Conservative leader Terri Hall has spent 15 years fighting toll roads in Texas—and winning.
Along the way, the Texas toll-road warrior organized influential networks of grassroots activists to oppose the anti-taxpayer transportation projects, locally and statewide, and she says others can work together to achieve similar successes.
A strong believer in faith, family, and liberty, Terri grew up in the Silicon Valley but says biblical conservative values were inculcated in her from a very young age.
Once she and her high school sweetheart married and started a family, they fled California for a place that allowed them the freedom to homeschool.
They settled in the Texas Hill Country and grew their family to 10 children. But Terri still found time for politics—and toll-road politics, in particular, found her.
Terri said she’s always been politically aware. “I was the homeschool mom everyone used to ask who to vote for at election time.”
But all that kicked up about 10 notches in 2005 when the Texas Department of Transportation tried to convert a paid-for freeway in San Antonio into a toll road and hand it over to a private, foreign corporation in a 50-year deal:
I was in a TxDOT hearing when the public found out what was going on, and everyone in there was so upset and felt betrayed. TxDOT had just a few years earlier promised to expand this highway with gas tax funds, and here we were hearing them claim that now there was no money and hundreds of thousands of drivers would now have to pay a toll tax to use the same lanes we drove on today toll-free.
Shortly thereafter, Terri found out about the Trans-Texas Corridor that would create a network of foreign-operated toll roads across 4,000 miles of Texas, and she immediately got to work to stop it all:
I knew if I could tap into that frustration, we could build a grassroots revolt that could stop it. We did. It took until 2012 to remove the Trans-Texas Corridor from the transportation code (working with a massive network across the state), and after two lawsuits, running many candidates, and relentless grassroots pressure, we finally got the tolls off US 281 in San Antonio in 2017. Also, during that time, we built a statewide grassroots network opposed to this new form of toll tax and stopped dozens of other toll projects around the state. But by far, the most satisfying was finally stopping the one in my own backyard. It took 12 years, but we did it!
Terri founded two grassroots organizations to fight toll roads: Texans for Toll-free Highways (originally called San Antonio Toll Party), a political action committee that vets and endorses candidates; and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), a nonprofit that leads on statewide legislative advocacy.
She has sat through countless hours of TxDOT public hearings on highway projects, Transportation Commission meetings, and committee hearings in the state Legislature and U.S. Capitol to advocate for taxpayers. She’s also debated adversaries, given television and radio interviews, spoken at conferences and rallies, and written over a thousand articles on toll roads.
But Terri says her favorite activity is “educating groups from business associations and think tanks to every sort of grassroots group, and meeting and working with thousands of concerned citizens across the great state of Texas.”
I consider them family, and it’s all of them that inspire me when faced with another defeat or setback. It’s their faces that motivate me to never, never, never give up even when staring down the armies of lawyers, special interests, taxpayer-funded lobbyists, and local governments on the other side that have seemingly endless resources to thwart our reforms.
Can other Texans do what Terri has done? “Yes!” says Terri:
I was one person who saw a major abuse of taxpayers involving our freedom to travel and half a billion dollars about to take place. I wasn’t sure how to organize at first. But I knew there were plenty of folks at this first TxDOT hearing that were just as upset as I was, and I just needed to reach them and tap into that. So, I reached out to a friend who hosted a local radio talk show to announce my first meeting, and the rest is history.
What started with less than 20 people in a school library grew into hundreds of thousands across the state. We were repeatedly told we couldn’t undo it (whether US 281 or the behemoth Trans-Texas Corridor)—that it was too late, it was a done deal.
Yet with unwavering resolve, educating fellow Texans and showing them how to be effective in advocating before their elected officials at every level of government, coupled with thousands of hours of grassroots organizing, legislative advocacy, and supporting the right candidates, our grassroots network made a tremendous difference.
In 2020, Terri received a Conservative Leader Award—recognition from her peers for years of organizing to make Texas a better place for her family and fellow Texans.
Thanks to her network of activists, the anti-toll road movement has accomplished many of its goals, but Terri says there is still more work to do.
“Tolls must come down when the bond debt is paid off, and toll collection and billing abuses continue to be a disaster for Texas drivers,” she said. “When over 2 million drivers have been put into collections over unpaid tolls, we have a Texas-sized problem—and at the very least, over-criminalization. Both reforms are in the GOP platform, and it’s far past time for these to become law.”
As a small-business owner and busy homeschool mom with six kids still at home, Terri doesn’t have much time for her favorite leisure activities like baking, camping, playing strategy board games with family and friends, or just reading a good book.
But the TURF team is sure to be back at the Capitol this legislative session, fighting for taxpayers’ freedoms and against abusive road tolls.
“Not too many folks can say they removed an entire chapter of the transportation code or stopped many multibillion-dollar, ill-conceived toll projects and dozens of really bad bills,” Terri concluded. “But with the Lord’s favor and a lot of persistent hard work, we did it, and so can you!”