Saturday, August 06, 2005

Ric Williamson praises Tom DeLay, other members of congress for promoting private toll roads

Texas makes substantial gains in federal highway bill

By TxDOT media release

© Copyright 2002-2005 by North Texas e-News, llc

AUSTIN - TxDOT officials praised the hard work and results obtained by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the Texas U.S. House delegation, and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) in crafting the next generation transportation bill.

The final version of HR 3 entitled, "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users" (SAFETEA-LU) has passed the House with Senate action expected soon.

"Texas scored some impressive victories in SAFETEA-LU that add horsepower to the new transportation programs Governor Perry and the Texas Legislature have put into law. The delegation worked tirelessly for increased Texas transportation funding and flexibility," said Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission.

SAFETEA-LU reauthorizes $286 billion through fiscal year 2009 for the Federal-aid Highway Program, surface transportation research, highway safety and transit programs.

"This bill took a long time to complete, but it was worth the wait. I commend the Texas House delegation and Chairman Inhofe for their hard work and tremendous efforts to achieve the best possible outcome," said Williamson. "It was truly a team effort to change how this nation builds its infrastructure. The more other states analyze this measure, the more they will realize how many more opportunities they will have."

In particular, Williamson said, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay led the overall Texas effort, concentrating on better funding formulas, a task that some considered impossible because the legislation contained no new funding sources.

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas's senior member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, worked overtime to protect the state's planning, transit and tolling interests, he noted. Congressman Michael Burgess started the flexibility debate in earnest by proposing a package of bills and amendments that allowed better design-build procurement, created a speedier environmental review process, and rewarded states that build toll roads with Transportation Development Credits.

In addition, Williamson continued, Burgess led the way in rewriting existing border and corridor programs so they actually work for Texas and other border states. Congressman Sam Johnson delivered the Private Activity Bond Program, allowing states to add substantial private capital to their infrastructure programs through tax-exempt debt.

On the Senate side, Williamson said, Environment and Public Works Chairman Inhofe worked closely with Governor Perry as the Senate added provisions that permit more choices through new tolling programs, enhanced design-build procurement, funding flexibility, and allowing states the power to make more decisions.

Major wins for Texas transportation include (all figures are estimates and subject to final confirmation):

* By 2008, an increased rate of return to Texas motorists on their gas tax dollars to 92 percent, up from the current 90.5 percent. Texas now receives an average of $2.1 billion per year from gas taxes it sends to Washington; HR 3 raises that to $2.9 billion per year (excluding earmarks), a 37.4 percent increase accomplished through a combination of a better formula and growth in gas taxes

* 220 project earmarks totaling $669 million for highway and transit projects throughout Texas

* Authorization of a new $15 billion Private Activity Bond program for intermodal transportation facilities that would encourage private sector investments and partnerships, especially involving the Trans-Texas Corridor

* Additional options to toll new federal roadways to relieve congestion and deliver projects faster

* Increased options in the use of Transportation Development Credits to assist local communities to meet their federal road and transit match requirements

* Selection of Texas as one of five pilot states to assume specific Federal Highway Administration responsibilities to oversee compliance of the National Environmental Policy Act

* Instructions to the Secretary of Transportation to allow states to have broader authority to experiment with design-build method of project delivery

North Texas e-News:


Friday, August 05, 2005

"The state is looking at this as a cash cow."

Council taps brakes on tolls resolution

By: MIKE RAYE, Staff writer
The Frisco Enterprise Copyright 2005

City officials recently stated their desire to stand beside their peers and act as a partner in solving the transportation puzzle as a "regional player."

That doesn't mean they will bow to peer pressure, though.

Shunning suggestions they had to render a decision by Aug. 15 on whether to approve or deny tolls on State Highway 121, the Frisco City Council voted to table adoption of a City Manager George Purefoy-penned resolution calling for local control over the highway until dust kicked up by late talks between the Texas Department of Transportation and the Collin County Commissioners Court settled.

The Regional Transportation Council (RTC) - an arm of the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), made up of appointed representatives of area cities and counties - had imposed a deadline on Frisco, Plano, Allen, McKinney and Collin County to decide on the tolls by Aug. 15, warning the project would be delayed for at least a year if the entities let the deadline slip.

The McKinney City Council approved the resolution Monday night, and Plano is to vote on it August 8, as are the Collin County Commissioners. Allen's city council votes on the measure August 9.

The RTC next meets on Sept. 8 at NCTCOG headquarters in Arlington.

Purefoy said discussions are ongoing within city and county offices about specific wording, and the state and county are still ironing out kinks of their own. That's why Frisco should wait, he said.

"I suggest waiting until August 16 to vote on this resolution because discussions are still going on between (Collin County Judge) Ron Harris and (TxDOT Dallas District Engineer) Bill Hale," Purefoy said, pointing out some sticking points, but added, "I continue to have a difficult time understanding why the users of 121 would have to pay any more than they really have to. It's another Robin Hood plan."

Purefoy's resolution says that tolls should only be levied to make up the deficit in funding needed to build the entire project, including main lanes, service roads and interchanges at the Dallas North Tollway and U.S. Highway 75 (Central Expressway), keeping the price-per-mile toll low, with any additional revenue going back to a local authority comprised of the five municipal entities.

The price tag for the project is about $345 million, according to a 121 toll feasibility study prepared by NCTCOG. The state builds roads with money raised from a tax on gasoline, and that has provided enough to build the main lanes of 121 from the Tollway to Hillcrest Road ($84.3 million) and access roads from Custer Road on the border of Frisco and McKinney to Central ($44 million). Collin County stands ready to chip in another $30 million, and another $12.8 million is coming from federal funding, prodded along by U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, who represents Collin and Dallas counties in Washington. The money would come from a new transportation bill awaiting President Bush's signature.

"As more people move to Texas, our roads and transit systems must be upgraded and expanded to assure safety and meet the higher demand," Johnson said. "This transportation bill provides critical funding to meet our state's growing needs. It will also put people to work on beneficial public projects... further strengthening our robust economy."

Earlier estimates showed an expectation of as much as $16 million from Washington for the project.

Johnson's comments were insightful, especially regarding growth. The North Texas region, and this section of Collin County particularly, is one of the fastest-growing areas in the state, with an increasing volume of traffic traveling on arguably the most potentially lucrative stretches of road in Texas. Cars plus tolls equals windfall, something that is not lost on state highway planners that see their cupboards bare and hundreds of highway projects in stasis awaiting money to build them. Highway 121 could be a great revenue generator for the state, or perhaps another more colloquial term, as suggested by Council Member Jim Joyner.

"The state is looking at this as a cash cow," he said.

Like Joyner, Council Member Matt Lafata said he's averse to tolling, but surrenders to the reality of the situation.

"I was against tolling in the beginning, and I'm still against tolling, but the writing is on the wall," he said. "The resolution is the only solution I would consider because I don't want 121 to be a cash cow for the state because we really won't get anything out of it at all."

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Joy West said she's worried the state could render moot any decision or resolution local authorities come up with, superceding local authority over local destiny.

"My biggest concern is the cities and the county pass this resolution and it won't be worth the paper it is written on," she said.

Purefoy said there is still the possibility of private enterprise getting involved with 121, much like Spanish firm Cintra/Zachary's involvement in the Trans-Texas Corridor project, tapped by TxDOT to build it. The group is a joint venture between Madrid-based Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, S.A. and Zachary Construction Corporation, a San Antonio construction firm. The Cintra/Zachary consortium also includes Frisco-based Earth Tech Inc.

The Trans-Texas Corridor is envisioned to be a network of multi-lane highways spanning the state, incorporating improvements to existing roadways and construction of new ones. The estimated total cost for the system ranges from $145.2 billion to $183.5 billion, according to TxDOT. Creative funding is necessary to build roads, because the gasoline tax revenue can't keep up with rising costs and demand on the transportation infrastructure, TxDOT maintains.

"TxDOT has private entities bidding to give them $300 million above and beyond the cost of building 121, and that complicates the situation," Purefoy said. "If private interests get involved and operate the road, they can set the tolls at whatever they want. TxDOT studies have shown the public will bear up to 25 cents a mile."

"If road projects go to private enterprises tolls will be what the market will bear," agreed Joyner. "We (the public) will bear some, but at a point we will start to scream."

Whatever the outcome, the five entities should work closely together to protect their interests, Council Member Tony Felker said.

"This has been a good joint effort to come up with a solution (through the resolution)," he said. "I am disappointed at the position the state has taken, though. I am not in favor of tolling at this time, but let's see what happens in the next two weeks."

©Star Community Newspapers 2005
Copyright © 1995 - 2005 PowerOne Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Frisco Enterprise:


Federal transportation bill funnels pork to private toll road developers

Federal highway bill: Let the good times toll


by Christine DeLoma

The Lone Star Report
Volume 10, Issue 1
Copyright 2005

Congress just made it easier for states like Texas to build new toll roads.

President George W. Bush is expected within the next few weeks to sign the $286 billion federal transportation bill, HR 3, which passed July 29.

Several different provisions give states the flexibility to enter into public-private partnerships to build highways, and in many cases, toll roads. Their enactment represents a fundamental shift in the way state and federal highways are typically financed.

* Private activity bonds. The bill allows states to issue up to $15 billion in tax-exempt private activity bonds (PAB) to privately finance toll roads and railroad projects. PABs allow state and local governments to issue bonds that will be repaid by a private entity.

This approach was championed by Congressman Sam Johnson (R-Plano) who had unsuccessfully tried to pass the measure in the 108th Congress.

Anticipating Congress’ action, state lawmakers passed HB 2702 by Sen. Todd Staples (R-Palestine) in the 79th Regular Session, allowing the state to issue private activity bonds for highway facilities in accordance with federal law.

* Transportation development credits (toll credits). The bill expands the states’ eligibility to apply for toll credits. The law currently prohibits states from receiving toll credits if a portion of federal government dollars was applied toward the construction of a state toll road. Toll credits are typically used, instead taxpayer dollars, to match federal funds for transportation projects.

“This is an unfair penalty,” explained Congressman Michael Burgess (R-Flower Mound). “It must be changed to properly recognize the local and state share of investments meeting our transportation needs.”

A Burgess-sponsored amendment eliminates this restriction. The measure would allow states that use federal money to build toll roads to accrue toll credits on a pro rata basis. Expanding the use of toll credits effectively frees up state matching dollars for other transportation programs.

Minnesota Democratic Congressman Jim Oberstar expressed concern that the amendment gives states incentives to toll new roads. “This amendment really crosses the line on tolling…to mix federal funds with tolls is anathema to the idea of a publicly supported transportation system through our Highway Trust Fund and the user fee,” he said. “I could understand if the gentleman from Texas (Burgess) were advocating and others were advocating tolls and toll-only facilities. But to cross the line and mix Highway Trust Fund dollars with toll funds to encourage building of toll facilities to indirect competition with toll-free highways, just does not make any sense at all.”

Fellow Texas Congressman Kenny Marchant (R-Dallas) defended Burgess’s amendment. “Under current law, even if $1 of federal money is spent towards a state toll project, no transportation development credits will be accrued by the state,” explained Marchant. “In other words, not only does the federal government punish states for investing in toll facilities, it also prevents them from using transportation development credits which would have been accumulated for the use and purchase of transit capital such as buses and transit cars.”

Sal Costello, founder of the grassroots anti-toll organization called Texas Toll Party, agreed to disagee, calling the measure a “tax and toll proliferation” bill. The Burgess amendment, he said, “gives states more credit for tolling publicly funded roads, which is upside- down in most people’s opinion.”

* More tolling options. HR 3 extends the federal pilot program that allows eligible states to convert existing free Interstate highways into toll roads. A state must show that the Interstate is in need of reconstruction or rehabilitation and that collection of tolls is the most efficient and economical way to complete the project.

The program, which be began in 1998, can award up to three projects. Currently, only Virginia has applied for the ability to toll I-81.

HR 3 also creates the Fast Lanes & Sensible Toll Lane (FAST) Program in which states can toll existing free highways to relieve congestion, improve air quality and finance construction of additional Interstate lanes. The measure requires express tolls be completely automated using electronic transponders. Eligible facilities include tolled roads, roads that are not tolled but have High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, or non-tolled roads where new toll lane capacity is added.

According to TxDOT, the program will help with the development of projects such as Loop 1604 in San Antonio, State Highway 121 in North Texas, the Grand Parkway in Houston, and portions of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

A state that takes part in the FAST program could charge varying toll prices according to the time of day or level of congestion. This kind of system is in use in Orange County, California.

* Design-Build method. The legislation allows states to combine the design and construction of a toll road project into one contract. Most states currently use the traditional “Design-Bid-Build” method that requires separate contracts for each phase of a construction project, a procedure that state officials say is often costly and time consuming.

The bill removes federal restrictions on state procurement procedures for Design-Build contracts, allowing the work of property acquisition, design and construction to be undertaken simultaneously.

Texas is one of only 15 states experimenting with the Design-Build method in procuring highway contracts. Texas’ first public-private partnership, under a comprehensive development agreement, is the State Highway 130 project. Construction of the 90-mile toll road is currently underway. The $1.4 billion project will run parallel to I-35, from Georgetown to Seguin, near San Antonio.

* Rate of return. Texans pay more in federal gas taxes than they get back from Washington, D. C. The legislation increases the rate of return by an additional $800 million in federal funding through 2008.

Although most of the Texas delegation voted for HR 3, Sen. John Cornyn opposed it, saying Texas was still getting shortchanged. “The truth is,” Cornyn said, “Texas remains penalized as a donor state - that is for every dollar we send to Washington, under this bill Texas only gets 92 cents back.”

Currently, the rate of return is at 90.5 percent or about $2.1 billion. That figure will increase to 92 percent or nearly $2.9 billion in 2008.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison conceded that 92 percent was not enough, but voted for the bill anyway. “The increased rate of return to 92 percent by 2008 will be the starting point when we consider the next highway authorization bill,” Hutchison said. “I intend to work for a higher rate of return when we begin those negotiations. While this reimbursement rate is still not good enough, the bill provides important funding for Texas transit projects.”

* Borders and Corridors program. The legislation grants $211.8 million to Texas under the Borders and Corridors program. The program is designed to address transportation issues along the Canada-U.S.-Mexico border.

The North American Free Trade Agreement has led to increased commercial trade traffic on Texas roads and highways.

According to the state Department of Transportation, 80 percent of U.S.-Mexico truck traffic crosses the Texas border. The most used corridor routes in Texas are I-35, I-69, US 59 from Laredo to Texarkana, US 281 and US 77 to the Valley, the Ports to Plains corridor, and the El Camino Real corridor, which includes the portion of I-10 through El Paso.

The Lone Star Report:


Thursday, August 04, 2005

"When TxDOT takes a $30.9 million project and turns it into a nearly $80 million project, something stinks."

For whom the roads toll

Toll-road opponents lash out at MPO

By Michael Cary
San Antonio Current
Copyright 2005

About 40 commuters, retirees, and disgruntled citizens who could be affected by the proposed widening of Highway 281 from Evans Road to F.M. 306, bombarded members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization with threats and colorful language last Monday. Yet their tactics didn't affect the MPO's vote to move forward with preliminary studies of toll lanes on existing highways on the far North Side.

State plans include the possibility of installing toll lanes along Loop 1604 from Highway 151 eastward to I-10 East and along Highway 281 from Evans Road north to the Canyon Lake area. If a "comprehensive development agreement" is reached between local government and the Texas Department of Transportation, a section of I-35 could have toll lanes from Loop 1604 southward to near its intersection with Loop 410.

The toll road proposals include a TxDOT contract with Cintra-Zachry, a consortium of corporations [Cintra of Spain, Zachry of San Antonio] to build the toll lanes and collect the tolls to pay for the projects for a period of 50 years as part of the Trans-Texas Corridor plan to connect North Texas to México. The citizens who attended the Monday meeting protested that keeping the contract from public view violates the transparency of government; that turning over a public entity such as Highway 281 (already paid for by taxpayers) over to a private interest would create a cash cow for the state and the corporations and is a system of double taxation.

"When TxDOT takes a $30.9 million project and turns it into a nearly $80 million project, something stinks," says Terri Hall, director of the San Antonio area branch of The group's website accuses Governor Rick Perry and other elected officials of looting taxpayers' pocketbooks, and "disregarding the public outcry and the Republican platform" with "4,000 miles of toll roads, rail, and utility lines that will carry oil, gas, water, broadband, and electricity, all in one easy 1/4-mile span, a terrorists dream come true."

Hall accuses TxDOT of manipulating a solution to traffic congestion on Highway 281 by shelving an already-funded project in favor of installing toll lanes. "We demand an independent review of this toll plan and of these highway funds, and we demand accountability for the flagrant abuse of taxpayer money."

SAISD teacher Helen Rodgers drives to and from work 44 miles each day along Highway 281. Rodgers says she would have to quit her job rather than pay a projected 45 cents per mile to drive on a toll road. She gave MPO board members a photo of toll lanes in the middle of a publicly funded freeway in Orange County, and contended there were much fewer automobiles using the toll lanes than there were in the free lanes. "That tollway ended up costing the state in a big way. Motorists do not use the toll road. I will not pay that toll."

Jerry Morissey told MPO members that toll lanes would create two classes of citizens, "those who can and cannot afford to pay a toll. Building more miles of highway to chase traffic problems (has) never been solved by more miles of highway."

MPO board member Hank Brummett inquired whether the MPO could stop plans for toll roads in San Antonio. TxDOT spokesman David Casteel replied the state has already approved of proceeding with studies to develop the toll lanes.

"It would be nice to tell these people this is already a done deal [at the state government level]," Brummett said after many of the protesters had departed the meeting. "Don't beat up on us."

San Antonio Current:


"It will eat this town up."

I-69 corridor route not concrete


The Natchitoches Daily Sentinel
Copyright 2005

When L.M. Wheeler walked into the room, she skipped the video introduction, the historical-background displays and the traffic pattern diagrams; she wanted some specific answers on how the I-69/Trans Texas Corridor was going to affect her property, so she headed straight for the big maps where a crowd had already gathered.

"Everybody tends to gravitate toward the maps," local TxDOT spokeswoman Kathi White said.

The Texas Department of Transportation set up Wednesday's "open house" meeting to tell Nacogdoches residents everything they know about the future construction of a proposed international trade route that would connect Mexico to Canada.

Unfortunately, as dozens of property owners found out, there are still lots of possibilities, variables and unknowns.

"They don't have any answers yet," Wheeler said. "I thought maybe I could come here tonight and get some, but it's still too early. I don't want to say it's still just a rumor – it's a little bit beyond a rumor – I guess you could say there are three rumors."

All three different "rumors" would all affect Wheeler in different ways. One is that the route would be near her residence, another would be near her business, and a third would bypass them both.

It's a confusing process that Wheeler said seems to be changing every time she turns around.

"A few years back they sent out these letters that said 'this is where you are, and this is where (I-69) is going to be,'" Wheeler said. "And I said 'fine. Just call me when you want me to move out.'"

But that all changed when Gov. Rick Perry unveiled his new vision for Texas transportation.

State Rep. Roy Blake, who attended Wednesday's meeting, said he was serving on the I-69 Alliance when everything changed.

The I-69 planners were moving forward with proposed route studies, and according to Blake, the governor was ready to take his vision from an abstract to a conceptual stage.

"The projects were combined almost overnight," Blake said.

Doug Booher, TxDOT spokesman from Austin, said it made sense to combine the I-69 motor-vehicle route and the governor's motor vehicle/heavy truck/railroad/utility model because both the state and the federal government were essentially looking at the same corridor area for their routes.

"We don't want to pay for the same study twice," he said.

But as a result of that combination, the actual "nailed down" route became less certain.

Perry's plan calls for separate lanes for passenger vehicles and large trucks, freight railways, high-speed commuter railways and infrastructure for utilities including water lines, oil and gas pipelines, and transmission lines for electricity, broadband and other telecommunications services.

Portions of the proposed route would split up those concepts while others would incorporate all of them, running side by side.

It's a little much for Wheeler and other landowners to take in.

"It's a huge project," she said. "It's almost unimaginable. It will eat this town up. Can you imagine if someone has to try to cross that road?"

Coming to Nacogdoches by way of California, Wheeler said she's used to large speedways, but she's not sure how that will fit into rural East Texas.

"I hope it will be a good thing for this area," she said. "It will certainly be grandiose while they are building it, but what happens when they're done? We'll have all this traffic coming through here, but they're not going to be stopping."

Wheeler said the main question that continues to burn on her mind was "when?"

Currently there is no funding on the state or federal level for the trade route, according to transportation officials at the meeting. And there is still a question as to how toll roads may fit into the scope of the overall project.

"Every meeting we go to, people want to know how long it's going to take," White said. "I tell them it's a long process."

It's not the answer Wheeler wanted to hear, but she said she had a feeling it was the one she was going to get.

"I wanted to know – should I keep my property or should I sell it?" she asked. "I know now that it's not a question for my generation. I'll never see (the corridor), and I'm not putting my life on hold. We're going to have to leave this one to our kids."

Johnny Johnson's e-mail address is

The Natchitoches Daily Sentinel:


Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bush to give "serious review" to eminent domain restrictions proposed by congress.

Bush Cautious On Seizing Property

By DAVID LIGHTMAN, Washington Bureau Chief

The Hartford Courant
Copyright 2005

WASHINGTON -- President Bush said Tuesday he was "troubled" by the Supreme Court's ruling in the New London eminent domain case and will give "serious review" to congressional efforts to ease its impact.

"I'm concerned about the government overreaching," Bush said in a 50-minute interview with eight newspapers, including The Courant.

The president also discussed the Pentagon's recommendation that the Naval Submarine Base at Groton be closed, but offered no clues as to his thinking. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission is now weighing the fate of Groton and other bases and will present its findings to Bush Sept. 8.

Asked if the Northeast was being unfairly targeted, as BRAC Chairman Anthony J. Principi suggested recently, Bush would not comment.

He said he has met with some of the region's lawmakers about their local bases, and "I appreciate their concerns." But, the president said, "What I'm not going to do is politicize the process. That's important for people to understand."

The president, who spoke without notes as he and the reporters sat around a conference table in the West Wing's Roosevelt Room, was more pointed when discussing eminent domain.

Legislation is swiftly moving through Congress to dilute the impact of Kelo vs. New London, the 5-4 Supreme Court decision June 23 that said the government could seize a home, small business or private property and transfer it to another private interest if that transfer would help the community's economic development.

The ruling, which allowed the eviction of seven families in New London's Fort Trumbull area, drew instant protests from liberals, conservatives and a lot of lawmakers in between.

In the House, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich. - who rarely agree on anything - are pushing legislation to deny federal dollars to any project in which economic development was the reason an arm of government invoked its powers of eminent domain.

Withholding such money could mean huge losses to states and cities, and their Washington representatives have been fighting hard against the plan.

"Congress needs to think very carefully before acting," said David Parkhurst, legislative counsel at the National League of Cities. "There could be unintended consequences to moving too fast."

Those consequences include limiting "the ability of local duly-elected officials to promote economic development in individual cities," said J. Thomas Cochran, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

"For distressed communities like New London, with less than 6 square miles of property, of which 54 percent is tax exempt, the power of eminent domain is critical to its revitalization," said David Goebel, chief operating officer of the New London Development Corp.

Bush recalled his days as part-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, and said: "There are moments when economic development makes sense. I was involved with one such moment."

The moment remains controversial in Texas. In 1991, voters in Arlington, Texas, approved a new Rangers stadium, now called Ameriquest Field, after a sophisticated campaign Bush helped lead.

As reported, "The $130,000 pro-referendum effort overwhelmed the disorganized, poorly financed opposition with a variety of national consultants, phone banks and other sophisticated campaign techniques."

Stadium boosters also fought with local property owners to take land needed for the stadium by eminent domain.

Tuesday, Bush boasted of how "the people were given a vote. They said, `We're for this.'"

They approved the plan, he said, because "people were actually able to take a look at the pros and cons and whether this made sense and therefore give the city justification to move forward with helping to put the land together to build the stadium."

Although he chuckled and said he is hardly advocating a referendum every time a government wants to take land, "I am talking about a philosophy which should be people-oriented and that the definition of economic development be scrutinized very carefully."

During the interview, conducted a few hours before Bush left for Texas and a long working vacation, the president reiterated familiar positions on stem cell research, Social Security and the war on terror.

The Hartford Courant:


TxDOT uses "Domino Theory" as rationale to sell Corridor

Hundreds curious about Trans Texas corridor

By: Claudia Richter
The Spring Observer Copyrught 2005

Several hundred curious Katy area residents stopped by the Leonard E. Merrell Center in Katy Thursday evening to attend a presentation by the Texas Department of Transportation on the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, which may run within miles of the city limits.

The public meeting was one of 37 that will be held across the state between July 18 and Aug. 18 to inform citizens about the progress of the project.

The proposed 4,000-mile long multi-lane highway and rail system, which would also be known as Interstate 69, would run from East Texas to the Mexican border. The corridor, which estimates say may cost as much as $180 billion, has raised concerns from both property owners and environmental groups concerned about its effects. TxDOT officials were on hand Thursday night to answer questions and hear concerns of local residents.

"We're trying to explain the steps we have to go through based on need and plan to phase (the corridors) in through time," said Doug Bohoor, environmental manager of TxDOT's Texas Turnpike Authority Division.

TxDOT officials said the corridor, which would be part of a national road system stretching from the Canadian to the Mexican border, would "sustain and enhance economic vitality."

"If people can't get their products to market on time, it has a domino effect on small towns all across the state," TxDOT said in a nine-minute video presentation.

Bohoor said many questions about the corridor were asked.

"Our most popular question we get from the public is whether there are any plans for a designated truck lane," he said.

During the meeting TxDOT explained the reasoning behind the need for the corridor and said there would be a two-tiered environmental study to limit the changes made by the new highway.

The maps for the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor have the road entering Texas from both Arkansas and Louisiana and have two possible routes, with one heading directly into Houston while the other swings to the west. The western route would cut through Walker, Grimes and Waller Counties before passing just west of Katy.

Groundbreaking for the project has yet to occur and the entire corridor may remain on the drawing board due to financial difficulties. Officials said that current funding mechanisms "are not working" due to a loss of revenue from gas taxes and other problems.

A groundbreaking date cannot be set until the environmental studies, which are mandated by the federal government, are complete.

The Spring Observer:


CMTRA Chairman Tesch, Perry Appointee, files for bankruptcy again

Official's firm files for Chapter 11


Compiled from staff and wire reports
Austin-American Statesman, Copyright 2005

Cedar Park Associates, wholly owned by Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Chairman Robert Tesch and his wife, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Tesch said that the company exists to own, operate and develop a single 18-acre property and office building on RM 1431 and that his other company, Tesch and Associates Inc., is on solid financial footing.

Cedar Park Associates owes about $3.1 million to Regions Bank on a property appraised at $5.2 million, Tesch said, and the bank has filed suit over payment of the debt.

Given the substantial equity his company has in the property, Tesch said, he anticipates no problem resolving the matter in the coming months.

Gov. Rick Perry in January 2003 appointed Tesch to head the board of the authority, which is building the U.S. 183-A toll road.

Perry has not indicated publicly whether he will reappoint Tesch or name a new chairman.

Austin American-Statesman:


"How do you block out a corridor for 20 years? This area's growth will be stymied."

Proposed Trans-Texas Corridor called "preposterous" by community leaders


The Spring Observer
Copyright 2005

Community leaders are not on the same path with the proposed I-69 Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) discussed during an open house sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) at the Humble Civic Center on July 20.

The corridor proposal includes a 1,600-mile interstate, multi-mode transportation artery, designed to carry cars (three lanes) and trucks (two lanes) and vital systems including water, electricity and natural gas, even a high-speed passenger, freight, and commuter rail system. The corridor would be 1,200-foot wide roadway and routed through Texas and eight other states (Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana) to connect the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

The estimated cost for the TTC is $33 million per mile with possible funding sources coming from a combination of toll fees, bonds, private funds, state funds and federal funds, according to Jack Heiss the advanced project development director for the Texas Turnpike Authority Division of TxDOT.

"That number is based on the entire 11 corridor crossroads plan," said Heiss.
Concerns from community leaders in attendance at the meeting focused on the possible crippling effect on economic growth within the extensive TTC study area that could result from property acquisition through the Right of Way Process associated with building the corridor.
The study area for the corridor generally parallels U.S. Hwy. 59 from the Texarkana and Shreveport area to Laredo with connections to the Rio Grande Valley following U.S. Hwys 77 and 281.

"The economic growth will stop for six years, just for the study," said Mike Byers, president of the Humble Chamber of Commerce, who attended the open house.

Property acquisition would occur at the end of Tier 2 (beginning in 2006) of the environmental study process with other properties acquired earlier under special circumstances. According to materials presented during the open house, the special circumstances will include corridor preservation.

"Is the state going to prohibit future development within the confines of the proposed route of this project in order to preserve the route and reduce future purchase costs?" asked Andy Dill, president of the Community Chamber of Commerce of East Montgomery County.
"That will have a staggering impact on future development within Texas and the ability to attract and retain jobs within the state," said Dill.

Byers expressed similar concerns about the long-range economic impact the proposal would have on the community.

"How do you block out a corridor for 20 years? This area's growth will be stymied," Byers said.
An alternative proposal by the I-69 Mid Continental Highway Coalition has been underway for more than 10 years. Community leaders have been working to improve U.S. Hwy. 59 to meet interstate standards and were working with other state leaders to utilize the future Grand Parkway route for a portion of the I-69 project. The alternative proposals have been overshadowed by the TTC proposal.

In addition, the revised route of the proposed TTC will not utilize the future Grand Parkway route and may adversely affect the surrounding areas including East Montgomery County, according to community leaders.

"We (EMC) are out of the running," said Dill. "The current route being studied has moved to just east of Navasota and continues north of Huntsville to tie into U.S. Hwy. 59 around Lufkin. This takes our area completely out of the project."

TTC's vulnerability to terrorist attacks was another concern of residents and community leaders.

"To include rail, gas, oil and water pipelines together with auto and truck traffic lanes is preposterous," said Ray Anderson of the Kingwood Service Association, Kingwood Area Super Neighborhood Council and the Kingwood Positive Interaction Program.

"Terrorists could cripple commerce with one or more well placed devices severing the corridor. I fail to understand why our elected officials have allowed a project of this scope, that cannot possibly be completed in 50 years, to see the light of day," said Anderson.
Studies for the TTC proposal were mandated by Governor Perry and have been conducted by TxDOT. The study includes Tier I, an environmental impact statement study that is currently underway and is scheduled to be completed in 2006. If the Tier 1 environmental impact results in a corridor being selected, the project will proceed to Tier 2 in 2006, when the exact route and funding sources for the proposed TTC will be determined. A "no action alternative" may also be selected.

"The earliest possible construction would begin in 2009 or 2010," said Heiss. "And it will take 30 or maybe 40 years to complete. It is a very long-term project. It is looking at traffic projections for 50 years out."

The benefits of the TTC would be the addition of capacity to the current roadway system, according to Heiss.

"In Houston, there is no sign of a let up in the growth, people are going to just keep coming here, and you are going to have to add capacity to the system somehow," said Heiss.
Community leaders are urging residents to support the "no action alternative" in order to stop the TTC proposal.

"Why do we waste time and tax payer money on these studies when we have momentum (the I-69 Mid Continental Highway Coalition) and later they decide that we can not do the project (TTC)," said Byers. "This is the governors 'pie in the sky' deal."

For information about future meetings about the TTC go to and for information about an alternative to TTC, call the 1-69 Mid-Continent Highway Coalition Inc. at 317-581-6320.

Residents can make comments to state legislatures about the TTC by calling Congressman Ted Poe at 281 446-0242 and Congressman Kevin Brady at 1-936-441-5700.

Judi Arbogast may be contacted at

© 2005 The Spring Observer:


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Ric Williamson: "The State expects some toll-revenue sharing for any future projects that it helps build."

County wants 121 to keep the change

Collin: Other leaders view toll project as state 'revenue generator'

By TONY HARTZEL / The Dallas Morning News

If motorists must pay to drive State Highway 121 in Collin County, the money collected should be used to widen only that road, many local leaders there say.
The growing sentiment runs counter to state and regional leaders' hopes that a Highway 121 toll road would become a "revenue generator" that could help pay for highway projects in an era of stagnant gasoline-tax rates. Local leaders, in making their argument against the idea, say the possible toll road should not be viewed as a "cash cow."

"We heard enough at the city level and at our own level to say that the money needs to stay right on Highway 121," said Collin County Judge Ron Harris. "We think they should only sell enough bonds to finance the project – no excess."

A growing undercurrent of frustration with state funding policies in other areas helped lead to the move to scale back the revenue potential for the road and call for a county-based authority to oversee its financing and operation. Local policymakers are watching the continued debate over school finance and the plan critics have dubbed Robin Hood that has diverted millions of dollars from property-wealthy districts such as Plano to property-poor districts statewide.

Now, they are leery of creating a toll road that they say could eventually raise millions in revenue, only to have it sent to other parts of the state.
"It should not become a 'Robin Hood' for construction," said Frisco Mayor Mike Simpson. "If our council is going to look at a toll, one condition is that it pays only for what is needed."

Under the local toll authority idea, one possibility calls for future city councils and commissioners courts to decide what to do with tolls after paying off the project. Some tolls likely would be needed for maintenance and future reconstruction, but future leaders could decide what toll rates to set and where the revenue would be spent. State officials say the legal framework already exists to ensure toll revenue goes toward local projects.

The Collin County idea may be an easier sell for local leaders now, but it could have ramifications later. If Collin County supports a locally based toll road, it could be turning down hundreds of millions of dollars in future road construction money, state and regional leaders warn.

"I don't know if TxDOT [the Texas Department of Transportation] wants to be in the business of telling local leaders what decision to make, but they need to make that decision knowing they are walking away from capacity expansion in the future," said Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson.

According to recent estimates, a more traditional toll road would raise $381 million in construction funds. It also would raise another $326 million in incremental revenue over 40 years. Most of the construction funds would pay for completion of Highway 121 and build full interchanges at the Dallas North Tollway and Central Expressway. The $326 million was viewed as money that could help pay for other local projects.

Raising more money

With almost statewide reluctance to raise the 20-cents-per-gallon state tax on gasoline, state officials have generated heavy discussion of toll roads as a way to raise more money for highway projects.

Texas raises enough money to pay for about 30 percent of its road construction needs. With the toll policy, the state hoped to give more autonomy to local officials eager to build highway projects.

"We've done our best with limited resources to market new ways to solve problems," Mr. Williamson said.

Highway 121, for example, is viewed as one of the most lucrative toll projects in the state. Lured by its revenue potential, private developers have submitted proposals rumored to be valued at around $900 million for the right to build and operate the toll road.

The highway therefore can be viewed not only as a simple road, but also as an asset to the state, said Bill Hale, Dallas district engineer for the state Transportation Department. Because of that, the state might find it difficult to relinquish Highway 121 to a Collin County-led toll group that wouldn't raise additional revenue for other projects.

"We have an asset in this road out there, and turning it over would be like turning over your house," Mr. Hale said. Collin County may hope to simply assume control of Highway 121, but private bidders have set the bar higher, Mr. Hale added.

Local officials view it differently, arguing that local efforts have led to more than $100 million in land donations for the project. Local governments also have set aside tens of millions of dollars to help with the project. In addition, county officials say if a Collin-run toll group widened and operated Highway 121, it would allow the state to spend almost $400 million elsewhere in the region on needed projects.
"Projects like this should not be looked at as a cash cows just because we have the population and infrastructure," said Allen City Manager Peter Vargas, who pointed out that Collin County already has participated willingly in other toll projects, including the Bush Turnpike.In recent years, state officials have modified their position on toll roads, and that could have an effect on Highway 121 discussions.
On the Bush Turnpike, the state built several major highway interchanges, while the North Texas Tollway Authority built the turnpike's main lanes and then charged and collected all tolls. Today, the state still views itself as a partner with toll agencies, but it expects some toll-revenue sharing for any future projects that it helps build, Mr. Williamson said.

"For the past several years, we've made it clear to everyone that if we put money into a toll project, we are going to need to be part of the tolls collected in the future," he said.

That stance, coupled with local officials' belief that they have already contributed extensively to the project, may be leading to a difficult impasse that could endanger Highway 121 widening plans.

"If we decide to toll, it will be under the following conditions," said Plano Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Scott Johnson during a City Council meeting this week in which the council laid out a draft resolution. "If those conditions are not met, we would vote against tolling."

Short on time

Leaders on both sides of the discussion say they expect to reach some agreement, but time is running short.

State and regional leaders have set an Aug. 15 deadline for a Highway 121 toll road decision. Plano, Allen and Collin County have set votes for Aug. 9. Frisco has a discussion and vote scheduled for its Wednesday meeting. McKinney, which held three public hearings on the matter, voted in October to support tolls in hopes of getting a finished Highway 121 and some revenue for widening Central Expressway.

While hundreds of millions of dollars is at stake, state officials say, they will not force a toll road if local leaders don't want it. But they also will look for common ground if they believe a small faction is holding up a toll road.

"I do believe strongly there is a happy medium," said Mr. Hale. "Unanimous and consensus, if you look at their definitions, are not the same."

Any decision to put tolls on Highway 121 in Collin County must get approval from two groups: the Texas Transportation Commission and the Regional Transportation Council, an appointed 40-member group of mostly elected North Texas leaders that oversees transportation spending at the North Central Texas Council of Governments. The regional group historically has supported local sentiment on projects.

The situation is similar to one in Denton County in 2004 that required extensive deadline negotiation, said Michael Morris, director of transportation for the council of governments, the regional planning agency.

Local leaders need to hear other ideas about how excess toll revenue would still be controlled at the regional level, and the road's electronic tolling feature means that tolls could be adjusted lower during weekends and off-peak periods.
"I still think we're going to get it," he said, adding that if they don't agree, "where will the county get the money to build the magnitude of projects needed when they are already the size of Fort Worth?"

Staff writer Lee Powell contributed to this report.

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