Friday, June 10, 2005

San Antonio City Council Members Wary About Corridor Secrecy

Some on council wary about toll road secrecy

June 10, 2005

Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

The tradeoff of sacrificing open government to attract private investment in toll roads is beginning to sink in for some local elected leaders.

And it's not a comfortable feeling, said City Council members who met Thursday.

State officials have promised to let local leaders have input on a recent proposal by Spain-based Cintra and locally owned Zachry American Infrastructure to take over planned toll roads in San Antonio. But to protect trade secrets, state law prohibits public discussion of details.

''It's absolutely out of the question,'' said Councilman Chip Haass, who says private sector dollars to solve traffic problems is otherwise tempting. ''You could not convince the constituents of San Antonio that this is a good deal.''

Officials can't even see the Cintra-Zachry proposal without signing confidentiality agreements, which would prevent them from talking to anyone who hasn't signed an agreement. Local leaders might end up taking shots in the dark at what is sure to be a moving target.

''This whole deal scares the hell out of me, quite frankly,'' Councilman Roland Gutierrez said. ''There's so many details that we can't even begin to contemplate.''

At stake is local oversight of construction and operation of 47 miles of toll roads on Loop 1604 and U.S. 281 on the North Side, including toll fees of 15 cents or more a mile. The system could cost $1.3 billion.

The Texas Department of Transportation plans to use gas taxes and other public funds to build 22 miles of toll roads and give them to the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority. Local officials intend to use the toll fees to double the network and continue expanding.

Cintra-Zachry submitted a proposal to the state in April that calls for private investments to construct the whole system faster, and the companies in turn would collect the toll fees for up to five decades. If considered, a call for other bids would have to be made.

Mobility authority board members could sign confidentiality agreements but probably wouldn't be able to discuss the proposal as a board -- not in a public meeting or, under current laws, in a closed-door session, an attorney advised them this week.

Meanwhile, Cintra-Zachry may file a lawsuit over last week's opinion by the Texas attorney general that development and financial details in a March contract for another road project -- the Trans Texas Corridor segment paralleling Interstate 35 -- must be disclosed.

''We believe there's some proprietary information and some financial information that should not be made public,'' Zachry spokeswoman Vicky Waddy said. ''People ought not to be able to take our intellectual property and use it for other projects.''

Transportation department officials are discussing whether to challenge the opinion, spokeswoman Gabby Garcia said.

The Trans Texas Corridor is a proposed 4,000-mile network of toll roads, rail lines and utility lines that could cost $184 billion and take more than 50 years to build. Cintra-Zachry's contract with the state is to produce plans for the first leg, from Mexico to Oklahoma.

Opponents say they're appalled at the secrecy swirling around the massive effort.

''We believe that the public is unaware that our system of open government is under gross attack,'' said David Stall of

San Antonio Express-News:


Texas politicians are marching in lockstep with international trade groups (NASCO, NAITCP, CNATCA)


Phyllis Spivey
June 10, 2005
Copyright 2005

Imagine this: your state government puts a transportation corridor in your neighborhood. It’s nearly a quarter-mile wide. It will serve vehicles and trains and incorporate oil, gas, electric and water lines. Try to fight it and you’ll not only face the combined might of your local, state, and federal governments, but foreign interests as well. The internationalization of U.S. roads has begun.

We’re not just talking about isolated instances of privately-built toll roads with foreign management, as we’ve seen in Southern California. We’re talking about networks of toll roads that may be built by foreign builders, managed by foreign operators, function primarily to accommodate foreign goods, and connect U.S. roads to similar networks in Canada, Mexico and, later, Central and South America.

Interstate 69, for example, is a planned 1600 mile national highway connecting Mexico, the U.S., and Canada. Eight states are involved in the project: Once completed, I-69 will extend from Port Huron, Michigan to the Texas/Mexico border.

In Texas, I-69 will be part of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) project – a 4000 mile network of existing and new toll roads – which will create the largest private highway system in America. Interstate 35, also called the Oklahoma to Mexico/Gulf Coast element, will be developed as part of the TTC.

Plans call for the TTC to be 1200 feet wide with 10 vehicle lanes (three passenger vehicle lanes in each direction), truck lanes (two in each direction), six rail lines (three in each direction), two tracks for high-speed passenger rail, two for commuter rail and two for freight. The corridor will include a 200 feet right-of-way for oil, gas, electric and water lines.

According to Corridor Watch, a group opposing the TTC, Governor Rick Perry announced his Corridor vision in 2002, instructed the Texas Department of Transportation to prepare an action plan and within six-months the Department of Transportation presented the finished product to the state Transportation Commission. “Without any substantive discussion or debate and without public comment,” the Commission approved it, a plan projected to cost up to $185 billion and take up to 50 years to build.

In 2003, the Texas Department of Transportation sent representatives to Europe to find “partners,” visiting London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Barcelona. By December 2004, Texas had selected a Spanish firm to finance and build the first segment of the TTC. In March 2005, Department of Transportation officials, joined by Governor Perry and Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters, signed a 342-page agreement with the firm.

Not only did the Bush Administration bless the project, but the Federal Highway Administration announced in March 2004 that the first segment of the TTC had been granted “experimental project status” and construction could begin before the environmental study was complete. Work could start even before public hearings were completed.

Three months later, the Republican Party of Texas adopted as part of its platform the following statement: “Because there are issues of confiscation of private land, State and National sovereignty . . . , the Party urges the repeal of (legislation) authorizing the Trans-Texas Corridor. Further, we urge the removal of all authorization and powers granted the Texas Transportation Commission and the Texas Department of Transportation for the construction and operation of the Trans-Texas Corridor.”

Corridor Watch now reports widespread and growing public opposition, describing Texans as “extremely concerned about the state creating a transportation, communication, utility and economic development monopoly. They are concerned about a project that will consume 584,000 acres of land impacting land owners, farms, ranches, wildlife, the environment, communities, taxpayers, water rights, local economies, and more.”

Texans are also concerned about how the law authorizing the TTC grants dictatorial powers to the Transportation Commission for the taking of private property. The powers include purchase and condemnation of property contiguous to an existing or planned segment of the TTC, for use in constructing or operating the TTC, or for ancillary facilities that directly benefit users of the TTC, e.g., businesses, and – “for virtually any revenue generating purpose.”

“With complete disregard for public will and the citizens of Texas,” Corridor Watch says, “our government is marching forward.” But Texas state officials are not marching alone.

Texas politicians are marching in lockstep with international trade groups such as North America’s Super Corridor Coalition ( NASCO), the North American International Trade Corridor Partnership, (NAITCP) and the Central North American Trade Corridor Association (CNATCA)

NASCO ( describes itself as a “public/private, non-profit corporation seeking to create an international trade corridor system throughout North America, secure funding for certain projects, i.e., tax dollars, and promote the development of International Trade Processing Centers. A lobbying group, linked to other lobbying groups, it is “partnered” with the North America’s Supercorridor Caucus in Congress and working with Senate committees on a Multi-State International Corridor Development Program. Tim Brown, a Bell County, Texas Commissioner is President.

NASCO opines that, because of “several important trade agreements, the heartland of America enters a new era as a geographic crossroad for international trade.” They refer to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) nations of Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. and “those who will follow,” doubtless meaning the CAFTA and FTAA (pending trade agreements) countries of Central and South America. NASCO’s Web site links to the NAFTA Secretariat site where you may view "the complete text of the NAFTA."

The NAITCP ( purports to be a “partnership of cities of Mexico, the United States and Canada linked by a trade corridor that works to promote economic and social development in our region.” NAITCP just held its 11th annual summit in Mexico, May 11-13. It was called “Hemispheria, the North American Convergence Summit,” and featured working groups on “Trade and Transportation Corridors in North America, Smart Borders, and Cultural Integration.”

The CNATCA ( aims to encourage “continued economic integration between the three North American countries and to foster greater collective involvement in the emerging global economy.” Dedicated to “proactive global citizenship,” the Association’s Web site presents the flags of Canada, the United States and Mexico both horizontally and vertically, but as one entity, the U.S. flag between the other two.

CNATCA’s project, the Central North American Trade Corridor, extends from Alaska through the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, the Oklahoma panhandle, and Texas, and then south of the U.S. border to Mexico City.

No wonder Texans are frustrated. How much influence can citizens exert when policy-making goes international? This is a question Americans everywhere should be asking, for the next trade corridor, toll road network, or inland port could land anywhere.

Nearly two dozen states have passed legislation allowing their transportation systems to operate toll roads and okaying private firms to build and run them. The Bush Administration is easing the way for states to convert car pool lanes to toll lanes, and to allow private investors to build and operate highways. Converting existing roads to toll corridors – thereby forcing taxpayers to pay each time they use roads for which they’ve already paid – is a great revenue producer for big spending governments.

California might be next. Governor Schwarzenegger reportedly favors toll roads and last February offered a provocative glimpse of California’s future: “We’re going to make an announcement really soon where we’re going to look at our whole infrastructure and transportation and we have a very creative way of financing it. We want to approach it in a very radical way and then look at all kinds of transportation.”

Could the governor be thinking of the TTC model, transit ways built by foreign firms with foreign money in exchange for decades of toll revenue? Providing political justification for such a move is the state’s near-bankrupt condition, years of diverting road monies to finance general obligations, and a freeway system in crisis with the volume of international cargo traffic exploding.

Why foreign involvement? Besides cost considerations, modern trade agreements prohibit discrimination against trading “partners”, i.e., foreign suppliers of goods and services, even in the area of government procurement. NAFTA, for example, mandates treatment “no less favorable than the most favorable treatment” the U.S. accords to its own goods and suppliers.

Another NAFTA mandate – and likely the primary impetus for developing the Texas corridor – authorizes Mexican trucks to transport international cargo throughout the U.S.; it also allows the establishment of Mexican trucking enterprises in the U.S. and permits Mexican bus services throughout the U.S.

Lawsuits based on environmental issues have delayed implementation of these provisions, but in June 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that environmental reviews were not required. The latest holdup is an agreement on safety standards, UPI reporting in March 2005, that Mexico would not allow U.S. safety inspectors to check trucks on its side of the border.

But expect Mexican trucks to roll soon and, then, look out. Trade agreements with all of Central and South America are pending. If approved by Congress – the North American Trade Corridor will likely be linked with transportation corridors all the way to Tierra del Fuego.

The trade agreements that have already transformed America’s culture and economy; will now slice up America’s heartland – at U.S. taxpayers’ expense – decimating farmland, small communities and, of course, property rights. Our shredded borders will open fully to trucks, busses, and people from all points north and south, the trucks delivering products and services once produced in the U.S.A. by Americans.

President Bush is demanding Congressional approval of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Many legislators – even those who express outrage over present border problems -- have already caved. Call your Congressman toll free at 1(877)762-8762. Demand a No! vote on CAFTA.

© 2005 Phyllis Spivey - All Rights Reserved :


Thursday, June 09, 2005

Interest Groups give rundown of 79th Legislative Session:

Reactions to the 2005 legislative session

by James A. Bernsen

Volume 9, Issue 41
The Lone Star Report
Copyright 2005

This week, LSR spoke to a variety of interest groups to get their rundown of the high and low points of the session. The following is a sampling of their assessments of the 79th Legislative session:

Mike Lavigne, Texas Democratic Party

There's a few gems, but mainly a lot of coal. We didn't get CHIP back up to where it needs to be. It was kind of an anti-woman session, with a parental consent bill and other bills against what the women's caucus had been fighting for.

Obviously, school finance and the tax plan was just a big boondoggle.

Luckily, that voter ID bill didn't pass. That was just a big waste of time and energy. Obviously, we're not happy about HJR 6 (gay marriage ban)....

Another thing that's good that happened this session was that Texas Grants got funded again, and that was thanks to Sen. Rodney Ellis [D-Houston]. I'm sorry that tuition deregulation didn't get addressed this session. That's something that needs to be addressed...The low income folks have grants that are available, and the higher income folks don't have to worry about it, but it's the middle income folks that get crushed.

It would sure be nice to get a little bit of leadership here...There was a lot on the table, and nothing got addressed.

Billy Howe, Texas Farm Bureau

We think HB 2702 did make [the Trans-Texas Corridor] better for rural Texas for landowners and agricultural producers. We didn't get everything we would have liked to have gotten, obviously. There's always some compromise there that you have to do. I think, particularly on the access issue...the biggest issue for our folks is getting from one side of the corridor to the other side of the corridor, if it cuts off county roads, farm-to-market roads, things of that nature...That's the one issue where we didn't get as much as we'd have liked. On the other [corridor] issues, we, to a large extent, succeeded in what we wanted to do as far as getting some better compensation. (see p.8)

We worked with the [National Rifle Association] on SB 734, dealing with being able to maintain your right to hunt on your property if you get annexed into the city limits. In some instances, landowners had lost their right to hunt on their property if they were in the city limits...That was a property rights win for us.

School finance was a big issue for everybody. In any version of the school finance bill, we felt that agriculture was O.K. with the new taxes...

Nothing much really happened on water. There only a few significant groundwater bills that passed, HB 1763 by Robby Cook, and HB 2423 by [Robert] Puente...I think [SB 3] had a lot of good stuff in it.

