Saturday, November 12, 2005

"They need to establish a policy, and then fit the proposed projects into the policy, not the other way around."

New toll road revenue projections fall short

Southwest Parkway, Bush proposals wait for funding answers

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2005

DENTON – Two major toll road projects will not raise nearly enough money to pay for themselves, a report released Friday states, all but assuring that toll rates on existing roads must rise 10 percent by 2007 to pay for the new construction.

Predicted revenue shortfalls on the Southwest Parkway and the eastern extension of the Bush Turnpike have the North Texas Tollway Authority looking for ways to make up the difference. Their options include setting higher toll rates on those two projects and following its practice of using toll money from older roads to help pay for new ones.

The tollway authority's board of directors postponed a decision on the projects' funding for at least a month but members said they remain committed to building them both. The issue has many debating how much money the regional agency should devote to building projects that don't raise enough money on their own.

The report "basically says this project [the Southwest Parkway] is not feasible. Users should have to pay more," said agency board member Paul Wageman of Collin County.

According to numbers released Friday, tolls on the $825 million Southwest Parkway would raise enough to pay for 46 to 69 percent of the highway's costs, depending on the toll rate approved. The Bush Turnpike extension through Rowlett, Garland and Sachse would raise about 64 to 88 percent of its costs, depending on the toll rate.

By comparison, many of the roads in the tollway authority system from the Bush Turnpike to the Dallas North Tollway extension in Frisco attracted enough traffic to pay for about 75 percent of their costs when first built.

The new revenue estimates will help narrow the options and the discussion for Tarrant County leaders, who have not had much information about the toll issue so far, said Bill Meadows, the Tarrant County representative on the toll authority board. The board will meet with commissioners and other elected officials in Collin, Denton, Dallas and Tarrant counties before making a final decision.

"I think we're very close to having a toll strategy that's fair," said Mr. Meadows, who expects the cost of the Southwest Parkway to drop and the number of vehicles predicted to use the road to rise before construction begins. "But we need a little more time for us to do what a lot of people said we need to do."

The agency's board of directors informally agreed recently to raise rates on all of its roads by 2007 to help pay for new regional toll projects. Rates will go from 10 cents a mile to 11 cents per mile with a TollTag. A drive on the entire Dallas North Tollway would rise from $2.10 to $2.30, and a drive on the entire Bush Turnpike would rise from $3 to $3.25.

A similar increase also has been projected for 2010, taking rates on the existing roads to 12 cents per mile. Rates then would automatically rise about 7.5 percent every five years.

On the Southwest Parkway, initial toll rates could range from 16 cents per mile to 19 cents per mile under two proposals presented Friday. On the eastern extension, initial rates could range from 12 cents per mile to 15 cents per mile. According to the financial proposal Friday, rates on the new, more expensive roads also would automatically rise every five years. But depending on the option chosen, they also could rise at a greater rate – about 15 percent every five years.

Mr. Meadows predicted that Southwest Parkway users can expect to pay a maximum initial rate of about 17 cents per mile.

The tollway board also pledged to look at a policy that would place more weight on setting tolls to make the project cover its costs as quickly as possible. The figures released Friday show that tolls of 16 cents per mile collected on the Southwest Parkway mean that the road would not cover its costs until after 2041. Tolls of 19 cents per mile would allow the parkway to cover its costs in 2015.

The eastern extension would collect enough in tolls to cover its costs in 2010 or 2015 with 15-cent- or 12-cent-per-mile tolls, respectively.

The agency needs to establish a firm policy that deals with more than just setting toll rates and then stick to it, said Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher, who has questioned the use of toll revenue collected in Dallas County to pay for the Southwest Parkway's extra costs.

"They need to establish a policy, and then fit the proposed projects into the policy, not the other way around," she said. "If the Southwest Parkway policy meets the goal, go for it. But stop bending over backwards to do the Southwest Parkway."


© 2005 The Dallas Morning News


Toll roads to help pay for commuter rail

Agency looks at making entire project a toll road

Sat, Nov. 12, 2005


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2005

The North Texas Tollway Authority is interested in building Southwest Parkway as a toll road all the way to Cleburne.

Previous plans called for eight miles of toll road from Interstate 30 to Altamesa Boulevard/Dirks Road in Fort Worth, and for 15 miles of non-toll freeway to U.S. 67 in Cleburne.

But tollway authority Executive Director Allan Rutter said Friday that his agency would conduct a final, detailed toll study for the entire road. As it stands now, the plan is to open the eight-mile stretch by 2010, but Rutter said it's not out of the question that some of the 15-mile stretch to Cleburne could be built simultaneously.

"It's a rural area," Rutter said during a break in the agency's meeting at a Denton hotel. "It would be easier and cheaper to build" than the portion leading from downtown to southwest Fort Worth.

There have even been discussions about setting the toll rate high enough to help pay for a commuter rail line from Cleburne to Fort Worth. Johnson County officials are interested in both the road and the rail line, and they've requested a permanent seat on the tollway authority board of directors, which is still researching its rules for letting a new county join.

In other action Friday, the tollway board:

Discussed toll rates for Southwest Parkway, also known as Texas 121T, and other roads in the tollway authority system, but members did not reach an agreement. Competing proposals would set the Southwest Parkway toll at 16 to 19 cents per mile -- making it among the most expensive in the nation. If set at 19 cents per mile, the cost would be about $1.10 for driving the length of the road, according to updated figures from the tollway authority. Previous estimates placed the starting rate at approximately $1.30.

Agreed to explore building a toll road on Texas 121 in Collin County. If the tollway authority decides not to get involved, Collin County officials have expressed interest in forming their own regional mobility authority and building it themselves. That would also ensure that toll revenue stays in their county. A third option is to allow the private sector to build the toll road, as has been proposed for Texas 121 in Denton County from the Grapevine/Lewisville border to Frisco.

The tollway authority could build the Collin County stretch of Texas 121 for about $369 million, Rutter said, and traffic would be so heavy that the tolls would easily pay off the debt.

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816
© 2005 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


"Gov. Perry knew the Corridor wouldn't make money. He wanted to assure investors that they would have profitable projects to make up the difference."

Letters from Plano, Frisco, McKinney

Friday, November 11, 2005

Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2005

Toll road scheme?

I have said all along that turning State Highway 121 into a toll road was never about getting it built sooner – I always figured the plan was tied into the Trans-Texas Corridor. Gov. Perry knew that the corridor would not make money, so he wanted to assure the investors that they would have profitable projects to make up the difference.

This should be on the front page of The Dallas Morning News . Also, Fort Worth is starting to face toll roads on State Highway 183, and they are starting to fight.

Sharon Overall, Plano

Time to shake things up

Re: "Leave it to the pros? Not in county politics," guest column by David Melton and "Familiar face will join race," Metro column by Ed Housewright.

It was interesting reading Mr. Melton's column and Mr. Housewright's column and to notice one common theme – establishment. It seems we have commissioners who have served well past their effectiveness because they have mismanaged our tax dollars, and yet the "establishment" is working to keep them in office. As a citizen of Plano when Jeran Akers was mayor, I saw my property tax rate lowered. But as a citizen of Collin County during that same time period, my property tax rates remained stagnant.

It would be one thing if our tax dollars were being used effectively, but the recent articles in the paper show that our commissioners and county judge are only interested in their salary, longevity bonuses, car allowances and other perks. It is time to shake up the establishment and put in people who will be good stewards of our tax dollars.

Katherine Park, Plano

Dallas Morning News:


Friday, November 11, 2005

"Just because government 'can wear a jackboot' doesn’t mean it should."

Eminent domain continues to drive debate


by James A. Bernsen

The Lone Star Report
Volume 10, Issue 14
Copyright 2005

Eminent domain remains an unfinished issue, speakers at a forum said Nov. 2. Despite passing a bill in the second special session to address the fallout of the Supreme Court’s Kelo vs. New London decision, the Legislature will likely take up the issue again the next time it meets.

The forum, sponsored by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, weighed the consequences of the Kelo case, in which the court ruled that governments had a right to use eminent domain laws to condemn private land not only for a public use, but for economic development.

The case provoked nationwide outrage, as well as an effort in Texas for a quick fix. Rep. Frank Corte (R-San Antonio) was among those who led the charge, filing a bill and constitutional amendment in the first called session last June.

As debate began, however, questions arose about whether the proposed legislation could limit supposedly legitimate uses of eminent domain. In the end, the Legislature responded to Kelo by passing Sen. Kyle Janek’s (R-Houston) SB 7. Corte said the legislation was a first step. Interim studies have also been proposed. Corte agrees with the extra focus, but said he hopes the issue doesn’t get pushed aside.

“We can study it all day until the cows come home, but the truth is, it’s wrong to take personal property for economic development,” he said.

Corte said that the ultimate goal of eminent domain reform should be enshrining property rights in the Constitution through an HJR.

“A lot of people would say, ‘Well, why do you need it in the Constitution?’” Corte said. “I feel that since the Constitution pretty much gave the state the power to take property for eminent domain purposes, then we need to amend the Constitution to [say] that this would not be an appropriate taking.”

A sense of urgency

Clark Neily, with the Institute for Justice, which unsuccessfully fought the Kelo ruling, said Americans can’t simply sit back and leisurely study eminent domain in perpetuity. Kelo, he said, “opened a floodgate.”

Most disturbing, he said, was that some governmental entities are arguing that eminent domain for economic development should promote the “highest public use” of the land. Judged by tax revenue, he said, it’s not likely that the average homeowner would ever be found using land at the “highest use” level.

As Ted Cruz, the state’s solicitor general, said, such use of eminent domain amounted to reverse Robin Hood. “This will always be used to take property from the poor and give it to the rich,” he said. “It will never be used the other way around.”

Cruz said even more surprising than the court ruling was the response of some colleagues nationwide, who thought that any increase in government power was good. Cruz said just because government “can wear a jackboot” doesn’t mean it should.

“There are few rights more important to human liberty, more important to the fundamental freedom of people than the right of property,” he said. Noting the reaction to the ruling nationwide, Cruz said this could be a case where the court decision ultimately aids property rights.

“We in Texas – home of the Alamo – know something about losing a battle and winning the war,” he said.

Donald Lee, representing the Texas Conference of Urban Counties, said it was not necessarily true that cities and counties wanted the expanded authority for eminent domain. While cautioning against legislation that would inadvertently shut off eminent domain for legitimate uses, Lee endorsed action that would address Kelo.

“[Eminent domain] is a necessary evil,” he said. “And it is evil. After all, politicians like to make friends, and eminent domain does not make friends.”

Much of the state’s transportation infrastructure, he noted, however, was created through eminent domain. Many services provided by common carriers, such as piplelines and electric lines, were also aided by eminent domain. Lee also cautioned that a cottage industry of developers and others abuse the compensation provisions of eminent domain law to squeeze more money out of the taxpayers. He said that any solution to eminent domain based only on increasing the reimbursement would play into the hands of those people, in the end only increasing costs to taxpayers.

“We don’t have a problem with a constitutional change being made,” he said. “We just haven’t seen language yet” that protects legitimate uses.

Freeport case

The most famous battlefront in the war over eminent domain is Freeport, where the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) is trying through eminent domain to secure land for a private developer’s marina project.

Target of the condemnation proceedings is the headquarters of Western Seafood, Inc., a shrimping business. Owner Wright Gore, III, whose family has run the business for 50 years, said he refused EDC’s request to sell a portion of his property on grounds the sale would block his company’s access to the waterfront and effectively run him out of business.

EDC’s decision to pursue eminent domain condemnation began a legal battle Gore and his company are still fighting. A cause celebre for supporters of tougher new legislation, the Western Seafood case has divided Freeporters, who this week defeated by only 21 votes a proposal to abolish the EDC. The ad hoc group that sponsored the measure – Citizens for Freeport – decided against calling for a recount despite the narrow margin of defeat.

Other laws

Texas is one of three states – the others are Delaware and Alabama – that have passed eminent domain legislation since the Kelo decision. Arizona already had a law covering the issue. But Neily said all these laws include loopholes that allow cities to liberally interpret the eminent domain powers to alleviate blighted areas.

A sticking point with these statutes, including Texas’, is the definition of public use. Even those supporting eminent domain reform last session found it difficult to agree. Neily suggested Texas start with what a public use is not – specifically taking land from one private interest to give to another private interest. O

© 2005 The Lone Star Report:


"Toll roads have become extremely unpopular in Central Texas."

Proposition 2 passes; two others are defeated


by William Lutz
Lone Star Report
Volume 10 Issue 14
Copyright 2005

This month’s constitutional amendment election may not have caused much money to go around, but it did have some interesting moments – including the first constitutional amendments rejected by voters since 1999.

Proposition 2
Of course, Proposition 2 – the constitutional ban on same sex marriages – attracted the most press attention.

Social conservatives became a little nervous when No Nonsense in November – the anti-Proposition 2 campaign – started running auto dial messages from a minister claiming the amendment, if passed, would abolish all marriages. (Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott issued a letter saying that it wouldn’t.). “The anti-Prop. 2 campaign was the most deceptive campaign I have ever seen,” said Austin political consultant Ray Sullivan. They knew where they stood and voted. More than 75 percent of Texans rejected gay marriage.

“In general, I was pleasantly surprised about the margin,” said the amendment’s author Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa). “The turnout was even beyond even the estimations of the Secretary of State, who estimated 16 percent and had closer to 18 percent. I was pleasantly surprised that this issue really brought the voters out. It’s very hard to get people interested.” The only county where Proposition 2 failed was Travis. This is noteworthy, because in 1994 Austin voters passed a ballot item banning city-funded domestic partner benefits. So failure of Proposition 2 in Travis County is probably progress for gay rights activists.

The proposition polled extremely well in minority neighborhoods and along the Texas-Mexico border. Proposition 2 helped confirm a hypothesis Republicans had entertained for some time – black and Hispanic voters are socially conservative. But turning support for ballot propositions into support for candidates (or the party generally) is a much taller order. In any case, churchgoers of all stripes turned out to vote in this election. Perry has made no secret of his campaigning to conservative churchgoers, and if this can be replicated in March 2006, it could well for Perry’s re-election.

The passage of Proposition 2 also has triggered a discussion about the importance of marriage. Chisum told LSR he intends to ask the speaker for an interim study on marriage. In particular, Chisum would like to look at what other states are doing and see if there are ways Texas can lower its high divorce rate. The study may look at counseling and other issues relating to marriage. Chisum noted that many marriages break up over financial issues. “A lot of times we don’t teach finances in schools, kids get married and into trouble,” he said.

Another idea that Chisum said is likely to resurface is covenant marriage, which is currently the law in Louisiana. Covenant marriage is a voluntary option for couples, involving additional pre-marital counseling. Divorce, in covenant marriages, is much more difficult than in ordinary unions. Chisum said he filed a covenant marriage bill several sessions ago. Most recently, the issue has been associated with former Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth (R-Burleson) and the late Sen. Tom Haywood (R-Wichita Falls), who carried covenant marriage bills in 1997, 1999, and 2001. The 2001 incarnation almost passed, clearing the Senate and committee in the House. It reached the House Calendars Committee very late in the session, and the clock ran out.

Other propositions
Most of the ballot items, involving technical cleanups, passed easily. These included propositions allowing denial of bail to those who have jumped bail in the past, clearing up land titles in Upshur and Smith Counties, expanding the size of the Judicial Conduct, and allowing reverse mortagages to use line-of-credit financing, as under home equity lending. These amendments had no organized opposition and passed comfortably.

Proposition 1, which was supported by Gov. Rick Perry, passed but not as easily as some of the other ballot propositions. Proposition 1 creates a rail relocation fund to move rail lines away from urban areas. The financing for the fund has not yet been created. Some interesting trends developed on Proposition 1. First, it did not do well at all in Central Texas. It failed substantially in Travis and Williamson Counties. The anti-toll road groups opposed the measure, arguing it is part of Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor proposal. (The measure’s supporters deny it is related to the corridor.) Toll roads have become extremely unpopular in Central Texas.

Also, rural voters had little love for Proposition 1. What passed it was big margins in urban counties, notably Brazos, Tarrant, and Bexar. Proposition 1 did particularly well in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, where newspapers have profiled rail crossing accidents. Proposition 1 did much better on election day than in early voting. Radio advertising in Harris County by the Yes campaign may partially explain the measure’s substantially better performance there on election day, as compared with early voting. The two propositions that failed – Propositions 5 and 9 – encountered uniform opposition throughout the state. Proposition 9 would have extended the terms of appointed regional mobility authority members to six years. Anti-tolling groups were opposed.

Proposition 5 was the biggest surprise of the evening. There was no organized opposition, and CSG Investments, a Plano firm, spent more than $650,000 to try and pass the proposition. The ballot item would have repealed a constitutional interest rate limit for commercial loans. Lawmakers carefully worded the initiative to ensure that home mortgages, agricultural, and personal loans would not come under its scope.

In the end, the most important factor for ballot items is the ballot language. And many voters told LSR that Proposition 5’s ballot language confused them. It read, “The constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to define rates of interest for commercial loans.” The amendment actually gives more power to the market and private lenders, but the ballot title could be read to have the opposite effect. Also, the Legislature’s low popularity ratings, in the wake of school finance, may have made voters nervous about passing a ballot item that appears to give government more power.

HD 143
The special election in HD 143 will go to a runoff. The seat is vacant due to Rep. Joe Moreno’s (D-Houston) death. Ana Hernandez came in first with 42.5 percent of the vote. Laura Salinas placed second with 25.8 percent. The runoff occurs in approximately one month. Gov. Rick Perry has not yet set the date for a runoff. This race is being watched carefully in Austin. Several PACs have taken sides in this race. The Texas Trial Lawyers Association has contributed to Hernandez, while Texans for Lawsuit Reform donated to Salinas.

Municipal elections
Houston and Dallas also held municipal elections on Nov. 8. Houston Mayor Bill White was reelected over token oppositon, with more than 90 percent of the vote. Dallas voters once again rejected a “strong mayor” ballot proposition. Mayor Laura Miller supported the proposition but voters did not. Not all cities had elections this November. Many Texas cities elect their city officers and council members in May.

Other states
Several other states placed items on their ballot that reflect hot-button issues often considered before state legislatures. This year, the Maine Legislature, for the third time, passed a gay rights initiative. The voters defeated the bill in a referendum in the previous two attempts. This year, however, Maine voters allowed the measure to become law.

In California and Ohio, propositions appeared on the ballot to remove redistricting from the legislature and turn it over to a non-partisan commission. In California, this would likely have helped Republicans, since Democrats control the legislature. In Ohio, the opposite was true; Democrats would chiefly have benefited. In the end, the voters said no to both proposals. Washington voters considered a medical malpractice initiative that capped non-economic damages in lawsuits. Both sides actually spent more on the initiative (more than $14 million) than was spent on Texas’s Proposition 12.

© 2005 The Lone Star Report:


121 toll road mess will be a 2006 election issue in Collin County

Political foes challenge SH 121 leadership


By Amy Morenz
Plano Star Courier
Copyright 2005

Electoral opponents are questioning Collin County Commissioner Jack Hatchell and County Judge Ron Harris for their leadership of the State Highway 121 toll road process.

The issue of an SH 121 toll road - how construction will be paid for and who will build it - is emerging as one line of demarcation in county races that will be on the ballot in the March 7 Repuiblican primary and the Nov. 7 general election next year. Candidates may officially file from Dec. 5 to Jan. 3.

County Republicans, though, are already sparring over plans in flux for SH 121 prospective tolls.

Former Plano Mayor Jeran Akers, who is challenging Hatchell for the Precinct 4 commissioners seat, said he believes a "true leader" would have developed an alternative to the toll-road approach Collin County is proposing.

"Jack says he has been working on this for 20 years, but it's degenerated into a sloppy stew with people getting their feelings involved instead of a rational approach," Akers said. "The state is not interested in the county having it as their cash cow.

"Anyone can charge for a road, but it takes a creative person...and a skilled person to come up with a creative solution," Akers said. "A true expert could come up with better solution than a tax."

Hatchell said Akers is likely using the news media to generate attention.

"I'm opposed to tolls too, but we are being held hostage by TxDOT (the Texas Department of Transportation)," Hatchell said. "A true leader helps you get out of being held hostage."

"I'm a transportation professional for a number of years, and Akers is far from a professional," he said.

Hatchell believes the county needs to avoid gridlock that could occur in five to six years if SH 121 main lanes are not built in Collin County. The first phase of service road enhancements are nearing completion.

"They really need to know what they are talking about," he said.

Both of Harris' opponents disagree with his leadership on SH 121.

Former congressional candidate Keith Self said in a news release that Harris' plans would soak the county taxpayers. County Collin needs "take-charge" leadership to provide necessary transportation infrastructure, he said.

"If tolling occurs under the Harris regime because of his lack of leadership over the past decade, I will ensure that Highway 121 does not become a cash cow for the state or any other entity," his release states.

Self suggests a private-public partnership as a solution. That partnership could involve the North Texas Tollway Authority and private companies interested in paying the state for its right-of-way, Self said.

The NTTA is scheduled to discuss its role today. Harris is proposing two options: A road built and operated by the NTTA under the direction of a Local Government Corporation; or a tollway under complete NTTA jurisdiction, as are the Dallas North Tollway and President George Bush Turnpike.

Tolls could range from 12 cents per mile, which would cover only maintenance and operation costs, or 15 cents to generate more revenues for the highway department, he said.

Collin County and its four largest cities will meet with TxDOT leaders at 10 a.m. Monday at Allen City Hall. Plano City Council members will discuss the issues during a workshop at 5 p.m. Monday.

The county should have explored other alternatives to tolls, Akers said. County taxpayers could pay for bonds to fund the main lanes and then build the interchanges later. It could explore creating a Tax Increment Financing District, similar to approach used to fund redevelopment around downtown Plano.

"That's the same as having a tax," said Hatchell. "I'd rather do it as a free road if he is proposing to tax all the citizens."

The county and its four cities passed a resolution to create a Local Government Corporation that would to manage construction, maintenance and ownership of the SH 121 toll road. The group would build and manage the $752 million tollway between Central Expressway and the Dallas North Tollway and build interchanges at both ends.

The state, though, does not want to "give away a revenue-generating" asset without expectation of revenues, Bill Hale, Texas Department of Transportation's Dallas district engineer wrote to state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, this week.

"It's not just the state involved, it's the municipalities and landowners that donated right-of ways," said Akers. "It's involved into where they are talking like a Robin Hood project."

The debate pits Harris against opponents Self and Rick Neudorff, who stepped down as Collin County Republican Party chair on Thursday.

"We have set this thing in such a black and white, but we don't have unified county voice," said Self. "The county has been all over the map. For the average citizen, this is a major issue because they can't go to work without roads."

"I welcome it as a campaign issue because we have them beat off the face of the earth," Harris said. "Their statements show their total and complete lack of understanding."

Self and Akers question why Collin County leaders have not asked state representatives to help mediate a solution.

Harris said the county has always proved the need for its projects based on needs and cost benefits.

"The county has never asked for its state representatives or state senator to become involved."
"We never wanted it based on political clout in the state," he said.

Harris is the chief executive officer and bears responsibility, said Neudorff. Calling SH 121 the "single most frustrating issue," Neudorff said tolls should be the lost resort.

He prefers building SH 121 in stages, as Central Expressway was built. The project won't take 20 years to complete, he said.

"I don't know if there is one definitive answer the way we have bobbed and weaved," said Neudorff. "We are seeing the results of relationships that the county used to have that that were very good and are breaking down."

"We need to be sure we are using every average to negotiate in a positive manner," he said.

Contact staff writer Amy Morenz at 972-398-4263 or

©Star Community Newspapers 2005


"The NTTA has been our tollway authority. Others are trying to undo that."

Agency to handle tolls is considered

Group would allocate cash to projects that don't use road fees

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2005

ARLINGTON – Area leaders took an important step Thursday toward creating a regional agency that could eventually shift money collected from toll roads to other projects.
The Regional Transportation Council will consider creating an umbrella financial agency covering from nine to 17 counties that could collect and distribute excess toll revenue to projects without tolls.

Such an arrangement would mark a dramatic shift from the practice of using toll money only to build other toll roads.

The transportation-funding concept, known as a regional mobility authority, has been adopted in several other areas of Texas in recent years to pay for new road and possibly rail construction. With the longstanding presence of the North Texas Tollway Authority, local officials have resisted the idea, saying the region could handle matters with existing agencies.

"We are at the point in our history where we have to reinforce that we are one region," said Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

The idea of sharing toll revenue for other projects is beginning to take hold in the region. The tollway authority's board of directors will consider a proposal today that would allow it to pay the state $200 million to $345 million to build a toll road on State Highway 121 in Collin County. That money would be used to build other projects in the region or Highway 121 area.

The council will send a letter notifying the Texas Department of Transportation that it will take the first steps in reviewing the creation of a regional mobility authority for roads.

Regional resistance toward a mobility authority has eased recently because of several policy changes: The state transportation department now expects payments – usually in the hundreds of millions of dollars – if another agency builds a toll road on state property; and officials in Parker County, which lies within the proposed North Texas agency boundary, have proposed to create their own mobility authority.

In addition, a group of 22 state legislators has told local leaders that it appears highly unlikely that the region will be successful in its push to get a half-percent sales tax increase to use to build 260 miles of commuter rail.

"This source of revenue seems to be highly unlikely within the near future due to other needs for sales tax revenue at the state level," wrote Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson, in a letter to local officials that was co-signed by seven other state senators and 13 other state representatives.

If created, the agency as conceived by local officials would differ from mobility authorities in other parts of Texas, which have substantial power to select toll roads and oversee a host of transportation projects, including rail lines. In North Texas, the agency would have a more limited role in helping to use surplus toll revenue to build other projects.

The surplus could come when toll road bonds are paid off or if more vehicles than anticipated pay to use the road.

North Texas officials so far have shied away from discussions of using excess toll money for rail. Mr. Morris vowed to try to keep road and rail funding separate and to continue pushing for a sales tax increase because its revenue rises predictably with inflation.

"I'm always an optimist," said Mr. Morris, who plans to make his case to state leaders next month.

The transportation council, made up of 40 mostly elected city and county officials, will review the mobility authority possibilities in the next several months. While many on the transportation council reserved judgment on the matter, several members said it was the best chance to reduce the estimated $55 billion backlog of projects the region will have in the next few decades.

"Our success in the future will be on us continuing to realize at some point we have to help our brothers and sisters out with projects," said Tarrant County Commissioner B. Glen Whitley.

Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher, who is not on the transportation council, questions the need for a new mobility authority, arguing that Dallas County could lose transportation revenue under the proposal.

"The NTTA has been our tollway authority. Others are trying to undo that," she said. "If they are successful, where does that leave Dallas County, which has been paying tolls for so long already?"

The North Texas mobility authority would keep excess toll money in the immediate area of where it was raised, Mr. Morris said. For example, any excess toll revenue collected on a State Highway 161 toll road through Irving and Grand Prairie would help pay for projects in those cities or possibly southwest Dallas County.


© 2005 The Dallas Morning News Co


AGUA speaks to San Antonio City Hall

Council advised on aquifer rules


Jerry Needham
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

As the City Council heard advice from attorneys Wednesday on how far they might press in trying to limit development to protect the Edwards Aquifer, an aquifer protection group announced that it has given the council suggestions on how to toughen the city's water quality ordinance.

Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas is asking city officials to close what they say are loopholes in the 11-year-old ordinance by pushing for a strict limit on how much land can be covered by roofs, sidewalks, streets and driveways.

"This has been a really exhaustive process," said the group's Annalisa Peace. "We've pulled in all sorts of people to devise what we think is the best and the simplest way to protect the aquifer recharge zone in Bexar County."

Chief among the group's recommendations is an across-the-board 15 percent limit on so-called impervious cover. The current ordinance allows 80 percent impervious cover for commercial property at major intersections, 65 percent for commercial property, 50 percent for multifamily developments and 30 percent for residential developments.

A city committee has been working on revisions to the ordinance. Its latest working draft is recommending 50 percent for commercial property, 40 percent for multifamily developments and 20 percent for residential developments.

"We didn't think that the draft we saw was really sufficient to protect the aquifer," Peace said, adding that scientific evidence points to 15 percent impervious cover as the point above which a watershed cannot absorb polluted runoff.

Doug Young, an Austin attorney who represents several Austin-area cities with tough water quality ordinances, told the council in a briefing session that many cities in that area have concluded that limits on development are more effective at controlling pollution than relying on engineered controls such as sedimentation ponds and vegetative buffers.

Russell Johnson, a former San Antonio Water System attorney now in private practice, told the council that it would have to be careful in limiting development rights or it could face lawsuits for taking away property rights.

Both attorneys agreed that state law generally favors landowners over cities when it comes to recognizing prior development rights.

Johnson said much of the recharge zone land in Bexar County already is slated for development.

Several council members expressed a desire to get on with whatever changes need to be made.

"I believe there's a lot of consensus already existing to try to do what we can to protect our water source," said Mayor Phil Hardberger. "The dissension is not really dissension of purpose, but how to do it."

The mayor said Wednesday's session added to the council's body of knowledge on the topic.

"I think in the next few months you'll see some proposed ordinances make their way onto the agenda to be voted on," Hardberger said.

San Antonio Express-News:

Thursday, November 10, 2005

"This a statewide just happens that we were the first ones going through it."

TxDOT to county: SH 121 is ours


By Amy Morenz,

The Allen American
Copyright 2005

Collin County leaders' plans to locally control and build a State Highway 121 toll road will face major obstacles, Texas Department of Transportation officials wrote State Sen. Florence Shapiro this week.

Collin County leaders' plans to locally control and build a State Highway 121 toll road will face major obstacles, Texas Department of Transportation officials wrote State Sen. Florence Shapiro this week.

With revenue shortfalls, it's "not in the best interest of the state to give away a revenue- generating asset with no expectation of a return," Dallas District Engineer Bill Hale wrote Shapiro, R-Plano.

The concept of creating a local entity would subdivide the region and could result in a "never-ending array of local tolling authorities," Hale writes.

Allen leaders, though, informally agreed on Tuesday to pursue a resolution passed by four Collin County cities for local control.

The council supports a Local Government Corporation that would to manage construction, maintenance and ownership of the SH 121 toll road. The entity would build and manage the $752 million tollway between North Central Expressway and the Dallas North Tollway building interchanges at both ends.

Four county commissioners and representatives from the county's four cities will meet with TxDOT leaders at 10 a.m. Monday at Allen City Hall. They will discuss the Collin County proposal calling for a local authority to control prospective SH 121 toll roads. The proposal was endorsed by the county, and the cities of Plano, Allen, Frisco and McKinney. The North Texas Tollway Authority board is scheduled to discuss proposals for financing, construction and maintaining SH 121 on Friday in Denton.

Allen would need to go back to the public hearing process if it planned to change its mind, said Mayor Steve Terrell. He wants to continue pursuing the resolution until a December Texas Highway Commission meeting.

The state's decision was made after seeing the success of tolls along the President George Bush Turnpike, which is operated by the North Texas Tollway Authority, Allen leaders said.

"In a short term, we've gone from a two-lane, farm-to-market road to one with national significance," City Manager Pete Vargas said. "I'm not aware of any other entity taking on the burden of the state like our proposal."

The SH 121 toll project is considered one of the most viable in the state, said John Baumgartner, city engineering director. He participated in a meeting Shapiro held last week when Collin County representatives were told to look for alternatives. The state believes it has invested between $300 and $400 million in right-of-way that needs to be recovered.

"Our challenge is if they don't accept our plan, where do we go from here? Do we negotiate or get the best deal we can?," he said.

Bob Brown, a TxDOT deputy district engineer, said on Monday the state will almost assuredly make the construction and operation decision. But by Tuesday, TxDOT officials were slightly backing away from that statement.

There's no other example of a local entity controlling a regional and state road, Brown said. He plans to tell Collin County leaders the concept is not a good one.

"It's not a good policy to give away a state asset to a local entity. That road moves traffic considered to be of regional and national significance," Brown said.

Collin County's proposal is probably "nearing life support," said Commissioner Jack Hatchell, who is leading negotiations for the county and the four cities. Hatchell requested an official response from TxDOT by Nov. 1. The letter to Shapiro was dated Monday.

"They encouraged us to put a proposal together, but never have officially told us," he said. "It's probably alive, but nearing death for all practical purposes."

"Our proposal is no different than what they are doing in Denton or Bexar County," said County Judge Ron Harris.

The Sept. 30 proposal calls for a May election in which county voters would decide whether to approve $400 million in standby ad valorem taxes if the tollway does not generate expected revenues. Defined as a Local Government Corporation, the Collin County-controlled organization would assume all financial obligations, the proposal states. Tolls would not be set higher than what would be needed to pay debt and operate and maintain the lanes.

"It's real frustrating that they would put through charade of encouraging local control and ask for us to come up with their own plan if not going to consider it," said Plano Mayor Pat Evans. "Our plan...frees up funds for the state to use in other places. We offered to take it off their protect our citizens."

The proposal state: "Because of a shortage of state funds to meet an increasing demand for new is not realistic to expect that TxDOT will have capital funds needed to fully develop the undeveloped right-of-way of State Highway 121 as a free road.

Collin County's proposal would "Balkanize the region," Brown said.

"That's like the area of Yugoslavia where the entire continent began fighting one another over local differences," the said.

"Other parts of the Metroplex are starting to think, 'If Collin County is getting their own, then maybe they can take over the NTTA (North Texas Tollway Authority).' Dallas County motorists have paid for years...for tolls through Plano and Frisco," Brown said.

Addressing his personal views, Brown stressed that the Texas Highway Commission would make the final decision.

"We don't want to battle with Collin County; we think there is still room for negotiations," Brown said. "We want to develop a partnership with them that meets the needs of the citizens of Collin County."

Hatchell is exploring alternatives and is hoping the North Texas Tollway Authority can find a way to be involved. If one of the private companies vying for the work gets the contract, Hatchell wants Collin County to have some type of oversight role.

Private companies have approached the state for the right to build on the public right-of-way and obtain the revenues. They include Skansa BOT, Macquarie Infrastructure Group, Texas Toll & Power, Cintra from Madrid, Spain and a team of Pioneer Heritage Partners, Transurban Inc., Fluor Enterprises and Parsons Transportation Group.

"I'm concerned that it will be a push to the private companies," Harris said. "It would make good sense that NTTA will step forward and offer alternatives."

Both Plano and Allen have express concerns about a private company offering upfront money for the right to build and manage the toll road.

"This a statewide just happens that we were the first ones going through it," Hatchell said. "I've been told that this is one of the hottest toll projects in the U.S. That's why the private sector is interested."

Collin County could become a test case for the state as it examines how private companies could pay for the right to build and manage toll roads, Hatchell said. A private company can pay much more initially than the NTTA, he said.

Under state law, surplus money would have to stay in the district, Brown said. The county would be also protected by rules established by the Texas Highway Commission keeping revenues in the region, a Regional Transportation County revenue policy and a local agreement stating surplus revenues would stay in the county, Brown said.

"Perhaps they view the tolls as a cash cow for themselves," Brown said. "They can take the surplus and use it for anything under their proposal. Collin County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation and they will eventually generate surplus. The taxpayers of Collin County would be at risk...because they would underwrite the bonds."

"It's an important decision to make in Collin County, and I'm the peacemaker working both sides." Hatchell said. "We have to have it in five years because that's how long the frontage roads will carry our traffic."

Contact staff writer Amy Morenz at 972-398-4263 or

©Star Community Newspapers 2005


"There is a tremendous disconnect between the will of the people and the leadership in Austin."

Fayette County resident seeks seat in Senate

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Brenham Banner Press
Copyright 2005

A Fayette County resident who has been actively campaigning against efforts for a "super highway" in Texas has announced his candidacy for the state Senate.

David Stall, co-founder of, a statewide non-partisan organization opposing the Trans-Texas Corridor project, has announced his candidacy for the Senate District 18 seat now held by Democrat Ken Armbrister.

District 18 includes Washington County.

Stall, who will be a Republican candidate, acknowledged his campaign has been stimulated by his objections to the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Gov. Rick Perry has pushed the corridor, a multi-use, statewide network of transportation routes in Texas that would incorporate existing and new highways, railways and utility right-of-ways. Specific routes have not been determined.

"I agree that the state population is growing and we need better and safer roads," Stall said in his announcement. "I also understand that we need to address congestion, but I have serious concerns about the Trans-Texas Corridor and how it is being advanced.

"After nearly two years of attending state agency and legislative meetings and visiting with thousands of Texans, I see a bigger picture and bigger problems. There is a tremendous disconnect between the will of the people and the leadership in Austin."

He added that "Texans are asking for lower taxes and the Legislature is giving them more debt and bigger government. And they're doing it in ways that are hidden from the public and lack fundamental accountability.

" I have watched our legislature in action -- and failing to act. And maybe worst of all, in the last four years we have seen our state government spend more time and money accomplishing less than ever before."

Stall's background includes emergency management, law enforcement, municipal finance and business management. Stall, a police officer and arson investigator, retired from law enforcement with 21 years of continuous service that began as a patrolman and concluded at retirement with the rank of fire marshal chief.

Since 1991 he has been a professional city manager serving urban and rural communities in Colorado and Harris counties. In 2003 he earned the designation of Credentialed Manager from the International City/County Management Association.

Stall has previously been elected to city council and during his public career been appointed to numerous positions particularly in the areas of parks, emergency management, and municipal finance.

Stall and his wife Linda moved to a 90-year-old farm house near Fayetteville in Fayette County in 2000.

Presently, Stall is vice-chairman of the United States Selective Service System Local Board that serves five counties within District 18, a director of the Columbus Lion's Club, member of the Clean Texas Citizen Advisory Board, Texas Farm Bureau, and is active in several other civic organizations.

© 2005 Brenham Banner Press:


"This process is only worthwhile if the public trusts the outcome."

A halting start for toll road panel

Critics fear review of next set of turnpikes has been co-opted by supporters.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2005

The box lunches, at least, came with no toll.

But carrying the weight of almost two years of toll road turmoil, an ad hoc committee formed to oversee a study on the controversial issue struggled through its first meeting Tuesday.

The group of mostly elected officials haggled through a lunchtime get-together -- politely -- over everything from who would co-chair the committee to whether to hire someone to do the humdrum work of setting up meetings and distributing agendas.

Underlying Tuesday's hair-splitting is the charge, made by anti-toll activists originally but echoed by some officials Tuesday, that what was originally envisioned as an independent review of Austin's second wave of proposed toll roads has been co-opted by the people who conceived and pushed through that toll road plan last year.

The fear is that the coalition of local governments that pitched in $350,000 to do the study could in the end produce a dead-on-arrival report.

"This process is only worthwhile if the public trusts the outcome," said state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, a member of the steering committee.

The study, Strama said, needs to be "not just a ratification of what's already been decided but rather a meaningful exploration of what's best for this community."

Central Texas was first introduced to what's known as the Phase 2 toll road plan in April 2004.

At that point, three toll roads were already under construction, and two were in the planning stages. All of this first wave of turnpikes were completely new roads cut through farm and ranch land.

What distinguished the Phase 2 plan of seven roads -- later cut to five -- was that it envisioned turning several existing highways interrupted with stoplights into expressways that would have toll charges on the main lanes and free frontage roads.

And it included three roads already under construction with gasoline tax dollars.

The plan was approved by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board, which is made up primarily of elected officials, in July 2004, but that only fueled the controversy.

Austin City Council Member Brewster McCracken, a CAMPO board member who voted for the plan, later had second thoughts.

McCracken conceived the idea of having the City of Austin do a $144,000 study of the Phase 2 plan, examining the underlying data and assumptions and perhaps proposing alternative ways to get the roads built.

The City Council hired Charles River Associates, now known as CRA International Inc., a Boston company, to do the study.

McCracken then began discussions with some toll road supporters about expanding the scope of the plan to, at least to some degree, dispel the idea that it would be "only a hatchet job," as McCracken put it Tuesday.

To expand the study, McCracken and others managed to secure promises of another $200,000 from Round Rock, Williamson County, Travis County, Hays County and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. That last agency will ultimately operate the toll roads.

The steering committee has representatives from all those governments, as well as Strama and state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, the driving force behind the Phase 2 plan.

McCracken and Krusee will co-chair the steering committee, which has the mission of overseeing the Boston consultant.

The study could take as much as a year to complete, during which time nothing is to be done on the Phase 2 projects that would lock them into being toll roads.; 445-3698
© 2005 Austin American-Statesman:


TxDOT views roads like Highway 121 as top candidates for toll roads and future revenue.

Fork in the road for Highway 121 work

Collin County: Agency has several options on ways to turn it into a tollway

Thursday, November 10, 2005
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2005

The North Texas Tollway Authority will consider several options Friday for placing tolls on State Highway 121 in Collin County, and one of the ideas could signal a shift in the way the agency builds and operates future toll roads.

An option to be presented to the agency's board of directors calls for the tollway authority to pay $200 million to $345 million in toll or bond revenue to help build other, non-toll-road projects throughout the region. It would mark the first time that NTTA toll revenue could be diverted to nontoll projects.

"It's a big change," tollway authority board chairman David Blair Jr. said. "This is the exception at the moment, but it might be the rule in the future."

Under the proposal, tolls would be based on a 15-cent-per-mile rate. That is similar to rates a private company would charge if the state were to allow it to build and operate a toll road along 10 miles from the Dallas North Tollway to Central Expressway.

The state has received bids from several companies, some as far away as Europe, to operate a Highway 121 toll road in Denton and Collin counties.

The tollway authority also will consider a second proposal that calls for it to build and operate a Highway 121 toll road in Collin County and charge a rate of about 12 cents a mile.

That figure does not include any money spent on nontoll projects, and it also would require cities adjacent to the road to pay for frontage road maintenance.

The 12-cent-per-mile cost is similar to what officials in Collin County, Plano, Frisco, Allen and McKinney had estimated when they proposed creating a local government corporation that would build and operate the toll road.

Local officials have been backing away from the locally based toll road proposal for several weeks. They now expect it to be rejected by the Texas Transportation Commission and the Texas Department of Transportation, which view roads like Highway 121 as top candidates for toll roads and future revenue.

Money back
In addition, the state has said it would seek about $300 million from any company or agency interested in taking over Highway 121 as a toll road project. That amount generally reflects the state's investment to date in Highway 121.

"We believe in the NTTA. It's a matter of what the Transportation Commission will accept for use of that road," said Collin County Commissioner Jack Hatchell.

Regional leaders will also be considering another toll road option today. That choice, to be presented at a workshop for the Regional Transportation Council, would create an umbrella financial agency that could collect and distribute toll revenue for projects regionwide, Mr. Hatchell said.

"That sounds like a good option. The majority of the money raised in Collin County would stay in Collin County," he said. "But we don't have any decisions on anything yet."

Bob Brown, deputy district engineer for the Transportation Department's Dallas office, said, "I don't know what to say about the proposal because I haven't seen it."

Any State Highway 121 plan must be approved by the Transportation Commission and the Regional Transportation Council, a North Texas group made up of 40 mostly elected city and county officials. A decision is expected by December.

May open by 2010
Construction on a toll road could start in 2007, and the road could be open in 2010.
In general, the state will be looking for a payment or possibly a revenue-sharing agreement if it allows a state road to be converted to a toll road, Mr. Brown said.

"That's what we hope for because we don't think in the future there will be gas tax to maintain all our roads," he said.

He added that the proposed payment from the tollway authority could help build and maintain other roads.

'A lot of questions'
Collin County Judge Ron Harris said he is reserving judgment on the proposals. He pointed out that the tollway authority, cities and county already have contributed more than $100 million to Highway 121 construction, which may not have been considered by the state when it came up with its estimate of a $300 million payment for any private bidder to take over Highway 121.

"There are a lot of questions going on with it," Mr. Harris said.

Those questions also extend to the project cost estimates, he said. According to some estimates, building a 10-mile toll road with electronic toll collection only and building major interchanges at the tollway and at Central would cost about $366 million. However, a recent estimate from Collin County consultants found that such a project could cost $439 million.
The tollway authority considered building a toll road along Highway 121 several years ago but determined that it would not be feasible. Since then, the county has gained thousands of residents.


© 2005 The Dallas Morning News Co


Defeat of Proposition 9 " confirms a lack of trust in mobility authorities around the state."

Brechtel set for 'very tough job' at toll road group


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

Former City Manager Terry Brechtel, who is no stranger to controversy, will be the new face of toll roads in San Antonio.

The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority offered her the director's job Wednesday, effective at the first of the year. Her salary, which will be negotiated, ranges from $150,000 to $185,000 a year.

"I welcome her to a very tough job," said board member Bill McBride.

Brechtel, who will replace Tom Griebel, has seen trouble before, and on Wednesday she spoke boldly of how she's ready for what could be turbulent times.

"This is going to be a challenging job, and that's exactly why I'm here," she said.

Brechtel has worked for 24 years in local government, including 31/2 as San Antonio's city manager, a job she quit last year after a six-day standoff with then-Mayor Ed Garza. But she left with the respect of many in the community.

"The Alamo RMA has made a wise and thoughtful decision, one that will benefit our region as we work to relieve traffic congestion," said Joe Krier, president of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

As city manager, Brechtel oversaw an annual budget of more than $1.5 billion and a staff of more than 12,000. Mobility authority board members said her knowledge of finances, regulations, negotiations and management is needed to deal with major players from world-class toll companies.

"I want someone who is bright, capable, sharp, cautious to be representing us," Chairman Bill Thornton said.

The unanimous vote to hire Brechtel came a day after Texas voters defeated Proposition 9, which means board members' terms will be limited to two years instead of six.

The outcome confirms a lack of trust in mobility authorities around the state, critic David Ramos of Texas Toll Party told the San Antonio board. He added that hiring Brechtel, a government insider, doesn't help.

"They need to be listening to the grass-roots citizens," he said.

Board members lamented being stuck to two-year-only terms, saying more time would have added stability. But they also said voters have spoken. Brechtel agreed and said she's used to turnovers in bosses, anyway.

Griebel, who's leaving the director's job so he can spend more time with family in Austin, said he was pleased that Brechtel was tapped to replace him. He offered one bit of advice, telling her she'll have to adjust to having just a handful of staff, at least for a while.

"You have to know how to empty the trash and sweep the floor," he said with a grin.

© 2005 San Antonio Express-News:


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

“We're basically being herded towards a CDA (comprehensive development agreement). "

Local tolling control considered ‘dead'

McKinney Courier-Gazette
Copyright 2005

Collin County Commissioners on Tuesday reported that the possibility of the Texas Department of Transportation allowing the county to manage excess revenue from tolling S.H. 121 through a local government corporation is “dead.”

Commissioners, in deciding to toll S.H. 121, said that their acceptance of tolls on the highway hinged on local control: commissioners want to keep the rate low, they want the board that decides the rate and when to increase it to be locally appointed, and most importantly, they said they wanted excess revenue to be allocated towards road projects in Collin County. To do that, they asked TxDOT if they could manage the money and decisions on toll rates through a local government corporation, while the North Texas Tollway Authority operated the facility.

Jack Hatchell said that he expects a letter from TxDOT rejecting the county's proposition sometime soon. The main problem with the local government corporation option is that TxDOT wants to charge $200 million to $500 million for the use of state right-of-way on which to operate the toll booths - money the commissioners say, they don't have.

Though Hatchell said that the local government corporation option is “dead,” their second choice is for the NTTA to both manage and operate the road, but the problem with that option is that according to NTTA policies, funds may still be distributed across the four counties served by the NTTA. Commissioners would have to negotiate with NTTA to find a means to ensure that the money goes only to Collin County.

Bob Brown, a TxDOT deputy district engineer, said on Monday the state will almost assuredly make the construction and operation decision. There's no other example of a local entity controlling a regional and state road, he said.

According to the county's proposal, the local government corporation could build and manage the $752 million tollway between North Central Expressway and the Dallas North Tollway, building interchanges at both ends. Further, it calls for a May election in which county voters would decide whether to approve $400 million in standby ad valorem taxes if the tollway does not generate expected revenues. The Collin County-controlled organization would assume all financial obligations. Tolls would not be set higher than what would be needed to pay debt and operate and maintain the lanes.

Collin County's proposal would “Balkanize the region,” Brown said.

“That's like the area of Yugoslavia where the entire continent began fighting one another over local differences,” he said. “Other parts of the Metroplex are starting to think, ‘If Collin County is getting their own, then maybe they can take over the NTTA (North Texas Tollway Authority).' Dallas County motorists have paid for years Š for tolls through Plano and Frisco,” Brown said.

Addressing his personal views, Brown stressed that the Texas Highway Commission would make the final decision.

“We don't want to battle with Collin County; we think there is still room for negotiations,” Brown said. “We want to develop a partnership with them that meets the needs of the citizens of Collin County.”

The least favorable option, according to commissioners, is a comprehensive development agreement. Under such an agreement, TxDOT would choose the operator and funds would be distributed regionally.

“Regional use of the funds, at least for me, would not be acceptable at this time,” said county judge Ron Harris. “The kicker would be how much we ask our citizens to pay.”

Commissioners have repeatedly expressed the desire to keep toll costs to users low-15 cents per mile, or rates comparable to those charged by the NTTA are what the commissioners want to see.

“We're basically being herded towards a CDA (comprehensive development agreement). Even if NTTA does it, it will still be treated like a CDA,” Harris said. “But whether NTTA does it or not, the main thing is local control.”

If one of the private companies vying for the work gets the contract, Hatchell wants Collin County to have some type of oversight role.

Private companies have approached the state for the right to build on the public right-of-way and obtain the revenues.

The news could threaten the pact Collin County has made with the affected cities of Plano, Allen, McKinney and Frisco, in which all cities agreed to support tolling only if excess revenue is distributed to projects within the county.

“It's real frustrating that they would put through charade of encouraging local control and ask for us to come up with their own plan if not going to consider it,” said Plano Mayor Pat Evans. “Our plan frees up funds for the state to use in other places. We offered to take it off their plate to protect our citizens.”

If the cities do pull out of the agreement, the Regional Transportation Commission of the North Central Texas Council of Governments will mediate with them, and if a decision cannot be reached, the RTC will vote on whether or not to toll the road, and “we don't have the votes,” said commissioner Hatchell.

The commissioners will meet publicly with city officials Nov. 14, fro 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Allen City Hall to discuss their options.

Staff Writer Amy Morenz contributed to this report.

Contact Krystal De Los Santos at

© 2005 McKinney Courier-Gazette


TxDOT: “The road fairy has been shot.”

‘I-69 is dead’

road fairy

With lawmakers wary of both tolls and taxes but wanting roads, magic might be the only option.

State, federal officials disagree on status of road

By Matt Whittaker
The Monitor
Copyright 2005

WESLACO, November 9, 2005 — There are not enough federal dollars for an Interstate highway to the Rio Grande Valley, state officials said Tuesday

“I-69 is dead in the state of Texas,” Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton told about 75 area city officials and business leaders at a lunch discussion about transportation issues. “The road fairy has been shot.”

But federal lawmakers said the project to create an Interstate linking major commercial centers in Mexico, the United States and Canada is still alive and is reaching a point where it’s time for Texas to carry its share.

The state is considering a Trans-Texas Corridor, separate from the Interstate system, that would be built by the private sector and paid for through tolls.

Interstate 69, a 1,600-mile highway connecting the three North American Free Trade Agreement countries, would have to be paid for by Washington and the eight states involved in the project. The Interstate would extend from South Texas to eastern Michigan. But its completion isn’t likely, according to Texas officials.

The initial study area for the Trans-Texas Corridor is roughly 1,000 miles long. Routes under consideration in South Texas include U.S. 59, U.S. 281 and U.S. 77. The Valley is the only metropolitan area in the state without direct access to an Interstate highway.

The state corridor could enter near Texarkana and end up somewhere in the Valley, Houghton said. In January, the Texas Department of Transportation could begin searching for engineers and exploring route locations and environmental impacts, he said.

Waiting for federal funds is futile, said Houghton, who is one of four commissioners on the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees TxDOT. Gov. Rick Perry appointed Houghton to the commission in December 2003.

A spokesman for Perry, Robert Black, said the expectation that Washington might spend as much as $7 billion for the I-69 system inside the state is unrealistic.

“From our perspectives, we agree with the commissioner,” Black said.

The federal and Texas governments don’t have the money for an I-69 system, he said. The state isn’t getting enough federal dollars to maintain the systems it already has.

But that doesn’t mean the concept of running a major roadway to the Valley is dead, Black said. The Trans-Texas Corridor would be one option.

“If we want to make I-69 a reality, then we’re going to have to look at a number of other tools,” he said. Possibilities include tolls.

But some of Texas’ lawmakers in Washington disagreed with the state officials about the status of I-69.

“The project’s not dead,” said Ciaran Clayton, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes. “It’s going a lot slower than we’d like.”

Some of the project within Texas is already happening, such as the widening of U.S. 281 to make it Interstate compatible, she said.

A $300 billion highway bill approved by Congress in July carved out $50 million for studies on the I-69 project. The money is on top of more than $20 million from the previous three years.

Once environmental studies are finished, the state will know where the highway is going to go. Then Hinojosa would work with other lawmakers to determine when construction would start and find the money for it, Clayton said,

The highway bill increases Texas’ rate of return on gas tax dollars sent to Washington from 90.5 percent under the previous highway bill to 92 percent by 2008. The new reimbursement rate will increase Texas’ share of highway funding to $2.89 billion.

Now that more federal transportation dollars are flowing to Texas, “at this point the state needs to decide whether I-69 is a top priority,” said Chris Paulitz, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

“For decades, TxDOT has shortchanged the Valley,” U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, said in an e-mailed statement. “The resources that should have gone to construct an expressway connecting us to the rest of the state went instead to Dallas, Houston and elsewhere. Since TxDOT will receive a significant increase in federal funding from the new transportation bill, the question for I-69 should be not where’s the funeral but when is the ribbon cutting."

Houghton blamed federally funded transportation projects in Alaska and Massachusetts for the lack of money for the I-69 project, but some in Washington say most of the money was never really expected to come from Congressional earmarks.

Funding for state transportation projects could come from several sources, Houghton said, and local communities need to be involved with voicing their transportation needs and creative with ways to fund them.

He mentioned funding could come through tolls, bonds or raising taxes and fees on water, electricity or cable bills.

The Rio Grande Valley Partnership, a chamber of commerce for the Valley, and the Rio Grande Valley Mobility Task Force, a lobby group, hosted the luncheon.

Texas would benefit from a corridor through the state because it would make it easier to move goods from Mexico and overseas out of the state.

“If you want commerce, you’ve got to move it faster,” he said. “We are going to be the trade corridor for this hemisphere.”

Partnership president and CEO Bill Summers said he was surprised by Houghton’s remarks.

“I don’t think it’s dead, I just think we’ve got to find another source of funding,” he said after the lunch. “It might be dead for a while. The concept of I-69 is not dead.”

Whether funded by the state or federal governments, there will eventually be a major highway connection to the Valley, he said.

“They’re not going to take that dream away from us.”

© 2005 The Monitor


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

"Some board members were concerned that Walsh may have favored TxDOT, her former employer, more than local interests."

Planning agency boss quits


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

The Metropolitan Planning Organization, an agency that helped kick-start the move toward toll roads in San Antonio, is losing its director.

Joanne Walsh, director of the MPO since May 1, 2002, submitted her resignation Friday, effective in two weeks.

"I have reached this decision after being courted by a prestigious consulting firm and doing a lot of personal goal setting," she said in a letter e-mailed to board members.

The organization's board, made up of elected officials and representatives of various agencies, last year approved about $500 million in public funds for more than 70 miles of toll roads in San Antonio. Either the Texas Department of Transportation or the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority will oversee them.

Walsh, a native of Devine, worked in legislative affairs for TxDOT's main office in Austin before coming to the planning organization. She was with the state department for 21 years.

Now she's headed to Parsons Brinckerhoff, a planning, engineering and management firm. She'll be the local office manager, reportedly for more than her current $82,870 a year.

Walsh was known for putting a lot of words behind the need for multiple modes of transportation, including passenger rail and sidewalks. She also spoke strongly for toll roads.

But she didn't always say what everybody wanted to hear. Once, in an open meeting, she rebuked her board for not getting along better. When her annual evaluation came up last spring, board members decided not to give her a raise.

"But there was no angst or anything," said Richard Perez, who joined the board late last year and became chairman in June. "I think she was doing a good job.

"I'm going to miss her," Perez, a city councilman, said Monday. "She is a very, very savvy woman who understands how things work."

Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson, who was chairman before Perez and remains on the board, said some board members were concerned that Walsh may have favored TxDOT, her former employer, more than local interests.

"We had that talk with her, and she understood where we were coming from," he said. "I thought we were clear of that hurdle."

Walsh had to deal with 19 voting board members with stakes in no fewer than half a dozen organizations.

"Sometimes there are competing interests," she said. "They're not always in sync. My goal has always been to do what's best for this area, not what's best for one individual agency."

As the board searches for a new director, it could name planner Jeanne Geiger as acting director. She's the organization's No. 2 person.

© 2005 San Antonio Express-News: