Saturday, November 05, 2005

"TxDOT is guaranteeing these foreign companies a 22-percent return on their investment, which could be disastrous for us."

121 tolls resolution on its deathbed


By Mike Raye
Frisco Enterprise
Copyright 2005

A joint resolution from five local governments to ensure local control of the fate of State Highway 121 and its future as a toll road is a punch-drunk fighter stumbling around the ring, with a knockout blow bearing down on it.

Months in the making, it all could be wiped out Nov. 14 when the Regional Transportation Council meets with local Texas Department of Transportation officials to hear the resolution's fate.

According to State Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, the advance word in Austin is TxDOT will reject the proposal, City Manager George Purefoy told the city council Tuesday night.

"The state is selling its birthright for a short-term fix," he said. "This is the saddest day of my life for the state of Texas."

TxDOT rates 121 as the number-one-rated road in the state for potential revenue, Purefoy explained. It is not a fact lost on state highway officials grappling with the disparity of transportation needs and the money to pay for projects. It is an agency in panic mode, looking for any solution, including selling the road's building rights to foreign companies, Purefoy said.

"TxDOT sees this as a cash cow and a way to pay for other projects around the state," he said. "They are guaranteeing these foreign companies a 22-percent return on their investment, which could be disastrous for us. There is a distinct possibility that tolls could be set as high as 30 cents per mile if they go that way,"

"They came to us and said they couldn't find a solution and they asked us to find a solution," Council member Tony Felker grumbled. "Then they go and reject what we brought forth."

Council colleague Maher Maso, the city's mayor pro tem, was equally indignant.

"For them to arbitrarily do this to the cities that say they don't want (tolls on 121) is just wrong," Maso said.

The cities of Frisco, Allen, McKinney, and Plano, along with Collin County, presented a resolution to TxDOT Sept. 30 for constructing, financing, and tolling 121 from the Dallas North Tollway east to U.S. Highway 75 (Central Expressway), including highway interchanges at Central and the Tollway. The resolution would authorize the five governments to ensure tolls - admittedly necessary to build the road - would be set no higher than necessary to pay off debt service on bonds issued to pay the costs of the 121 Tollway Project, to operate and maintain it, and to maintain its service roads. Any money brought in over that amount would be guaranteed to stay in the area to be used for the four cities' and the county's needs.

The state doesn't want to let go of its potential money-making machine, Purefoy said, meaning the conclusion is all but foregone. The only thing left for the five governments to do is go into a salvage mode.

"If this thing is going to get rammed down our throats, there are only two ways to go," Purefoy, the author of the original incarnation of the resolution said. "One is to be defiant to the end. The other is to try and strike the best business deal you can."

The next city council meeting - Nov. 15 - comes on the heels of the RTC and TxDOT meeting. The council will then decide whether to pass a resolution formally opposing tolling 121 altogether.

©Star Community Newspapers 2005


Friday, November 04, 2005

Bill would withhold federal economic development funds from states and localities that use economic development as rationale for property seizures.

House Vote Counters Eminent Domain Measure

November 4, 2005

The Associated Press
Copyright 2005

WASHINGTON -- Conservative defenders of private property and liberal protectors of the poor joined in an overwhelming House vote to prevent local and state governments from seizing homes and businesses for use in economic development projects.

The House legislation, passed 376-38, was in response to a widely criticized 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court last June that allowed eminent domain authority to be used to obtain land for tax revenue-generating commercial purposes.

That decision, said the House's third-ranked Republican, Deborah Pryce of Ohio, "dealt a blow to the rights of property owners across the country."

The bill would withhold for two years all federal economic development funds from states and localities that use economic development as a rationale for property seizures. It also would bar the federal government from using eminent domain powers for economic development.

It now goes to the Senate, where Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has introduced similar legislation.

The ruling in Kelo v. City of New London allowed the Connecticut city to exercise state eminent domain law to require several homeowners to cede their property for commercial use.

Conservatives were in the forefront in arguing that this was a dangerous interpretation of the "takings clause" in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution that allows the government to seize property for public use, with just compensation.

"Governments should not be able to bulldoze a person's home or business to benefit other individuals," said Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas.

Liberals warned that it could make it easier to tear down poor neighborhoods. "We don't need you on this one," Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said to those arguing that eminent domain can lead to beneficial urban renewal projects. "We need you to respect the right of those minorities and those poor people to hold on to what is their own."

Opponents of the legislation argued that its exclusion of economic development was too broad and that the federal government should not be interceding in what should be a local issue. "We should not change federal law every time members of Congress disagree with the judgment of a locality when it uses eminent domain for the purpose of economic development," said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.

About half the states are also considering changes in their laws to prevent takings for private use.

The Bush administration, backing the House bill, said in a statement that "private property rights are the bedrock of the nation's economy and enjoy constitutionally protected status. They should also receive an appropriate level of protection by the federal government."

The House, by a voice vote, approved a proposal by Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., to bar states or localities in pursuit of more tax money from exercising eminent domain over nonprofit or tax-exempt religious organizations. Churches, he said, "should not have to fear because God does not pay enough in taxes."

Eminent domain, the right of government to take property for public use, is typically used for projects that benefit an entire community, such as highways, airports or schools.

Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the majority opinion in Kelo, said in an August speech that while he had concerns about the results, the ruling was legally correct because the high court has "always allowed local policymakers wide latitude in determining how best to achieve legitimate public goals."

Several lawmakers who opposed the House bill said eminent domain has long been used by local governments for economic development projects such as the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and the cleaning up of Times Square in New York. The District of Columbia is expected to use eminent domain to secure land for a new baseball stadium for the Washington Nationals.

Information on the bill, H.R. 4128, can be found at

© 2005 The Associated Press


"Texans' love of personal freedom and private property is so deep it's genetic."

Bill OK'd to curb eminent domain

The legislation clears U.S. House with bipartisan Texas support


Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
Copyright 2005

WASHINGTON - With bipartisan support from Texas lawmakers, the U.S. House overwhelmingly approved a bill Thursday to blunt the recent Supreme Court decision allowing local governments to take private property for economic development projects.

The legislation would withhold federal economic development money for two years from any local government that uses its eminent domain power to seize property in such a case.

"It would give communities a good knock on the head and make them take note," said Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio.

The bill passed 376 to 38, with 31 Texans voting yes. The remaining lawmaker from Texas, Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, favored the bill but was absent.

In the Senate, Texas Republican John Cornyn has authored a bill to prohibit the use of eminent domain to further private economic development, but the chamber will likely be too busy to bring it up for a vote this year, he said.

Texas tradition
The desire to protect private property is deeply etched into the state's culture, several Texas lawmakers said.

"Texas was settled by people who were willing to fence in their property and protect it," said Rep. Al Green, D-Houston. "We take seriously the notion that a person's home is his castle, and to protect that castle from the king and his men."

Houston Republican John Culberson said Texas has a long history of protecting property rights.

"Texas was one of the only states in the union where people were not thrown out of their homes (for defaulting on payments) during the Great Depression," he said. "Texans' love of personal freedom and private property is so deep it's genetic."

Culberson also said the House bill's approach is consistent with those values because it offers state and local governments a choice, rather than telling them what to do.

The House approved several amendments, including one from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, that expresses the sense of Congress that property owned by survivors of Hurricane Katrina should be protected from seizure by the government for economic development or private use.

The court case
The issue of eminent domain, or the ability of government entities to claim private property for their use, arose this summer after the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in Kelo v. City of New London. It held that local governments can seize private property to make way for private development projects that can create new jobs and generate tax revenue.

In the Kelo case, the Connecticut city wanted to buy properties in a blue-collar neighborhood to construct a research facility, resort hotel, higher-priced homes and retail space.

Fifteen property owners did not want to sell. The city condemned the lots anyway.

Lawmakers immediately pounced on the ruling as a violation of the Fifth Amendment, which states that private property cannot be taken for a public use without just compensation.

The June decision broadened the definition of "public use" beyond building roads or other projects.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed into law this summer a bill that bars government agencies in the state from condemning private property for economic development projects, except roads, parks, libraries, auditoriums, ports and utilities.

Alabama and Delaware also passed laws limiting the impact of the Supreme Court's ruling, and nine other states are considering legislation.

Houston Chronicle:


"As the Williamson County Commissioners Court Churns....."

County settles sex complaint


By Patty Mullins and Lauren Cafferty,
Hill Country News
Copyright 2006

The Williamson County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to settle a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment with former employee Judith Metzger. But, save for a lone commissioner's comment charging, “cover-up!” no one would explain the vote.

The vote occurred less than 24 hours after Metzger filed a complaint for a lawsuit in federal court seeking $100,000 alleging sexual harassment but not specifically naming anyone.

Official documents released Thursday chronicled a two-year saga that included a sexual relationship between Metzger and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Greg Boatright, a promotion, a break-up, alleged creation of a sexually hostile environment and disillusionment, which led Metzger to quit her job with the court in June 2004.

The suit was settled officially Thursday by sweet nothings, and not much else. Metzger will receive no public money for her grievances. And everyone involved has to talk nice about each other from now on. Similar arrangements, resulting in no county money officially paid and co-nondisclosure clauses, marked the settlement of suits filed by several fired sheriff's office employees last year.

The county has admitted no wrongdoing in the case.

Metzger had previously filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In July 2005, the EEOC officially closed its investigation into the case, stating the commission was unable to find that the county had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Cover-up alleged

The major conditions of settlement of the federal lawsuit were that both parties wouldn't divulge details or disparage the other, and that no county money had exchanged hands.

“I didn't want the appearance of a cover-up,” said Commissioner Thomas McDaniel, Precinct 3, right after the vote. McDaniel and Commissioner Lisa Birkman, Precinct 1, dissented with the court on approval of the proposed settlement, which passed by a vote of 3 to 2.

McDaniel asked Boatright to recuse himself from the vote, saying Boatright's vote would be a conflict of interest. Boatright, however, cast the deciding vote to settle with Metzger.

“I didn't vote for the settlement because it ‘gagged' me. I didn't have anything to do with case, and I didn't believe that was right, that my free speech was abridged,” McDaniel said Wednesday, as lawyers for both sides were offering no details, only assurances that documents would soon be available.

The plaintiff's case

Documents filed by the plaintiff in the federal lawsuit Judith L. Metzger v. Williamson County Commissioners Court, outlines the sequence of events that led up to the suit. Following is a summary of the plaintiff's complaint.

Metzger began working in an entry-level position in the County Clerk's Office in November 2002. She met Boatright in early 2003 and developed a personal relationship. Boatright told Metzger that he was unhappily married; she told him that for a mother of three small children her current job paid too little, around $23,000, and had no room for advancement. He agreed that she was “underutilized” in the clerk's office and offered to help her get a job within the Commissioners Court.

In April 2003, Boatright invited Metzger out for drinks after work, kissed her and gave her his cell phone number. The next month, the couple began a sexual relationship that continued through the fall of 2003. At least three times, Boatright asked Metzger to meet him on out-of-town business trips.

In July 2003, Boatright told Metzger about a job opening as project coordinator and assistant to Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Heiligenstein. The job offered a much higher salary, $34,000, and had plenty of room for advancement. At about that time, Metzger accompanied Boatright, at his request, on a trip to Fort Worth. Soon afterward, Boatright told her she got the job.

Gossip soon led many county employees to suppose that Metzger had gotten the job because of her relationship with Boatright. Despite Metzger's worries about the rumors, Boatright was unconcerned and wanted to continue the affair.

In December 2003, Metzger's ex-husband learned about the liaison and sent an e-mail to several commissioners and Williamson County Judge John Doerfler threatening to go public and tell Boatright's wife about the affair. To Metzger's relief, Boatright told her he thought they should stop seeing each other.

But he continued to ask her to meet him for lunch, for drinks and after work. He often complimented her appearance in front of co-workers and asked about her love life, always greeting her by saying, “Hello, beautiful,” signaling to Metzger that he did not think the relationship was over.

Voters elected Lisa Birkman to replace Heiligenstein as commissioner of Precinct 1 in April 2004. When Metzger met with Birkman to discuss her job duties, Birkman made clear that she did not support the county's participation in the clean air initiative, which had been a main focus of Metzger's duties.

Metzger felt conflicted and discussed her situation with Judge Doerfler, who suggested that she transfer to another department. After commissioners discussed the matter in executive session, Metzger was informed that they had decided to transfer her to Boatright's Precinct 2 office, where she would report to his administrative assistant, Kathy Grimes.

Metzger was uncomfortable working in Boatright's office and felt she had no choice but to resign her position in June 2004. While discussing her resignation over lunch with Boatright, he said he thought she would enjoy working in his office, then suggested they “get together at her apartment for sex before returning to work.”

The county's side of the story

The county's lawyer, Cornell, Smith & Mierl, filed with the EEOC a five-page letter offering its side of the harassment charges. Following are the highlights of that document.

After Metzger expressed her dislike of working in the County Clerk's office, she applied for an internally-posted position in Precinct 1 as director of special projects. She was promoted to the new job in October 2003 and worked with Heiligenstein and other commissioners on various projects, including clean air and environmental projects.

When Birkman took office in May 2004, she scheduled a meet-and-greet with her new staff to discuss their responsibilities. She was surprised when Metzger declined to attend, saying she had other meetings to attend. Birkman discovered that she was attending voluntary committee meetings, many of which were out of the county. When Birkman finally met with Metzger, she told her that she should cut down her attendance of such meetings. She also told Metzger that the clean air program was not one of her primary objectives. Metzger seemed “less than receptive of any changes.”

At one point, Birkman heard the phone ringing and asked Metzger to answer it. Metzger responded, “It is not my job to answer the phone.” Birkman told her that when the office assistant was absent, she would have to answer the phone.

Soon afterward, Metzger and Birkman argued when Birkman denied Metzger's requested personal vacation days for staffing reasons. Metzger had requested personal days off when Birkman was scheduled to be out of the office on county business. Metzger protested and took her complaint to the county judge, who stood by Birkman's decision.

A few weeks later, Metzger requested a transfer to the Fleet Department, which is a separate division in the county, outside the authority of the Commissioners Court. She was informed that such a transfer would not be possible.

In late May, Birkman told other commissioners that she did not want to continue to supervise Metzger. Since Boatright's office had taken over the clean air programs that Metzger had been working on, commissioners transferred her to Boatright's office, where she would report directly to Grimes. Metzger protested, stating that she had a college degree and Grimes did not, so it was “unsatisfactory” for her to report to Grimes.

On June 2, 2004, just a few days after learning about her transfer, Metzger submitted her resignation to Birkman.

Seven months later, she filed the sexual harassment complaint, stating she had ?n discriminated against because of her sex, female (sexual harassment) in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

Federal documents

According to the three-page federal court document filed and stamped Oct. 31, Metzger sought damages for what she claimed was a forced job transfer into a “sexually hostile work environment.”

The complaint claimed Metzger suffered economic and emotional damages.

“s a result of Defendant's actions, Plaintiff has suffered damages in the form of lost income and employment benefits. These economic damages currently exceed $100,000 and continue to accrue. Plaintiff also suffered mental anguish and emotional pain and suffering for which she seeks compensation,” the complaint states.

The complaint claimed Metzger suffered sleep disorder and irritable bowel syndrome “s a result of the stress caused by the Defendant's actions.”

The complaint invoked Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits ... “unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when submission to such conduct is made, either explicitly or implicitly, a term or condition of an individual's employment.”

“As shown above, Plaintiff has sustained economic and non-economic damages as a result of Defendant's actions,” the complaint states.

Generally, Metzger sought lost pay, back pay, lost benefits, damages for pain and suffering, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney fees and costs, and any other relief entitled.

Further details

A more extensive set of documents released late Thursday included the unfiled federal pleading by Metzger, EEOC discrimination complaint and response letters, workforce complaint forms, and Metzger's letter of resignation. Metzger first made allegations of sexual discrimination in a complaint filed with the EEOC on Feb. 7, 2005; the county spent at least $8,000 contesting this claim, which alleged sexual harassment as well.

To the issue of Metzger's resignation, she asserted that she had no choice.

The County's law firm had responded to this charge in their EEOC response letter:

“WILCO denies that Boatright or any WILCO employee sexually harassed Charging Party . . . . Further, at no time during her employment did she ever raise the issue of sexual harassment or raise a complaint of sexual harassment to WILCO's Professional Human Resources Department,” the letter states.

© 2006 Hill Country New:


Thursday, November 03, 2005

New York land developer plans for big-box anchors and industrial sites adjacent to Texas 130 (TTC-35)

Major mixed-use project slated near Texas 130

New York real estate company buys 389 acres for residential, retail, industrial uses.

November 03, 2005

By Shonda Novak
Austim American-Statesman
Copyright 2005

A New York real estate company is buying 389 acres near the intersection of the future Texas 130 and Texas 71, planning a major project that could include up to 1 million square feet of retail, a hotel, housing and possibly some industrial uses such as warehouses.

It would be one of the first big mixed-use projects in an area poised for significant development once Texas 130, a toll-road bypass for Interstate 35, opens in about two years.

Eastbourne Investments Ltd. wants to break ground in advance of that date, according to Adam Love, a land specialist in the Austin office of Colliers Oxford Commercial, which represented the buyer and will market the land.

Love said his company already is talking with potential big-box anchors and industrial users who might be interested in the site.

The land is bounded roughly by Texas 71 on the north, FM 973 on the west, Onion Creek on the south and Texas 130 on the east. It has nearly a mile of frontage along Texas 71.

Although Texas 130 won't open until late 2007, there already has been a surge of residential development in the area, which is east of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

But there is no major shopping area nearby for people moving into the new subdivisions. People who live in the area must travel as much as 15 miles into Austin or Bastrop to buy groceries or do other shopping.

The area is "completely underserved. The demand is already there right now," Love said.

Philip Bible, a land specialist with NAI Commercial, said the location is "ideal for a mixed-use project," with its proximity to major roads and "significant single-family residential growth under way, with more coming in that area."

There are several subdivisions just east of the airport. In September, Makar Properties said it planned to build more than 2,000 homes, condominiums and apartments on 417 acres east of the airport. That development, called Watersedge, also would include almost 470,000 square feet of retail space.

Texas 130, already under construction in Williamson County, is expected to set off a building boom in eastern Travis County, where there is abundant land but little development.

Harry Scott, a Colliers Oxford partner, said Eastbourne has the land under contract from the owners, the Carr family.

Eastbourne, based in Williamsville, N.Y., has interests in mixed-use and industrial developments across the country, including in the Houston area.

Austin American-Statesman:


LULAC joins the Texas Toll Party

Campaign notebook: LULAC members oppose toll-related votes


San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

Supporters of toll roads and a proposed fund to reroute trains from inner cities have a new foe in the battle over Propositions 1 and 9 on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Members of the League of United Latin American Citizens announced Wednesday their opposition to toll roads, including plans for more than 70 miles on the North Side.

"We are concerned that this is just the beginning," said Lourdes Galvan, district president of LULAC. "Once it gets going, you can't stop it."

Galvan and about 10 other members of LULAC joined the Texas Toll Party-San Antonio and the Homeowner-Taxpayer Association of Bexar County in their opposition to the two propositions.

Proposition 9 would lengthen board terms of regional mobility authorities from two years to six years. These are toll-road authorities.

Supporters say the longer terms would provide more stability of leadership, but critics contend that longer terms would make the appointed board members even less accountable to the public.

There is also opposition on the part of some LULAC members to Proposition 1, which would let the state sell bonds to buy land for freight and passenger rail and help build and improve tracks.

Proposition 1 suffers from its possible tie to the Trans Texas Corridor, a major target for toll-road rebels. The corridor is a 4,000-mile network of toll roads, rail lines and utility lines to be built across the state over 50 years.

Staff Writers Patrick Driscoll and Rachel Toalson contributed to this report.

San Antonio Express-News:


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Grimes County Republican Party discusses TTC

GOP meets in Bedias, hears representatives from region


The Navasota Examiner
Copyright 2005

The Bedias Civic Center was the site of the quarterly meeting of Senate Dist. 5 Republicans on Saturday, Oct. 29, hosted by the Grimes County Republican Party. Sixty-five persons were in attendance, representing nine of the fourteen counties of the senate district. After welcoming remarks by Bedias Mayor Mackie Bobo, Grimes County Judge James Dixon, and Republican chairman Gwen Petersen, the group listened to a presentation on grassroots training by SREC Committeeman Hal Talton.

Sen. Steve Ogden gave a report on various issues facing the state legislature, including the TransTexas Corridor. He offered his opinion that the proposed I-69 would not be built for 20-25 years, and that TxDOT would not begin purchasing rights-of-way for 10 years. He addressed school finance and stated that an overhaul of the tax structure is needed.

The next speaker was Bill Crocker from Austin, who is the Republican National Committeeman from Texas.

Sen. Todd Staples of Anderson County in East Texas spoke about issues he confronted in the state senate as well as issues which are addressed by the office of Commissioner of Agriculture, an office he intends to pursue in the 2006 election. One issue he addressed is Proposition 4 on the Nov. 8 ballot. Staples also made presentations to each county's Volunteer of the Year. The Grimes County volunteer recognized was Malcolm Green, who serves as Vice Chairman of the local Republican Party as well as Finance Chairman.

Rep. Terry Keel discussed his upcoming race for a seat on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and discussed problems the judiciary faces and how to resolve them.

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst discussed the state budget, which increased 9 percent during the past session, not the 18.8 precent claimed by some newspapers. She expressed her disappointment in the legislature's failure to come to an agreement on school finance reform and property tax reform.

She encouraged the attendees to write the governor regarding their concerns about the corridor and stated that she knew her district, which covers four counties including Grimes, had sent over 3000 letters to the governor on this issue.

After reports by the county chairmen and a report on the SD 5 PAC, Congressional candidate Tucker Anderson of Calvert spoke. Anderson, an A&M graduate who worked four years for Congressman Pete Sessions and is currently in the cattle business, intends to challenge Chet Edwards for the opportunity to represent Grimes and other counties of the 17th Congressional District.

SREC Committeewoman Bernice Lewis of College Station gave a report on activities of the State Republican Executive Committee. Commissioner Pam Finke offered the benediction. The next meeting of SD 5 will be held in College Station in January. Grimes County Republicans plan to have a large contingent at that meeting.

Copyright © 2005 The Navasota Examiner


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Longer terms would give Mobility boards more power and less accountability.

Proposition seeks to extend terms of toll road authorities

Nov. 01, 2005

Associated Press
Copyright 2005

Proposition 9 on the Nov. 8 ballot asks voters to decide whether to extend terms for members of Texas' regional mobility boards, or toll-road agencies, from two years to six years.

The Legislature tried to extend board terms in 2003. But a Travis County district judge ruled earlier this year that the new law violates a constitutional provision that limits terms of local boards to two years.

In the Legislature's regular session earlier this year, lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide the issue.

Supporters say the six-year terms, which would be staggered, would allow members to gain expertise on complex projects that could take years to implement. Longer terms would also help build the confidence of toll-road investors, supporters say.

"It's essential," said Tom Griebel, director of the mobility authority in San Antonio. "A six-year term for a board would give it a lot of continuity and stability."

Opponents say longer terms would give boards more power and less accountability.

Mobility authority boards are appointed, not elected, so they are not directly accountable to voters. Yet, they can use gas taxes and public rights of way to help build tollways, replace existing non-tolled highways with frontage roads and set toll fees.

Boards are accountable to the governor, who appoints the chairmen, and county commissioners, who appoint the rest of the members. Longer terms would make them less accountable to those elected officials, critics argue.

"We need more accountability, not less," said Sal Costello, leader of People for Efficient Transportation.

The watchdog group filed a lawsuit to challenge the 2003 law that attempted to create six-year terms, which led to this year's ruling.

A Texas comptroller report earlier this year recommended four-year terms, to match the terms of elected officials making the board appointments.

Information from: San Antonio Express-News,

© 2005 The Associated Press:


"We see this as corporate welfare."

Proposition would help railways relocate

Nov. 01, 2005


Associated Press
Copyright 2005

In the shadow of downtown Fort Worth and Interstate 30 lies one of the nation's busiest rail intersections - the confluence of Union Pacific and Burlington Northern tracks, where more than 100 freight and passenger trains pass through on a typical day.

It was mostly prairie when the rail crossing was built a century ago, but now it is hemmed in by buildings, plus thousands of cars and trucks a day. The interchange is called Tower 55, and it's a prime candidate for movement beyond the suburbs, freeing the land for economic development.

That's what Republican Gov. Rick Perry and railway executives envision if Texas voters approve Proposition 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot. The measure would authorize the Legislature to establish a fund to relocate freight railways and support it with bonds.

No dollar amount is proposed in the ballot item, but Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, has said the state would probably ask the Legislature for up to $200 million in 2007. Relocation projects could total $20 billion over the next 30 years, he said.

The new fund could pay for new overpasses and underpasses at dangerous intersections, purchase land to build new tracks in rural areas and expand the efficiency and freight capacity of rail systems, supporters says. Such new infrastructure also could reduce the demand for tractor-trailers to carry cargo, reducing traffic on interstates and air pollution, they say.

But opponents say the proposition, which would amend the state constitution, would give private industry a tax subsidy, allowing them to build new railways at the public's expense.

Sal Costello, leader of the Texas Toll Party, an Austin group that opposes new toll roads, says he supports moving railways out of crowded urban areas.

"I just don't know why taxpayers have to write a blank check," Costello said. "We see this as corporate welfare."

Costello and other critics say that private companies like Fort Worth-based Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. and Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific Corp. don't need the state's help.

Burlington Northern and Union Pacific, the nation's two largest freight railroads, reported in October a surge in third-quarter profits. Burlington Northern earned $414 million and Union Pacific $369 million from July through September.

But Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, says it's impossible for the rail companies to repair, maintain and move rail lines without state help.

She wrote Proposition 1 and helped get it on the ballot after five people died in rail accidents in San Antonio last year. She said the proposition would improve public safety by helping railways move to less populated areas.

"The rails are now coming through crowded neighborhoods and running off tracks and carrying hazardous materials and killing people," McClendon said.

Supporters also say that shopping centers, commuter rail lines and new highways could be built where previous tracks used to pose safety hazards and cause long waits for trains to pass.

Pat Hiatte, a Burlington Northern spokesman, said Proposition 1 would let railroads provide more-efficient service while addressing safety and other issues caused by having rail freight operations in urban areas.

The measure doesn't specify whether a railroad company should help relocation costs, although Union Pacific and Burlington Northern say they would consider it.

"This is not an attempt to use public funds for improving tracks. Union Pacific would pay for the portion that is a benefit to Union Pacific," company spokesman Joe Arbona said.

Proposition 1 has also taken on political complications. Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Perry's challenger in next year's Republican primary, has criticized the measure as a giveaway to private railroad companies.

David Van Os, a Democratic candidate for attorney general, said the rail measure and another proposition to surrender state claim to land in two counties "are on the ballot to speed up the Perry government's rush to put higher profits into the bank accounts of private developers at the taxpayers' expense."

Members of the Young Conservatives of Texas say Proposition 1 would require higher taxes because there is no room left in the state budget to pay for rail relocations.

One of the group's officers, Southern Methodist University student Colby Tiner, called it "a smoke screen for tax increases" that is designed to help spur Perry's controversial plan for a transportation corridor across Texas that would include toll roads.

Kathy Walt, Perry's spokeswoman, said the proposition wouldn't require a tax increase and would help the public.

"It's not a private benefit to the railroads," Walt said. "This amendment is a benefit to Texans who are caught in traffic or are injured or killed because of hazardous cargo or in accidents at at-grade railroad crossings."

© 2005 The Associated Press:


PROPOSITION 9: "Very anti-open government."

Transportation issues on ballot

November 1, 2005

McKinney Courier-Gazette
Copyright 2005

Early voting is in effect for nine amendments to the Texas constitution, including one which allows regional mobility authority members organized under the Texas Department of Transportation to serve six-year terms.

Proposition 9, if passed, authorizes “the legislature to provide for a six-year term for a board member of a regional mobility authority,” according to sample ballots.

In 2003, the legislature set RMA Terms at six years, but the Texas Constitution limits regional board terms to two years. The amendment would allow board members to constitutionally serve their six-year terms.

Supporters say the six-year staggered terms would provide for consistency and stability in RMA leadership.

According to informational literature provided by

“Regional mobility authority transportation projects require years of planning and construction, and longer terms for regional mobility authority board members would ensure more experienced boards and greater continuity in the planning and construction of authority projects. Authorizing six-year terms for the boards would maintain the institutional knowledge necessary to carry out the functions of an authority.”

According to that same document, opponents say “a six-year term of office may decrease the accountability of the persons appointed to the board of directors of a regional mobility authority. A two-year term of office requires more frequent assessments of the board members' job performances. Six-year terms for regional mobility authority board members are not necessary to carry out the functions of the authority. The staff or employees of an authority will carry out those functions regardless of the length of directors' terms.”

And those opponents mainly are Austin-based anti-toll road groups like the Texas Toll Party, People for Efficient Transportation and their local counterparts, like Stop 121tolls in Collin County.

Randy Jennings, founder of said the amendment is “very anti-open government.”

“RMAs basically exist for the purpose of converting our state highway system to toll roads. We don't elect these board members, and we can't recall them,” he said. “Even if we get the appointers out of office, the appointees get to stay. There's no way to hold these guys accountable.”

The governor appoints the chair of an RMA and county commissioners appoint the other members.

In July, People for Efficient Transportation won a lawsuit against the state that blocked a bond sale for an RMA in Austin because six-year term limits were unconstitutional. The anti-toll organizations say that Proposition 9 is the legislature's attempt to circumvent that ruling.

“It's essentially to violate the spirit of term limits,” said Linda Curtis of the Texas Toll Party. “These guys on the RMAs are going to set and enforce the tolls.”

Though no RMAs currently exist in Collin County, county commissioners are attempting to organize something similar to an RMA to ensure that revenue generated from tolls on S.H. 121 through Collin County stays in the county.

Commissioner Jack Hatchell said the proposition establishes “continuity of leadership” among RMAs because road-building projects are long-term endeavors.

“By the time you form the RMA and get the board together, the term is up, and you have to go through the appointments again,” he said. “This allows the RMA members to see a project through fruition.”

He added there is little possibility of TxDOT forming an RMA in Collin County.

“We don't need an RMA because we have the NTTA, which serves as a sort of RMA,” he said.

The entitiy Collin County is looking to organize to set and collect S.H. 121 tolls is a local government corporation, which, unlike RMAs, has members appointed by the governor or legislature.

Collin County voters may cast their ballots from 8 a.m. through 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and from 7 a.m. through 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday at either the Collin County Courthouse, 210 S. McDonald, or the Collin County Elections Office, 2010 Redbud Dr., in McKinney.

Other early voting locations are:

Allen City Hall, 305 Century Pkwy in Allen

Carpenter Park Recreation Center, 6701 Coit Road in Plano

CCCCD-Preston Ridge Campus, 9700 Wade Blvd. in Frisco

CCCCD-Spring Creek Campus, 2800 E. Spring Creek Pkwy in Plano

Harrington Library, 1501 18th St. in Plano

Murphy City Hall, 206 N. Murphy Road in Murphy

PISD Administration Center, 2700 W. 15th St. in Plano

Parr Library, 6200 Windhaven Parkway in Plano

Renner Frankford Library, 6400 Frankford

Wylie Municipal Building, 2000 N. Hwy 78 in Wylie

Copyright © 2005 The Courier-Gazette.


Monday, October 31, 2005

TxDOT pushes for RMA and 'pass through ' financing in Del Rio

Toll roads unlikely in area

October 31, 2005

By Bill Sontag
Del Rio News-Herald
Copyright 2005

Two professional engineers, both with keen interests in Del Rio’s proposed loop road around the eastern half of the city, strove Wednesday to dispel notions of toll collections here.

At the monthly meeting of the Val Verde County Transportation Task Force, Gerry Pate, president, Pate Engineers, Inc., Houston, told 20 representatives of the business community, government and chamber of commerce that charging tolls for highway use will do little to pay for costs of roadway development.

“The project you have here is not going to be even 10 percent toll-viable,” said Pate, adding that an answer to highway construction costs and reduced Texas Department of Transportation funding might be “pass-through financing.”

Toll viability, Pate said, might require up to 25,000 vehicles per day using a proposed roadway.

“You need to be in an area with significant potential for increased traffic, and lot of traffic to begin with,” he cautioned.

Robert B. “Robbie” Stone, TxDOT director of turnpike design, Austin, used a Powerpoint© program to lead task force members through a range of options for both organization and funding sources in highway development.

All were based on Pate’s remark that “traditional sources,” i.e. legislative appropriations and “gas tax” revenues that funded Texas highways in recent decades, are nowhere sufficient to the demands of burgeoning populations and increased traffic.

“The state simply cannot fund all the projects the transportation users need to have funded,” said Pate.

Stone discussed statewide mobility bonds, the Texas Mobility Fund, comprehensive development agreements, pass-through financing, and tolling. He explained that his department conducts economic and traffic-based feasibility studies for all of these to help communities select appropriate options.

Stone shared Pate’s feeling that tolling is probably not a feasible procedure in Del Rio’s near future.

But, he stressed, nearly all proposals must be “deemed a toll-viable project” to receive favorable consideration from the Texas Highway Commission, the arbiter and judge of creative financing agreements explained by Stone.

TxDOT officials have repeatedly urged the task force membership to consider creation of a Regional Mobility Authority to coordinate funding, planning, design, and construction of the much-discussed “reliever route.”

Variously called a bypass, or loop connecting U.S. Highway 277 South, U.S. Highway 90 East, and U.S. Highway 90 West, the estimated costs have now risen above TxDOT funding capabilities.

Jo Ann Garcia, director of transportation and development for TxDOT’s eight-county Laredo District, told task force members on Sept. 7 that they won’t see completion of this much-needed project in the foreseeable future without alternative financing. Garcia reiterated this position Wednesday.

Pate and his associate, Richard Zamora, professional engineer and project manager for Pate Engineers, Inc., repeated an outline of pass-through financing, shepherded by private engineering firms such as their own, recently presented to Val Verde County Commissioners Court and Del Rio City Council.

Pate Engineers, Inc. has developed water supply, waste water, land development, transportation, site design, and flood control and drainage projects.

Pate calls his firm’s recent transportation thrust in Montgomery County, Texas, “the first pass-through toll program to be approved by the State of Texas.”

The “toll” terminology in that often-used reference to what Stone called pass-through financing confuses many who object to the concept of travelers paying tolls, but it is actually a reference to state measurement of traffic volumes.

The procedure proposed by Pate and Zamora is for an agreement with county officials to permit a private engineering firm to make arrangements with TxDOT for pass-through financing of the Del Rio loop road.

The pass-through agreement defines the project to be constructed, delegates authority from TxDOT to local government to implement the project, sets a schedule of pass-through payments, and requires local governments to either demonstrate experience in implementing TxDOT projects or to outsource to a program manager with appropriate experience.

This program manager, Pate explained, would do all program management and designs, bids, and provide project financing.

The schedule of pass-through payments is where the “toll” concept resurfaces. In return for local, up front financing of the project, rather than reliance on TxDOT funding, the agency will pay the developer in installments based on an agreed-upon rate.

Pate explained that the rate is set at measured numbers of actual vehicles or vehicles-per-mile of the roadway, and includes maximum and minimum payments during the payout period.

Over the life of that period, vehicle rates are expected to begin below the minimum payment, but will be paid nonetheless by the state.

Gradually, as roadway traffic increases, payouts to the developer are expected to climb toward the difference, or gap, between minimum and maximum payments, and finally exceed the maximum payment per year.

Viewed as a method of financing Del Rio’s loop without the need for hands-on involvement by county officials inexperienced in developing major thoroughfares, pass-through financing received rapt attention Wednesday from task force members.

Pate added that, with a project executed with pass-through financing, maintenance and upkeep of the new roadway would devolve upon TxDOT in perpetuity.

Task force member Beau Nettleton, Val Verde County commissioner, asked Garcia, “Is this something the TxDOT (Laredo) district would support?”

Garcia: “Yes, sir. Definitely.”

Discussion flourished among members about how to convey the task force interest in Stone’s observations and Pate’s proposals. Finally, it was moved, seconded and approved for Task Force Chairman Sid Cauthorn, CEO and president of The Bank & Trust, to send a letter to Val Verde County Judge Mike L. Fernandez.

Cauthorn’s letter will urge county commissioners to consider contracting with a professional with expertise to assess the feasibility of a pass-through financing program here, including all pertinent financial obligations.

© 2005 Del Rio News-Herald


“It's our tax dollars that will fund moving private corporations' rail into the very unpopular Trans-Texas Corridor.”

Proposition 1 could move trains to suburbs

October 31, 2005

By Matt Joyce
Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2005

A proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution would move the iron horse out to the country.

Proposition 1 calls for the creation of a state fund to relocate railroads away from congested cities and into rural areas. While not garnering much attention as the Nov. 8 election approaches, the proposal has prompted debate in Waco and statewide about Texas transportation policy.

Supporters of the proposition say relocating railroads out of cities would make it safer and faster to move freight across Texas while opening up space within cities for new roads or commuter rail.

“Relocating rail lines will improve public safety, increase air quality and help relieve traffic congestion by opening up corridors for new roads,” said state Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, a sponsor of the legislative resolution that prompted the election.

Opponents argue that the amendment amounts to a subsidy for private railroad companies and would funnel taxpayer money into the state's controversial plan to build the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“It's basically unlimited tax and debt,” said Sal Costello, founder of the People for Efficient Transportation, an Austin-based political action committee. “It's our tax dollars that will fund moving private corporations' rail into the very unpopular Trans-Texas Corridor.”

The amendment would create the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund, a fund within the state treasury.

If the proposition passes, the Legislature would need to dedicate a revenue source for the fund, according to a report by the state House Research Organization. The Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees the state transportation department, would administer the fund and could issue bonds pledged against it. The fund could go toward projects for privately and publicly owned rail lines.

In a prepared statement, Staples said there is no direct connection between Proposition 1 and the Trans-Texas Corridor. He said it's possible that “some rails may eventually be relocated along part of the proposed route,” although that's not the amendment's intent.

Gov. Rick Perry proposed in 2002 the Trans-Texas Corridor, a network of roads, railways and utility infrastructure across the state. A private company has purchased the rights to build an initial section of the corridor in exchange for a lease to operate it as a tollway.

Opponents of the corridor have generally lined up against Proposition 1, arguing that taxpayer money, including money in the proposed rail relocation and improvement fund, should not be used for the corridor project.

While the proposition does not name specific projects, its influence in the Waco area could some day include the Union Pacific Railroad running north-south through downtown Waco.

The Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization recommended as part of a 25-year plan moving the Union Pacific rail lines outside of the Waco urban area, said Christopher Evilia, the group's executive director.

The group, which is made up of Waco-area governments and sets regional priorities for the use of federal transportation funds, has not taken a position on Proposition 1, he said.

Evilia said moving the rail lines would eliminate the chance of collisions between trains and cars in Waco. It also would enable freight trains to travel more efficiently across the state without slowing down to 20 mph in cities.

On the other hand, moving the freight line could create problems for businesses that rely on access to trains, Evilia said.

“It's possible that we may need to work on recruiting a short-line company to bring freight to and from our urbanized area to a main line,” he said.

Waco-area state lawmakers are split on the proposition. McGregor Republican Sen. Kip Averitt said in a statement that he supports the passage of the amendment to “improve public safety and relieve traffic congestion on our roadways.”

“I do not believe that Proposition 1 will be used to fund the Trans-Texas Corridor,” he said.

Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, said the state should provide for safety at railroad crossings, but urged rejection of the amendment.

“I think it has the potential to basically allow state money in the form of grants to (serve as an incentive for) rail companies to move onto the Trans-Texas Corridor,” he said.

Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, said he also opposes the amendment. He said he doesn't buy into the idea that the amendment is tied to the Trans-Texas Corridor. But he is concerned that taxpayer dollars would be used for projects that the railroads should fund.

“It needs to be at the cost of the railroads, and not at the taxpayers' expense,” Anderson said.

© 2005 Waco Tribune-Herald


Sunday, October 30, 2005

Stall on Proposition 1 : "Safety is the excuse; politics is the reality."

Measure spurs debate on funding new tracks

Oct. 30, 2005

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2005

Should taxpayers shoulder the cost of moving rail lines out of populated areas?

Taxpayers would be writing a blank check to railroads and granting enormous new powers to the Texas Department of Transportation if voters approve Proposition 1 on Nov. 8, critics say.

Proposition 1 would allow the transportation department to issue debt and build new rail lines that bypass congested areas, including downtown Fort Worth and Arlington.

But public officials and others who support the proposed constitutional amendment say it's a worthwhile expense to move freight lines out of populated areas -- to save lives, reduce air pollution and relieve traffic.

It doesn't specify the cost. But the Texas Legislative Council, in an analysis prepared for the Texas House, estimates that debt service could cost as much as $87.5 million per year beginning in 2007.

"This is uncapped debt. The taxpayers will pay for moving profitable, private corporations," said Sal Costello of Austin, founder of People for Efficient Transportation, which opposes the proposition. "We're going to pay for them to have new rails."

Supporters say the money could also be used to refurbish the old freight tracks for use as passenger rail lines, toll roads or bus-only express lanes.

In the Metroplex, elected leaders who support Proposition 1 hope it jump-starts plans for a regionwide commuter rail system. Many North Texas cities were born as railroad towns and still have their old tracks.

For example, if Union Pacific abandoned its busy rail line from downtown Fort Worth to Dallas, the corridor could be converted to passenger rail service with stops in Arlington.

Passing Proposition 1 might also make it possible to close many of the 2,500 railroad crossings in North Texas. About 5,500 people were killed or injured in train-automobile crashes in Texas from 1984 to 2004, federal statistics show.

And it could quell complaints from residents of Colleyville, Park Glen and many other neighborhoods bombarded by train horn noise.

"It will improve safety and move hazardous materials shipments out of our cities and neighborhoods," said Oscar Trevino, North Richland Hills mayor. "Freight congestion hampers our ability to expand the Fort Worth Transportation Authority. It hampers our ability to have commuter rail developed from Burleson to North Richland Hills."

Officials from Fort Worth-based BNSF and Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific -- the two biggest railroad companies in Texas -- said they support the relocation concept but won't comment on which rail lines might be moved, or when.

In March, executives from the two railroads met with Gov. Rick Perry and signed agreements in principle to eventually move their operations off tracks in congested areas.

In North Texas, that could mean both companies' abandoning the rail yards near downtown Fort Worth, including Tower 55 -- where national corridors for BNSF and Union Pacific intersect -- and building or expanding yards west of Fort Worth and south of Dallas.

But it may be years before specific plans are unveiled.

"It's the details," said Richard Russack, BNSF vice president of corporate relations. "You have to really see what's being proposed and see how it will work."

Unlike highways, which are publicly owned, railroad tracks are thin swaths of private property.

Supporters say it's not fair to ask railroad companies, which laid many of their lines long before Dallas-Fort Worth became a metropolis, to cover the relocation costs.

"There is no incentive for the railroads to pay for it. They're happy where they are," said state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving. "It's time to do our part. If we don't improve our mobility, businesses will go to other states."

But, she quickly added, the creation of a rail relocation fund is primarily about quality of life, such as reducing traffic congestion.

"We're not looking to improve businesses," she said. "We're looking at improving the lives of Texans."

Still, critics have many concerns about the bottom line of Proposition 1.

As much as $200 million might be needed to start up the rail relocation and improvement fund, said Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson of Weatherford. That money could leverage up to $1 billion for rail projects.

However, no one has said publicly where the seed money and the money to make annual debt payments would come from. Presumably, the funds would be requested during the next regular session of the Legislature, in 2007.

Williamson said toll road revenues could be among the sources of repayment.

The state's gasoline tax fund, which normally pays for highway work, cannot be used on rail-only projects. But the gasoline tax might be a revenue source for development of toll roads or bus-only lanes in former rail corridors, Williamson said.

Many facets of the rail relocation program are yet to be negotiated, Harper-Brown said. Who decides which rail lines to buy or build first? Who takes possession of the purchased railroad land? Will state, county or municipal officials make decisions about what to do with abandoned rail corridors? All those questions will be addressed if Proposition 1 passes, she said.

But even with all those unanswered questions, the bottom line for many critics is that Texans would be saddled with years of expensive debt payments.

"Such expenditures are tantamount to a state subsidy for rail," said David Stall, co-founder of CorridorWatch, a group that opposes the state's Trans-Texas Corridor plans.

CorridorWatch doesn't have an official position on Proposition 1, but Stall doesn't mind explaining why he thinks it's a bad deal.

He believes that supporters are less concerned about safety and more concerned about creating commuter rail.

"Safety is the excuse; politics is the reality," Stall said. "Giving the Transportation Commission and TxDOT a blank check to play trains is a bad idea, a very bad idea, with or without Prop. 1."

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816

© 2005 Fort Worth Star-Telegram