Dick Lavine, Center for Public Policy Priorities

I am glad that we got out of session without increasing the regressivity of the tax system. Especially the House plan, with an additional penny on the sales tax would have moved us in the wrong direction, from our point of view. The best parts of the tax debate [were]...the attention paid to the tax equity note and the fact that regressivity was an element in the debate. We see that as a step forward. The Senate plan, maybe in response to the attention paid to the regressivity, included that Lone Star Card rebate...That is a very important recognition of the impact of the sales tax, especially on families at the bottom, and on middle class families too.

...Still, the top 10 percent came out the best [in the Senate plan] and then maybe the 10 percent just below them, followed by the bottom 10 percent. So, rather than being a straight line, it bowed it a little at the end, made it more of a horseshoe. That's a real innovation in Texas tax policy.

In our case, a lot of [our successes] were preventing steps in the wrong direction. For instance, HJR 35, the appraisal caps, which we thought would have not just limited the ability for local governments to raise money, but would have caused all kinds of disruptions in the market by creating these anomalies where people living in houses right next to each other would pay different taxes based on how long they'd lived there...

Elizabeth Graham, Texas Right to Life

Although the 79th Legislature did not muster the strength to pass any of the multiple pro-life bills filed due to committee road blocks, points of order, and substantial political infighting, a few pro-life amendments were added to other bills.

Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas) successfully amended SB 419 (the Board of Medical Examiners Sunset Bill). Hartnett's first amendment...renders more effective the original third trimester abortion ban by narrowing the definition of severe physical impairment and by removing the mental health exception, a major loophole of the pre-existing language.

The second Hartnett amendment on SB 419 mandates parental consent for abortions on minors...(The judicial bypass provision in Chapter 33 of the Family Code will still allow a minor to bypass her parents if necessary).

The parental consent amendment as a whole leaves a few issues unresolved. First, notarized or in-person parental consent is not required, allowing any person (including the minor) to forge a parent's signature on the consent form. Second, even if an adult is present at the abortion clinic to sign the consent form, there is no required verification of the adult's status as the parent or legal guardian, allowing sexual predators to pose as the parent, sign the form, and force the minor to have the abortion. Finally, no specific legal penalties are outlined for a physician that is in non-compliance with parental consent, providing little or no incentive to comply.

Michael Sullivan, Texas Public Policy Foundation

I think that it's real important to focus on the fact that some really good things came out of the legislative session, most notably the Governor and the Speaker and the Lieutenant Governor need to be firmly congratulated for bringing the state two very positive things for economic growth, most notably asbestos reform and workers' compensation reform.

[On education reform] it took a great deal of political courage and will to put forward some of those things despite what was the known opposition there. I thank Kent Grusendorf and the education committee and others for even having the guts to bring up a lot of those reforms.

It is unfortunate that the same fiscal restraints that were evident two years ago were fairly absent this time. A 19 percent increase in the budget is not sustainable, and it really drives home the need for true tax and expenditure limitations in the state...

Certainly, I think all of us would like to have seen a property tax reduction come out of this session, but I don't think any of us were interested and thrilled at the thought of that property tax reduction coming at the expense of new taxes...It was a good thing that at the end of the day our tax system maintained the status quo, because it was on a track to getting a lot worse...

Kelly Shackelford, Free Market Foundation

We thought it was a little disappointing. Stuff that should have been very easy to get through was very hard to get through, unnecessarily so. So even the things that we won on, like the marriage amendment and parental consent...There wasn't a single pro-life bill that went through the regular process and made it, which is unheard of when you look at the legislative makeup and how those people are pro-life...

The marriage amendment again was much more difficult than it should have been. It got out of committee only after being watered down, and we had to strengthen it back up on the floor of the House...and then we had problems in the Senate. Again, this is an issue that is an 80 percent issue, and it almost got killed...

On the other side, you've got things like school choice and truth in taxation which were killed. Really the talk of the session was all about new taxes, which we think would have been a horrible mistake, and fortunately, everything died. Everybody else is crying over the fact that things died, but we're very pleased, because the whole debate was wrong.

Frank Sturzl, Texas Municipal League

It was a really hard session for us, although at the end of the day, things came out OK for us. The appraisal caps got voted down on the House floor. On the revenue caps, or the rollback bills, the one that passed, sponsored by Sen. [Tommy] Williams was certainly something that we can live with and does, I think, solve many of the truth in taxation issues that the Governor was concerned about...

We faced the takings legislation.[U]ltimately it died. The telecom and the cable legislation came out of the House but did not pass muster in the Senate and died as well. We opposed that bill. We spent a lot of time negotiating with SBC and trying to come up with something that we can all live with, but we just never got there. I think there's a way to do this...[W]e just didn't think we found the right mix of provisions...

Some of the worst bills were bills pushed by builders and developers. One of them was amended on third reading in the House to make it look like zoning is now affected by the permit vesting statute. We're not sure how that will play out...So presumably we'd be banned from zoning for the duration of eternity, but we don't know that [for sure] yet.

All in all, the story for us was we were busier than ever...We ran 20 miles and sort of stayed in place.

Dinah Welsh, Texas Hospital Association

Overall, it was a challenging session, I think with the impetus on public school finance and property tax relief. For hospitals and health care, our No. 1 issue continues to be increased funding because of our Medicaid rolls and our uninsured. Providers, hospitals and docs are very interested in health care spending. Medicaid spending did increase. Children's Health Insurance Program received additional dollars and increases in case loads and cost growth were reflected in the budget allocation. On some hands, I think we did well, but on others not. On one hand, you had the ICM [Integrated Case Management]; and on the other hand, you had a trauma sock in the gut.

Many of the benefits in CHIP were restored and some of the benefits to Medicaid were restored. I think one of the things that we've really worked hard on was SB 500, which secured a change in the insurance code to allow hospitals to offer discounts on health care services to uninsured patients. That was really big for us as far as trying to address the uninsured problem on a local level, where hospitals could provide some kind of discounts.

On nursing workforce, we were able to secure $6 million for nursing faculty recruitment and retention and secured almost $2 million for financial aid to nursing students...On patient safety and quality of care...we secured the creation of an advisory panel to study and develop recommendations for collection and reporting of health care associated infection rates, which I think is definitely the right step...

One of the big issues that really was a challenging issue for many was the physician self-referral issue. There were a number of bills out there, but SB 872 was Sen.[Jane] Nelson's bill that requires a study on the issue, that was passed. We're really excited about that study...It is about a level paying field...We're optimistic that there will continue to be a debate and discussion of the issue.

Any other groups interested in sharing their views of the session can email their comments to and they will be considered for the Newswire section of the LSR website.

The Lone Star Report:


A partial Review of House Bill 2702

A look at the latest Trans-Texas corridor bill

by Christine DeLoma

Volume 9, Issue 41
The Lone Star Report
Copyright 2005

In the final days of the session, lawmakers approved a comprehensive transportation bill that addresses issues relating to the 4,000 mile, multi-million-dollar Trans-Texas Corridor plan, concerns over property rights, and the financing of toll roads.

Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) authored and Sen. Todd Staples (R-Palestine) sponsored, the omnibus transportation bill, HB 2702.

Here's a summary of the issues addressed in the legislation:

Toll road conversions

A law passed two years ago allows the state to take existing free roads – already bought and paid for with tax dollars – and turn them into toll roads. The law drew the ire of taxpayers throughout the state.

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's (CAMPO) plan to toll existing roads throughout the Austin area is one example. Public opposition caused CAMPO to retreat on its plan to turn a portion of U.S. 183, already under construction, into a toll road in Northwest Austin.

This year, the Legislature addressed this highly charged issue. HB2702 says that voters must now approve the conversion of a free road into a toll road. But there are exceptions.

The legislation does not apply to projects that were started before Sept. 1, 2005.

Conversion of free roads to tolls is also allowed if a project expands capacity without eliminating non-tolled lanes. In this case, a public vote would not be required.

Private property concerns

HB 2702 addresses the private property concerns of the Texas Farm Bureau over construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Farm Bureau spokesmen earlier told lawmakers the Corridor's proposed width (1,200 ft.) could split up many farms and ranches, making it difficult for property owners to reach their own properties. To visit both sides of a property that had been split in two, for example, a farmer might have to drive as much as 30 miles to an overpass over the corridor, then drive the same distance down the other side.

To assuage such concerns, the legislation allows TxDOT to compensate property owners for the severing of their land. TxDOT can purchase part of the farmer's land and pay for any damages caused by the severance. TxDOT can also allow farmers to build an alternative route to access their severed property.

Compensation could come in other forms as well. Instead of paying a fixed purchase price to acquire property for a toll project, TxDOT can pay property owners affected by the corridor a percentage of toll-generated revenue as well as rights to free use of the toll road.

Other private property protections include requiring the state to provide farmers, ranchers and businesses sufficient notice before filing a declaration of a taking of their land for toll road construction.

HB 2702 limits commercial development along the Corridor. The Texas Transportation Commission is prohibited from leasing condemned land to commercial businesses or ancillary facilities, like gas stations and convenience stores, unless the facilities are located within the median of the highway and are more than 10 miles from the nearest intersection of a state or interstate highway.

The legislation allows property owners to retain development rights when their property is to be used for an ancillary facility.

Water rights

A major concern with the Corridor project is water rights. HB 2702 prohibits any groundwater pumping except for use in the construction or maintenance of the project.

It also clarifies that the use of a well located within the boundaries of a groundwater conservation district is subject to the district's rules.

Financing of toll and non-toll roads

Despite the toll road controversy, HB 2702 makes it easier for TxDOT and counties to acquire financing to build toll roads. The Legislature raised from $800 million to $2 billion the ceiling on TxDOT expenditures for "toll equity" grants, which are funds from gasoline taxes used to pay for toll roads.

The legislation also allows particular counties to issue bonds to construct, maintain and operate toll or non-toll roads or facilities. Counties that choose to take on a toll road project can leverage revenue bonds to potential toll revenue.

If TxDOT requires that toll roads be included in regional mobility plans, the legislation prohibits the use of Texas Mobility Funds.

Comprehensive development agreements

HB 2702 allows the state to enter into comprehensive development agreements (CDA) with private companies to build and operate both tolled and non-tolled projects. The CDA can include the setting and collection of tolls and penalties. TxDOT must approve the methodology for the determination of toll rates. The length of the contract cannot exceed 50 years.

The legislation also authorizes the state to enter into CDAs for the construction and operation of rail projects.

Hydrogen fuel vehicles

A portion of the bill authorizes TxDOT to buy hydrogen-fueled vehicles fitted with hydrogen internal combustion engines or fuel cells. Another portion allows for the construction and operation of five hydrogen refueling stations along the Corridor.

If TxDOT secures funding for the project, consumers may be able to purchase fuel for their hydrogen- fueled vehicles. TxDOT would also collect data on emissions of these alternative-fueled cars and compare them with emissions from standard internal combustion vehicles.

Odds and ends

* Commuter rail referendum. HB 2702 allows Capital Metro to hold a referendum on commuter rail expansion in May or August rather than in November of even-numbered years.

* State Aircraft Pooling Board abolished. All powers, duties and obligations are transferred to TxDOT.

* Vehicle registration renewal notices . Outsourced to private companies.

* Billboards prohibited on segments 1 through 4 of SH 130.O

The Lone Star Report:


Cintra- Zachry' s secret unsolicited bid

Toll panel runs into roadblock

June 9, 2005

Patrick Driscoll , Staff Writer
San Antonio Express-News Copyright 2005

Mum's the word on details of a proposal by a private consortium to take over planned toll roads in San Antonio, and it's driving local officials crazy.

The unsolicited proposal from Spain-based Cintra and locally owned Zachry American Infrastructure must be confidential to ensure fairness if the Texas Department of Transportation seeks other offers.

But that policy is running headlong into a promise from the state that local officials can help evaluate the Cintra- Zachry proposal, as well as other bids.

''It's bad. It's a policy collision,'' said Bill Thornton, chairman of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority. ''Something has got to be resolved.''

At stake is local oversight of construction and operation of 47 miles of toll roads on Loop 1604 and U.S. 281 on the North Side, including toll fees of 15 cents or more a mile. The system could cost $1.3 billion.

Here are some problems outlined Wednesday at a meeting of the Mobility Authority:

--Authority director Tom Griebel can view the Cintra- Zachry offer after he signs a confidentiality agreement today. But he won't be able to talk to board members about it.

--Authority board members also could sign confidentiality agreements. But they wouldn't be able to discuss the proposal as a board -- not in a public meeting or, under current laws, in a closed-door session.

--Local elected leaders, and motorists who will pay the toll fees or face increasingly congested roads, likely will be left in the dark when officials decide whether to let private companies take over tollways here.

''If that's the process, that's the craziest thing I've ever heard of,'' said board member Bob Thompson. ''We just have to stop right here and say no, that doesn't work.''

For the past year, the state transportation department had planned to use gas taxes and other public funds to build 22 miles of toll roads and hand them over to the Mobility Authority, which intended to then double the network.

At the same time, the Cintra- Zachry team developed its plan to use private investments to construct the whole system faster. But the companies would collect toll fees for up to 50 years -- money the Mobility Authority otherwise would use to continue expanding tollways.

Cintra- Zachry officials submitted their proposal to the state in April. If considered, a call for other bids would have to be made.
San Antonio Express-News:

"The U.S., Mexican, and Canadian governments remain zealous defenders of an outdated conception of sovereignty..."


A North American Community Approach to Security

June 9, 2005

Speaker: Robert A. Pastor
Concil on Foriegn Relations
Copyright 2005

Testimony of Dr. Robert A. Pastor, vice president of international affairs, professor, and director of the Center for North American Studies, American University before a hearing of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Chairmen Lugar and Coleman, Members of the Committee. I appreciate the invitation to testify before your Committee. You asked me to place the issue of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative within the context of North American cooperation and border control and to relate it to the recent report by an Independent Task Force on the Future of North America sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. The Chairs and Vice Chairs of the three nation, 31-person Task Force were John F. Manley and Tom d’Aquino of Canada, Pedro Aspe and Andres Rozental of Mexico, and William F. Weld and I from the United States. Entitled Building a North American Community, the report offered a blueprint of the goals that the three countries of North America should pursue and the steps needed to achieve those goals.

The focus today is on the new requirement for all citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda to have a passport to travel among our countries. It is intended to secure the homeland, but I question whether this approach will achieve the goal, and I fear that it will harm other U.S. interests and divert us from more effective paths toward securing our continent.

As we approach the fourth anniversary of 9/11, it is time for us to step back from our trauma and the border and examine the problem in a broader context. The best way to assure security is not at our borders with Canada and Mexico and not by defining “security” in conventional and narrow terms. We need to think about these issues in the context of a continent that is integrating economically and socially at a rapid rate. The problem is that the three governments have failed to understand this phenomenal transformation. Policy has not kept pace with the market, and our security is endangered as much by the limits of our vision as by the terrorists who threaten us.

Defensive about Europe’s example, we have failed to learn from their experience and succumbed to the opposite mistake. Whereas Europe built too many, intrusive, supra-national institutions, we have practically no credible institutions. Instead of trying to fashion a North American approach to continental problems, we continue to pursue problems on a dual-bilateral basis, taking one issue at a time. But incremental steps will no longer solve the security problem, or allow us to grasp economic opportunities. What we need to do now is forge a North American Community, based on the premise that each member benefits from its neighbor’s success and is diminished by its problems.

The subject of this hearing today— whether passports should be required to cross our two borders— is symptomatic of the problem. We are thinking too small. We need to find ways to making trade and travel easier while we define and defend a continental security perimeter. Instead of stopping North Americans on the borders, we ought to provide them with a secure, biometric Border Pass that would ease transit across the border like an E-Z pass permits our cars to speed through toll booths.

In my statement, I will comment first on the emergence of North America, the next decade’s agenda, and the response by the three governments. Next, I will describe some of the recommendations of the Council Task Force Report and focus on the travel initiative and the security and border issues.

As a word of introduction, I have been working on issues related to North America for nearly thirty years— in the government, in a non-governmental organization (the Carter Center) monitoring elections in Mexico, the United States, and Canada, and as a teacher and writer of five books and many articles on the subject of North America. Because I believe deeply that our security and prosperity depend on forging a new relationship with our neighbors, in September 2002, I established and now direct a Center for North American Studies at American University.

The Emergence of North America

On January 1, 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect. If one judges a free-trade area by the size of its product and territory, North America became the largest in the world, larger than the European Union (EU). Yet that fact escaped all but a few analysts. It is widely known that the United States has the world’s largest economy, but North America also includes the eighth (Canada) and ninth (Mexico) largest economies as well. (The Economist, 2004)

In the eleven years since NAFTA came into effect, U.S. trade (exports and imports) more than doubled with its two neighbors— from $293 billion in 1993 to $713 billion in 2004. Annual flows of U.S. direct investment to Mexico went from $1.3 billion in 1992 to $15 billion in 2001, and the stock, from $14 billion to $57 billion. The annual flows of U.S. investment in Canada increased eight-fold, and the stock of FDI increased from $69 billion in 1993 to $153 billion in 2002. Canadian investment flows to the United States grew from a stock of $40 billion in 1993 to $102 billion in 2001.

Travel and immigration among the three countries also increased dramatically. In 2004, people crossed the two borders about 400 million times. The most profound impact came from those people who crossed and stayed. The 2000 census estimated that there were 21 million people of Mexican origin in the United States. Nearly two-thirds of all Mexican-born immigrants arrived in the last two decades.

North America is larger than Europe in population and territory, and its gross product not only eclipses that of the EU but also represents one-third of the world’s economic output. Intraregional exports as a percentage of total exports climbed from around 30 percent in 1982 to 58 percent in 2002 (compared to 61 percent for the EU). Our two neighbors export more energy to us than any other country, and U.S. exports to them were nearly twice those to all of Europe and nearly four times those to Japan and China in 2004. North America is no longer just a geographical expression. It has become a formidable and integrated region.

North America’s New Agenda and the Response

With a few notable exceptions— such as trucking, softwood lumber, and sugar— where U.S. economic interests have prevented compliance, NAFTA largely succeeded in what it was intended to do: barriers were eliminated, and trade and investment soared. A decade later, however, North America faces new challenges that require new policies.

--First, NAFTA was silent on the development gap between Mexico and its two northern neighbors, and that gap has widened.

--Second, NAFTA did not plan for its own success: it failed to invest in new roads and infrastructure to cope with more trade and traffic. The resulting delays raised the transaction costs of regional trade more than the elimination of tariffs lowered them.

--Third, NAFTA did not address immigration, and the number of undocumented workers in the United States jumped in the 1990s from 3 million to 11 million (55 percent or 6 million came from Mexico).

--Fourth, NAFTA did not address energy issues, a failure highlighted by the catastrophic blackout that Canada and the north-eastern United States suffered in August 2003, and the dramatic growth in imports of natural gas by Mexico from the United States.

--Fifth, NAFTA created few credible institutions to coordinate policy, leaving the region vulnerable to market catastrophes like the Mexican peso crisis.

--Finally, NAFTA did nothing to address security, and as a result, the long-term effects of September 11 threaten to cripple North American integration.

This is the agenda for North America in the next decade. On March 23, 2005, President George Bush, President Vicente Fox, and Prime Minister Paul Martin met in Texas. This was not their first meeting, but the others had been little more than photo-opportunities. The three leaders announced a “Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America,” based on the premise that both security and prosperity are “mutually dependent and complementary.” They declared that the partnership is “trilateral in concept,” but the framework was incremental and dual-bilateral in fact.

Instead of addressing chronic problems like softwood lumber or sugar, the three leaders tasked their Ministers to chair working groups with “stakeholders” and produce a report in 90 days— by June 23rd— with concrete steps to achieve measurable goals. The first question, of course, is why these security and competitiveness goals have not already been implemented since most of them have been declared often, and the security goals are, by and large, a part of the “smart borders” agreement. The answer is that our governments are not organized to address these questions on a trilateral basis, and so it should come as little surprise if the results are meager.

More importantly, compared to the agenda above, these steps are quite timid. The truth is that traffic has slowed at the border because of additional inspections, but it is not at all clear that the borders are more secure today than they were four years ago. The flow of unauthorized migrants is as high or higher. The Communique lacks a clear uplifting goal like a Customs Union. One cannot eliminate “rules-of-origin” provisions without a common external tariff, which the WTO equates with a “customs union.” Most important, there is no allusion to the paramount challenge of North America— the development gap that separates Mexico from its northern neighbors, and therefore, there is no proposal for dealing with that. There are no plans for dealing with education, energy, transportation, or establishing institutions that could prepare North American options or monitor progress. To move this agenda requires an organizing vision and political will.

There was a moment early in the Fox and Bush administrations when North American leaders appeared to grasp the essence of such a vision. In February 2001, Fox and Bush jointly endorsed the Guanajuato Proposal, which read, “After consultation with our Canadian partners, we will strive to consolidate a North American economic community whose benefits reach the lesser-developed areas of the region and extend to the most vulnerable social groups in our countries.” Unfortunately, they never translated that sentiment into policy (with the exception of the symbolic but substantively trivial $40 million Partnership for Prosperity).

All three governments share the blame for this failure. President Bush’s primary goal seemed at first to open the Mexican oil sector to U.S. investors, while then-Canadian Prime Minister Chrétien showed no interest in working with Mexico. President Fox, for his part, put forth too ambitious an agenda with too much emphasis on radical reform of U.S. immigration policy. Bush’s initial response was polite, but he soon realized he could not deliver and postponed consideration. The illegal immigration issue remains thorny and unsolved. Ultimately, however, it is more symptom than cause: the way to reduce illegal immigration is to make Mexico’s economy grow faster than that of the U.S.

The Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report spells out such a vision. Let me summarize and amplify some of its recommendations.

NAFTA has failed to create a partnership because North American governments have not changed the way they deal with one another. Dual bilateralism, driven by U.S. power, continue to govern and irritate. Adding a third party to bilateral disputes vastly increases the chance that rules, not power, will resolve problems.

This trilateral approach should be institutionalized in a new North American Advisory Council. Unlike the sprawling and intrusive European Commission, the Commission or Council should be lean, independent, and advisory, composed of 15 distinguished individuals, 5 from each nation. Its principal purpose should be to prepare a North American agenda for leaders to consider at biannual summits and to monitor the implementation of the resulting agreements. It should be an advisor to the three leaders but also a public voice and symbol of North America. It should evaluate ways to facilitate economic integration, producing specific proposals on continental issues such as harmonizing environmental and labor standards and forging a competition policy.

The U.S. Congress should also merge the U.S.-Mexican and U.S.-Canadian interparliamentary groups into a single “North American Parliamentary Group.” A third institution should be a “Permanent Tribunal on Trade and Investment.” NAFTA established ad hoc dispute panels, but it has become difficult to find experts who do not have a conflict of interest to arbitrate conflicts. A permanent court would permit the accumulation of precedent and lay the groundwork for North American business law.

Canada and Mexico have long organized their governments to give priority to their bilateral relationships with the United States. Washington alone is poorly organized to address North American issues. To balance U.S. domestic interests with those in the continent, President Bush should appoint a White House adviser for North American affairs. Such a figure would chair a cabinet-level interagency task force on North America. No president can forge a coherent U.S. policy toward North America without such a wholesale reorganization.

For North America’s second decade, there is no higher priority than reducing the economic divide between Mexico and the rest of NAFTA. A true community or even a partnership is simply not possible when the people of one nation earn, on average, one-sixth as much as do people across the border. Mexico’s underdevelopment is a threat to its stability, to its neighbors, and to the future of integration.

Europe demonstrated that the gap could be narrowed significantly in a relatively short period with good policies and significant aid. The Council Task Force proposed serious reforms by Mexico coupled with a North American Investment Fund, which was also proposed by Senator John Cornyn. This is a far-sighted initiative that deserves the support of this Committee and Congress. I have written a report explaining the need for such a Fund and the way it could work. (See

North American governments can learn from the EU’s efforts to establish EU Educational and Research Centers in the United States. Centers for North American Studies in the United States, Canada, and Mexico would help people in all three countries to understand the problems and the potential of an integrated North America— and to think of themselves as North Americans. Scholarships should encourage North American students to study in each other’s country. Until a new consciousness of North America’s promise takes root, many of these proposals will remain impractical.

The Travel Initiative, the Integration Dilemma, and the Security Perimeter

September 11 and the subsequent U.S. response highlighted a basic dilemma of integration: how to facilitate legitimate flows of people and goods while stopping terrorists and smugglers. When Washington virtually sealed its borders after the attacks, trucks on the Canadian side backed up 22 miles. Companies that relied on “just- in-time” production began to close their plants. The new strategy— exemplified by the “smart” border agreements concentrates inspections on high-risk traffic while using better technology to expedite the transit of low-risk goods and people. The decision to require passports to re-enter the United States after brief visits to Canada and Mexico is another example of an approach that is too narrow to solve so fundamental a problem.

Overcoming the tension between security and trade requires a bolder and more innovative approach. The three governments should negotiate and complete within five years a North American customs union with a common external tariff (CET). This would have a dual purpose. It would enhance the security on the border because guards could concentrate on terrorism rather than inspection of all the goods, and by eliminating cumbersome rules-of-origin provisions (which deny non-NAFTA products the same easy access), it would enhance efficiency and reduce the costs of trade.

At the same time, our Task Force recommends that all three governments define and defend a continental perimeter. This means that all three governments have to have confidence that a terrorist has no more chance of entering their own country as their neighbors. A common exclusion list, better intelligence-sharing, and combined training are needed. The three governments should establish a “North American Customs and Immigration Force,” composed of officials trained together in a single professional school, and they should fashion procedures to streamline border-crossing documentation. The Department of Homeland Security should expand its mission to include continental security— a shift best achieved by incorporating Mexican and Canadian perspectives and personnel into its design and operation.

Instead of creating new obstacles at the border, we should find ways to ease traffic and harmonize safety and transportation regulations. As a May 2000 report by a member of Canada’s Parliament concluded, “Crossing the border has actually gotten more difficult ... While continental trade has skyrocketed, the physical infrastructure enabling the movement of these goods has not.” The bureaucratic barriers to cross-border business impede as much as the infrastructural problems. There are 64 different sets of safety regulations in North America, 51 in the United States.

The North American Council should develop an integrated continental plan for transportation and infrastructure that includes new North American highways and high-speed rail corridors. The United States and Canada should each develop national standards on weight, safety, and configuration of trucking and then negotiate with Mexico to establish a single set of standards.

