Saturday, October 15, 2005

"There seems to be an overemphasis on money and not on service."

A dud route

Government greed is behind the tunnel toll disaster.

October 15, 2005

Matthew Moore, Darren Goodsir and Anne Davies
The Sydney Morning-Herald (Australia)
Copyright 2005

For the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority, 2003 was a year like no other. In the space of 12 months, the State Government's road-building agency received $369 million from three private sector consortiums it chose to build three toll roads in the biggest burst of privately funded road building Sydney has seen.

The first lick of $97 million came from the Cross City Tunnel outfit that is now desperately struggling to find a way to get drivers to use the first of the three projects to open for business.

Then came $193 million from the M7 consortium rather murkily described as "an agreed amount in regard to costs incurred and to be in incurred by the RTA in connection with the project". Finally, the Lane Cove Tunnel group paid $79 million to the traffic authority as a "development fee".

According to a summary of the contracts that outlines the hugely complex Cross City Tunnel project, the $97 million was an "upfront payment" made "in return for the RTA's granting it the right to undertake the project".

Reading that description, the former NSW auditor-general Tony Harris says the only way to describe it was "just a tax".

"They [the traffic authority] are making money out of the road," he says of the upfront payment.

These cash payments are just part of the authority's direct financial interest in the tunnel. The contract also guarantees that if more cars use the toll road than forecast, the traffic authority gets a share of the extra revenue. A sliding scale shows the more cars, the more money for the traffic authority.

In the tunnel, once traffic is 10 per cent above original forecasts, the traffic authority gets 10 per cent of each extra dollar. If traffic gets as high as 50 per cent above predictions any time over the 30 years in private hands, then the traffic authority gets half the extra revenue.

It's in the authority's financial interest to get as many motorists as it can to pay to use the tunnel. It's the same with the M7, the western Sydney toll road that opens later this year, and with the Lane Cove tunnel that opens next year. And as the traffic authority has the power to determine who drives where, it can shepherd motorists onto any road it wants.

In years to come, the authority could enjoy a major revenue stream from these toll roads in which it has negotiated a financial interest. But this structure leaves the authority with an apparent conflict of interest. How can the government body charged with delivering the public the best and cheapest roads do this when it benefits financially if motorists pay to use privately run toll roads?

According to Bruce Loder, a former head of the traffic authority's predecessor, the Department of Main Roads, the authority's financial involvement in the tunnel has twisted its relationship with motorists. Although reluctant to criticise his old employer, he says of the traffic authority's new way of operating: "There seems to be an overemphasis on money and not on service."

In his view, the Cross City Tunnel is doomed because the traffic authority has abandoned its traditional job of serving the public's needs, instead doing a deal under which it has closed streets surrounding the tunnel to force motorists underground and through the electronic toll gates.

"It's crazy," he says. "The concept is quite wrong. They should have built it as a free road."

The traffic authority has dismissed the outrage about the $97 million payment from the tunnel consortium, calling it "standard practice". The money, it says, is to meet costs incurred in planning the project and carrying out works associated with the project such as moving underground pipes and cables.

The NSW Auditor-General, Bob Sendt, is not so sure. Before the tunnel opened, he had nominated it for investigation to see whether the public was well served by such public-private partnerships.

Part of his investigation seems certain to target the issue that has most infuriated people: the traffic authority's closure of roads to force motorists to use a privately owned toll road.

"We might look at how changes to local roads were determined, ie, by the need to improve services for the local community or to force vehicles into the tunnel and make it more viable," he says.

And he plans to find out whether all $97 million paid to the RTA was for actual costs incurred in the project or whether the fee "was simply part of the negotiating process".

Three years ago, the independent MP Clover Moore challenged the Government to explain the financing of the tunnel when she heard rumours the traffic authority would make a $100 million profit from the revised plan, but says she was never able to get the truth.

When the tunnel was first proposed by the traffic authority, it was a much smaller project, starting close to the Australian Museum in William Street instead of its current opening just west of the existing Kings Cross tunnel.

Under that plan, motorists coming from the east were unaffected by the project and were still able to turn right off William Street and take either the Harbour Tunnel or the Harbour Bridge to get to Sydney's north.

But without that group of motorists the traffic authority would not do so well financially. According to the summary of contracts, financial modelling concluded that if the public sector delivered the original shorter tunnel, there was a financial cost to the traffic authority of $42 million.

The authority then came up with a new, more lucrative plan and carried out a new environmental impact statement that brought it to fruition. This time the modelling found that a privately built and operated longer tunnel, combined with traffic changes to funnel people underground, would "result in a significant net financial benefit to the RTA".

What the authority and the tunnel operators seem to have miscalculated is the reluctance of motorists to pay a toll of $3.50. And they were clearly surprised by the anger from drivers caught in traffic because of changes to road conditions designed to help the operators of the tunnel. It's not just the road changes that have enraged motorists, but the secrecy which swirls around the project.

The Premier, Morris Iemma, and the tunnel consortium refuse to release the contact, claiming it is "commercial in confidence".

Through the week, the radio broadcaster Alan Jones has made increasingly strident demands for the contract to be made public and the NSW Opposition has now put that demand at the top of its so-called "rescue plan".

Iemma turned to his usual strategy and apologised profusely.

"Who takes responsibility? The Government takes responsibility and as the Premier I accept that responsibility," he said many times this week.

But behind the veneer of government solidarity, the tunnel has reopened old wounds caused by the vicious battle for the premier's job two months ago.

Carl Scully, the unsuccessful leadership contender and former roads minister, was accused by the new Roads Minister, Joe Tripodi, of making too many concessions to the tunnel operators. Tripodi was once Scully's best friend in politics and Scully had trusted him to deliver the NSW right in the leadership ballot, but he ended up dudding him.

There are tensions with the leader's office as well. Iemma may be taking responsibility, but he has agreed with Tripodi that concessions made to the tunnel operators were too great.

While the main tunnel contract remains a secret, there is far more information on the public record now than was ever the case under the last NSW Coalition government.

The summary of tunnel contracts has been vetted by the Auditor-General. It details much of the financial plan, the history of the consortiums that tendered, names all the traffic authority and other staff involved in negotiations and sets out the agreements for resolving disputes.

But as Sendt says, it's simply a summary and "it does not go to indicate every road closure" - just the sort of details residents and motorists want.

Moore has been campaigning for years for legislation to force the Government to publish all major contracts once they are signed, as happens in New Zealand, the United States, and many other places. She introduced legislation into Parliament several years ago but it was flicked off to a committee whose members took a round-the-world trip (avoiding New Zealand) to investigate the issue, and then said that there were problems introducing it.

The legislation lapsed. Moore now plans a new bill, although there are no signs yet the Government, or the Opposition, will support it, despite the clamour for the tunnel contract to be made public.

Moore reckons the mandatory publication of contracts after signing could help avoid agreements like the Cross City Tunnel where the public finds out the real effect of some clauses only when they are implemented.

"This contract would have been different if [then roads minister] Carl Scully knew it would have been public," she says.

Even Iemma is admitting that the lesson to be learned from this project is that community consultation needs to be thorough. The tunnel operators and the traffic authority might have published advertisements on road closures, but did the road users really appreciate the full impact? The answer is clearly no.

Meanwhile, the proponents of such projects - Macquarie Bank, big construction companies and associated lobbyists - have the ear of a government desperate to move as much public spending as possible from the budget.

With disastrously low numbers in its first weeks of operation and a government on the defensive about the traffic authority's deal, the tunnel consortium has been forced to declare the tunnel toll-free for three weeks. That should resolve one debate: are there 90,000 people in the east and west who even want to cross the city each day?

It may still be early days for the tunnel project, but Loder is convinced it is doomed as a commercial venture.

He says it is the first time the traffic authority has "squeezed" motorists in this way by pushing them onto a route to ensure the operator has a commercial success, a practice that has left him "appalled".

"In diverting traffic, they are making the public pay extra to lessen the risk."

Loder reckons there's only one way the issue will be solved and that is for the Government either to buy out the tunnel contract and run it as a public, untolled road, or to come up with another scheme where it pays the operators the toll for private vehicles.

If he is right, it will cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars it can't afford. The alternative, however, may be even less palatable - allowing the operators to use their rights under the contract to force the traffic authority to erect more obstacles in a dozen suburbs to force motorists into their tunnel.

Copyright © 2005. The Sydney Morning Herald.:


Friday, October 14, 2005

Transportation Commisioner Robert Nichols to run for state Senate

Nichols announces he is running for state Senate District 3


By: Nancy Flake
The Courier
Copyright 2005

Standing among a group of about two dozen supporters in the Montgomery County Republican Headquarters, Nichols, currently a member of the Texas Transportation Commission, said the county's "incredible" growth rate automatically drives up property values.

"I would file a bill to raise the homestead exemption by 50 percent, up from $15,000 to $22,000," he said. "You raise that homestead exemption and you lower property taxes."

Nichols, a resident of Jacksonville, faces three opponents for the SD 3 seat in the March 7, 2006 Republican primary, including two Montgomery County residents. Both David Kleimann, a Willis businessman, and Conroe businessman Frank Denton, are running for the seat Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, is vacating to run for state agriculture commissioner. The fourth SD 3 candidate is Bob Reeves, the owner of a refrigeration company in Center.

While Senate District 3 spans all or part of 17 counties, Nichols said he chose make his announcement here because "Montgomery County is one of the most important counties in Senate District 3" in terms of votes. In the 2002 Senate District 3 election, Montgomery County provided 20.92 percent of the vote for Staples, or 25,102 out of a total of 119,993 votes.

Precinct 3 County Commissioner Ed Chance, who introduced Nichols, credited him with helping the county get approved for the state's new pass-through toll program, which will provide the county with funding for new road work, he said.

Voters approved the county's $160 million road bond package in September, which will secure state and federal reimbursement of more than $174 million through the pass-through toll program. Montgomery County was the first area in Texas to be approved for the program, which was passed by the Texas Legislature in 2003.

A conservative Republican, Nichols has served as county chairman for former U.S. Senators John Tower and Phil Gramm, current Sen. John Cornyn, then-Gov. George W. Bush and Gov. Rick Perry.

He has also served seven years as mayor of Jacksonville, where the City Council, he said, cut property tax rates to their lowest level in 20 years during his term in office.

"Decisions by local, state and federal officials impact my family and my friends' families," he said. "I'm pro-life, pro-job growth, pro-local control and I support the right to bear arms. I support the shutting down of our borders and providing grants for groups like the Minutemen, if they're properly trained."

When Curtis West, of Willis, asked Nichols if he supports a 3 percent cap on property appraisal rates, Nichols said only if each county can make that decision for itself.
"I think it's important to have a cap," he said. "If we can structure it so each county can vote on it, that is where I would help. I don't like it when the state comes in and mandates."

West also asked Nichols if he would strictly follow the Republican platform. "Before we get to the election, the party will set the platform," Nichols replied. "It depends on what kind of changes they make.

"If someone from West Texas changes something, I'm not going to like that. I will support what's good for residents of Senate District 3."

Nancy Flake can be reached at

©Houston Community Newspapers Online 2005 :


"Local leaders remain concerned about toll revenue being diverted from local projects and sent elsewhere in the region or state."

Region sends Highway 121 plan to state

Collin County: Proposal keeps toll revenue here; TxDOT has own idea

October 14, 2005

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2005

Collin County officials have forwarded their plan for making State Highway 121 a toll road to state officials, but the proposal is a long way from receiving approval – if that even occurs.

The county and the cities of Frisco, Allen, McKinney and Plano want to create a local government corporation to oversee construction and operation of the toll road. They want revenue to remain in the area for other construction projects.

But state officials have said they're reluctant to release control of such a project, and the proposal may run into problems on the regional level, too.

"My feeling is that if they bring the proposal that they brought ... it is going to be dead on arrival," said Grady Smithey, a Duncanville City Council member and a member of North Texas' Regional Transportation Council. The appointed group, made up of elected and appointed officials from throughout the region, has an equal say with the state in which transportation projects get built and how they are funded.

A decision is months away.

The Texas Department of Transportation has received several bids from private companies that are willing to build State Highway 121 and charge tolls to get money back. According to one estimate, such a scenario could result in a bid of $900 million or more.

Under the local plan, one scenario has the toll road raising an estimated $381 million for construction and another $326 million that would be used on other road projects in the next 40 years.

Local leaders have said they want tolls to pay only for the project cost. Tolls, which could be set at about 15 cents per mile, would be reduced once the road construction costs have been repaid for building all main lanes of Highway 121 and interchanges at Central Expressway and the Dallas North Tollway. Toll revenue would remain in Collin County.

Collin County Judge Ron Harris and Commissioner Jack Hatchell said Friday they would press ahead with the proposal, which could include an active role for the North Texas Tollway Authority.

Mr. Harris said he understood worries from officials in surrounding areas.

"I couldn't disagree with some concern about regionalism," he said. "But we don't agree with starting a Robin Hood on roads. That's what it could turn into."

He said he thought other local officials would see the merit of the Highway 121 proposal.
"We don't wish to pull away," Mr. Harris said. "It's what the Collin County citizens want us to do."

Mr. Hatchell said he thought that more toll roads would be built, with the toll revenue staying in the area.

"This is a different way of going about it [funding toll roads], but I think we're going to see more and more of it because counties have the ability to do it," Mr. Hatchell said. "It's a practical way to do it."

Of the toll proposal, he said, "We're full speed ahead."

"There are still people who are anti-toll," he said. "But from what I've heard, the majority of citizens want us to do something quickly. A toll road is the way."

Bob Brown, deputy district engineer for the Dallas office of the Texas Department of Transportation, declined to discuss specifics about the Collin County proposal, adding that the Texas Transportation Commission in Austin will have the final say on the plan.

"In the big picture, we realize that we have assets that can generate revenue, and we believe it is in the best interest of the state to keep its assets and generate revenue," he said.

If some form of tolls are approved, construction could start in 2007, with lanes open by 2010. Without tolls, state officials say, Highway 121 would not be built for several decades.

Local leaders remain concerned about toll revenue being diverted from local projects and sent elsewhere in the region or state. They also say that the four cities and the county have contributed millions toward the purchase of land for the widened highway, and they deserve a say in its future.

Regional leaders may find themselves in a situation similar to a recent debate about placing tolls on State Highway 121 in Denton County. After dozens of meetings and intense negotiations, local cities eventually agreed to place tolls on the highway, which was already scheduled for reconstruction.

Accepting a bid from a private company to build and operate a Highway 121 toll road in Collin County may not be acceptable, and the Regional Transportation Council will not do something that does not have the support of the county and its four largest cities, said Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

"I'm still optimistic that there is a resolution in there that elected officials can reach," Mr. Morris said. "It's premature to say much until everyone can evaluate the other positions."
Staff writer Ed Housewright contributed to this report.


Dallas Morning News:


TTC: The 'Great Wall of Texas' or Redistricting on Steroids?

Opinion: ‘Cintra en Texas'

Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2005

Researching the Trans Texas Corridor on the Internet, I looked up Cintra, the company from Spain which has the contract to build it.

Its Web site,, is in Castillian Spanish, but has an English version. An article, “Cintra en Texas” features an artist's rendition of what proposed projects would look like in 20 years.

Looking through its press releases, one can read about Cintra's purchase of the Chicago Skyway and gaining a 44 percent return on its investment in only seven months.

On the Web site, I found out that Cintra has a contract to build a toll road between Dallas and Fort Worth. Its parent company, Gruppo Ferrovial, also recently purchased Webber Corp., a Dallas-Houston based company that recycles road construction materials.

After reading this, I reviewed Texas Constitutional Amendment Proposition 1, which could allow tax dollars to move private-corporation rail lines into the Trans Texas Corridor.

The corridor, with Cintra at the controls, could become the Great Wall of Texas, or maybe just redistricting on steroids.

Don Garretson


Cox Newspapers, L.P. - The Waco-Tribune


Thursday, October 13, 2005

"Private toll roads would not be financially viable without the huge government subsidies."

Taxpayers slugged for roads

October 13, 2005

By Michael West
The Australian
Copyright 2005

TAXPAYERS are subsidising the nation's biggest toll roads through billions of dollars of tax breaks to wealthy private investors in the projects.

The private toll roads would not be financially viable without the huge government subsidies, despite most being built on the premise they could be profitable on the basis of tolls alone, according to leading traffic expert John Goldberg.

Dr Goldberg says private toll roads in Sydney and Melbourne are critically dependent on government support through infrastructure bonds issued under the Howard Government's Infrastructure Borrowings Tax Offset Scheme.

"It is not the vehicle counts and the tolls alone which drives the share price (of the operators)," he says in a report released late last month.

"It is the additional interest revenue from the IBTOS and the increased borrowing."

Dr Goldberg says projects such as Melbourne's City Link and Sydney's M2 toll road would not be commercially viable without government subsidies.

Interest revenues from I-Bonds accounted for 35 per cent and 40per cent respectively of the income of the M2 and City Link projects, he says.

City Link, the nation's biggest toll road project, has $1.25 billion in capital support from I-Bonds, and the M2 gets an estimated $300million. Investors, in return for putting money into the infrastructure projects, get big tax breaks that reduce their tax bills from the top rate of 47 per cent, and return an estimated 17 per cent on the investment.

In effect, the I-bonds allow infrastructure operators such as Transurban, which runs the City Link route, and Macquarie Bank, which controlled the M2 before Transurban took it over earlier this year, to transfer their projects' tax losses to wealthy private investors.

The Government has announced it is phasing out the I-Bond scheme, but the billions of bonds still on issue continue to underwrite the toll roads.

Given the dependence on public funds, the operators are pressing for further assistance through tax schemes, sources said.

In NSW, the government under former premier Bob Carr subsidised the Macquarie Bank-operated M4 and M5 motorways by paying motorists a so-called "shadow toll" called "cash-back" through which motorists can claim back E-toll payments.

The NSW Government has also accepted up-front payments of $406.5 million from the private operators of the Cross City Tunnel, the Lane Cove Tunnel and the Westlink M7.

The shadow tolls on the M4 and M5, confirmed by NSW Roads Minister Joe Tripodi, mean that all taxpayers, and not just road users, cover the cost of major toll road projects.

The state Government will pay $83 million in support for the two toll roads this year. Since their inception in 1996, the Carr government has forked out $493million in subsidies on the M4 and the M5.

However, the Iemma Government has made it clear it would not bail out the consortium operating the recently completed Cross City Tunnel.

Copyright 2005 News Limited.


Vote to be held on funding of independent review

City to vote on funding toll road research


By Ricardo Lozano
The Daily Texan
Copyright 2005

A week from today, Austin City Council will vote on committing $140,000 to examine controversial toll road plans.

Austin and surrounding areas will spend the money to establish a steering committee to determine a course of action for the Phase Two toll road plan. The steering committee will present information to an independent consultant, who will write up a final report.

John Stephens, Austin's chief financial officer, said the plan will help determine if there are any alternatives to the plan and how many of the tolls are necessary.

"This is here to look over the shoulder at the phase two toll road plan, and study the assumptions that went into the plan," Stephens said.

In order to establish the steering committee, Austin will pay $140,000; the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority will pay $125,000; Travis and Williamson counties will pay $25,000 each; Round Rock will pay $25,000; and Hays County will pay $10,000. In total, the study will cost $325,000. The steering committee consists of 11 members: two from Austin, two from CTRMA, one each from the other counties and cities involved, one from the Texas Department of Transportation and two state representatives.

Austin Councilman Brewester McCracken is an opponent of the toll roads and said two stretches of road in particular, State Highway 71 to the Austin-Bergstom International Airport and U.S. Highway 290 at the YMCA at Oak Hill, do not need to be toll roads.

"We want to know what the alternatives are, and believe we don't have to go down this road," said McCracken, who will be one of the Austin representatives on the proposed steering committee.

But the roads, which are needed to alleviate traffic problems, will have to be created as toll roads; there isn't enough money to build them otherwise, said Mike Heiligenstein, CTRMA executive director.

"The city and the county are both putting out bond products, but there is little money there for roads. Most of everything is renovation and reconstruction, if the county and city aren't building them, then who will?" Heiligenstein said.

Citizen groups have also protested against the proposed toll roads. Last Wednesday, the People for Efficient Transportation Political Action Committee filed a lawsuit in Travis County district court against Gov. Rick Perry, TxDOT, and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, claiming that the board members of the regional toll planning organization were illegally given the ability to dispense federal funds, in violation of constitutional separation of powers.

This is the second lawsuit the political action committee has filed against the state. Earlier this year the group filed and won a lawsuit against CTRMA over the six-year terms for board members.

Sal Costello, founder of the committee, claims the intention to turn public highways into toll roads is wrong since citizens have already paid for them through fuel taxes.

"This lawsuit is about accountability I can tell you, we wouldn't have filed any lawsuit without solid legal ground," Costello said.

Heiligenstein said the lawsuit and Costello's main claim are superfluous.

No public highways are being converted into toll roads, Heiligenstein said.

"If you're driving on it for free today, then you'll be driving on it free tomorrow," Heiligenstein said.

The Daily Texan:


Survey questions were likely skewed to get pro-toll results.

Education may shift toll road acceptance into fast lane


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

If information circulating about planned toll roads in San Antonio weren't so negative, more people would warm up to the idea, a survey released Wednesday concludes.

Of 500 registered voters questioned last month on behalf of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, 49 percent said they're against toll plans while 44 percent said they're in favor.

But after being told details and how toll roads would help, the approval rate went up to 58 percent while rejections dropped to 34 percent.

The message is clear, said Marc DelSignore of Austin-based Baselice & Associates, which conducted the poll: The mobility authority's upcoming education campaign should repeat the key benefits of toll roads as much as possible to increase understanding and support.

"We have an opportunity here," he told the authority's board.

Another good sign, officials said, is that higher percentages of residents on the North Side — where most of about 70 miles of toll roads are to be built — favor the lanes.

Mobility authority Chairman Bill Thornton said he was encouraged by the results.

"We know the challenge and the opportunities before us," he said.

However, critics have doubts and said survey questions were likely skewed to get pro-toll results.

"How can we trust anything that comes from the tolling authority," said Terri Hall of Texas Toll Party — San Antonio. "If they want to really know what people think about this, put it to a vote. Stop the push polls."

Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson, who represents the North Side, surmised the poll must be flawed and joked that maybe a lot of participants are connected to road construction and engineering firms.

"I don't get that kind of feedback," he said. "People are overwhelmingly opposed."

DelSignore said the RMA needs to pound home the message that tolls will speed up construction of new highway lanes by as much as 15 years, traffic congestion will be reduced on both toll lanes and non-toll lanes, no toll booths will be used because collections will be done using electronic tags, and there always will be an option for motorists to use non-tolled lanes.

Toll opponent Michael Gravett of Encino Park said those messages misrepresent some facts.

He said there's no mention that existing highways can be downgraded to access roads, and he questioned how much gridlock would be cut since congestion on non-toll lanes is actually needed to make toll roads pay for themselves.

"That poll represents what this board wants it to represent," he said.

The poll's margin of error is 4.9 percent.

San Antonio Express-News:


"The only project more controversial than toll roads is TTC-35."


Austin Chronicle
Copyright 2005

Independent Review "highjacked" by pro-toll stakeholders.

• An agreement creating an independent review into controversial proposed "Phase 2" toll roads included in the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's "Mobility 2030" transportation plan is slated for Austin City Council approval next week, but not without further uproar. In creating the review's steering committee, an agreement between the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, Austin, and other stakeholders, including the city of Round Rock, and Travis, Williamson, and Hays counties, cites a June CAMPO decision calling for re-review of the proposed toll roads. "Phase 2" tolls would affect stretches of US 183, 290, and Loop 360, among other roads. Sal Costello and fellow toll opposers in the Austin Toll Party fear the independent study is anything but. Though most of the study is being financed by the city, Costello said its steering committee has been "hijacked" by pro-toll stakeholders, who have the votes to overpower the city. Council Member Brewster McCracken, who led the council toll revolt, called the steering committee a voteless administrative body. He said it was created so "everyone has confidence that information they feel important is considered." Himself suspicious of the financial need for tolls, McCracken said, "We are all going to agree on what the numbers are." – Wells Dunbar

Resolution supporting TTC-35 is tabled at CAMPO meeting

• A resolution in support of the I-35 segment of the Trans-Texas Corridor stalled at Monday night's meeting of the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board. Executive Director Michael Aulick, whose staff has been in talks with the TxDOT, drew up a list of conditions CAMPO might like to see on the Central Texas portion of the corridor, such as the use of SH 130 as a section of TTC-35, a commitment to relocate the Union Pacific freight rail, and comprehensive land planning in tandem with the corridor's construction planning. The North Texas region has passed its own list of conditions, but Central Texas leaders balked. Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said the only project more controversial than toll roads was TTC-35, and Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, said he has strong reservations about supporting a resolution in support of the corridor given his constituents' opposition, although he might consider a letter to TxDOT that included some of the conditions outlined by Aulick. The resolution was tabled until CAMPO's December meeting. – K.R.

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


"It is imperative that Texans recognize the truth and vote-down Propositions 1 & 9 with a vengeance."

If you want to pay costly infinite tolls on Texas roadways, then vote FOR Propositions 1 & 9

Oct 12, 2005

By Peter Stern
North Texas eNews
Copyright 2005

Despite the fact that most Texans don't want toll roads, the "brain-child" of Gov. Rick Perry, alias, "The Trans-Texas Toll Corridor" is being pushed onto Texas families swiftly and quietly via the next election's Propositions 1 & 9. Unless voters get out there and vote-down these two propositions, Perry's "dream" will become the "nightmare" of our children's children --- generations of future Texans will pay endless toll taxes.

Proposition 1 is a proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot that would establish a fund through which taxpayers would help pay for relocating freight rail lines from congested urban areas. Hailed by the governor and proponents as a needed safety measure and for easing traffic congestion in and around Texas cities, in truth it is a special interest power-play to add new taxes under a GOP platform of "No New Taxes".

In addition, Proposition 1 includes no predefined funding and 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 rail proposition ties into The Trans-Texas Corridor plan, 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. Railroad companies are known wealthy special interest contributors to Perry's campaign efforts. Proposition 1 is NOT in the best interests of most Texas families.

Proposition 9 actually was proposed and approved during the previous legislative session that authorized the legislature to increase the term for board members of a Regional Mobility Authority from two years to six years. The Texas Supreme Court recently declared the approved legislation unconstitutional; consequently, Proposition 9 is really "an end around run" by special interests to ensure a pro-toll longer term membership on RMA's.

Instead of toll taxing Texans, gasoline taxes are supposed to go into a fund used for building and maintaining our roadways. For the past decade the Texas gasoline tax has been frozen at the same rate. In addition, a large part of the collected gas taxes is diverted to higher education institutions. The governor and legislators have ensured that the large percentage of gas taxes channels to higher education institutions despite the fact that recent legislation was approved to deregulate tuition costs of higher education. By the way, as soon as deregulation became law, tuition costs have continued to increase, yet the large chunk of collected gasoline taxes still is provided to higher education.

Furthermore, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is "sitting on" taxes already paid by Texans. Instead of building, maintaining and improving roadways with those dollars, TxDOT has been ordered by the governor to find alternate "creative approaches" to develop the financing for new roadways, namely, Perry's desire for Texas Toll Corridors. TxDOT is hoping that the ongoing deterioration of well-traveled roads along with increasing traffic congestion will push most Texans to agree to toll roads. Proposition 9 is NOT in the best interests of most Texas families.

In conclusion, regarding Propositions 1 & 9, the governor and pro-toll advocates are hoping and trusting for a small voter turnout and that the majority of voters on November 8th will not see the "veiled back-door" propositions for what they are --- a massive push by special interests to bolster a lock-in on toll roads designed to push-through additional future toll road legislation. Consequently, it is imperative that Texans recognize the truth and vote-down Propositions 1 & 9 with a vengeance unless they want infinite open-ended toll road taxes for our children's children.

Peter Stern

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


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

"Scheme takes public highway projects fully funded with tax dollars, some on the verge of completion, and turns them into toll roads."

Gov. Perry sued over toll highways


Canyon Lake Times Guardian
Copyright 2005

People for Efficient Transportation, Inc. filed a lawsuit last Thursday in the District Court of Travis County, on behalf of taxpayers throughout Texas against Gov. 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.

A spokesman for PET said Gov. 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," said Sal Costello, founder of PET. "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 that the governor's "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."

Copyright © 2005 Times Guardian. All rights reserved.


TxDOT Executive Director Behrens pitches TTC-35 to rural newspaper reporters

The Trans Texas Corridor will be built ... somewhere

by Richard Stone
Editor & Publisher
The Cameron Herald
Copyright 2005

Get ready. TTC-35 is coming.

Though Michael Behrens wouldn't use those words, not exactly, and he'd probably cringe to realize it, that's the impression he left at the end of an hour and a half of questioning Thursday.

"Something is going to have to be built somewhere," the executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation said after meeting in Cameron with a group of reporters from several rural newspapers. There was touch of resignation in his voice when he said it.

The Trans Texas Corridor is a proposed multi-lane transportation network designed to carry passenger, freight, rail and utilities. The TTC-35 portion of the corridor would roughly parallel Interstate 35 from Laredo to the Oklahoma border north of Dallas. Along the way, it will slice through a portion of east Williamson and Bell counties, or a portion of west Milam and Falls counties. Maybe both.

Behrens said that traffic demands on IH-35, Texas' primary north-south transportation corridor, have grown to the point of bursting. That's what's behind the push to build this portion of the corridor now.

"We were seeing the pressures on IH-35 eight, nine years ago while we were going through this same process for Texas 130," he said, referring to the new toll road under construction looping east of Austin. "We were already thinking back then that it would have to go off and head to Dallas. I don't know about you but I've driven IH 35 many times and wished there was another road to go on."

Behrens, who has worked for TxDOT for over 35 years, often recalls Texas' early experiences with IH-35 when talking about the TTC-35 concept.

Early on, Texas didn't buy enough right-of-way for IH-35. Access to the highway was strictly controlled. Entrance and exit ramps were sharp and short. The entire concept of separating passenger and freight traffic on the highway was absurd, as was the idea of carving space out of the right-of-way for passenger and freight rail lines.

"What we're trying to do here is think ahead," Behrens said. "The interstate system was 100 percent financed by federal government. They said, 'go out an buy the right of way you think you'll need for the next 20 years.' That's how the right of way was bought."

At first, Behrens said, Texas highway planners bought 22-foot rights-of-way but, as traffic patterns and design standards changed, so did the amount of land needed to build a highway.

"I understand fully where a lot of the comments are coming from but, if you have the opportunity to travel back east, and drive on US Highways that are 22-feet wide, you see that we have better farm roads than that. They have no space."

As a result, the right of way for TTC-35 will be 1,200 feet wide, on average. That's as wide as the length of four football fields.

Two other factors are driving this concept: population growth and cost.

Behrens said that the population of Texas is expected to double in the next 25 years. An awful lot of that growth will be along IH-35 and that highway is already at capacity, he said.

The second factor is money. Texas really doesn't have the money to build this kind of highway system.

Behrens explained how Texas gets money to build and maintain highways. Most of Texas' highway dollars come from a 20-cent gasoline tax. A nickel of that goes to public education. "Last year, we got $2.2 billion from the gasoline tax," he said. "We spent $2.3 billion just to maintain our current system, the 80,000 miles of highway out there."

He said that the only money the state has to add capacity is federal dollars, of which we get back roughly 80-cents for every tax dollar we send. "That's not a lot when you look at all the needs we have, especially in this part of the state."

That's why the TCC-35 concept evolved into a toll road built and maintained by a private contractor, and one of the reasons the Texas Highway Commission chose Cintras-Zachary to build this portion of the corridor.

Cintras is the Spanish company with the money - $7.2 billion - and the experience to build and operate a public transportation system. The company will invest $6 billion in construction and pay the State of Texas $1.2 billion as a concession to operate the toll road.

Zachary is a heavy construction company based in San Antonio. This is the part of the partnership that will build the highway.

"We didn't just pick some company out there," Behrens said. "We went through a competitive process."

Money is also driving the route of the corridor.

"There have been comments suggesting [that] we just use the existing footprint of IH-35. Just widen that enough ... what ever it takes."

But, the property along IH-35 is some of the most highly valued commercial real estate in Texas.

"We do not see it as financially feasible to buy and relocate everything along existing IH-35," Behrens said. "Granted, there some areas of IH-35 not built up, and some of that is being looked at ... there might be some areas along IH-35 where we could put a new facility. We don't think that it is [feasible to buy up everything along the corridor] because we just can't afford it."

But land in this part of rural Texas isn't that expensive, which leads another reason some oppose the idea.

"One of the myths [going around is] that this company, a foreign company, is just going to come in and take our property and we'll have 90 days to get off. I can assure you that that is not the case," he said. "It's not like we'll be there today and start bulldozing tomorrow. It does not happen like that."

Because the state will actually own the land - then lease it to Cintras-Zachary on a 50-year concession - the right-of-way acquisition processes are the same for this highway as they are for any other highway the state builds.

Right now, TxDOT's highway planners are slogging through a long, detailed process of picking one 10-mile wide corridor in which to locate a 1,200-foot wide right-of-way. This has been underway for some time and is expected to conclude in the spring of 2006.

Highway planners have a similar process ahead for the more detailed studies necessary before a final route can be chosen and it will be several years before anyone will make an offer to any property owner.

"It's the same process we always use," he said. That process, of course, includes the possibility of condemnation proceedings for property owners along the final route who won't sell, Behrens said. "That process has been there a long, long time."

Even then, Berhens said, it will likely be some time before the full width of the right-of-way will be used.

"It doesn't make any sense to have the land out there underutilized," he said. "I remember about 20 years ago I was building a 4-lane divided highway [near Yoakum]. We'd bought the land but some farmers had planted corn in one area. I told them not to worry about it because it would all be harvested by the time we got that far. We do try to use some good common sense. If it's workable, we'll work with people."

Other areas of opposition to the corridor revolve around access to the highway and its impact on rural life.

Behrens acknowledged that the project will have an impact but he insists that planners are sensitive to people concerned about this disruption.

"It's hard for me to sit here today and tell you exactly how that would be addressed, but we addressed a lot of similar things on IH-35 and other major thoroughfares. In a perfect world, you would like to build these things along property lines, which is being looked and taken into consideration, but, again, it doesn't always hit all the time."

And, he noted that an intended by product of the project is for communities along the corridor to realize some economic benefit from it.

"I think you'll see development along this corridor like we saw when we built IH-35," he said. "When we get to a point that the some segments are built, the people who see the opportunities of locating along the corridor will come."

He predicted that the initial opportunities will likely service traffic on the highway but that will grow. "I truly believe that you will see companies look at properties along these corridors to locate a business, whether it would be manufacturing or warehouse distribution centers like you see now."

He also stressed that access won't be as difficult as some opponents suggest.

"You will have access at every intersection of Interstates, U.S. highways, state highways and major farm-to-market roads," he said.

He said that a look at the evolution of IH-35 would show how county roads left out of the initial plans might find access to the corridor. "Those decisions will be made when we get down to a final alignment. Go back and look at the interstates. Most county roads did not have direct access to the interstate but, through the development of frontage roads and overpasses, this was solved."

Behrens said that there is still a lot of planning and study before TTC-35 moves off the TxDOT drawing board and onto the Blackland Prairie. And, he said, the Feds could kill it, though that's unlikely.

But the problems that drew the concept to this point - growth, money and highway capacity - won't be solved until TTC-35, or something very like it, is built.

If not here, then somewhere.

Copyright © 2005 The Cameron Herald. All rights reserved.:


"The state is committing taxpayers to massive debt for generations, while private special-interest corporations profit."

Letter to the Editor: Rail fund is bad business


San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

Re: David Hendricks' column "A vote for rail relocation fund is a vote to boost S.A. economy" (Business, Oct. 5):

Would you agree to buy a car without seeing a price tag? I wouldn't either. How about buying a car without a price tag for a neighbor?

Proposition 1 is just that, but worse. It's an open-ended corporate subsidy scheme — with blank checks. Taxpayers will pay unlimited tax dollars to move private rail lines — in some cases into Gov. Rick Perry's controversial Trans Texas Corridor.

Perry promised that no public funds would be used. Did he keep his promise? No. The corridor is in direct opposition to Texas' Republican Party platform. While private special-interest corporations profit, families pay more as they help fund the largest land grab in Texas history — Perry's Trans Texas Corridor.

It gets worse. Our state debt commitment also will be open-ended for the Proposition 1 rail fund, like a credit card with no ceiling. The state is committing taxpayers to massive debt for generations, while private special-interest corporations profit. I agree that private rail, in some cases, should be relocated, but not without a price tag or terms or limits. It's fiscally irresponsible and bad business.

Let's get real. Vote no to special interests' unlimited taxes and debt.

Sal Costello, founder,

People for Efficient Transportation



San Antonio Express-News:


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

US authorities have beaten a path to MIG's door wanting "me too" style deals.

Toll roads still gold-paved

October 12, 2005

By Rod Myer
The Age, Australia
Copyright 2005

MACQUARIE Infrastructure Group is pushing on with its dramatic expansion strategy, undeterred by concerns in some quarters that listed toll roads are becoming too highly geared. MIG will next week be formally selected to lodge proposals to develop $2.1 billion worth of toll roads in the US state of Oregon, ahead of US construction giant Bechtel.

The three projects comprise a $US400 million ($A527 million), four-lane road to service the developing city of Damascus, a $US700 million expressway in the state's capital, Portland, and a 17 kilometre bypass for a congested state highway worth $US500 million.

While the roads would represent a significant addition to MIG's $8 billion-plus road portfolio, they are still at the proposal level. The first project is likely to be given the go-ahead by late 2006, the second in 2007 and the third in 2009.

MIG has almost single-handedly remade the American road business, last year paying $US1.8 billion for the 40-year-old Chicago Skyway, $US1 billion more than its nearest competitor.

As a result, US authorities have realised that their heavily leveraged freeways are an asset, not a liability and have beaten a path to MIG's door wanting "me too" style deals. So far MIG has bought the Dulles Greenway road in Virginia and is bidding for a connecting freeway, the Dulles tollway.

Its competitor Transurban is also bidding for four toll road projects in the Virginia- Washington DC area. The states of Texas and Indiana are also likely to sell off toll roads in the near future, presenting more possibilities.

MIG has tossed its hat into the ring in the world's largest single toll road privatisation. It has bid for two of three toll road systems being sold by the French Government consisting of thousands of kilometres of freeways with French construction group Eiffage.

The two road networks MIG and Eiffage have bid for are worth at least $11 billion.

While it is difficult to compare gearing levels because of the complexity of their structures, MIG appears to have expanded more aggressively than Transurban. MIG has earnings to cover its interest bill about 1.5 times while Transurban has interest cover of two times, an analyst said.

Copyright © 2005. The Age Company Ltd.:


TxDOT pushes for S.H. 249 toll road in Navasota

City council hears toll road pitch

By Dave Lewis, Managing Editor
The Navasota Examiner
Copyright 2005

The Navasota City Council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance authorizing the issuance of $285,000 in certificates of obligation Monday to pay for building the Navasota Center.

However, most of the meeting was consumed in discussion of whether or not the council favored making proposed S.H. 249 from Tomball a toll road.

Brian Woods with the TxDOT regional office in Bryan told the council and approximately a dozen in attendance that the new highway coming toward Grimes County from Houston would cost between $150-$180,000 to build. TxDOT already has the funds allocated for the Grimes County portion of the project, but that unless the four-lane divided highway comes in as a toll road, it wouldn't happen until around 2035.

As a toll road, the time frame shrinks to 2014, and, Woods added, the county would begin to realize revenue from the project in its first year.

TxDOT hasn't unveiled the exact proposed route for S.H. 249 but will do so at a public meeting Oct. 25 at 6 p.m. at Brosig Auditorium.Woods did say the road will parallel S.H. 105 and F.M. 1774 southeast of Navasota. It wouldn't add to traffic on those arteries.

”We'll propose the route Oct. 25, then see what the response is. Making the highway a toll road, ”Isn't something you have to do but it makes no sense to connect a toll road with a free highway,“ said Woods.

Groundbreaking has already taken place in Tomball on service roads for S.H. 249, which will be a toll artery in Harris County.

Answering questions about the road's proximity to the news Navasota ISD elementary in Stoneham, Woods said the route would miss the location.

Asked about double taxation - gasoline taxes being used to fund the road plus a toll structure - Woods said in a sense that was true.

Woods noted the state's fuel tax and road construction costs have not increased in relation to one another. Future road construction will have to be funded by increased fuel taxes, tolls or some other form of consumer taxation.

Woods did say that it might be possible for a local election to be held to determine if Grimes County residents wanted to pursue the toll idea or not.

Based on figures TxDOT has compiled for S.H. 249 and population growth in the area, a toll road the highway could be generating as much as $21 million a year in revenue. Overall, he said, Grimes County would realize approximately $100 million over 40 years to be used solely in the county for improvements to state-owned roads.

Woods also stated that S.H. 249 was in no way connected to plans for the I-69 Trans-Texas Corridor.

The Navasota Examiner:


Highway 249: Another part of the Trans-Texas Corridor?

OPINION: No toll road

October 11, 2005

The Navasota Examiner
Copyright 2005

On Sept. 12, the Commissioner's Court of Grimes County approved a resolution to oppose the TransTexas Corridor. Thank you commissioners and judge.

At that same Commissioner's Court meeting, Mr. Bryan Wood with TxDOT spoke to the court about a ”different“ toll road. This road will become Highway 249. It will connect Houston to Bryan-College Station. We didn't want the Aggie Expressway, so TxDOT has renamed it and is trying to push this on us instead. It certainly looks like this is just a ”portion“ of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

We live in beautiful, peaceful, small town atmospheres because we don't want to live in big, smog-filled cities. Why would we want the fast-paced, smog-ridden vehicles coming through here?

We have pastures, and woodlands. Did someone from the big cities discover that they no longer have any available land and since we do they should ”steal our land“ and fill our open spaces with toll roads and all the things that even the big cities complain about like smog, trash, bumper-to-bumper traffic? And what about the gun-toting drivers we hear about in the big cities like Houston? We don't want that here in our peaceful community do we?

There is a public meeting scheduled at 6 p.m. Oct. 25 at the junior high gym on Brosig Avenue in Navasota. Let's tell TxDOT and anyone interested in taking our choice of lifestyle away ”No Thanks.“

There are some counties in Texas that like the idea of a Texas toll road system. I say let them give up their land to TxDOT and the rest of this group.

Remember this: when our land is gone it can't be replaced. I'd rather see a pasture of cows than a herd of 18-wheelers when I look out my windows, wouldn't you?

Please attend the meeting on Oct. 25 and contact all your elected officials and tell them we don't want or need this in our county.

God Bless Grimes County and our way of life

Marie Kampbell,

The Navasota Examiner:


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Chambers and Montgomery counties will be the first to use "shadow tolls."

Alternate route to road financing

Chambers County opts to pay up front for new project, then seek reimbursement

Oct. 9, 2005,

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

A rural county east of Houston is the second in the area to adopt a new — and some say risky — way to pay for road projects.

Known as pass-through tolls (or, less flatteringly, "shadow tolls"), a county or municipality pays up front for road projects and gets reimbursed by the state based on the number of vehicles using the road.

In other words, they are not tolls at all, in the customary sense.

The funding mechanism, approved by the Texas Transportation Commission in 2003, has been used in Europe but less in the United States.

Last month, the commission authorized its executive director to negotiate a pass-through toll agreement with Chambers County.

The projected work includes extending FM 1409 from FM 565 north of Interstate 10 to FM 565 south of I-10, as well as improvements to Fisher Road, totaling about five miles of roadway.

"The county population is 26,000, but about two-thirds of those people live in the western one-third of the county. A lot of those people are commuters, going to work in Houston and ... Liberty County. This is a real necessity for us," said Don Brandon, Chambers County engineer.

Montgomery County, north of Houston, also is one of 14 counties or communities that have applied to the state for pass-through funding, according to James Bass, chief financial officer for the Texas Department of Transportation. Three applications have been approved, including Montgomery and Chambers counties.

Linda Stall, co-founder of Corridor Watch, a watchdog group monitoring development of the state's transportation system, urged communities to proceed cautiously when entering into pass-through toll agreements.

"The first time for anything is risky. We'd like to know if the citizens of Montgomery County and Chambers County were fully informed about how they'll be paid back, especially if TxDOT falls short of revenues," Stall said.

Officials in Montgomery County, the 36th fastest-growing county in the U.S., say the funding program is needed because of traffic congestion.

"This is something we should have done a long time ago. We have miles and miles of gridlock every day," said Montgomery County Judge Alan B. Sadler, who estimated that between 40 percent and 45 percent of his county's population of 293,768 commutes to Harris County daily.

In September, Montgomery County voters overwhelmingly approved a $160-million road bond measure, allowing the county to become the first to take advantage of the pass-through toll program.

The measure included $100 million to expand FM 1488, FM 1485, FM 1484 and FM 1314 from two lanes to four, and to build a direct connection between Texas 242 and Interstate 45. The remaining $60 million is earmarked for local roads.

Sadler expects the roadwork to begin by the end of this year and to be completed in about four years. County officials have said taxpayers can expect to see a 2-cent increase in the tax rate of 49.63 cents per $100 assessed valuation. For the owner of a $100,000 home, the tax bill would increase by $20 annually.

"This is just the first step in a long process," Sadler said. "We don't like adding to our debts, but this was almost a desperate act to get the job done."

Less sanguine about the funding method is David Crossley, president of the Gulf Coast Institute, a Houston-based think tank for urban issues.

"I'm deeply suspicious of so-called pass-through tolls. It looks to me like taking money from the future and spending it now, without any land-use considerations," Crossley said.

Bass said the pass-through toll idea involves potential risk for both the state and the local government.

"How much of this benefit will accrue to the state overall and how much to local interests? Ideally, both parties benefit," Bass said.

Stall wondered about the long-range planning that goes into building more and larger highways in Texas.

"How do we envision our state? Are we simply serving unlimited growth? We're changing the face of Texas so fast, maybe more than we want," she said.
Houston Chronicle: