Saturday, December 03, 2005

AGUA files suit against TxDOT: "We're not shooting blanks. "

Group sues to stop toll road


Anton Caputo
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

A local group committed to protecting the Edwards Aquifer is suing to stop the toll road being built along U.S. 281.

Crews started construction this week on the first leg of a toll road system that could eventually run 47 miles along U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 in North San Antonio.

Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas believes state transportation officials have rushed the project and ignored their responsibility to conduct an environmental impact statement.

The group filed a suit in federal court in San Antonio on Friday against the Texas Department of Transportation. It's an effort to stop work on the highway that could eventually span 16 lanes at its widest and run, in part, over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.

"A project of this magnitude, the start of a billion-dollar toll road system largely built over the single source of water for this region, clearly calls for an environmental impact statement," said Bill Barker, a transportation engineer working with Aquifer Guardians.

The state did perform an environmental assessment of the project in 1984 and re-evaluated that study in 2000 and 2004. But an environmental assessment is a lesser analysis than an environmental impact statement and inadequate given the scope of the project, Barker said.

For instance, the 2004 assessment dedicated a single paragraph to the potential impact of the roadway on the Edwards Aquifer, according to the suit.

State transportation officials had not seen the suit and could not comment on it, said Department of Transportation spokeswoman Gaby Garcia.

"Generally speaking, the need for toll roads is pretty evident across the state," she said. "You can drive down Interstate 35 at any given time of the day and see that it is pretty well congested. That's the hard reality."

The Austin-based People for Efficient Transportation joined Aquifer Guardians in the suit. The groups have contracted with attorney John Fritschie of the well-known Austin-based environmental activist organization Save Our Springs Alliance.

Aquifer Guardians President Enrique Valdivia, who is an attorney specializing in environmental issues, said the group probably will ask a judge to temporarily stop construction while the legal issues are settled.

Valdivia wouldn't hazard a timetable for the litigation but said an environmental impact statement could take up to a year for a project the size of the toll road.

Barker said the group is in it for the long haul.

"It was very clear from the start that the only way to get the attention of this public agency was to go to court," Barker said. "We're not shooting blanks. We believe that we have a very strong legal argument."

© 2005 San Antonio Express-News:


Concrete brain trust meets for the third time

Burgess discusses highway improvement at summit

Gainesville Daily Register
Copyright 2005

It was a meeting of the minds Wednesday on how - in simpler terms - to stop north Texas roads from becoming a giant parking lot.

About 80 state and local leaders from the 26th U.S. House District met for the Transportation Summit Wednesday afternoon at the University of North Texas Union Building.

“It's the third one we've done,” said U.S. Rep. Dr. Michael Burgess, R-Flower Mound, facilitator of the summit, in an interview Thursday. “We had good representation there from people from county government and state agencies.”

Because of time constraints, Burgess said, many issues did not get addressed, such as hearing from representatives from the North Texas Toll Road Authority about a possible extension of the Dallas North Tollway to Sanger and possibly to east of Gainesville.

He said he addressed concerns that most new transportation projects would be pay-as-you-go toll roads.

“Will toll roads be the only roads built in the future? The answer is no. But they will be some of the new roads built,” Burgess said.

He said the “near neighbor/near time concept” is something addressed under recent federal legislation. For instance, he said, if Cooke County allows a roadway to be built as a toll way, excess dollars collected will not be spent on Abilene, but would be used nearby in near-time way.

County Judge Bill Freeman, present at the summit, urged Burgess to give attention to the Interstate 35 interchange - it being a major gateway to Texas.

Burgess said the state plans to extend Interstate 35 into a three-lane road at least as far north as Sanger. He said Cooke County officials asked that it be extended three lanes to the Red River to prepare for growth.

In panel discussions, an overpass for Highway 82 and for a loop around the city of Gainesville were discussed.

Burgess said the challenge before government leaders on all levels isn't simply wider highways but “smarter and faster” roads.

He outlined some of the aspects of the 2005 Transportation Reauthorization Bill which may save some time in building new roads in the region. They are, as follows.

Limiting environmental restrictions

One plan is to limit the amount of time environmental objections may be made to transportation projects.

“This would ensure that an environmental scan has to be completed in a certain amount of time, so projects wouldn't be delayed at last-minute,” Burgess said. “... People say I-35 has always been under construction. But look at Highway 121. (Expansions to State Highway) 121 has always been in the design phase. In those 25 years it has taken to do the design of the road ... look what's happened to the cost of property left to acquire.”

He noted there are ways those concerned about the environment can contact the Texas Department of Transportation to address possible ecological problems, rather than having the government shut down a highway construction project until an environmental study can be performed.


Burgess introduced language on the concept of “Design-Build” for the transportation bill. “Design-Build” is a term to describe a “project delivery method” that combines the design and construction of a road project into one contract rather than the traditional “Design-Bid-Build” method of requiring individual contracts for separate phases.

“Design-Build” is intended to give additional flexibility to design and build roads concurrently, not first-come-first-serve.

On the bright side, Burgess said, some projects that were 40 years away are now 10 years away, according to updates from Texas Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson.

“That's not to say that I-35 will be three lanes to Oklahoma in 10 years, but the time has been reduced significantly,” he said.

Toll credits

In March, Burgess offered an amendment that would allow states to receive transportation development credits, better known as “toll credits.”.

Now, states will receive transportation development credits in a timely manner. States will be able to reinvest in their transportation systems without continually requesting additional federal monies to meet their requirements.

In layman's terms, Burgess explained, it would allow a state like Texas to receive federal matching funds for a project as it were a road built with gas taxes (federal excise taxes on gasoline).

“If TxDOT takes on a project, 1/3 of the money comes from federal government,” Burgess said.


Currently, for every one dollar Texas taxpayers send to Federal Highway Administration, they receive only 88 cents back. Under the new transportation bill, Burgess said, the law allows for a gradual increase in the national rate of return from 90.5 percent in 2005 to 92 percent in 2009.

Burgess said the ideas put forth in the transportation bill are the result of ideas brought forth by local and state officials to the federal level.

“These bills are built from the ground up, and not just handed down from Washington,” he said, adding the importance of transportation summits such as Wednesday's.

The ideas, he said, are not set in stone, as the ways roads are financed and built is a constantly evolving process.

“If the tools are not facilitating the way they were intended, then I'm prepared to fine-tune them,” he said.

He noted transportation bills have to be reauthorized every six years. The one passed in July was due to be passed Sept. 2003.

“So we were a little late!” Burgess said with a laugh.

According to the press release from Burgess' Washington, D.C., congressional office, many other leaders took to the lectern to speak.

Williamson's remarks covered the need for more flexibility regarding how we spend and receive transportation dollars noting that in the last 25 years, the population of Texas increased 57 percent and will most likely increase another 60 percent in the next 25 years, the release said.

Michael Morris, transportation director of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, remarked that the annual cost of congestion is projected to be $11.8 billion in the year 2025, and that the vision of transportation must include more than just building new roads.

There were then three panels within the event.

First, there were presentations by county representatives including Mary Horn, Judge, Denton County; Oscar Trevino, Mayor, North Richland Hills (Tarrant County); and Cooke County's Freeman. There remarks were broader in their approach encompassing several facets of transportation within their communities. Speaking on behalf of their respective counties, each discussing the larger projects they believe should be improved which included Highway 121, Interstate 35 East and West, Highway 820 and FM 51.

The second panel focused on highway infrastructure and highlighted Bill Hale, Dallas District, Texas Department of Transportation; Maribel Chavez, Fort Worth District, Texas Department of Transportation; and Larry Tegtmeyer, Wichita Falls District, Texas Department of Transportation. Focusing on the mobility requirements of DFW, Bill Hale discussed how TXDoT's financing tools could allow Texas to build roads in less time. These financial tools include toll, public/private, pass-through toll and managed lanes.

Maribel Chavez switched gears to discuss Tarrant County plans to improve highways over the next four years with $2 billion in state and federal funds. In her remarks she underscored her desire for environmental streamlining for transportation projects.

Larry Tegtmeyer commented on the need to maintain the current system and improve safety. Cooke County, which lies on the fringe of the ever-increasing metroplex, is looking for more flexibility in project delivery. Tegtmeyer also cited the need to give Interstate 35 additional lanes through Cooke County, an overpass for Highway 82 and for a loop around the city of Gainesville.

The final panel focused on North Texas' transit infrastructure and highlight Doug Allen, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART); Charles Emery, Denton County Transportation Authority; and Dick Ruddell, Fort Worth “T.”

Doug Allen opened the panel commenting that DART is the largest light-rail in the southwest and transports over 1 million passengers every week. DART's northwest/southeast corridor light-rail project runs to Carrolton and will connect with the Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA).

This provided a seamless transition into Charles Emery's remarks. He provided a brief history and evolution of the DCTA and discussed the locally preferred alternative for the Denton-Highland Village-Lewisville-Carrollton corridor.

The locally preferred alternative constitutes utilizing the former MKT railroad line, which runs parallel to Interstate 35E to the East. Centrally located, the system would support riders from downtown Denton, Texas Woman's University and the University of North Texas, in addition to riders from the Lewisville-Highland Village area.

Dick Ruddell closed the final panel discussing the projected congestion levels for 2025. He too sounded the call for flexibility in spending transportation dollars and seeks a more seamless regional transit system.

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at

© 2005 Gainesville Daily Register


"There's still a lot of hard feelings and animosity among the farmers and ranchers over the corridor."

Highways, drought part of Texas Farm Bureau mix

Saturday, December 03, 2005

By Dan Genz Tribune
Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2005

A persistent drought won't end, punishing the profitability of farmers in Central and East Texas, while in the state's plains region a terrific cotton crop is driving success.

The new energy bill President Bush signed this year signals growth in farming for ethanol production, yet energy prices remain so high this winter that some farmers are considering cutting production next year.

And as technology improves, computerized ID programs tracking cattle are generating a buzz in ranching.

So many trends in agriculture and business are playing a role in the livelihoods of the Texas Farm Bureau's approximately 387,000 families that sometimes members are into their third or fourth topic before they mention the Trans Texas Corridor and property rights as concerns.

But don't underestimate farmers' opposition to the proposed 4,000-mile network of toll roads and rail lines, a key component of former agriculture commissioner and current Gov. Rick Perry's first election campaign in 2002.

The corridor remains in development more than two years after winning the Legislature's approval in 2003 – and opposition to it still looms as 900 Texas Farm Bureau delegates gather for their annual three-day convention in Waco, beginning today.

"There is still a lot of hard feelings and animosity among the farmers and ranchers over the corridor," spokesman Gene Hall said. "I can't think of anyone, really, who supports it ... Those would be hard to find in the Farm Bureau."

Construction of its first phase – one that could loosely parallel Interstate 35 from San Antonio to the Metroplex – may begin later this decade.

The Texas Farm Bureau came out strongly against it at last year's Corpus Christi convention. This year, several proposals again target it, including one that dissuades state officials from turning existing roads into toll roads.

Another urges that, if the much-dreaded corridor is built, that it at least furnish plenty of access to farmers seeking their way to market.

Riesel rancher Robert Cervenka, 75, compares the corridor to the Mississippi River running through someone's farm. He insists it could cause havoc to a large, productive agricultural operation.

"It's going to run right through the best land in the state," he said, "right through some of the best land in the country."

Cervenka said the corridor could cause some difficulty in farmers' relations with Perry. The bureau endorsed him in the 2002 gubernatorial election and supported him as agriculture commissioner in the 1990s.

"(Corridor opponents) I know totally oppose him because of it," Cervenka said.

However, Cervenka said Perry scored points this year by helping pass a law designed to protect property rights.

Perry restricted local governments from using eminent domain authority for private economic development projects. The law came in reaction to a U.S. Supreme Court verdict in June allowing the practice.

One Texas Farm Bureau proposal up for consideration would make the new law a state constitutional amendment.

Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke said that, like any friends, the Texas Farm Bureau and Gov. Perry can have problems but still get along.

"He's been a friend of ours ever since he's been a commissioner of agriculture and he remains a friend," Dierschke said. "I don't see it as a big stress. Anytime you're into the situations that we're in, we're going to have some problems."

"We're completely, totally opposed to the concept, but if the Trans Texas Corridor happens, we want to be involved," he added.

At a ceremonial signing of the eminent domain restriction bill in Waco this year, Perry strongly defended the highway project as vital in reducing high traffic rates on Interstate 35, especially in areas where the highway cannot be widened.

He said the Trans Texas Corridor would provide a pivotal overhaul of the way people and freight move across the state.

Perry compared resistance to the Trans Texas Corridor to that involving Texas' Farm-to-Market Road system, proposed about seven decades ago. Today it's widely supported, he said, but at the time it provoked the ire of many farmers.

The Texas Farm Bureau has other political concerns this weekend. Dierschke is running for re-election as president against board member Bob Reed from Bay City. Other convention guests range from U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, R-Texas, to Miss Texas Farm Bureau.

Asked if it's a good time to be in the farm business, McLennan County Farm Bureau President Marc Scott of Hallsburg said: "Not right now.

"The drought is hitting us pretty hard," he said. "The crops aren't growing. We have oats in the ground that aren't up. It's really getting to be a concern. Our surface water, our tanks are starting to dry up."

And that's just one problem.


Copyright 2005 The Waco Tribune-Herald -


Friday, December 02, 2005

Second lawsuit filed challenging the construction of toll roads in Texas.

Lawsuit Seeks Immediate Halt to SA Toll Roads


Jim Forsyth

News 4 WOAI
San Antonio

A federal judge was asked today to order an immediate halt to the US 281 toll road construction project now underway in far north Bexar County, claiming it threatens endangered species and the Edwards Aquifer, and violates the National Environmental Protection Act, 1200 WOAI news reported today.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court today by Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas, an environmental group, and People for Efficient Transportation, Inc, the parent organization of the anti toll Texas Toll Party. The Sierra Club and other environmental protection organizations are expected to join the lawsuit as intervenors.

The lawsuit claims the toll road on US 281, as well as other toll lanes proposed for Loop 1604, will 'greatly accelerate' damage to the Aquifer.

"The highway agencies are moving forward without taking any meaningful look at the implications of their actions," the lawsuit says. "Neither the original environmental assessment prepared in 1984 nor two subsequent reevaluations prepared in 2000 and 2004 provide adequate documentation. Most egregiously, and patently illegal, the agencies have utterly failed to ever consider any alternatives to the proposed massive toll road projects."

This is the second lawsuit to be filed challenging the construction of toll roads in Texas. A lawsuit filed in Austin in October seeks to declare the Regional Mobility Authorities, which are planning toll projects in San Antonio and Austin, declared unconstitutional.

"We will be seeking a preliminary injunction," Annalisa Peace, Executive Director of AGUA, told 1200 WOAI news. "We need to look at this project, and have public hearings, which will be part of the process, and that will include how any projects will affect the environment."

Peace said any new highway construction in the region would damage the aquifer.

"We know that runoff from highways includes benzene, and that would go right into the Aquifer," she said.

Brush clearing is already underway for construction of new, toll lanes between Loop 1604 and Stone Oak Parkway. Construction is set to begin early next year.

In addition to demanding an environmental impact statement, a process that could take years, the lawsuit demands that the courts retain oversight authority over any toll projects initiated in Bexar County.

"This project has taken off without any consideration of how such a massive development will impact our water supply," Peace said. "The people of San Antonio have twice voted to tax themselves to protect this region, and we aim to see that their implications of their actions." S

© 2005 Clear Channel Communications


Texas Farm Bureau remains steadfast in its opposition to the Trans Texas Corridor

TFB Resolutions

Committee completes work

December 2, 2005
Texas Farm Bureau

The Texas Farm Bureau Resolutions Committee met at the farm organization's state headquarters in Waco this week to review proposed policies submitted from County Farm Bureaus throughout the state.

Now it will be up to some 1,100 voting delegates, who will gather for TFB's 72nd Annual Meeting in Waco, Dec. 3-5, to approve or reject the resolutions.

Texas Farm Bureau Vice President Lloyd Arthur, committee chair, commended the 41 county and district leaders who participated in the process.

"They came with a knowledge of the issues," he said. "They were well prepared regarding the resolutions sent in, and I think that's what made the work of the subcommittees and actual resolutions committee flow so smoothly."

While remaining steadfast in its opposition to the Trans Texas Corridor, one resolution called for reforms that address landowner access to, and compensation for, property divided by the corridor. Another notable proposal said that all existing toll-free roads in Texas should remain toll free.

State eminent domain legislation was passed by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Governor Rick Perry in September. A TFB resolution goes a step farther, calling for a state constitutional amendment to make it permanent.

Arthur reported that several resolutions came in proposing streamlining the PUC (Public Utilities Commission) process.

Some additional grassroots resolutions to be considered by some 1,100 voting delegates at the state convention next month would support:

•The Communications Act of 1934, which would retain the "access charge" for rural telephone co-ops and oppose the "bill & keep" concept.

•Increased access to high speed internet connections in rural areas.

•Lowering the current appraisal cap of 10 percent and lowering the current rollback rate of 8 percent.

•Exploring alternative sources of taxation, including a fair tax proposal and a sales tax increase, to lower tax burdens on property owners.

•Texas opting out of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

•A law requiring the use of ethanol blends in areas where air quality violations exist.

On the state and federal front, a resolution was proposed that would cut through red tape to allow for more rapid clean up of damaged trees by the U.S. Forest Service when faced with situations like the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast area and East Texas this year.

Additional resolutions at the national level call for:

•Legislation granting producers a "Hold Harmless" position from any changes that occur after their production is sold and leaves their control.

•The keeping of a national database for livestock identification by private industry rather than a government agency.

•Retaining the structure of the 2002 farm bill, which has worked well for producers, in the 2007 version.

•The pursuit of more energy sources and construction of more refineries—possibly on abandoned military base sites—to address energy shortages and high fuel prices.

•Re-authorization of the Endangered Species Act as passed by the U.S. House in September, 2005; and reforms in the Act that would respect private property rights.

•The funding level allowed by the World Trade Organization (WTO) to be tied to Gross National Product (GNP) of agriculture instead of historical levels.

© 2005 Texas Farm Bureau


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Prop 1 and 9 were very unpopular in House Transportation Committee Chairman's back yard

Coupland election results

December 1, 2005

By Susan Garry
Taylor Daily Press
Copyright 2005

For the Nov. 8 election, nearly one-third of Coupland area voters turned out to vote on the constitutional propositions.

Proposition 1 will create a rail fund to enable the financing of moving Union Pacific freight from Austin to a new or expanded rail line, and financing the 6-track rail element of the Trans-Texas Corridor, possibly in the Coupland/ Taylor area.

Coupland voters opposed Prop. 1, 228 to 34.

Proposition 9, which would have expanded the terms of Regional Mobility Authorities, failed in Coupland, 212 to 35.

Both Props 1 and 9 were defeated by Williamson County as a whole. Proposition 9 was defeated state-wide. Unfortunately for the area residents who are concerned about the negative impacts of expanded rail in our area, Prop.1 was approved state-wide. However, right now, Prop. 1 has created an empty fund. There will not be any money in it until and unless the Legislature acts in 2007.

Other things may happen between now and then that can help us protect our area from being split up by these rail proposals.

If you wish to be included on an email notification list to be updated about Trans-Texas Corridor and rail developments, e-mail

© 2005Taylor Daily Press:


Alaska pork doctor praises Texas tollers

Lawmaker praises Texas for innovative road plans

Denton County: Officials applaud toll projects such as Highway 121

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Denton Record-Chronicle
Copyright 2005

The congressman who oversees federal transportation funding had some kind words Wednesday for how Texas has addressed its traffic jams, and many of the practices earning his praise are happening in Denton County.

"There is no such thing as a free road," said Don Young, R-Alaska, chairman of the Congressional Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "All roads have been bought. The money has to come from somewhere. If we're going to use it, we pay for it."

Mr. Young spoke to a room full of elected and appointed officials at the third annual 26th Congressional District Transportation Summit, organized by Dr. Michael Burgess, R-Flower Mound. After the meeting, Mr. Young cited Texas' use of toll roads, light rail and streamlined road design and construction, among other factors, for being on the "front edge" of transportation in the country.

"You can't just do it with highways," he said. "You've got to have mass transit and light rail and various forms of transportation."

Speakers from the Texas Department of Transportation, which also sponsored the summit at the University of North Texas, cited plans for tolling State Highway 121 as an example of how the state is stretching highway money.

"We are moving toward a toll-based system," said Bill Hale of the Dallas district of TxDOT. But "we're not going to toll everything," he said.

But he did say such "innovative financing" would reduce the state's timeline to build numerous roads from 45 years to 10 years.

The Highway 121 toll road is expected to generate about $1 billion over the next 20 years. Much of that will go toward widening Interstate 35E from Lake Dallas to University Drive, TxDOT officials have said. Officials also plan to toll a couple of lanes on I-35E to pay for improvements on the road.

The tolls collected on Highway 121 will also be used for road projects across Denton County, including FM423 from Highway 121 to U.S. Highway 380, FM720 from Garza Lane to FM423, and FM2934 from FM423 to the Dallas North Tollway, Mr. Hale told the crowd.

He showed a broader map that included numerous roads in Denton and Dallas counties that would be built using revenue from various toll roads.

"Would any of those roads be possible without tolls?" TxDOT chair Ric Williamson asked Mr. Hale.

"No," Mr. Hale said.

"Would you repeat that?"

"No," Mr. Hale replied.

Also speaking at the summit were officials from the Denton County Transportation Authority, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority.

Charles Emery, chairman of the DCTA board of directors, said his agency is making headway in linking a rail line from Denton to Carrollton, where DART plans to extend its light-rail line.
Mr. Young said the variety of efforts to ease traffic jams in Texas impressed him enough to push for more federal funding for the state.

He said critics who flinch at the thought of paying highway tolls would end up idling in traffic jams.

"It's going to cost them more if they can't get there," Mr. Young said.


© 2005 The Dallas Morning News Co


"It's a lot of pavement."

Timber! U.S. 281 on road to tolls


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

The newest signs of construction on U.S. 281 aren't pretty, but they're the first visible proof that, yes, toll roads are coming to San Antonio.

Crews have begun scraping live oaks into piles along the highway and putting up fences to catch silt that rains soon will scour from the naked ground.

In January, workers will begin constructing frontage roads and later add four to eight express toll lanes from North Loop 1604 to Stone Oak Parkway. The new roadway will be 16 lanes at its widest points.

"It's a lot of pavement," said Frank Holzmann, a Texas Department of Transportation engineer.

The $83 million job, mostly funded with $77 million in gas taxes, is expected to take three years. TxDOT studies anticipate toll fees of 14 cents a mile.

While motorists welcome the extra lanes, they frown at the idea of paying tolls.

"It should have been done a long time ago," said John Hay, who drives on that stretch of U.S. 281 to get to work.

"But is that the toll road?" he added after a pause. "I think that's a bunch of crap. I don't think it needs to be a toll road."

Like many others, Hay will scout for the best alternate free road and figures he may have to add 8 miles to his 25-mile commute.

"But I won't have to deal with the tolls, I guess," he said.

Citing a shortfall of $8.4 billion over 25 years to build needed transportation projects in San Antonio, the Metropolitan Planning Organization has included more than 70 miles of toll roads in its long-range plans.

The agency also set aside more than $500 million in public money to subsidize toll projects.

Two private consortiums are competing to fully finance, build and operate the most lucrative toll lanes — a 47-mile system on Loop 1604 and U.S. 281 on the North Side.

The construction that starts next month is for the first 3 miles of U.S. 281 toll lanes, which will be the heart of the 47-mile network and a bargaining chip for the state in upcoming negotiations with the toll-road companies.

"It's a big step for the city of San Antonio and in improving mobility for the area," Holzmann said.

Some motorists are furious that existing U.S. 281 highway lanes will be replaced with frontage roads — even though the number of lanes will be the same — and say the toll lanes won't fix traffic problems.

Critics haven't given up on efforts to stop new lanes on U.S. 281 from being tolled.

"Have toll roads solved Houston's or Dallas' congestion and highway funding issues? No!" said Terri Hall of Texas Toll Party — San Antonio. "This toll mandate is an outrage, and our grass-roots movement is growing by the day."

Other hapless drivers still are learning the news.

"Toll lanes! My gracious," said John Perrott, stroking his chin. "Well, I don't know, I might go the back way."

© 2005 San Antonio Express-News:


Wednesday, November 30, 2005

"The state needs to think ahead, acquiring enough rights of way for 70 years worth of expansion."

Lobbyists, local biz: I-69 still alive

November 30,2005

Matt Whittaker
The Monitor
Copyright 2005

WESLACO — The long-sought Interstate highway through Texas could become a reality despite a lack of federal money for the project.

The proposed Trans-Texas Corridor — a system that could be funded with public and private money to construct new roads and improve existing highways that stretch from Laredo and the Valley to Texarkana — could be paid for with tolls, bonds and utility taxes, transportation lobbyists and officials said Tuesday at a Rio Grande Valley Mobility Task Force meeting.

Once complete, TTC-69 would meet federal standards for an Interstate and could receive federal designation as part of Interstate 69, said Gary Bushell, an Austin lobbyist for the I-69 Alliance Texas.

About 1,000 miles of that 2,600-mile highway system would run through Texas, ultimately providing one main artery linking Mexico, Canada and the United States and a fast way to truck goods between major commercial centers in each of the three North American Free Trade Agreement countries.

The mobility task force is a lobby group headed by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership Chamber of Commerce to draw attention to South Texas infrastructure needs. Tuesday’s meeting of local business leaders and city and county officials was in reaction to Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton’s comments at a similar meeting Nov. 8.

"I-69 is dead in the state of Texas. The road fairy has been shot," Houghton said at the meeting, saying the state needed to pony up funds.

The commissioner — appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2003 — stood behind his hot-button remarks Tuesday, but said Texas can look for ways to fund its TTC-69 project in partnership with the private sector.

"I’m talking about: Where’s the money?" said Houghton, one of four commissioners on the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees the Texas Department of Transportation. "TTC-69 gets it to the ground quicker," allowing the state to finance the project with funds from the public and private sectors without having to wait for possible federal dollars in the future.

Texas’ total transportation budget is $7.5 billion, but the state’s share of the I-69 project has been estimated to be between $6 billion and $7 billion.

A portion of the I-69 corridor — from Michigan to Indianapolis, Ind. — is constructed. But the 2,000 miles south of that to Mexico remains uncompleted. The total cost for that portion is about $14 billion, said Carolina Mederos, a partner with Washington law and lobbying firm Patton Boggs, which represents the I-69 Mid-continent Highway Coalition. There are eight states involved in the I-69 project.

"I-69 continues to be the priority in the state of Texas," said Larry Meyers, president of Washington lobbying firm Meyers & Associates and a lobbyist for the I-69 Alliance Texas. But "the federal highway fairy doesn’t have much money in her pocket anymore."

While Texas would expect to get some federal dollars for construction on the I-69 project, that amount would likely be only a fraction of what’s needed, Bushell said.

Perry spokesman Robert Black has said the expectation that Washington might spend billions of dollars for the I-69 system inside the state is unrealistic. The state isn’t getting enough federal dollars to maintain the systems it already has.

"I don’t think they’re ever going to give us enough money," Bushell said.

So the state is looking to build its corridor in possibly a different way than Washington envisioned I-69. One possibility would be to acquire right-of-ways in rural areas, instead of running solely through major metropolitan centers that already have Interstate access.

If Texas is going to expand its road capacity, then the state must look beyond the gas tax reimbursement dollars that aren’t expanding rapidly enough, Bushell said.

Funding for state transportation projects could come from several sources including tolls, bonds or raising taxes and fees on water, electricity or cable bills.

Tolls would be for expansions, rather than on existing lanes, Meyers said.

In January, the Texas Department of Transportation will begin issuing requests for proposals from the private sector to improve routes under consideration for TTC-69 in South Texas that include U.S. 59, U.S. 281 and U.S. 77 to Brownsville, McAllen and Laredo and create new roads on new rights of way. Responses are expected by summer 2006.

By that time, based on environmental studies that began about two years ago, the exact routes for the state corridor could be solidified, Bushell said.

Then lawmakers could determine when construction would start and from where the money for it will come.

Some of the work within South Texas that would be needed for the larger road system project is already happening, such as the improvements to U.S. 59, U.S. 281 and U.S. 77.

As future construction projects are contemplated, Bushell said the state needs to think ahead, acquiring enough rights of way for 70 years worth of expansion.

Most of the valley expressway projects are "way ahead of schedule," said Mario Jorge, a TxDOT district engineer based in Pharr. But the U.S. 281 project in the Valley is $270 million short, and the U.S. 77 project needs $230 million more. The Pharr district plans to get those roads to interstate standards to tie into I-37.

One way to raise money, Jorge said, would be to earmark some of the cash from the Valley’s 11 toll bridges for the TTC-69 project. Currently, no money from the international bridges goes to transportation, he said.

The Valley is the only metropolitan area in the state without direct access to an Interstate highway.

"This project is not dead because it’s important to the border," state Rep. Juan M. Escobar, D-Kingsville, said at Tuesday’s meeting. "South Texas has the opportunity to move forward."

"A few weeks ago we were told that the road fairy was dead, that I-69 was dead," chamber President and CEO Bill Summers said at the meeting, an I-69 road sign sitting on a stand near the podium. "I think that we’ve revived them. It’s been going on for a long time. It’s still going on, and it will still go on."


Matt Whittaker covers business, economics, finance and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4422.

© 2005 The Monitor and Freedom Interactive Newspapers of Texas, Inc.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Deep South Texas leaders incensed by Texas Transportation Commissioner's comment

Officials look for other ways to fund superhighway

Nov. 29, 2005

Associated Press
Copyright 2005

WESLACO, Texas - With federal funding for the I-69 superhighway from the Texas-Mexico border to Canada dead for now, Texas and other states are looking for another route to fund the corridor, a state transportation official said Tuesday.

Mario Jorge of the Texas Department of Transportation sought to allay the concerns of the Rio Grande Valley Mobility Task Force, a group of elected officials and business leaders who lobby for funding for the highway - raised when Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton said recently that "I-69 is dead in the state of Texas. The road fairy has been shot."

"Yeah, we do not have the federal dollars to build the 69 corridor in its entirety," Jorge said. "From the Texas standpoint, we're proceeding as we have been."

Jorge said that Gov. Rick Perry's 2002 proposal for a 4,000-mile network of tollroads whose $175 billion price tag would be covered by private money was one alternative. Other states along the 1,600-mile route would have to find funding for their portions as well.

Some have protested the idea of the trans-Texas corridor, fearing farmers and ranchers along the route would be forced to sell their land.

Deep South Texas leaders say it is shameful a region with more than a million people and a burgeoning post-NAFTA economy does not have nearby access to an interstate freeway. They have been incensed since Houghton's comment, made at a luncheon on Nov. 8, alerted them that the funding had dried up.

"The project is not dead and it should not be because it's important to the border," state Rep. Juan Escobar, D-Kingsville, said Tuesday.

The nearest interstates to the border city of Brownsville are I-35, which connects to the border city of Laredo some 200 miles west; and I-37, which stops at Corpus Christi some 160 miles north.

Gary Bushell, an Austin-based lobbyist for the I-69 Alliance of supporters around the state, told the group the days of the federal government footing 90 percent of interstates were over. He added that gas tax returns from Washington, another source of highway funding, were stretched too thin for a $6 billion, 1,000-mile highway through Texas.

But he said the corridor could be achieved in different ways, including stretches of toll roads to weed trucks out of commuter traffic, encouraging private sector involvement, and considering piecemeal improvements as part of the overall project.

Already, sections of U.S. 77 and U.S. 281 out of the Valley are being brought to interstate standards, he said, meaning they are of a certain width and have overpasses or other means of separating local cross traffic.

He said Perry would "kick off I-69 Texas in a very serious way" at a Dec. 8 meeting in Houston.

Currently, I-69 starts along the Canadian border at Port Huron, Mich. and runs south to Indianapolis.

Planners proposed extending it from Indianapolis to Evansville, Ind., through Kentucky to Memphis, Tenn., then along the Arkansas-Mississippi line to Shreveport, La. From there it would go on to Houston and South Texas to the Mexican border.

© 2005 The Associated Press:


Quantm hype is used to promote transportation route planning of TTC-69

Alaska Transportation Agency Signs Term Contract with Quantm

November 29, 2005
Business Wire
Copyright 2005

LAS VEGAS-- Quantm Ltd., today announced that it has signed a Term Contract (Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity, IDIQ) with the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (ADOT&PF), providing Alaska DOT&PF regions and their project managers with fast and easy access to the Quantm route optimization system.

Quantm's route optimization system dramatically improves the process of integrating the information that comes from the various agencies involved in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process into transport infrastructure planning. The result is reduced environmental impacts, improved relations with stakeholders and the local community, and a substantially curtailed planning cycle.

Following the successful application of the system on road and rail projects across America, including the 1,000 mile I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor study and Blanket Master Purchase Order with Texas Department of Transportation, ADOT&PF has established a process that will encourage its staff to apply the system and deliver the environmental, public involvement, time and construction cost reduction benefits to the state and people of Alaska.

The Term Contract runs for two years to July 31, 2007 with three annual options for renewal, and is envisioned to help manage the sensitive consultation processes, demonstrate compliance with NEPA and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, and deliver the most cost-effective alternatives.

Jeff Ottesen, Director - Division of Program Development said, "It is imperative that we protect the environment and respect the needs of our communities as we develop the infrastructure essential to meet the demands of our citizens."

"The Quantm system will allow our project teams to integrate these factors with the engineering standards required to provide safe transportation, and demonstrate an investigation of all feasible alternatives."

A Notice of Intent To Award A Single Source Contract For an Automated Optimization System For Corridor/Alignment Studies was advertised in January 2005 to ensure that no other technology could provide the same capabilities and benefits. No competing project was brought to the state's attention after this notice.

About Quantm Ltd.

The Quantm system for route alignment selection addresses the shortcomings of the conventional approach to transportation route planning by allowing transportation planners to integrate environmental, community, cultural, engineering and cost factors into a single analysis. By integrating the large amounts of data required by agencies involved in the environmental protection process in the United States, Quantm helps achieve the objective of reducing project impacts on the environment, including demonstrating that "all reasonable alternatives" have been considered as required by NEPA and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act. Where comparison has been possible with alignments derived using the conventional approach, project teams that have applied the Quantm system have also delivered alignment construction cost savings of 10% to 25% on highway projects and as high as 40% on rail projects.

The system has been successfully applied on road and rail projects worldwide, including Alaska, California, Texas, North Carolina, Indiana, Arkansas, Nevada, Washington, Colorado, Louisiana, Alabama, Delaware, Michigan and Idaho along with Canada, France, Spain, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and China. Visit

© Business Wire 2005


Monday, November 28, 2005

"Seize this!"

Win for eminent domain could leave it as a loser

November 28, 2005

By Steve Chapman
The Baltimore Sun
Copyright 2005

CHICAGO // Local governments that want to use their power of eminent domain to promote economic development won a huge victory last June when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with them that seizing private property for such purposes does not violate the Constitution.

But that triumph brings to mind Oscar Wilde's remark: "In this life there are two great tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst."

You would expect that winning in the Supreme Court would mean local and state governments would have a much easier time using their condemnation authority in the name of creating jobs and revenue. Instead, they find they have ignited a rebellion. When the court said the city council is free to take your property to put up a Mega Mart, a lot of Americans replied, "Seize this!"

The Supreme Court decision concerned an effort by the city of New London, Conn., to demolish private homes, over the objections of the owners, so a commercial development could be erected in their place. But five months later, that hasn't happened, and it may never.

The mayor fears the plan "may not be as viable" as it once was, investors are leery of the wrath of property-rights advocates, and the state legislature has asked cities to hold off on such seizures until it can rewrite the law. Meanwhile, one local owner says he's optimistic enough to put on a new roof.

Never has a victory cigar made such a big explosion. By giving cities a free hand to take property from one private owner and give it to another, the Supreme Court scared the bejesus out of millions of taxpaying homeowners.

They took to heart what Justice Sandra Day O'Connor warned in her dissent: "The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory." As fellow dissenter Justice Clarence Thomas lamented, "Though citizens are safe from the government in their homes, the homes themselves are not."

The U.S. Constitution says the government may forcibly acquire your home or your land only "for public use" and only for a fair price. The public-use requirement traditionally covered things like highways and railroads, and it also allowed the government to raze decaying blocks that amounted to a public nuisance. But in this ruling, the court said, "Private use, public use -what's the difference?"

Now, as long as the government claims that the public will benefit in some way, it can grab any property it wants and give it to anyone it chooses. If local officials think they can generate more tax revenue by kicking you out of your home and turning the lot over to someone else, the court said, they're entitled to try.

That outcome didn't sit well with a public that regards a person's home as his castle. Americans accept many limits on their property rights, but the idea that they could be arbitrarily deprived of their houses to accommodate a well-connected developer was too much to bear.

The most important sentence in the Supreme Court's decision was the one saying, "Nothing in our opinion precludes any state from placing further restrictions on its exercise of the takings power." That opening quickly sparked a movement to restore the constraints on government power that the Supreme Court eliminated.

This month, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill to bar state and local governments from taking property for economic development. Texas, Ohio, Alabama and Delaware have passed laws aimed at curbing such seizures. The Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm that challenged the New London project, says it's working with lawmakers in 38 states on similar legislation.

A strange coalition has sprung up to lobby for such measures, ranging from the NAACP to the American Farm Bureau Federation. In the House, the cause brought together liberal Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan, and conservative Rep. Tom DeLay, a Republican from Texas, who normally can't agree on whether the pope is Catholic.

For now, the momentum is on the side of those who favor limits on the use of eminent domain. The supporters of aggressive, government-sponsored redevelopment thought they had won the war when the Supreme Court came down on their side. But it may turn out they just found another way to lose.

Steve Chapman is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His column appears Mondays and Wednesdays in The Sun. His e-mail:

© 2005 The Baltimore Sun:


Central Texas: Get ready to be railroaded by Mike Krusee and his 'cool' friends

Where there's a rail dream, there's likely to be an election

November 28, 2005

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2005

The rumors had been swirling for weeks: Capital Metro is gearing up for another election, the whispering had it, maybe as soon as May. Rail opponents such as Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty were already making the rounds, arguing against it.

Whatever it was.

State Rep. Mike Krusee, the Williamson County Republican whose hand is generally involved in any transportation project around here (quite often on the tiller), seemingly gave the rumor shape and substance in a speech a week ago. But maybe not quite as much as it appeared right after Krusee's Nov. 19 call for a rail election next November.

Krusee, in his remarks to a huge forum looking at the development issues raised by the coming Texas 130 toll road, said that Central Texas is engaged in a running competition for jobs with other "cool" cities such as Denver, Seattle and Portland, Ore. Rail, and the hip station-area developments that rail fans say would come with it, are important in creating the kind of milieu that draws employers, he said.

Krusee, with that in mind, said that every rail proposal on the Central Texas drawing board needs to be built: a downtown streetcar system connecting the University of Texas, the Capitol complex and the emerging Mueller development; commuter rail lines northeast to Manor and Elgin, north to Pflugerville and from Georgetown to South Austin (and beyond) on the Union Pacific Railroad Co. line; even a connection out to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

And in an interview afterward with Austin American-Statesman reporter Steve Scheibal, Krusee called for a rail election next November, seemingly on the whole rail enchilada.


The cost of all that, frankly, has not been toted up by anyone, even in preliminary form.

But it's safe to say that it would be north of $1 billion or maybe even $2 billion, especially counting what it will cost to move most of Union Pacific's cross-country freight operations to alternate tracks east of Austin.

Capital Metro, even if it could prevail in the increasingly tough competition to get federal New Starts funding for rail projects, would probably get only half the project cost from Uncle Sam. The other half, no matter what the exact figure, would be far more than Capital Metro could gin up from its 1 percent sales tax.

The transit agency might have to ask voters, in a separate ballot question, to let it sell bonds. And get money from surrounding cities likely to have stops on the lines. And from the state. And then scour the couch cushions.

The other hurdles — procedural and political — are too numerous to set out here.

Capital Metro, though delighted to have the robust support of the chairman of the Transportation Committee of the Texas House, made it clear in interviews last week that a much more limited rail proposal would be the most it could get to the ballot by November.

So, did Krusee actually think that somehow enough of that voluminous groundwork could be laid in time for an election on the full smorgasbord of rail just about 11 months from now?

Well, no, he said last week.

"I felt like it was my job to start the discussion, lay out a goal and see if others want to join me," he said. "It's not like a plan hatched by Capital Metro and me."

He plans to have private discussions on the subject with other community leaders — people such as Austin Mayor Will Wynn and former Austin City Council Member Daryl Slusher, he said — in the coming weeks.

So, what might actually make it to the ballot next year?

Capital Metro and its consultants have been conducting a "future connections study" during the past several months on possible ways to link key Central Austin employment centers with the Austin-to-Leander commuter line (approved by voters last year) due to open in 2008.

That line, decades old and used for freight now, runs from downtown into East Austin for about a mile before turning north and then northwest. Unfortunately, it manages to keep a wide berth from both the University of Texas and the large development taking shape at the old Robert Mueller Municipal Airport site.

The study, likely to be done by April, will lay out alternatives for bridging those gaps. Given the sympathies of people in charge (including Krusee), there's a high likelihood that a rail option will prevail.It could make the ballot next year.

Less likely (at least that soon) is an extension of Capital Metro's commuter line on track it already owns to Manor and, as Krusee suggests, on east to Elgin.

That track likewise is in use by freight trains. But unlike the Austin-to-Leander leg, it would need much more upgrading to get it to the standard necessary for running passengers over it.

And there is no study under way on that corridor or, for that matter, on the unused Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Co., or MoKan, right of way to Pflugerville or on Krusee's proposed link to the airport. And the Union Pacific line remains tied up in the seemingly endless negotiations between the state and the rail company.

And then there would be the ticklish task of actually persuading Capital Metro voters, whose approval is required under state law, to OK a large expansion.

Underlying all this is the policy question of whether we even ought to be having a rail election any time soon.

After all, Central Texans are at least two years from taking the first rides on a Capital Metro train. Shouldn't we see whether this first one works, whether a lot of folks ride it and Capital Metro runs it well, before investing in an additional line?

Daugherty certainly thinks so. And some supporters of the 2004 commuter rail proposal, including Capital Metro board member Fred Harless, said last year that the $90 million project was a relatively cheap way to test passenger rail, to "ride, and then decide" about expansion.

That slogan was treated like rancid milk by other rail supporters, however, and Krusee says that he and other advocates pointedly refused Daugherty's demand last year to make such a commitment to wait.

So a rail election next November is likely. We'll just have to wait to see on what.

Getting There appears Mondays. For questions, tips or story ideas, contact Getting There at 445-3698 or

Austin American-Statesman:

Sunday, November 27, 2005

"Proposition 1 is an open-ended welfare fund for the friends of Rick Perry"

Gov. Perry pushes corporate welfare

November 27, 2005

The Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2005

Editor, the Advocate:

Only a short time until the campaigning begins for next year's election, so I'd like to talk about welfare and who gets it. Republicans tend to oppose welfare to the poor and propose welfare for the rich. Proposition 1 is an open-ended welfare fund for the friends of Rick Perry that will make them fabulously wealthy. It will also prop up Perry's floundering Trans-Texas Corridor in spite of Perry's promise that it wouldn't use tax dollars.

Sen. Ken Armbrister, in SB 3, proposed "zero interest loans" for developers of "conjunctive use" water projects. A description that just happens to fit the Lower Guadalupe Water Supply Project (LGWSP). A welfare plan for the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA). Armbrister got a lot of money from HillCo Partners Inc., a lobbying firm employed by, among others, GBRA. But then so did most of the other who served on the Armbrister's Senate Select Committee on Water Policy. Log on to the State Ethics Commission Web site to see how much a senator costs.

This past year, while our schoolchildren's books waited on the loading docks to be paid for, various river authorities around the state sat on a couple hundred million in budget surpluses. While teachers wait to be reimbursed for wages taken away from them, river authorities, which are quasi-state agencies, spend untold amounts of money lobbying the Legislature for more of the taxpayer's money.

It seems like the only constant in the big picture has been Ron Paul, who stood with the people of the Lower Guadalupe basin, Water Research Group and me and promised to oppose federal permits for the LGWSP. He also stood by the Hawes family and authored legislation that would return that family's property to them. He has consistently obeyed his oath of office and voted against every piece of legislation that would violate the Constitution.

We now have a water conservation district with a board of solid, community-minded citizens as directors. I promise the people of Victoria County that if we do not stand behind them next fall, we could very well have ours and every other district in the state abolished and replaced with a state-controlled district. And guess which senator from District 18 proposed that idea.

Water Research Group will meet Monday at 7 p.m. at the Victoria Electric Coop. Funds will be collected to help mount a new offensive against the LGWSP.



© 2005 The Victoria Advocate: