Friday, December 16, 2005

What is fair and ethical when state officials are willing to turn over taxpayer-funded highways to private corporations to fleece the taxpayer?


Toll roads a disturbing trend

December 16, 2005

The Bandera Bulletin
Copyright 2005

Reading the articles about Toll Roads in the San Antonio paper was quite disturbing. The concept of placing toll booths along Hwy. 281, an existing highway, should cause the taxpayers in this state to be alarmed. The paper states that the cost of using Toll Hwy. 281 will be 14 cents per mile. Fourteen cents per mile sounds fairly inexpensive until you put a pencil to the figures. If a taxpayer has a car that gets 20 miles per gallon, and we ignore all of the other maintenance costs, that car will cost approximately 10 cents per mile in fuel costs, assuming cost of gas at $2 per gallon.

When that car is on a toll road, that taxpayer is now paying 24 cents per mile. This is a 240-percent increase in operation costs. If a car gets 15 miles per gallon, the increase in operation will be about 207-percent, if the car gets 30 miles per gallon, the increase in operation will be about 312-percent.

Not only is the placement of toll roads an unethical taxation on roads that have already been funded by taxpayers, but it unfairly punishes the taxpayers that have downsized their family vehicle for efficiency.

Private corporations wanting to build toll roads with privately funded resources, while conducting their business in a fair and ethical manner, would not likely be an issue. What, however, is fair and ethical when state officials are willing to turn over taxpayer-funded highways to private corporations to fleece the taxpayer?

Dan Zavorka


Copyright 2005 The Bandera Bulletin


State Highway 121: No CDA + no NTTA equals "no highway."

Meeting with state on SH 121 'favorable,' mayor says


By Mike Raye
Frisco Enterprise
Copyright 2005

Frisco Mayor Mike Simpson said state transportation officials would not discount a local solution to funding and building State Highway 121, providing that solution centers on the North Texas Tollway Authority.

A Frisco contingent made up of Simpson, City Manager George Purefoy, and Assistant City Manager Scott Young joined delegations from Collin County, Plano, McKinney, and the NTTA in Austin yesterday to meet with the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC), a five-member panel appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to govern the Texas Department of Transportation.

"The Commission said they saw no reason why the NTTA should not be considered if they have competitive prices for the project," Simpson said. "The next step is for the four cities and the county to move forward with the solution centered on the NTTA and how excess toll revenue would be handled."

Simpson said TTC Commissioner Ric Williamson told the delegation a decision on funding SH 121 is ultimately a local decision.

"The TTC said they wanted the decision-making process to get down to a regional decision," Simpson said. "They said they would look equally at a local solution as a CDA (comprehensive development agreement with private firms). The bottom line is the TTC told us we need to get a proposal from the NTTA put together, and the four cities and the county will move forward on that."

"There was a lot of desire by the part of the Commission for us to put a proposal forward," Paul Wageman, Collin County's NTTA representative said.

Mike Morris, Director of Transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments spoke in support of the NTTA playing a key role in the project, Simpson said. The Frisco mayor said he felt that if one of the two options for funding SH 121 didn't emerge, the road was likely doomed.

"The impression I got is if the five governments say they don't want a CDA and we can't work out something with the NTTA we wouldn't get the road built at all," he said. "We all feel it was very valuable for us to come down here and we know the direction of the work ahead of us."

Other Collin County representatives attending the three-hour meeting were NTTA Executive Director Allan Rutter and NTTA Board of Directors Chair Dave Blair, Plano Mayor Pat Evans, Plano City Manager Tom Muehlenbeck, McKinney Mayor Bill Whitfield, and Bill Hale, TxDOT's Dallas District engineer, Wageman said.

Simpson said the Frisco city Council will be briefed on the meeting at its Dec. 20 meeting.

©Star Community Newspapers 2005


More West Texas Pork for Tom Craddick's friends

Transportation Commission approves additional funds for Midland-Odessa Area highways

Texas House of Representatives Press Release

Friday, December 16, 2005

For Immediate Release

Austin -Yesterday, the Texas Transportation Commission approved $13.5 million in additional funding for highway projects in the Midland-Odessa area. The Texas Highway 349 reliever route project will receive $10 million and the John Ben Sheppard Parkway project in Odessa will receive $3.5 million. The money will help speed up the completion of these projects.

"I would like to recognize and thank Commissioner Ric Williamson and the Transportation Commission for approving these critically needed funds," Speaker Tom Craddick (Midland) said. "This additional money will help strengthen the Permian Basin's infrastructure and its economic potential."

The funding for Texas Highway 349 reliever route and the John Ben Sheppard Parkway comes at an important time for the Midland-Odessa area as these projects move towards completing La Entrada al Pacifico, an international trade corridor between Texas and Western Mexico. The state funds released today are leveraged along with $11.6 million in federal funding that will be used for interstate and state highway construction. The trade corridor, designated by the Federal government as high priority, stretches from the deep water port city of Topolobampo, Mexico to the Permian Basin.

"The Transportation Commission has demonstrated its commitment to developing the transportation infrastructure of the Permian Basin," said Midland Odessa MOTRAN President. "We appreciate Speaker Craddick's leadership on this issue."

Once the trade corridor is completed, the Midland-Odessa area will serve as an international, intermodal and inland port facility, providing important transportation resources to compete in the modern global economy.

Alexis DeLee (512) 633-2620
Chris Cutrone (512) 463-0223

Copyright 2005 © Texas House of Representatives


TxDOT: "Trust us."

Officials seek local control of toll road

Collin County: They say tollway authority may mean savings on SH121

December 16, 2005

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2005

AUSTIN – The rebirth of State Highway 121 as a toll road is best left in the family, a Collin County contingent told state officials Thursday.

They would like the Plano-based North Texas Tollway Authority to build and operate the road, rather than a private partnership with large foreign investment.

Local officials may get their wish: Members of the Texas Transportation Commission promised to respect regional desires.

Still, there are miles to go in figuring out how the highway gets an upgrade, and whether the tollway authority is at the helm. Charging tolls on Highway 121 means the roadway gets rebuilt more quickly, accommodating crushing traffic spurred by rapid growth.

The fate of Highway 121 through Collin County dominated part of a larger exchange Thursday between local transportation officials and the state on funding highway projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Much of that funding will come from toll roads, as mobility needs far outstrip available revenue.

Fervor for the tollway authority fronting a Highway 121 toll road prompted a parade of Collin County officials to show up at Thursday's transportation commission meeting, including the mayors of Plano, Allen, Frisco and McKinney.

Their message: The tollway authority has a track record from past projects, is willing to take on the road and may charge cheaper tolls. A rate of 15 cents a mile has been discussed if tolls generate revenue for other roadwork, as anticipated.

Another operator could set higher rates, Collin County officials warned Thursday, in an area already girded by toll roads. Plano could have them on three of its four sides, Mayor Pat Evans said.

"The whole purpose of it is to try to save our citizens some money," said Frisco City Manager George Purefoy.

He said little is known about the comprehensive development agreement process and the struggle to get the state's approval to build and operate a toll road since details are cloaked behind nondisclosure agreements to protect proprietary information.

State transportation commission members, appointees of the governor, said their interest is respecting regional wishes. But they also have a responsibility to improve state assets like highways in the most cost effective way possible.

"You've got to trust us," said commissioner Hope Andrade of San Antonio. "We're not trying to do anything to harm your region. We're trying to help your region."

The tollway authority's board will consider moving forward with a Highway 121 plan when it meets next week.

Any plan must be blessed by a regional transportation planning body and, ultimately, the state. It is likely the tollway authority will be up against private partnerships eyeing the highway's revenue potential.

"We just want to have the opportunity on behalf of the cities and county to come forth with a proposal," said Collin County Commissioner Jack Hatchell. "Allow the NTTA ... to submit a proposal and take the chance and get it in the mix."

Bring it on – just realize where the state is coming from, said transportation commission chair Ric Williamson.

"The NTTA goal is building a highway that's needed, keeping cost as low as possible," he said. "But that's not necessarily in the best interest of solving the state's transportation dilemma. What the state's best interest is let consumers decide what that toll is."

All tolls would be collected electronically, Mr. Williamson reiterated at Thursday's meeting.

In the past, some Collin County officials have questioned the wisdom of having a toll road that only motorists with electronic toll cards can use. This could limit revenue potential or create a safety hazard as motorists not from the area realize they cannot pay with change.


Dallas Morning News:


Texas Transportation Commission touts the benefits of a toll road slush fund.

Official touts toll roads for funding of light rail

Dec. 15, 2005

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2005

AUSTIN — Instead of trying to increase sales taxes, North Texas leaders should consider using money from future toll roads to build a regionwide commuter rail system, Texas Transportation Commission members said Thursday.

“Has anyone looked at whether a regional toll system could replace the sales tax?” commission Chairman Ric Williamson of Weatherford asked a Metroplex delegation Thursday.

Williamson and other commissioners, who oversee the Texas Department of Transportation, expressed frustration that North Texas leaders don’t seem more eager to take advantage of new state laws that facilitate using private dollars to build roads, rail lines and other transportation projects.

A growing number of private investment firms are interested in pouring billions of dollars into toll roads worldwide, especially in the United States and Europe. Texas was among the first states to pass laws governing public-private arrangements.

The private group Cintra-Zachry has agreed to spend $6 billion on a Trans-Texas Corridor from Fort Worth-Dallas to San Antonio and to pay Texas a $1.2 billion fee. Investors typically pay large sums upfront in exchange for the right to collect tolls between 50 and 99 years.

Such arrangements can reduce costs for taxpayers as a whole, but they increase the costs to toll road users.

Metroplex leaders say they would prefer that a commuter rail system in five or six counties be funded with a half-cent sales tax increase, which would require the Legislature to raise the 8.25 percent limit and would also require voter approval.

“We get confused when we hear some officials saying they want to raise the sales tax for transit,” Williamson said. “Our view is, we already have the tools to start making these decisions. We’re in the business of using our financial options.”

Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said Metroplex leaders believe it’s important to maintain a philosophical “firewall” between road and rail funds.

Generally, the belief is that toll road money should be spent on roads and sales tax revenues on mass transit, he said.

It’s also questionable whether toll roads could produce enough money to support commuter rail operating costs, he said.

Spending toll road money on rail would also mean, “We still would not have addressed the problems on the roadway side. Some of us feel that would be doing an injustice to the transportation system over the next 25 years.”

But if legislators don’t raise the sales tax limit, commuter rail supporters would have little choice but to seek alternative funding sources, he said. Area lawmakers have warned rail advocates that a proposed sales-tax increase for rail would have little support, even in a local-option election.

Commissioners requested Thursday’s discussion to draw attention to controversial subplots regarding the gradual privatization of the transportation system.

The rail dispute aside, Morris told commissioners he believes that North Texas is on the cutting edge of using alternatives to the motor fuels tax, which is the traditional way of funding highways, in its planning.

The region’s long-term plan includes about 22 toll projects, he said. Some, such as Southwest Parkway (Texas 121T) in Fort Worth, are traditional toll roads. Others, including Northeast Loop 820, are toll express lanes in the median of a traditional freeway.

Commissioners and Metroplex leaders also debated the proposed Texas 121 toll road in Collin County.

Area mayors and county officials favor allowing the North Texas Tollway Authority to build the road. The Plano-based tollway authority operates the Dallas North Tollway and the President George Bush Turnpike in Collin County.

But state transportation officials want to hire a private firm to build and manage the road, which could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars. Under a development agreement, a private firm would pay fees that not only cover the cost of road construction but could also be used to expand Central Expressway (U.S. 75) in far north Collin County, Dallas district engineer Bill Hale said.

City officials from Allen, Frisco, McKinney and Plano argued that decisions about Texas 121 should be made locally because the road cuts through their cities.

But transportation department officials said nearly half the traffic on the highway is from other counties, including 11 percent from Tarrant County.

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816

Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


Thursday, December 15, 2005

"Reform-minded lawmakers should use Alabama, Texas, Delaware, and Ohio as models of what NOT to do."

Fracas over home seizures moves to states

December 15, 2005

By Warren Richey, Staff writer
The Christian Science Monitor
Copyright 2005

WASHINGTON –When the US Supreme Court ruled in June that private homes may be seized to make room for commercial development projects, the decision ignited a firestorm of criticism.

Outraged property-rights activists said the 5-to-4 opinion in Kelo v. New London would render homes and businesses nationwide vulnerable to government land-grabs to foster economic revitalization. Some ranked it among the high court's worst decisions, calling it this generation's Dred Scott.

Now, six months later, the debate over property rights is still raging, but it is about to enter a new, more deliberative phase as state legislatures prepare to open for business next year.

"There will be 44 states in session, and I am sure you will see bills introduced in all those states," says Larry Morandi, who tracks reaction to the Kelo decision for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In his majority opinion in the Kelo case, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that even though the condemnation plan of New London, Conn., did not violate the Constitution, there was nothing to prevent state lawmakers from restricting their own state's eminent-domain power.

The coming year will show to what extent state lawmakers are prepared to exercise that authority. What's clear now is that, as the debate shifts to state capitols, a new set of battle lines are being drawn.

On one side are property rights advocates pushing for tough restrictions on the use of eminent domain against homeowners and small businesses. On the other side is the redevelopment industry - planners, urban renewal specialists, construction firms - and various federal, state, and local officials who stress the need for government flexibility in helping communities rebound from chronic economic hardship.

"The key will be striking the proper balance between use of eminent domain for job creation on one hand and proper respect for property rights on the other hand," says Timothy Dowling of the Washington-based Community Rights Counsel, a public-interest law firm that helps state and local officials litigate land-use issues.

So far, four states - Alabama, Texas, Delaware, and Ohio - have passed measures in response to the Kelo decision.

In addition, last month the House of Representatives voted 376 to 38 to pass the Private Property Protection Act, which threatens to cut off federal funding to states and communities that seize homes for private commercial projects as a form of economic development. The measure now moves to the Senate.

"There is going to be a mega-debate," says Dana Berliner of the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based public-policy law firm that represents the homeowners in the Kelo case and property owners in other eminent-domain cases. "The momentum toward legislative reform is very strong," she says.

A broad national consensus has emerged across political lines in opposition to the use of eminent domain for economic development, Ms. Berliner says. Polls show public opposition has ranged from 70 percent to more than 90 percent of respondents, she says.

Some reform legislation will likely be "watered down" through statehouse compromises, Berliner says. But "given how strong the movement is to do something on this, it is going to be difficult for states to pass [merely] cosmetic legislation," she adds. "They really are going to have to do something."

Many on the redevelopment side of the debate say they are perplexed by the fact that they won their case at the Supreme Court but appear to have lost it in the court of public opinion. Some credit effective public-relations efforts by property rights groups, while others say members of the media have distorted the issue by favoring homeowners in their news coverage.

Proposals for eminent-domain reform range from an outright ban on property seizures for economic development to beefed-up regulatory processes requiring more community involvement earlier in the planning process. Some states have halted all seizures of homes, pending study by the legislature.

Timothy Sandefur, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation, favors limiting home seizures to projects involving actual government use of the property. But many states are likely to push for something less, he says. He is not impressed by the reforms adopted in the four states that have already taken action. Reform-minded lawmakers should use those states as models of what not to do, he says.

Alabama and Texas continue to allow public seizures when property is deemed "blighted." But Mr. Sandefur says vague definitions of what constitutes "blight" leave giant loopholes in those state laws.

A proposed law in Pennsylvania has a focused definition of blight and is thus a reform effort with real teeth, he says. "Blight is dangerous property," Sandefur says. "It is property that attracts rats. It is property that is going to fall down. It is property that is going to burn up."

In contrast, the definition of blight in some states is so all-encompassing that it embraces any property that is not producing enough sales-tax revenue for the government, Sandefur says.

Community Rights Counsel's Mr. Dowling favors a legislative approach under consideration in New York. "They are thinking of ways to enhance property rights without tying the hands of state and local governments where a job-creation project does require the use of eminent domain," he says.

Lawmakers there may offer homeowners an increased level of compensation above the required fair market value for their property, Dowling says, to help cover some of the noneconomic costs associated with eminent-domain efforts.

"I don't think it has to be an either/or situation between never using eminent domain and always using it," he says. In many cases, he says, eminent domain is an essential tool to counteract a property owner who is holding out to extort a lucrative deal from city or state officials whose only goal is to achieve a greater good for the community.

Copyright © 2005 The Christian Science Monitor


Telvent has 'solid relationships' with Spanish infrastructure firms, as well as other international players

Interview with Larry Yermack, president of Telvent-Farradyne

December 2006

Spain Business, Issue 9
Trade Commission of Spain in Chicago
Copyright 2007

In the beginning of October, the new company Telvent-Farradyne started its operations as a united company in the U.S. The new company results from the acquisition by the Spanish Global RealTime IT company Telvent and the American company PB Farradyne, premier traffic information systems (ITS) developer in the U.S. We talk with Larry Yermack, president of the new company about the upcoming projects in the US.

What does this merger mean for TELVENT activities in the U.S?

The US has the fastest growing market for ITS technology with activity on city streets, highways and transit systems. The acquisition of Farradyne by Telvent to create Telvent-Farradyne gives the organization a significant presence in over 30 US locations so that we can offer the best local staff combined with world class technology to solve the complicated problems of transportation agencies.

Does the newly formed company have any examples or upcoming projects to illustrate how the expertise of both companies will be showcased?

Telvent has deployed electronic toll collection systems and transit ticketing systems in many locations around the world; this gives Telvent-Farradyne the opportunity to now offer these systems to our US customers. With the addition of this and other technology we are able to provide a much broader range of ITS products.

Reading your company information we find that it might sometimes be difficult for those non familiar with your technology to understand what does Telvent Farradyne exactly do… Could you explain us how your systems will help the American citizens and administrations?

Probably the best way to think about our work is to say our systems are designed to improve mobility. All of our projects are designed to make the surface transportation system operate more efficiently, so to that end we deploy advanced signal systems for urban mobility, freeway systems to allow highways to move better, traveller information systems so that people can avoid congested roads and transit systems so that people can arrange for the fastest possible trip.

Which are the main trends, and in which areas is expected the major market growth in the U.S. for the following years? What states offer the best oportunities?

The most exciting opportunity is the growth of tolling as a way to support new highway capacity, new roads, bridges and tunnels. There are major opportunities to deploy toll systems with public toll authorities, private developers as well as State Departments of Transportation. While some states have larger programs, such as Texas, virtually all US states have some toll activity.

Is Telvent-Farradyne going to partner with major Spanish energy and infrastructure companies in future projects in the U.S.?

The solid relationships that Telvent has in general with the Spanish energy and infrastructure firms, as well as other international players, should promise future opportunities to leverage these relationship in the US as, clearly, Telvent has a significant US presence and business. We hope they will continue to view us as a partner here in the US as they do in other markets.

Do you plan further acquisitions in the U.S.?

We have plans to grow Telvent-Farradyne’s business in North America and to that end we will consider acquisitions where they fit in with our business plans.

Trade Commission of Spain in Chicago
500 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1500
Chicago, IL 60611
Tel: (312) 644- 1154 - Fax: (312) 527- 5531

© 2007 Spain Biz:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"I fail to see how the expense of building such a highway would benefit anyone except the companies building the highway."

Letters to the Editor:

Highway question


The Navasota Examiner
Copyright 2005

I just got through reading an article where Gov. Rick Perry has announced plans to seek private dollars to upgrade a U.S. 59 as Texas' portion of the proposed Interstate 69 rather than wait for federal funds that may never come.

According to the article the federal Highway Trust Fund is headed for bankruptcy. With our manufacturing and jobs going overseas and even Mexico's cheaper labor not being able to compete with China; I fail to see how the expense of building such a highway would benefit anyone except the companies building the highway and anyone else profiting from a lucrative deal. If all our products are going to be made in China and India; i wonder what will be shipped on the highway. Why do we have a trend toward toll roads and getting private investors involved?

It looks like our tax dollars aren't being used wisely because the hefty taxes on gas have done well in the past.

The last time i checked we had a 20 cent per gallon state tax on gas and an 18.4 cent per gallon federal tax on gas.

In other words when you put 20 gallons of gas in your car; you are paying $7.68 in federal and state tax. Along with the environmental studies for these highways they need to do some economic studies that state in detail the effect on the local economies, schools, and tax base. In my opinion the approval to build any major highway should be voted on in a special election. Grimes county is a beautiful place that will grow regardless of the highways; so hopefully, these huge land eating concrete scars will be pointed in a different direction.

Larry W. Lynch,


Copyright © 2005 The Navasota Examiner


"This is the only spot they come to, so it is obvious where critical habitat should be."

Two Texas natives struggle to survive

Study stresses an urgency to help whooping cranes and Houston toads

Dec. 13, 2005

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2005

Two of the world's most endangered species call Texas home, and unless action is taken now to protect their habitat, they likely will become extinct, according to research published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The whooping crane and the Houston toad are among 27 creatures in the United States and 794 worldwide listed in the study, which for the first time constructs a global map of species that not only are endangered, but also reside in only one place on Earth.

The researchers argue that these sites should be targeted for immediate action to prevent species loss, otherwise the planet would lose three times as many species as it did in the last 500 years.

Texas has 91 endangered or threatened animal and plant species, according to the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Only the whooping crane and Houston toad, however, with their sharply limited habitats, were included in the research published today.

"We now know where the emergencies are: the species that will be tomorrow's dodos unless we act quickly," said Taylor Ricketts, a scientist with the World Wildlife Fund, and one of the authors of the study.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the winter home of the last 216 wild whooping cranes in the world, and Bastrop County, which has the largest remaining population of the Houston toad, are among 595 sites worldwide that if safeguarded could save hundreds of species, the research concludes. Mexico, Colombia and Brazil have the most sites housing the only populations of one or more species. Eighteen of the sites are in the United States.

"We want to create a frontline defense against species extinctions," said Mike Parr, secretary for the Alliance for Zero Extinction, a consortium of 56 groups from 18 different countries.

"If we lose these sites, it will be a cost to biodiversity," Parr said. "We don't have a global mechanism to deal with these species."

A shift in species' trends
The two Texas species represent the changing face of extinction, although both have been listed as endangered in this country since 1970.

Historically, birds accounted for the majority of extinctions. In the last 500 years, however, amphibians like the Houston toad have made up more than half of all endangered species. The research included mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and conifers.

The paper also points to a shift in where species are on the verge of extinction. While 80 percent of the 245 species that have perished in the last 500 years lived on isolated islands, many of those recognized in the paper, including the Houston toad and whooping crane, are located on continents near densely populated areas. Nearly half — 43 percent — of these sites have no legal protection.

Even the Aransas refuge, with 22,500-acres protected, is being hemmed in by development, according to Tom Stehn, the national whooping crane coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Two subdivisions are planned for areas near where whooping cranes are known to return. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway runs through the area. And the demand for freshwater from development upstream on the Guadalupe River has Stehn concerned about whether the refuge's marshes will be able to continue to support the flock.

"People are watching out for this species, so it is not going to disappear overnight," he said. "But it's one of those species you have to really keep an eye on ... because it is so concentrated."

No protection for toad

The home of the Houston toad is on the leading edge of Austin's sprawl. One fifth of Bastrop County — 124,000 acres — is classified as toad habitat. But only 500 acres are protected for toad conservation, according to Mike Forstner, a Texas State University professor who is studying the toad, which breeds solely in the loose sands of the Lost Pines area.

"With the Houston toad, the onus and the glory in its protection is going to rest not on governmental agencies, but on individual landowners and individual organizations," Forstner said. But "if it doesn't happen now, I'm afraid it is not going to happen."

The U.S. House of Representatives recently approved legislation to reform the Endangered Species Act, the sentinel law protecting this country's rare plants and animals. Reform supporters say the changes will provide incentives for private landowners to conserve habitat by speeding approvals and compensating owners when plans for their property are derailed because of an endangered species.

"To date, the unintended consequences of the law have resulted in real disincentives for private property owners to willingly engage in species recovery efforts," said Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for the House Resources Committee. The committee's chairman, Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., sponsored the reform bill, which passed in late September.

"If you take a look at the recovery rates that the Endangered Species Act has posted in the last three decades, they are abysmal," Kennedy added. "Then, take a look at the fact that 90 percent of endangered species have habitat on private land."

But some parts of the law that would be voided by the pending legislation, including the designation of critical habitat to protect species, could spell trouble for exactly the kind of species the study highlights — those that are picky about where they live.

"This is the only spot they come to, so it is obvious where critical habitat should be," Stehn said.

Houston Chronicle:


“It's almost like talking to the IRS. They won't give you a written answer.”

Top transportation official talks about proposed corridor

December 14, 2005

By Dan Genz
Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2005

Debunking myths and offering a few hints about the Trans-Texas Corridor, the state's top transportation administrator discussed the proposed Dallas-to-San Antonio highway and rail network with the Tribune-Herald editorial board Tuesday.

Citing heavy traffic along Interstate 35 and the state's booming population, Texas Department of Transportation executive director Michael W. Behrens said conditions have made the $6 billion controversial project necessary and inevitable.

“This corridor is going to have to be built someday, either sooner or later, and it's very important I think that we get a footprint for where it could go,” Behrens said.

The massive roadway will likely be placed east of Interstate 35, with tolls costing drivers about a dime or 11 cents per mile, Behrens said.

The transportation agency is expected to narrow the 50-mile review area to a 10-mile zone early next year. Construction is set to begin in about five years.

Lawmakers approved Gov. Rick Perry's plan for a 4,000 mile network of roadways crisscrossing the state in 2003. The quarter-mile-wide highway system could run through McLennan County.

Local opposition groups say the quarter-mile-wide project could devour thousands of acres of ranchland and lure drivers away from businesses along the bustling I-35 corridor.

McLennan County commissioners passed a resolution opposing the project earlier this year and County Judge Jim Lewis said it's still difficult to get direct information about concerns about use of right-of-ways.

“I think we need to look at it, but we need to get some good factual answers to our questions,” Lewis said. “It's almost like talking to the IRS. They won't give you a written answer to something,” Lewis said.

One key point of contention is that detailed records about the companies building the tollway, a San Antonio construction firm and the Spanish transportation company Cintra Zachry LP, have not been made public until a final contract is signed.

“Does that give you a warm fuzzy feeling that the negotiations and things were done in private?” Lewis asked.

Saying it is too early to release that information, Behrens said people are confused about what's happening with the project. He's heard some people are alarmed that the country of Spain could be seizing their property.

To make his case amid the organized opposition, Behrens has met with newspaper representatives from Cameron, Temple, Taylor and Rockdale.

He said many in the public are undecided and not fully informed about the project.

“We're seeing that there are some things that are being said that are not correct. We call them myths versus reality,” Behrens said.

Driving north from Austin Tuesday, Behrens said he looked at a busy Bell County rest area in Salado along Interstate 35 and asked himself what the future will be like if no highway is built.

“What are these things going to be like? Can you imagine twice the amount of trucks? We need to find another corridor to put these cars,” Behrens said.


Copyright 2005 Waco Tribune Herald


"The toll roads belong to the people of Harris County. We manage it well and need this money to shape our future."

Toll roads with a cash-out option


By Dennis Cauchon
Copyright 2005

State and local governments are singing a new tune in operating toll roads: selling or leasing them for cash and letting private companies run them.

The governments plan to use money from the transactions to build new roads, repair old ones or pay for other programs.

The idea has caught fire since Chicago leased its Skyway — an 8-mile elevated highway that carries traffic from the city to the Indiana border — for $1.8 billion in cash to Spanish and Australian investors in January.

The Skyway had lost money for decades and only recently had turned profitable, generating $40 million in tolls and $20 million in profits last year. The price for the 99-year lease was more than twice as much as any other company bid.

Now other governments around the country are examining what their toll roads are worth and wondering whether they can get a Chicago-style windfall — or at least a good deal.

"A toll road is a wonderful financial asset, and we need money for roads," says Charles Schalliol, director of Indiana's Office of Management and Budget.

It's hard to say how private operation of a toll road would change life for the motorists who use it because each deal is different. Potential benefits: The private ventures might operate and maintain the roads better than government can. Possible negatives: Rising tolls that could push traffic onto local streets.

Bids in the billions

Some deals being studied:

•The Indiana Toll Road. This 157-mile interstate across northern Indiana connects to the Chicago Skyway. The state is soliciting bids that are likely to top $2 billion. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, wants to spend the money on new roads, including extending Interstate 69 fromIndianapolis to Evansville.

•Harris County, Texas, toll roads. The county operates 83 miles of toll roads in the Houston area that could be worth more than $10 billion. Investment banker Goldman Sachs told county commissioners in September that the system could generate a $7 billion upfront payment.

•The Dulles Toll Road. Virginia plans to lease this 14-mile road near Washington, D.C., for 50 years. The state is studying four bids of about $1 billion each. The bidders also promise to pay for improvements such as express lanes on the busy commuter road. Virginia may use the cash to help build a rail line between Washington Dulles International Airport and the region's subway system.

Other states are weighing the idea. Delaware Gov. Ruth Miner, a Democrat, is awaiting a task force recommendation on whether to privatize the state's toll roads, including a 24-mile stretch of Interstate 95. New Jersey Gov.-elect Jon Corzine, a Democrat, has said he is open to considering leasing parts of state toll roads such as the New Jersey Turnpike. The issue also has been raised in California and Wisconsin.

The wisdom of privatizing roads depends on the specifics of the deal, says David Schulz, director of the Infrastructure Technology Institute at Northwestern University. He says the 99-year lease of the Skyway was a great deal because of the extraordinary price.

"The Skyway has been a money-losing headache for city government for years. I know. I used to run it," says Schulz, former Chicago deputy public works commissioner. He says he's confident that the new management can run the road better, enabling the city to focus on other matters.

Chicago has managed its windfall prudently so far, saving most and paying off old debts on the Skyway, he says. He doubts that other governments will get such huge bids, "but you never know until you put it up for auction."

Skeptics of privatizing toll roads worry that communities will lose control of their road systems.

"We have concerns about fairness," says Mark Eagan, president of the St. Joseph County, Ind., Chamber of Commerce. His group fears that a private operator will raise tolls and push traffic onto local streets and that the state will spend its money on projects elsewhere in the state.

Debate in Houston

In Texas, Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack says it would be shortsighted for his county to give up toll revenue of more than $1 million a day.

"The toll roads belong to the people of Harris County," Radack says. "We manage it well and need this money to shape our future."

But Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, the county commission's top elected official, says leasing part or all of the system could provide more than $10 billion for road construction. "The biggest issue in transportation today is how to pay for it," Eckels says. "We need to look at the whole range of financing possibilities."

He agrees that loss of control is the disadvantage of privatizing toll roads. "But the amount of money Chicago got for the Skyway — that got folks' attention. How can you not look at the value of your toll roads?"

A few private toll roads have been built in Virginia, California and Texas since 1995. But efforts to privatize existing toll roads are new

Options range from outright sale of roads to long-term leases that last 25 to 100 years. A private company could do everything — maintain roads, operate rest stops, pay for police — or just run the toll booths. A contract could limit future toll increases or require discounts for local residents — moves that may be popular but would lower the road's economic value.

Private toll roads are common in some countries, says Peter Samuel, editor of TollRoadsNews, a Web newsletter. Italy privatized its state toll authority a decade ago, and France has three publicly held toll road companies. Foreign investors should have a lot of interest in U.S. toll roads, he says.

"The Chicago Skyway opened a lot of minds," Samuel says. "That $1.8 billion is a big hunk of money."

© Copyright 2005 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

"Inevitable? Baloney!"

Letters to The Editor — Focus: Toll Roads


San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

Citizens must fight back

The facts about toll roads:

1. Toll roads will result in fat re-election war chests for each politician who supports them.

2. Toll roads are a cop-out. If they are the only solution, those responsible for our roads (Texas Department of Transportation, politicians, judges, etc.) are allowed to proclaim their failure to provide proper roads as a victory. Toll roads do not force the Department of Transportation to find a solution to the problem.

3. Toll roads will not result in a single original route. You will get to drive the access roads for free or pay a toll for the roads already in place on the same routes. Sure, they will do a powder and paint makeover, but they will be the same roads, same location.

4. Toll roads will not make your cost of transportation decrease, nor will the amount of money spent on our taxable roads decrease. In fact, your tax dollars will be spent to start this whole project.

5. Toll roads are administered by non-elected people. They are appointed. Don't like them? Then you have no recourse as a voter.

Are you going to take this lying down, San Antonio? Go to and get involved. Fight back before it is too late. After it is too late, I don't want to hear this town complaining.

— Mike Sisley, Schertz

Cheaper to raise gas tax

Re: Pat Driscoll's article "Toll roads will limit improvements to free roadways" (Dec. 4):

I am glad that one reporter has the wisdom to mention the disparity in what the Texas Department of Transportation has been proclaiming about toll road charges (14 cents a mile) vs. what its actual survey is stating (more like 39 cents a mile).

I was one of those fortunate few who took the online survey, and the survey stated I would pay $5.90 each way for about 20 miles of travel on Loop 1604. Can the average San Antonian afford $5.90 each way? Can he afford $4.90 or even $3.90 each way?

This survey reveals many things — most important, the politicians who have been proclaiming 10-14 cents a mile are way off in their estimates.

At $5.90 each way, we're talking about $260 a month, or more than $3,000 a year, just for work travel. Contrast this with the average San Antonian who uses 1,500 gallons of gas each year and pays $300 a year in gasoline tax revenues to the state, and people ought to start comprehending how expensive proposed toll roads will be.

I plead with fellow San Antonians to check the math and then call local and state politicians. Surprise them by telling them you would prefer they consider doubling the gasoline tax revenue vs. adding toll roads ($300 more a year is a lot cheaper than $3,000 a year).

— Dave Ramos

Need more openness

I respectfully disagree with County Judge Nelson Wolff's comments about the inevitability of toll roads in Bexar County.

I believe, as do many others, that the process involved in the creation of important infrastructure such as roads should be dealt with in a more open and honest way. I understand the forces of Big Business can be strong, but as an elected official in Bexar County, I would hope Wolff would be strong and demand openness and fairness in the whole process.

I promise I will work hard to support those I see as working for the people of Texas and not just the special interests. That means political action and votes.

Please do the right thing and stop telling citizens that something is inevitable if it's not even clear it is acceptable to the people of this county.

— Jeff Farren

Inevitable? Baloney!

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said toll roads are inevitable. To that I say: Baloney!

He and his big money, road-building handlers are not going to make me accept toll roads. I reject his argument that the toll roads will pay for road construction and road maintenance.

The state with the most toll roads, New Jersey, has some of the worst roads and traffic congestion. You can't move 15 minutes in that state without running (oops! bad choice of words — crawling) into a toll road.

Wolff and the rest of the city/county government will only find other ways to fleece us taxpayers. We already pay high property taxes and don't want to pay for the "privilege" of driving, too. I will fight him and the rest of his pro-toll-road gang.

Since he has baseball stadium named after himself, what's next? The Nelson Wolff Tollway? Not if we, the TexasTollParty, have anything to do with it.

— Santiago Tello

San Antonio Express-News: