Saturday, August 13, 2005

"I hope that our citizens weigh in on this issue since it has long-term ramifications to our city."

Tolls decision in Frisco's lane now

By: MIKE RAYE, Staff writer
Frisco Enterprise

For the city of Frisco, the question over tolling State Highway 121 has come full circle. A resolution calling for the allowance of tolls provided that the five local entities - Frisco, Plano, Allen, McKinney and Collin County - control them and the revenue they generate above the cost of building the road was penned by City Manager George Purefoy.

Four of the would-be partners have voted in favor of the resolution, leaving Frisco an opportunity to make it a unanimous decision when the City Council votes on the resolution Tuesday night.

Council members say they won't be pressured into casting a vote in favor of tolls by either their peers or the fact the resolution was birthed in Frisco. A balance between regional wants and local needs must be struck, they said.

"We will individually cast our votes based on what we individually believe in," Council Member Tony Felker said. "That is regardless of what others have done. I personally don't think tolls are the answer to the highway funding problem we face. We all understand - Frisco, the county and the other cities - that this is an important artery and something has to be done, but we don't want to solve the state's problems."

Mayor Pro Tem Maher Maso said the council has been faced with tough decisions before, and emerged no worse for wear, and for the betterment of the citizens it represents.

"I personally do not feel any pressure," he said. "I have seen this and previous Councils in action with difficult decisions many times in the last few years. They have always made their decisions based on sound facts and in the best interests of the citizens of Frisco. I do not see (us) doing anything less for this decision."

Maso said the money problem is one that affects all - city, county and state.

"I know all the regional governmental entities are doing the best they can with what the state has given them," he said. "TxDOT, the (North Central Texas Council of Governments) and other partners are simply trying to come up with solutions to our road problems. On Tuesday, any final citizen comments will be heard and then a decision will most likely be rendered. I hope that our citizens weigh in on this issue since it has long-term ramifications to our city."

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Joy West recalled a statement she made during a discussion of the resolution Aug. 3, at which a decision was tabled, that the resolution "wouldn't be worth the paper it's written on" because the state would flex its muscles superceding any locally-passed resolution.

"George's resolution is a good one, and I feel that it would make a viable difference but my concern is more of the actual validity of the resolution," she said. "In my opinion, the state is after money to build roads in other areas and I'm not sure that once the resolution is enacted that it wouldn't be pushed to the side and the state will still due what they feel is best. Making 121 a toll road should be a benefit to our citizens, if we have to do so."

Council Member Matt Lafata said he's clear he won't be pressured into a decision, but unclear about the argument for tolls.

"I am glad that George championed the resolution and Frisco has shown real leadership in proposing this but I don't feel any pressure to vote for or against it," he said. "I've been against tolling from the beginning and I still haven't made up my mind as I still have a hard time swallowing the fact that we need to toll this road to get it done in a timely manner. I want to continue to exhaust all options, especially in keeping the section free between the Dallas North Tollway and Hillcrest Road. I've looked at this from every which way and in the end will do what I feel is best for the citizens of Frisco based on my research and feedback from citizens. It certainly won't be an easy decision."

Keeping the stretch of 121 fronting Frisco's main economic engine - Stonebriar Centre mall - a freeway is crucial, Lafata and others have argued. People won't pay to drive on a road to spend money at the mall, they contend.

"Every dime that is spent on tolls is a dime people won't be spending at the mall," Sharon Overall, an outspoken opponent of tolls from Plano that has pled her case before the Frisco council and others in the months leading up to toll decisions said Aug. 3. "Access should be open and free," she said.

Council Member Dr. Jim Joyner pointed to an "out clause" in the resolution that gives the local entities an opportunity to reverse votes in favor of the tolls should TxDOT fail to uphold their part of the agreement.

Section two of the resolution states "If there is any the State of Texas, the Texas Highway Commission, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Regional Transportation Council, or any other entity having authority over the Project, then the City Council of the City of Frisco, Texas opposes the use of tolls for the Project and upon that event, this Resolution shall become null and void."

A deviation would mean that locally collected toll revenue would be used elsewhere in the state. That's the motivation behind the resolution in the first place, as Purefoy said, preventing a "Robin Hood" scenario like the fatally flawed school finance scheme where money is taken from rich districts and paid to poorer ones.

"I feel we need to maintain control of the toll rates and the future of any excess tolls by some means, and this proposal seems to be the way to me," Joyner said. "The last phrase of the proposal does state that if TxDOT varies from the points of this proposal then we are to be considered against the tolling of 121, and with this statement I agree whole heartedly."

©Star Community Newspapers 2005


Transportation industry ponders the future Toll Road State

Transportation officials say U.S. is getting into a jam over traffic

Patrick Driscoll, Staff Writer
San Antonio Express-News

IRVING — The nation's roads are on a crash course with disaster and decision-makers are running scared, government and industry officials said this week at the Texas Transportation Summit.

The drastic changes needed over the next couple of decades to keep up with growing traffic are both cool and scary.

"We're going to need to make some fundamental decisions in this country about where we're going to go," said Ed Mortimer, director of transportation infrastructure for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

More than 1,100 people from five countries and 34 states came to the four-day summit, which ended Friday, to celebrate the 1956 law that funded the 43,000-mile interstate system and to sketch a vision for the next 50 years.

But the vision is foggy, and there will be potholes on the way.

First up is the six-year, $284 billion transportation bill signed Wednesday by President Bush.

The new law gets good marks for such things as streamlining construction and environmental work and, some summit participants said, for allowing interstates to be tolled when there's new construction.

But it falls woefully short, most agreed.

"It's really a Band-Aid," Mortimer said.

Another $20 billion a year is needed just to maintain the system, he said.

Making matters worse, the nation's roadways have been deteriorating for years and are now in poor condition, said Patrick Natale, director of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

"Would you do the same thing for your house?" he asked a luncheon crowd Friday. "Would you let it deteriorate until it fell down?"

Yet that's what America is doing, said Ed Regan of Wilbur Smith Associates. If you think traffic congestion and pocked streets are bad now, just wait.

"The worst is yet to come," he said as he struggled to explain how dire the situation is. "Fear or terror might be words that would work appropriately."

Federal, state and local officials need $3.4 trillion to keep up with highway and transit needs over the next 10 years but will fall $1 trillion short, according to a recent study commissioned by the National Chamber Foundation.

How can this be? Mostly because federal and state gas taxes, the main sources of transportation funds, are drying up, officials say.

Most politicians aren't inclined to increase gas taxes, even to keep up with inflation. Also, cars today get twice as much mileage from a gallon of gas as the vehicles of 20 years ago and that likely will double again within 15 years.

In addition, fuel cells eventually will become mainstream and, together with the fuel efficiency of hybrid cars, the gas tax will be as good as dead.

"Somebody's got to pay for it," said Ken Philmus of DMJM+Harris. "There's no such thing as a free road."

This is where toll roads and bonds, the most promising and talked about solutions among transportation officials, come in.

For this, the eyes of the nation are on Texas, where laws in recent years have let private companies bring their financial might and innovative approaches to the plate. Construction of the first toll lanes in San Antonio, 47 miles on U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 on the North Side, will begin early next year.

"Texas is absolutely leading the way here," Regan said.

But toll roads aren't a perfect solution.

Several officials at the summit said surveys show drivers will accept toll roads, but there are elected leaders at local levels who say they feel the heat and hear the cries about double taxation.

"Toll roads should pay for themselves," said Grady Smithey, a city councilman in Duncanville, south of Dallas. "Any toll road of the future should adhere to this principle."

Also, tolling of new highways across America would raise only $12 billion through 2015, according to the National Chamber Foundation. Including bond financing and other changes, just a fourth of the needs would be met.

Something more radical is needed, officials say.

The new federal transportation law calls for setting up a commission to search for long-range solutions. A second part to the National Chamber Foundation study, due out in November, will do the same.

But Regan, Mortimer and others say they know where this is headed: The gas tax will be replaced by a mileage-based charge.

Within 20 years, satellites and computers might be tracking and billing every movement of every car, which would be equipped with global positioning systems. Testing already is under way in Oregon, Seattle and Germany.

"This is a very serious consideration in Washington," Regan said.

But the fallout could be the threat to privacy, he said. The trick is designing an anonymous system that still has pinpoint accuracy, which might sound like nonsense to many motorists.

Is it possible?

"Probably," Regan said.

San Antonio Express-News:


Friday, August 12, 2005

"I don't know we have a lot of choice."

