Thursday, September 22, 2005

"The fight to restore the American dream."

Kelo Testifies Before Senate, Asks For Eminent Domain Help


Livestock Weekly
Copyright 205

WASHINGTON —(AP)— The Connecticut woman whose eminent domain case led to the Supreme Court decision allowing local governments to take homes for private development asked senators on Tuesday to end the federal government's involvement in such seizures.

"I sincerely hope that Congress will do what judges and local legislators so far have refused to do for me and for thousands of people like me across the nation: protect our homes," Susette Kelo told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The panel is considering one of several congressional proposals that would bar federal money from construction projects that benefit from the Supreme Court ruling.

State and national lawmakers around the nation are moving quickly to blunt the effects of the Supreme Court's Kelo v. City of New London decision. In that five-to-four ruling, the justices said municipalities have broad power to bulldoze people's homes in favor of private development to generate tax revenue.

The decision drew a scathing dissent from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as favoring rich corporations.

Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, who is on track to become the next chief justice, told senators last week that Congress and state legislatures have the power to trump the decision, something the Republican-controlled House and Senate are working feverishly to do.

The House has already acted, passing a bill that would bar federal transportation funds from being used to make improvements on lands seized via eminent domain for private development.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who wants additional legislation to withhold Community Development Block Grant funds from states that allow the taking of private property for private use, called the Kelo decision "one of the most un-American things that one can imagine."

Waters said that use of eminent domain authority for private development abuses poor people and minorities.

"You have your local city government and your community redevelopment agencies who will tell you that they want to take private property because they want to do away with blight, they want to upgrade the neighborhood," Waters said. "I don't buy that."

The Senate has not yet considered the House-passed bill and is considering its own solutions.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is pushing a bill that would ban the use of federal funds in any construction utilizing the Kelo decision, hoping that will force local governments to negotiate with homeowners instead of using the Supreme Court decision to kick them out.

"The protection of homes, small businesses and other private property rights against government seizure and other unreasonable government interference is a fundamental principle and core commitment of our nation's founders," Cornyn said.

At least 25 states are considering changes to eminent domain laws to prevent the taking of land for private development. In its ruling, the court noted that states are free to ban that practice.

"This battle against eminent domain abuse may have started as a way for me to save my little pink cottage, but it has rightfully grown into something much larger, the fight to restore the American dream and the sacredness and security of each one of our homes," Kelo said.

© 2005 Livestock Weekly:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Trans-Texas Corridor to connect with Monterrey, Mexico

Mexican state of Nuevo Leon wants to be trade gateway with U.S.

September 21, 2005

Frontera NorteSur (FNS)
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Copyright 2005

September 20. — Buzzing with truck traffic, the border crossing of Nuevo Laredo- Laredo handles the lion's share of Mexico-US trade. But if Nuevo Leon Governor Jose Natividad Gonzalez Paras has his way, Nuevo Leon will have a large chunk of that international commerce in the not-too-distant future. Gov. Gonzalez announced on Monday, September 19, a federal concession that boosts an ambitious, twin highway-railway project designed to bypass the two Laredos and transform the small community of Colombia, Nuevo Leon, into the biggest land customs port in Mexico.

Carrying a total price tag of at least US$155 million, the expanded bypasses will enter the U.S. along the small slice of Nuevo Leon's territory that borders Texas. A new railroad bridge is planned to ferry trade cargo across the U.S.-Mexico border.

"We have received title to a federal concession for the state of Nuevo Leon to build the railway bridge, or better put, to contract it out to third parties," Gov. Gonzalez said. A major goal is to connect the railroad with the Trans-Texas Corridor promoted by Texas Governor Rick Perry, said Nuevo Leon's chief executive. In early 2002, Gov. Perry signed a declaration with former Nuevo Leon Governor Fernando Canales to connect the Trans Texas Corridor with Nuevo Leon's industrial powerhouse, Monterrey.

Gov. Gonzalez also announced the formation of a citizen council to oversee the Nuevo Leon Border Zone Development Corporation (CODEFRONT) that will be in charge of the trade project. Former Nuevo Leon Governor Jorge Treviño was named to head the citizen council.

Holding a federal concession from the Ministry of Communications and Transportation, the state government of Nuevo Leon will seek interest the private sector and lending institutions in the expanded trade infrastructure corridor slated for Colombia, a town northwest of Laredo, Texas.

Arturo Garcia Espinosa, the general director of CODEFRONT, said he is sending out feelers to companies that could benefit from the project.

"We are exploring the possibilities of interest on the part of private investors, that transportation companies like TFM and Union Pacific, or international institutions like the North American Development Bank might be interested in participating," Garcia said.

Besides the estimated US$120 million that the railroad bridge and links will cost, another US$35 million in federal dollars will be budgeted to build a "super-highway" between Sabinas, Nuevo Leon, and the Colombia crossing. Construction of the road is expected to begin during Mexico's presidential election year of 2006. Nuevo Leon officials plan to complete the project within three years.

Sources: El Mañana (Nuevo Laredo), September 20, 2005. La Jornada, September 20, 2005. Article by David Carrizales. El Universal, September 19, 2005.

Article by Alejandro Salas.

Frontera NorteSur (FNS)
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico


(Reprinted with authorization from Frontera NorteSur, a free, on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news source. FNS can be found at )

Translation FNS


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Eminent domain law allows state to pick and choose which projects it applies.

Eminent Domain Law Has Protections, Loopholes


By: Mandi Bishop San Antonio
Copyright 2005

A new law in Texas makes it harder for the government to take your land.

The eminent domain law, signed by Governor Perry in San Antonio last month, is in direct response to a controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Kelo vs. New London permitted a Connecticut city to condemn private homes and businesses to build offices and a hotel.

The Texas law says "a government or private entity may not take private property through the use of eminent domain if the taking... is for economic development purposes." In other words, the power to seize land must only be used for public projects, such as new highways or schools.

"I think we all draw the line when government begins to pick winners and losers among competing private interests,” Perry says, “particularly when the loser is some poor Texan who is going to lose his or her land just so somebody else can make a profit."

But as the News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooters discovered, the law has some built-in loopholes and allows the state to pick and choose to which projects it applies. For example, it does not prevent the state from taking land for Perry's privately-developed Trans Texas Corridor plan. And the law gives an exemption to the city of Arlington to condemn private property to make way for the new Dallas Cowboys stadium.

News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooter Jeff Coyle asked Perry about the loopholes:

"If you believe so strongly that eminent domain shouldn't be used for private interests, why would you sign a bill with loopholes in it like that?"

"The fact of the matter is,” Perry responded, “those (projects) are now considered to be public use."

“What is the public use of a football stadium?" asked Coyle.

"Well look, I will leave that up to the lawyers to argue that point," said Perry.

In San Antonio, eminent domain is used only as a last resort and not for economic development. At the new Toyota plant, for example, land owners willingly sold their property.

But in 2001, the original PGA Village plan did give private developers the power of eminent domain up to 3 miles outside of the resort. A News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooters investigation in 2001 found nearby homeowners understandably worried.

"We have no power to stop them,” said one homeowner.

"I don't want to lose my house to a fairway," added another.

State Senator Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, who sponsored the legislation, told the Trouble Shooters he missed that clause. He explained that he did not write the bill and never intended for eminent domain powers to be given to private developers. After our investigation, the San Antonio Express-News reported that an "embarrassed Wentworth” had removed the eminent domain powers.

At Perry’s signing of the eminent domain law last month, Wentworth explained his position on eminent domain:

"The resort was not a publicly-owned entity, never designed to be a publicly-owned entity," said Wentworth.

"And that's why you took (eminent domain) out?" asked Coyle.

"Right," responded Wentworth.

The new law will require that private developers and government only use eminent domain for public projects, with the few exceptions mentioned earlier. At the federal level, San Antonio Congressman Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio recently filed a similar bill in the U.S. House. San Antonio:


Navisota ISD school board goes on record opposing TTC-69

NISD school board also nixes I-69 proposal By Dave Kucifer Examiner Publisher

By Dave Kucifer Examiner Publisher

The Navisota Examiner
Copyright 2005

The Navasota Independent School District board of trustees, Monday night went on record opposing the I-69 TransTexas Corridor being proposed by the Texas Department of Transpor-tation.

After hearing NISD Superintendent David Faltys outline some of the proposals which would negatively impact the district, board members approved the drafting of a resolution stating their opposition to the route, which if selected and approved, would divide Grimes county in half.

Faltys explained that while construction of the proposed route is probably many years in the future, it would impact several areas of the district. Chiefly is the fact that all right-of-way purchases would result in the district losing tax revenue from the land purchased. Since the proposal is still in the planning stages there is no estimate to the amount of acreage the district would lose.

In addition to the lost tax revenue, the corridor would create safety concerns since there would be limited access across the county and there are no provisions for overpasses or underpasses along the route.

In other action the board accepted the Bank of America's bid for the issuance of $4 million under a program that allows school districts to use bond money for renovations of existing properties and make no principle payments for 16-years.

Under the program the district will only be obligated to pay $3,195,157.12, a savings of over $800,000.

Approval of the District's application was aided by the Navasota Education Foundation to provide $400,000 in contributions over the next 15 years. Donations can be cash, time or materials. Funds from the bonds will be used for renovations at the Navasota primary and at the high school.

Copyright © 2005 The Navasota Examiner. All rights reserved:


Monday, September 19, 2005

TxDOT selects TransCore RFID for tracking and tolling throughout Texas

Texas Department of Transportation Selects TransCore's eGo Plus Wireless RFID Communications Technology for Use In New Area Tolling Projects;

TxTag Will Expand Interoperability Throughout the State

September 19, 2005

TransCore Press Release
Business Wire
Copyright 2005

The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) selects TransCore's eGo(R) Plus radio frequency identification (RFID) technology for use in the area's Central Texas Turnpike Program, a $2 billion transportation initiative. The multimillion-dollar contract allows for the initial release of 500,000 eGo Plus tags, branded locally as TxTag, with a total of 2 million tags over two years.

The Central Texas Turnpike Program was designed to increase mobility by adding capacity and reducing congestion in the region. The Texas Transportation Institute's 2005 Urban Mobility Report singled out electronic toll collection as one of several key tools for reducing congestion. Incorporating toll roads is gaining support nationally because it provides a means to build roads more rapidly than possible with traditional funding, particularly because it allows roads to operate according to the rules of consumer choice.

According to the report, over the last 10 years in 85 major U.S. urban areas, the annual delay increased almost 20 percent. During peak travel times, the figure is closer to 40 percent, and the cost of these delays is well over $60 billion, up 60 percent.

"At a time nationally when there is a real need to come to grips with congestion, TXDOT is taking major strides to increase volume while improving efficiency of the state's transportation infrastructure," said John Worthington, TransCore president.

As the network of toll roads grows in Texas, interoperability of the tags used for wireless payment is essential for motorists who want to use one tag in many parts of the state. The particularly appealing benefit of TXDOT's selection of the eGo technology, along with the paper-thin, lower cost design, is the interoperability (or multiprotocol) feature that allows motorists to use the wireless payment feature on toll roads throughout Texas. In Houston and Dallas interoperability between tolling systems has been available since November of 2003, allowing nearly two million TollTag and EZTag users the convenience of wireless payment on four major toll roads in both cities.

Texas joins other authorities such as the Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority; Puerto Rico's Highway and Transportation Authority; Shenzhen Customs in Shenzhen, China; the Washington State Department of Transportation; and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency in choosing the landmark design capabilities of the eGo RFID technology for large-scale applications. More than one million eGo tags are already in active service worldwide.

About eGo(R) Plus Technology

The paper-thin eGo Plus tag, priced under $10, a significant cost savings compared to many of the current hard case battery tags that typically sell for $25 to $30, is similar in size to a vehicle inspection sticker and mounts easily on a motorist's windshield.

The eGo Plus sticker tag is a 915 MHz radio frequency programmable, beam-powered, windshield-mounted tag. Packaged as a flexible sticker, this tag is ideal for applications that require low-cost, easily installed tags and is appropriate for electronic toll collection, airport access and ground transportation management systems, parking access, and security access. The tag supports multiple protocols, making it easy to migrate from a mixed-tag population to a common tag.

The eGo Plus, non-battery sticker tag offers a read range of up to 31.5 feet (9.6 meters) and 2048-bit read/write memory at a fraction of the cost of older, less flexible RFID technology. The tag provides the capability to read, write, rewrite, or permanently lock individual bytes. Custom printing and labeling is also available.

Each eGo Plus sticker tag comes equipped with a factory-programmed unique tag identification number that prevents the tag from being duplicated. The eGo Plus sticker tag is read by TransCore's family of readers, which are configurable to support a protocol compliant with ANSI INCITS 256-2001 and ISO 10374 standards, and the ATA Standard for automatic equipment identification.

About TransCore

TransCore, a transportation services company with 1,800 employees and 80 locations, is a unit of Roper Industries, a $1.4 billion diversified industrial technology company. With installations in 41 countries, more than 100 patents and pioneering applications of RFID, GPS and satellite communications technologies, TransCore's technical expertise is unparalleled in the markets it serves. TransCore's 60-year heritage spans the development of RFID transportation applications at Los Alamos National Labs to implementation of the nation's first electronic toll system to establishing North America's first freight matching network.

TransCore's extensive global experience with tolling systems includes more than 6,200 installed electronic toll collection lanes worldwide and 22 customer service centers. TransCore offers an extensive suite of enterprise software applications, business process outsourcing, system integration, and maintenance services to provide complete solutions, configurable to customers' requirements.

For more information, visit .

Business Wire:


Zachry donates $10 million to Texas A&M

Zachry name bestowed on Texas A&M's civil engineering department

September 19, 2005

Engineering News
Texas A&M University
Copyright 2005

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Zachry, a name celebrated in the construction industry, now graces the civil engineering department at Texas A&M University.

The Board of Regents of The Texas A&M University System approved the naming of the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering in recognition of a $10 million commitment from the Zachry Foundation.

"I am continually overwhelmed by the generosity of the Zachry family in its support of engineering education at Texas A&M," said Dr. G. Kemble Bennett, vice chancellor and dean of engineering. "The Zachry name is a part of every student's vocabulary, whether it be in reference to the building where many departments are housed or now, in reference to the newly renamed civil engineering department. Aggie engineering holds an enormous amount of respect for the Zachrys and appreciates the impact they make upon education at Texas A&M. They epitomize the values and character held so sacred by this university."

The breadth of the gift will range from endowed faculty chairs and professorships to scholarships and fellowships, and includes support for the department's excellence fund, surveying camp and student advising services.

"We felt there was an opportunity through a gift to provide offerings in the curriculum for engineering and construction benefiting the student and strengthening the department," said Bartell Zachry, trustee of the Zachry Foundation. "The Zachry families supported the linkage of our company to the engineering discipline at Texas A&M that made our company a reality and continues to be an important resource."

The gift also will provide a challenge fund to match qualifying gifts to the department and encourage additional investment by other benefactors. Part of the gift will emphasize design and construction integration, a specialty of the Zachry Corp.

"This tremendous gift, coming at this point in our department's history, will allow us to make great strides toward reaching our goal of becoming one of the premier civil engineering departments in the country," said Dr. David V. Rosowsky, civil engineering department head and holder of the A.P. and Florence Wiley Chair in Civil Engineering.

The Zachry group of companies can trace its roots back 80 years to the late H.B. "Pat" Zachry, Sr., a Texas A&M Class of 1922 civil engineering graduate who forged a small dirt-moving job with rented mules into one of the nation's largest multi-national construction companies.

Zachry served his alma mater in many leadership roles, including chairman of The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents. Zachry Engineering Center, one of the largest buildings on campus, was named for him in 1972.

Zachry, his companies and his family, most notably son H.B. "Bartell" Zachry, Jr., are longstanding supporters of Texas A&M Engineering. Their generosity endowed the Zachry Industry Teaching Program, which brings professional engineers and other experts to campus as guest lecturers and advisers for research and public service programs.

Other Zachry gifts have established the civil engineering department's Zachry Awards for Excellence Teaching, which honor faculty for superior teaching at the undergraduate level, as well as the Fred J. Benson Chair in Civil Engineering, named for a former engineering dean and close friend of the Zachry family. Zachry support also helped build a coastal engineering laboratory in Texas A&M's research park.

Zachry's legacy to the university is varied and broad, including gifts to the Corps of Cadets and especially its Leadership Excellence Program, Texas A&M Libraries, Office of the President, Private Enterprise Research Center, President's Endowed Scholarship program, Texas Transportation Institute, The 12th Man Foundation, Center for Construction Education, Center for Human Resource Management, Athletic Department Building Fund, Aggie Muster and Construction Industry Advisory Council of the College of Architecture.

Pat Zachry earned a degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M and founded the H.B. Zachry Co. in Laredo in 1924. He led this construction company for six decades, serving as president (1924-1945), chairman and CEO (1945-1965) and chairman of the board from 1965 until his death in 1984.

Pat's vision and leadership made a lasting impact on Texas transportation. In addition to undertaking some of the largest transportation projects in Texas, the Zachry Co. built highways, bridges, airstrips, dams, power plants and pipelines around the world.

Bartell earned a civil engineering degree from Texas A&M in 1954 and served as an Air Force pilot from 1954 to 1957. He then returned to San Antonio to work in the Zachry Co. He completed the Harvard Business School's Program for Management Development in 1964 and in 1965 became president and CEO of the company. In 1984, he was elected chairman of the board and director of the H.B. Zachry Co.

A lifelong proponent of public service and giving back to his community, Bartell has served with numerous educational, research and civic organizations, including service with boards of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, the Southwest Research Institute, the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, the Governor's Business Council, the Texas Department of Corrections and the Alamo Heights Independent School District. He is a Texas Business Hall of Fame inductee.

Bartell has also been an avid supporter of Texas A&M. He is co-chair of the Corps of Cadets Leadership Excellence Advisory Board and was the inaugural chairman of the President's Board of Visitors for the Corps. He has served on the President's Advisory Council, the Department of Civil Engineering's advisory committee and the Board of Advisors of the Texas Engineering Extension Service. Bartell was inducted into the Corps Hall of Fame in 2001, making the Zachrys the first father and son ever inducted. Bartell was also named a Texas A&M Distinguished Alumnus in 1997 and received Texas A&M Engineering's Outstanding Alumni Honor Award in 2005.

Mollie Zachry, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, is an Aggie booster and an active community volunteer and leader. The couple have four adult children -- John and David Zachry, Anne Rochelle and Ellen Carrie -- and 14 grandchildren.

Bartell and his sons, also Aggie civil engineers, share leadership responsibilities in the Zachry group of companies. Bartell is chairman of the board for Zachry Construction Corp. John, Class of 1984, is chief executive officer for Zachry Construction and chairman of Capitol Aggregates, an affiliated interest. David, Class of 1985, is president and chief operating officer of Zachry Construction Corp.

"From my father and me to my two sons, all have been civil engineering graduates of A&M," Bartell Zachry said. "We have an understandable high interest in the Texas A&M experience, the Corps of Cadets and the civil engineering department, in particular. Construction has been our focus and extremely satisfying. Exposure for yet another generation has begun, and we want Texas A&M to be the benchmark for engineering and construction education."

The Zachry Department of Civil Engineering is one of the largest in the Dwight Look College of Engineering, with a fall enrollment of 1,018 undergraduate students, 207 master's students and 129 Ph.D. students. The department consistently ranks among the top civil engineering programs in the country, with the undergraduate program ranking 10th (seventh among public schools) and the graduate program 13th (eighth public) in the most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings.

The Zachry Foundation's gift is part of the One Spirit One Vision Campaign, the university's multiyear fund-raising effort aimed at helping Texas A&M attain national top 10 status among public universities while sustaining the distinctive Texas A&M spirit. The volunteer-led campaign, coordinated by the Texas A&M Foundation, encompasses all private gifts benefiting the university.

For more information, contact

Reporter: Lesley Kriewald
(979) 845-5524

© 2005 Texas A&M University College of Engineering:


Sunday, September 18, 2005

"It seems it was a done deal before most of us even heard about it, and it will not pass the smell test."

Letters to The Editor — Focus: Toll roads


San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

Consider alternatives

There continues to be opposition to the North Side toll road plans — for good reason.

No one wants a toll road and fees in a town that's never had a toll road. Gas costs have risen to about $3 a gallon and will be higher by the time a toll road is completed. Estimated tolls will rise based on state government analysis of funds available for highway expenses.

I have some alternatives to suggest.

Complete the east-west expressway that has been partially built for a major shift in traffic from Loops 1604 and 410.

Use the $450 million the government would have spent on a toll road to build north-south highways into emerging neighborhoods in the Hill Country and other needy parts of San Antonio.

The independent contractors (labor, materials and equipment) will soon be needed to rebuild highways in Southeast Louisiana rather than build us a toll road over the next 10 years.

— Don Leach

Gas tax is sufficient

I can't believe the politicos are crying again about the lack of tax money to fund roads ("To pay for roads, official foresees higher gas tax," Sept. 9). If most people realized 25 percent of their gas taxes go to — wait — fund schools and not the roads, they would shout about these idiots trying to raise more taxes for never-ending road projects.

Tolls? Increased sales taxes? Do these people live in the real world? Every politician is trying to suck the marrow out of the bones of the taxpayer, as if they are the only taxing authority. When will this end?

It is time for the people to stand up and say "no" to more taxes. Live within your budget, just like the rest of us. Fund schools in a straightforward manner, and the existing gas tax will provide enough money for ill-conceived projects that go on for generations.

— Mike Champion

Where do funds go?

Folks at the recent San Antonio Regional Transportation Leadership Forum expressed concerns about Texas not having enough money for its roads, both new and old.

People should ask, "What is the Texas Department of Transportation doing with all the money?" We should demand an accounting of the funds. Texas has more than $5 billion for transportation, yet Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson has said we need more funds and are so short that we will have to toll new roads.

Before we let these officials continue, we need to demand proof of what they say. Williamson claims we would have to raise our state gas tax by 50 cents per gallon to pay for roads if tolls aren't used. Why are state and local officials not demanding these statements be proven before projects are awarded? Why is San Antonio getting only $100 million out of the $5 billion? Why isn't the Express-News doing its own investigation into this?

If you want answers like I do, please write to your state senators and representatives, as well as the Bexar County commissioners. These elected officials all work for us.

— Bob McKechnie

Enriching very few

Columnist David Hendricks takes the position that a bigger San Antonio would necessarily be better ("Growth makes convincing case for toll roads," Business, Sept. 10).

If toll roads are built, it will result in current residents subsidizing newcomers. Why should a person who works in San Antonio want to live halfway to Junction, anyway?

There are many alternatives to toll roads. If people live near their work, public transportation, motor scooters, bicycles and even walking can get them to work. Development of some kind of rapid transit system should be encouraged, and so should telecommuting.

Building toll roads would result in more people buying and building further and further from San Antonio. It would discourage construction of more livable multi-unit housing near the heart of town. It would discourage development of a viable rapid transit system and prevent many people and businesses from fully exploring the possibilities of telecommuting.

To most of us, toll roads look like a way to make the chosen few very rich at the expense of the rest of us. It seems it was a done deal before most of us even heard about it, and it will not pass the smell test.

— Hugh Caddess

San Antonio Express-News:


TxDOT pushes for toll roads in meeting with Val Verde County Transportation Task Force

Transportation interests hear TxDOT updates

September 18, 2005

By Bill Sontag
Del Rio News-Herald
Copyright 2005

Thirteen Del Rio, Val Verde County, Laughlin Air Force base officials and business owners met Sept. 7 with four Texas Department of Transportation representatives to hear updates on transportation issues.

The Val Verde County Transportation Task Force meeting focused on “the loop,” also called the “Del Rio reliever route” to be built around the northeast quadrant of the city.

Before the task force’s 90-minute meeting ended, Del Rio businessman Frank Larson voiced a motion for the group to urge Val Verde County Commissioners Court to apply to TxDOT for “Regional Mobility Authority” status. As fast as the motion was made, Val Verde County Commissioner Beau Nettleton quashed it.

Nettleton said the county has insufficient information on which to proceed with the application, and The Bank & Trust President Jerry Simpton amplified the opposition. “It’s premature to ask the county to make an RMA commitment, Simpton said.”

Larson withdrew the motion.

Regional Mobility Authorities, authorized to build toll roads or create other sources of funding, are seen by TxDOT as opportunities to transcend traditional funding approaches, such as legislative appropriations, to highway construction projects. “The traditional way of doing it, you might never see some of this infrastructure out there,” said Jo Ann Garcia, principal engineer for the Laredo District Office of TxDOT.

In a spacious conference room of The Bank & Trust, 1200 Veterans Blvd., Garcia unfurled tabletop aerial photomaps, briefing the Transportation Task Force members about delays and rising costs of the project.

Armed with an $11.9 million estimate for the first phase of the first segment of the Del Rio loop project, Garcia painted an austere picture of what members and area residents could expect at current funding levels.

According to Eddie Sanchez, vice president of Turner, Collie & Braden, San Antonio engineering consultants, the total cost for all phases of the loop project would exceed $79 million, at today’s dollars. “Each year with inflation and rising fuel costs, you can add another three- to five percent on top of that,” said Sanchez Thursday.

The required funding, said Garcia, is for two lanes only, with no highway intersections, on that stretch of the loop from U.S. Highway 277 South, angling northeast to U.S. Highway 90 East. Several task force members expressed the view that the alignment in question is not the highest priority of many interests in Del Rio.

However, an $11.6 million-proposal, successfully piloted this year through the maze of congressional appropriations by U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, would construct a new “main gate” entrance to Laughlin Air Force Base. The new entrance would obviate the need for installation ingress or egress across Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Stalled trains, fast freights, and long lines of traffic on either side waiting for tracks to clear pose a number of security threats to the base, according to Bonilla and Air Force officials.

The new “main gate” access route now under consideration would stretch from Laughlin’s main campus, west to the new loop road segment proposed by TxDOT officials. Sid Cauthorn, CEO and President, The Bank & Trust, asked Garcia if the $11.6 million earmarked in the 2006 transportation bill for the Laughlin access road increased TxDOT priorities for reliever route work from U.S. Highway 277 South to U.S. Highway 90 East.

“Yes,” Garcia said, without elaboration.

Cauthorn then asked if details of the federal earmark for Laughlin’s main gate would be available soon. Garcia replied that her office is striving to obtain that information now from Bonilla’s office.

Sanchez and Billy D. Parks, principal with Turner Collie & Braden, led the group through three phases and several scenarios of development of the remainder of Del Rio’s loop. Sanchez emphasized the “controlled access” design feature that limits the numbers of interchanges and intersections at which vehicles may enter the stream of traffic.

Precise locations of the interchanges and intersections under consideration are fluid, according to Sanchez. He said city staff has not been able to provide TxDOT and Turner Collie & Braden planners with information on expected growth directions of the city and anticipated volumes of traffic. “So the planned access points are our best guess,” Sanchez said.

Right-of-way acquisition cannot begin before August 2006, and Nettleton told the group the county is estimating their cost of purchasing the right-of-way for the entire loop is $1.5 million.

Garcia reminded the group that the federally earmarked funds for Laughlin’s access road requires a 20 percent local “match” of the appropriated amount. She quickly added a plug for a Regional Mobility Authority to deal with the anticipated, unbudgeted costs.

“If we don’t have the money, you may not see some parts of your loop for several years,” Garcia said.

San Antonio Express-News: www.delrionewsherald


Central Texas RMA gives "tips" to North East Texas RMA while glossing over its own missteps

NET mobility authority gets tips from Central Texas group



Kilgore News Herald
Copyright 2005

GLADEWATER -- Members of the North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority (NET RMA) went to school Wednesday.

In class, they learned that Regional Mobility Authorities -- authorized by the legislature to allow local agencies to develop toll road projects as an alternative to waiting on state funding for local highway projects -- are complex and time consuming.

Mike Heiligenstein, executive director of the Central Texas RMA, addressed a crowd of East Texas government officials, highway officials and interested citizens on the challenges developing a RMA has.

“You have to pull together as a region and make it happen,” Heiligenstein said. “This is especially true in the early stages when you’re trying to get it up and running.”

Heiligenstein said RMA developers face several challenges from the infancy of the project.

“One of the major concerns is the dependence on the financial contributions of local government and other agencies,” he said. “Limited resources and inexperience strain the organization’s ability to complete basic activities such as contract management, record keeping and public outreach.”

Heiligenstein the “market is thin” for qualified staff and consultants will toll roads experience.

“Finding a quality staff and experienced consultants is not easy,” he said.

Heiligenstein said the role of the RMA board is determined by financial resources and the ability to hire staff.

“As staff and consultants are hired, the board will be able to step back and assume more of a policy-making role,” Heiligenstein said.

The CTRMA (Central Texas) executive director said RMA boards must establish a vision, strategic plan, financial plan, secure bonding for directors and liability insurance and hire key staff and consultants.

“As board members, you will find yourself spending more time than you originally thought you would on this project,” Heiligenstein said.

Key personnel that will take the brunt of the work off the board include the executive director, general engineering consultant, legal counsel, financial advisor and accountant.

“The executive director is a liaison between the board and the staff and consultants,” Heiligenstein said.

He noted an executive director needs to be able to work with the board, oversee policy and “make sure it’s (the policy) applied and implemented.”

The executive director is also responsible for keeping the board up to date as well as hiring the staff.

“An executive director spends a lot to time dealing with insurance compliance and other legal matters,” Heiligenstein said, “as well as developing the organization’s budget, overseeing procurement procedures and approving contracts.”

When starting a RMA “funds and resources are critical to its success,” Heiligenstein said. “You have to find local leaders willing to provide financing, resources or provide staff support.”

Heiligenstein said developing documentation is necessary especially when applying for grant such as the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Equity Grant and other funds.”

“Bonds are not sold until a viable project is approved,” Heiligenstein said. “Local leaders must be willing to provide help.”

Heiligenstein said seed money for the CTRMA was usually set up as a grant.

“RMAs can use a combination of creative mechanisms to build (finance) projects,” he said.

Among these are tax exempt revenue bonds, federal, state and local grants, pass through and shadow tollings, private activity bonds, private investments and funds from the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB).

“As the finances evolve, there will be a need for additional financial consultants,” Heiligenstein said. “You’ll need investment bankers, underwriters, bond counsel, CPAs, auditors and trust keepers.”

Heiligenstein said the key to creating a RMA is “regional solidarity.”

He said there will be those who oppose the “innovative project.”

“Change is difficult and you’ll always have someone who objects,” Heiligenstein said.

Heiligenstein said “tolls equal choice; property tax, fuel taxes equal no choice.”

Heiligenstein noted RMA projects are designed to “reduce congestion and we will all benefit from that. We are not building ‘Lexus’ lanes for the rich, as some critics have said.”

Heiligenstein said benefits of RMA projects include: They are locally controlled, developed locally, have faster development times, reduce the burden on TxDOT and create a financial engine to fund future needs.

“This financial engine is a way to give surplus revenue back to the community,” he said. “These projects will add to the area’s economy by creating jobs, creating economic development opportunities and improving the quality of life.”

Heiligenstein said “that’s what it’s all about ... an improved quality of life ... an enhanced transportation system that creates economic development, jobs and emphasizes the quality of life.”

He said creating RMAs and their projects “is not an easy path and not for the weak of heart ... Be prepared to spend a huge portion of your early resources on public involvement and education. Make sure your efforts are above reproach and you have strong community leadership.”

Kilgore Nnews Herald :