Friday, February 24, 2006

"Hall's speech was the first in two decades to criticize San Antonio transportation plans."

Toll road foe has her say


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

Terri Hall, a stay-at-home mom with five children who works in her spare time to shoot down toll-road plans, felt like Daniel walking into the lion's den Thursday.

She stood alone in front of four members of the Texas Transportation Commission in Austin, with a few supporters in a crowd of more than 100 highway engineers, industry officials and toll-road promoters.

The commission is appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, the state's most powerful toll-road advocate. His friend Ric Williamson is the chairman.

San Antonio community leaders had just finished telling commissioners why tolls are needed to fund road projects quickly, and ended with a video saying the city has had a 50-year "love affair" with the Texas Department of Transportation.

After compliments were swapped and friendly clatter had faded, Hall quietly slipped to the lectern.

"I guess I finally get to meet Terri Hall," Williamson said.

Hall's speech was the first in two decades to criticize San Antonio transportation plans pitched to the commission. But she said her group, San Antonio Toll Party, is not the opposition since it represents a majority of people who matter — motorists and taxpayers.

A major theme in her argument was that toll roads are less about solving congestion and more about harnessing it to raise money by giving motorists a choice of either putting up with snarled traffic or paying fees to get around it.

"This isn't congestion relief," she said. "It's congestion manipulation for profit."

Her advice was to stop using existing rights of way to build toll lanes, delay all toll projects until economic impacts can be determined, do a top-to-bottom review of transportation planning in San Antonio, remake the Metropolitan Planning Organization board so that only elected officials serve, and reconsider selling tollway operations to private companies.

Williamson kept his eyes glued to Hall as she talked. When she finished, he said he appreciated her philosophical concerns and respected her facts but stopped short on her unsubstantiated allegations.

He didn't say much more because of a December lawsuit that stalled construction of U.S. 281 toll lanes in San Antonio.

"Because of litigation, you and I can't joust perhaps as much as we would both probably like to," he said.

Hall chuckled.

But Williamson said he's willing to listen, even if he doesn't agree with everything he hears.

"You're welcome here every month," he said. "Your words and your testimony is valuable to us."

Hall thanked him but said she's looking for changes.

"I have to pay for your decisions," she said. "All of Texans have to pay for the decisions you make. You all know that ultimately it's the taxpayers who are footing the bill for this."

Williamson got the last word.

"It's the same taxpayers who are footing the bill for congestion," he said. "It's the same taxpayers, or maybe it's their kids, who'll have to pay for repairing all these assets that weren't properly maintained for 50 years because no one could figure out a way to pay for them — they're the same taxpayers."

After the meeting broke up, toll proponents from San Antonio who had gathered in various clusters took swipes at information Hall presented.

"The Texas Toll Party is promoting more baloney then the Oscar Mayer meat company ever made," said Joe Krier, president of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

Krier and other local leaders asked the commission for continuing help to develop 70 miles of toll roads in San Antonio. They also want the state to put up more matching funds for highway money coming from a portion of a quarter-cent sales tax increase approved in 2004.

The group also asked for help relocating through trains out of San Antonio, for funds to address traffic from an increase of 13,000 military jobs at Fort Sam Houston and to consider allocating money for mass transit in the Interstate 35 corridor.

"Thank you for how much you're doing for us," Mayor Phil Hardberger told commissioners. "We're going to need it more and more."


© 2005 Austin American-Statesman:


Thursday, February 23, 2006

State bureaucrats win war of attrition to toll State Highway 121


Toll Taxes

Policy must be re-examined


The Allen American
Copyright 2006

State bureaucrats, aided by an absence of political leadership from members of the Legislature in the affected communities, appear to have won the war of attrition that will result in tolls being added to State Highway 121 in Collin County.

We thank Frisco Mayor Pro Tem Maher Masao for being courageous enough to have stood up against the wave of mass conformity that eventually swept over city councils and for his having raised a series of substantial questions that still remain unanswered, among them:

Toll roads can be helpful. Dallas North Tollway is an example. But tolls as a tool for financing all future highways -- a policy supported by Gov. Rick Perry's appointee, Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees the Texas Department of Transportation - "is not a good long-term plan." And, even more unfortunately, the Regional Transportation Council became a Perry-Williamson puppet by not recommending the North Texas Tollway Authority proposal, which would have ensured maximum return for Collin County.

*Drivers already pay gas taxes to build roads. State bureaucrats claim this revenue is insufficient to meet construction demands. But that is not the point. As Masao put it, "This is a prime example of double taxation," pure and simple.

*Tolls from this project are going to provide an abundant and tempting revenue flow - enough not just to cover the costs of the project, per se, but other road-building projects elsewhere in Texas. Gas-tax revenues already are siphoned off for non-highway programs while the toll movement progresses. Why should residents of Collin County have to pay this, especially when city councils and the commissioners' court expressly said they want all the money to stay local. "As many have said, it's Robin Hood all over again," said Masao.

*Only toll tags will be allowed to make payments. What about people who don't have them, say, visitors from other states?

Even though these major issues remain unresolved, the project now seems to be moving forward.

In these kinds of public policy debates, one does reach a point when debate must be closed and action must be taken.

And that point has arrived, as another out-of-the-box thinker, Frisco City Manager George Purefoy, said.

Purefoy worked hard on the question and deserves great credit for his efforts to produce an innovative solution. But practical reality, as he pointed out, now demands compromise.

The plan decided upon will not draw uniform agreement, but, he said, "everybody gets a little bit of what they want."

Still, the unanswered questions raised by Masao demand examination.

The decision on S.H. 121 does not end this debate; it most certainly does not resolve issues surrounding the charging of tolls for highway use, in particular the idea that every new highway should have them, which is a radical departure from traditional road funding as part of public infrastructure. It must be studied very carefully.

Legislators in the communities affected by the S.H. 121 disagreement should take the initiative to conduct a statewide review of road finances and produce practicable, realistic recommendations to guide these projects in the future.

Collin County commissioners took a tentative step toward enlisting stronger support from legislators on Valentine's Day when they considered asking them to draft legislation to limit the transportation department's ability to force cities and counties to accept comprehensive development agreements with private companies to operate toll roads.

That is a step in the right direction, but the broad policies governing highway finance and who decides how they should be implemented must be reconsidered before, for many Texans, it simply becomes too expensive to drive.

©Star Community Newspapers 2006


"The TTC has become a front-burner topic in local political races."

TTC route may be revealed


By Kurt Johnson
Taylor Daily Press
Copyright 2006

The document sought by two Coupland residents and others that would show in greater detail the route of the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) through Central Texas may be released in March, according to a letter received by Buzz and Susan Garry of Coupland.

The Garrys had sought the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and Cintra Zachry, the company which is under contract to build part of the massive toll road proposed by Gov. Rick Perry.

Susan Garry said she recently received a letter from TxDOT indicating that even though Attorney General Greg Abbott had ruled the DEIS couldn't be released, TxDOT is working with the Federal Highway Administration to get approval for release of the document sometime next month.

While the DEIS won't show the exact route proposed for the TTC, it will identify a ten-mile-wide corridor within which the toll road route would likely be located.

Cintra Zachry filed suit in Austin last month to block release of its development and financing plans, which Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has said are not public record. Abbott made his ruling in response to an open records request from the Houston Chronicle.

In addition, TxDOT refused to make public its plans for the project, which includes a $7.2 billion toll road from Dallas to San Antonio and could include massive rail infrastructure through the Taylor and Coupland areas.

One of the issues involving the proposed route of the project through the local area is whether or not it would involve only rail and pipeline infrastructure instead of the full width of the corridor as planned. If SH-130, the new toll road that will go from north of Georgetown to Niederwald is deemed to be the highway portion of the TTC, then that segment through the local area could include rail and pipelines but not necessarily highways.

Nonetheless, Coupland residents and others in the area are concerned that even the rail and pipeline version of the TTC would disrupt local communities.

The TTC has become a front-burner topic in local political races. At a candidate forum held in Taylor on Monday, Republican Barbara Samuelson and Democrat Karen Felthauser, both of whom are running for state representative from District 52, stated their opposition to the TTC. The District 52 incumbent, Rep. Mike Krusee, was at the forum but didn't address the TTC or its local impact.

In addition to the controversy generated by the TTC because of the impact it might have on local communities, toll roads being built in the area have also taken criticism, with opponents saying existing roadways that were built through tax revenues shouldn't be expanded to be toll roads because the practice amounts to double taxation.

Once the DEIS is released by TxDOT, it will provide the first solid indication of how close the proposed TTC route will come to the Taylor and Coupland area.

Copyright © 2006 Taylor Daily Press


TxDOT promotes phantom tolls and the bond fairy.

State wants to fund new roads with tolls


The Bryan -College Station Eagle
Copyright 2006

Over the next two decades, as the Texas population swells and the need for more roads multiplies, traffic congestion could become a much larger nightmare than it already is.

But state transportation officials say they have a plan - to fund the much-needed new roadways through tolls. And the strategy could make its way to the Brazos Valley.

Representatives from the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Transportation Commission - which governs TxDOT - spoke Wednesday to more than 100 county judges and commissioners in College Station at the 48th annual County Judges' and Commissioners' Education Conference.

"Texans have a problem," said Ric Williamson, chairman of the commission. "We have a plan. We'll solve those problems by 2030."

Those problems have been a long time coming. In the past 25 years, the state's population has grown by 57 percent and the use of roadways has grown by 95 percent, Williamson said. But over the same period of time, the state's road capacity has grown by only 8 percent.

Over the next 25 years, the population is expected to increase by another 64 percent, and the use of roads will climb by 214 percent, Williamson said.

"Absent a plan, our road capacity will only grow by 6 percent," he said. Across the state, congestion will worsen, air quality will plummet and potholes will spread.

"They're nothing compared to what they'll be without a plan," he said.

But Williamson, who was appointed to serve on the Transportation Commission by Gov. Rick Perry, said Perry and the Texas Legislature have accepted the mission of fixing transportation in Texas.

"It's what Rick Perry and the Legislature have done," he said. "They've made up their mind, and they're going to get it done."

"It" comes in the form of the Trans-Texas Corridor, a proposed statewide network of routes incorporating existing and new highways, railways and toll roads. Since it was unveiled in 2002, the plan has been a lightning rod for controversy across the state, including in the Brazos Valley.

Landowners have voiced concerns about losing their property to the transportation department and others are concerned about property values. Some opponents say they are concerned that the new roadways would hurt the tax revenue collected by cities and counties because the land would be removed from the tax rolls. And others say they disagree with a new plan to fund road construction through tolls.

The two main projects under consideration now are TTC-35, which would run parallel to Interstate 35, and TTC-69, which would run from the Texas-Mexico border toward Shreveport, La. Both of those highways would be built by private companies that would recover their cost and make money through toll fares.

Because of the disparity between TxDOT funding and the cost of the badly needed projects across the state, the government is looking toward toll roads to build future corridors, officials said. No longer would toll roads be limited to major cities in Texas.

Brazos County Judge Randy Sims says new lanes to combat congestion in the Bryan-College Station area are needed and likely could be supported only by tolls.

"What [TxDOT officials] reiterated, which we'd heard before, is basically the only way we are going to get any new roads is by way of toll roads," Sims said. "They don't have enough money to even maintain the roads we have."

The toll-road concept, which has long been used in major metropolitan areas such as Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, will likely spread to less-populated areas, such as Brazos County.

"We will probably see some toll roads," Sims said.

But they won't necessarily be the familiar toll roads that have booths where money is collected. In this area, the "phantom toll" concept could be used.

Phantom toll roads don't have any toll booths, and motorists don't pay to enter or exit. The toll road would funded by bonds.

A government, such as Brazos County, would issue certificates of obligation - bonds that don't require voter approval - to build new lanes to reduce congestion. Automobiles then would be counted as they crossed fixed points on the lane, and TxDOT would reimburse the county for the traffic on these roads.

In simple terms, Sims said, TxDOT would be using the county's credit to build the roads and then pay it back. In order to issue bonds, the county would have to raise its tax rate, which would be lowered once the bond payments were fulfilled.

Though toll roads have been discussed in Brazos County, there's no timetable on building any, Sims said.

"We've talked about it," he said. "We're going to have to do something before too long, due to the fact that we're starting to get behind the curve on our traffic management concerns."

Nobody wants to get behind and face traffic problems like those in Austin and Houston, he said.

Josh Baugh's e-mail address is

© 2000-2006 The Bryan -College Station Eagle


"A dedicated hurricane escape toll road?"


Urban Affairs:

Three to bid on U.S. 290 project; campaign ethics questions linger.

February 23, 2006

Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

Maybe it'll be a toll road, maybe not. But whatever U.S. 290 East becomes, it moved a step closer to becoming that on Wednesday.

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority board approved a short list of three partnerships to bid on designing and building the nine-mile project. All three groups — Walnut Creek Constructors, Granite-Austin Road & Bridge and Lone Star Infrastructure-290E, JV — include major players involved in toll roads under construction in Central Texas. It should take until at least the fall for the authority to take detailed bids from the consortiums, evaluate them and award the contract.

That's OK, however, because there are numerous other studies going along on separate tracks that have to be done before it is even known whether the road will indeed be a turnpike or a free road. The plan right now is to take the four-lane road and, from Ed Bluestein Boulevard to east of Manor, build six express toll lanes and free frontage roads alongside with four to six lanes.

Mobility authority director Mike Heiligenstein, by the way, said Wednesday that the road is officially a hurricane evacuation route from the coast, and that the agency might be able to get some federal money to build it because of that. Board member Lowell Lebermann, attending the meeting by cell phone because of a back problem, then said what was on everyone's mind.

"A dedicated hurricane escape toll road?" he asked.


Campaign ethics questions linger

As Austin heads into the 2006 City Council election season, the Texas Ethics Commission is still working its way through complaints filed during last year's campaign. The commission earlier this month levied a $100 fine against the political action committee of the Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services Employees Association for a reporting violation.

Shortly before the May 7 election, the committee reported a $20,000 expenditure for a brochure that boasted the public safety qualifications of three candidates: Betty Dunkerley, Lee Leffingwell and Gregg Knaupe. But the expenditure reports did not say that the group was supporting those three, as required by state law.

In a separate ruling, the committee was also fined $200 for not fully reporting its finances in monthly reports.

--From Staff Reports

© 2006 Austin American-Statesman:


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Strayhorn: "Whether it is a foreign company running our roads or operating our ports, it's wrong."


Foriegn control of Texas infrastructure and property decried by Carole Keeton Strayhorn

February 22, 2006

(AUSTIN) - Independent candidate for Governor Carole Keeton Strayhorn today said under her administration she will fight against foreign control of critical infrastructure and property.

"Our roads, our bridges, our seaports, our airports and our border crossings are vital to our economy and prime targets for terrorists," Strayhorn said. "Why take the chance and let a private or public foreign operation control vital Texas infrastructure and property?"

Strayhorn reiterated her call for Gov. Rick Perry to make public the secret 50-year contract his Texas Department of Transportation signed with Cintra, a European-based company, to build and charge Texans to drive on toll roads.

"Whether it is a foreign company running our roads or operating our ports, it's wrong," she said. "What happens if ownership of these foreign companies changes hands?"

"Texas belongs to Texans, not foreign companies," she said. "My administration will not be cutting secret sweetheart deals with foreign companies like Rick Perry has."

"His $184 billion Trans-Texas Catastrophe is a boondoggle and a land grab," she said. "Even though the Attorney General has ordered the contract be made public, Perry and his highway henchmen are fighting that ruling in court. What do they have to hide?"


© 2006 Copyright 2006 by Harvey


Ports to Plains Corridor Coalition wants "Trans-Texas Corridor" status for a third NAFTA Corridor

Ports to Plains en route

New four-state corridor 'almost halfway complete'


By Karen D. Smith
Amarillo Globe-News
Copyright 2006

A four-state game of connect the dots appears almost halfway complete, one player said.

Highway departments in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Colorado have been working to connect cities and towns along a 1,400-mile stretch of highways that, knitted together, make up the Ports to Plains Trade Corridor, Michael Reeves said.

Reeves, president of the Ports to Plains Corridor Coalition based in Lubbock, previewed the update he planned to deliver at a Texas Transportation Commission meeting this morning in Austin.

When finished, four-lane divided highways will run fluidly from Laredo north to Denver - even splitting at Dumas to fork through New Mexico and the Oklahoma Panhandle before reconnecting at the Mile High City.

"Ports to Plains is progressing," Reeves said by phone Tuesday. "A little over 500 miles currently are four- or six-lane divided (highway), and another 137 miles is under construction. We're getting close to that halfway point."

The route, designated a priority by Congress in 1998, could be the magnet for up to 40,000 new jobs along its entire length - spurring an economic impact of more than $4.5 billion, Reeves said.

"The main benefactors of this are the types of businesses that need a lot of land - any sort of business that needs transportation and access to markets," he said.

The potential exists for Ports to Plains to take on "Trans-Texas Corridor" or interstate highway status, if it is used as much as projected, said Mark Tomlinson, district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation's Amarillo District.

"I think in the backs of the minds of many members of the Ports to Plains coalition, is the possibility that someday we may reach that point," he said. "The effect also would be a higher level of appreciation of the system and (therefore) more resources to upgrade them."

As the corridor grows, however, so do the costs, due to inflation.

The price of materials and fuel to get them to places like the Oklahoma Panhandle has increased with the price of fuel, said Robert Ward, a division engineer for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

"The dollar's not going to go as far," Ward said. "We used to pay about $30 to $35 per ton for asphalt. Our last bid was for $60 for a ton of asphalt. So a project that cost you $3.5 million a few years ago might cost you $5 million or $6 million."

On the Road

Road Construction

Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma transportation departments have projects under way as part of the Ports to Plains Trade Corridor effort. Expect to see orange cones at the following locations:


# U.S. Highway 87: A stretch 13 miles south from Texline is being widened to a four-lane divided highway in two 6.5-mile segments. Construction on the first section should be completed by October. The second section, begun last October, should be completed by October 2007.

New Mexico

# U.S. Highway 64/87: Crews are widening a 13-mile stretch near Raton, N.M. The project should be completed this fall or in spring 2007. A second 13-mile segment should begin in Union County near Clayton, N.M., this summer. Work on the rest of the 80 miles of roadway connecting Raton and Clayton will be performed in similar segments through 2009.


# U.S. 287: Workers are resurfacing three miles heading north from Boise City, Okla. Right-of-way has been purchased for the widening of that segment to four lanes. Subsequent segments of roadway resurfacing and right-of-way purchase will be done over the next four years. The total Oklahoma distance of U.S. 287 involved is 15.6 miles.

Copyright © 2006 Amarillo Globe-News


Ramps closed to prime the pump for toll road in Round Rock

Round Rock residents protest ramp closures

Transportation officials say safety issues come first

February 22, 2006

By Camille Wheeler
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

ROUND ROCK — A standing-room-only crowd of 250 frustrated residents and business owners packed City Council chambers Tuesday night to protest the impending permanent closures of four on-and-off Interstate 35 ramps near the shadows of Texas 45 North.

The closures could come by year's end to make room for the toll road's Round Rock flyovers, also tentatively scheduled to open at that point, Texas Department of Transportation officials said.

Bob Daigh, Austin district engineer for the Department of Transportation, bluntly told residents the state's position: The ramps must be removed.

If left open in combination with other ramps, the four targeted ramps — north- and southbound entrances and exits near McNeil Road and Hesters Crossing Road — would result in dangerous weaves: traffic moving at different speeds and in opposing directions, Daigh said.

"Unfortunately, for safety reasons, those four ramps must be closed," he said. "I will not find myself in a hospital with one of your kids because of a weave problem that we didn't prohibit because of a proper decision to close those ramps."

"I wish I were Santa Claus and could drop an infinite amount of money on this area, and I wish I could talk happy talk to you and make all the problems go away," he said. "But I refuse to do that. We have a safety issue."

But Round Rock residents argue that closing four ramps at once will create nightmarish traffic jams on the frontage roads. And business owners say they fear losing money if shoppers find it more difficult to reach their doors.

Sean Greenberg, one of three owners of Pluckers Wing Bar, set to open in March near the McNeil Road exit on the east side of I-35, said he's dismayed by talk of ramp closures.

"Had we realized what the situation was, . . . we certainly would've chosen a different location within the Round Rock area," he said.

U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, told the crowd that he'd help how ever possible. Away from the lectern, Carter said: "I'm here to say, 'Let's calm down.' Federal funds are always helpful, but they (state transportation officials) haven't asked for them."

Also attending the tense meeting were state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, and Williamson County Commissioner Lisa Birkman.

To ease the pain of southbound ramp closures, Round Rock officials unveiled a $10 million plan to build an escape route, a new road, under Hesters Crossing Road. Drivers would stay on the southbound I-35 frontage road, go under Hesters Crossing and then re-enter the frontage road, thus avoiding the Hesters Crossing signal. Planned improvements include adding two lanes to the Hesters Crossing bridge.

The four ramps wouldn't be rebuilt, officials said. Two entrance and exit ramps near the flyovers and the La Frontera retail center, although shifted, would remain in place, and two existing ramps north of McNeil Road may be accessed.

State officials said they will respond to all the written questions they received.

© 2005 Austin American-Statesman:


"Corridor idea has become the subject of hot statewide debate."

Trans-Texas Corridor's proposed route to be unveiled

Wed, Feb. 22, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

Texans should know the proposed route of the Trans-Texas Corridor toll road from the Metroplex to San Antonio in three to six weeks, state officials said Wednesday.

An environmental study that began two years ago was supposed to be unveiled to the public last month, but it hit a roadblock after state and federal officials realized some of the documentation was incomplete, said Michael Behrens, executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation.

The 4,000-page study will show the path of the proposed high-speed road within a 10-mile study area. That’s narrow enough for cities between Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio to determine whether the route will benefit them economically, and for property owners to know whether their land may be taken.

But before the study can be released, state officials must provide more information about potential “secondary” impacts of the proposed road on economic development, water, air quality and other issues, said Amadeo Saenz, Texas Department of Transportation assistant executive director for engineering operations.

“If we build a road and there is economic development, will the economic development have an impact on the environment? Will it require more utilities? You’ve got to address what impact it might have,” Saenz said Wednesday.

Once the plan is made public, copies will be available at, and at transportation department district offices and libraries statewide.

More than 50 public hearings will be held beginning this May in cities along the corridor route.

The agency hopes to submit a final environmental impact statement to the Federal Highway Administration by the end of the year, potentially clearing the way for construction to begin in 2007.

A team led by Madrid-based Cintra and San Antonio-based Zachry Construction has been selected to oversee the construction of the privately funded toll road, which is expected to cost $6 billion.

The Trans-Texas Corridor is Gov. Rick Perry’s plan to build 4,000 miles of toll roads, high-speed rail lines and utilities criss-crossing the state.

But the idea has become a subject of hot statewide debate, and many Texans say they disagree with the concept of paying for roads with tolls. On Thursday, a debate between pro- and anti-toll road forces from San Antonio is scheduled during the monthly Texas Transportation Commission meeting in Austin.

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


Congestion Pricing: "Projects under way in the Washington, D.C., and Houston areas will use the same pricing structure."

Too much life in fast lane

91 toll hikes designed to reduce path's traffic

February 22, 2006

The Press-Enterprise (CA)
Copyright 2007

Several times per week, Richard Lewis rolls up Highway 55 from his job in Huntington Beach and, 25 miles from his Riverside home, makes a quick decision whether to lose his time or his money.

To the right is Highway 91, where travel is free but often achingly slow after 2 p.m. on a workday. To his left are the 91 Express Lanes, which promise smooth sailing along what experts say is the most expensive 10-mile trip in the country.

Lewis, a computer engineer for Boeing, typically spends about $500 a year to use the lanes, where prices vary according to the time, day, and direction of travel. Now, with the top toll increasing Monday from $7.75 to $8.50, he is starting to reconsider.

"I'm getting to a point where I'm just going to bail out of it," Lewis said. "There are probably going to be more times where I come up there . . . and decide to hang out with everybody else in the other lanes."

The Orange County Transportation Authority, which owns and operates the lanes, is counting on dozens of other commuters doing exactly the same thing.

The authority, which bought the lanes in 2003 from the private company that built them, relies on a toll policy that is becoming increasingly popular around the country.

Known as congestion pricing, or value pricing, it holds that the more people who use the lanes, the higher the toll should be, in part to push some drivers back into the more congested free lanes.

That means somebody trying to make it home to Corona for a child's soccer game at 5 p.m. on a Thursday, when traffic is heavy, will pay $8.50, while someone driving to Orange County for a late movie will pay only $1.10 because traffic is relatively light.

Without toll increases, the theory holds, commuters would flood the lanes, creating congestion and making the toll lanes just as much of a mess as the freeway.

That in turn would kill the possibility of a hassle-free commute and leave the toll lanes no more attractive than the free lanes, officials say.

"Our customers are paying for a faster, more reliable, commute, and having the lanes break down would defeat that purpose," said Daryl Watkins, the transportation authority's manager of toll road and motorist services.

The transportation authority's policy calls for higher tolls when traffic approaches the level the lanes can handle during a one-hour period for at least six out of 12 consecutive weeks.

Time vs. Money

The lanes are attractive because of the crushing congestion that plagues Highway 91, the only freeway to offer a direct route between the two counties. The same 10-mile trip can take 10 minutes in the toll lanes or an hour in the free lanes.

Drivers might dislike toll increases, but studies show that they hate being stuck on the freeway so much that many of them likely will continue paying higher tolls until the one-way fee is roughly $17 one way, Watkins said.

The possibility that some commuters would abandon driving altogether and switch to the Metrolink commuter rail service and others would alter their work schedules to be on the freeway at less-congested times is fine too, officials said.

"We want people to change their demand a little bit," Watkins said. "Until we can get some relief out there on the 91, the best we can do is travel at different times."

The toll-road charges more per mile than any other tollway in the country because it has been using this pricing policy the longest, said Bob Poole, director of transportation studies and founder of the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank in Los Angeles.

As a result, the lanes have been through several rounds of price increases designed to thin the horde of commuters.

"Southern California is really the congestion capital of the United States," Poole said. "It is not surprising that the highest tolls needed to keep traffic going smoothly would be here."

A Model for Others

Projects under way in the Washington, D.C., and Houston areas will use the same pricing structure, and could eventually exceed the per-mile cost on Highway 91, he said.

"At the most congested time of the day, those lanes are the only thing out there that is actually working," Poole said. "The best alternative would be a world where all the freeways run smoothly at rush hour, but we don't live in that world."

Commuters decide whether to use the toll lanes according to how urgent their schedules are that day, said Edward Sullivan, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

He studied the 91 Express Lanes for Caltrans for five years in the late 1990s.

"I was amazed at how a lot of people use the lanes once or twice a week," he said. "Commuters are pretty savvy customers."

Sullivan, who said he supports congestion-based pricing, said such tolls will be implemented at a highway in Denver due to open this year and on extensions of highways -- Interstate 15 in San Diego and another project in Houston -- where congestion pricing already is being used.

Other projects are being proposed in Virginia, Minnesota, San Antonio, Texas, along Interstate 680 in San Francisco and in Seattle, industry experts said.

"Giving people the option to buy their way out of congestion is very popular," Sullivan said.

Sullivan doubts the higher tolls will dissuade drivers from using the lanes.

"Even if you charged $20 per trip, there would be some takers," he said.

Orange County bought the toll lanes for $207.5 million in January 2003 and uses the money to pay off bonds that were sold to raise money for the purchase of the toll lanes. Money from the toll lanes is also used for improvements to Highway 91.

In fiscal year 2004-05, revenue from toll fees amounted to nearly $27 million.

The county adopted the seller's "congestion management pricing" system in July 2003. Inland commuters have never had a voice on the Orange County board that sets toll policy, but several elected officials from Riverside County sit on an advisory board that makes nonbinding recommendations.

The opportunity for government officials to meet regularly to discuss the project is "a dramatic improvement over what we had before," said John Standiford, spokesman for the Riverside County Transportation Commission. The commission had no such relationship with the private developer of the lanes.

Lewis, the computer engineer, has a bit more flexibility than most commuters. He gets to work at 5 a.m. and is on the road home by 2 p.m., before the worst commuting hours of 3 to 7 p.m. His children are grown, so he does not have to rush home to attend games or recitals.

And his employer allows him to work from home a few days a week.

But, he said, everyone he knows makes the same choice every day they drive the 91 freeway.

"There are a lot of times where you look at that price and think 'It's just not worth it' and you bail into the regular lanes," he said. "It's becoming a pretty expensive piece of real estate for commuters."

Reach Phil Pitchford at (951) 368-9475 or


How much would you be willing to pay to drive in the 91 express lanes and avoid commuter traffic?


I live in Houston,Texas and we are being faced with the same "Scam to Skim" as you all are.One of our Harris County Commissioners,Jerry Eversole,called our Harris County Toll Road Authority(HCTRA)and it's system of toll roads "the most lucrative money-maker the county has ever had".However,the PUBLIC funds are being spent to provide access to PRIVATE developments and thus help Wealthy developers market thier properties.

HCTRA spent a lot of taxpayer's money and the local paper,the Houston Chronicle, provided "Propaganda" articles to push congestion pricing on us.They promised reductions in traffic congestion while staying "revenue neutral".About six months later a study showed a drop in traffic of only 0.06 percent,a paltry amount,as compared to an increase in revenue of a whopping 26.0 percent.At this time they admitted the true purpose of the increase was to obtain more funds to build more toll roads.

This kind of double-speak and corruption will continue as long as we,the people,allow it.


Our transportation system is an embarassing joke.

2.5 million dollars just to do a study if a lane is possible? Of course its possible. There's probably enough room for two lanes. This is rediculous. 2.5 million dollars for a study? Something's wrong here.

Anyone notice all the people who cut into the lanes after the toll plaza. Dangerous? Yes. But a great way to stick it to the OC.

Notice all the people with no plates on their cars? Illegal? Yes. But another great way to stick it to the OC when blasting thru the toll plaza.

With the original deal with CalTrans to not expand the regular lanes, and the constant unreasonable toll increases, I'm surprised more people don't cheat their way thru the lanes.
Little known fact: They even send violation notices to police/fire agencies who have on-duty marked vehicles using the lanes without a transponder (and, no, they will not waive the fines).


Here is the key to this riddle:

(Quoted from the article): The toll road has generated roughly twice the amount of money that some experts had predicted, Avila said. The authority forecast revenue growth of about 7.9 percent this fiscal year, but it is nearly 19 percent so far, records show. "It's quite amazing how the road has performed," Avila said.

Now then: OCTA should use the unexpected excess funds to add a lane to the outside free lanes. This would relieve congestion in the non-toll lanes, speeding them up some. A certain number of toll lane customers would notice the faster pace in the free lanes, and choose not to use the toll lanes, leaving them to those who pay. The Toll lanes would then be less congested, and move faster, as well. Everyone happy -- except OCTA, because there would be fewer tolls collected.

So, who thinks OCTA will choose to add another lane? They already stated what they intend to do with the excess revenue: pay themselves first, relieve congestion last. They already said it.
Guess what led to the toll lanes being sold to OCTA from the private company? Too much heat from too many frustrated drivers being applied to too many county rep's and public officials.
Now you have a choice: What are you willing to do to help yourself? Write a letter? Make a phone call? Contact your elected's? When you answer that question, you will also know the future of the 91 toll road. Think about it...then act...


Why is it taking so long for anyone to do something about the 91 fwy? They are making almost a million dollars every week, and still cannot do anything to relieve the congestion on the 91. Even the yellow "cones" along the FasTrak lanes are old and often times missing. Where is all the money going? The politicians must not commute in and out of the IE, because if they did they would understand how insane the drive is. I am boycotting the FasTrak and I will do whatever it takes not to put another dime in their coffers.


The OCTA is corrupt!!! When they purchased these lanes they gained the support of the Orange County and Riverside (County) because they convinced everyone that the private company had engaged in a deal to block (Highway) 91 improvements. The OCTA promised to make the necessary improvements and now they are going back on it and making record profits. People are actually dying on this freeway in fatal car crashes each month. The freeway cannot accomodate the growth. For the OCTA to say they need to pay themselves back first is so outragous. They sound more corrupt then the original private owner. Please start investigating these decision makers and expose them for what they are!


Since we cannot exit the lanes until we reach Green River (Rd), we should not be charged when the speed of the traffic outside the lanes exceeds 100% of the speed within the lanes at the toll collection point.


This is an IE survey in the PE, not the Orange County Register. No big shot in Orange County cares what we write to the PE. Let's all write to the OC Register and see if they read what we have to say. It's funny how we pay money to OC to travel to OC and for what? To spend more money in OC!


If they make it where cars with two or more people had to ride in the diamond (or HOV) lane, a lot of these problems would go away!


I think they should do more to enforce toll collection policies. I see vehicles in the 3+ lane with only one passenger. Also, I have heard about vehicles using the toll lanes for extended periods without transponders or tags on their vehicles. Finally, I have seen vehicles with clean air stickers using the 3+ lane with less than three passengers. OCTA could do more to publicize their efforts to enforce toll collection policies and perhaps motorists would think twice about violating.


It's ridiculously expensive right now!!! My average speeed going home at night is approx. 5 mph through the entire toll and I'm paying an excessive amount of $7.70 /- each time. But, it's better than the parking lot next door. I travel 30 miles which takes me 1.25 hrs. one way! The need for improvements is paramount to reduce the traffic congestion. I'm offended that they plan to increase the toll payment thinking that it'll reduce the traffic. It won't happen. I will still stay in the toll b/c I won't be going anywhere otherwise. I would rather be home with my family that additional 45-60 minutes of time!


The problem is 95% of us are fed up but we don't band together. Until we unite, we will continue to get screwed. Think how enormous our voting power is. Instead of boycotting it (the increase), we should use it and refuse to pay. That would make a national statement if we ALL did that. We have the numbers, we should use our strength.


The 91 Express Lanes were actually useful a few years ago. Then OCTA took over and it has been downhill ever since.



That's right, the wonderful bureaucrats at OCTA think you should be PUNISHED for having the gall to drive alone.

Sorry, but I don't like other people, that's why I don't take the train, and I drive alone. It's my right as a tax payer (and I pay more than 90% of the country) to use the roads how I want. Unfortunately, the near socialist bias with regard to our roads continues to lean towards the horrifically inaccurate assumption that HOV lanes help.

I have yet to see an instance were an HOV lane helps the flow of traffic on a consistant basis. Instead it helps the flow of traffic for the single digit percantages of commuters that carpool. In fact, a large percentage of those that use HOV lanes are NOT daily commuters, instead they are families out shopping, or traveleing through the area.

Think about it, when the 91 express lanes were owned by a private company, they flowed freely, and cost a lot less. Now that OCTA has taken over, it has gotten much more expensive, and it is backed up from the entrance to the toll station east bound in the evening. This is a perfect example of the inadequacy of a bureaucracy to handle anything properly.

A private organization comes in with a goal, and that goal is "how can we provide a service that people will pay for, so that we can make some money." The very basis of this ensures that the customers will get their monies wirth, or the company will go our of buisness. A socialistic bureaucracy will come in with a goal of "how can we force the people to act the way we want them to." If that doesn't work, they just get more government funding, and that means a larger tax on the people. In this case that tax is a toll.

The tolls are going up with the actual goal that single occupant vehicles will be priced out of the use of the toll lanes. It has nothing to do with curbing usage of all drivers, the goal is to curb the usage of single occupant vehicles, because in the eyes of the socialist bureaucrats at OCTA, the single occupant driver is EVIL, and should be punished with traffic so that they will acquiesce, and join the carpoolers or use public transportation.

If you don't like it, write a letter, vote different (something, ANYTHING other than democrat or republican), get involved. Stop being so apathetic about the world around you, thinking you can't do anything about it. You can, you just haven't tried yet.

The 91 freeway toll road is a joke. I will never pay the toll on the 91 freeway. NEVER! I am just standing up for my principles. BOYCOTT the 91 freeway toll roads!!!


I would like to know where this article and the news station get that we the people in the Inland Empire who travel to the OC pay up to $500 per year in tolls. I live in Corona and work in Irvine, I pay $3000 a year in tolls. I wish it was $500. $4.00 per day for the toll road on the way in to Irvine and average $7.00 on the was home for 91 express. $55 per week at the

minimum. It is a shame corporations in the IE don't pay what is comparable to the OC wages. A house in Corona costs and average family at least $550,000, the wages paid by companies in the IE forces families to work in the OC in oder to have a HOME! This is all ridiculous and mo matter what we suffer financially. And our families suffer with the time gone and stress.


I've got an idea .... LET's BUILD MORE HOUSES!!!


Not a dime. I spent 20 years commuting from Elsinore to central Orange County and earned every one of my gray hairs. What was a 45-minute drive has grown to 2-3 hours. I now work from home and couldn't be happier. Blood pressure is lower and the dog is ecstatic. Next step is out of this state altogether. And this from a native Californian whose never lived out of this state. Open those lanes to ALL tax paying citizens or let's oust these politicians and find someone else to do the job.


I agree with most everyone else that the Express Lanes are ripping off the residents of the Inland Empire. One thing that has bothered me for a long time that I didn't see mentioned by anyone else is that people who have 3 or more in their vehicle get a break but 2 people carpooling pay as much as a solo driver. That is just plain are the price hikes in the toll road. They need to get rid of it and open up the lanes to benefit everyone!!!!

Where will it end? The paying customer ends up paying for the ineptitude of OCTA and previous management. Raising prices will not end the need for people to commute. it is toime to start looking at more creative solutions such as change direction of traffic to accomodate commuting peaks. I am sure the paying customers have other creative ideas. Rather than take our money, take our ideas


The bottleneck where the 241 and 91 merge causes the worst backup in the evening due in large part to the right lane which is lost as it merges into the rest of the 91 freeway.

Why hasn't that right lane been extended to Green River Rd? This would surely help alleviate the bottleneck at the 91/241. Or is it too profitable to leave things as they are and leave commuters having to choose losing time or losing money or sometimes losing both time and money?


OK everyone...quit complaining. We all chose to live in the IE. Either pay it or learn to use public transportation. Metrolink is not such a bad way to go. I still have my transponder, but only use it once or twice a month when necessary. I'm sure I will continue to pay whatever they charge if I need to be somewhere on time.


The Toll Road on the 91 parkway should be opened up with a movable divider as other cities with this problem do. We are all taxpayers and this is criminal that anyone has to pay to use a stretch of road. I only work 10 miles from home and using the said Toll Road isn't an option for me, I would need to drive out of my way to use it... I wouldn't give a dime to anyway!


"Congestion-pricing" is French for fleecing consumers.

OCTA's plan is about making money, not reducing congestion. The simple fact is that any lane, whether free or toll, has a limit to the number of vehicles it can carry efficiently. There is no amount of money that can change that fact. Also, it is no longer feasible to reduce congestion by adding lanes, tunnels, or double-decking freeways since BILLIONS would be spent and NOTHING would be gained. This is because our so-called transportation experts already understand that expected growth will exceed the capacity that any/all new lanes currently under study would provide. There is however, a cost-free alternative: use the existing lanes more effectively. End Fast-Track and tolls, then designate the majority of lanes for service, delivery, and multi-passenger vehicles, and reserve two lanes for single-occupant vehicles. Commuters will still need to make adjustments, but, no pain-no gain. Just imagine the difference!

It does not really do much good to pay to drive in the Express Lanes as the rest of the 91 is so congedted that the time spent in Santa Ana Canyon is only a small part of the total commute time. Even the car pool lanes are backed up regularly.


Nothing unless there were an option to pay cash instead of needing a transponder.


Is anyone else finding it ironic that we are debating the 91 FREEWAY?


$5.00 OR LESS


As the owner and CEO of, I constantly poll and receive opinions on the 91 'Express' lanes from our visitors. The consensus is that they are NOT operating in the publics' best interest! Having said that, I myself drive the Toll Lanes and would equate this toll raising issue to sticking a band-aid on a dam leak. The real issue is not being addressed!


I think the prices are way too high and I will find alternate ways to go around the FasTrak. I will adjust my work schedule so that I go on them after the peak toll hours or not at all. It has become the rich man's road and half the time it is slower than the rest of the traffic. It is unfair because on the "freeway" portion of the road, there is no carpool lane. I think carpoolers should get to ride for free all day and lone drivers should have to pay the toll.

The maximum I'd pay to use the express lanes is about $15 total per day. And that'd be pushing the limits of what is reasonable.

Will Riverside County officials ever do anything? Or will they simply continue to ignore the problem? They continue to let the situation deteriorate and have done nothing meaningful in years to improve the commute.


Orange County is one of the most liberal Democrat counties in the state. What do you expect?! It's all about taxation. Redistribution of the wealth, as long as it isn't their wealth. If you don't like it, vote differently.


Boycott them, or quit sniveling.


How interesting that a public agency, Orange County Transportation Authority, bought out the private firm and has raised tolls even faster than the private company did. But they're deductible, so what's the beef? And furthermore, did anyone FORCE anyone to move so far away from work??


Wow! Tolls are going up AGAIN?!! With the increased traffic and all that comes with it, I am reminded that Southern California is a great place to be FROM. Since moving out of So Cal, I don't even know the meaning of the word traffic or even lines in stores. Ahhhh, what a releif. I am keeping my location secret so it can stay that way. -)


Nothing. After 10 years of commutes between Corona and Anaheim, I no longer worry about it. (I now travel) 2 1/2 miles, from Redlands to Redlands. Every day that I read a story about that freeway makes my decision to move out this way all the more logical. My condolences to those of you who drive that toll road or take the train, which is no bargain, either.


This is the most ridiculous thing they can do. When the Orange County Transportation Authority announced they were going to purchace the toll lanes, they said that the prices were going to drop not go up. Once again, the goverment lies to get what they want. I dont feel bad when I see drivers drive into the toll lanes without paying.

$5.00 a day, each way.

Nothing. The obscene amount of tax dollars that are TAKEN from us everyday should be more than enough to create and maintain any of these new roads. How have we, the largest economical power in the states, been unable to figure this out? The California government officials and employees in so many departments are grossly overpaid.

I'll pay whatever it takes to shorten my drive and get me home to my family quickly.


I am one of the lucky ones that gets to vanpool to work, which only costs $100 a month. Before then I was probably spedning at least $500 a month to get to work after gas, express lane charges and parking expenses @ work.

Residents that have to commute should look into vanpooling and or the metrollink. No one should have to pay those horrific prices!! That's just 'highway' robbery!!

I lived in Corona for 8 years and now reside in the OC. I'm so glad we got out when we did. It's so congested with all the new housing's only going to get worse. With crazy gas prices and now this!! When is it going to stop!!!


That's insane!!!!! We should not have to pay anything we all pay taxes. Even when you go on the Fastrack your sitting on a parking lot!!!


I will not pay the increased amount. I consider this highway robbery, and find it peculiar that the increased amount applies only to the East-bound travelers toward the IE, and not those traveling toward Orange County. This is clearly a rip off! I've never been in favor of the toll road those lanes should be used for all autos to relieve the highly congested freeway!


I am HAPPY & GLAD that we NOW live in the state of washington and don't have to put up with the "CRAP" that you seem to be going through!!!!!!!!!! _____ "Never will live in So. CA again!!!!"


Nothing, zero, nada!


I wouldn't pay a dime to ride the 91 toll. Most of the time the traffic is all backed up anyways. It is a waste of $$. I use to take the 91 toll (both ways) until they raised the prices to ridiculous levels. Now I take the 241 (both ways) and save 25 cents each way. I only have to pay $3.25 for each way on the 241. I just spoke to a friend of mine and and passing on the words of advise I received. If you ride the toll roads and may a lot of money and still get caught up in traffic (ie the regular road is traveling faster than the toll) contact the Toll company and ask for your money back. 9 of 10 times you will get your money back. Pass it on!


These lanes were built w/ taxpayer money. Should have never been toll road. We are being held hostage by OC and Caltrans. Why aren't our Riverside County reps standing up for us?


Orange County continues to fleece the IE. It would be nice if they used the money to fund improvements to the 91. That will NEVER happen, but I bet the price will still go up. Is $100 too much?


That is outrageous! What is gonna stop them from raising it even more? Why stop at 75 cents? Why not $2.00 more? $5.00 more? Glad I don't have to use it. People will continue to use it -- they dont have a choice, unless they go out of ther way and use (the) 10 or 60 fwys...


Pricing on the 91 Toll Lanes is INSANE! I understand that sometimes it's just as congested as the non-tollroads during rush (hour), but the raise is just too much. I think the price of $8 is too much. I might have to take the 60 EB from here on out.


You can thank the (strict environmentalists)...for not getting relief from your commute. They have/will block every attempt to create alternatives such as a tunnel or new freeway.


It's a shame to use people like that, the commute to Orange County is difficult as it is. I will not ever use the Express Lanes again.


Nothing......I have just chosen not to even use the 91 anymore...unless I check to see that there is no traffic on the computer before leaving my house.


Not a frigging dime. It's just another RIPP OFF
for the filthy rich. They are the ones that should
have to sit in (the traffic).



I would not be willing to pay anything! The state needs to do something! We all pay our taxes. And for what -- to sit on the 91 parkway?


The fees are high enough as it is and I have willingly paid the toll even though toll road traffic has increased. It is not fair that they can increase the fees as they wish, you would think they would keep the prices lower to receive more fund. They are just being greedy and it shows. I would like to know how they can be controlled. It is almost to the point that I cannot afford the fees and I am not willing to just keep paying increased tolls -- I will rather try another route home to Riverside.


I would not pay a cent to use any toll road. The state should have taken it over long ago. Drivers using it are only adding to the problem.

It's pretty expensive right now!!!!!!!!!
Why should we have to keep paying higher prices? The state of CA hasn't had a good vision on the growth patterns -- is it our fault??????




$10 per day.


© 2007 Press-Enterprise Company:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"On behalf of the hardworking, taxpaying citizens who are not interested in financing a transportation behemoth and boondoggle..."

Focus: Toll Roads


San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

Prefer gas tax increase

Texas Transportation Commission board member Hope Andrade pooh-poohed increased gas taxes in favor of tolled highways in her letter "Gas tax idea unrealistic" (Wednesday).

She said she has yet to hear an outcry from citizens for an "increased mandatory fuel tax every time they fill up their gas tanks." Well, as a 16-year resident of Stone Oak, count me as part of the group that would prefer increased gas taxes over tolls every time I drive on Loop 1604 or U.S. 281.

According to a Texas comptroller's office revenue chart, a 5-cents-per-gallon increase would provide a 10 percent increase in the transportation budget, which is more than enough to build the necessary additional lanes in all congested areas citywide. A mere nickel-per-gallon increase is far preferable to the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per year that area commuters will be forced to pay for the "privilege" of driving on toll roads. Those who operate on a limited budget (and don't we all?) will be forced to drive on free access roads with lighted intersections, which will create new and frustrating sources of congestion.

The Texas Department of Transportation claims toll roads are the only answer, but simply constructing overpasses will greatly reduce congestion. I plead with elected officials to intervene on behalf of the hardworking, taxpaying citizens who are not interested in financing a transportation behemoth and boondoggle.

— Laura Mrachek

Lining their own pockets

Re: Joseph Krier's comment "Toll roads pave way to a better future" (Feb. 9):

Now I agree with that, if and when the toll roads can take the likes of the chairman of the San Antonio Mobility Coalition and president and CEO of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and his associates out of town and out of our pockets.

These good citizen leaders are responsible for the "goat trail" streets and expressways that are the traffic problem. Municipalities that had citizens with foresight and planning instincts laid out streets that run north to south and east to west.

In San Antonio's street format, toll roads will not reduce congestion but will line some pockets for a decade or two. For 37 years I experienced the joy of stop-and-go driving, waiting to pay to cross the Golden Gate or San Francisco-Oakland Bay bridges.

If the rush hours are a problem, consider alternating work-shift starting and stopping times. Would not that be a sensible solution first?

Politicians get paid even when they don't show up to work. Their contract does not require their presence, and they don't have to fight traffic.

We citizens are involved in this and should give it serious time in our thoughts and voice to the elected, who don't always show up.

— Weldon C. Gray

Give drivers a choice

I agree with Joe Krier's comment in support of tolls. This is about defining our quality of life as this city continues to grow. By 2030, the estimated population will be 2.4 million in San Antonio.

As a working mom, I want the choice of paying a toll to get out of traffic, get to work faster, pick up my kids, run errands and get home to spend more time with my family. Nobody wants to pay tolls, but the alternatives stink! Traffic congestion, gridlock, increased gas taxes and long waits to get home.

As a business owner, I also need the choice to pay tolls to avoid congestion, which will allow my company to continue to operate efficiently and provide responsive and reliable service and high-paying local jobs. There are no other alternatives to solve our transportation funding shortage.

— Brenda Vickrey Johnson Note: Brenda Vickrey Johnson is President of Vickery & Associates (a TxDOT contractor) . LINK HERE

Public oversight is lost

Re: the comment "Before blasting tolls, consider some facts" (Feb. 5) by Michael W. Behrens, director of the Texas Department of Transportation:

I am not necessarily opposed to toll roads. What I am opposed to is toll roads run by private enterprises, especially when those roads were paid for with taxpayer money.

What happens if private companies run toll roads? First, all financial oversight is lost. The only accountability is to the management of the corporation, which has as its sole purpose the maximization of profits.

Second, once you allow the privatization of toll roads, companies will be constantly trying to privatize roads anywhere they can, justified or not. It's in their financial interest to do so.

Third, employees will probably be paid the minimum amount the market will bear, usually without benefits or retirement programs and, undoubtedly, no union to fight for them.

And, finally, all profits will go to pay inflated management salaries, bonuses and, most important, returns to investors. Not very egalitarian or sound public transportation policy.

On the other hand, if toll roads were run for the public good, first we would be adding well-paying jobs with benefits. Second, profits could go toward road maintenance and construction, which, as Behrens pointed out, are always in dire need of money, and funding public transportation not dependent on fossil fuels. This could be done without adding or raising taxes by using the money that would have gone for private profit for the common good.

— Eric F. Lane

Set an expiration date

Thank you for Carlos Guerra's columns pertaining to toll roads.

Toll roads should be authorized in very limited circumstances. Once approved, they should be totally funded by private interests, no tax dollars involved, and should have a finite date at which the toll would be eliminated. This would be the latest date at which this action could occur, but could be advanced if any necessary bonds are retired prior to that time.

There is absolutely no way our tax dollars should be used for this purpose. That is called double taxation, at the minimum. I, and most people I have talked to, would drive considerably out of the way to avoid them.

On U.S. 281, overpasses and one additional lane in each direction should be immediately put in place.

— Art Carpenter, Canyon Lake

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News:


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

"Many of us feel that the soul of Texas may be riding on this campaign."

Friedman gets serious, telling voters to ignore primaries


Associated Press
Copyright 2006

As early voting began Tuesday, independent candidate Kinky Friedman reminded Texans to bypass next month's primary elections and reserve their signatures for a petition that would put him on the November ballot.

"Don't vote in the primaries; save yourself for Kinky," the musician and author said in a speech to the Press Club of Dallas — before taking a shot at the petition process itself.

"This is just stupid and unfair and favors the incumbent," he said.

To qualify for the general election, Friedman and fellow independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn will have 60 days after the March 7 primaries to collect more than 45,000 signatures. That time frame could be shortened by runoffs.

Gov. Rick Perry faces minor opposition in the Republican primary. Bob Gammage and Chris Bell are the major contenders in the Democratic primary.

Friedman, despite his trademark cowboy hat, cigar and one-liners, struck a more serious tone Tuesday as he discussed campaign issues. He noted the attitude change, admitting that his run "started off rather humorously" when he announced his candidacy early last year.

Since that time, Friedman said, his role in the governor's race has taken on greater importance.

"Many of us feel that the soul of Texas may be riding on this campaign," Friedman said. "I would dearly love to be number one in something other than executions, toll roads and property tax."

On the first day of statewide standardized TAKS testing for some grades, he attacked the exam and "teaching for the test."

"Get it out of there," Friedman said, calling TAKS a test that "gives kids nervous breakdowns" and "proves nothing."

He said his administration would continue standardized testing but would change the system. Friedman offered few details but did suggest a way to finance education — through the legalization of casino gambling and new taxes on the oil industry.

"The good teachers are bailing out," Friedman said. "Education is very important ... this should be the centerpiece on the table of Texas."

Friedman also announced plans for renewable energy, suggesting the implementation of biodiesel operations "every 100, 200 miles."

"Texas can lead the country," Friedman said. "We won't be slaves to the Middle East."

And throughout his speech Tuesday, he continually praised the "Jesse Ventura model" and his desire to emulate the former Minnesota governor — who told Friedman he never met with a lobbyist during his time in office.

He also placed an emphasis on assembling a talented team, admitting that he knew his time as governor would require the support of a knowledgeable, dedicated staff.

"My plan is to find the very best people I can find, simply for the reason that they are the very best people I can find, simply so I can get ... out of their way and let them" work, Friedman said.

© 2006 The Associated Press:


Path of TTC-35 to be released after the Texas Primary

Coming soon: Path of I-35's toll twin

February 20, 2006

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

Want to know the path of Gov. Rick Perry's first Trans-Texas Corridor toll road? Sometime in the next few weeks, we should have a pretty good idea where it will fall.

This is just one step in a long and bewildering process of getting federal environmental approval for the toll road alternative to Interstate 35, but it could be among the most dramatic.

When the Federal Highway Administration gives its OK — anytime between now and early spring — the Texas Department of Transportation will release a report showing a 10-mile-wide corridor from Oklahoma to Mexico where the TTC-35 would be built.

Ranchers, farmers, elected officials and business people from Gainesville to Pflugerville to Brownsville will be very, very interested to see that path.

Some questions the document will answer:

•Will the toll road go to Laredo or the Rio Grande Valley, or both?

•Will TTC-35 fall east of I-35 (highly likely) or west?

•Will it split south of the Metroplex, as I-35 does, and go both east of Dallas and west of Fort Worth? Or will it cut a single path to one side of Dallas-Fort Worth?

•Will it include Texas 130, the toll road being built along Austin's east frontier?

The assumption up to now has been that, yes, Texas 130 will be a part of it. But state officials say that's not necessarily the case.

And even if it is, the opening of Texas 130 next year from Georgetown to Mustang Ridge wouldn't be the end of the TTC-35 story for Central Texas.

Remember, Perry's vision of the Trans-Texas Corridor is to have not only new highway lanes for cars but eventually also separate truck lanes, plus railroad tracks for freight and passenger rail and paths available for pipelines and electric lines.

So rural folks in Central Texas will have a real interest in the map as well.

•How far away from I-35 will this corridor be?

This particular question has been important enough that it spawned something called the River of Trade Coalition, which advocates for I-35 and the business development attached to it. This group, including the political leadership of Dallas, wants the road close to I-35 so as not to deliver a punishing economic blow to towns along the interstate.

Given that I-35 would remain free to drive and TTC-35 would cost you upward of $20 one-way to Dallas, the interstate is unlikely to become a ghost road. But the equation would change, and that makes people nervous.

•Which rural lands will be affected, and which will be left alone?

Narrowing the path from 10 miles down to a specific line won't occur for two or three more years, as the environmental review moves along. But this announcement will make it clear which landowners can relax and which ones need to remain alert.

The interstates in the 1950s and 1960s mostly followed established highway routes; I-35, for instance, tracked U.S. 81.

But this road will cut a fresh path. Where it goes and doesn't go will determine, to a great degree, where Texas goes for decades to come.

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© 2005 Austin American-Statesman:


Monday, February 20, 2006

Gov. Perry's appointees will vote to seek a private contractor to build and toll I-69 (now TTC-69)

TxDOT studies I-69 tolls

February 20, 2006

By Stephen Palkot
Fort Bend Herald
Copyright 2006

A major step in the development of the I-69 corridor is scheduled for Thursday.

The Texas Transportation Commission this week will vote on whether to begin finding a contractor for the entire road through Texas. If the vote goes through on Thursday, TxDOT will seek requests for proposals from companies looking to build and maintain the road.

The highway would run about 600 miles and is expected to cost several billion dollars. The latest plan on I-69 calls for a contractor to not only build the road, but also to finance the construction and maintenance of the road.

The contractor would be allowed to charge tolls along the road and collect from those to make a profit.

County Judge Bob Hebert said he does not have ample information to support the idea of a tolled I-69. He points out that I-35, which runs roughly parallel to the proposed I-69, could also be a toll road.

"The question I asked them was, 'Has anybody done an economic analysis to determine the dynamics of building one major toll road from Mexico to the Texas border and then building another toll road from Mexico to the Texas border?' he said.

Also, Hebert said a private company building a massive highway and looking to collect tolls would have an incentive to lobby the Legislature to "not allow competition to exist."

"I think they need to have a thorough analysis of the 35 project and the 69 project and their impact on one-another," he said.

The interstate has been proposed as a single highway to connect Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. Local officials for years have been discussing the idea of converting U.S. 59 into I-69, through upgrades of the road.

According to TxDOT, the agency would undertake a two-step, 15-month process to select a contractor for the highway.

Meanwhile, studies continue into the development of the Trans Texas Corridor. The TTC has been proposed as a large, multi-modal transportation corridor throughout Texas, and TxDOT officials are looking to make I-69 a portion of the TTC.

Copyright © 2006 Fort Bend Herald