Truth on Tolled

It should have a spirited praying-mantis-fighting-a-cart quality — a movie about farmers and regular urban folk opposing (mainly) Texas Republicans in their push to make us all lay down, get paved over with toll roads, then pay Cintra-Zachry for the pleasure.

Instead, Trinity alum William Molina’s new documentary Truth Be Tolled (Storm Pictures) — although informative and midterm-election timely — is didactic and not nearly as entertaining as an insect Rumble ’Gainst the Tumbrel.

Split into four acts (not three?), the movie was filmed this past summer, in year two of Cintra-Zachry and Governor Rick Perry’s quest to build a 4,000-mile network of toll roads and rail and utility lines from Laredo’s inland ports to the Oklahoma border — a $7-billion project mixed with asphalt, steel, composite materials, and the orgasmic cream of the megabuck highway lobby (and the cream of the politicians who love them).

Known to some as the NAFTA Superhighway, it’s a right-of-way that would connect all points North American and guide trucked goods from the root (Mexico) to the toot (Canada). It’s better known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, and more cynically as the Trans-Texas Catastrophe by trailing Goob candidate and comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who appears in the documentary (along with a few statewide notables opposing toll roads, with Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson doing his best early slurry Brando — hot) and the Trans-Travesty Corridor by a woman testifying at one of the 54 public hearings that took place this summer.

The woman’s impassioned appearance on the mic is just one of many that turn up in Truth. Now we arrive at my chief complaint about the doc — which is still looking for screening hosts and maybe some love from KLRN or FRONTLINE, so I’m loath to kill it in its crib. But 75 percent of the film comes from public-comment periods at hearings on the proposed TTC and toll projects being railroaded through Bexar County for highways 281, 1604, and 16 (aka Bandera Road). Imagine 30-second snapshots of high-decibel, pissed-off citizens amplified through bad high-school and city-government microphones. Scratch that. Imagine you’re in a stiff theater seat, facing a line of angry white people determined to slap and shake you like you’re the hysterical passenger from Airplane. For two hours.

That’s not to say that Truth isn’t a good visual crib-sheet and antidote to pro-tolling pablum. The film collects every thread of the opposition’s argument: the environmental impact of more groundcover and development; the possible pledges to neglect existing free roads to divert traffic to the paid; how voters got duped into giving Perry the power to call in the toll; and the awesome powers of eminent domain.

Here’s a not-so-funny thing about eminent domain: The 2005 Supreme Court Kelo ruling made it clear that there are no constitutional protections for private citizens if the government or one of its private-sector friends wants to put your home to better use. Those powers together with the TTC will ensure a trail of tears, says the movie and its star, the handsome Terri Hall from the San Antonio Toll Party.

The stats-laden (and with-child-laden) Hall was on hand at a Trinity screening last week to pick up where the film essentially left off (August). TxDOT caved (September) under the weight of a lawsuit and finally unveiled its master plan for the first phase of the TTC: I-35 south of San Antonio would meet up north of Dallas-Fort Worth and go all the way to Oklahoma. She summed up the 1,600-page plan meaningfully: “1.2 million people will be displaced, and not just in rural Texas,” she said.

If only the filmmaker (four parts?!) had been as concise.

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