Thursday, May 26, 2005

"This legislation, HB 3588, gave far-reaching powers to the state for this land grab."

Commissioners hear from opponents of Trans Texas Corridor

May 26, 2005

The Gonzales Inquirer
Copyright 2005

Gonzales County Commissioners Court has been asked to pass a resolution opposing the Trans Texas Corridor.

Dianne Raef, accompanied by Mickie Wallace and Dane Sullivan, on Monday, May 23, addressed the commissioners court with information opposing the Trans Texas Corridor.

Raef said that in 2002 Gov. Rick Perry announced his corridor vision and instructed TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) to prepare an action plan to build the Trans-Texas Corridor. Within six months TxDOT had completed the plan and presented it to the Transportation Commission. "Without any substantive discussion or debate and without public comment the commission approved the plan as presented on June 27, 2002. This legislation, HB 3588, gave far-reaching powers to the state for this 'land grab'," Raef said.

The corridor proposal is for 10 lanes of vehicular traffic, 6 lanes of rail, and a utility corridor for natural gas, water, electrical and cable lines. The TTC is designed to be 1,200 feet wide with limited access ramps.

"That would consume nearly 600,000 acres of Texas farm and ranch land, impacting 74 counties and dividing many pastures. Water rights as well as mineral rights would be lost. The land would be seized through eminent domain with owners given 90 days to evacuate their property," Raef said.

This land would then be leased to a company in Spain, Centra, to build and set the tolls for 50 years. $60,000 was spent to send state representatives to Spain and France to solicit these bids. Another $3 million was spent to contract with Centra for a proposal to be completed by December 2005. "Texas has at least 3 companies listed in the 'Fortune 500' businesses. Why do we need to go to Europe for U.S. building contractors?" Raef asked. "The 4-year-old Laredo toll road has been a disaster and truckers do not use it because of the added expense. Why would they use the TTC?"

Her questions to the commissioners court were: "How did this happen? Is this legal? How will this impact our small towns? How will this impact our pocketbooks and land?"

She showed a map of the proposed TTC and said that more than 30 counties in Texas have signed resolutions opposing TTC.

"Countless letters, petitions, signs and rallies have begun asking to stop or at least 'slow down' the decisions until local citizens in Texas can be made aware of the far-reaching impact this proposed corridor will have on our land," Raef said. "We want transparent decisions. I am requesting that Gonzales join these other counties in passing a resolution to oppose the TTC."

Raef said there were many facts and figures in this proposal and she hoped that she had shared them all accurately. She further encouraged County Judge David Bird and the commissioners to read to keep abreast of the changes and amendments to the original HB 3588, which gave the governor this overwhelming power to act without voters' consent.

"'Taxation without representation' is what began the 'Boston Tea Party,' and now I am in favor of an 'Austin Toll Party' if we are not given adequate representation," Raef said.

She encouraged Gonzales County residents to contact the governor's office (800-252-9600) as well as Sen. Ken Armbrister (512-463-0118) and Rep. Edmund Kuempel (512-463-0602) to express opposition.

The next meeting of Gonzales County Commissioners Court is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday, June 13.

"Interested citizens are invited to attend as it is an open meeting," Raef said, adding that comments or questions can be made to individual county commissioners or the county judge's office at 672-2327 or Dianne Raef at 361-865-2154.

Copyright © 2006 The Gonzales Inquirer


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Protests from McLennan County officials and residents.

Transportation group recommends area corridor location, but many oppose project

Wednesday, May 25, 2005
By Matt Joyce, staff writer
Waco Tribune-Herald Copyright 2005

The Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization recommended Tuesday that the Trans-Texas Corridor should run east of Interstate 35 if built through McLennan County, despite a string of protests from county officials and eastern county residents.

The planning organization's policy board accepted the possible route, which would place the corridor from five to 10 miles of I-35, but also strengthened its position that the state should drop the corridor project until I-35 is fully expanded and more construction is warranted.

The resolution passed 8-4 after a discussion that ranged frequently into outright opposition to the state's proposal to build a tolled transportation network of highways, railways and utility infrastructure from Oklahoma to the Mexico border.

Critics of the eastern alignment said the corridor would harm the communities, school districts and agricultural foundation of eastern McLennan County.

McLennan County Commissioners Lester Gibson and Wendall Crunk each spoke against the corridor's passage east of I-35, where their precincts are located. They urged the policy board to reject any sort of resolution related to building the corridor in McLennan County.

"My precinct is part of the farming community," Gibson said. "(The corridor) would be very disruptive in regards to what has been accumulated by long-term work."

Supporters of the resolution said McLennan County communities would lose their opportunity for local input into the corridor project by remaining silent.

They also said their emphasis on urging the Texas Department of Transportation to concentrate on expanding I-35 to six lanes in rural areas and eight lanes in urban areas might buy time before the state commits to building the corridor in McLennan County.

The Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization sets regional transportation priorities for projects that use federal highway or transit funds. The policy board is made up of representatives from McLennan County, the state transportation department, the city of Waco and 18 other McLennan County cities.

Policy board member Mike Nicoletti, Lacy-Lakeview's city manager, voted for the resolution but said he is against the corridor project.

"Who knows if we'll need an alternative route in 15 to 20 years?" Nicoletti said. "There's a lot of expansion still possible in I-35."

The resolution will be submitted to the transportation department and the Texas Transportation Commission, said Christopher Evilia, director of the planning organization.

The transportation department is working through an environmental study to narrow a 50-mile-wide corridor study area to 10 miles wide by spring 2006. Department officials have said they hope to break ground on the first section of the corridor, a four-lane divided tollway from Dallas to San Antonio paralleling I-35, by 2010.

The local resolution is non-binding on the state.

"I just don't want (the transportation department) to think that if we're approving this resolution then we're supporting the corridor," said McLennan County Commissioner Joe Mashek, a board member who voted for the resolution based on his support for completing I-35 improvements. "Personally, I think this resolution will have no bearing."

The policy board adopted the same route decided on last week by a planning organization technical committee.

Evilia said the committee's recommendation was based on a few primary considerations for a possible corridor route:

No further than five miles from the Waco urbanized area.

Completely outside of the Lake Waco watershed.

Accessible to existing freight rail lines running east from Waco's industrial areas.

The policy board also followed the technical committee's recommendation that any passenger rail elements of the corridor should run through downtown Waco, rather than east of the city.

Rick Wegwerth, of Robinson, questioned the corridor's affect on water sources other than Lake Waco.

"There are at least 30 rural water supplies on the eastern side of McLennan County," he said. "What do you tell those people?"

Jim Jaska, the mayor of Ross in northern McLennan County, voted against the resolution.

"If they go through and get the improvements on I-35, there's a possibility we may not need an alternate route," Jaska said. "Who's to say five to 10 years from now that alternate we chose today will be the best one?"

"Citizens Advisory Commitee" meets for the first time

Transportation corridor panel formed
By Gordon Dickson, Staff Writer
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Copyright 2005

AUSTIN -- Until Wednesday, they were mostly 22 strangers.

A Gulf Coast banker. A Waco veterinarian. Dallas-Fort Worth politicians past and present. A smattering of businesspeople who know something about oil, water or electricity.

The statewide group, which met for the first time Wednesday, is the Trans- Texas Corridor Advisory Committee -- and its task for the coming years may be as tedious as its bureaucratic name.

The committee will keep a watchful eye on the construction of the multibillion-dollar toll road network known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, which is currently being planned and designed. Their charge: to ensure that state leaders understand public sentiment as they make decisions along the way.

The entire 4,000-mile network is expected to take about 50 years to build. The first piece is a planned toll road from Dallas-Fort Worth to San Antonio, which is tentatively scheduled to be under construction by 2007 and completed by 2015.

"I want to know if the Texas Department of Transportation is listening to us," said Tarrant County Commissioner Glen Whitley of Hurst, a member. "I want to know how we connect into it and what it does to rural areas. I am very anxious that local representatives know where to look."

The group was appointed in March and April by the state transportation commission at the encouragement of Gov. Rick Perry. He has been fiercely criticized for his aggressive support of toll roads.

Watchdog group members are unpaid and will travel to Austin monthly at their own expense. They have no legal power -- other than persuasion.

Over the next several months, members will be expected to decide what issues of the Trans-Texas Corridor they think Texans care about the most -- perhaps the taking of private land for right-of-way, access to the toll roads or water rights along public property.

With the transportation department's research staff at their disposal, they can investigate those issues and vote on official positions. Then they can announce those positions to the public.

Another member from Tarrant County, former Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr, said his main concern is that he doesn't want the Trans-Texas Corridor to siphon jobs away from established areas such as the Interstate 35 corridor. To address that concern, Barr may push to restrict development along the toll roads.

"I want to make sure that we aren't artificially creating sprawl," he said.

Some members aren't convinced that the watchdog effort will do much good.

"I wonder ... if it's scripted," said Linda Stall of Fayetteville, an escrow officer who was asked to join the watchdog group after becoming co-founder of an opposition online newsletter, CorridorWatch.

Stall believes state leaders would like rubber-stamp approval of the state's toll road plans, and forming the watchdog group may have been a way to control opposition.

"I don't have high expectations, but I will participate," she said.

At least a third of committee members are opponents of the Trans-Texas Corridor, or represent communities with large pockets of opposition -- including Dallas and Waco.

As a result, Whitley said, the group should have a loud voice for its views, even if it lacks raw legal power.

"I don't know if this group will have any teeth to it, but the minute this group finds out it's a rubber stamp, all hell will break loose," he said.

Transportation commission Chairman Ric Williamson of Weatherford said the amount of influence the group carries will depend upon how much work it puts into the task.

"Some members would like to influence whether we build the Trans-Texas Corridor or not, and that's not the purpose of the committee," Williamson said.

But, he said, if the group wants to weigh in on a specific project -- perhaps a future road alignment -- "It's very early, and there's plenty of time to have input."

Trans-Texas Corridor Advisory Committee members:

-Kenneth Barr, Fort Worth, former mayor
-K. Stephen Bonnette, San Antonio, engineer, businessman
-Louis Bronaugh, Lufkin, mayor
-Tim Brown, Belton, Bell County commissioner
-Sid Covington, Austin, commuter rail district chairman
-Deborah Garcia, El Paso, speech pathologist
-Sandy Greyson, Dallas, councilwoman
-Judy Hawley, Corpus Christi, port commissioner
-Roger Hord, Houston, civic leader
-Alan Johnson, Harlingen, banker
-William Madden, Dallas, businessman, former state water official
-Marc Maxwell, Sulphur Springs, city manager
-Ann O'Ryan, Austin, AAA auto club
-Charles Perry, Odessa, chemical engineer and businessman
-Jose R. Ramos, Buda, engineer and planner
-Wes Reeves, Amarillo, energy industry
-Grady W. Smithey Jr., Duncanville, councilman
-Linda Stall, Fayetteville, escrow officer
-John Thompson, Livingston, Polk County judge
-Martha Tyroch, Temple, councilwoman, medical rehabilitation
-Roy Walthall, Waco, college instructor, veterinarian
-Glen Whitley, Hurst, Tarrant County commissioner


Kerr County joins 24 other counties who have passed a resolution opposing the Trans-Texas Corridor

Officials express opposition to corridor

By Glenda Taylor
Kerrville Daily Times
Copyright 2005

Kerr County will join 24 other Texas counties who have passed a resolution opposing the Trans Texas Corridor, a 4,000-mile project unveiled by Gov. Rick Perry in January 2002.

The court signed the resolution in Monday’s commissioners’ court session, after revising the wording presented in its original form by Pct. 1 Commissioner Buster Baldwin.

In February, a group of Kerr County residents outlined for the court the potential negative impacts of the corridor. Statewide, the project potentially could take more than 55,000 acres of land from Texas farmers, ranchers and homeowners, according to information provided by the Kerr County opposition group.

Baldwin said his purpose for bringing the resolution to the court was to let state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran and the Texas Department of Transportation know that Kerr County “opposes this thing.”

Baldwin said it was the “no compensation” for the state’s acquisition of government-owned property that caught his attention.

“They pay for nothing,” he said. “It just smacks of communism.”

Baldwin said his hope was that the resolution would make its way to the governor’s desk.

“If we’re going to chunk rocks ... that’s where they go,” he said.

The revised version of the resolution reflects court’s opposition to the quarter-mile width of each corridor and the project’s negative impact on the local economy “by splitting farms and ranches.”

The resolution also points to the 2003 legislation, HB 3588, which provided the authority to create the Trans Texas Corridor.

In addition, the court agreed that the projected cost of the Trans Texas corridor, estimated at $184 billion, “will place an unnecessary financial burden on state taxpayers.”

Pct. 4 Commissioner Dave Nicholson said improvements are needed in the state’s highway system. However, he said he had issues with parts of the project.

“I oppose it as it is proposed,” Nicholson said in Monday’s court session. Texas highways are “dangerous and crowded,” he added. “I don’t oppose the concept.”

Pct. 3 Commissioner Jonathan Letz agreed.

“Parts of the corridor are very much needed,” he said. “But I think the scale is ridiculous. I don’t see the need for three- or four-rail systems.”

Letz suggested adding the words “as it is currently proposed” to the resolution.

Pct. 2 Commissioner Bill Williams described the north/south corridor of the project as “ambitious,” but said there was an alternate plan that raised more concern.

“There is another corridor proposed that would cut Kerr County in half,” Williams said. “That is the one that gives me a pause for concern.”

The 25 Texas counties, which oppose some or all aspects of the Trans Texas Corridor, join the Texas Farm Bureau in opposition to the massive project.

The Farm Bureau has opposed the corridor for numerous reasons. Not only will the corridor cut through large areas of farming and ranching land across the state, there is no plan to provide access to those landowners whose property is divided by a corridor.

Other issues include those of emminent domain, said the Farm Bureau, which “directly conflicts with the requirement of the Texas Constitution.”

The Trans Texas Corridor plan would allow the state to lease condemned land to private business interests, preventing landowners from negotiating with private interests, according to the Farm Bureau. Its main concern is the overall impact of the Trans Texas Corridor on landowners across the state.

“There is legislation making its way through that would help address at least some of the issues with the corridor plan,” said Ned Meister, director of Commodities and Regulatory Activities at the Texas Farm Bureau. “It still doesn’t resolve a lot of the issues of imminent domain.”

Kerrville Daily Times:


Sunday, May 22, 2005

Senate and House to hold conference committee on "cleanup" transportation bill.

Senate tweaks rules for toll roads

Transportation plan calls for public vote before money could be collected on existing roadways

Mike Ward, Staff
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2005

The Senate unanimously approved the legislative session's major transportation plan Saturday after dropping an amendment that critics feared could have added more than $1 billion to its cost.

Late Friday, the Senate added the amendment that would have required the state to pay for relocating utilities along the routes of toll roads.

Texas Department of Transportation officials were concerned that the amendment by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, might apply retroactively to costs previously borne by utility companies.

After overnight negotiations, Wentworth withdrew his amendment.

The Senate version of House Bill 2702 would limit commercial investment in a proposed Texas turnpike network and would require public approval before a free road could become a toll road. The House-passed version contains no such provision.

An amendment added Saturday by Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, would prohibit billboards along Texas 130 in Travis County.

Because the Senate-passed measure contains different wording and provisions than the version approved earlier by the House, the legislation now goes to a conference committee to resolve the differences.

The Senate version:

* Would require a public vote for all conversions of existing roads to toll roads.

* Would remove the ability of the state to purchase land on the Trans -Texas Corridor and use it for a garage, store, restaurant or hotel. The House version would continue to allow such uses.

* Would require that gas stations and convenience stores on the Trans -Texas Corridor be in the median, not outside the lanes, and be no closer than five miles from regular entrances or exits.

* Would require state or local governments to regulate toll rates, rather than granting that authority to private toll road concessionaires. The conference committee probably will be led by Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, and Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, the sponsors of the House and Senate versions.

Both measures clean up House Bill 3588, the 300-plus-page legislation from 2003 that granted the state and regional mobility authorities a wide range of powers to create toll roads.

Also included in the Senate version is an amendment added late Friday that could send more auto burglars to prison.

It would allow them to be charged with a felony on their second offense. The cost of that change could run $4 million a year, earlier estimates indicate.

Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, who has opposed such efforts throughout the legislative session to help limit prison crowding and bolster the use of probation and community justice programs, said he intends to get the auto burglary amendment stripped from the measure when it gets into negotiations with the House.

"It shouldn't be on there. It's not germane," Whitmire said. "It needs to go."; 476-3640

Additional material by staff writer Ben Wear

Copyright (c) 2005 Austin American-Statesman:


Toll Detours?

Tollway plans now face vote detours

Associated Press

AUSTIN — Conversion of existing Texas freeways into toll roads would require a public vote under a transportation bill approved Saturday by the state Senate.

The same bill also strengthens some private property rights in the event the state takes land for highway projects.

The Legislature made sweeping changes in the transportation code in 2003 to open the door for the use of tollways to generate revenue for construction to ease traffic congestion.

But toll roads have been met with stiff resistance in some areas as residents complained roads that were promised as freeways later were set to become tollways.

Under the measure passed Saturday, any attempt by the state to convert a freeway to tollway would require a public vote. If local governments tried to do it, it would require a vote of the local county commissioners court.

It also requires that any tolls collected would have to be used on local transportation or air quality projects.

The bill also would have some impact on the development of the Trans-Texas Corridor, Gov. Rick Perry's ambitious $184 billion vision of thousands of miles of tollways, railways and utility lines crisscrossing the state.

The state already is under contract with the Spanish consortium Cintra to begin designing the first 600-mile phase to run roughly parallel to Interstate 35.

Although the plan calls for Cintra to operate and collect the tolls for 50 years, the Senate bill gives the state the power to regulate the toll rate.

The Texas Farm Bureau had resisted the corridor project with worries that farmers could be forced to give up land without adequate compensation. The Senate bill requires the state to pay for the land it acquires and for damages that may be caused by a split in property.

The bill also limits groundwater pumping in affected areas and requires the state to provide access to the corridor where it intersects other state and federal highways.

Texas Lawmakers Have Their Own "User Fees"


The financial contributions of special interests speak louder than citizen protests when it comes to legislative support for the Trans-Texas Corridor.

May 21, 2005

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2005

As Texas geared up to launch the biggest public construction project in the nation, perhaps it was inevitable that the prospect of $175 billion or more in government contracts would create a traffic jam of special interests outside theoffices of elected officials in Texas.

The project would build a web of multipurpose tollways across Texas. The plan pushed by Gov. Rick Perry would allow a Spanish consortium, Cintra, to build and operate the system of 1,200-foot-wide transitways, including road and rail, and collect revenues for the next 50 years. A bill authorizing aspects of the project is cruising through the legislative session, fueled by nearly $3 million in campaign contributions over the last four years to officials from the governor down to key state representatives.

A broad-based but cash-short alliance opposes the Trans-Texas Corridor. The alliance includes conservative municipal officials whose cities and towns might not have easy access to the system; ranchers and farmers along the routes whose land is threatened by condemnation; and environmentalists who fear the impact of the giant ribbons of concrete on the ecology of the state. So far their protests seem to be having little effect inside the state Capitol.

A new study by the nonpartisan Texas government watchdog group Campaigns for People helps to explain why. Entitled "Big Money Paves the Way for the Trans-Texas Corridor," it tracks how the corridor's proponents have utilized the time-honored Texas method of "pay to play" to nudge government along in making the project possible. Teams vying for the franchise recently awarded to Cintra contributed heavily to lawmakers who voted to give the state expanded power to acquire land for the tollways and broad authority to privatize public roads and highways and convert them into toll roads.

According to the report, "in the process of creating new financing mechanisms for building Texas highways, legislators rewrote Texas' laws to the advantage of private corporations that will build, maintain and toll not only new roads as part of the TTC, but also existing and even partially built roads that may be converted into toll roads."

Top construction firms and teams bidding on the TTC contributed $1.2 million between 2001 and the end of 2004 to state government leaders, ranging from the governor to Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, and nearly $1.5 million to key state senators and representatives. One of Gov. Perry's aides, Dan Shelley, previously worked for Cintra and introduced its representatives to state transportation officials.

Houston state Rep. Garnet Coleman co-sponsored a bill in the current session that would have required more public hearings before corridor construction commenced and would have prohibited the conversion of existing public roadways into privatized toll roads. The bill died in committee without even getting a hearing. A well-publicized rally by rural landowners at the Capitol drew 500 activists from across the state and calls for the governor's impeachment, but
had no visible impact on the Trans-Texas Corridor's support inside the Legislature.

While lawmaker opposition is muted, two statewide officeholders who may run against Gov. Perry next year are criticizing aspects of the corridor. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison introduced an amendment to a federal transportation bill last week that would ban tolls on existing federal highways. She said tolling existing roads to pay for new ones amounts to double taxation.

Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn also has come out strongly against what she called "The Trans-Texas Catastrophe," describing it as "the largest land grab in Texas history."

Hopefully the public will get a chance to express its views on the Trans-Texas Corridor in next year's state elections, since special interest cash and lobbyists seem to have a stranglehold on the issue in Austin at the moment.

© 2006 Houston Chronicle: