Saturday, November 19, 2005

Krusee: "There are just a lot more cats to herd in Travis than there are in Williamson."

Counties may veer on road to 130

Today's toll road summit shows that Travis and Williamson governments could be heading down different planning tracks.

November 19, 2005

By Stephen Scheibal
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2005

If you're from Travis County, today's Texas 130 Corridor Summit looks like the big deal its planners want it to be: the three dozen speakers and panelists include past and current Austin mayors, a majority of the county Commissioners Court and a handful of prominent planners, all talking about the uncharted future of land around the region's new highway.

If you live a bit north of that — and you notice that Williamson County's official representation consists of one influential state representative and one Georgetown City Council member — the event might seem curiously remote.

The agenda for today's summit provides a measure of how differing cultures and priorities have put Williamson and Travis counties on very different tracks as both prepare for Texas 130.

In about two years, the 49-mile, $1.5 billion toll road will roll across rural plains east of Austin and Round Rock, opening the corridor to development that would be unimaginable without the road.

Officials in Williamson County and at Envision Central Texas, the planning group sponsoring the summit, all say the attendance reflects a confluence of scheduling conflicts.

It is not, they say, proof that the group — which has no regulatory power but was formed to help communities prepare for a population boom — has become Austin-centric.

But even a casual survey of 130 preparations demonstrates that Williamson County officials have not hesitated to detach their planning process from Envision Central Texas' deliberations. Austin, by contrast, has moved much more slowly.

"I think Williamson County and Round Rock should be lauded for their planning efforts. . . . In Austin, 130 seems to be just kind of an afterthought," said David Armbrust, a lawyer who represents developers in the corridor and is close to several Austin officials. "We just can't afford the luxury of dialogue for a year. It really should have been done six months or a year ago."

In Williamson County, business and political leaders have started planning utility infrastructure and road grids that will seed the land for development. Officials in different governments also talk regularly about what they are doing to prepare for the road and what they should be doing together.

There has already been one large-scale planning meeting for residents and officials; another is planned for Nov. 30.

Travis County, particularly its biggest city, has not seen nearly as much activity. Voters this month did approve more than $65 million in bonds to pay for new county roads and drainage projects, most of them in the vicinity of the new toll road.

But Austin, by far the region's dominant player, currently imagines no such projects.

A committee formed by Mayor Will Wynn that included several Envision Central Texas board members has recommended $852 million for new projects affecting the city's future. But the recommendations ignore roads and infrastructure near 130.

"There's just no question that today we're not ready" for Texas 130, Wynn said this week.

City officials laid out a plan earlier this year to annex land in the corridor. But the plan fizzled, and city officials are looking for other ways to get utilities and services into the corridor.

State Rep. Mike Krusee, a Republican who represents Williamson County and is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has been active both in Williamson County's discussions and in Envision Central Texas. He said his county will be open to any recommendations that come out of the group.

The key in Williamson County, Krusee said, will be the results of Envision Central Texas' work. Travis County, he said, focuses more on the process, and the vast array of political interests in the city and on the Envision Central Texas board means that both entities move more slowly.

"It's so much easier to do things in Williamson County," Krusee said. Austin-area leaders "are not just sitting on their hands. There are just a lot more cats to herd in Travis than there are in Williamson."

Political leaders across Travis County, particularly in Austin, have thrown in enthusiastically with Envision Central Texas.

But the organization has spent much of its time balancing the cacophony of voices it represents.

Envision Central Texas Chairman Fritz Steiner, who's also dean of the University of Texas School of Architecture, said he hopes the summit will give people an idea of the challenges and opportunities facing them all and the ways that some officials are confronting them.

"I think there's probably different levels of understanding the corridor as a region," Steiner said.

The Lower Colorado River Authority, the agency that manages the region's surface water supplies, plans to convene its own 130-centered meeting of elected officials at the end of the month.

LCRA spokesman Robert Cullick said it's natural, and not necessarily bad, that the counties would plan for themselves first before turning to less-familiar neighbors.

Speaking of the Williamson County communities preparing for Texas 130, Cullick said, "These are communities that like each other. They're of the same size. They're of the same shape. . . . These people play football against each other on Fridays.

"It's all moving in a direction of people and communities wanting to be the best they can under similar circumstances."; 445-3819

© 2005 Austin American-Statesman:


Friday, November 18, 2005

Sen. Eltife says he is against putting resources into the Trans-Texas Corridor

Eltife gives lawmakers low scores

November 18, 2005

By Mary Madewell
The Paris News
Copyright 2005

State Sen. Kevin Eltife gives every state elected officials, including himself, an “F” on school finance reform and calls Republicans to produce leadership and results.

The District 1 senator shared the analysis of his first legislative session with a Chamber of Commerce audience gathered at Paris Golf and County Club Thursday.

“We should have cut property taxes, properly funded public education and should have given teachers a pay raise they desperately deserve,” Eltife said.

He noted the average beginning teacher earns $24,000 yearly.

“That’s an embarrassment,” he said.

Eltife said many leaders blame lobbyists for the legislature’s past failures but that the buck stops with elected officials.

“Some will go around blaming the business lobby and some the education lobby,” Eltife said. “If you want to blame somebody, blame every elected official in this state.”

Eltife targeted his own political party.

“I am a Repub-lican,” Eltife said. “Republicans control the House, Republicans control the Senate and Republicans control every statewide elected office. If we are going to control all these offices, we need to provide leadership and it is time we step up to the plate. We asked for these jobs and we need to deliver.”

No matter the political consequences, the District 1 senator says he will continue to vote his conscious and what he believes are the wishes of his district on matters facing the Texas Legislature.

“It doesn’t matter whether the governor is on the other side of the issue or the lieutenant governor, when I am on the Senate floor and I make a vote it is going to be for my district and what is right in my heart no matter who is on the other side of an issue,” Eltife said to a round of applause.

Eltife said he understands his stance could cost him his job. The senator stands for election in 2006.

“I was fine before I was your state senator and I will be fine if you send me home packing,” Eltife continued. “But, I can promise you this, when I am in Austin I am going to do what I think is right for you, not for anybody else. That is why I am there.”

The senator expressed cautious optimism about the future of real education reform.

“If we have the political courage, we can pass a school reform bill that works,” Eltife said. “Hopefully members who have gone back home to their districts are hearing that people want this problem solved.”

Eltife commented briefly about the committee Gov. Rick Perry commissioned to study tax reform. The committee is headed by Democrat John Sharp, former comptroller and twice a Perry opponent for state office.

“I visited with John Sharp a couple of weeks ago,” Eltife said. “We are pretty much in agreement about where he thinks his committee will go with businesses taxes — something broad-based; something equitable; and something fair.”

Since taking office, Eltife has pushed for a net receipts tax that every Texas business would pay with the exception of those that make less than $200,000 a year.

He explained his proposal.

“You take the current franchise tax and make sure everybody pays it,” Eltife said. “If you do that you can lower the current franchise tax rate and bring everybody under the umbrella. It’s fair and equitable and everybody shares the burden of school finance, and you lower people’s property tax rates.”

Eltife said manufacturing jobs must be protected and school property taxes cut a minimum 50 cents per $100 valuation. The current state cap for school maintenance and operations taxes is $1.50 per $100 valuation.

“You have to protect the manufacturers in this state,” Eltife said. “They are the best jobs we have. If you don’t protect those jobs you don’t have the service sector jobs.”

Eltife said businesses currently registered as limited partnerships rather than corporations should share the tax burden.

“We are really after those large companies who do not pay the franchise tax,” Eltife said. “Only one in six businesses pay the franchise tax.

“The older corporations (like Campbell Soup and Kimberly Clark) pay franchise taxes and have carried the burden way too long,” Eltife concluded.

On other issues, Eltife said lawmakers did a better job during the 79th Legislature. He noted the passage of asbestos litigation reform as well as workers compensation reform.

“Hopefully we will see lower insurance rates as a result,” Eltife said.

The senator also called child protective service reform “a key issue.”

“The most innocent victims, the most precious assets in this state — our children — were not being properly taken care of,” Eltife said. “Fifty percent of children in Child Protective Services were falling through the cracks.

“We added funding and reformed CPS and we hope we fixed it, but we need to keep an eye on that because it is too important for our state,” Eltife said.

Fielding questions from the audience, Eltife said he is against putting resources into a Trans-Texas Corridor with many unfunded highways and transportation issues needing immediate attention.

He called the multi-lane rail and road corridor “a pie in the sky pipe dream.”

“We are talking about something years out when we are not taking care of our needs today,” the senator said in answer to a question about a four-lane highway into Paris.

Addressing a question about community college funding, Eltife said the state should be funding at 100 percent rather than placing a burden on property owners.

“They are educating an incredible workforce for our communities across this state but we are funding them at half of what we told them we would give them,” Eltife said of a plan implemented when he served on the Texas Higher Education Board.

“We have got to decide what we want in this state,” Eltife said.

“I think we can properly fund public education,” Eltife said of both public schools and community colleges.

© 2005 The Paris News


"Someone has to stand in the gap and protect our citizens," Purefoy said. "Too many times the citizens come in last place."

Council tables taking back SH 121 resolution; Perry shrugs


By Mike Raye
The Frisco Enterprise
Copyright 2005

Strong opinions about the direction Frisco and its neighbors should take on the State Highway 121 tolls multi-government resolution, in the wake of a cool initial reception from the state, were voiced this week by City Council members and staff Tuesday night and by Senator Florence Shapiro Wednesday morning.

Governor Rick Perry, also in town Wednesday to announce the arrival of a T-Mobile technology campus in Frisco, offered no opinion on the matter when asked.

At the media event's conclusion Wednesday, Mayor Mike Simpson announced the governor had a few minutes to take questions from the press, but - relaying a caveat put in place by Perry's staff - said the governor would "only answer questions about this event." After an awkward pause passed without questions the event was wrapped.

Perry lingered for about 15 minutes more, bowing to media requests to make himself available for more diverse questions. The governor answered tough inquiries about FEMA and hurricane relief, border control and other issues, but was ultimately swept away by staffers, citing his "tight schedule."

By the time the subject of highway funding was broached, Perry's availability had ebbed.

"Why isn't there enough money in Texas to build highways?" the governor asked, repeating a Frisco Enterprise question. Perry shrugged, turned and walked away, pausing only to have his picture made with corporate dignitaries.

He offered no answer.

Critics of the state's transportation department would argue therein lies the rub. The state needs roads desperately, but has no solution for paying for most of them.

Unlike the governor, State Senator Florence Shapiro was loaded with strong opinions about 121 and tolls.

"What is the solution?" Shapiro asked. "I absolutely believe that we have to have an agreement that the cities and the county can agree to. I am very supportive of my community, and if we can't find something that is reasonable and that the state will agree to we need to keep trying and find another option and another option. It is not an option to let this project die. It is too important a project for all of Collin County."

Shapiro said the state's highway funding structure is fundamentally flawed.

"That's part of the reason they are building toll roads all the time," she said. "Currently the money we spend (on roads) is only from the gas tax (revenue). We only have enough money to build one third of what we need around the state. Unfortunately for us in Collin County, we will be surrounded on three sides by toll roads. I am adamant that excess dollars raised from these toll roads stay in Collin County."

Keeping local control over toll revenue and the administration of tolls - including setting the price - is the key part of the local agreement between Frisco, Allen, Plano, McKinney and Collin County. The Frisco City Council held a provision in its back pocket should the state reject the five-government resolution that it would enact a resolution to rescind the city's involvement in the partnership.

With a Dec. 15 meeting with the Texas Transportation Commission in Austin ahead, the council voted to wait it out before jumping ship.

"My desire to rescind this is outweighed by my desire to work with our partners, Plano, Allen, McKinney and Collin County," said Maher Maso, the city's mayor pro tem. "I would hate for Frisco to be the lone city to pull out and abandon the coalition we worked so hard to form."

The Plano and Allen city councils voted prior to Frisco's meeting to move forward with the resolution, hoping for the best come Dec. 15.

One idea that has come to the front - in the shadow of the state taking competitive bids from private national and international companies to build the road - is for a local entity well versed with building toll roads in the area, the North Texas Tollway Authority, to build and maintain 121.

"I think the future of this type of program, of highway projects like this, is that Texas companies start bidding on these projects," Shapiro said. "I am very hopeful that will happen, and I mean the North Texas Tollway Authority."

City Manager George Purefoy said standing up against the state, who sees 121 as a "cash cow" and a revenue stream more than a highway is a noble and necessary fight. People most directly affected should be the primary beneficiaries, he said.

"Someone has to stand in the gap and protect our citizens," Purefoy said. "Too many times the citizens come in last place."

©Star Community Newspapers 2005


La Entrada al Pacífico: The next priority corridor?

Seliger: MOTRAN a priority in next legislative session

State senator: La Entrada key to West Texas economy

Friday, 18 November 2005

By David J. Lee

Odessa American
Copyright 2005

MIDLAND INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT State Sen. Kel Seliger told the Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance on Thursday that West Texas trade corridors are at the top of his priority list when the Texas Legislature meets next.

“Part of what we do is discuss in the interim how to prepare for the next legislative session beginning in January 2007,” Seliger said. “MOTRAN, you’ll be happy to know, will be a big part of that.”

Seliger said he considers La Entrada al Pacífico important to the economy of West Texas.
“The statistics show that right now Texas is about 55 percent a service economy,” Seliger said. “That’s not good or bad. But, the majority of Texas is not concerned with the transportation of goods. I think that’s not necessarily the case in West Texas.”

Seliger said while projects like the TransTexas Corridor — a massive highway project proposed up Interstate 35 — are good for the state, he believes money would be better spent in West Texas.

“I think of economic development and progress, we’d have more economic opportunity dollar for dollar created by money spent in West Texas — whether it be La Entrada al Pacífico or the 349 reliever route — than by just pouring more concrete in big cities,” Seliger said.

“We’re concerned in West Texas about how we’re growing our business and our industry when we look at transportation as an economic asset, and it is,” he said. “Without it, we don’t have our business or industry.”

Seliger was the keynote speaker Thursday at the annual MOTRAN meeting at the Permian Basin Regional Planning Commission near the airport.

MOTRAN President James Beauchamp said for 2005, the 14-year-old political action committee had a return of $78 on each dollar spent on administration of MOTRAN. That’s compared to a $42 return per dollar in 2004.

“That’s comparing what we spent on administration to what we brought in,” Beauchamp said. “We take that as a good sign.”

After thanking Seliger for his help and attendance, Beauchamp also commended U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway for his help with the transportation bill that designated La Entrada as a high priority corridor.

“For anyone who had doubts about the effectiveness of having a congressman from your area, wonder no more,” he said.

Drew Crutcher, chairman of MOTRAN’s board, said he’s looking forward to the next year on the committee.

“Over the last 14 years, we’ve been doing a lot of talking,” he said. “We’re about to start doing a lot of walking.”

© 2005 Odessa Anerican


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Local 121 tollers buckle under pressure from TxDOT

Collin to work with toll agency

Collin: But 121 fees could be higher after officials nix idea of local control

November 17, 2005

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2005

Collin County officials won't lobby the state for a new local agency to build and operate toll roads on State Highway 121, an official said Wednesday.

Instead, local officials hope to work with the North Texas Tollway Authority to determine how the project can be accomplished, although it's possible that motorists on a Highway 121 toll road could pay fees slightly higher than anticipated. Many details could be resolved by the time leaders in Collin County and its four largest cities meet with the Texas Transportation Commission in Austin on Dec. 15 to discuss Highway 121's future as a toll road.

"It presents a challenge," Collin County Commissioner Jack Hatchell said. "We hope to at least have a concept to go down to the highway commission with."

County officials had expressed hope to create their own agency that would charge motorists 12 cents a mile, enough to recoup project costs. If tolls are expected to generate revenue for other nontoll road work, a rate closer to 15 cents a mile is expected.

County leaders met Tuesday with consultants to determine how a toll road could be built by the existing tollway authority.

At issue is the state's view that Highway 121 is an asset that will produce toll revenue that could be used for other projects. That could lead to an unprecedented case in which toll revenue collected by the tollway authority could be spent on nontoll road projects, probably in Collin County.

Under one scenario, the agency would lease the land and the existing road from the state, then finish the project as part of its system. State officials have mentioned total payments of about $300 million. Any toll revenue that exceeds projections could go to the tollway authority, which might be a sticking point for the state.

The other option would be for the tollway authority to build Highway 121 in Collin County as a separate project. In that case, construction bonds would not be guaranteed by tolls on other area toll roads. That would probably drive up borrowing and overall project costs and could drive up the toll on the 10-mile project.

North Texas' Regional Transportation Council would have to approve any plan before it is sent to the state.

Four private companies also have bid for the rights to a Highway 121 toll road in Denton and Collin counties, and the state wants to move forward with those proposals by early next year if local officials' proposals won't work.

Collin County's efforts are good examples of Gov. Rick Perry's efforts to give regional officials more control over transportation funding decisions, Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said.

"It's up to those people to negotiate that. We will look at what they bring to us," he said. "We're all going to face these issues as the concept of regionalism in the state expands."


Dallas Morning News:


San Juan Mayor is opposed to RMA's, toll roads

State commission to vote on RMA

November 17,2005

Victoria Hirschberg
The Monitor
Copyright 2005

McALLEN — The Texas Transportation Commission will consider approving Hidalgo County’s petition to create a regional mobility authority today.

A regional mobility authority, comprising seven board members, could pass bonds and initiate local infrastructure projects, including toll roads.

Local officials are confident the commission will approve the RMA despite strife from local residents, especially those from San Juan. A TxDOT study of toll roads in the county showed an initial route from the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, through San Juan and Alamo.

San Juan residents and officials said this road would detract from its frontage road and hurt the small city’s economy.

"One of the main reasons I’m definitely opposed to RMAs is because they push for these toll roads as a way of generating funds," said San Juan’s Mayor San Juanita Sanchez, who will head to Austin today with other residents to speak at the meeting and has vehemently opposed any toll road through her city.

County Judge Ramon Garcia said he does not support toll roads, but believes the RMA is necessary for Hidalgo County. If approved, he will appoint one member to the RMA board, as will the four county commissioners. The McAllen commissioners also have one appointment. The governor will appoint the chair.

"It’s the most important economic board to be created in Hidalgo County," Garcia said. "They will be evaluating all transportation needs, including public transportation."

He said even without the RMA, TxDOT could approve a toll road.

Ted Houghton, a TxDOT commissioner, said Wednesday the RMA does not equate toll roads. He spoke to several reporters about today’s meeting agenda.

"It doesn’t have to be a toll road, it could be leveraging (dollars)," said Houghton, who visited the area last week. "But they need to, as a region, come together and tell us what to do."


Victoria Hirschberg covers Hidalgo County and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach her at (956) 683-4466.

The Monitor


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"The state would be asking citizens to pay twice for a public road."

TxDOT could cut off county over SH 121


By Amy Morenz
Plano Star Courier
Copyright 2005

Collin County stands to lose revenue if doesn't support the state's desire to have private companies build and operate a State Highway 121 toll road in the county, Texas Department of Transportation officials said on Monday.

The Frisco City Council was scheduled to vote on Tuesday whether to rescind its support for a Local Government Authority approved by Collin County, Frisco, McKinney, Allen and Plano. The item was placed on the agenda before Monday's meeting of TxDOT and local government leaders. State highway officials have not been enthusiastic about the idea of a county-run toll organization, said Scott Young, Frisco's assistant city manager.

TxDOT Dallas district engineer Bill Hale invited elected officials to Allen on Monday to informally give the state's response to Collin County's resolution for a Local Government Authority to build and operate SH 121's tolls.

"Your plan would not be received favorably," Hale said. "The state is not abdicating its authority."

Not only would the county lose direct revenue from the tolls themselves if the five governments rescind their backing, but it could also lose revenues to fund other projects, Hale said. Projects like North Central Expressway improvements are not currently in TxDOT's plans, he said.

"If we turn it down, it looks like we won't have another penny from the state or a minimum amount," said Plano city engineer Allan Upchurch.

The issue rests on which organization will build the toll road and the rate motorists will be charged. Collin County's resolution favors a locally run entity. The North Texas Tollway Authority would be its second option to build and manage the project.

The NTTA would have to change its current structure if it becomes involved, said Collin County Commissioner Jack Hatchell. Collin County wants to keep toll revenues in the area. The NTTA's structure, though, requires revenues to be distributed throughout its sytem.

Area leaders said on Tuesday they will keep a Dec. 15 appointment to meet with the State Highway Commission, though they will not make a formal presentation, as originally planned.

Hatchell is expected to ask Plano, Frisco, Allen and McKinney to see if they will stay firm on resolutions supporting for a Local Government Authority. Hatchell doesn't want to go to the Highway Commission with a divided group, he told Plano City Council members on Monday night.

"Our proposal will most likely be turned down," he said. "We've been told if we turn this down, the state will look at how we will fund other projects in the future."

Which could mean gridlock.

"You need to remember the rate of our population growth in the county that's now 1.2 million," said McKinney Mayor Bill Whitfield. "This is an issue of the health, safety and welfare."

Entities other than Collin County have paid for SH 121, Hale said. He suggested an approach where a local group could still set policies for SH 121 tolls under the state's guidance.

A private company would spread the risks, use innovation, provide better management and generate synergy, Hale said. A private company would recover its investment later in the project's lifetime after repaying debt.

"We have to make sure you are educated on what you are losing," Hale said.

Collin County leaders questioned how a private company would generate profits. The North Texas Central Council of Governments plans to schedule a meeting soon to explain how it would work.

"Collin County's gas tax revenues would be tremendous to pay for this," said Plano Councilman Scott Johnson.

The state would be asking citizens to pay twice for a public road, said Allen City Manager Peter Vargas.

"A private company would be expected to make money for this public project," said Vargas. "Our citizens ...want the project without a profit."

Frisco Mayor Mike Simpson wanted more details on how a private company would recoup its investment.

"Our concept was based on repaying only the costs of building," he said. "How would a private company generate a return?"

Hale said every company involved with projects makes a profit, including those who finance bonds purchased from the NTTA.

"I've never seen a subject with more misunderstanding than how a profit would be applied," said Mike Morris of the North Texas Central Council of Governments who manages the Regional Transportation Council. The RTC is charged with making decisions for state roads in North Texas.

Frisco Mayor Mike Simpson wanted more details on how a private company would recoup its investment.

"Our concept was based on repaying only the costs of building," he said. "How would a private company generate a turn?"

NTTA board members are weighing that agency's potential role, but did not make a decision on Friday. Four private companies are vying for the project and asked the state for a decision by year-end.

"We've invited the private sectors to be partners and they bring additional equity," Hale said. "The governor is clear that we are not afraid of private participation."

Collin County would lose potential revenues if it chooses the NTTA, said Hale. Local companies would bring extra revenues to the table in contrast to NTTA, which would need to put money into their system, he said.

In contrast, Collin County's proposal for a Local Government Corporation would make it harder to deal with connectivity and 42.5 percent of SH 121's traffic comes from outside the county, Hale said.

"This is a hell of a road that would provide 100 percent self-sufficiency," said Allan Rutter, NTTA's executive director. "That's why so many private companies want to build it, Our ability gets to the region's goals another way."

Collin County needs to decide what it's willing to pay and how much toll it wants to generate. A private company will probably expect higher tolls, Rutter said.

"That's not the case. That issue is scaring people...and it's almost totally comparable," Hale replied.

The RTC's meeting is Dec. 8 and its technical meeting is Dec. 2.

©Star Community Newspapers 2005


"This situation in Texas is the crucible in which a lot of things are going to be forged. It's not for the faint-hearted."

Water deal could fuel growth along Texas 130

River agency might import groundwater to quench coming thirst around area.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

By Stephen Scheibal
Austin American Statesman
Copyright 2005

A quarter-billion-dollar agreement, tentatively sealed today, could send a small river of well water across Central Texas — enough to supply tens of thousands of homeowners and businesses south and east of Austin.

The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, the manager of surface water supplies north, south and east of San Antonio, approved a tentative deal with a high-powered partnership known as Sustainable Water Resources.

At a minimum, the deal could send nearly 10 billion gallons of water a year from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer — an underground lake east of Williamson County — to San Marcos, where the GBRA operates a water treatment plant. Water from the treatment plant could serve growth from San Antonio's suburbs to Kyle and Buda, rural but burgeoning towns south of Austin.

But if Sustainable Water Resources can find more customers, the line could also serve new development along Texas 130, the toll road east of Interstate 35 that likely will bring a population boom to the farms and ranchland east of Austin and Round Rock.

"We think somebody's going to have to go there," said Pete Winstead, an Austin lawyer who championed the construction of Texas 130 and is now a managing partner of Sustainable Water Resources. "And we're going there first."

For years, a new entrepreneurial breed of water marketers has contemplated tapping Texas groundwater and piping it to cities where growing populations threaten to outstrip water supplies. But until today, none of the upstarts had committed buyers who would make the huge expense worthwhile.

GBRA General Manager Bill West said his agency has enough water now in Canyon Lake and the Guadalupe and Blanco rivers to serve growth for only another 15 years.

"In the water planning world, it's kind of like 15 weeks," West said.

GBRA officials are loath to tap the most obvious groundwater source in their watershed — the Edwards Aquifer, which is already straining to support millions of people in and around San Antonio who tap it for drinking and washing as well as support environmentally sensitive plants and animals.

As part of today's preliminary deal, Sustainable Water Resources will build the pipeline that would carry water as much as 70 miles from the Carrizo-Wilcox to San Marcos. Lynn Sherman, a principal at Winstead Consulting Group LLC, estimated that the project will cost roughly $200 million to $250 million.

Sherman is former president of WaterTexas, one of the state's first water marketing firms and a key member of the Sustainable Water Resources group. WaterTexas has worked for years with landowners and water rights holders, trying to secure groundwater supplies that could be moved to parched areas around the state.

Sustainable Water Resources also includes J.P. Morgan Securities Inc., the engineering firm Bury+Partners Inc., San Marcos developer Terry Gilmore and Schlumberger Water Services, a company that specializes in modeling underground water sources.

It's still unclear how much the GBRA would actually pay Sustainable Water Resources. Both sides might spend the next year fleshing out the partnership, while the company will search for developers or water purveyors who might want to tap into the line.

It's also unclear what challenges or roadblocks face both sides. While Sustainable Water Resources officials insist their water line and dramatic pumping levels won't harm the environment, others might disagree or at least ask state regulators — or judges — for time to study the project.

The plan's architects are also bracing for competing water vendors that might try to undermine the deal.

Today's preliminary agreement, they said, is just the beginning.

"This situation in Texas is the crucible in which a lot of things are going to be forged. It's not for the faint-hearted," Winstead said. "I've told everybody on our team, 'Get ready. This is going to get interesting.' "

© 2005 Austin American-Statesman:


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Central Texas RMA directors "cut" to two years

Terms shortened for CTRMA directors

By Kurt Johnson
Taylor Daily Press
Copyright 2005

The terms of two of Williamson County's three directors on the board of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) were shortened to two years as a result of the failure of Prop. 9 to pass in last week's general election.

If the proposition had passed, an amendment would have been made to the Texas Constitution allowing directors on the boards of regional mobility authorities to serve six-year terms.

Controversial differences of opinion surfaced last year when directors on CTRMA's board were appointed by the agency's constituent counties to terms up to six years long. A lawsuit filed by an anti-toll-road group in Austin resulted in a court decision which said the terms could be no longer than two years, based on existing state law. If the constitutional amendment had passed, it would have reversed the court decision and allowed six-year terms.

Williamson County commissioners re-appointed its three directors to the CTRMA board in December 2004. Jim Mills was appointed to a two-year term, Bob Bennett was appointed to a four-year term and David Singleton was appointed to a six-year term.

The appointments were made on a split vote by commissioners, with Pct. 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman and Pct. 3 Commissioner Tom McDaniel voting against the appointments. Birkman and McDaniel took the position that the process should be opened up to consider people who might apply for the appointments, while the other three members of the commissioners court sought to re-appoint the existing directors.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Boatright, Pct. 4 Commissioner Frankie Limmer and County Judge John Doerfler forced a decision without additional consideration and re-appointed the incumbent board members.

CTRMA is responsible for building the US 183-A toll road that will bypass Cedar Park, diverging from US 183 near its intersection with FM 620 and meeting it again near Leander. Other toll roads in the area also will be built by CTRMA.

Doerfler, Boatright and Limmer all said they wanted to keep the same board members to avoid possible problems in selling $128 million in bonds in order to build the initial phase of toll roads.

According to Steve Pustelnyk, spokesman for CTRMA, the failure of the constitutional amendment at the polls simply means that Singleton and Bennett will have two-year terms, just like Mills.

“No action is required to adjust the terms at this point-the appointments will have to be reconsidered when the two-year terms are up in December of next year,” Pustelnyk said.

CTRMA board members appointed by entities other than Williamson County are Bob Tesch of Cedar Park and Austinites Lowell Lieberman, Henry Gilmore and Johanna Zmud.

The failure of the vote on the amendment means that Birkman and McDaniel will get another opportunity to appoint three CTRMA directors other than the incumbents. Even though Limmer and Boatright already have said they won't run for re-election next year and Doerfler hasn't announced his intentions, the three-members who renamed the current board members will still be on the court when the appointments are reconsidered in December 2006.

Copyright © 2005 Taylor Daily Press www.taylordailypress


Monday, November 14, 2005

Local leaders are openly objecting to TTC-69

Fort Bend officials hoping I-69 will survive

Monday, November 14, 2005

By Stephen Palkot
Fort Bend Herald
and Texas Coaster
Copyright 2005

A proposed, massive transportation corridor through Texas could put the brakes on a years-long effort to transform U.S. 59 to an interstate highway, and Fort Bend County leaders are speaking up.

For years, local and federal officials have touted the possibility that U.S. 59 could become a part of the proposed Interstate 69, which would run through seven states and connect Mexico, the U.S. and Canada.

Dubbed the "NAFTA Corridor," Interstate 69 has been proposed as a means to improve trade and commerce with Mexico, and local leaders believe the highway could result in economic development in Fort Bend County.

County Judge Bob Hebert said he believes I-69, as originally proposed, could boost the economies of counties south and west of Fort Bend, and that would aid the growth of Fort Bend County.

The proposal has received the support of U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and its funding could take years, but the process is under way, said Hebert.

However, a conflicting proposal by Gov. Rick Perry being implemented through the Texas Department of Transportation could result in I-69 bypassing Fort Bend County.

The Trans Texas Corridor (TTC), as proposed, would run 1,200 yards wide and include highways with dedicated truck lanes and car lanes operating beside freight and possibly commuter rail tracks and utility lines.

Several routes have been proposed for TTC, one of which runs along East Texas and incorporates I-69 into the corridor, a proposal that would kill the prospect of I-69 running through Fort Bend County.

Due to its massive width, the TxDoT has routed the TTC to make an arc that would skip Fort Bend County and avoid the city of Houston.

Hebert said he is disappointed that I-69 has been lumped in with the TTC, and he is one of several local leaders who are openly objecting to the TTC.

The Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council stated its stance on the TTC and the future of I-69 in a letter to the Texas Department of Transportation when the department was taking public statements on the TTC.

An EDC letter dated Aug. 18 said construction of I-69 "presents a unique opportunity" for Fort Bend County. The current design of the I-69 plans "will follow U.S. 59 through the heart of Fort Bend County, creating significant new opportunities for job creation, trade and economic development. We feel strongly that this current alignment following U.S. 59 must remain intact and be built as soon as possible."

The correspondence addressed the proposed TTC Link 408 as well, saying it would "negatively impact the health, safety and economic welfare of the citizens within the greater Fulshear area and the western portion of the greater Katy area.

"This type of transportation facility would not compliment the long range plans for this area, which is already experiencing significant growth primarily in residential development. We strongly oppose this alignment."

Hebert said he does not believe the TTC would run through west Fort Bend County and Fulshear. The width of the study area exceeds far beyond west Fort Bend County, which has some of the area's most expensive land prices, said Hebert.

"If they're going to do it (TTC), it's much cheaper for them to do it in Wharton or Waller counties," he said.

Also, Hebert said a separate corridor under the TTC banner has been proposed to run along Interstate 35, the north-south freeway that passes through Austin, Waco and Dallas. Both TTC routes have been proposed as toll roads.

"We believe two multi-billion dollar toll roads competing with one-another doesn't make good business sense," he said.

TTC proponents say the highway is "visionary" and believe it is needed to accommodate increasing traffic and to better facilitate trade with Mexico.

Copyright © 2005 Fort Bend Herald


Flyvbjerg: "Strategic misrepresentation (lying) drives transportation projects."

Capital Metro: Turn that 6 upside down

November 14, 2005

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2005

Particularly sharp-eyed readers might have noticed that I've begun referring to Capital Metro's "$90 million" commuter rail project. Up until a couple of months ago, I'd always used the $60 million number the transit agency put forward during last year's rail election campaign.

Why? Well, Capital Metro always said it was going to lease the six train cars it will need initially for the Leander-to-Austin line. The cost of buying them, the agency acknowledged, would have been about $30 million. But instead, officials were going to pay them out of operating costs over the years.

Now, it turns out, they're going to borrow money from a party to be determined, actually buy the dang things, then pay back the money out of annual operating costs. Sounds pretty similar, right?

Anyway, $90 million was always the more forthright number. But it was also somewhat less palatable, too close to an ugly nine-digit figure, so Capital Metro went with $60 million.

Which brings me to Bent Flyvbjerg. No, I didn't just doze off and hit a bunch of random consonants on the keyboard.

Flyvbjerg, whom I couldn't reach for comment, is a professor of development and planning at Aalborg University in Denmark. He has made a name internationally and something of a sub-specialty of examining how transportation agencies estimate costs.

And he doesn't like what he sees, particularly with rail projects.

"Project approval equals underestimated cost, plus overestimated revenue, plus undervalued environmental impact, plus overvalued economic development effect," he wrote in a recent article for the Engineering News-Record called "Misrepresentation drives projects."

He goes on: "Undoubtedly, most project proponents believe their projects will benefit society and that they are thus justified in cooking costs and benefits to get projects built. The ends justify the means, or so the players reason."

Flyvbjerg and his colleagues studied 258 major transportation projects built in the United States and around the world since 1920, comparing the estimated cost at the time the decision to build them was made to the actual final cost.

What they found in their 2002 report was that projects are underestimated nine times out of 10 — this is true no matter where they looked and when — and that actual costs, on average, were 28 percent higher than originally forecast.

Rail projects, most often subject to public votes, were underestimated by almost 45 percent, but road projects were off by a mere 20 percent.

This is no accident, Flyvbjerg and his colleagues found.

"Underestimation cannot be explained by error and is best explained by strategic misrepresentation, that is, lying," Flyvbjerg writes.

When it comes to transportation cost estimates, he said, the public's best policy is to distrust and verify.

With huge project plans swirling throughout Texas, from the Trans-Texas Corridor to the Austin-San Antonio commuter line to Capital Metro's plans for expansion, Flyvbjerg has a point worth remembering.

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