8/24/2007Texas Department of Transportation Uses Gas Tax Money to Lobby for Toll Roads
Activists urge investigation of Texas Department of Transportation lobbying on behalf of toll roads.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has been spending millions on a public relations project designed to lobby the public and the legislature on the benefits of toll roads. The San Antonio Express News reported Monday that an internal TxDOT memo entitled "Keep Texas Moving: Tolling and Trans-Texas Corridor Outreach" suggested the agency would spend $7-9 million promoting the tolling concept. In February, the state auditor's office chided TxDOT for hiding lobbying expenses behind other, legitimate expenses.
"A total of $4.5 million associated with the 21 invoices described above was charged to the incorrect activity," the audit report stated (view excerpt). "For example, $52,000 of a $628,000 invoice that was charged to engineering was actually for public relations expenses."
The multi-million dollar public relations campaign began in June with paid advertisements and a slick website called Keep Texas Moving, which promotes the 4000-mile Trans-Texas Corridor proposal. Expected to be up to 1200 feet wide, the toll road will cost between $145 and $183 billion to construct and require acquisition of 9000 square miles of land. Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, opposes the Trans-Texas Corridor and today sent a letter to Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle urging him to open an investigation.
"It's not only an inappropriate and wasteful use of our gas tax dollars by an agency perpetually claiming it's out of money for roads, but it's illegal for a public agency to take a policy position and use the public's tax money to sell them something using an under-handed PR campaign," Hall wrote.