In addition, the United States and Canada should begin to merge immigration and refugee policies. It will be impossible to include Mexico in this process until the development gap is narrowed. In the meantime, the three governments should work to develop a North American Border Pass with biometric identifiers. This would permit expedited passage through customs, immigration, and airport security throughout the region. The program should build upon and unify the existing NEXUS (US-Canadian) and SENTRI (US-Mexican) programs. Only those who voluntarily seek, receive, and pay the costs for a security clearance would obtain a Border Pass, which would be accepted at all border points within North America as a complement to passports.

These are alternatives to the Western Hemisphere Initiative. It is true that we have not done a good job of keeping track of people crossing the border, and the passage of the Real ID Act shows that there is a growing and grudging recognition that some form of National Identification Card may be needed. Congress really ought to address this issue head-on. We should not use the driver’s license, the social security card, the medicare card, or our credit cards for anything other than the purpose for which they are intended. These cards are not intended to judge immigration status or citizenship. We will not only fail if we use them for that purpose; we will also undermine their real purpose. We don’t want to discourage people from getting tested to drive because they fear that their status will be questioned.

Similarly, compelling Minnesotans to get passports to cross the border into Canada for a Sunday afternoon picnic is not the best way to approach the border security issue. What we need is a new approach to jointly police the perimeter, a North American border pass to facilitate travel, and a Customs Union to allow inspectors to concentrate on terrorists rather than tariffs on goods.

Defining a North American Community

North Americans are ready for a new relationship. Studies over the past 20 years have shown a convergence of values, on personal and family issues as well as on public policy. An October 2003 poll taken in all three countries by Ekos, a Canadian firm, found that a clear majority believes that a North American economic union will be established in the next ten years. The same survey found an overwhelming majority in favor of more integrated North American policies on the environment, transportation, and defense and a more modest majority in favor of common energy and banking policies. And 75 percent of people in the United States and Canada, and two-thirds of Mexicans, support the development of a North American security perimeter. The U.S., Mexican, and Canadian governments remain zealous defenders of an outdated conception of sovereignty even though their citizens are ready for a new approach. Each nation’s leadership has stressed differences rather than common interests. North America needs leaders who can articulate and pursue a broader vision.

I hope this Committee will pursue the North American agenda beyond the travel initiative considered here. On June 23rd, the three leaders promised to publish a report with specific recommendations on how to deepen North American integration. These should be reviewed together with Senator Richard Lugar’s far-sighted bill for a “North American Cooperative Security Act” and Senator Cornyn’s “North American Investment Fund.” The time has come for us to define a true North American Community. Our security and prosperity depend on it.

Robert A. Pastor is Vice President of International Affairs and Professor of International Relations at American University. He established and directs the Center for North American Studies, a public policy, research, and educational center at AU which offers an undergraduate minor and a graduate certificate in North American Studies. From 1985 until he came to AU in 2002, Dr. Pastor was professor of political science at Emory University and Fellow and founding Director of the Carter Center’s Latin American and Caribbean Program and the Democracy Project. He was Director of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs on the National Security Council (1977-81) and a Fulbright Professor at El Colegio de Mexico. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University and is the author or editor of sixteen books, including Toward a North American Community: Lessons from the Old World for the New (IIE, 2001). He was Vice Chair of the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on the Future of North America. See

© 2005 Council on Foreign Relations:

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Despite concerns, long-range transportation plan includes five toll roads.

Toll roads stay in CAMPO plan

Board of local leaders approved a long-range transportation plan that, despite concerns, still includes five toll roads.

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2005

Central Texas transportation leaders approved a $22.3 billion road-and-rail plan for the next generation Monday, in the process giving a second official — but guarded — thumbs-up to the area's second set of toll roads.

The 25-year plan, approved 18-5 by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board, contemplates adding 5,000 lane-miles of highways and streets, 276 miles of passenger rail lines and about $10 million a year for bicycle and pedestrian improvements. It includes $11 billion in road construction and $2 billion for public transportation and bicycle/pedestrian improvements.

Interstate 35 and MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) would get "managed lanes" throughout much of their Central Texas runs, lanes that probably would be free for carpools but would have tolls for cars with just one occupant.

And it includes making Ed Bluestein Boulevard, Texas 71 East, Texas 45 South, U.S. 290 East and U.S. 290 West toll roads.

Thanks to a late flurry of lobbying by environmental groups, as well as backstage negotiations between toll proponents and Austin City Council Member Brewster McCracken, it also includes instructions for a second pass at the plan over the next year and possible changes at that time.

Under an amendment added by McCracken and Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, the CAMPO staff will participate in a $150,000 toll road study authorized by the Austin City Council in the spring. And the board, according to the McCracken-Biscoe amendment, also will consider land-planning concerns put forward by the group Liveable City in recent weeks.

Over the next year, Texas Department of Transportation Austin district engineer Bob Daigh said, work will continue or begin on several of the controversial toll roads. But no "irrevocable" actions will occur, he said, that would preclude the toll designations from being removed.

Though the study hardly amounts to a promise of no toll roads, leaving the door open a crack either mollified or confused the substantial crowd of anti-toll spectators.

Whereas the vote 11 months ago to create toll roads evoked boos, cries of "Shame, shame!" and vows to unseat some yes voters, this decision failed to generate even a murmur from the audience.

Each of the five who voted no on Monday also voted no last summer. But Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who voted against the toll plan in July, voted yes this time. And state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, who defeated Jack Stick in November, replaced Stick's no vote with a yes.

Transportation projects built with federal dollars, and that's basically all of them, can't be built without being in the CAMPO long-range plan.

Given the plan's gatekeeper role, interest groups recently pressed for the board to reject the plan and have the CAMPO staff craft a new plan, one without new toll roads and fewer lane-miles of roads heading to the far suburbs.

But the board faced a June 12 federal deadline for approving the plan. Had the board delayed a decision, contracts for construction of pending road and transit projects would have gone into limbo.

Ultimately, knowing that it could amend the plan at any time, the board decided to move ahead. Its chairman, state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, summed up the evolving nature of the Central Texas transportation Bible this way: "Success is not permanent, and failure is not fatal."

Central Texas on fast-forward

The 282-page CAMPO Mobility 2030 Plan makes assumptions about growth in Travis, Williamson and Hays counties; includes road, rail and bus projects to be built over the next 25 years; and has calculations about what travel in the area will be like if the $22.3 billion in transportation spending occurs. The plan::

* Assumes population of 2.75 million by 2030 in the three-county area, almost double the current population, with fastest growth in Hays and Williamson counties. .

* Would add almost 5,000 lane-miles of roads, including about 1,000 expressway and tollway miles.

* Includes 276 miles of passenger rail, including an Austin-San Antonio commuter line. Bus routes would go from about 1,300 miles now to about 2,700 miles.

* Estimates that percentage of roads congested at rush hour would increase from 10 percent to 29 percent.

* Estimates that weekday emissions of the two worst car pollutants would decrease from about 107 tons to about 32 tons.

* Estimates that truck traffic on Interstate 35 would basically double.

Notable road projects:

* Two 'managed lanes' (generally, tolls for single-occupant cars, free to carpoolers and buses) added to Interstate 35 from County Road 111 in Williamson County to Slaughter Lane in South Austin.

* Two managed lanes added on MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) from Parmer Lane to Slaughter Lane.

* Added lanes on U.S. 183 north of RM 620, managed lanes added south into Central Austin.

* Lanes and medians added to dozens of state highways, farm and ranch roads, county roads and major local arterial streets.

* Phase 2 toll road plan approved last year is included, with toll charges on five new or expanded highways in Austin.

* Eleven outlying highways would be studied, including Texas 71 and U.S. 290 east and west of Austin, that in an earlier draft of the 2030 plan were shown as tollways.

Austin American-Statesman:


Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Bexar County Tempted by Cintra's Bait

Added cost for toll roads may benefit private bid

June 7, 2005

Patrick Driscoll , Staff Writer
San Antonio Express-News Copyright 2005

A private bid to take over proposed toll roads in San Antonio suddenly looks brighter for a Spanish company and its local partner because state officials have revised their cost projections for the projects.

Building a 22-mile toll road system on Loop 1604 and U.S. 281 on the North Side would cost a third more and take two years longer than originally planned, according to the latest numbers from the Texas Department of Transportation.

Officials are tripping over several problems, including changing traffic patterns and higher-than-expected increases in the costs of oil, steel and cement.

The new estimates bolster claims by Spain-based Cintra and locally owned Zachry American Infrastructure that they can build the toll network faster and without public money -- an offer state officials are now taking even more seriously.

''The state doesn't have enough money to meet the needs,'' said Hope Andrade, a San Antonio resident on the board of the Texas Transportation Commission. ''So for us, this is what we look for.''

But the state won't move forward without the blessing of local officials, who had expected to take over the tollways and use toll fees to expand the system, Andrade said.

Yet local leaders, who have scant details on the Cintra- Zachry proposal submitted to the state in April, aren't applauding.

''Until we know what it does, it's hard for us to say whether this is good or bad for the county,'' said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff.

Complicating matters further is that officials from another consortium recently told Wolff they are considering making a proposal to build and operate toll roads in San Antonio.

''They asked me what I thought, and I said get in it,'' said Wolff, who declined to name the group. ''I think competition's good.''

For a year, TxDOT had planned to use gas taxes and other public funds to build toll lanes on Loop 1604 between interstates 35 and 10 on the North Side and on U.S. 281 from Loop 1604 to Stone Oak Parkway, then hand them over to the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority.

The authority intended to extend Loop 1604's toll lanes west to Texas 151 and east to I-10 on the East Side, and the U.S. 281 lanes north to the county line.

Over the past year, the Cintra- Zachry team developed its plan to use private investments to construct both the startup toll road network and the extensions, and open them to motorists sooner.

In return, the companies would collect toll fees of 15 cents a mile or more for up to 50 years -- money the mobility authority would otherwise use to continue expanding tollways in San Antonio.

State officials are weighing the two options and could decide, with input from the authority, by the end of this month. If the private proposal is considered, a call for other bids will have to be made.

Last month, TxDOT increased the projected $450 million cost for the startup toll system to $600 million. Toll revenue would make up the difference, which means construction would be delayed while bonds are sold -- pushing back completion from 2011 to 2013.

The latest estimates aren't final -- they could be off by 15 percent, said David Casteel, TxDOT's head engineer for this region.

''You make decisions based on the data you have,'' he said. ''When data's updated, estimates are updated.''

Some local officials aren't ready to let toll roads slip from their control, and they suggest scaling back the startup project and slowing down the extensions so that toll fees are invested into more tollways instead of padding profit.

''I don't want to give away local control because we took the easy money from the beginning,'' said mobility authority Chairman Bill Thornton. ''I'm looking at this over the next 30, 40 or 50 years.''

San Antonio Express-News:

Monday, June 06, 2005

TxDOT withheld the financial and development plans

Toll road project can't be a secret

June 5, 2005
By Rad Sallee
Houston Chronicle Copyright 2005

The Texas Attorney General's Office agrees with the Chronicle that citizens have a right to know how a private development group plans to build and finance a toll road from Dallas to San Antonio.

On March 11, the Texas Department of Transportation and the consortium Cintra-Zachry signed a comprehensive development agreement for TTC-35, the first leg of the Trans-Texas Corridor. Eventually, the route could extend from Oklahoma to Mexico and include rail, utilities and other facilities.

The pact was signed with a good bit of fanfare, and — except for two key parts — it was made public. (See it at .) But TxDOT withheld the financial and development plans, saying they contained proprietary information.

Officials said releasing these details could harm Cintra-Zachry competitively and discourage companies who might seek to develop other legs of the corridor, such as TTC/I-69, proposed to run from Texarkana to Mexico past Houston.

The attorney general's opinion says TxDOT failed to show how revealing the plans would cause harm. It also says that because the agreement has been signed, the deal being negotiated is no longer protected by law from disclosure.

TxDOT and Cintra-Zachry may sue to overturn the ruling. Both are reviewing the ruling but have not decided what action to take, spokespersons said.

Houston Chronicle:

"Citizens have a right to know."

Toll road project can't be a secret

June 5, 2005

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2005

The Texas Attorney General's Office agrees with the Chronicle that citizens have a right to know how a private development group plans to build and finance a toll road from Dallas to San Antonio.

On March 11, the Texas Department of Transportation and the consortium Cintra-Zachry signed a comprehensive development agreement for TTC-35, the first leg of the Trans-Texas Corridor. Eventually, the route could extend from Oklahoma to Mexico and include rail, utilities and other facilities.

The pact was signed with a good bit of fanfare, and — except for two key parts — it was made public. (See it at But TxDOT withheld the financial and development plans, saying they contained proprietary information.

Officials said releasing these details could harm Cintra-Zachry competitively and discourage companies who might seek to develop other legs of the corridor, such as TTC/I-69, proposed to run from Texarkana to Mexico past Houston.

The attorney general's opinion says TxDOT failed to show how revealing the plans would cause harm. It also says that because the agreement has been signed, the deal being negotiated is no longer protected by law from disclosure.

TxDOT and Cintra-Zachry may sue to overturn the ruling. Both are reviewing the ruling but have not decided what action to take, spokespersons said.

© 2005 Houston Chronicle: