual about that; “Oh, yes, we pass big bills, and then we go back through,
and we pick out the parts that aren’t quite right, and we fix it in the next leg—in the next legislative session”. So, in ’03, they—they passed this transportation bill, House Bill 3588; it was the transportation bill that session, in the middle of the night, and it was 300 pages long, and most of the representatives who will be honest, who voted on it at that time, will tell you they didn’t read it. There was a lot going on; it was the middle of the night. Personally, we feel there was no excuse for that. However, it happens. A lot happens fast and furiously. So they didn’t read it. Now, we’ve talked to some representatives, one in particular from a Republican—Lois Kolkhorst from Brenham. When we first met her, I handed her my card with the Corridor Watch logo on it and it has a map on it with—showing the routes, and she looked right at it and
said, “Oh, I know about this.” She said, “I’m going to make some changes on this the next legislative session”, she said, “I don’t—this isn’t a good idea.” And she had spoken to another senator, who said in his opinion they’d been sold a bill of goods. So, they had immediate, some of them did, immediate regret about the bill that they had passed, because it gave too much authority to TxDOT.
DT: Can you trace back the legislation and the language that’s in it to any kind of model or template that might have been bought from elsewhere? Who drafted this and how did it come before the legislation?
LS: Well, I’ll probably defer to David; you can ask him that question again. We have—when we read it, there were phrases and terminology in it that we didn’t recognize; that—“ancillary facilities” is one; “revenue enhancers”; language that we weren’t familiar with, terminology, nomenclature; industry nomenclature and transportation industry. When we started researching, and looked at other documents from other places; there’s a—the World Bank put out a white paper on this kind of build/operate transfer, design/build/operate model of developing infrastructure, and in that document, we found those same phrases and that same terminology. This is a method of developing road infrastructure in third world
countries. This is the way a country, a country like Malaysia that doesn’t have the economic standing to incur debt and be good for it, you know; to build roads. This is the way they get the road infrastructure that they need for economic development. They can go into partnership with a private partner who will come in, build the road, collect any tolls, have the traveler’s services, and it’s okay for them because they don’t have any other way of getting any infrastructure and they need it for economic development. Now, in Texas, our governor routinely refers to Texas as “the fifth largest economy in the world”, or the “seventh largest economy in the world” depending on what he’s talking about. Why, in Texas, we would need to utilize a model for road infrastructure development that’s used in third world countries is beyond me. And why we would need to use such a model for building toll roads is even further beyond me because we have toll roads in Texas; Harris County—the
Harris County Toll Road Authority has been building toll roads for decades. They were approved by the citizens, voted on, and they’ve built toll roads successfully. After they pay their debts and their set-asides, the Harris County Toll Road Authority nets about fifty million dollars a year which they, in turn, reinvest in road projects in Harris County. Now if you apply that same situation to the corridor model, those profits will go to a private partner. They won’t be reinvested in road projects in our—in our state. And that’s one of the objections that we have. Toll roads are the most expensive way to build a road. A private partnership is the most expensive way for the citizen to build a toll road, because you’re, through your tolls, going to pay not only the cost of building the road and operating the road, but you’re going to pay the extra that goes to the private partner for their profit, because they’re in the
profit-making business. They’re not in the usual role of government which is to so—provide basic infrastructure for its citizens.
DT: This may be a naïve question, but bear with me. As I understand it, when you go to the gas pump, you pay a good portion of a tax on every gallon of gasoline that you buy, which is used as revenue to build more roads and maintain those that we have. Why was that not an adequate way to build and expand and maintain the road systems that we might need? Why was this third world model applied in Texas?
LS: Well, we do pay gasoline tax. Texas is what’s called a “donor state”, so the gasoline tax collected in Texas is sent to the US government and then re-funneled back to us, and we don’t get all of that back. Some of it is distributed elsewhere to other states who don’t have enough gas tax to cover their infrastructure development. So, we don’t get all of our gas tax to use in Texas for road projects. Not only that, some of it is—is siphoned away to—no pun intended—to education and safety, which is the DPS. So, we don’t use all of our gas tax for roadwork. And, I guess, if you are in the road-building business, you want to build more roads faster. If you’re in the economic development business, roads equal economic development.
So you want to have more roads faster so that you can have more businesses, and more subdivisions. And if you are in the subdivision building business and you donate to the governor, then—to his campaign contri—you know, funds, then you want to have more subdivisions. And if you are the governor receiving contributions like that, then you want to make those people happy, and there does seem to be a circle there of—of money. And it is—as—we say this over and over and over again. This is not a transportation project. This is a revenue generation project. If it were a transportation project, it would go from where people live to where people work. And it doesn’t. It goes outside of our major cities; the cities will have to connect out to it.
It’s by design about thirty or forty miles away from our existing interstates. It does not connect Houston and Austin and San Antonio and Dallas. It—it’s designed to go outside of those cities. They would have to reach out to it. So, it goes through what is currently open land, and puts a road there.
DT: Well, so, what is the connecting from A—point A to point B? What are the sort of origin and the destination that these roads are supposed to connect?
LS: Well, right now, it’s mostly the—I would say the Mexican border, and the—and the Oklahoma and Arkansas or Louisiana border. And in between, it skirts the cities so they would build out to it, which is where you get—you come into the regional mobility authorities. That’s where they come into play. Regional mobility authorities were created in that same House Bill 3588. And that’s creating a regional toll—a sort of a toll authority that can then build additional roads to connect out to the corridor, which would also be toll roads. So we create a new network of roads, and, presumably, a new network of development along—alongside them.
DT: So, is this, in part, to move goods from Mexico into the heartland of the United States?
LS: Mm-hmm. If you read the current DEIS for TTC69, the Draft Environmental Impact statement, that’s what they talk about: international movement of goods from outside of Texas into the United States.
DT: And beyond Mexico?
LS: Well, the—right now the development seems to be from China. Originally it was—it was thought to be to handle NAFTA traffic coming from Mexico into Texas, but after a certain period of time, the NAFTA traffic is flat. TxDOT always has to go back further in time to get good statistics to demonstrate the need based on NAFTA, because there was a growth in that traffic, but it flattens out, because more of our goods are coming from China than Mexico, but that’s where you get into the development of the west coast ports in Mexico and the Chinese goods coming in across Mexico and up into Texas, on—on trucks.
DT: Well, you’ve done a good job of sort of laying the groundwork for what Trans-Texas involves, the political angle and the funding angle and some of your concerns about the impact on rural communities and rural land. Why don’t you introduce us to the February meetings that were held in 2004 and, and then I guess the formation of Corridor Watch as a response.
LS: Well House Bill 3588 required TxDOT to hold one—at least one; that’s the language: “at least one meeting in every affected county”; one public meeting. So, their response to that was to hold two hundred and fifty-four meetings—that’s the number of counties in Texas, two hundred and fifty-four; two hundred and fifty-four public hearings in twenty-eight days in February of ’04. Now, we had already been talking about the project since we first heard about it in ’02, primarily in Colorado and Fayette Counties. So when we got word, again; David received a letter at the City of Columbus letting the mayor know that there was going to be a public hearing held in her community; when we got word of that, we sort of reactivated people the people that we’d been talking to, went back to the Lion’s club and said, “Ah!” you know, “you didn’t believe me before, but now we’ve got hearings coming, so you need to go to these meetings!” And we got about twenty-two people to come to the
public meeting that was held in Colorado County. Colorado County, of the two meetings in our local area, Colorado County and Fayette County, Colorado County was held first. So, we rounded up some people who came to the Colorado County meeting, some still carrying the description of the project that was given to me in 2002 when I requested all those copies from TxDOT that Michael Behrens had distributed; some of those people still had those project descriptions and they brought them along. And, the meeting in Fayette County was held a week later. So we had more lead time to get people to attend those meetings. Those meetings were very interesting. There was no question and answer period. The local engineer was the one who conducted the meeting. Both of those meetings were held at the maintenance buildings, so we had this little cramped room in the back of the
maintenance shed where they had people come in, they showed us some video of the governor and the transportation commissioner, Ric Williamson, telling us what a great project this was. And then they distributed a little packet with some basic information about the project, and then a map of Texas without any roads drawn on it, just some cities identified, major cities, and they asked us to draw on this map routes that we think would make good roadways in Texas. We call that the coloring book page. It was as though you had distributed this little, you know, map of Texas to a bunch of kindergartners, and said, “Here; draw roads.” I mean, that was the scientific grounding of that, was “draw roads where you think it would be a good
place to have a road in Texas.” And they actually gathered those up from all of those meetings, compiled them, and presented that information to the transportation commission later on as evidence of the citizens’ desire to have roads, and—and were proud of themselves that they had gotten this feedback, and actually had some new suggestions that came from citizens by drawing these lines on those—on those maps. And by the time the meeting in Fayette County came around, it was a week later; it was on a Wednesday; it was Ash Wednesday in our area, which is predominantly Catholic and Lutheran, so most of the people I talked to were going to church that night. We did have an overflow crowd in that maintenance room at the—the LaGrange TxDOT facility. We’re not really sure how many people were there, between seventy and eighty, because it was overflow and the parking lot was full, some people were turned away. But our county judge was there, and he
said it was unacceptable that you would have a meeting where you couldn’t accommodate all the people who wanted to attend and he insisted that another meeting be scheduled, and that meeting was held the next month at the KC hall, and eight hundred people attended that meeting. And they were a pretty outspoken group. And, TxDOT has not been back for another public meeting in Fayette County since that time.
DT: And, at any of these meetings, were you allowed to respond? I understand you couldn’t at the Columbus meeting…
LS: Well, we were allowed to ask questions. There were no—there was no formal question and answer period, and there were no—no people of authority there who could answer questions. I mean, the citizens asked questions, but there weren’t any answers. And when we left the Columbus meeting, the—the district engineer—I mean, the—the local engineer there said to David, “Are you guys coming to the LaGrange meeting?” David said, “Yes, we are.” And when we got to the LaGrange meeting it was the district engineer, the most senior person in this area, who came and conducted that meeting, because he knew we were all going to be there with questions. And, we were allowed to comment, but there were no answers. And he told us that from the beginning. When we walked in the door he pulled David aside and said, “Well, you’ll—you and the people you came with you, you—you can decide
how you’re going to share your three minutes, because traditionally, at public hearings, you get three minutes to speak.” And David said, “We’re all here independently. You know, my wife and I will take our three minutes, and all of these people have come on their own, and they’ll have their three minutes, too.” But there were no answers to anybody’s questions, just statements.
DT: What kind of statements and questions were…
LS: People were very concerned about how this project had come to be, and how it could have happened without anybody having any more advance notice than just this series of meetings. And one of the specific questions that was asked at the Fayette County meeting, “The Meeting of the Eight Hundred” as we call it, which was a more open dialogue, because at that meeting, we had Commissioner Johnny Johnson from the transportation commission, Michael Behrens, from—the executive director at that time of TxDOT, and Robby Cook, our state representative. Those three gentlemen were there. And Michael Behrens told people before that meeting that he was just going to go down to talk to the folks about transportation. He was just going to go down to Fayette County and just have a little chat with all of the people there about transportation. I think he thought is was going to be a much friendlier exchange.
And instead, it was a pretty irate crowd. I mean, they’d been through land takings before with the bypass 71 around LaGrange, and they’re familiar with having their private property taken, and they take it real seriously. But one of the questions that came out of that meeting, one of the women in the front row asked, specifically, were there any environmental hearings scheduled for this area at this time. And Michael Behrens said, “no”, that there were not. And David and I look back at that event and look at the pictures that he took that night, and sitting in the front row, listening but not saying anything, were the director of the Turnpike Authority and the director of the Environmental Department. And they knew full well that the environmental hearings were scheduled for the following month, and they did start the following month environmental hearings for the TTC project; scoping meetings which never were held in Fayette County. The—well in LaGrange, the Fayette
County meetings were held in Smithville. And, we had to drive forty-five minutes to have our opportunity to attend a scoping meeting for that environmental hearing, which I thought was very disingenuous on TxDOT’s part, because in a rural community with an elderly population, to expect those people to drive forty-five miles just to talk about how they might lose their private property was—was not really fair.
DT: Well, my understanding is that during the same month that these hearings were being held that, you and your husband felt (?) to form Corridor Watch dot org, can you talk about what—what brought you to do that, and—and how you organized it?
LS: Well, David designs websites sort of as a hobby and sometimes as a vocation. And when we first heard about the corridor project in 2002, his response to—to knowing something that we felt nobody else knew was to put it on the internet. So at that time we got the website, Transtexascorridor.net. And created that website, and just put the information that we had, we put the Crossroads of the Americas Texas Corridor plan there, any information that we had that we knew anything about we would just plug it into that website. In 2004, when the hearings happened, we went out to dinner after the first meeting in—in Columbus, and started talking about, “what could we do?” You know, we’re—this was obviously starting to happen now,
what could we do? And in—after the LaGrange meeting, again, we went out to dinner; we were pretty excited about the fact that we’d had such a big turnout. I mean, when you talk about something that nobody believes is going to happen, and you talk about it for two years, it’s kind of nice to have eighty people show up and fill a room. I mean, that was always my goal was just to fill the room. And we started talking about what could we do, and how could we expand our website, and I came up with the name “Corridor Watch”, and that’s what we dubbed it at that point, and formalized it, and changed the name of the website to Corridor Watch, and just made it our personal goal to educate people. The—we have a mission statement, and our goal is to educate and inform, and question the wisdom of the Trans-Texas Corridor. It was never really our goal to, oh, litigate or try to get people elected who would vote differently. It was just our goal to educate people.
DT: And I gather the group grew very quickly and you did manage to educate a number of people. Can you talk about that process of reaching people and, what sort of reaction they had when you’d tell them about this project?
LS: Well, the Internet is a great equalizer because it allows you to reach people anywhere, anytime, twenty-four hours a day. It doesn’t require me to come physically to your community and talk to you about it. You can look at the website and get information. So that has really helped us, because Texas is a huge, huge state. One thing we did is we went to as many scoping meetings as we could. I mean, the environmental process requires TxDOT to hold meetings. And, I would just simply go to those meetings with my little business cards and walk around and say to everybody who would make eye contact with me, “I’m a member of an opposition group; would you like some information?” and they would usually say “yes” because they were so horrified at what they were seeing on the maps that TxDOT had. And—and it just—it just continued like that. I mean, there were—there
were also groups in some of the urban areas who, as part of all of this change in the way we were going to build our road projects, tolling is part of this. ‘Toll conversion’, taking existing projects that are nearing completion that may have been funded with tax dollars, and turning them into toll roads. So you found pockets of resistance to toll roads because—particularly, because of the fact that they felt that they had been paid for. I mean if your community is eagerly anticipating the opening of a new road that will improve traffic flow and just a month before it’s opened, tollbooths go up, the community reacts pretty strongly. And, I mean, in some places, in Tomball, for example, in the Houston area, that was—it was—281, it was a key piece of
infrastructure that linked people to the hospital, for example. I talked to one woman who said, “That’s the road I take to take my daughter to the pediatrician. I’ll have to pay a toll to take my children to the doctor.” So, those pockets of resistance to tolling were springing up in Dallas, in Houston, and in Austin at the same time that we were fighting the corridor, and raising awareness about the corridor issue. So one of the things we did was reach out to those groups and say, “The Trans-Texas Corridor is the reason that you’re having toll roads. I mean, this is all part of the same new philosophy of infrastructure development, of tolling everything, of letting private partners do your road building. They’re all part and parcel of the same philosophy and the same direction at TxDOT and the transportation commission and
the governor’s office.” And so we got some cooperation from the group in—in Austin and the group in Dallas-Fort Worth, particularly, and kind of combined together, and shared our—not shared our—we didn’t share our membership list so much as we just communicated information out to a widening group of—of people with a shared concern. And when the hearings for TTC35 came up, again, public hearings, we had raised awareness a little bit and that was in ’06. Now we were on the road again, and going to again as many public hearings as possible, handing out materials. Corridor Watch-created educational materials about the corridor itself, to kind of offset the public relations campaign that TxDOT was doing. I mean, under the guise of satisfying the environmental requirements, they were doing what amounted to a
public relations campaign, and for every concern that a citizen might raise, they had a response. I mean, if you didn’t like the idea of that this was just another road project and we should be looking at alternative transportation like commuter rail or high-speed rail, then they would say, “Oh yes, rail is a very important part this project; this is an important element; we share your concern.” But if you were a person who says, “Well, hey, I fought the high-speed rail project back in the 80s and you’re not going to get high-speed rail, here,” they’d say, “Well, you know; high-speed rail isn’t one of the first things we’re going to do; that’s not a very key element. Our first goal is to get the trucks out of the car lanes and then for safety.” And then it would be a safety concern, and so they had a response to everything. And another thing they used to calm people down is they would tell them, “This is a fifty-year project. This will probably never happen in your lifetime. This is going
to be a long time in coming. We have years of environmental studies to do; we have all of this planning that has to happen; don’t worry. Go home. Go about your daily activities,” this is—Michael Behrens actually said that to the meeting of the Eight Hundred, to one man who was worried. He said, “Don’t worry, just go home and go about your—your life as you ordinarily would, because this is going to be a long time in coming.” So most of the people that I talked to initially, first of all they didn’t believe TxDOT could ever come up with the—the money because it has this huge price tag, not realizing the money was going to be coming from this private partner, that TxDOT would never have to come up with the money. They were bringing
eminent domain to the table. They weren’t having to bring money to the table. And then this—this sense that it would never happen rapidly; it would take a long time. But, as—as TxDOT has continued with their public hearings, which they’re required to do by NEPA, then it’s been harder and harder for people to ignore it. And now it’s 2008, and they’re doing hearings for TTC69, well, this was the second priority corridor. These people really didn’t believe it was coming their way, and now it’s right in their backyard. And we get phone calls all the time from people, city councilmen in surrounding communities who say, “We didn’t think this was going to happen, and now they’re having a hearing in our town; you know, what can we do?” So…
DT: You mentioned some of the concerns that, that, people have brought to you where there was the due process issue, you know, they’re not being notified of these things, and when they are notified, the—the hearings are sort of pro forma. There’s not a real exchange. You’ve also mentioned the takings issues, you know, all these people with very historic ties to their land that would lose it. And, the fact that some of these corridors really would address the transportation problems that they already had, and that there would be tolls for roads perhaps they had already paid for with tax law. I guess, a fifth thing that I’d be curious about is whether they were, environmental concerns that were raised, since this would be a large paving project, in some sense and also, with the fence, I guess, a barrier to wildlife moving from one place to another. Did that ever come up when people talked to you?
LS: Yes. Yes. Probably not as much as we might like in some areas, but certainly there was concerns raised by Save Our Springs in San Antonio, and an organization in—oh, I’m sorry; Save Our Springs is in Austin and an organization in San Antonio area who were concerned about the effect on the aquifer, the Edwards Aquifer. All of this runoff from this extre—you know, extensive pave—paving, and also it’s a designated hazardous materials route. And you put a hazardous materials route through areas where they don’t necessarily have the equipment or the staffing…
DT: Linda, you’ve told us a little about the public relations and public information effort by TxDOT to try to explain Trans-Texas Corridor Project to the public and Corridor Watch’s response to that, and many different communities within that. Maybe you could also talk about the Trans-Texas Corridor Advisory Committee that you’ve served on starting in ’05, that gave you some sort of a window on what was going on inside the agency, and also what kind of connections there were to federal, agencies that were outside of the state.
LS: Well the governor could see that there was growing opposition to his pet project, the Trans-Texas Corridor. So he directed the transportation commission to create an advisory committee for what he described as “those people who object to the corridor project.” And it was interesting to see how that came to fruition because, first of all, we had to file an application and write a one hundred word essay as to why we should be on the committee which I thought was fascinating. It had been a long time since I had written an essay as part of an application to do anything. And—and they received, you know, hundreds of applications to serve on this advisory committee. And I applied; it was—it was sort of a given that someone from Corridor Watch would apply to serve on that committee, and I was selected, and
arrived at the first meeting of the advisory committee, thinking that surely there would be other people on the committee from other parts of the state who were equally concerned about transportation issues and opposing them, who didn’t like the tolling, or didn’t like the corridor, because we had, you know, quite a few groups now across the state that were forming to—to oppose it. And instead, I found myself in a—in a group of people who were largely transportation planners, or elected officials in areas where they were trying to get transportation projects. The former mayor of Fort Worth, the future county judge of Tarrant County, a city councilwoman from Dallas, a city councilman from Duncanville who is—what is a suburb of Dallas. I mean, these are places where they wanted transportation projects and they—they
really didn’t care how they got them. You know, if they had to go along with the corridor concept to get a transportation project in their area, they were willing to do that. And it wasn’t a group of opponents like I thought it would be. It was a lot of people who were very connected. I mean, they all knew each other. They knew the transportation commissioners, and they were very involved in transportation planning, and I felt like I was the only opposition voice, and I’m not sure they really knew what to do with me, either. But it was interesting as the committee evolved for—for about a year and a half, really all we did was have presentations from people from TxDOT who would come and tell us why we needed to have the corridor, why they didn’t have the money, why they needed to do it this certain way, why they had to involve a private partner, why it had to be where it was located, why it had to
be twelve hundred feet wide where—it was just sort of a—a lobbying effort, and why it had to be this certain way. There was no advising back to the commission from our membership. And—and some of the people who came in with some concerns about perhaps the way it was designed or the route that it was taking, they gradually came around to the TxDOT thinking. And they were also lobbying for their own point of view. The Dallas-Fort Worth were—the Dallas-Fort Worth people did not want the corridor to go around Dallas-Fort Worth so far away. They wanted it in closer. They weren’t as concerned about the corridor itself and the way it was designed as the were how far away it was from the Metroplex because they were—they feared losing business. I mean, they have a corridor that they consider “The River of Trade Corridor”. They created their own group, The River of Trade Corridor Coalition because they have economic investments all along that corridor and they didn’t want
that business pulled a way to a new corridor. So, that was their focus, but—but gradually they just sort of became, you know, a club of people who were all agreeing that they wanted transportation improvement. And me, and they would forget sometimes that there was a real activist opponent in the room, and during the 2007 legislative session, when a moratorium bill had been filed; Lois Kolkhorst in the house, and Robert Nichols in the senate; Robert Nichols who is a former member of the transportation commission and resigned and ran for senate, they had both filed a bill to put a moratorium on the Trans-Texas Corridor. And, David, my husband, David, and I attended an advisory committee meeting one morning when we were in Austin, we were going to hearings, at the Capitol, and we went to the advisory
committee meeting, and our guest speaker that day was going to be James Ray from the Federal Highway Administration, and he was on speaker, because he was in Washington. And, the local rep from the local Federal Highway Administration office came to talk a little bit to the group first and then we would get Mr. Ray on the speakerphone. And I sat down—there was only one seat left next to the young man who was from the local Federal Highway office, and I put my business card out in front so he could see who I was. Full disclosure on my part. And, he started talking about these letters that the Federal Highway Administration was going to draft at the request of TxDOT that would inform the legislature that if they passed these moratorium bills that were pending that they would jeopardize their federal highway funds. And this was designed to intimidate our legislature from acting. And David
went with me, and he was sitting in the visitor’s seats with his laptop, online. And, listening to them talk about this letter, and what the letter was going to say, and who they were going to send it to, and they would provide it to TxDOT, and then TxDOT could give it to Mike Krusee at the—at the transportation committee, and they could distribute it to the—to the legislators on the floor, you know, and—and intimidate them. So, David just sat over on the side and sent emails off to our friends in the legislature and to their staff, letting them know that this potential letter was coming, so that it was all diffused before it was even sent because it wasn’t really true. What they were talking about doing that was threatening the federal funding was—isn’t what the bill was designed to do. There was nothing at
risk as far as federal funding was concerned. It was just a scare tactic. And so the—our friends in the legislature were able to diffuse all those concerns in advance of this letter even coming out. And it was—it was amusing to us, because they really didn’t take Corridor Watch seriously. They thought we were just going to go away and we got some legislation passed in ’05, and the moratorium passed in ’07, and we have great hopes for the ‘09 legislative session. There’s a lot happening during the interim. The Sunset Commission is meeting. TxDOT is up for Sunset review. Agencies, state agencies, are reviewed by the Sunset Commission every ten or twelve years or so. And unless there’s a recommendation that the agency continue, the agency will be abolished. Unless the legislature actually takes a proactive vote to continue an agency, that agency will be abolished. Now there—we don’t really
anticipate that they would abolish TxDOT, but it is an opportunity for reviewing TxDOT from top to bottom and making changes and certainly addressing this autocratic manner that they’re using and changing this particular road project, we think, because of the way it’s been done.
DT: Alright. Linda, we’ve talked a little bit about the Trans-Texas Corridor project and Corridor Watch dot org. And in thi—this whole process seems to have been a real education for you about how politics and government work. And I was wondering what the take-away message has been for you about that whole process. Will it work; doesn’t work, how people can be more involved to make it maybe less dictatorial or autocratic, I think, was the word you used. How would you express that lesson?
LS: Well you can’t ever stop. You can’t ever take anything for granted. One of the mistakes—it’s one of the few regrets that I have through this whole process—one of the mistakes that I made is when my state representative told me that TxDOT would never get any of those legislative changes, I stopped paying attention for about eight months (clears throat). My daughter got married and we were involved in our own lives, and we weren’t monitoring the legislation that was coming out of the transportation committee. Had we done that, we probably would have seen what was, in fact, all of those legislative changes that TxDOT was hoping for. And maybe we could’ve had some—some impact on that, although I think that they were so overwhelmed with the opportunity to make big sweeping changes that we might not
have been able to—to stop them. You have to communicate. You have to—you have to be willing to pick up the phone and you have to be willing to write a letter. What we found is that politicians don’t receive as many letters as we think they do, and that one letter has far more impact than anyone believes, and twenty letters is overwhelming to them. I mean, if they receive ten letters, they know that there are thousands of people who didn’t take the time to write a letter, and it has a huge impact. That you have to pick up the phone, you have to make the phone call, you have to write the letter, and that the Internet is a great tool for grassroots organizations because you have an opportunity to share information immediately. That was the beauty of the situation at the advisory committee with the federal
highways letter, is that we were able to communicate immediately with our friends in the legislature. It wasn’t a matter of having to leave a meeting and make a phone call and try to find somebody. And it’s true of all of this. We’ve been able to be very agile in communicating across the state. I mean, when we were doing hearings, we would have flyers printed in other cities for people to pick up, you know, that we ordered online, and they could—we didn’t have to travel to those places to have an impact. I mean, the Internet has been a wonderful tool for grassroots organizations. So, I would say never, ever, ever (laughs) rest. You have to stay—you have to stay on top of it and you have to stay involved. And you have to communicate with your elected officials. It’s imperative, even at the local level. That’s the other thing, I think a lot of people feel that decisions are made at a much higher level and that
they can’t impact those decisions by communicating with their local elected officials. And what we found in this process that—was that one of the key players was the county judge, that the county judge has a lot of influence, and communicating with your county judge, and in some of these smaller counties, the disadvantage of being in a small rural county is that you don’t have a lot of representatives in the house. You don’t have a lot of representation in Austin. But, you probably have more access to your county judge than the average person does, and they have a lot of influence. And so communicating with your local elected officials is—is—has a big impact.
DT: Well it sounds like you’ve learned a lot about how government works and how you can leverage the influence an individual citizen would have. Maybe you can elaborate a little bit about that, about why this is important and maybe couch it in terms of how you would explain it to the next generation of people who come to live in Fayetteville, who have come to be concerned about some of the same things that affected you.
LS: Well, that—that you can make a difference. One of the—one of the things that happened—and one of the great things about doing this with my husband has been that—it’s hard to keep your enthusiasm up when you’re talking about something that nobody believes is real. And for years (laughs) in fact, we were told, “Oh, that’s not going to happen.” You know, “you’re just—that’s—that’s not even real, you know, that’s just an idea, you know that’s just a TxDOT plan. It’ll never happen. They don’t have the money.” And, there would be times when I would say to David, you know, “what can two people do? What can two people do?” And he said to me, one day, “I’ll show you what two people can do.” I think that’s a lesson that we’ve learned in this is that even a small number of people can have a huge impact if you are sincere in your convictions. We don’t have anything to gain by doing this. It’s
very difficult to—to undermine us in that. You know, no one can point and say, “Oh, well, they have monetary gain”, or, “they have political aspirations”, or, “they—they weren’t—want to get something out of this.” It’s that a small number of people can have a tremendous effect. Margaret Mead said that. I kept that quote on my computer screen for years: “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed citizens to make a difference. In fact it is the only thing that ever has.” And I take that with me, because these are—these are rural people that are fighting this, you know, these are people who are willing to drive their tractors up Congress Avenue in Austin to draw attention to an issue. You don’t have to be a high paid lobbyist to have an effect, and that you can try and change the world. And stop somebody from making a—a decision—autocratic is the right word. I mean, the
governor directed TxDOT to develop this plan because he wanted to take something out of the political mainstream and make it policy. Well, the political mainstream, that is where we have our impact as citizens. Politics has a dirty connotation. People say oh politics, you know, like it’s a dirty word. But politics is how citizens are represented in government. That is where we get our representation—our political representatives. If you take something out of politics, you take the citizens’ will out of it, and when you just make something policy, well you’ve taken citizens out of the mix. And this is supposed to be a democracy, and we are supposed to have a voice, and our concerns and our feelings are supposed to be taken into consideration. Rural Texas is at a dis—a disadvantage because per capita we don’t
have the representation in the—in the house and so you have to be united and you have to stay focused. But I would tell my grandchildren all the time, because I do have grandchildren; I have two granddaughters. And, we like to say, “Mimi can’t come see you this weekend because she’s busy trying to change the world!” and I love the legacy of leaving for my granddaughters, in particular, the idea you don’t have to accept something just because someone who is elected governor has decided that that’s the way it’s going to be. You don’t have to just accept it. You can try and make a difference, and you can persevere, and make a change. And I think we’ve done that, and I think that we have empowered a lot of people across this state, in particular, who really didn’t think they had a voice and really felt that they were left out of the process. And I think they felt really empowered by going up to Austin to marching on the Capitol steps. It’s a very awesome thing to do, to
stand on the Capitol steps and talk to a thousand people who have come to, you know, cheer you on in an issue that you feel strongly about. It’s really empowering. And, for the first time in the ‘07 legislative session, Senator Carona, who is the Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, he held a public hearing on the Trans-Texas Corridor. He opened the doors, had a public hearing and let the citizens come to Austin and come into the Capitol and address the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee about the Trans-Texas Corridor, and tell that community what they thought about the project. I mean, that was a first and that was in ’07. And all of that was very empowering for our membership.
DT: I’m glad that you gave the ability for all these citizens to be heard and also for us to hear the story, and (?). Thank you very much.
LS: Thank you!
DT: Appreciate your time.
LS: Thank you very much.
[End of reel 2406]
[End of interview with Linda Stall]