There used to be a time that a multi-lane road was constructed to allow the ingress and egress of citizens to get from one point to another. These expanded roads were often referred to as “Freeways”. Around 1988, when construction began to connect Highway 59 South to I-10 West, they called it the Beltway, and the origination of the term, “Toll Road” was coined. In 2016, instead of SH-288 being expanded as a “Freeway” to handle the growth that has occurred as a result of the developments along the corridor, it is going to be expanded as a “Toll Road”. So much for things being free.
I know, I know, there will be those that argue, “You DON’T have to take the toll lanes as you can still use the other lanes and sit in traffic for 90 minutes.” That’s like auto dealers selling brand new cars in Houston, where air conditioning is an OPTION that you can add if you want. But shouldn’t the widening of SH-288 be an expense incurred by our municipalities? Isn’t that part of the budget? Also, should it be legal to have Eminent Domain if the roads are being constructed to later profit from? Am I correct that the Beltway is no longer locally owned? Am I not accurate when I state that every toll you pay actually goes to a corporation in Asia? If I am going to lose my land via Eminent Domain for the benefit of all of our citizens, I can swallow that. But if I am losing my land so it can be developed to later be sold for profit to an international corporation, then I don’t feel warm and fuzzy anymore.
“But David, no one’s land is being taken today. This project is going down the middle of 288, where the land already is owned by the municipalities.”
Correct, the municipalities do own the land. They took this land from private land owners in the 50’s for the creation of SH-288. And this is why I am politically involved within my industry. TREPAC, which stands for Texas Real Estate Political Action Committee, was created to fight for private land owners in the State of Texas. Realtors invest in the PAC to help pass along our clients’ and neighbors’ concerns and fears to the public servants on the local, state and national level. We are here to fight for your rights. You all know a Realtor, or two, or ten. Call them, text them, instant message them. Ask them if they are contributing to the PAC. All TREPAC is asking for is $45 from Realtors. Almost half of the Realtors in Houston do NOT contribute. This money is being used to protect ALL of us!
Now I know, many of you do not feel that this affects you directly. How many of you attend a place of worship that is located along a highway? In the future, one of those churches could be impacted and forced to lose their house of worship if Eminent Domain is used to acquire their land. How many entrepreneurs will lose their livelihood if they are forced to sell their land and shut down their businesses so a municipality can expand roads, which may or may not be later sold to a private firm for profit? Shouldn’t these citizens be informed of how their land will be used? Shouldn’t reparations be made if the land and/or its toll roads or trains are later sold to a private entity for profit? Shouldn’t these private land owners have penalty clauses written into their sales contracts similar to what was written when the land for Memorial Park was transferred to the City of Houston? In 1924, the Hogg family agreed to sell the land to the City as a “memorial” park after World War I with the understanding that if the city ever altered its usage and decided to develop the land, the Hogg’s would take back the property rights of the 1,503 acres of land. Now that is a nice way to keep the City honest.
Currently, the route for the high speed train that will connect Houston to Dallas is being determined. Town Hall meeting are happening to inform the private land owners. The land owners know that this is a private, “For Profit” organization. They also understand that their land can be acquired via Eminent Domain if necessary, so shouldn’t these land owners have representation that ensures they receive appropriate compensation for their land? I am ignorant to their representation but I would hope they are receiving more per square foot than usual considering this is not land to be used by a municipality. This is land to be used by a corporation and they can be forced to sell it even if they don’t want to. We need the train, but if a corporation is buying my land instead of a city, then I sure as heck want to command more money for my property.
I am perfectly fine with Eminent Domain, so long as there is proper disclosure and protections in place, such as the Memorial Park example above. But 288, was acquired from a private land owner in the 1950’s. I would imagine he was told this land would be used for public roads as a means of travel. I am certain he never would have guessed there would ever be a fee associated to using the road. Had he known, I would presume he would have had a clause written into the purchase of sale to further compensate him or void the sales contract. Either way, 60 years later, the expansion of the road will have a tax, excuse me, a toll attached to it. Will this toll road be sold for profit to a private corporation down the line for profit?
But I get it, we only have so much money to spend on roads. We have budgets, we have had countless studies performed to help guide our policy makers on these hard decisions. The money for the roads is a relatively small percentage of the budget. And as you know, the City of Houston spends a large portion of this budget on repairing potholes. Because, after all, if you didn’t know, Houston is known for having a zero tolerance policy on potholes. But it’s time the public took notice. Take a look at your annual expense on tolls. Couldn’t you use that money on something more necessary? Couldn’t you have replaced that water heater a year earlier if you had the extra money that you spent on these tolls? But you didn’t have the extra money, so instead, the water heater leaked and caused thousands of dollars in damage to your home. It would have been only a couple of hundred dollars in damage if you would have caught it sooner. But you didn’t…it started leaking at 6:00pm. You left work at 5:00pm and didn’t get home until 6:30pm. Had you taken the toll road that day, you would have been home by 5:30pm and noticed it immediately. But today was the day, that you decided to sit in traffic for 90 minutes because you couldn’t afford to continue to pay that toll.