Exxon: ‘One Mega-Highway, Please.’ Texas: ‘Coming Right Up’

It’s generally difficult to determine exactly how and to what extent the shadowy hand of Big Oil is at work in our publicly funded infrastructure decisions.

ExxonMobil wants to move its headquarters 10 miles further from the city of Houston. And that's all the reason Texas needs to spend $5.2 billion on a highway. Photo: Bloomberg

Some of the more notable exceptions over the past few years have included the Koch Brothers-Scott Walker Wisconsin roads bonanza. Or the attempted assassination of the Cincinnati Streetcar by Ohio’s asphalt lobbiest-turned-DOT Director, Jerry Wray.

But Texas has just taken self-interested interference in public infrastructure projects by an oil company to a whole new level.

Nevermind that the state can’t afford it. Or that the region doesn’t have the congestion to justify it. The Houston region is renewing its push for a $5.2 billion third outerbelt at the behest of ExxonMobil.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the state is short about $315 billion — with a b — short of what is needed just to keep its existing highways in good repair and moving smoothly.

But Exxon has apparently pulled the well-worn trump card for private businesses seeking massive public subsidy in the form of roadways: it has threatened to leave the region. The multinational oil corporation has plans for a 385-acre campus, naturally, outside the reach of Houston’s two existing outerbelts, according to the Huffington Post.

The commission’s vote in support of the project was unanimous, and if all goes as planned, the segments of the road adjoining ExxonMobil will go online just as the company’s new campus, which sits about 10 miles up the road from its old campus, is completed in 2015.

David Crossley, the president of Houston Tomorrow, which studies urban issues in the region, said that “six months ago the Parkway project was essentially dead. But when Exxon began to close in on their decision, everything started going really fast. It’s breathtaking how they got this going again.”

Houston real estate developer and transportation commissioner Ned Holmes said last winter that “Exxon representatives have stated very clearly to me that TxDOT moving forward on the Grand Parkway is essential, and that if that did not happen, they would not select this site,” according to Houston Tomorrow.
Holmes added that it was “kind of a deal-breaker” for the company, according to the organization.

The best part is, after Exxon collects its multi-billion-dollar road subsidy from the state of Texas, residents of greater Houston will be forced to drive further distances in a more sprawling region, adding to Exxon’s bottom line.

Oil subsidies. And you thought they were just corporate tax breaks and military intervention.