Driving 121 will steer you to back tolls

Jacquielynn Floyd
Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2005

Going by the map, the logical route from, say, Lewisville to McKinney is along State Highway 121. It's accessible, direct and straight as an arrow.

It's also a contender for the most miserable, tortured drive in North Texas, 20 maddening miles of stop-and-go gridlock that make you wish you could abandon your car and walk or pedal a bicycle or ride a donkey instead. Highway 121 is a textbook look at what explosive suburban development does to the rural infrastructure.

Which is why, politically abhorrent as it seems and unfair as it undoubtedly feels, the state needs to make 121 a toll road – and fast.

Some of them had to hold their noses to do it, but elected authorities in Collin County, Plano and Allen have formally agreed; Frisco will consider a similar resolution next week.

Turning already-funded "free" highways into pay-as-you go toll roads is a politically dicey proposition. Similar proposals have made taxpayers, homeowners and drivers fighting mad in other Texas cities, particularly Austin and Houston.

Sal Costello, an Austin resident and vociferous anti-toll activist, founded the "Texas Toll Party" after plans were announced to start charging drivers to cross a bridge near his neighborhood.

"I was astounded that a freeway, one that had already been paid for, was being considered as a tollway," he wrote, making the fair point, as do many others, that this amounts to "double taxation."

Undoubtedly, he's right, as are the many people who are furious that they might have to start paying for their daily commute on Highway 121.

Part of what makes them so mad is that the state isn't just talking about a pay-as-you-go collection that will last until highway improvements are paid off. The "new think" down in Austin – as it is in many other state capitals – is that the centuries-old practice of collecting a road toll is a shiny new means of raising revenue for all kinds of other projects.

Some don't view tolled highway systems as one-time expenditures, like a statue or a building. They see them as ongoing, publicly regulated but privately operated utilities.

There's a lot to consider, discuss and debate in all this. The problem is that wheels-on-the-pavement reality is moving a lot faster than the pace of the discussion.

Last year, 80 new people moved to Collin County every day. That meant 48 more cars a day on the roads.

For the calendar year, that's a total of 140,160 extra vehicles. All of them seemed to be jammed onto the pavement in front of me when I drove on Highway 121 one day this week.

This was not during rush hour, which is so truly awful on this thoroughfare that I couldn't face it, even to make a dramatic point. I went at midday at midweek, when traffic would presumably be at a moderate level.

It took 45 minutes to cover the 20 miles between Interstate 35E and U.S. Highway 75. I passed through 22 grade-level, light-controlled intersections, catching red lights at exactly half of them. Traffic was so heavy in some places that it took two light cycles to get through the intersection.

By the time I turned south toward Dallas, I was cranky, irritated and acutely conscious that time was flying by on fleet little wings. People who drive on that road every day must live at the brink of mental collapse.

That's the reality. It doesn't sound fair, in the abstract, to have to pony up every time you drive on a road that was already scheduled for expansion out of the state highway budget.

But that, highway authorities say, could take decades. If I could have paid a sack of quarters to make that drive on a wide lane of open freeway, I'd have forked it over in a heartbeat.

The cities along the Highway 121 corridor have seen the kind of growth that would make elected officials and chambers of commerce in some places crash to their knees and kiss the sweet dirt. It's less of a triumph if you choke to death on your own traffic.

"Under the circumstances," said Collin County Commissioner Jerry Hoagland this week as he voted for a resolution in support of a Highway 121 toll road, "I don't know we have a lot of choice."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement. But it's the truth.


Dallas Morning News:


Ric Williamson criticized by lawmakers for TxDOT boycott

Lawmakers rap TxDOT for summit snub

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

IRVING — Two state lawmakers Thursday criticized the Texas Department of Transportation for boycotting a transportation summit this week — calling it childish and senseless.

TxDOT officials said they blew off the Texas Transportation Summit because TEX-21, a statewide coalition that grew out of the event, isn't open-minded about a proposed toll road that would parallel Interstate 35.

TEX-21 doesn't take positions on specific projects, but it uses the lobbying firm of Dean International, which has helped Dallas and other cities voice concerns about the toll road's potential to divert traffic from I-35.

Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson, a keynote speaker at the summit last year, instructed TxDOT staff in November to see him before participating in anything that Dean International is connected with.

"It's unfortunate that one individual would act so childish, to boycott a summit that is so important to this state simply because of personal reasons," said Rep. Linda Harper Brown, R-Irving.

Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson, a longtime member of the House Transportation Committee, told an audience of about 1,000 at the summit that it doesn't make sense to just stop talking to someone because you disagree with them.

"I enjoy that give and take," Hill said. "We can certainly get along with TxDOT and this organization. We can do that."

The audience, which included government and industry officials from three countries and about 30 states, applauded.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who had a recent spat with Gov. Rick Perry over her efforts to ban states from tolling existing lanes of federal highways, had less to say about TxDOT shunning the summit.

"I just don't know what their reasons were," she said shortly after addressing the summit's luncheon Thursday. "Maybe they had a good reason."

Meanwhile, TxDOT sent out talking points to its Dallas and Fort Worth offices so officials there can respond to media questions about the agency's decision not to attend.

The talking points said: "Our commission has made it clear that we will not pay Dean International for the opportunity to talk to our friends and local partners," and "We are always available to hear and discuss ways to improve mobility and safety, and you don't have to pay a third party to get our attention."

San Antonio Express-News:


Thursday, August 11, 2005

"Free market ?" City government slows local traffic to assist private toll road.

Colorado highway "slowdown" sparks debate on toll roads

By Daniel Sorid
Reuters Copyright 2005

A stretch of country highway near Denver has become an unlikely rallying point for opponents of the privatization and tolling of roads.

The highway, known as Tower Road, was inexplicably slowed several years ago to 40 miles per hour from 55, and traffic lights appeared at three intersections.

The move had locals in the town of Commerce City, Colorado, population 35,000, scratching their heads. Just as a new toll road had opened up near the town, their lightly traveled local thoroughfare got a lot slower.

Newly disclosed documents show that, as part of a non-compete agreement with the toll road authority 10 years ago, officials from the town of Commerce City agreed to intentionally slow down the road -- now much busier with hotels and office buildings -- to discourage drivers from skipping out on paying to use the toll highway.

"They didn't want to have Tower Road be a competitive thoroughfare," said Robert Gehler, the Commerce City attorney, who was a part of the negotiations.

The disclosure of the Tower Road slowdown -- discovered by an inquisitive Colorado resident who posted it on the blog -- shines a light on the touchy issue of non-compete agreements, which are a common component of toll roads.

The issue is likely to become even more pressing now that President George W. Bush has signed the federal highway bill, which includes a $15 billion bonding provision designed to increase toll-road investment.

The nation's fixation with highway travel began in the 1790s with Pennsylvania's stone and gravel Lancaster Turnpike, the first major toll road, that cost about $2.25 to travel its entire 62 miles from Philadelphia to Lancaster.

Proponents of tolled roads, which can be operated by private companies, partnerships of government and business, or by governments alone, say that in congested urban areas tolls ensure that a scarce resource is allotted fairly.

They also say that toll roads are the future of the U.S. road system, at least for the foreseeable future, since budgets for new highway projects are far tighter. Today, 23 states permit private participation in road building, and five of six major private projects include non-compete clauses to ensure viability of the roads.

Opponents, however, say non-compete agreements, or at least some of their terms, violate free-market principles.

"They're putting a thumb on the scale," said Ellen Dannin, a law professor at Wayne State University who studies privatization.

Non-competes, she said, highlight the difficulty that many toll-road agencies are having meeting revenue targets.

In Southern California, where road congestion is a way of life, the state's first experiment with private toll roads ended in controversy when private owners of express lanes successfully fought an effort by officials to expand the parallel free lanes of a state highway.

Commuters, outraged that a non-compete agreement with a profit-seeking business prevented the highway expansion, complained, leading to the sale of the road back to the government.

Karen Hedlund, an authority on toll roads and a Virginia-based partner at Nossaman, Guthner, Knox & Elliott LLP, said non-competes serve a valuable purpose: they ensure that investors in toll roads will not suddenly have to compete with new highways after laying out billions of dollars up front.

Nevertheless, the idea of intentionally slowing down a public road is something, Hedlund said, that would never be written into modern-day, non-compete agreements. "We're involved in toll roads across the country, and I've never heard of such a thing," Hedlund said.


John Pommer, the chairman of the Colorado general assembly's transportation and energy committee, said the idea of paying for unnecessary traffic lights to convince drivers to avoid a free road sounded unusual.

"Good grief," Pommer said, "That sounds like a pretty raw deal." He plans to inquire about the Commerce City agreement during a previously scheduled hearing on Thursday with officials of the toll road, which is called E-470.

Completed in 2003, the E-470 beltway runs for 47 miles along the eastern perimeter of the Denver area. It costs $8.50 to drive the length of the road, which is owned by a group of local jurisdictions.

While technically public, the highway authority is run like a business, with revenue targets and customer service closely monitored, said Edward DeLozier, the executive director.

DeLozier said the Commerce City slowdown had been negotiated by his predecessor. Today, he said, the road competes on service, and does not view local roads as competition.

If Commerce City wanted to raise the speed limit, he said, he would take the matter to the authority's board.



Bonilla: “If you are a community that does this, you will lose all federal funding.”

Eminent domain ruling draws fire

By Gerard MacCrossan
Kerrville Daily Times
Copyright 2005

Opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June eminent domain ruling is drawing support from both sides of the House of Representatives. Congressman Henry Bonilla’s comments to the Kerrville Noon Rotary Club on Wednesday brought applause for his stance and for proposed legislation that would penalize any governmental entity that employed eminent domain rights to take property for private gain.

“I disagreed with the (Supreme Court’s) ruling,” Bonilla said, adding his response was to file HR 3405 — The Strengthening the Ownership of Private Property Act.

The bill proposes ending federal economic assistance on all economic development projects should any state or local government entity take property from one private party to give to another.

“If you are a community that does this, you will lose all federal funding,” Bonilla said. “The bipartisan support across the board (for this bill) has been found.

“Maxine Waters from California, who is known as a fire-breathing liberal, has signed on,” he said.

Another liberal Congressman, former Democratic presidential challenger Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, is among 19 House members co-sponsoring the bill. Four other Texas congressmen, including Lamar Smith, have signed on, and U.S. Senator John Cornyn has filed similar legislation, Bonilla said.

The bipartisan support, he said, comes from the fear shared by inner city-dwellers that their homes could be taken away as easily as those of the citizens of New London, Conn., under the Supreme Court ruling.

“No city is going to want to lose their federal funds,” Bonilla said, adding his bill is a “creative way” of combating the ruling.

The Congressman’s Kerrville stop is one in a series of visits he is making to communities throughout his huge District 23. He said different issues are important to different areas, ranging from agriculture in Hondo, where he was Wednesday morning, to veterans affairs in Kerrville, to immigration and customs issues along the border. stretching from Webb County to El Paso County.

He said border issues are prominent for him, including changing the Department of Homeland Security’s policy of arresting the releasing illegal immigrants referred to as OTMs — Other Than Mexicans. He said he raised the issue many times with former Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge because more than 15,000 OTM’s were released in Texas last year, and 85 percent didn’t show up to their appointed court dates.

He said he believes the policy will change, but it will take time to make it happen.

On terrorism, Bonilla said it is unfortunate that the U.S. can never totally be safe. The circumstances that would create the desirable ability for all U.S. troops to come home don’t exist. If things progress positively in the coming year, he said he hopes to see a draw down of troops in Iraq.

“Then we have Iran,” he said, adding he hopes that country doesn’t push the nuclear issue. “That part of the world is infested with a cancer that is affecting the whole world.”

One Rotarian asked Bonilla if the federal government would restrict the amount drug companies could spend on advertising, and on that issue, the Congressman said he couldn’t give an answer to please.

“I don’t see this as a federal issue,” he said. “I believe our drug companies are the best in the world, allowing Americans to live longer, healthier lives. ... People who can’t afford it need help with their prescription drugs ... but I don’t think the federal government needs to regulate advertising.”

Gerard MacCrossan may be reached at

Kerrville Daily Times:


Frisco Council doesn't abide TxDOT's "deadline."

County toll plan up for Plano vote

By: Amy Morenz, Staff Writer
Plano Star Courier
Copyright 2005

Although the Frisco City Council tabled its decision on tolling State Highway 121, their Plano counterparts are scheduled to vote on the issue on Monday.

Council members will likely decide whether to support creation of a Collin County organization to manage tolls to finance main lanes and interchange construction. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at Plano Municipal Center, 1520 K Ave.
Allen's city council and Collin County commissioners are also expected to vote this week on the resolution, which the McKinney council passed last week.

The Frisco council, though, delayed its decision to Aug. 16, despite an Aug. 15 deadline set by the Texas Department of Transportation. They said the Regional Transportation Council that determines highway allocations won't meet until Sept. 8. Collin County and its four major cities - Plano, Allen, McKinney and Frisco -- have been told a consensus would help when they face state transportation leaders. Gas tax revenues are not allocated to build main lanes between the Hillcrest and Central Expressway, but they are allocated between the Dallas North Parkway and Hillcrest.

Decisions are still pending between Collin County Judge Ron Harris and TxDOT officials, City Manager George Purefoy told his council. Frisco has opposed the toll concept because of concerns that it would be bounded by two tolled highways - SH 121 and the Dallas North Tollway.

To forge a county-wide agreement, Plano Councilman Scott Johnson has participated in meetings between elected officials and transportation officials in the last few weeks. Plano's council will consider the resolution they created calling for a new county organization to build and manage the new toll road.

The project is estimated to cost $345 million. A 15 cent toll between the Dallas North Tollway and Central could generate $707.9 million in extra revenues to pay for the highway's long-term maintenance and operational costs, an earlier TxDOT study found.

Plano's key concern has been local management to make sure revenues from SH 121 do not fund other toll projects in the Metroplex. The construction, maintenance and operation of SH 121's main lanes and interchanges would be built and managed by a local authority under the resolution Plano will consider Monday.

The local group would contract with a provider to operate the tolls, seek the best financing to issue bonds and set tolls to pay debt service, improvements, maintenance and operations.

During previous council debate, Plano Councilman Shep Stahel questioned the safety of having only toll lanes with no cash options. He wondered if visitors from other areas could safely use toll lanes.

In other matters, Plano's council will conduct its formal public hearing about two budgets: its operational budget and community investment program.

Council members will vote on a proposal to consider an increase in total tax revenue and consider the appraisal roll of $98 million. Monday is the first public hearing on the budget, which will be analyzed in a Saturday workshop. Two public hearings on the tax rate are set for Aug. 22 and Aug. 31.

The operating budget calls for keeping the same tax rate of 45.35 cents per $100 of assessed value. The $332.6 million operating budget represent a six percent increase or $18.9 million hike from last year.

The average tax bill for Plano taxpayers could increase $20 a year based on the draft. The average Plano house value increased from $232,000 to $237,200, bringing the average tax bill from $841 to $861. Plano also provides a 20 percent homestead tax exemption, making it one of the lowest rates in the Metroplex, council members were told.

The council will see a presentation during its work session about allocation of bond funds to capital programs. Plano's consider allocated $27 million from the bond package approved in May for varied fire, parks and street projects. With $12.55 million scheduled in 2005, parks tops the list of community investment programs that are scheduled to start this year. The budget designates $8.1 million for new street projects, $5.5 million to fire facilities and $1.2 million for libraries and the Animal Shelter.

Contact staff writer Amy Morenz at 972-398-4263 or

©Star Community Newspapers 2005:


Texas gets a smaller slice of federal pork

Bush signs $286 billion transportation measure

By Bob Dart
Cox News Service
Copyright 2005

WASHINGTON - The Apollo Theater -- the immobile and impassable home of sweet soul music -- wasn't forgotten in the $286.4 billion transportation bill that President Bush signed into law Wednesday.

"This does not belong in a highway bill," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., denouncing a section requiring the Economic Development Administration to lease and improve the historic Harlem theater, where mass transit usually involves Tina Turner singing "rollin' on the river" from Proud Mary.

While supporters were hailing the new law as a boon for the nation's deteriorating transportation system, critics were lambasting it as a boondoggle in which lawmakers poured federal funds into pet projects for their home districts.

"If we want people working in America, we got to make sure our highways and roads are modern," Bush said after signing the bill into law at a Caterpillar Inc. plant in Montgomery, Ill.

David Williams, vice president of Citizens Against Government Waste, countered: "We are extremely disappointed that Bush didn't veto this."

The critics focused on the bill's 6,371 grants for special projects, called "earmarks" on Capitol Hill and "pork" by critics, from a sarcastic suggestion once made that the government should provide every voter a barrel of pork.

The bill spreads the largess across virtually every congressional district in the country.

For example, it includes $223 million to build a bridge to Gavin Island in Alaska, where 50 people live. The Mississippi town of Petal gets $200,000 for a bicycle path.

Slightly more in tune with the new law for surface transportation, funds are also provided for a National Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio, where the now-defunct auto was produced; the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., where the Model T assembly line was first set up, and the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, N.Y., where mules once pulled barges.

What may be surprising is that the Texas delegation, long admired for its ability to bring home the bacon, is on the sidelines this time.

Texas generates more federal gasoline tax revenue than almost any other state, but it is slated to receive only $669 million -- less than 3 percent -- in earmarks.

The shortage of earmarked money is especially noticeable in Tarrant County, which will receive only a fraction of Texas' share.

The allotments in the Fort Worth area include $12.8 million for the Trinity Uptown project, $4 million for Airport Freeway in Hurst-Euless-Bedford, $3.2 million for the Grapevine funnel and $1.6 million for Interstate 30 in Arlington.

Taxpayers for Common Sense, which calls itself a nonpartisan budget watchdog group, said the highway bill contains about $24 billion in earmarks, about 9 percent of the total. That includes 273 projects worth $452.3 million for Georgia; 232 earmarks worth $694.6 million for Florida; 245 earmarks worth $665.2 million for Ohio; 129 earmarks worth $407.5 million for North Carolina, and 94 earmarks worth $485.3 million for Colorado.

"This bill is by far the most expensive, wasteful highway bill in the nation's history," said Keith Ashdown, the group's vice president. "By ignoring his promise to veto a fiscally irresponsible highway bill, the president has continued his record of not vetoing any legislation, no matter how wasteful or full of pork."

But White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Bush actually had squeezed excess spending from the bill with veto threats that delayed its passage by two years.

"It's close to $100 billion less than where it originally started," Duffy said. "If you recall, in the House it was close to $380, $390, almost $400 billion. It's now $286 billion. This is a balanced transportation bill that funds our infrastructure needs while not breaking the bank."

This Report Includes Material From Star-Telegram Archives.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


"To have no one from TxDOT here is outrageous."

TxDOT officials blow off transportation summit

Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

IRVING — An eerie pall hung in the air at the eighth annual Texas Transportation Summit this week because, for the first time, nobody from the Texas Department of Transportation showed up.

TxDOT officials said they boycotted the state's premier transportation summit — called a national model by some — because they don't see eye-to-eye with a statewide coalition that grew out of the event.

"To have no one from TxDOT here is outrageous," said Kenneth Mayfield, a Dallas County Commissioner involved with the summit.

More than 1,100 government and industry officials from 35 states — including more than a dozen members of the Texas congressional delegation and the Legislature — have signed up for the event so far, which started Tuesday and runs through Friday.

It's the highest attendance ever.

But TEX-21, a coalition of city and county officials spawned by the transportation summit, has found itself in TxDOT's crosshairs.

State officials feel TEX-21 isn't open-minded enough about a proposed toll road that would parallel Interstate 35 to handle growing traffic congestion.

"We're operating on cross purposes," said TxDOT spokeswoman Gabby Garcia.

TEX-21 hasn't taken a position on the toll road, which is part of Gov. Rick Perry's Trans Texas Corridor.

But TEX-21 uses the lobbying firm of Dean International, which organizes the transportation summit and has helped Dallas and other cities voice concerns about the toll corridor's potential to divert traffic and commerce from I-35.

At a Texas Transportation Commission meeting last November, Chairman Ric Williamson told TxDOT staff to see him before participating in anything that Dean International is connected to.

"I don't have any patience for ad hoc, spur of the moment, last minute groups that spring up for no reason other than we've got to find a way to make a buck and scare people," he said.

TxDOT staffers have since stopped their quarterly meetings with TEX-21, said Mayfield, who chairs the group. And now, TxDOT has declined invitations to the transportation summit.

"I'm baffled, quite frankly," he said. "People aren't allowed to voice their concerns? Do we not live in America?"

The city of Irving, which sponsors the transportation summit and also hasn't taken a position on the Trans Texas Corridor, is caught in the middle, juggling a contract with Dean International and road projects with the state.

"It's very frustrating," said Irving City Councilman Rick Stopfer.

TxDOT officials showed up at the first seven summits, he said. Last year, 20 to 30 staffers were there and Williamson was a keynote speaker.

Meanwhile, some 20 to 30 TxDOT officials are on tap to attend the fourth annual San Antonio Regional Transportation Leadership Forum next month and Williamson has agreed to introduce Gov. Perry as the main speaker.

San Antonio Express-News:


Kolkhorst amendment bans economic development projects to help finance a toll project.

House gives approval to property rights bill

Measure would curb government power of seizure

Austin Bureau
Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2005

AUSTIN - The Texas House passed a bill Wednesday limiting government's power to take private property for economic development, including wording aimed at planned toll road projects backed by Gov. Rick Perry.

The House version of the bill, which lawmakers said limits the use of eminent domain for commercial development along toll roads and other highways, overwhelmingly passed 140-1.

Sen. Kyle Janek, the Houston Republican who authored the bill, said he's likely to ask the Senate to concur with the House amendments. The governor would then need to sign the bill for it to become law.

"I think they're things that I could live with," Janek said of the House's changes. "There's nothing major that I think is a deal killer. The governor's office seems to be OK with it."

The legislation, added to the second special session by Perry on Tuesday, was drafted in response to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing eminent domain seizures for economic development projects.

Similar law in 13 states

If Perry signs the bill into law, Texas will join 13 other states that have further limited the use of government property seizures in response to the high court's decision.
The House bill, with compromise wording by Rep. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, says the Texas Department of Transportation cannot seize private property for commercial developments unless it gets local approval from county commissioners.

"My goal is to say the state of Texas should not have eminent domain power to build economic development projects — hotels, restaurants, convenience stores or any other commercial facilities," said Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, whose amendment bans the practice in order to help finance a toll project.

"I believe if we say to the cities and counties we shouldn't do that, we should say it to the state of Texas," she added.

Section targets universities

Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, added an amendment that prohibits the University of Texas at Austin from condemning a popular hamburger restaurant, Player's, to build a parking garage and hotel.
Janek had been critical of the amendment in the past because Oliveira's cousin owns the restaurant. The new wording applies to other universities as well, prohibiting them from using state-backed bonds to finance "lodging facilities" that are not dormitories.

The bill makes an exception for ports and includes an interim study to determine, among other things, how a government can fairly compensate a person who loses a home in an economically depressed neighborhoods.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, offered an amendment requiring residents in a neighborhood to be notified if the government plans to seize land and change the character of their neighborhood.

The measure passed in response to a multi-level parking garage the Texas Medical Center is building in a neighborhood with a deed restriction allowing only single-family housing.

The Medical Center is able to build the parking garage directly adjacent to a homeowner's property because it has eminent domain powers, Coleman said.

Houston Chronicle:


"One issue that is not addressed is the fact that eminent domain is often employed by unelected officials who aren't accountable to voters."

Eminent domain law near

Perry to consider limits on government's power to seize property

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2005

AUSTIN – Local governments in Texas could soon lose their right to take someone's land and give it to private developers under a bill headed to the governor's desk that would limit the power of eminent domain.

Gov. Rick Perry isn't saying whether he'll sign the bill, but he has urged lawmakers to protect residents from land grabs that the U.S. Supreme Court deemed constitutional in June.
If he does sign it, the bill would take effect immediately, making Texas the third state in two months to pass a law hindering the use of eminent domain for economic development. Dozens more are predicted to follow suit.

"I am proud that the Legislature came together today and took a stand today against government entities who feel that they know how to use our private property better than the property owners do," said Rep. Frank Corte Jr., R-San Antonio, who shepherded the bill through the House on Wednesday. "This is the start of a new debate to rein in the powers of abusive actors."

The House approved the bill, 140-1, after a 25-4 vote in the Senate on Tuesday night. Its author, Republican Sen. Kyle Janek of Houston, said he would accept changes endorsed by the House, and the Senate almost always follows a bill's author on such matters.

The bill exempts efforts in Arlington to condemn homes for a new Dallas Cowboys stadium and protects Dallas' efforts to redevelop downtown.

It also restricts the Texas Department of Transportation's ability to condemn homes in order to build hotels and other "ancillary services" along the Trans-Texas Corridor, a network of highways crisscrossing the state. And it rolls back universities' abilities to take land for hotels.
An interim study and new select committee will help lawmakers figure out whether the bill would have any unintended consequences or whether it needs to be expanded, Mr. Janek said.
One issue that is not addressed, he said, is the fact that eminent domain is often employed by unelected officials who aren't accountable to voters.

"It's worth studying for the next 18 months," he said.

If the governor doesn't sign or veto the legislation, it would go into law in November. Either way, legislators vowed to take up the issue again during their next regular session in 2007, saying they might want the strongest restrictions possible – a constitutional amendment that voters would have to approve.

Merc exemption

Dallas-area lawmakers brokered an exemption for the city's Mercantile Bank redevelopment project, in which city officials are considering using eminent-domain powers.
Dallas officials are banking that the $250 million project, which would convert nine vacant or near-vacant downtown office towers into apartments, condominiums and retail space, will dramatically revitalize downtown.

"We didn't have plans to use this tool, eminent domain, beyond the Merc," said Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans, who oversees economic development initiatives. "They preserved what we needed."

Democratic Sen. Royce West and Republican Rep. Will Hartnett, who called the Merc building "an eyesore which is damaging to the health and prosperity of the Dallas central business district," made sure House sponsors went on record as saying the effort was protected by language that exempts governments trying to condemn "blighted" areas.

In Arlington, the stadium project is inching forward. The city anticipates needing 168 land parcels for the $650 million football stadium, which will be just southwest of the Texas Rangers' Ameriquest Field. Owners of about 50 of the properties have agreed to sell voluntarily; however, eminent domain cases are pending against dozens of properties.
Even fast-growing suburbs didn't raise loud objections to the bill.

In Frisco, where public-works projects and population growth are exploding, Mayor Mike Simpson expressed a philosophical distaste for using eminent domain for private development.
"As a general rule, I would agree that we shouldn't be taking someone's home or property for the economic benefit of ... a third party," the mayor said. "That's probably a good law to have."
Mr. Hartnett was the only House member to vote against the legislation, saying it would create an unnecessary burden on city projects that rarely condemn homes. It would also flood the courts with litigation, he said, giving landowners the ability to use the courts to extort money from local governments.

"We've just transferred a whole bunch of money from the taxpayers to the landowners," he said.

Try, try again

The bill died last month in the Legislature's first special session after the Senate and House could not agree on whether the new restrictions would apply to current cases. Mr. Janek also objected to a House amendment that required entities to pay home and landowners the cost of replacing the property.

This time, both provisions were left out of the bill.

"Texas has a long history of taking pride in landownership and the rights of landowners," Mr. Janek said. "The ruling by the court, combined with current state law, puts some homeowners at risk for having their property taken."

Experts predict that when legislatures across the country start convening in January, most – if not all – will take up the eminent-domain issue. In Oklahoma, for example, a joint select committee of the House and Senate began meeting this week to start working on legislation.
Bills have been pre-filed in New York and California, among other states. And Delaware and Alabama have passed laws restricting eminent domain.

Staff writers Dave Levinthal in Dallas and Bill Lodge in Plano contributed to this report.

Dallas Morning News:


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

TxDOT "Road Show" faces skeptics in Huntsville

Citizens voice concerns over new highway proposal

By Matt Pederson/Staff Writer
The Huntsville Item
Copyright 2005

One of the proposed routes, in blue, takes the transportation corridor through the western and northern areas of Walker County. The Texas Department of Transportation has denoted the areas in orange as "avoidance areas" for the corridor.

While Huntsville's chamber of commerce may be excited to see the Trans-Texas Corridor come through Walker County, citizens here don't seem to be convinced another major highway will be such a good thing.

Many landowners who live outside the city attended an informational meeting with the Texas Department of Transportation on Wednesday night at the Walker County Fairgrounds to voice concerns over land that has been in their families for generations.

While the final location of the proposed Interstate 69 is undetermined, it may cross Interstate 45 as close as five miles north of Huntsville, coming way too close for some local landowners' comfort.

"I own land in Walker County and my mother owns land in Walker County and we live close to the route that they have," Bruce Williams said.

Tommie Middleton is a Walker County landowner as well, and even if his land does not come into question, he is concerned about the traffic and the noise it will bring with it.

"I own a small piece of land in the north part of Walker County and I didn't want to be in this," Middleton said. "I can already hear (Interstate) 45 from my house and I don't want to hear 69."

As it is currently proposed, each route of I-69 will include separate lanes for passenger vehicles, large trucks, freight railways and high-speed commuter railways.

While passenger traffic may be opened up with I-69, Middleton believes there are ulterior motives for constructing the highway.

"All of this is just so Mexico can do trade up north," Middleton said. "This doesn't have a thing to do with traffic or the quality of life in Huntsville and Walker County, Texas. This is for Mexico."

Jack Heiss, the project manager for the I-69 Trans-Texas Corridor, acknowledged that it will give Mexico another way to trade with the United States, but said it will also give the U.S. another way to export goods to its southern neighbor.

"We're looking at half the vehicles in this corridor that are commercial vehicles," Heiss said. "From our initial estimates, we're looking at a lot of imports coming up from the south and exports, too, going the other way, because of its alignment to the midwest and the industrial northeast."

While the roads will no doubt be used heavily for trade, Williams is concerned about what, specifically, may be traded using the highway.

"I think it's a bad deal, because they're going to come in and take these landowners' property and they're fixing to open up a major drug highway from Mexico to Canada," Williams said.

While TxDOT is busy making informational meetings all over Texas, the reality of I-69 is still far off in the distance. The project itself will take close to 50 years to reach completion, but before ground is even broken, they need approval from the Federal Highway Administration.

Right now, they are in the middle of close to a three-year process of putting together an environmental study. Now that they have outlined the area they would like to look at, they are getting input from people in the potentially affected areas.

"The meetings are for two basic purposes," Heiss said. "The first one is to provide the public with information on the project and its current stage of development and secondly, and probably most importantly, to let the public give us feedback on their opinions and their local knowledge and anything else that might help us in making the project better."

Final approval for the TTC and I-69, if granted, is expected in winter 2006.

Matt Pederson can be reached at (936) 295-5407 ext. 3023 or by e-mail at

The Huntsville Item:


"TxDOT should not forget to 'dance with the one that brung them.' "

Super-sized highway won't meet our needs

Citizens concerned about the state's road priorities should attend a public hearing tonight at Calallen High School.

By Josephine Miller
Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Copyright 2005

SINTON - I've spent my life promoting things. When a new idea comes along that I cannot embrace, I feel uncomfortable. I'm referring to the Trans Texas Corridor proposal up for public comment by the Texas Department of Transportation.

Commonly referred to as the I-69/Trans Texas Corridor, this new approach to moving goods and people through Texas is touted as a forward- thinking plan that combines private investment, public money and tolls to build a wide corridor. This corridor would contain rail, separate truck and passenger roads, and utility easements. This super corridor would have limited access, more like an autobahn concept than our current route planning which "connects the dots" from one urban area to another.

On this super corridor, you would be able to drive fast, be safer, as the truck traffic would use a separate road, and you would be able to get to your destination quicker. So what's not to like? A lot.

For one thing, you will have to pay a hefty premium for this whiz bang road. It would cost you up to 10 cents a mile in tolls. For another, it is already costing the Texas Department of Transportation an arm and a leg to get it permitted. One contract for $50 million does nothing more than co-ordinate and monitor the other contracts that have been let for segments along the route. Some of these areas have already been studied during the planning for the I-69 and now are being reviewed again, and potentially moved in the process. So you have the issue of letting folks plan and believe one thing, when in fact something else may be in the works. This will add delay and cost to road projects we need now.

A case in point: When you travel in this state to or through major cities, you plan your travel times - no five o'clock for Houston, San Antonio, or Dallas.

That's not true for Corpus Christi because we are not on the road to anywhere else. We're where the Interstate stops. You have to come here to get here. Our only chance to be on the road to some place is to develop the I-69/U.S. 77 route.

Transportation determines much of our history and by analogy, much of our future. I live in Sinton because of transportation. If the ferry crossing over the Nueces River at San Patricio City were still important as part of the route from San Antonio to Monterrey, the courthouse would still be close to Mathis. The railroad came to Sinton and the courthouse was moved. Corpus Christi's economic engine is the port, a transportation spot of national significance. I rest my case.

Today, from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m., there will be a public meeting at Calallen High School on this new transportation plan. This is our opportunity to express to TxDOT officials that in their search for innovative ideas for moving traffic, they should not forget to dance with "the one that brung them."

We need the U.S. 77 route brought up to Interstate standards from Victoria to the Valley. We need SH 44 improved from Laredo to the port. And South Texas needs U.S. 59 upgraded. Imagine a four-lane, divided route from Laredo to the Port of Corpus Christi on up U.S. 77 to Houston.

The U.S. 77 route from Corpus Christi to the Valley only lacks the Driscoll and Riviera interchanges upgraded to meet Interstate standards.

I invite concerned citizens to the hearing to learn more about these vital plans for the future of our area. If there were ever a time for first things first, this is it. If you want all the traffic from these new trade corridors going right by you, or, more to the point, not by you, plan on staying home.

The current plan routes most of the traffic west of U.S. 281. Let the department know that we have our feet firmly planted in the reality of what is possible now, what we need now, and urge them, for heaven's sake, to finish what they have already started.

Josephine Miller, former San Patricio county judge, is the executive director of the San Patricio Economic Development Corporation. E-mail: execdir@

Corpus Christi Caller-Times:


Ferrovial acquisitions under investigation in United Kingdom

Ferrovial buys Texas-based Webber Group for $220 million

Construction firm aims to build foundation for US operations

El Pais Spain | M. ELKIN
Copyright 2005


Ferrovial, Spain's second-largest construction group, bought the Texas-based Webber Group for $220 million (€178 million) on Tuesday, the Spanish company said in a statement to national securities regulators.

The purchase of Webber, whose construction and services operations are located in Houston and Dallas, will provide Ferrovial with an established base to provide support for its $37 billion contract with the Texas Department of Transportation to build and operate the Trans-Texas Corridor, running from the Mexican border to Texas' northern border with Oklahoma.

The deal, which is pending approval by US securities regulators, involves Ferrovial taking control of 100 percent of the Webber Group, which includes the W. W. Webber Inc. construction and services unit, Southern Crushed Concrete and the Webber Management Group. In total, Webber controls assets worth about $500 million, and estimates that its sales for this year will be about $400 million.

Ferrovial said that buying Webber will give it the necessary footing in Texas to support its 50-year contract to build and manage the Trans-Texas Corridor, awarded to Ferrovial unit Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte (Cintra) in December 2004. The project includes 1,300 kilometers of roads, railways, and power, water and telecommunications facilities.

Under UK investigation
In Brussels on Tuesday, the European Commission returned to British authorities the competition investigation into the purchase by Ferrovial and Australia's Macquarie of Exeter airport in southwest England. According to the Commission, the deal may pose a threat to competition in the area, and the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is the best authority to judge whether this is so.

Ferrovial and Macquarie already operate the airport in nearby Bristol. The OFT will decide whether the two companies have an unfair advantage over their rivals in that region of England.

Also on Tuesday, Ferrovial made a preliminary offer for management of the airport in Budapest, Hungry, which is now being privatized. Yesterday was the deadline for presenting non-binding offers for control of 75 percent of the airport management, valued at about $500 million. The closing date for definitive offers will be November 2.

Abertis, which is controlled by Actividades de Construcción y Servicios (ACS) and La Caixa, is leading a consortium including Aena that also filed a bid.

© 2005 El Pais:
In English:


Janek: "It's clearly better than the law we have."

Eminent domain bill approved

Lisa Sandberg
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

Responding to a wave of anger over a recent U.S. Supreme Court private property decision, the Texas Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill limiting the government's ability in Texas to seize land for purely economic development.

"We made the language tougher," said a jubilant Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, who authored Senate Bill 7. "It's clearly better than the law we have."

Legislators from both houses, along with Gov. Rick Perry, have vowed to limit the effects of a June Supreme Court ruling stipulating that the city of New London, Conn., was within its rights to seize property from private individuals and give it to other private individuals — as long as the city could show it was in the public interest. Perry on Tuesday called the issue of protecting property rights "a very important one to Texans" and has said before that he hoped lawmakers would send him legislation to sign.

The two chambers did pass different versions of an eminent domain legislation during the first special session, but that session concluded before a final bill could be hashed out.

Eminent domain laws have traditionally allowed for government condemnation for the building of highways, ports and other public infrastructure, not because the property would generate more tax revenue if developed for another purpose.

Janek's bill, which passed the Senate 25-4 just after Perry allowed it to be considered during this year's second special session, would bar governmental entities from taking land for strictly economic development purposes.

Similar legislation is pending in more than a dozen states.

Alabama has already passed a law restricting the use of eminent domain, according to the Property Rights Organization of Texas.

Among the bill's detractors was Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, who argued that the bill would actually weaken eminent domain laws in Texas; virtually all a governmental entity had to do, he said, was prove that property to be seized would be turned into public infrastructure.

"What we've done is make it easier for the government to come and condemn property," Shapleigh said.

Janek's bill now is headed to the House.

San Antonio Express-News:


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

They've been tolled too many times..

Toll letters

Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2005

Truth be tolled

The toll rate per mile for every Oklahoma toll road listed in the article is between 2.5 cents and 7.5 cents per mile (seven of 10 are under 4.5 cents per mile), which is significantly below the proposed 15 cents per mile rate the Texas Department of Transportation is recommending. Considering the nationwide average rate for urban toll roads is 9 cents per mile, the 15 cents per mile rate is an unjustifiable overreach.

TxDOT is pushing to collect an astronomical $4.3 billion over 40 years in State Highway 121 toll revenue (just for the 11.2 mile stretch between U.S. Highway 75 and the Dallas North Tollway) for a road official's estimate at costing $345 million to construct. TxDOT even wants to toll the portion between the Dallas North Tollway and Hillcrest, which is already paid for by state gas tax dollars.

Should Collin County leaders decide to toll Highway 121, several things should happen:

1) Collin County should create the legal entity required to collect and distribute all toll revenue. Collin County toll revenues should pay off State Highway 121 and only be used on other projects within our county, not throughout the state.

2) Reduce the rate per mile charged motorists. The proposed 15 cents-per-mile rate unjustly collects too much revenue over the cost of the project.

3) Request the North Texas Tollway Authority share the cost for the interchange at State Highway 121. The northern portion of the Dallas North Tollway is already charging about 12 cents per mile, significantly above the national urban average.

4) Push back on TxDOT to design simpler, more cost-effective interchanges than the two $105 million-plus interchanges proposed for State Highway 121.

Costly toll roads are quickly boxing in Collin County cities, and that is not the vision we should implement for our county. If State Highway 121 tolling passes, do we brace ourselves for Highway 380 tolls next?

Kevin Jerich, Frisco

Control the toll

To all those who believe the political propaganda about the toll roads, I direct your attention to Page One of The Dallas Morning News on July 19, 2001, with the article "Already time for change on turnpike," about how the tolls on the George Bush Turnpike increased by 50 percent in less than three years!

Once the tolls are in place the tolling authorities can raise them at will. A dollar per mile – not impossible!

Lon Schoenky, McKinney

Our position

In a July 17 editorial, "If We Are Going to Toll 121 ..." The editorial board said it could support making Highway 121 a toll road if:

• All the money is used on the highway itself and on connecting roads.

• The tolls are lowered when the construction is paid for to a level that covers maintenance.

• Planners are innovative, offering variable pricing for different drivers and different times of day.

What's Next?

The Texas Department of Transportation set an Aug. 15 deadline for county and city officials to decide whether to convert Highway 121 into a toll road. Frisco has delayed a decision until Aug. 16.

Dallas Morning News:


Ric Williamson on federal highway bill: "We got hosed."

State's highway funds to surge

But rate of return from gasoline taxes tied for last among states

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2005

A new national highway bill promises billions more dollars for Texas projects. But no state has a worse rate of return from the federal highway trust fund, as Texans continue to pay far more in federal gasoline taxes than they get back.

President Bush plans to sign the bill Wednesday at a Caterpillar Inc. plant near Chicago.

Starting in 2008, Texas will be guaranteed 92 percent of all federal gas taxes it pays into the system, up from the current rate of as high as 90.5 percent. Early estimates show that the modest percentage increase will add up to significant dollar amounts for Texas.

The boost to a 92 percent return in the bill will bring an additional $346 million to Texas by 2009.

Still, the numbers pale in comparison with 21 other states that receive more federal gas tax revenue than they collect.

