Saturday, October 08, 2005

Proposition 1: " An open-ended corporate subsidy scheme — a blank check."

Proposition 1 sets up fund for relocation of rail lines

Oct. 8, 2005,

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - The first of nine state constitutional amendments proposed on the Nov. 8 ballot would establish a fund through which taxpayers would help pay for relocating freight rail lines from congested urban areas.

Like most of the ballot proposals, except for the ban on same-sex marriages, Proposition 1 has received little attention. But it is beginning to spark some debate and, depending on how it fares at the polls, could become an issue in the March Republican governor's primary.

Proposition 1 supporters, including Gov. Rick Perry, think the new fund would be an important step toward easing traffic congestion and improving public safety in Texas' cities.

Opponents, who include Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the governor's GOP primary challenger, contend the proposal represents, more than anything else, an expensive gift of tax dollars for railroad companies, whose political arms have been generous contributors to Perry, Strayhorn and other state officials.

Proposition 1 would amend the Texas Constitution to authorize the creation of the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund in the state treasury. The Texas Transportation Commission would administer the fund and could issue bonds pledged against it.

The proposal includes no funding, and it doesn't specify how much should be set aside for the effort.

If voters approve the amendment, the Legislature would have to provide initial funding in 2007.

The fund could be used to relocate or improve private or publicly owned rail facilities to relieve congestion on highways, improve public safety or air quality, or expand economic opportunity.

Safer crossings sought
Earlier this year, Perry signed separate agreements with Union Pacific Railroad and the BNSF Railway Co., pledging the railroads' and the state's cooperation in moving freight rail out of densely populated urban areas.

The governor said the initiative would lead to safer rail crossings, less hazardous cargo carried through populated areas and faster movement of products to market because freight trains no longer would have to slow down in congested areas.

More than 5,500 people have been killed or injured in vehicle-train collisions in Texas since 1984, Perry said.

Supporters of the amendment also say old freight lines could be upgraded for urban commuter trains.

The proposed relocations tie into the Trans-Texas Corridor concept, Perry's long-range proposal for a dedicated transportation network stretching across Texas.

Perry's agreements with the railroads, however, didn't say how the relocations, which could cost untold millions of dollars, would be paid for, except that the agreement with Union Pacific ruled out additional taxes or fees on the railroad industry.

Provisions for funding
Proposition 1 would provide a funding source, although Perry spokesman Robert Black emphasized, "I don't think it was ever determined for the state to do (pay for) all of it."

Union Pacific spokesman Joe Arbona said the railroad's financial contribution to rail relocations would depend on the project. "If it's something that would be beneficial to the railroad, we would pay for that part that's beneficial to us," he said.

Union Pacific's political action committee donated more than $300,000 to Texas political candidates and parties during the 2004 election cycle. That included $25,000 to Perry, $50,000 to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and $15,000 to Strayhorn, who weren't up for election then, and $20,000 to House Speaker Tom Craddick, who was.

Texas political contributions by BNSF's political action committee totaled about $80,000 during the 2004 cycle, mostly to parties and committees.

Dewhurst received $10,000 from the PAC.

There were no donations to Perry, Craddick or Strayhorn.

Strayhorn hasn't made an issue of Proposition 1, but spokesman Mark Sanders said the comptroller will vote against it because "she believes that taxpayers should not have to pay to subsidize private industry."

Source of opposition
Much of the opposition to Proposition 1 is being drummed up by Texas Toll Party, a group that formed in Austin initially to fight the conversion of tax-financed highways to toll roads. The group hasn't endorsed anyone in the governor's race yet, but it has found common ground with Strayhorn in opposing Perry's support of toll roads and now in opposition to the rail proposal.

Sal Costello, the group's founder, called the amendment an "open-ended corporate subsidy scheme — a blank check."

"That means increased taxes somewhere down the line," he said. "Perry's folks probably don't know (how much it will cost), and they don't care. They will send us the bill."

Spokesman Frank Michel said Houston Mayor Bill White is concerned about traffic congestion and safety issues involved with a large number of rail crossings, but he said the city hasn't formally taken a position on the amendment.

Houston Chronicle:


Friday, October 07, 2005

"We've never had a situation like this"

Suit claims planning groups illegal

10/07/2005 12:00

Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

A lawsuit filed in Travis County contends the Metropolitan Planning Organizations in San Antonio and Austin — which dispense tens of millions in federal gas taxes annually — are illegal.

Lately, some of the money in both cities has been allocated for toll roads. That's a burning issue for People for Efficient Transportation, which had the Texas Legal Foundation file the lawsuit Wednesday in district court.

"It's a double tax," PET spokesman Sal Costello said in a statement. "It's morally and ethically wrong."

The lawsuit, which targets Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas Department of Transportation and the two planning organizations, doesn't actually say tax money can't be spent on toll roads.

Instead, the suit claims the planning organizations have no legal footing in Texas to spend at all.

Perry's spokeswoman, Kathy Walt, said the suit is a bunch of huffing and puffing.

"This is a frivolous lawsuit that amounts to nothing more than a public stunt," she said.

The suit hammers out several arguments:

There's no state law to create the planning organizations, and the governor has no authority to do so as called for in federal law.

State law doesn't authorize the planning organizations to allocate federal gas tax money.

State legislators serving on the planning boards, two in San Antonio and seven in Austin, violates the Texas Constitution's separation of powers.

The San Antonio planning organization noted, however, that federal law says boards should include local elected officials, officials with transportation agencies and "appropriate state officials."

Rather than seek an injunction, PET wants to use a court ruling to help push for legislation to fix the flaws.

At the same time, members will seek changes to make the planning organizations more accountable.

"A supermajority of Texans oppose tolls on taxpayer-funded highways and want government to be accountable for toll decisions, but those desires have been ignored by government," said David Rogers, the legal foundation's policy director.

A state law signed by Perry this year prohibits highways that are under construction, or finished, from being turned into toll roads.

But Costello says the law doesn't stop gas taxes and public rights of way from being used for toll roads, and doesn't prevent the downgrading of existing highway lanes into access roads to make way for toll lanes.

Officials with the planning organizations in San Antonio and Austin said they couldn't comment on the lawsuit's legal points but stressed that they operate under federal law.

"It just surprises me to see this kind of claim made," said Michael Aulick, director of the Austin group.

"We've never had a situation like this," said Joanne Walsh, San Antonio's director.

San Antonio Express-News:

Thursday, October 06, 2005

PET lawsuit seeks a judicial ruling that legislators cannot legally serve on transportation planning boards.

Anti-toll-road group sues Perry

October 6, 2005

Compiled from staff report
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2005

Anti-toll-road activist Sal Costello's People for Efficient Transportation on Wednesday filed suit against Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas Department of Transportation and the umbrella transportation planning organizations for Austin and San Antonio.

Costello and his group say the planning groups, whose boards include state legislators and who have approved toll road programs, have not been properly created under state law. Furthermore, the lawsuit seeks a judicial ruling that legislators cannot legally serve on such planning boards -- state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, serves on the Central Texas board and was instrumental in passing its toll road plan -- and that the so-called "metropolitan planning organizations" can't dispense federal transportation funds.

The lawsuit hinges, according to the 11-page complaint, on the lack of a state law creating the planning groups. People for Efficient Transportation, relying on a similar argument, won a lawsuit this year against the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and prompted the Legislature to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot to rectify the situation.

Austin American-Statesman:


Governor Perry, TxDOT are defendants in lawsuit filed by watchdog group

Toll Watchdog Files Suit Against Texas Governor, Metro Planning Groups

October 6, 2005

The Bond Buyer
Copyright 2005

DALLAS - People for Efficient Transportation Inc., a toll watchdog group, filed a lawsuit yesterday in Travis County District Court alleging that metropolitan planning organizations in Texas are illegal.

The suit names as defendants Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, and the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Furthermore, the lawsuit contends, neither TxDOT officials nor Perry have the authority to establish special districts such as the MPOs.

The lawsuit seeks declaratory relief in the form of a ruling that would prohibit the governor and the department from establishing such special districts, as well as declarations that CAMPO and SAMPO may not appropriate federal highway funds and declare that service on such boards by state legislators violates the separation of powers clause of the state constitution.

"At this point, we are only asking for declaratory relief," said Sal Costello, the president of People for Efficient Transportation. "We are not looking at injunctive relief. However, as this process goes forward, we will be keeping our options open."

Metropolitan planning organizations were first required by the Federal Highway Act of 1962 to coordinate transportation planning processes by local, state, and federal officials.

CAMPO serves Williamson, Travis, and Hays counties in central Texas. Its 23-member board is composed of elected officials representing cities, counties, and state legislative districts within the group's boundaries, as well as representatives from transportation agencies. The board includes 10 state senators and representatives.

SAMPO's 19-member board includes two state delegates, though one of those spots is currently vacant.

PET in March tried unsuccessfully to win a temporary restraining order that would have halted the closing of a $233 million toll revenue bond issue sold by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. The group argued that because the authority board's term limits did not comply with the constitutional provision, any action by the board - including bond issuance - was invalid. The board had been created under the mandates of a 2003 law that set board terms for mobility authorities at six years; however, the constitution requires that terms for regional authorities last no longer than two years.

The bonds were certified and remain strong in the secondary market. However, since the lawsuit was filed, the Texas Legislature has placed a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would allow voters to approve six-year terms for RMA boards and the CTRMA has revised its board terms to reflect the two-year requirement.

(c) 2005 The Bond Buyer and SourceMedia Inc.:


Strayhorn: "I intend to fight to halt this project."

'Tough Texas Grandma' blasts Gov. Perry, TTC landgrab


By:Frederick Roberts

Waller County News-Citizen
Copyright 2005

The anti corridor rally brought out more than 300 citizens who learned about the project through the efforts of the Citizens for a Better Waller County.

The "Tough Texas Grandma" came to town to tell Waller County citizens and those from other counties that "we will not sit quietly by and let this governor (Gov. Rick Perry) embark on the biggest land grab in history and cram toll roads down our throats. This is not the Texas way, and it cannot continue. This is the largest land grab in Texas history ..."

In her opening remarks, Strayhorn thanked the members of the CBWC, the event sponsor, and said she was pleased to see the people of this area coming together to fight this "monstrosity" that is being termed a super highway for destruction.

"As a grandma, I am concerned about the future of Texas for my grandchildren, for your children and your grandchildren. I am concerned that little Ursula Johnson, (daughter of Sylvia Cedillo, CBWC legislative committee chair), a future governor of Texas, will have to address this mess that Governor Perry and his folks have created," she said.

The 35-mile north-south corridor route proposes to split the county, restrict travel and lengthen travel times, result in the loss of more than 5,000 acres from county tax rolls, increase air-noise pollution, cause problems for 911 and EMS service, and will result in no service or economic benefits to the citizens or county.

Strayhorn, a Republican gubernatorial candidate and Perry's biggest challenger to date for the governor's position, is one of the most vocal critics of what she calls "the Trans-Texas Catastrophe." A display on the football field included replicas of cars, trucks, trains and trolleys, representing the proposed I-69 TTC and its effects on the area.

"Texas property belongs to Texans, not foreign companies and I intend to fight to halt this project," she said.

Strayhorn expressed empathy for the victims of Hurricane Rita and referenced the traffic problems during the recent evacuation of Houston and other areas that tied up the freeway system and trapped citizens in their cars for more than 21 hours. She said this debacle is a result of poor leadership and vision.

"Governor Perry needs to go," she said. "The people of Texas deserve and demand better service, and had the Governor had a plan to address this issue, the unnecessary deaths would have been avoided. The challenges we faced in this recent evacuation could not be handled with TTC so, Governor Perry, bring it on! Let's do something for Texans now that benefit all Texans and not the foreign investors," she stated to a rousing applause.

In addressing other issues affecting the state - education finances, children's health insurance, etc., Strayhorn, a fiscal conservative, stated that she sent a spending plan on the budget surplus to Governor Perry to ease the burden on the citizen's, "however, Governor Perry would rather call fruitless and more expensive special sessions to address other issues not relevant to the citizens. We have a responsibility to help the poor and to educate our children." Strayhorn stated that she was challenging the governor because "I want to bring leadership back to the office of the governor and make it one the citizens of Texas can be proud of."

State Rep. Glenn Hegar also addressed the high-spirited audience and received a rousing welcome. Since Hegar attended the CBWC meeting Sept. 15, he stated that he was there to show his support and "to let the audience know, that he and other members are doing their best to fight the proposed I-69 Trans Texas Corridor in its current form." Hegar further stated, "The TTC is a passionate project of Governor Rick Perry, but the State of Texas has no money for this enormous project. Governor Perry believes that the project can and will attract business ventures and thereby making the project seemingly more viable."

Linda Stall, who help found CorridorWatch with her husband David, also congratulated the CBWC on its efforts. For more than two years, CorridorWatch has been following the progress of the project and has built up the largest protest to date.

The interim president of the CBWC is Karen Hansen, one of the original organizers for the group which formed in opposition to a onetime proposed airport in Waller County.
Hansen presented Strayhorn with a Hempstead watermelon and expressed her thanks to all the speakers and the audience for coming. She also encouraged the audience to donate funds to continue the fight against the TCC. Strayhorn stayed around for pictures and small chat with the constituents.

For further information on the organization, check its website at, or call (936) 857-3775. Citizens are urged to attend governmental meetings in their areas and ask the officials to take a position on the corridor. They are also requesting citizens sign targeted petitions, send in comments and spread the word about the proposed corridor. Citizens should also get their public comments on the Interstate 69/Trans-Texas Corridor through the website at; via mail at P.O. Box 14428, Austin, TX 78761; or toll-free at (866) 554-6989.

©Houston Community Newspapers Online 2005:


Lawsuit: "Since some lawmakers serve on MPO boards, there is no separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government."

Group Files Lawsuit To Block Toll Roads In SA

October 6, 2005

San Antonio
Copyright 2005

SAN ANTONIO -- A watchdog group filed a lawsuit Thursday to stop the construction of toll roads in San Antonio and across Texas.

The lawsuit, filed by People for Efficient Transportation, claims that San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization, is violating the Texas Constitution by using federal dollars for toll roads that PET claims it doesn't have the authority to do.

The group claims since some lawmakers serve on MPO boards, there is no separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government, as the constitution states.

The lawsuit also names Gov. Rick Perry as a defendant because he authorized the MPOs. PET claims Perry's toll-road plans include converting existing highways into toll roads that will not solve traffic congestion.

"It's a double tax," said PET officer and founder Sal Costello. "It's morally and ethically wrong."

The lawsuit seeks to replace the current MPOs with a seven-member board that would be elected by citizens and appointed by the governor and a local transit organization.

Plans to build the first phase of toll roads is scheduled to begin in early 2006.

New lanes on Loop 1604 between Interstates 35 and 10 would be built on the North Side, in addition to new lanes on Highway 281 from Loop 1604 to the Comal County line.

Copyright 2005 by All rights reserved.


"They have a plan for making free roads so slow, that people would be forced to take the toll lanes."

Lawsuit Seeks to Block SA Toll Roads


By Jim Forsyth

San Antonio
Copyright 2005

A group which is fighting plans to construct toll lanes on Loop 1604 and US Highway 281 has filed a lawsuit seeking to derail the toll plan, 1200 WOAI news reported today.

The Texas Toll Party, under it's registered political action committee name People for Efficient Transportation PAC, has filed suit against the Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization, claiming the plans to construct toll roads amount to unconstitutional double taxation, and violate the separation of powers.

"They are legislating when the Metropolitan Planning Organization was not empowered to legislate," People for Efficient Transportation spokeswoman Linda Curtis told 1200 WOAI news. "They weren't elected."

The lawsuit threatens to derail an aggressive effort on the part of the MPO to construct new lanes on Loop 1604 between Interstate 10 and Interstate 35 on the north side, and on Highway 281 from Loop 1604 to the Comal County line, and charge a toll for driving on those lanes. The MPO had hoped to begin construction on some aspects of the toll road system in 2006.

Supporters say toll lanes are the only way to construct new highway lanes quickly enough to avoid gridlock, but toll road opponents say the plan is a political steamroller designed to line the pockets of construction companies.

"This is a new tolling policy that was never voted on. People don't even realize that it's happening in some cases," Curtis said.

Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Steven Smith, who filed the lawsuit, is asking a judge in addition to blocking the toll road plan, to dismantle the MPO board and replace it with a seven member board all of whom would be elected for two year terms. Currently the MPO consists of members of San Antonio City Council, Bexar County Commissioners Court, and suburban city councils who were selected by those entities to serve, along with several members who are appointed only, including engineers, planning directors, and employees of the Texas Department of Transportation.

"The constitution clearly states that there must be a separation of powers between the executive and legislative branch," PET founder Sal Costello said. "It is clearly unconstitutional for members of the legislative branch, state representatives and senators, serving on these boards."

The lawsuit al,so claims that the plan to charge tolls on roads that are already constructed or which would be built on land purchased by tax money amounts to illegal double taxation.

"If you have a road that's been paid for already by gas tax dollars, and then you charge a toll on it, we call that double taxation," Curtis said.

She also doesn't buy into the MPO's claims that tolls would only be charged on express lanes, and other lanes would always be available for drivers.

"They have a plan for making the free frontage roads slow," Curtis said. "So slow that if people wanted to get anywhere, they would be forced to take the toll lanes."

The lawsuit was filed in State District Court in Austin.

San Antonio

Group seeks a court ruling that legislators cannot serve on such planning boards.

Group files lawsuit against Texas toll plans


Associated Press
Copyright 2005

An anti-toll road group has filed a lawsuit against state and local leaders in Austin and San Antonio over plans to use a network of toll roads in the future.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in district court in Travis County by People for Efficient Transportation, claims toll planning groups in Austin and San Antonio were improperly created under state law and seeks a court ruling that legislators cannot serve on such planning boards.

The lawsuit also claims the planning boards are not allowed to dispense federal transportation funds.

Named as defendants in the case are Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas Department of Transportation and the planning boards in Austin and San Antonio.

The Associated Press:


Texas Governor sued over plan to privatize and toll already tax funded Texas public highways.

Governor Rick Perry Sued

Lawsuit claims Governor Lacks Authority to Privatize and Toll Already Tax-Funded Public Highways

Governor Perry and Metropolitan Planning Organizations are sued. Lawsuit contends constitutional violation under the separation of powers provision.

Austin, TX (PRWEB) October 6, 2005 -- People for Efficient Transportation, Inc. filed a lawsuit today in the District Court of Travis County, on behalf of taxpayers throughout Texas against Governor Rick Perry. The lawsuit takes Gov. Perry to task, as the state's Chief Planning Officer, for allowing unlawful Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to allocate federal dollars, which includes allocating funds for Perry's plan to privatize and toll already tax funded Texas public highways.

Governor Perry has mandated that MPOs shift the publics freeways into tollways across the state; however, the lawsuit claims Perry's MPO simply have no authority whatsoever to dispense funds for such an unpopular and unconstitutional scheme. That includes allocating tax dollars to Gov. Perry's unelected, therefore unaccountable Regional Mobility Authoritys (RMAs) who will set the toll rates for already tax funded public highways. It's important to note that public highways have never been shifted to tollways in the history of the United States.

Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO - ) and San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization (SAMPO - ) are also named in the suit as two of the many MPO boards in Texas that allegedly violate the Texas constitution. The constitution clearly states there must be a "separation of powers between the legislative and executive branch", however, the MPOs have legislators, yes, State Representatives and Senators, serving on these administrative boards.

"The Governor has no clothes," said PET officer and founder Sal Costello. "At this moment, a Texas law simply does not exist to allow Rick Perry to complete his plan of converting our public highways to tollways.”

Costello added, "Rick Perry's Double Tax tolling scheme takes existing public highway projects that are fully funded with gas tax dollars, some on the verge of completion, and turns them into toll roads at the last minute. It's a double tax. It's morally and ethically wrong. The Governor is being deceptive when he tells the public that he won't toll existing highways. This deception allows billions of dollars worth of taxpayer-funded roads, and right of way in Texas to be shifted to toll roads, to hold Texas families hostage to pay a toll to drive to work, school or shop. On top of that, he's doing it without following Texas law."

"The first leg of Rick Perry's Trans Texas Corridor (opposed by the Texas Republican Party platform) a 4,000 mile plan of supertollways, was approved by Capital Area MPO in 2000 without the MPO having one statute that allowed it to allocate tax dollars to the 130 Corridor just east of Austin."

Sal Costello continued, "Gov. Perry calls his scheme to toll our already tax funded roads 'innovative financing'. We call it Highway Robbery!"

The lawsuit contends State Representatives and Senators are serving unconstitutionally on MPO boards, State Representative Terry Keel has stated there is "an inherent conflict of interest.”

Backed by outraged taxpayers throughout the state, PET Inc. is suggesting a good government solution for what it calls "the current dysfunctional and unconstitutional MPOs": 1) Dismantle the current MPOs. 2) Replace the current MPOs ( map.htm ) with legal entities composed of seven-member boards serving two year terms. Texas citizens should elect five “at large” seats, the Governor appoints one member, and the local transit organization appoints the seventh member of each regional board.

The Governor is coming under fire from some members of the press who see his scheme as bad for Texas. Rick Perry's "innovative financing" made Texas Monthly's "Top 10 ways to Fix Texas.” The article includes "Stop the toll road menace" at the #2 position. It states, "Turning planned freeways-that’s freeways-into toll roads in urban areas and holding commuters hostage is downright un-American and un-Texan,” Texas Monthly, 8/05.

People for Efficient Transportation, Inc, is a nonpartisan grassroots watchdog organization seeking efficient transportation solutions, good government and accountability. PET is not opposed to traditional toll roads that are designed and built as whole new highways that complement free expressways. Traditional tollways are primarily funded with investor dollars. In contrast, "freeway tolls" are funded with tax dollars to create a revenue-generating machine that does not solve traffic congestion. Freeway tolls shift public highways to tollways and hold drivers hostage to pay a fee to drive to work, school or play.

People for Efficient Transportation, Inc. is represented in this suit by the Texas Legal Foundation and its President and General Counsel, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Steve Smith.

It’s clear where the Perry administration stands on toll roads. The Governor and his appointees want to turn a great many of our highways into tollways. Consider this quote from Ric Williamson who was appointed by Rick Perry to govern TXDOT: “In your lifetime, most existing roads will have tolls.”

Contact: Sal Costello, Founder of PET Inc.
Tel: 512/371-9926
Email: email protected from spam bots

People for Efficient Transportation, Inc.
9901 PO Box 90715
Austin, TX 78709-0715

District Court of Travis County
Case Number: GN 503618

© Copyright 1997-2004, PR Web™. All Rights Reserved:


"I-35 lanes should be toll-free"

Editorial: For whom road tolls

Thursday, October 06, 2005
Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2005

Part of the opposition to the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor surrounds the fact that the huge statewide transportation plan will charge motorists who travel on the tolled highways.

Now the Texas Department of Transportation is studying a proposal to charge tolls on two new lanes planned for construction on I-35 through Central Texas.

The “toll viability” proposal considers charging motorists 10 to 15 cents a mile to help fund the construction and maintenance of a fifth and sixth lane from the south end of Bell County to Hillsboro.

The idea for installing toll lanes on I-35 is to speed up the construction process without having to wait for funding from gas tax revenues.

The new I-35 lanes should be toll-free.

Waco Tribune-Herald:


New Texas constitutional amendments would increase public debt, entrench bureaucrats and subsidize private interests

Proposition 2 Plus 8


Austin Chronicle
Copyright 2005

In addition to sexual obsessions, we get to vote on railroads and mortgages too. Oh goody.

Although most of the Nov. 8 ink and angst will be spilled over Proposed Constitutional Amendment 2, grimly defining Real Texas Marriages, there are eight additional proposed amendments that oozed out of the 79th Legislature, in hopes of gumming up the state constitution with a little more extraneous bureaucratic detail. The Chronicle editorial board views most such government-by-boilerplate with great skepticism, but our formal endorsements will arrive in a couple of weeks, prior to the Oct. 24 opening of early voting. In the meantime, here's a capsule of what you'll see on the ballot.

Proposition 1: "The constitutional amendment creating the Texas rail relocation and improvement fund and authorizing grants of money and issuance of obligations for financing the relocation, rehabilitation, and expansion of rail facilities."

English translation: Partially a spinoff of Gov. Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor scheme, Proposition 1 would give bonding authority for public underwriting of rail relocation and improvements – e.g., swapping a MoPac freight move in return for a commuter rail corridor in the current location. Supporters call this the transportation wave of the future (kissing cousin to toll roads); opponents say we don't need either the additional debt or the sidelong subsidy to private rail interests.

Proposition 2: "The constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage."

Translation :Despite its high-minded language about marriage and the state, Proposition 2 is in essence a rear-guard, heavily politicized attempt to freeze theological religious concepts into a secular state constitution; Gov. Perry's reflexive description of marriage as a "sacred union" gives the game away – since when does the government decide what is and is not "sacred"? Supporters call it necessary to preserve "the traditional family"; opponents say it is both unnecessary reiteration of state law and a reckless attack on simple human rights for all citizens.

Proposition 3: "The constitutional amendment clarifying that certain economic development programs do not constitute a debt."

Translation: Despite its bland and completely uninformative language, Proposition 3 is specifically aimed at a Travis Co. court decision (in a lawsuit brought by the SOS Alliance) that ruled the deal between the Village of Bee Cave and the proposed Shops at the Galleria development violates the state constitution, because it attempts to bind future governments and does not provide an adequate mechanism for repayment. Supporters say the amendment is needed to protect "380 projects" (after a chapter in the Local Government Code); opponents say it is little more than a legislative overruling of a single court decision and a green light for local government to give developers whatever they want and worry about the consequences later.

Proposition 4: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the denial of bail to a criminal defendant who violates a condition of the defendant's release pending trial."

Translation: The amendment would add additional circumstances to already constitutionally mandated conditions for denial of bail in felony cases when the defendant has violated conditions of the original bond. Supporters say it's necessary to protect potential victims; opponents say it gives too much discretion to a judge to deny bail in circumstances that do not merit such a remedy.

Proposition 5: "The constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to define rates of interest for commercial loans."

Translation: Proposition 5 would exempt high-dollar commercial loans from current usury limits set by the constitution. Bankers say they need the exemption to compete with out-of-state banks on large commercial loans; opponents say this amendment would open the door to effectively abolishing all usury limits and leave consumers at the mercy of unscrupulous lenders.

Proposition 6: "The constitutional amendment to include one additional public member and a constitutional county court judge in the membership of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct."

Translation: The amendment would not only increase the size of the Judicial Conduct commission but eliminate the current requirement of geographical diversity. Supporters say it would give the commission more flexibility; opponents say it is unnecessary and could create regional conflicts on particular cases.

Proposition 7: "The constitutional amendment authorizing line-of-credit advances under a reverse mortgage."

Translation: This amendment would expand previously allowed home equity loans to include lines of credit on "reverse mortgages" (granted to seniors on the equity in their homes), so that money could be borrowed against the home equity value as a continuing line of credit. Supporters say it gives flexibility to seniors in need of specific and varying sums; opponents warn of one more opening to unscrupulous lenders to scam seniors of their homesteads.

Proposition 8: "The constitutional amendment providing for the clearing of land titles by relinquishing and releasing any state claim to sovereign ownership or title to interest in certain land in Upshur County and in Smith County."

Translation: The state, mineral speculators, and local landowners have been fussing for some years over several thousand acres, which may include survey "vacancies" belonging de facto to the state, in separate tracts near Gilmer and Tyler. Some of the claims have been adjudicated, and some are still pending. The amendment would essentially moot the court cases and cede any state land and mineral rights to current owners of record who were mostly unaware of the title problems. Supporters say this is the fairest solution to the landowners; opponents say it should be left to the courts, not the constitution, especially when the state is potentially ceding any claim to millions in education funds via mineral rights.

Proposition 9: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to provide for a six-year term for a board member of a regional mobility authority."

Translation: This amendment is an outgrowth of the battle over toll roads, because a legislative attempt to allow six-year RMA board terms ran legally afoul of a two-year constitutional limitation. Supporters say six-year staggered terms would allow more experience and flexibility on the boards; opponents say longer terms create greater potential for conflicts of interest and give unnecessary power to unelected boards. Why the leap from two years to six (instead of, say, four) is apparently moot.

Registration for the Nov. 8 election ends Monday, Oct. 11,
and early voting begins Oct. 24. For much more information on the proposed amendments, see the Secretary of State Web site at . More information on the election is also posted there, as well as on the Travis Co. Web site elections division.

Copyright © 1995-2005 Austin Chronicle Corp. All rights reserved.


Central Texas drivers are no fans of toll roads – no surprise.

Austin Stories


Austin Chronicle
Copyright 2005

• Central Texas drivers are no fans of toll roads – no surprise – according to a customer survey conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Wilson Research Strategies on behalf of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority over the summer.

Toll opponents were ecstatic over the news. Drilling down into the data, however, provided some more interesting results, both expected and unexpected: Opposition to toll roads, even in a random sample, is strongest in the South Austin area where toll road opponents have mobilized, but more ambivalent in the area of the CTRMA's first toll project, U.S. 183A.

Forced to pay for new roads by either a gas tax or a toll, Central Texas drivers preferred tolls, by a small margin. Those in the income range of $20,000 to $40,000 were the most willing to pay for tolls, even more than their wealthy neighbors. And those willing to use a toll tag hovered around 40%, even among those opposed to tolls. The CTRMA will continue to parse the data. – Kimberly Reeves

Copyright © 1995-2005 Austin Chronicle Corp. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

"Toll roads here in Comal County won't become reality, at leaast with the current commissioners' court."

Commissioners voice dissent with TxDOT over tollroads


By JOHN KASTNER, Correspondent
Canyon Lake Times Guardian News Weekly
Copyright 2005

There are many traffic problems along US Highway 281 and State Highway 46, many of which have created serious accidents and concerns.

Last Thursday, Comal County Judge Danny Scheel said "toll roads here in Comal County won't become reality, at leaast with the current commissioners' court."

Toll roads are a hot topic in the Texas Department of Transportation's development arsenal. Right here in Comal County, residents ­ espeecially along US 281 and Texas 46, say "no way."

Most of the county officials say the proposal sounds eye-catching but in general "it's way off focus to fit most of the local needs."

Scheel believes that the only way such a system can be safely constructed is with the combined effort of TxDOT.

"TxDOT may have the final word in years to come if they can come up with a master plan," Scheel said.

According to statistics, roughly 60-percent of Canyon Lake, Spring Branch, Sattler and Bulverde-area travel into the San Antonio metro area each day.

For Scheel and the commissioners, awareness exists of the traffic problems out there, so when the timing is right they will have a solution that is standard.

In the meantime, TxDOT has their work cut out for them, especially in convincing the area residents tollroads are the answer.

Canyon Lake Times Guardian


"An $8.5 billion deficit exists to upgrade San Antonio and Comal County roadways, according to TxDOT."

TxDOT proposes 281 tollway

by Emily May, Staff Writer
Canyon Lake Times Guardian
Copyright 2005

The Texas Department of Transportation brought forth plans to rebuild US Highway 281 from Stone Oak Parkway to the Comal/Blanco county line as a tollway at a meeting held at Guadalupe Valley Telecommunications Cooperative auditorium last Wednesday.

Over 300 area residents viewed large-scale schematics of a proposed toll road infrastructure originating at Stone Oak Parkway in San Antonio and ending at the Comal/Blanco County line.

In an effort to prepare and improve US Hwy. 281 as a major travel route north, the 23-mile tollway will increase capacity, reduce the number of accidents and take care of anticipated growth for the next 20 to 30 years.

There will be no toll booths planned, as electronic toll readers will process the toll, currently proposed at $0.15 per mile. The details of a "easy pass" and bulk buys are still being determined.

According to Judy Friesenhahn with TxDOT, the area is projected to experience a 67-percent increase in traffic between 2010 and 2030.

Currently, the majority of the state's road funding comes from the motor fuel tax. Of the $0.384 per gallon, $0.20 stays in Texas, with the remaining $0.184 going to the Federal government where it is redistributed. That money is budgeted to maintain the current roads.

Two years ago the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 3588 which created regional mobility authorities, and alternative funding sources to create new roadways through tollways and bonds. Tolls may only be levied on new capacity lanes and there must be a non-toll alternative.

Friesenhahn cited projections that by 2030, traffic congestion in San Antonio would be similar to Houston traffic today. Comal County is expected to grow 85-percent in that same time period.

An $8.5 billion deficit exists to upgrade San Antonio and Comal County roadways, according to TxDOT, and no gas-tax funds will be available for Comal County for 25 years to fund major road improvements.

Construction estimates for the US 281 tollway are $226 million. The proposed 281 tollway includes 13 new or expanded interchanges, similar to the one recently constructed at US 281 and Farm-to-Market road 1863 to separate the fast and slow moving traffic.

Residents expressed concern about the lack of an interchange in the Kestrel Air Park area, citing emergency vehicles' need for accessibility to the subdivision's runway as a landing site for AirLife.

A typical section of the proposed tollway will require 400 feet of lanes, shoulder and median. The existing US 281 from the Guadalupe River to FM 306 is 120 feet. The proposed US 281 alters the current flow of the highway as the new right-of-way was designed with "minimal impact to humans and the environment."

According to Friesenhahn's presentation, the right-of-way will bypass the Gass and Voges cemeteries and takes into account the location of wildlife habitats, the Guadalupe River and Cypress Creek. It affects 72 acres of floodplain and the Jumbo Evans Sports Park.

TxDOT anticipates a public hearing in July 2005. Individuals may sign up to speak and have their comments recorded into the public record during that hearing. This would provide for the acquisition of right-of-way from landowners adjacent to US 281 beginning in January 2006.

According to Clay Smith, director of transportation and development, landowners will be offered appraised fair-market value for their property. Acquisition of right-of-way from the Guadalupe River to FM 306 would begin first, as that segment will be widened from the current two lanes to four lanes with overchanges. This segment will be last to become toll. According to Friesenhahn,

TxDOT would like to have the four-lane expansion under contract in three to seven years.

Free access will be maintained on the new frontage roads.Comments and questions can be directed to Friesenhahn by e-mail:, and by phone: (210) 615-5814.

Canyon Lake Times Guardian


Monday, October 03, 2005

Road privatization deals have ended in new, deeper levels of debt for taxpayers.

Plan to privatize roads may have bumps

Fundraising proposals such as Gov. Daniels' have met with mixed success in other states.

October 3, 2005

By Theodore Kim
The Indianapolis Star
Copyright 2005

With fuel prices rising and traffic congestion worsening, Gov. Mitch Daniels wants to turn over two of Indiana's interstates to private hands.

Leasing out tolling and concessions rights on the roads, the Republican governor believes, will spare motorists who are in no mood to hear about a new levy at the pump. Privatizing also frees up money for other road needs.

Paying on the go

Gov. Mitch Daniels' plan to make a yet-to-be-built stretch of I-69 between Indianapolis and Evansville a toll road conjures up images of multilane plazas, coin baskets and lines of traffic.

Experts, however, say those days are fast fading as states turn to so-called "open-road" technology that allows vehicles to pay their toll without slowing down. State officials say the new I-69 will probably use such a system.

The E-470 tollway in suburban Denver, opened in the early 1990s, was among the first roads in the nation to incorporate overhead sensors that deduct fares electronically from transponder-equipped vehicles driving at full speed. Traditional toll booths in separate lanes are available for vehicles without transponders.

A system along the 407 Express Toll Route in Toronto, Ontario, goes further. A network of sensors and cameras built by Massachusetts-based Raytheon bills full-speed vehicles without transponders as well. License plates are recorded by video, and motorists are mailed their toll bill.

Yet private roads remain a grand experiment, representing a clash between advocates of smaller government and those who worry about weakening the public's say over what historically have been public assets.

Since going private, highways in California and Colorado have been plagued by maintenance issues. Other privatization deals have ended in new, deeper levels of debt for taxpayers. And a few localities have found themselves saddled with lease terms that favor private profits over the public good.

In most cases, privatization has led to an almost immediate increase in tolls. And as more states and counties test new approaches to pay for roads -- including imposing even higher tolls at rush hour -- motorists again end up paying more.

Ellen Dannin, a law professor who specializes in privatization issues at Wayne State University in Detroit, equates privatization to "buying a lottery ticket."

"There has always been some private-sector involvement in building roads," Dannin said. "Now there's more involvement at a deeper level, at the financing level. And it's had a powerful effect in terms of what's happening out there."

Privatizing the 49-year-old Indiana Toll Road and a yet-to-be-built stretch of I-69 between Indianapolis and Evansville is just part of Daniels' 10-year transportation plan, which was unveiled last week. The blueprint is meant to resolve a $2.1 billion gap between road construction needs and available gasoline tax revenues. That gap would widen to $2.86 billion if the construction of the new I-69, which the governor said will be a toll road, is included.
Daniels believes privatization is key to advancing more than 200 future road expansion projects over the next 10 years without raising the state's 18-cents-a-gallon tax or taking on more debt. Any privatization plan would require General Assembly approval.

State transportation officials say privatization could mean a windfall for the state, one perhaps amounting to billions of dollars.

In exchange, the company taking control of the roads would be responsible for all operations and maintenance. In return, it would collect tolling and concessions revenue over the course of its lease.

Privatizing existing roads is an especially complicated undertaking.

The first large-scale privatization in the United States came in January when the city of Chicago forged a 99-year lease with Cintra-Macquarie, a Spanish-Australian conglomerate, for $1.83 billion.

That money, which Chicago has used to pay off old debt and fund other road projects and programs, has stoked hope among officials here of a similar agreement for the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road.

But privatization experts say a lease involving the Toll Road might not fetch nearly as much.
For one, millions of dollars in improvements to the Chicago Skyway were recently completed, enhancing the road's value.

Robert Poole, director of transportation studies for the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based group that advocates free-market principles, likened the Skyway upgrades to enhancements a house might get before it is sold.

In contrast, the 49-year-old Toll Road will need more than $200 million in fixes over the next 10 years, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation, an outlook that could dim the roadway's perceived worth.

What's more, the Skyway at only 7.8 miles long is much shorter than the Toll Road, making maintenance easier.

"With the Skyway, the buyer doesn't have anything to deal with as far as improvements or debt," Poole said. "The purchaser is buying an asset free and clear. With the Indiana Toll Road, you're not going to get the same type of conditions."

Whether a private firm will maintain the road as well as the government also remains unclear.
Building new roads from scratch with private money is a more common strategy -- a model the Daniels administration hopes will cover at least one-third of the cost of the long-debated, 142-mile new stretch of I-69 between Indianapolis and Evansville.

Yet similar deals elsewhere have had mixed results, too. The critical factor, experts say, is how much traffic -- and, thus, toll revenue -- such a road will generate. Consider:

• Frustrated transportation officials in Orange County, Calif., in 2003 decided to buy out a group of private investors that had built and operated express toll lanes in the median of the heavily traveled Riverside Freeway. A "noncompete" provision in the deal with the company prevented the county from making improvements to the road's free lanes and, as a result, worsened congestion. The express lanes themselves struggled to meet initial revenue projections.

• The $1.4 billion San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor south of Los Angeles, a toll road built through a public-private partnership, also has fallen far short of ridership projections. The jam has left the public authority that controls the road facing a default on its debt.

• A public-private partnership formed to build E-470, a $1.2 billion tollway around Denver's high-growth suburbs, has been deemed a mixed success. It struggled to meet debt payments after the road saw sparse traffic when its first segment opened in the early 1990s. That said, as traffic has increased, so has the road's returns.

Despite varying degrees of success, Poole argues that such public-private arrangements work in the public's favor -- if officials move with caution.

"These are areas you have to craft very carefully so that you don't create monopolies and other problems," he said.

Privatization, in other words, can be an uneven road.

-- Theodore Kim

Privatization deals in other states

• 91 Express Lanes: A four-lane toll road stretching 10 miles in the median of the Riverside
Freeway, or State Road 91, in Orange County.
• Private partner: California Private Transportation Co., a U.S. conglomerate.
• Public financial benefit: $135 million.
• Background: The project opened in 1995 and was financed and operated by the California
Private Transportation Co. The road pioneered several innovations, including
"pay-at-full-speed" tolling and rates that vary depending on the time of day.
• Results: Orange County was forced to buy out the private investors in 2003, largely to get out
of a rigid agreement that severely restricted expansion and improvement of the non-toll
lanes. Revenues have struggled to meet initial projections.

• I-35 Trans Texas Corridor: A new toll road, railway and system of utilities to be built parallel
to the 800-mile I-35 corridor in Central Texas.
• Private partner: Cintra-Zachary, a Spanish-U.S. conglomerate.
• Public financial benefit: As much as $7.2 billion.
• Background: Should it receive federal environmental approval, the project will be built in
pieces over the next few decades. Its cost is undetermined.
• Results: Too early to tell. Cintra-Zachary would pay Texas $1.2 billion for tolling rights along
the corridor for 50 years.

• Chicago Skyway: A 7.8-mile toll bridge-highway that links Northwest Indiana with Chicago's
Dan Ryan Expressway.
• Private partner: Cintra-Macquarie, a Spanish-Australian conglomerate.
• Public financial benefit: $1.83 billion.
• Background: The city leased out tolling and concessions rights on the Skyway for 99 years.
The agreement includes language that would allow the city to exit the lease under certain
• Results: Too early to tell. The city and conglomerate agreed to limit toll increases on the
Skyway over the course of the lease.

Call Star reporter Theodore Kim at (317) 444-6247.

Copyright 2005 All rights reserved:


Sunday, October 02, 2005

"It's incredible. It boggles the mind."

Strayhorn plans to audit toll road agency

Scrutiny of mobility authority was requested by opponents of turnpike plan

October 2, 2004

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, responding to a request from two dissidents in the fight over a Central Texas toll road plan, said she will audit the local agency that would run those tollways.

State Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, and Austin City Council Member Brewster McCracken, who voted for the toll road plan but has since had second thoughts, asked Strayhorn to "immediately begin a comprehensive audit of the expenditures and operations of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority."

Keel and McCracken, in a news conference Friday, said they asked for Strayhorn's intervention after reading that the authority board decided Wednesday to spend up to $750,000 over the next two years on a marketing campaign for its coming tollways.

The authority, which through a contractor had previously authorized about $700,000 in public outreach contracts, is planning to award that contract to a team led by Austin public relations firm TateAustin, pending final negotiations.

"No one in the Legislature would expect that a toll authority that was just created would spend over a million dollars on public relations," Keel said. "It's incredible. It boggles the mind."

Mike Heiligenstein, executive director of the mobility authority, said the agency's books are already under scrutiny.

He said the Texas Department of Transportation, which more than a year ago made a $12.7 million grant to the authority for initial work on the U.S. 183-A toll road, recently completed an audit of spending under that grant.

The findings, Heiligenstein said, were two pages long and contained only "minor adjustments."

A second outside audit of the agency by Helin, Donovan, Trubee & Wilkinson, an Austin auditing firm, is currently under way, Heiligenstein said.

Bob Tesch, the authority's board chairman appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, hinted that Keel might be making hay to benefit Strayhorn.

A potential Perry challenger in the 2006 Republican primary, Strayhorn has clashed repeatedly with the governor over the past year. Most recently, she called for a slowdown in the toll road push that is a centerpiece of Perry's transportation policy.

"We don't want to get involved in any GOP primary politics, which is what I suspect that (call for an audit) amounts to," Tesch said. "But if the Legislature would like to amend the statute to require that all RMAs (regional mobility authorities) be audited by the comptroller's office, we would be supportive of that."

The mobility authority and the state Transportation Department in April released a $2.2 billion plan with nine toll roads, including seven that required approval by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board.

That panel of mostly local elected officials, including Keel and McCracken, approved putting toll charges on those seven roads in a 16-7 vote in July. Keel voted against the plan, McCracken for it. But McCracken has since called for amending the plan to take out roads that would be built exclusively with gasoline tax dollars.

The mobility authority, approaching its second birthday, was created by Travis and Williamson County commissioners under a 2001 state law.

Each Commissioners Court has given the mobility authority, which cannot levy taxes and ultimately will be supported by toll revenue, more than $500,000 over the past two years for startup costs.

The grant from the state Transportation Department was given specifically for work on U.S. 183-A, the agency's first project, and administrative expenses related to that project.

The public outreach contracts were awarded -- at the behest of the mobility authority -- by the engineering contractor for the U.S. 183-A project, but some of the consultants also worked on efforts related to the seven-road plan approved in July.; 445-3698

© 2004 Austin American-Statesman:


TxDOT and private concessionaires "shouldn't be in the business of profiting from existing roads."

Could part of I-35 be tolled?

October 02, 2005

By Matt Joyce
Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2005

Citing a shortage of highway funds, the Texas Department of Transportation is studying the option of charging tolls on two new lanes planned for construction on Interstate 35 through Central Texas.

Richard Skopik, the Waco District engineer, said the “toll viability” study is only a preliminary step in determining whether tolls – probably at a rate of 10 to 15 cents a mile – would help fund the construction and maintenance of a fifth and sixth lane from the south end of Bell County to Hillsboro.

While some local leaders are opposed to tolling new lanes on I-35, transportation officials say the idea merits consideration as part of a larger effort to build highways and relieve traffic congestion. State and federal gas taxes, which make up the bulk of highway funds, cover about a third of needed projects in the Waco area and across the state, according to the department.

“A lot of people are looking at the hard reality that if you can toll a project it's going to be a lot faster getting it on the ground than if you were to wait for gas taxes to get it built,” department spokeswoman Gaby Garcia said. “It makes sense to at least study the project for possible tolling. It doesn't mean you will do every one.”

The Waco district broke ground in 2000 on a 15-year, $1 billion project to expand 94 miles of Interstate 35 to six lanes as part of a transportation department initiative to improve I-35 throughout the state.

With only a fraction of the Waco area project complete, the Texas Transportation Commission in 2003 directed local districts to study the possibility of tolling new lanes on major highways or newly constructed major highways.

In the case of I-35, only the new lanes would be tolled while the existing lanes would remain free. And in areas that have already been expanded to six lanes, like the stretch through Waco, all six lanes would remain free, Skopik said.

Skopik said the I-35 toll study, which should be complete by the end of the year, attempts to determine whether projected traffic volumes would produce enough toll revenue to pay at least for the new lanes' maintenance and operation over 40 years. The department currently spends from $4 to $5 million annually on maintenance of the 120 miles of interstate highway it oversees in the Waco district, Skopik said.

If tolling appears viable in that respect, the department could then issue revenue bonds to generate up-front cash for the project. But that would not occur without consultation with local governments and transportation groups and another round of more detailed studies, Skopik said.

“The transportation commission has clearly stated that they don't want to impose tolling on any local communities that just cannot support it in some way, shape or form,” he said.

The I-35 project “will go on with or without tolling,” Skopik said. “Tolling would just possibly speed it up and further ensure that we get it done on time.”

A hard sell

The tolling argument hasn't won over local officials yet. The Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization, a transportation planning group made up of area governments, voted last year to recommend maintaining six toll-free interstate lanes through McLennan County.

Russell Devorsky, chairman of the group's policy board and a member of the Bellmead City Council, said the department shouldn't be in the business of profiting from existing roads.

“When you have free public roadways that are already existing, I just don't believe in going back and tolling them, even the additional capacity,” Devorsky said. “I think we've already paid a public price through the eminent domain process” when the interstate highway was originally developed in the 1960s.

Christopher Evilia, executive director of the planning organization, said the policy board remained open to the possibility of tolling I-35 expansion beyond six lanes. But the board felt that tolling the fifth and sixth lanes in the Waco area would be unfair, considering that the department has already built toll-free six-lane interstate highways in the San Antonio and Austin areas, he said.

“Between Austin and San Antonio, I-35 is already six lanes, and that section has more traffic, but it's free,” he said.

McLennan County Commissioner Joe Mashek, a member of the Waco planning organization, said nobody wants to see a toll road.

“When (the transportation department) builds highways, they're supposed to maintain them and improve them, and if the traffic burdens get greater, they're the ones that are supposed to improve it and widen it,” he said. “That's what we pay taxes for.”

To the south, Temple Mayor Bill Jones was more receptive to the concept of tolling new lanes on I-35. Drivers from outside of the area, rather than locals, would end up paying for the expansion, he said.

“Locally, it's not going to affect those in Temple trying to use Interstate 35 within our area,” he said. “They'll always have a choice whether to use the tolled section or not.”

The toll funding would also free up highway funding for other road projects, he said.

“My perspective is I think everything needs to be on the table as we build additional infrastructure in the state of Texas,” Jones said. “We have far greater needs than we have funds to pay for them. And I know one thing's for sure, there's no appetite for increased gas taxes to pay for it.”

Construction queue

On a map of McLennan County, local transportation department officials point to $440 million in local highway construction projects identified by the transportation department and the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization as necessary to accommodate the area's projected growth.

But the Waco district expects to receive only $170 million, or about a third of that money, by 2030 for specific projects.

Those projects will also be studied for tolling, Skopik said. They include improvements to State Highway 6/Loop 340, West U.S. Highway 84 through West Waco and Woodway, and the proposed extension of Farm-to-Market Road 185 across northern McLennan County.

In addition to new lanes on I-35, the Waco district is now conducting toll viability studies for new lanes on U.S. Highway 190 between I-35 and Copperas Cove and for a new 190 loop around Copperas Cove.

Skopik said the department would never add toll lanes or build new toll roads in a place where drivers don't have a toll-free alternative.

“There seems to be this nightmare that all of a sudden that you're going to wake up one morning and have no choices but to go use this toll road,” he said. “Really, we're only looking where we've got major traffic.”

According to the transportation department, the state gas tax would have to be raised a full dollar to keep up with construction and maintenance needs. The department spent 70 percent of its 2004 budget on building highways and maintaining them, at a cost of $2 billion and $2.3 billion, respectively. With cars becoming more fuel efficient, raising gas taxes isn't likely to keep up with highway needs, the department says.

“We have to look at all our funding options we have available to us now to see how we can make more of what we have, if we can stretch the gas tax funds to do more,” Garcia said.

A controversial plan to incorporate tolling into a new road between Georgetown and Southeast Austin – mostly making up the new State Highway 130 – is enabling the department to build 65 miles of four-lane divided highway in five years rather than 25 years, Garcia said. The toll plan, which will cost drivers an average of 12 cents a mile, enabled the department to issue $2.2 billion in debt that will be paid off over 40 years time, she said.

“The question is, do we wait five years or 25 years?” Garcia said.

Skopik said a decision on whether tolling will be considered for Interstate 35 should be made next year.

“We're required to study it. It doesn't mean that we're going to do it though,” he said.

If tolls are implemented on Interstate 35, they wouldn't be the first tolls collected in the Waco area. The privately run Waco Bridge Company charged a toll to cross the Waco Suspension Bridge when it opened in 1870, according to historian Roger Conger's 1945 book, Highlights of Waco History.

Twenty years later, McLennan County sold $80,000 in bonds to purchase the bridge. The county then turned the bridge over to the city of Waco for a token $1 on the grounds that the city operate the bridge without tolls.


Waco Tribune-Herald: