Friday, October 28, 2005

"It's great to be working with everyone, but it does raise some questions with me about how independent the study is going to be."

Council Notes:

Set in stone ... or asphalt

Austin Chronicle
Copyright 2005

Last Thursday, with the ink barely dry on that morning's agenda, the ongoing debate over the proposed Central Texas toll road study careened onto the dais. One of the council's first items was approval of an Interlocal Agreement between Austin, Round Rock, surrounding counties, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization – all stakeholders in CAMPO's proposed, toll road-centered, mobility plan (some holding noticeably more stake than others).

Raul Alvarez had pulled the item from the consent agenda, while expressing concerns over the direction and independence of the study's steering committee. Brewster McCracken tried to sooth Alvarez concerning the study's delay, arguing that as noncity stakeholders joined what had originally been the city's get-together, the study's scope inevitably expanded.

Unsoothed, Alvarez characterized the newcomers as party crashers. "We get two votes on – potentially on – what the study says and does, versus us being the managers … driving the process," he said. "It's great to be working with everyone, but it does raise some questions with me about how independent the study is going to be." Alvarez's doubts were milder versions of the outrage already expressed by toll-road opponents, most notably the Austin Toll Party's Sal Costello.

For his part, McCracken said the study and steering committee represent "the best example of [regional] cooperation in Central Texas history" – take that, Envision Central Texas – and that any fears of the study changing direction were unfounded, as its financing makes it "pretty dang near set in stone." The measure passed 6-1, Alvarez the lone wolf. "To a certain degree," he said afterward, "it's out of our hands now."

© 2005 Austin Chronicle


"Love fest is a darkening nightmare to toll critics. "

Local group takes title to area's own toll lanes


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

CORPUS CHRISTI — Ready or not, San Antonio is officially in the toll-road business.

Alamo Regional Mobility Authority officials wheedled the Texas Transportation Commission on Thursday to get title to their first toll roads.

The commission handed over toll projects planned for Interstate 35, Bandera Road and Wurzbach Parkway and promised to lend the mobility authority up to $7.5 million in gas tax funds to get started.

“We will take this very seriously and do a good job,” authority Chairman Bill Thornton told commissioners.

Just a few months ago, local and state officials were trading barbs over how to be partners with private firms that want to build and operate toll roads. At Thursday's meeting, everybody spoke softly and smiled.

“I'm pleased that we finally have arrived,” Commissioner Hope Andrade said.

Thornton said he was, too.

“Thank you for the way we're being managed in this,” he said.

But the love fest is a darkening nightmare to toll critics.

“It's really unfortunate because the constituency clearly doesn't want toll roads,” said North Side activist Dave Ramos. “It's really a sad day for the taxpayer.”

Pro-toll officials disagree, saying Thursday that people across the state have warmed up to the idea of toll roads.

“It's almost overnight. People have opened their eyes,” commission Chairman Ric Williamson said.

Meanwhile, with three projects, the mobility authority is juggling a larger package of toll roads than those in Austin. But they're a lot further behind.

That's because $439 million in public money and $397 million in potential toll-backed bonds doesn't even cover half of the $2.2 billion construction job, which is supposed to happen over the next 25 years.

No other money is earmarked. And there's no specific timetable.

“We've got to find a way to do that, or build it in stages,” said Tom Griebel, director of the mobility authority.

Plans call for toll lanes to be added to Interstate 35 from downtown to Schertz and on Bandera Road between loops 410 and 1604. Also, a tolled interchange would be built at Wurzbach Parkway and U.S. 281.

The Transportation Commission is expected to approve the $7.5 million loan to kick off the work when it meets next month.

In other action Thursday, commissioners approved a $1 million loan so the mobility authority can help evaluate proposals from private companies that want to take over the city's most profitable toll roads.

The state still controls the proposed 47-mile system that investors are eyeing, though ownership could be passed on to the mobility authority. Toll lanes would be built on Loop 410 and U.S. 281 on the North Side.

Two private consortiums submitted proposals by Thursday's deadline: the Cintra Zachry Partnership and the Macquarie 1604 Partnership.

San Antonio Express-News:

"The people of San Antonio should tell the state government how we feel by voting against Proposition 9."

Comment: Toll road backers' math doesn't add up


Robert McKechnie
Consulting Engineer, MTC Technologies

San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

In his comment " Toll roads will keep Texas on right path " (Saturday), Joseph Krier claims toll roads are the best way to go and then makes an unverified statement that the alternative is a very substantial increase in state gasoline taxes — a statement that no one has quantified.

The people asked for an independent review of the U.S. 281 toll effort, which might have answered this question, but elected officials on the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, voted against it (City Councilmen Richard Perez, Chip Haass and Art Hall and County Commissioner Sergio Rodriguez), with only County Commissioners Lyle Larson and Tommy Adkisson voting for it.

Krier is incorrect, as there is plenty of money — more than $5 billion per year, based on state comptroller reports — for roads. San Antonio doesn't get its fair share, as we get only $100 million per year.

The problem is that it is not correctly prioritized by the Texas Department of Transportation and Texas Transportation Commission. People should contact their state representatives and state senators. The governor's office is also at fault.

Another incorrect statement is being made by the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, or RMA, and Krier. They both claim the tolls will pay for the roads and provide more money for other local projects. What they haven't said is that the Texas Department of Transportation plans to award the work to a foreign group, Cintra, and its local partner Zachry American Infrastructure, which would keep the tolls for the next 50 years. So if Zachry-Cintra gets the award, why do we need the Alamo RMA, which is funded at $1 million per year with tax funds?

The math just doesn't add up. How can a 10-mile stretch of U.S. 281 fund itself with a toll and provide money for other projects even if the Department of Transportation awards the contract to someone other than Zachry-Cintra? Remember the Comal County commissioners refused to support tolling their part of U.S. 281 because they looked at the math.

The voters need to get control of this process by dumping the RMAs and making the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization have only elected officials as voting members so it is responsible to us. If Gov. Rick Perry really cared, he would get a constitutional amendment on the ballot where the voters could vote on any toll road projects and not have these non-elected groups place a tax on us by asking us to pay a toll on a road already paid for.

With state law saying no existing road can be tolled, the Alamo RMA has come up with its own definition to allow for tolling U.S. 281 by saying if there are as many non-tolled lanes as tolled lanes, it doesn't violate state law. Since the RMA is not a court, its definition of a state law isn't binding, should be ignored and should be challenged in court.

The people of San Antonio should tell the state government how we feel by voting against Proposition 9, which would change the state constitution to allow for longer terms for appointed members of the RMA, further removing them from our control.

We need to force the state to step back and look at this toll road mess that it created. This can be done by voters getting their state legislators to put a hold on any toll roads until the voters get their say.

Robert McKechnie, a consulting engineer for MTC Technologies, has more than 46 years of government and industrial experience.

San Antonio Express-News:

"Robin Hood hasn't worked for education, and Robin Hood isn't going to work for transportation either"

Toll increase plan has drivers asking 'Why us?'

October 27, 2005


WFAA-TV Dallas
Copyright 2005

The increase in toll could have some paying an extra $8 to $10 a month.

Political opposition seems to be growing on a plan to increase tolls in 2007 on the Dallas North Tollway and George Bush Turnpike to help build a new toll road in Fort Worth.

The Dallas North Tollway and the George Bush Turnpike are rivers of steel, concrete and cash.

But the North Texas Tollway Authority said it may need more of that cash for two new projects. And to get those funds, they plan on higher tolls.

The two projects include the eastern extension of the George Bush Turnpike in northeast Dallas County and a new project that includes a separate toll road at Southwest Parkway in Fort Worth.

"Today we may be using some money out of Dallas or Collin," said Chuck Silcox, Fort Worth Mayor Pro Tem. "But tomorrow, Denton, Collin or Dallas could literally be utilizing the profits off of Southwest Parkway."

NTTA is looking at increasing the toll for a one way trip on the Dallas North Tollway from $2.10 to $2.30. For the commuter making a daily round trip over an average 21 work days in a month, that's more than an $8 increase.

On the Bush Turnpike, one way could go from $3.00 to $3.25. A daily round trip over 21 work days in that area would mean a $10 monthly jump.

Finding support from Tollway drivers wasn't easy.

"This is Dallas," said one driver. "Let Fort Worth pay for Fort Worth."

Another driver also expressed annoyance at the plan.

"I don't go over to Fort Worth," he said.

Those drivers seem to have a political ally in Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher.

"Since tolls are user fees, they ought not to have to be paying for a project that they are not going to use," Keliher said

Keliher claims Southwest Parkway should be self-supporting. Silcox does not agree.

"To charge a toll that would make it self-supporting would make it astronomical," he said.

But Keliher said there has already been a plan that has proven Silcox wrong.

"Robin Hood hasn't worked for education, and Robin Hood isn't going to work for transportation either," she said.




Thursday, October 27, 2005

Union Pacific Profits Surge. Profits rise 83%.

Union Pacific profit surges on tax gain, economy

Thu Oct 27, 2005
Copyright 2005

BOSTON, Union Pacific Corp. (UNP.N: Quote, Profile, Research), the largest U.S. railroad, on Thursday said quarterly profit rose 83 percent, boosted by a one-time tax benefit and heavy traffic of consumer goods, while Hurricane Rita hampered the transport of chemical products.

The rail operator posted a third-quarter net profit of $369 million, or $1.38 cents per share, versus $202 million or 77 cents per share a year earlier. Operating revenue rose 13 percent to $3.5 billion.

Excluding a $118 million gain from a lower nontax cash expense, Union Pacific's earnings totaled 94 cents per share. That beat analysts' expectations of 91 cents a share and revenue also exceeded Wall Street estimates of $3.38 billion.

Union Pacific said last month that earnings would come in at the low-to-mid end of its previous earnings estimate range in the third quarter due to the impact of Hurricane Rita.

While a strong economy continues to drive the demand for the transport of goods, the effect of hurricanes Katrina and Rita hurt earnings from other rail operators Norfolk Southern Corp. (NSC.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and CSX Corp (CSX.N: Quote, Profile, Research).

Railroads continue to thrive in the face of high oil prices, because fuel accounts for a smaller portion of operating costs for rail as compared to truckers, making it a cost-effective alternative for hauling goods.

"We saw solid revenue growth in all six of our business segments in the quarter," Union Pacific Chief Executive Dick Davidson said in a statement. "With the exception of autos, demand across the board continues to be remarkably strong."

Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (BNI.N: Quote, Profile, Research) are both coping with two major derailments in the Powder River Basin, a region in Montana and Wyoming where most of the U.S. coal is mined.

Earlier this week, Burlington Northern said capacity out of the region should be greatly improved next year, but supply will still far outstrip demand from utility companies running low on coal inventory.

Year to date, shares of Union Pacific rose 3 percent, lagging behind an 11 percent rise on the S&P Railroads index.

© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.


"Krusee pursuaded other lawmakers to allow large counties borrow money for pass-through toll programs without a public vote."

County, state to agree on 'shadow tolls'

Williamson County would front money for six road projects, then be paid back by state based on traffic on the roads

October 27, 2005

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2005

Today, the Texas Transportation Commission probably will approve an agreement allowing Williamson County to build -- years ahead of schedule, officials say -- six state highway expansions and safety projects at a cost of $132 million.

The county, using a combination of financial instruments, would have to front the money to design the projects, buy some of the right of way and then build them.

County staff and consultants, not the Texas Department of Transportation, would oversee the projects from beginning to end.

"This accelerates projects in Williamson County a quarter of a century," said Bob Daigh, the Austin district engineer for the state Transportation Depart- ment.

The state Transportation Department, under a still-new pass-through toll program, would pay back most of the money over the next 10 to 20 years. Based on the estimates, which include about $58.2 million in interest on debt, the county in the end would have to pay $21 million, or about 11 percent of the total cost.

Motorists would not pay tolls to drive the roads. The state will reimburse the county based on traffic the roads carry, a stipulation designed to confine investments to heavily travelled projects. The reimbursement rate is 10 cents for every vehicle-mile driven on the roads, up to a maximum of $15.2 million a year.

Once all the projects are complete (which should be by the end of 2009), the state would pay the county a minimum of $7.6 million a year. The payments to Williamson County would stop once the total reaches $152.9 million. The state will also cover 90 percent of right-of-way costs.

Under the program, two stretches of U.S. 79 east and west of Taylor would be expanded from four-lane undivided road to a safer, four-lane divided highway; northbound and southbound U-turns would be added at the Interstate 35/Texas 29 interchange; a two-lane stretch of RM 2338 north of FM 3405would be widened; FM 1660 north and south of Hutto would be straightened; and a four-lane undivided stretch of U.S. 183 north of Leander would be changed to four widely spaced frontage road lanes -- a cradle for a future toll road connecting to U.S. 183-A to the south.

The pass-through toll program was created by a 2003 state law carried by Rep. Mike Krusee, a Williamson County Republican. But because cities and counties eligible for the program have to furnish the money up front, few leaped to use it.

Outside of Dallas and Harris counties, which had the ability to borrow money and repay it with the expected revenue from the state, local officials would have had to ask voters to authorize selling bonds backed by property taxes.

Given limits on how much tax-supported debt local governments can carry, along with the costs of services they have to pay for, few could spare the money for pass-through toll projects.

Only Montgomery County and two cities -- Port Arthur and Weatherford, home of Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson -- have completed such so-called shadow toll agreements with the state.

The interest has picked up in recent months, mostly because Krusee persuaded lawmakers this spring to allow other large counties (those with at least $100 million in current debt) to borrow money for pass-through toll programs without a public vote.

Seven other counties, including Hays and Williamson, and four cities and towns -- San Marcos among them -- now have pending agreements with the state. If officials approve all of the deals, Texas would have to pay for about $850 million in projects.

Other counties, including Travis County, have been leery about the program. Improvements on state highways have traditionally been paid 100 percent by the state, so even a minimal county contribution constitutes an added cost.

Travis County has no current plans to apply for a pass-through program.

"That's one of the big questions: What's the give, and what's the get?" said Travis County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner. "Is this a secure deal? Can you take it to the bank?"

The answer is yes, say Daigh and Mike Weaver, a transportation consultant working for Williamson County on the pass-through agreement and the county's $350 million road bond program. The money for pass-through payments will come from gas tax revenue, specifically a $200 million a year account called "strategic priority" money that is dispensed at the sole discretion of state transportation commissioners.; 445-3698

© 2005 Austin American-Statesman:


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

State officials "hide behind regional mobility authorities."

Larson says residents don't like toll roads


Chuck McCollough
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson said 95 percent of the North Side neighborhood groups he's talked with are against toll roads and worried about related issues such as increased cut-through traffic in their neighborhoods due to the tolls.

The Precinct 3 commissioner appeared before the District 10 Neighborhood Alliance on Oct. 17 to talk about what he calls the effort to force tolling on the North Side. His precinct includes most of the north side of the county.

Several members of the alliance said cut-through traffic in their neighborhoods near U.S. 281 is bad now and will get worse if toll roads are built on that highway. Larson said many motorists will drive through subdivisions rather than pay tolls, and during construction of the toll roads along U.S. 281 and other highways, a lot of traffic will take alternate routes through nearby neighborhoods.

"I saw a poll in the newspaper that said something like 56 percent of the people support tolls. They are not talking to the neighborhoods in the North Side of San Antonio that I'm talking with because those neighborhoods are overwhelmingly against it," Larson said.

A recently released survey done by the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority said toll roads had a more favorable rating once people learned details about the plan.

Of 500 registered voters questioned in September, 49 percent said they were against toll plans while 44 percent were in favor. But after being told details and how toll roads would help, the approval rate went up to 58 percent and opposition was 34 percent, the mobility authority said in an Oct. 13 Express-News story.

Larson said traffic congestion on San Antonio's North Side, especially on Loop 1604, Interstate 10 and U.S. 281, is largely the result of two factors — underestimating and underfunding.

"San Antonio's road needs were well planned by TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) regarding (Loop) 410 and (Loop) 1604. But the problem is they did not continue to fund increased traffic capacity for those roadways as the city grew," he said.

"TxDOT will tell you they underestimated growth on the North Side by 17 years, and that has created our problems today."

And, Larson charged, the Alamo City has been shortchanged by the state.

"For 14 years going into 2002, we were getting 80 percent of the (state) fuel tax (on gasoline purchases) back compared to Dallas, Houston and Austin getting back between 90 and 95 percent of their fuel tax. If we had gotten that additional 10 percent over a 10-year period, San Antonio would have received an additional $400 million to $450 million. That would have fixed the 1604 intersections at 281 and 1-10 and gone a long way to completing 281 North," Larson said.

Local TxDOT official Clay Smith said San Antonio didn't receive the same percentage of state fuel tax return as Houston and Dallas during the 1990s because traffic congestion and the need for roadway improvements were greater in the larger cities.

"The funding formula for mobility needs was different during that decade. Our level of congestion was not as high as Houston and Dallas during the 1990s," said Smith, director of transportation, planning and development in the San Antonio district.

Smith said San Antonio should have gotten more revenue than Austin during the 1990s, based on the same congestion funding formula.

"As of 2003, a new funding formula was developed, and San Antonio now is equal to Dallas and Houston in percentage of state fuel tax return," he said.

Larson, who has been part of transportation discussions for the Alamo City area for a number of years, said his stance of demanding answers on tolling has made him something of a pariah with state officials.

"I'm blackballed from the governor's office, but it is important to get state officials to talk about tolling," he said, adding that state officials won't take a position on toll roads and instead "hide behind regional mobility authorities."

Larson said the local Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, which decides which road projects get federal money, came up with strategies to fix areas of major congestion on the North Side without tolling, but the pro-tolling lobby is forcing it on the public.

"If you look at toll road plans for San Antonio, they are all on the North Side. They (TxDOT) plan to use traditional transportation funding in other parts of San Antonio and leave tolling for the North Side just because residents here have a little bit more discretionary funds, and that is just not fair. Tolling should be done equally around town," he said.

Alamo Regional Mobility Authority Chairman Bill Thornton said there is a good reason why all tolls are planned for the North Side.

"The North Side has had explosive growth and has the most traffic congestion — one of the things needed for a toll-road system. It also has the other thing necessary for a toll-road system, the viability of people who want it, enough people who will travel on a toll-road system," Thornton said.

Thornton, a former San Antonio mayor, said work on the first toll roads along U.S. 281 is set to begin in January or February.

"They will add additional lanes and overpasses to 281 north of Loop 1604," he said.

Art Garza with the El Dorado Homeowners Association attended the meeting and said the tolling picture is wrong.

"I don't find resistance to tolling per se in my neighborhood or other neighborhoods. The resistance comes from converting existing highways to toll roads when we already have paid for the existing highways."

Larson said he shares that concern and would support a new toll road like Texas Highway 130 that will parallel Interstate 35. The commissioner said there are plans to toll the middle section of the Wurzbach Parkway over U.S. 281 and to toll parts of an expanded Bandera Road, including possibly elevated sections.

Larson urged the alliance to get information and take a position on toll roads in San Antonio and then contact state legislators.

District 10 Alliance President John Clamp said the group will invite a pro-toll group or spokesman to address the group soon and then consider taking a position on the matter.

"Right now we are getting information, like we did with Commissioner Larson. Early next year we would like to talk with state Rep. Joe Straus (who represents the area) on the toll-road issue.

"Next year is an election year, and we need to find out where our state lawmakers stand on toll roads for San Antonio," he added.

© 2005 San Antonio Express-News:


"They like not having accountability."

County to solicit toll-road plans

Copyright 2005

Harris County officials agreed Tuesday to solicit investment banks for plans to privatize the toll road authority despite a transportation watchdog group's concerns about selling or leasing the system.

Citizens Transportation Coalition questioned why the group appointed by Commissioners Court to study plans for privatizing the toll road includes only officials, but no neighborhood constituents.

"Where are the citizens? They don't want to have any kind of flak or change what they want to do. They like not having accountability," said Christine Levin, a coalition board member who is a frequent toll -road user.

County Judge Robert Eckels said, "The citizens are represented by the officials. ... So the citizens are well-represented."

© 2005 Houston Chronicle:


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

"We're still wide open for them to go in and take our land."

Perry signs property rights law

October 25, 2005

By B.J. Pollock Tuesday,
Fort Bend Herald
and Texas Coaster
Copyright 2005

Gov. Rick Perry's ceremonial signing of the eminent domain bill Monday in Waco didn't get a positive reaction from his rival for his 2006 reelection, Republican Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, or from Richmond resident and private property rights activist Jack Myska.

Strayhorn accused Perry of grandstanding and said the bill is filled with loopholes, and Myska concurred.

"I agree with her wholeheartedly," Myska said Tuesday morning, adding he has not yet read the bill thoroughly.

Perry officially signed the law into effect on Sept. 1, but the ceremonial signing was postponed due to hurricanes Rita and Katrina. He said Monday the bill will ‘‘close a door the Supreme Court jarred open.''

But Myska said, "That's not what we need. We need a constitutional amendment. If 51 percent of the Legislature voted to give Wal-Mart or one of the other big-box stores an exception, they can do it.

Rep. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, however, told the Fort Bend Herald Tuesday morning the chances of 51 percent of the Legislature approving such a request are slim, and the bill passed by the Legislature in August's special session is a "quick step" that ensures private property owners' rights while a committee is studying the matter further.

Hegar said when the special session first began, he wanted a constitutional amendment regarding the eminent domain issue, but soon realized it would take quite some time to make certain the amendment would address all necessary matters. He said numerous entities such as the Texas Municipal League, counties, sports authorities, hospital districts and the like "all wanted exceptions."

"We even had the universities coming in," he said, adding he quickly realized "there was a lot of need to truly go through and try to figure out specifically what to do."

"So how do you come up with a constitutional amendment immediately in the Legislature and not have unintentional consequences?" Hegar asked rhetorically, explaining once a constitutional amendment is passed, it would be difficult to change. "You want to make sure what you're putting in is the right thing."

But Myska said the bill "still leaves us vulnerable," which 'is really disturbing to me."

"There are lots and lots of questions unanswered," he said. "One of my biggest disappointments is the farm Bureau in Waco. They were fighting this thing, then all of a sudden, they (backed it). I called them and they said, 'Well, we felt like we just couldn't get anything more now, and we're trying to get an amendment.'"

Texas lawmakers reviewed eminent domain laws following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that backed government's power to take private land for economic development as a way to increase tax revenue.

The Texas Association of Realtors, which endorsed Perry's 2006 campaign last month, made the bill he signed into effect last month and again Monday one of its top priorities.

The Waco Tribune-Herald reported Perry said Monday at the Waco Association of Realtors office, "We believe government should not encroach upon the private property rights unless there is an eminent public need. Eminent domain for public use is a necessary power. Eminent domain for private use is a great threat. There is a new law in place that ensures a developer's dream for a new strip mall or a new skyscraper does not take precedence over your dream of owning your own home."

Hegar told the Fort Bend Herald he doesn't want to lessen private property rights or allow government to take land from private property owners.

"The first step taken in the special session is not the last step," he said. "We all want to protect private property rights."

Myska said the bill in question is a method to "get a right-of-way for the purpose of transporting pipelines and for the railroad."

"Somebody involved in the Trans-Texas Corridor got the pressure to get that ruling out. The state of Texas is not in the railroad transportation business, and not in the pipeline business," he said, adding the Trans-Texas Corridor "is a real bothersome thing to me. Relocating railroads is a big part of the entire picture. They're trying to get an amendment through that would give them a giant source of money to do it, and we, the people, would have to pay for it.

"We should have gotten a constitutional amendment, and I think we're still wide open for a terrific amount of abuse," Myska insisted.

"I don't think we got even close to what we need,' he said of the bill signed by Perry. "Strayhorn is exactly right: We're still wide open for them to go in and take our land."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

© 2005 Fort Bend Herald:


All toll roads lead to Williamson County

Many counties oppose TTC

Williamson County officials stand by plan

By Kurt Johnson
Taylor Daily Press
Copyright 2005

The Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) has been supported by the elected leaders of Williamson County, and SH 130, the new north-south toll road opening in 2007, is a major piece of that statewide project.

But all Texas counties aren't as embracing of toll roads. Thirty-two counties have passed official resolutions opposing them, and opposing the TTC.

In addition to buying and donating right-of-way for the toll roads, Williamson County also helped by steering the project past environmental hurdles, including the protection of endangered species.

Since 2003, when the push to establish SH 130 and Texas 45 began, commissioners and legislators representing Williamson County have worked hard to make the projects happen. In two years of discussions at commissioners court meetings and other forums, officials have pointed to the need for toll roads as a means of solving the area's traffic congestion problems.

“Williamson County is growing so fast it would be impossible to keep up using normal highway funding,” Pct. 4 Commissioner Frankie Limmer said. “I don't know of any other way to do it so that people can get where they need to go.”

State Rep. Mike Krusee of Round Rock and Senator Steve Ogden of Bryan both represent Williamson County in the state legislature, and both have been proponents of toll roads as a means of solving the area's transportation problems.

Limmer replaced Pct. 2 Commissioner Greg Boatright earlier this year as Williamson County's representative on the board of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), and he said he feels the heat at every session of those in opposition to the toll roads.

“They're very critical,” Limmer said. “Trying to solve transportation problems is very difficult in the face of that.”

Resolutions passed by commissioners in the 32 counties opposing the TTC don't see it that way. Most of those counties are in rural areas and might be traversed by a transportation corridor up to a quarter-mile wide. The resolution passed by Fayette County is representative of the language the counties use in stating their opposition.

The Fayette County resolution says that the TTC:

“Would negatively affect rural Texas, splitting farms and ranches, uprooting wildlife, and have a negative impact on the local economy;

“Would place concentrated resource conveyances in a corridor that would allow terrorists to attack such resources;

“Is an outmoded technology, and that other technologies should be used that utilize existing rights-of-way;

“Would cost at least $184 billion if completely built out by the state.”

Limmer said in both county commissioner and CAMPO meetings that he understands the opposition to toll roads and the TTC.

“In a perfect world, we wouldn't want to do it,” Limmer said, “but in Williamson County, we desperately need the highways.”

The money side of toll roads also has drawn pointed arguments.

Limmer said it obviously takes money to build the roads. He also points out that the tolls that are collected will allow additional roadways to be built as they are needed in addition to providing maintenance dollars.

However, Williamson County stands to gain substantially from at least one aspect of toll roads - the fines collected from motorists who speed or who don't pay their tolls.

By Limmer's own estimate, the Pct. 4 justice of the peace will net more than $1 million per year from fines, and that's after expenses are paid for building and operating a new county annex in Hutto. Other county precincts will also collect revenues from the fines.

The 32 counties that have passed anti-TTC resolutions are:

Bastrop, Blanco, Bosque, Brewster, Colorado, Concho, Edwards, Falls, Fayette, Gillespie, Gonzales, Grimes, Guadalupe, Hill, Kendall, Kerr, Kimble, LaSalle, Lee, Limestone, Live Oak, McCulloch, McLennan, McMullen, Mason, Menard, Milam, Navarro, Raines, Real, Waller and Wharton.

Copyright © 2005 Taylor Daily Press:


Perry grandstands, signs watered-down eminent domain bill

Perry comes to Waco to sign eminent domain bill

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

By Dan Genz Tribune-Herald staff writer

Waco Tribune Herald
Copyright 2005

Gov. Rick Perry ceremonially signed a new property rights law Monday in Waco, saying Texas will protect homeowners from losing land to private economic development projects.

The law, which the Legislature passed in August in response to a controversial June U.S. Supreme Court decision, restricts a governmental body's power of eminent domain to seize private property.

“We believe government should not encroach upon the private property rights unless there is an eminent public need,” Perry said. “Eminent domain for public use is a necessary power. Eminent domain for private use is a great threat.”

Saying he and the Legislature attempted “to close a door the Supreme Court jarred open,” Perry received a standing ovation from more than 60 people at the Waco Association of Realtors office, which supported the legislation.

“There is a new law in place that ensures a developer's dream for a new strip mall or a new skyscraper does not take precedence over your dream of owning your own home,” Perry said.

The majority of the Supreme Court justices ruled in the case that prompted the law, Kelo vs. the city of New London, Conn., that a city was justified in seizing property from homeowners and transferring the land to developers if it would produce higher tax revenues for the government.

The Texas Association of Realtors, who endorsed Perry's 2006 campaign last month, made the bill one of its top priorities this year, and the legislation passed during the second special session Perry had called to address the state's ongoing school finance problems.

Pat Nix, president of the Waco Association of Realtors, introduced Perry as a “great man” and during an interview said the law was the biggest issue for real estate agents this summer.

“If your property is going to be taken by government, you have to be fairly compensated,” Nix said.

The meeting had the appearance of a campaign rally and an official government function, with a few audience members holding Realtors for Perry signs during the speech and with Perry standing behind an podium bearing the governor's seal at a post-speech news conference.

Perry said he scheduled the ceremonial function in Waco, in part, because, “I haven't been to Waco in a while.”

Perry is running for re-election in 2006 against fellow Republican Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

Strayhorn's office, when reached for comment, provided an Aug. 31 news release in which she called the bill “filled with loopholes” and accused Perry of grandstanding.

Upbeat and intent on visiting with almost every guest after his speech, Perry greeted one supporter's “How are you doing?” with “Best you ever seen” and a hearty handshake. He posed for at least 20 photos, mingled with the two lawmakers on hand and signed a business card for a fan.

After signing the bill, Perry handed his pen to state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, a freshman lawmaker who said he was involved in crafting the law behind the scenes this summer.

“The decision came out on a Wednesday, and we were on the phone on the Thursday,” Anderson said. He had hoped for a constitutional amendment, which he said would offer property owners stronger protection.

Perry actually signed the law Sept. 1, but the state's response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita forced him to delay plans for the ceremonial speech and visit in Waco.


© 2005 The Waco Tribune Herald


"I am skeptical that the deal makes financial sense."

Banks, firms set sights on 83 miles of toll roads

Harris County commissioners will weigh leasing system to operator


Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2005

In 1999, the Spanish toll company Cintra paid $3 .1 billion Canadian for the right to operate a 42-mile toll road in Toronto.

In January, the Cintra-Macquarie Consortium ponied up $1.83 billion to lease operating rights to the eight-mile Chicago Skyway for 99 years.

Astute financiers worldwide have begun viewing busy toll roads that draw hundreds of thousands of drivers daily as long-term investment opportunities, and the Harris County Toll Road Authority is among the systems attracting interest.

Investment banks and private toll -road operators have put out feelers to the county, saying it might be able to lease the 83-mile system for $2 billion to $7 billion.

Such numbers got the attention of county officials. Harris County Judge Robert Eckels is among those who say road bond referendums could become a thing of the past if such a windfall were received and the interest was used to pay for street construction, repairs and other transportation needs, such as commuter rail lines.

But a local watchdog group remains skeptical. Its members wonder whether the toll -road system, which they say has been prone to secrecy for decades, would be less transparent than ever under a private operator.

"Many, many members of our organization are concerned the accountability will be less if the toll roads are run by a private company," said Robin Holzer, chair of the Citizens Transportation Coalition.

Commissioners Court is expected today to give the go-ahead to a comprehensive study that will determine whether it is in the public's and the county's interest to fully or partially privatize the toll road. The plan calls for the county to ask selected investment banks to submit proposals about the toll road's future.

The court also will consider whether it should create a working group that will help review proposals about the toll road's future.

The study will consider which of the following options is best for the toll road users, the county and its long-term financial stability.

The county could:

Keep the toll -road authority as is.

Sell parts or all of the system to a private firm or to a partnership between a private firm, the county and a newly created regional mobility organization. Such a sale might net $2.7 billion to $4.4 billion, concluded First Southwest Co., the county's financial adviser.

Or it could lease the right to operate the system for 50 to 75 years to a private firm or to a partnership between a private firm, county and the regional group. Such a deal could net the county $2 billion to $7 billion, according to investment banks.

Under a public-private partnership, the county could hold no more than a 49 percent interest. A private firm and a regional mobility organization would control the remaining 51 percent.

The organization, Eckels said, would include members appointed by Harris County, surrounding counties and Gov. Rick Perry.

Commissioner Sylvia Garcia said, "The study will explore our options and look at what the future of the toll -road authority ought to be. We would be remiss in our responsibility not to look at this."

The county considered leasing toll -road operator rights in 1999, but the idea died. But Eckels and other influential county figures, such as Dick Raycraft, who oversees the county's budget and long-term financial planning, now want the court to seriously examine privatization.

Some court members already know where they stand. In the past weeks, Commissioner Steve Radack has said he will not oppose the privatization study. But he said he will oppose privatizing the toll road in any way.

Holzer said private firms want to operate the toll road because they know that they can make money on top of whatever was required to be paid to the county. She wondered why the county just doesn't make the money itself rather than give a private firm a cut of its take.

"I am skeptical that the deal makes financial sense. Some people will be tempted by the thought, `Hey, we can have money now instead of later,' " she said.

© 2005 Houston Chronicle:


Monday, October 24, 2005

Our legislators can't seem to come up with enough money for basic education, yet they want over $20 billion to subsidize privately owned rail lines.


ENDORSEMENTS: Early voting begins today

The Daily Texan
Copyright 2005

Today is the first day of early voting in the 2005 Texas Constitutional Amendment Election. This year, the Texas Legislature's wish list consists of nine amendments and their purposes range from reasonable to absurd. The following are the Texan Editorial Board's suggestions for sifting through the jargon-filled ballot:

Proposition 1 - No
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.

The amendment looks to spend around $20 billion over the next 20 years on renovating both public and private rail facilities. It proposes doing this through the use of bonds and the state's general revenue. In a time where our legislators can't seem to come up with enough money to give the state's children a basic education, it seems unreasonable to be subsidizing the rejuvenation of privately-owned rail lines.

Proposition 2 - No!

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.

This amendment attempts to write close-minded bigotry into our state constitution and needs to be soundly rejected. It is a direct affront, not only to the GLBT community, but to everyone who expects the government to treat all citizens with equal respect. We should always be weary of laws that target one group and do not apply to the entire community. In cases of constitutional amendments, that weariness should turn to vigilance.

Gay marriage is already illegal in Texas. Short of politics and spite, there is no reason continue pushing the point. If you don't vote on another proposition in this election, at least vote against Proposition 2.

Proposition 3 - Yes

Clarifying that certain economic development programs do not constitute a debt.

HJR 80 clarifies Section 52-a, Article III of the Texas Constitution, which authorizes the Legislature to provide for the use of public money for economic development purposes. It will grant the Legislature authority to create statutory programs for economic grants and loans. HJR 80 will help provide a variety of economic development programs that attract new business, resulting in increased employment and tax revenue for cities across Texas.

Proposition 4 - No

Authorizing the denial of bail to a criminal defendant who violates a condition of the defendant's release pending trial.

This amendment will add to the list of circumstances for which a judge can revoke bail for a defendant. Under the Texas Constitution, a district judge may deny bail before a trial to a person accused of a felony other than a capital felony in three instances: if the person has two or more prior felony convictions, if the felony was committed while on bail for a prior felony, or if the felony involved the use of a deadly weapon and the person has a prior felony conviction. Under SJR 17, if the state can prove an accused person violated one or more provisions for bail relating to the safety of a victim or the general community, a district judge can revoke bail.

This amendment puts denial of bail in the hands of a judge. The amendment doesn't specify what constitutes violating bail related to the safety of the community or victim. Therefore, a judge's bias on what constitutes a violation of bail has a wide spectrum of possibilities and grants a large amount of power of a judge over a defendant.

Proposition 5 - No

Allowing the Legislature to define rates of interest for commercial loans.

Seemingly the only purpose for this amendment is to try and lure large banks to headquarter in Texas. The amendment would allow the state's interest ceilings - which are in place to protect borrowers from usury - to be removed for certain "large commercial loans." Banks from outside the state are already allowed to charge higher than ceiling interest rates in Texas. Exempting large loans from the ceiling would potentially attract larger banks to move here, but in doing so it would make it necessary for smaller banks to receive exemptions as well. This looks like a first step toward totally eliminating the state's interest ceilings which would be bad news for borrowers.

Proposition 6 - Yes

To include one additional public member and a constitutional county court judge in the membership of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct is responsible for investigating allegations of judicial misconduct and for disciplining judges. Eleven members currently serve a six-year term on the commission, four of whom are citizens and are not licensed to practice law or hold public office.

Two additional members will provide for greater professional diversity on the commission. Diversity increases the variety of perspectives on each issue the commission will examine and will provide a more holistic ruling. Increasing the diversity of the commission will also increase the fairness and integrity of the investigation and disciplinary processes of judges.

Proposition 7 - Yes

Authorizing line-of-credit advances under a reverse mortgage.

Under current Texas law, senior homeowners (age 62 or older) are only allowed to receive reverse mortgage advances in one lump sum or in equal monthly payments. This amendment would allow senior homeowners to take advances from their reverse mortgage as the money is needed, in whatever increments they see fit. This gives seniors more freedom in determining how they will use their mortgages, and is already legal in every other state. Opponents of this amendment argue it will give lenders an easier way to exploit the seniors it claims to help. But the line-of-credit option could actually allow seniors to accrue less debt.

Proposition 8 - No

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 and Smith Counties.

The proposed amendment is limited to specific territorial land disputes in Upshur and Smith Counties and would have no impact on any other land dispute involving the state. The dispute should be settled in court. If the amendment sets no precedent for land disputes in other Texas counties, the battle with Upshur and Smith should not be decided by citizens who don't live in those counties.

Proposition 9 - No

Authorizing the Legislature to provide a six-year term for a board member of a regional mobility authority.

Regional mobility authorities are political subdivisions that "finance, acquire, design, construct, operate, maintain, expand or extend transportation projects." Under current Texas law, the RMA board members serve for two years each. Given that transportation projects typically last many years, it makes sense to increase the term-limit of such members to help facilitate these long projects. However, we feel six years might be too long. Short term limits are important, because long-term members have more time to be corrupted by transportation special interest groups. We would prefer the difficulty of short term limits to the potential for abuse that six year terms could lead to.

© 2005 The Daily Texan


Prop 1: "It's about making money for these foreign companies that will run the Trans-Texas Corridor.”

Voters to decide whether to fund rail relocation

By Krystal De Los Santos
McKinney Courier-Gazette
Copyright 2005

Starting today, all eligible Texans can vote on whether to make nine changes to the state constitution.

The propositions include one that affects the Texas railroad industry which, though not the most controversial issue on the ballot, is quickly coming under voter scrutiny.

Proposition 1 is listed on the ballot as “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.”

The amendment would create the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement fund.

According to a summary of the proposition, it's purpose is to “provide for the Texas Transportation Commission to issue and sell obligations to fund the relocation and improvement of privately and publicly owned passenger and freight rail facilities for the purposes of relieving congestion on public highways, enhancing public safety, improving air quality, and expanding economic opportunity. The obligations would be payable from the money in the Texas rail relocation and improvement fund. The amendment would also authorize the legislature to dedicate to the fund state money that is not otherwise dedicated by the constitution.”

According to the Texas Legislative Council, proponents of the amendment argue that “the ability to ship more goods using railroads would decrease the number of trucks traveling on highways, thereby reducing congestion.

“The relocation of rail lines from congested urban areas would improve efficiency, encourage investment, and promote safety. Right-of-way obtained by relocating railroads out of cities could be used for the placement of commuter rail lines or highways, each of which could provide economic opportunities for private investment along its corridors.

“Freight rail is more fuel-efficient per ton-mile than trucks and would help Texas comply with federal air quality standards. Also, relocating rail lines out of urban areas would reduce the amount of hazardous materials shipped through highly populated areas.”

The Texas Legislative Council is an information resource with members including the lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, six senators appointed by the lieutenant governor, the chairman of the house administration committee and five other members of the house of representatives appointed by the speaker.

Proposition 1 opponents, including grassroots anti-toll groups like and the Texas Toll Party, said they are encouraging voters to reject the amendment.

They said they believe its purpose is to give tax-payer funded incentives to private companies, encouraging them to relocate within the Trans-Texas Corridor, a 12-lane planned toll road system that Gov. Rick Perry has proposed to get cross-state and commercial traffic off of congested interstates.

“It's a blank check,” said founder Randy Jennings. “Basically, the public is going to pay the toll for the train. It's about making money for these foreign companies that will run the Trans-Texas Corridor.”

If passed, he said, Proposition 1 allows the Texas Transportation Commission to sell bonds without voter approval for each issuance, as in municipal and school bond elections.

“There's no real checks or balances. Once this is approved, they can keep issuing debt forever,” Jennings said.

Arguments against Proposition 1 listed by the Texas Legislative Council are similar: “The railroad industry is not a state-regulated industry, and the state should play no part in the industry's investment decisions. The debt service on the bonds issued could cost the state $87.5 million per year beginning in fiscal year 2007, and the Texas Department of Transportation's primary duties involve planning and making policies for the location, construction, and maintenance of state highways. The authority of the agency over railroad issues is limited, and the department should use its resources to carry out its primary duties.”

Contact Krystal De Los Santos at

Copyright © 2005 The Courier-Gazette


Sunday, October 23, 2005

1- "Railroad companies should pay their own bills. 9-"Regional mobility boards are not elected and are not directly accountable to the public."

Putting the amendments to a vote

October 23, 2005

By Wanda Garner Cash
Baytown Sun
Copyright 2005

Many of the proposed amendments to the constitution on the Nov. 8 ballot are designed to help Texas and Texans and, if passed, will likely have the desired effect. Other ballot measures are unnecessary or needlessly supercede local government control.

Here are recommendations from The Baytown Sun Editorial Board:

Proposition 1 - Against

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.

On the face of it, this amendment sounds like a good deal that would help fix rail crossings. Beneath the surface, its real effect would create another public funding for private enterprise, specifically the controversial Trans-Texas rail corridor. By amending the Constitution to authorize the creation of this fund, the state could commit itself to such debt for a long time to come. Railroad companies should pay their own bills and fund their own projects.

We recommend a No vote.

Proposition 2 - Against

“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.”

This redundant amendment would prevent a possible judicial challenge to the state’s existing marriage statutes. It effectively prohibits any governmental entity in Texas from creating or recognizing any legal status that is identical or similar to marriage. Proposition 2 essentially would determine that the state’s equal protection clause would not apply to one group of people: homosexuals. Nowhere else in the constitution is one group of people singled out to be denied rights.

While we support the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, we recommend a No vote on Proposition 2 because of its redundancy and its potentially discriminatory effects.

Proposition 3 - Against

“The constitutional amendment clarifying that certain economic development programs do not constitute a debt.”

This amendment grew from a local case in Travis County. It constitutes an overreaction that is fraught with dangerous precedent that would give blanket approval for economic development programs regardless of the overall implications for local government and taxpayers.

We recommend a No vote because existing safeguards are specific, enforceable and sufficient.

Proposition 4 - For

“The constitutional amendment authorizing the denial of bail to a criminal defendant who violates a condition of the defendant’s release pending trial.”

This amendment would add an additional, narrow exception to existing law that allows judges to deny bail in limited, justifiable circumstances. Specifically, when the defendant already had been free on bond once, had failed to comply with the conditions for release, and had presented a threat. It would apply only to accused felons whose first bond had been revoked due to a serious violation related to the safety of the community or the alleged victim.

We recommend a Yes vote.

Proposition 5 - For

“The constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to define rates of interest for commercial loans.”

Basically, this is an effort to increase commercial lending in the state by permitting Texas’ commercial lenders to compete with financial institutions from across the country.

We recommend a Yes vote.

Proposition 6 - For

“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.”

The judicial conduct commission investigates judicial misconduct and levies discipline, education, censure, or removal from office. Adding a county judge and a private citizen to the commission will provide valuable perspective and experience to their deliberations.

We recommend a Yes vote.

Proposition 7 - For

“The constitutional amendment authorizing line-of-credit advances under a reverse mortgage.”

This amendment enhances and adds flexibility to the benefits of the hard-fought home equity borrowing option that only recently became legal in Texas. This will allows senior citizens to control the amount and timing of their borrowing.

We recommend a Yes vote.

Proposition 8 - Against

“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.”

This is a matter best left to the courts that are already considering this long-running dispute. Instead of regularly amending the Constitution to address land disputes, the Legislature should establish an ongoing mechanism to settle such matters without having to hold expensive constitutional amendment elections.

We recommend a No vote.

Proposition 9 - Against

“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for a six-year term for a board member of a regional mobility authority.”

Regional mobility boards are not elected and are not directly accountable to the public. Making the terms of these board members consistent with the terms of the county commissioners who appoint them would improve accountability.

We recommend a No vote.

Today’s editorial was written by Wanda Garner Cash, on behalf of the newspaper’s editorial board, with background from the Texas House Research Organization and the League of Women Voters-Texas.

© 2005 The Baytown Sun:


"Props 1 & 9 simply allow Perry to keep his tax-raising bureaucrats and politicians in power longer."

Libertarians oppose propositions 1 and 9

Oct 23, 2005

North Texas e-News
By media release
Copyright 2005

Austin, TX - The Libertarian Party of Texas (LPTX) officially opposes amendment propositions 1 and 9 on the November 2005 ballot.

The LPTX urges Texas voters to vote "no" on these propositions.

LPTX Executive Director Wes Benedict explained, "Props 1 & 9 are basically a referendum on Perry's plan to constrain old and new highways with checkpoints and tax collection booths. Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor is in direct opposition to the Texas Republican Party's platform."

Benedict continued, "In theory, the concept of private toll roads financed by private funds are a good idea. But these aren't private roads subject to competition. These are monopolies that prohibit competition. Props 1 & 9 simply allow Perry to keep his tax-raising bureaucrats and politicians in power longer."

Proposition 1 authorizes using tax dollars to move private rail lines into Perry's proposed Trans-Texas Corridor.

Proposition 9 authorizes 6 year terms for Regional Mobility Authority members.

Benedict tells voters, "Both propositions should be defeated to help rein in the runaway tolling and spending unleashed by Republican Mike Krusee's House Bill 3588. With Republicans like Krusee, who needs Democrats?"

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