The funding differences illustrate the skirmishes common to many budget battles in Congress. One group of states fights to keep what it has, while another fights to carve the funding pie into what it believes are more equitable shares.

Massachusetts Sen. "Teddy Kennedy ain't going to cut the pie in Massachusetts for Texas," said Ric Williamson, Texas Transportation Commission chairman.

The fight involved many states virtually unwilling to budge on the gas tax rate of return.

"They were locked. They were locked on that issue," said U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, the senior Texan on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Representatives of states that receive more highway money than they collect in gas tax revenue make several potent arguments, said Ms. Johnson, a 13-year veteran of Congress and the Transportation Committee. First, residents of many of those states pay more in income taxes to the federal government. Second, many of those residents also live in dense urban areas where mass transit is more widely used.

"It's usually states that have quite a bit of rural territory" that don't get back all their gas tax revenue, Ms. Johnson said, adding that the interstate nature of many transportation projects make it almost impossible for all states to get back as much as they send to Washington. "So many projects that are needed all over the country run through more than one state."

Since the early 1990s, Texas has fought what it perceives to be a historical inequity in highway funding. The state has gone from a 78 percent rate of return to the current 88 percent to 90.5 percent (the exact percentage is in dispute). While the boost to 92 percent in a few years will leave Texas in a slightly better position, the amount of "lost" money over the years adds up to billions for Texas.

But when looking at highway funding, the rate of return on the gas tax is only part of the equation.

In raw dollar terms, it would be hard to argue that Texas got shortchanged overall. Texas' annual share of the spending pie will grow by $788 million. That's more than any state but California, which will see an $876 million increase annually, and more than the third- and fourth-place states (Florida and Ohio) combined.

By contrast, Alaska – despite its chart-topping rate of return ($5.27 for every dollar sent to Washington) received an extra $99 million a year for highway projects through 2009.

Only four states saw their slice of the pie grow at a higher rate than Texas, whose funding increase tops 37 percent. Colorado sets the pace with 47 percent growth.

But despite these gains, Texas ranks at the very bottom for rate of return. It's one of 21 states that will see just 92 cents for every $1 it sends Washington. One of the biggest reasons Texas saw any improvement in its rate of return may be House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Mr. DeLay has pushed legislation that would require a 95 percent minimum return for all states, and he's introduced legislation to carve that benchmark into federal law, though it hasn't made much progress this year.

"This has always been a big issue for Mr. DeLay," said DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden. "Texas has lost $5 billion over the last 20 years because of formula problems."
Early last year, the Senate passed a transportation bill that would have guaranteed a 95 percent return for all states by 2009. Backers of that plan sidestepped opposition from rate-of-return winners such as New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by ensuring higher funding, even if their shares dipped. The problem: The price tag was far higher than what the House or the Bush administration would accept.

Texas also fared poorly in competition with other states for funding of high-priority projects in the transportation bill. Those projects receive specific funding from Congress before states get their share of the highway funds. Texas and five other states got $50 million for work on a future Interstate 69, but that was all.

"We got hosed," Mr. Williamson said.

Even though state transportation leaders knew there was room for improvement in the rate of return, they focused more of their energy on other goals that they say will pay even greater dividends.

"Increasing the rate of return is one of our goals, but it's not the primary TxDOT goal since [Gov.] Rick Perry took over," Mr. Williamson said. "Our focus shifted from the rate of return to a change in the law that will reduce the cost of environmental clearance and engineering."

Such a provision could mean a cost savings of more than $1 billion on a multibillion-dollar project such as a proposed Trans-Texas Corridor route from Mexico, around Houston and through East Texas, Mr. Williamson said.

Federal officials named Texas one of five states that will be able to pick one major project and then combine the approval process for environmental and design work, rather than stagger those processes consecutively. The state also will be responsible for final approval of the project's environmental plans, rather than federal officials. The project still must meet all federal requirements and be subject to federal review if challenged.


Dallas Morning News:


Grupo Ferrovial buys Houston's Webber Group

Spain's Ferrovial buys Texas-based construction firm Webber Group

Associated Press
Copyright 2005

MADRID, Spain - Spanish construction company Grupo Ferrovial SA said Tuesday it is buying Houston-based Webber Group for $220 million in a deal aimed at expanding its reach in the United States.

Ferrovial is Spain's biggest construction company. Over the past year, its Cintra unit has won the concession to operate the Chicago Skyway toll road and has become the strategic partner with the state of Texas in planning the Trans-Texas Corridor infrastructure project.

The planned acquisition of Webber, which is subject to U.S. antitrust approval, represents "a new opportunity for growth in the United States," Ferrovial Chief Executive Joaquin Ayuso said.

Webber Group specializes in infrastructure, aggregate recycling and sand extraction, and expects revenue of more than $400 million this year, Ferrovial said.

Spain's stock market regulator said the deal would involve the Spanish company's Ferrovial Agroman SA unit buying construction company W.W. Webber Inc. and Southern Crushed Concrete, both based in Houston, as well as leasing company Webber Management Group.

Associated Press:


Monday, August 08, 2005

North Texans: Are they really Okie Wannabes?

Tulsa tolls could set example for N. Texas

With growing toll road network, area could follow a similar path

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2005

TULSA, Okla. – Getting around Green Country takes its toll.

This region's nickname plays off its lush vegetation (for Oklahoma), but it could just as well be talking about toll road cash.

Go any distance here, and it costs. Freeways morph into turnpikes, toll booths fill out the roadside landscape. Seven pay-as-you-go thoroughfares snake through the region, making it tough to leave Tulsa without tossing quarters.

Courtesy Oklahoma Turnpike Authority

Oklahoma's first turnpike, the Turner, opened in 1953. Click to hear more.
North Texas could soon take a similar route. Collin County entities are deciding whether to bless plans rebuilding State Highway 121 as a toll road. Elected officials in Plano vote on the matter tonight; the city of Allen and county commissioners consider it Tuesday.
In addition, two other toll roads are proposed: the Southwest Parkway is slated for Fort Worth, and downtown Dallas will get the Trinity Parkway. There are already two toll roads in the area north of Dallas.

Charging tolls means roads like State Highway 121 get a makeover more quickly, transportation officials say.

But many motorists grumble. If Highway 121 turns to tolls, Plano could be surrounded on three sides by such routes.

Tulsa has lived with turnpikes for decades: the route to Oklahoma City opened in 1953.
Voters soon endorsed more. The state now has more than 600 miles of toll roads, second-highest in the nation after New York. They're as much a part of the Sooner State as wicked springtime weather or a Garth Brooks tune.

Folks just passing through do not seem to mind the fees. They rack it up as just another travel expense, like regular unleaded or a gulp of soda.

"Easy on, easy off. You pay for what you get," said Craig Cantrill from Phoenix, visiting the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks with family. "They should do the same thing with sports stadiums. Have a toll."


Among locals, turnpikes are cursed for their limited on and off ramps, for promises broken long ago about tolls disappearing after concrete was paid for. Still, the pricey paths have found acceptance – more than 124 million transactions last year.

"I'm a firm believer in them," said Jerry Naifeh, CEO of a Sapulpa distributing company whose trucks rack up the miles. "I feel like we would not have decent roads if not for tolls."
For all the costly miles around Tulsa, community backers say turnpikes have not deadened economic development prospects. The once-proclaimed Oil Capital of the World has diversified; American Airlines is the largest employer, with a big maintenance base.
Inner-city throughways are still free, except for one urban turnpike. South of the city, the Creek Turnpike runs along a growth arc, from Sapulpa through Jenks to Broken Arrow.
Rooftops rise, and big box retail marks some intersections. Jenks, more than 10,000 people and growing, is fashioning itself into a tourist draw. Sharks swim at the Oklahoma Aquarium; a clutch of restaurants and shops line the Arkansas River nearby. All sit within the shadow of the Creek Turnpike, providing an easy off-ramp.

"The turnpike didn't hurt," Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland said.

The aquarium opened in 2003 and is averaging 500,000 visitors a year. It located here knowing the Creek Turnpike would become a major thoroughfare around Tulsa, said Susan Bramsch of the aquarium.

"People don't really mind paying," she said. "Very rarely do I hear people complain."
A little ways down the Creek Turnpike, development thins out. At times, traveling down the road at speed is lonely, with not a vehicle in sight. The route is a bypass for travelers going from Oklahoma City toward Missouri; most truck traffic has stayed on the free interstates through Tulsa.


The Oklahoma Aquarium is among new construction near Jenks, along the Creek Turnpike. Click to hear more.

The Oklahoma Transportation Authority oversees the turnpike system. It is a creation of the Legislature, overseen by a six-member board.

Toll collections cover maintenance, operations and construction debt; revenue is rising, with last year's haul at $186 million. There is a state fuel tax, which will increase if voters give their OK this fall. But it goes toward state highways and bridges; turnpikes get none of it. The system is self-supporting.

"The reality being a majority of these roads, if not all these roads, would not be in place without the toll system we have in Oklahoma," said Tim Stewart, the transportation authority's deputy director. "We believe the state would not have adequate funds to construct those."

Plans call for widening portions of the Creek and Turner turnpikes near Tulsa. Come 2028, Oklahoma could go without toll roads after they're paid off, according to its legislation.
Tulsa lawyer Gary Richardson made banishing turnpikes part of his platform for governor in 2002. He even put up billboards – on the Turner Turnpike – promising toll freedom. The independent candidate lost, but he struck a political nerve.

"Like I said during the campaign, it's a cancer on the state; it's a scam," Mr. Richardson said. "A lot of people are making a lot of money, but it's not the people in the state of Oklahoma."
Turnpikes have hit rural Oklahoma hard, reducing land values that then reduce the tax base, Mr. Richardson says.

For some road warriors, Tulsa travels are all about plotting routes avoiding the pikes. It might take longer, burn more gas, but beating the system brings satisfaction.

"Tell me a place to get to with a toll road, I'll tell you a way around it," said trucker Jon Lancaster of Tulsa, before offering detailed directions to Joplin, Mo. ("It takes 12 minutes more.")

When toll rates rose, some trucking outfits vowed to drive around Oklahoma. Big rigs ring up toll charges: travel is constant, and axle count (determining the toll) is high. All of this significantly adds to the cost of doing business, the Oklahoma Trucking Association says.
"What we want to see is fair tolls," executive director Dan Case said. "We really think the tolls are too high here."

Ernest Salcido of Claremore, Okla., delivers bread. As an independent operator, he pays tolls out of his pocket. He can almost do all his traveling without paying. He considers the turnpikes one of Oklahoma's shames, wondering why the landscaping is not better for all the dollars collected.

"Every time you get on them, ca-ching!" Mr. Salcido said while gassing up his delivery truck just off Interstate 44 on Tulsa's east side.


It is decision time for State Highway 121 toll road plans. These Collin County entities must decide whether they endorse converting the road into a paying one, probably limiting toll collections to merely covering costs. Transportation authorities would like a decision by Aug. 15. Here is a breakdown of when elected officials are to vote:

Allen: Tuesday
Collin County commissioners: Tuesday
Frisco: Aug. 16
McKinney: Endorsed tolls on Aug. 1
Plano: Tonight

Dallas Morning News:


To the Feds, $11 Billion in stealth pork is just chump change.

Editorial: Highway measure deserves Bush veto

San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

When is $8.5 billion equal to nothing? When Congress passes a bloated highway bill and wants the American people to think it's being frugal with taxpayer money.

Before the senators and representatives departed for their August recess, they passed — by overwhelming margins — an eye-boggling transportation measure that carries a price tag of $286.4 billion.

At least that's the official number.

Watchdog groups found a little accounting chicanery in the 1,000-page highway bill, along with a lot of pork. It turns out there's an extra $8.5 billion in spending tucked into the legislation that's not part of the official $286.4 billion figure.

Congress accomplished this by using a budgetary device known as rescission. It requires lawmakers to pay back the extra spending to the Treasury when the bill expires. That's in 2009, when a different Congress and a different president are unlikely to feel bound by the accounting exigencies of 2005.

Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican and one of only eight House members to vote against the measure, railed against the numbers game.

"The transportation bill," Flake said on the House floor, "ought to carry the same warning that drivers see on their rearview mirror: Items are larger than they appear."

Meanwhile, as groups such as Taxpayers for Common Sense point out, the bill is stuffed with 6,371 pork-barrel earmarks worth $23 billion. Topping the list of boondoggles are two bridges in Alaska, one modestly named for House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, costing more than $450 million.

The transportation legislation is officially $2.4 billion over the $284 billion limit a veto-threatening White House had put on the congressional spending spree — $11 billion over, if you add in the rescission.

Despite his bluff and bluster, President Bush is unlikely to wield his first-ever veto on the highway bill. That's unfortunate, because this legislative monstrosity deserves it.

San Antonio Express-News:


"The real choice remains in the hands of state officials and the Legislature."

Are Texans friendlier to taxes when they're called tolls?

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2005

Maybe, just maybe, Rick Perry and Ric Williamson aren't crazy after all.

This heavily qualified endorsement of the governor and his transportation chevalier was inspired by a visit Williamson made to the Statesman editorial board last week.

Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, didn't say much that he and other toll road supporters haven't said many times before. Well, he did call tolls a tax, a startling characterization coming from him. But he qualified that by distinguishing a user tax from a general tax such as the gasoline tax.

Still, something clicked. I've heard Williamson and others say many times that Texans are against raising the gasoline tax from 20 cents a gallon, the rate since 1991. Those 14 years of inflation have lowered its effective value to 14 cents, putting the Texas Department of Transportation in a cash crunch. Thus, tolls.

I always wondered about the foundation for that tax claim and what made them think that somehow we had a friendlier attitude toward tolls. It's an old political saw, of course, to ascribe to the people policy positions that are in actuality your own.

But then I made a leap.

What if there were an actual referendum putting before Texans the choice: a 20-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax increase (probably the minimum needed to catch up and keep up with highway needs) or the current aggressive toll road policy, including the Trans-Texas Corridor of intrastate turnpikes and plans to expand existing city arteries and toll them, as with the "Phase II" plan in Austin.

This referendum thing won't happen. But if it did, how would I vote, really?

A 20-cent-a-gallon increase would cost almost $4 extra on every fill-up, something above $150 a year. On the other side, someone who lives and works where I do would rarely encounter any of the five roads in the Phase II plan.

And each of them — U.S. 290 east of Ed Bluestein Boulevard (U.S. 183), Bluestein from Interstate 35 to the airport, Texas 71 from the airport to I-35, the new Texas 45 Southwest and U.S. 290/Texas 71 in Oak Hill — would have free frontage roads. So to get to the airport, I could take Seventh or Riverside and then pay 15 cents to 20 cents a mile for a mile or so. Once a month, maybe.

And when I found myself on those other roads, I could chose to take the access road for a couple of miles and pay nothing. Versus an extra $3 to $4 every time I get gas. As for the Trans-Texas Corridor, maybe those folks who can afford to pay $40 to drive faster to Dallas will leave me more room on I-35.

Hmmm . . . Self-interest is a powerful thing. And for every person whose main commute route involves one of these proposed toll roads, I bet there's at least five of me.

There's some evidence that a local gas tax of 5 cents or less might be enough to build the Phase II roads without tolls. But that's not allowed under state law, and it is unlikely to happen.

The real choice remains in the hands of state officials and the Legislature.

Could it be that they really are expressing the public will?

Getting There appears Mondays. For questions, tips or story ideas, contact Getting There at 445-3698 or

Austin American-Statesman:


Annual Texas Transportation Summit held in Irving

Transportation summit's destination is unknown

Patrick Driscoll, Staff Writer
San Antonio Express-News

The Texas Transportation Summit in Irving this week will celebrate the nation's first highway bill, signed in 1956, and dissect Congress' latest transportation bill while forging ahead into an uncertain future.

More than 1,100 government and industry officials from more than 35 states are expected to converge Tuesday through Friday in an effort to untangle issues such as funding, technology, safety and efficiency. No one knows how it will turn out.

"I'm going to be at the summit to find out," said David Dean of Dean International, which helped organize the event. "The character of this will take on a dimension of its own, and everyone will have a chance to influence that."

Vic Boyer of the San Antonio Mobility Coalition said he'll keep his eyes peeled for information on toll roads, ideas to index the gas tax to inflation and to let voters raise gas taxes at local levels, and the $286 billion transportation bill that Congress passed less than two weeks ago.

"Learning from others is always important," he said.

Topics will include highways, airports, seaports, railways, public transit, intelligent transportation systems and funding.

About 150 speakers are scheduled to appear, including key officials from state and federal agencies and more than a dozen members of Congress. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is one of the keynote speakers.

For more information, go to or call (214) 750-0123.

San Antonio Express-News: