Texas House District 128 Candidates Spar Over Toll Road Issue

HOUSTON, Texas — Republican candidates in the Texas House District 128 race are trading political hits over whether the incumbent, Rep. Wayne Smith (R-Baytown) is in favor of tolling the Fred Hartman Bridge. Challenger Briscoe Cain says Smith’s record suggests he wouldn’t be opposed to the idea.

The bridge crosses the Houston Ship Channel between Baytown and La Porte, Texas. The bridge is named for the former editor of the Baytown Sun, Fred Hartman. It is currently designated as State Highway 146, and is expected to be incorporated into State Highway 99 (the Grand Parkway) when it is completed. The Grand Parkway is a toll road being constructed around the Houston metropolitan area.

Smith who is seeking reelection for his eighth term in the Texas House of Representatives has been challenged in the Republican primary by both Briscoe Cain and Melody McDaniel.

Cain has stirred up a firestorm in the race by suggesting that Smith is in favor of the road becoming a toll road. Cain told Breitbart Texas, “Smith has a record of supporting and building toll roads.”

Cain circulated an online petition to stop the expansion of SH 99 into SH 146 from being tolled.

The Smith challenger told Breitbart Texas, “I am running to give District 128 transparent, authentic and term-limited representation and I will not be building roads with your money to line my own pockets. That’s a promise.”

Cain points to an October 2015 article published in the San Antonio Transportation Policy Examiner entitled “Smith record causing opponent to raise Cain.” The article refers to the incumbent as “Baytown’s ethically challenged Wayne Smith” and is written by Terri Hall, the founder of the San Antonio Toll Party and Texans United for Reform and Freedom (TURF).

The Examiner article charges, as does Cain, that Smith’s “voting record on transportation reflects a disconnect with many Texans in District 128 who oppose toll roads, especially the privatization of public roads.”

The article also discusses what it calls “potential conflicts of interest” citing Smith’s work as a licensed professional engineer who owned Wayne Smith and Associates Consulting Engineers before his election. Smith served as the Legislative and Government Affairs chairman for the Texas Society of Professional Engineers and as its president, prior to taking office.

The Examiner article accurately notes that Smith’s wife, lawyer Brenda Ann Bradley Smith, practices at the Lockwood, Andrews, and Newnam firm. The firm website says that it offers “comprehensive services in engineering, planning and program management for the nation’s heavy civil infrastructure needs.” Another link to the firm’s website shows that the firm’s service areas include transportation, bridge and roadway design, toll roads and express lanes, and other transportation planning.

The State Bar of Texas directory also shows that Mrs. Smith lists “Construction” as her area of legal practice at the Lockwood transportation services firm. The firm designed segments of the Sam Houston Parkway, Hardy Toll Road, and is part of the Greater 288 Partnership which includes the Grand Parkway. Mrs. Smith (formerly Bradley) was appointed by Gov. George W. Bush to the Texas Board of Professional Engineers in 1998.

At the bottom of the online petition seeking to ensure that the Fred Hartman Bridge remains toll free, Cain’s petition includes a link to the fall 2015 San Antonio Examiner article.

“Texans are distrusting of toll authorities and for good reason,” Cain told Breitbart Texas. “We’ve been told time and time again that when the debt of building the toll road is paid off, the road will become a free public highway. We’ve been tricked too many times.” He added, “So when I realized that the only remaining portion left to make SH 99 a complete loop was SH 146 which includes the Fred Hartman Bridge, I decided to take a proactive step towards ensuring that the Bridge is never tolled.”

Cain continued, “The truth is Rep. Smith made his fortune on government construction projects through his civil engineering firm Wayne Smith & Associates and has been a key fixture in transportation policy in the Texas House for the past fourteen years.”

Cain also said that Wayne Smith & Associates was awarded millions in tax dollars from local municipalities such as the Harris County Commissioners Court for road and sewer construction projects, and previously served as the Construction Chairman for the Harris County Sports Authority, as well as, the House Transportation Committee of the Texas House of Representatives.

Smith has responded to the toll issue raised by his opponent Briscoe Cain and posted this statement on his website. The February 23rd statement, written by former Baytown City Manager Bob Leiper to The Baytown Sun, has been provided here in its entirety:

I was astounded by Briscoe Cain‘s claim that Rep. Wayne Smith is somehow trying to make the Hartman Bridge a toll bridge. As an attorney you would think he would seek the truth before making such a wild claim and blaming it on one of the best friends and advocate Baytown ever had in Austin. 

TxDOT’s policy on new toll roads has long been to maintain free travel on roads that are currently free. If you review the plans for Highway 99 currently under construction in Baytown you will find that travelers will still be able travel from the Fred Hartman Bridge and cross Cedar Bayou on a free roadway and continue along free frontage roads to access Chambers County just like they do now.

Rep. Smith was a tireless champion for Baytown and the surrounding area even before being elected to the legislature. In my long tenure working for the citizens of Baytown, I always knew a call to Wayne would result in rapid, positive action on any issue involving the State of Texas. 

Believe the facts, not political rhetoric, and keep Wayne Smith working for Baytown and the surrounding areas as our state representative in Austin.

Bob Leiper
Former Baytown City Manager

Smith’s challenger Cain contends, “Smith’s work history and legislative record on transportation gives Texans plenty to be concerned about.” He said Smith’s work in the legislature suggests he knows how the Grand Parkway (SH 99) will fallout.

When asked about whether making the existing bridge a toll road would even be legal, lawyer Cain told Breitbart Texas, “Current law permits turning an existing road into a toll road. SB 1029 was signed into law in 2013.  SB 1029 when introduced banned turning existing structures into toll projects; however, several exceptions were added to the bill during the legislative process. The final version of the bill allows an existing road to become tolled if the project is designated as a toll project before the contract to construct the segment is awarded.”

Cain added that the 2013 law also removed previous legal requirements that there had to be a public hearing, public vote, or approval of the county commissioners, before converting an existing freeway into a toll road.

Cain said that “Creating toll roads is all about profit. Contrary to popular belief, toll roads are not a consumption tax whereby the money simply goes to maintain that road. If it was just a consumption tax, there wouldn’t be a bunch of toll road lobbyists at the Capitol every year wining and dining our representatives and donating to their campaigns.”

Smith’s Republican challenger continued, “Conservatives have tried to end lobbying for toll roads but the efforts have been blocked each time. For example in 2009, the legislature passed a law to ban TxDOT from using tax dollars to hire lobbyists to produce ads to promote toll roads to Texans but Governor Perry vetoed it. There have even been lawsuits filed to try and end the practice,” he said.

Cain told Breitbart Texas, “To my knowledge there has not been a contract signed to begin the completion of SH 99 over the Bridge. This means there is still time to make it a toll. This is why it is so important for taxpayers to speak up and let their voices be heard.”

Lana Shadwick is a writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2

 

 


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