Saturday, March 25, 2006

Private offers raised concerns about local control over road

Ways to go on 121 toll road

Draft plan offered, but many issues and parties remain in play

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

ARLINGTON – State Highway 121 should become a toll road by 2010, and it should have toll rates about 20 percent higher than nearby existing toll roads when it opens, according to a draft proposal presented to regional policymakers Friday.

The proposal, which could be approved next month, is part of an overall effort to better coordinate the region's transportation agencies and funding.

"I'm trying to get to a comprehensive, system approach," said Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

The draft proposal would:

• Set tolls on Highway 121 at 14.5 cents per mile when it opens in 2010

• Charge motorists 17 cents per mile to drive from 6:30 to 9 a.m. and from 3 to 6 p.m.

The region's proposal contrasts with an offer from the North Texas Tollway Authority to build the Highway 121 toll road in Collin County and charge 12 cents per mile when it opens.

"We want to be team players. Our goal is to get it built in five years. But our choice is the NTTA," said Collin County Commissioner Jack Hatchell.

A group of Collin County business leaders, at a meeting Thursday, overwhelmingly supported construction of a Highway 121 toll road as soon as possible, regardless of whether it's a tollway authority project or a private project, said McKinney Mayor Bill Whitfield.

The tollway authority offer came after private companies submitted proposals to pay the state to allow them to build and operate Highway 121 as a toll road.

The private offers raised concerns about how much control local officials would have over the road.

State officials have agreed to allow the region to set toll rates for a private toll road.

The tollway authority hasn't eliminated the possibility of submitting a revised proposal that would include the higher toll rates, agency Executive Director Allan Rutter said.

Members of the Regional Transportation Council, which has final say on any new policy, were briefed on the issue by the regional planning agency Friday.

The council will hold another workshop next week, and it could approve the Highway 121 policy April 13.

All projects must be approved by the council, which is made up of 40 members, most of whom belong to area city councils or commissioners courts.

If the council were to approve a policy against the wishes of local communities, it would mark the first time it has approved a transportation project against those objections, Mr. Morris said. Some local officials argued that, as gas tax rates remain static, regional leaders are forced to look closely at difficult issues.


© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co


"We will not support a CDA and the RTC has proven they won't come to the table in good faith."

City at 'end point' on State Highway 121


By Mike Raye
Friso Enterprise
Copyright 2006

The Regional Transportation Council's decision to table a decision on a five-government resolution to select the North Texas Tollway Authority as the builder and administrator of State Highway 121 as a toll road, waiting until November to allow other private businesses a chance to make bids, remains a sore point for the Frisco City Council.

A "consider and act" item appeared on the agenda again Tuesday night - whether to enact a resolution stating if the NTTA weren't involved the City of Frisco would stand firm against tolling the road.

"We all said when we got to this point we would be at the end point," council member Bob Allen said. "I am disappointed (the RTC) has chosen to ignore our wishes and I'm prepared to withdraw our resolution and share with the RTC our disappointment."

The heart of the issue - as it has been for almost a year - is the region needs SH 121 to be widened to meet rising traffic volume and the state transportation department, TxDOT, hasn't enough money to build it. Because of the shortage of funds, the state has been entertaining bids from other companies, even foreign interests, to build the road. The danger in that, opponents argue, is toll rates could skyrocket and commuters would face a form of highway robbery.

According to the Web site, the "short list" of private companies bidding on the project through comprehensive development agreements, or CDAs, are Skanska BOT of Dallas; Macquarie Infrastructure Group of New York; Texas Toll & Power of Lewisville; Pioneer Heritage Partners of Austin; and the Spanish firm Cintra, Concesiones de Infraestruturas de Transporte S.A. of Madrid.

"We will not support a CDA and the RTC has proven they won't come to the table in good faith," said council member Dr. Jim Joyner. "They have chosen a CDA in every way except signing the papers."

Frisco leaders like the council, Mayor Mike Simpson, and City Manager George Purefoy have remained in opposition of turning the road's fate over to outside entities, calling for the tolls to be locally administered and for the revenue raised by them funding local highway projects, instead of distributed around the state.

Although the spearhead, Frisco has partnered with Allen, Plano, McKinney, and Collin County to form a local government coalition to ensure the money stays in Collin County. The discussion arose whether Frisco should break ranks and stand firmly but alone, and risk becoming a pariah, or be patient and stay united with the other governments. Purefoy, the author of the first toll resolution, ultimately signed by all five governments, said "the patience of Job" should be the course of action.

"We have been marching together and there is strength in numbers," he said. "If we go ahead without telling the others what we are doing we would be seen as breaking ranks. The odds of (the RTC) steamrolling you if all five entities are united are remote."

Mayor Simpson, a bank administrator in his day job, proposed a business-themed solution to the problem, offering advice for the state's chief executive.

"If I were Governor (Rick) Perry, I'd say why don't we do what a lot of other companies do - let Collin County do the NTTA proposal and let the transportation council do the CDA process, present them, and see what comes out," he said. "The problem is the Regional Transportation Council has made decisions with or without Frisco's input."

The RTC next meets April 13 and an ultimate decision will be made by the state's transportation governing body, the Texas Transportation Commission, in November.

In the meantime, the council voted by a 4 to 1 majority (council member Matt Lafata was out of town) to table their action until their March 30 special meeting. By then, city officials said, with Frisco leading the way again, the five-government coalition will be further strengthened, taking the steam out of the state's steamrollers.

©Star Community Newspapers 2006


TxDOT cancels 281 Toll Road contract with (Cintra) Zachry

Toll road contract canceled for studies


San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

The Texas Department of Transportation has canceled an $84 million contract with Zachry Construction Corp. for the construction of toll lanes on U.S 281 north of Loop 1604, pending the outcome of additional environmental studies.

The agency said Friday that if no significant environmental findings emerge from the new study and the project's design does not change, it will be re-bid by the summer of 2007, with construction beginning that fall.

It would be completed in 2010 instead of 2008 as previously planned, at an additional cost of $8 million.

If the study determines that a full Environmental Impact Statement needs to be conducted, it could take up to five years to make a final decision on the project, delaying completion on the Loop 1604 to Stone Oak Parkway section from 2014 to 2019, TxDOT said in a statement.

"Based upon the possible timeline scenarios and the associated uncertainty that currently exists, it is deemed to be in the public's best financial interest to cancel the existing project and re-bid at a later date rather than pay a contractor stand-by time," said TxDOT project engineer Frank Holzmann.

TxDOT was forced to reopen previous environmental studies in response to a lawsuit filed by two groups opposed to the project, which was scheduled to begin in January.

The past findings will be combined with any new data in a single environmental document for the corridor, from Loop 1604 to Borgfeld Road.

The agency has hired a consultant for the new study, which will cost about $800,000 and take at least a year to complete.

Public meetings to discuss the environmental reassessments will be held Wednesday at Reagan High School and Thursday at Bush Middle School.

Both meetings will begin with an open house at 6 p.m. followed by a presentation at 7 p.m.

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News:


Colorado eyes the sticker price of "Lexus Lanes."

Paying for "Texas leaguer" roads


Bob Ewegen
The Denver Post
Copyright 2006

In baseball, a "Texas leaguer" is a fly ball that lands halfway between the infield and outfield, where there's nobody to field it.

Denver metropolitan area transportation planners have their own Texas leaguers - highway projects too big for individual cities and counties but out of the budgetary reach of the cash-strapped Colorado Department of Transportation.

Now, metro counties and cities are working to create a Regional Transportation Authority to build some of those projects to ease the area's worsening congestion.

The effort is being spearheaded by Douglas County, which is also leading opposition to CDOT's proposal to add toll lanes to the existing "free" C-470 section of the emerging beltway that now circumnavigates about three-fourths of the Denver area.

The 2005 legislature, spurred by Gov. Bill Owens, passed a law allowing the metro area to form such a multi-jurisdictional transportation authority. Every other region of the state already had that power.

Douglas County Commissioner Melanie Worley on Friday said the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) "has formed a subcommittee to move fairly quickly in the next six months to see what the options are." The Pikes Peak region already has a working regional transportation authority and recently briefed metro-area leaders about its operations.

Douglas County and other local governments in or near the C-470 southwest freeway oppose adding express toll lanes because they fear such "Lexus lanes" won't relieve congestion in the free lanes.

Incidentally, the more pedantic toll road advocates object to the term "free" highways because those roads are actually paid for by fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees. That's true, but motorists still have to pay those other taxes when they take a toll road as well - in addition to paying a third time at the toll booth.

Duane Fellhauer, director of public works for Douglas County, fears that many motorists won't pay that toll and, if the remaining free lanes are congested, will then shift to local residential streets that aren't designed to handle the overload.

Fellhauer agrees that toll-only expressways such as E-470 have their place. But he fears that the hybrid toll-lane/free-lane proposal virtually requires that the tolls be kept high enough to ensure that the free lanes are still congested.

No one, after all, would willingly pay a toll to take an express lane if the adjacent free lane was moving just as swiftly.

As an alternative to the proposed two toll lanes in each direction, a consultant hired by Douglas County recently recommended adding one free lane each way, at a cost of up to $100 million. That's much cheaper than the $350 million the toll-lane plan would cost. But CDOT argues the state doesn't have an extra $100 million for such a project - while it hopes it could raise the much higher cost of the toll lanes from private investors.

That's where a regional transportation authority could come in. There are seven counties in the metro area. If such an authority could raise about $1 billion, it could pay for a vital regional project such as the C-470 widening in each county. And local officials think they might have a way to get that $1 billion - by persuading voters to extend the existing 0.1 percent sales tax that now pays off bonds on Invesco Field at Mile High when it expires, probably in 2010.

The revenue from that sales tax would support about $1 billion in transportation bonds - more than last fall's failed Referendum D would have allocated to metro Denver. Best of all, it wouldn't require an increase in the sales taxes already paid by metro area voters - only to forego the eventual 0.1 percent cut in the existing sales tax they would otherwise receive.

Adams County voters in 2001 agreed to just such an extension, continuing the 0.5 percent sales tax originally passed to build a new county justice center and earmarking the further proceeds to transportation needs.

The stadium tax, originally passed to build Coors Field, has already been extended once to build a new home for the Broncos. Now it may fund local transportation needs, joining the voter-approved FasTracks rapid transit lines as part of a coordinated effort to ease the gridlock on our highways.

Bob Ewegen is The Denver Post's deputy editorial page editor. He has written on state and local government since 1963.

© 2006 The Denver Post


"Stop the TransTexas Corridor and fire Gov. Perry."

Corridor plan criticized: Strayhorn, Bell, Friedman praised by opponents

March 25, 2006

Kevin Chandler
Temple Daily Telegram
Copyright 2006

SEATON - Three Texas gubernatorial candidates brought members of the Blackland Coalition to their feet Friday night in praise of the candidates’ condemnation of the TransTexas Corridor at a meeting in Seaton Star Hall.

The collection of landowners, ranchers, businessmen and residents who stand to lose property to the TransTexas Corridor applauded at every remark against Gov. Rick Perry and the corridor by state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman, both independent candidates for governor, and former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, the Democratic nominee.

This is the first time that all three of Perry’s opponents have held a forum together, and while their personalities are as different as apples, oranges and in some cases, bananas, their message for the evening was in chorus: Stop the TransTexas Corridor and fire Gov. Perry.

This was the second time “one tough Grandma” Strayhorn addressed the coalition, and the Republican running as an independent had a message that was strongly anti-Perry.

“Gov. Perry and his land-grabbing highway henchman want to cram toll roads down Texans’ throats,” Strayhorn said. “He calls it the TransTexas Corridor; I call it the TransTexas catastrophe. I’m proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Texans who are standing up and saying ‘no’ to the largest land grab in Texas history, ‘no’ to destroying irreplaceable high-value natural resources, ‘no’ to destroying cropland and necessary farm and food production, ‘no’ to taxation, ‘no’ to having to pay to play, ‘no’ to Rick Perry’s $184 billion boondoggle, and ‘no’ replacing freeways with tollways.”

Friedman, a singer and author-turned-politician, shared his ideas with his light-hearted style for No Teacher Left Behind, his plan to make Willie Nelson his energy advisor and encourage the use of biodiesel fuel, as well as his thoughts on the TransTexas Corridor.

© 2006 Temple Daily Telegram

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"This area went Republican in the mid-1990s, but they better watch their step or it might not be for long."

Candidate forum focuses on Trans-Texas Corridor

Bell, Strayhorn, Friedman rail against toll roads, Perry

March 25, 2006

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Staesman
Copyright 2006

SEATON — The parking lot, and the clock, said it all.

At 6:05 p.m. Friday, almost an hour before the start of the Blackland Coalition's gubernatorial candidate forum on the Trans-Texas Corridor, the asphalt outside of the Seaton Star Hall east of Temple was already half full of pickups and cars. Outside, representatives of writer and musician Kinky Friedman and Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn were gathering petition signatures in their efforts to make the November ballot as independents and unseat Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton Strayhorn, both seeking to make the November ballot as independent gubernatorial candidates, came to- gether Friday in Seaton, east of Temple, to share their views on Gov. Rick Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor. In different ways, both showed aversion.

Inside, many of the 750 chairs were filled already. Folks in gimme caps, black Stetson hats and jeans were munching on sausage wraps and, when she happened by, listening to Strayhorn make her pitch one-on-one. Friedman and Democratic candidate Chris Bell showed up later in time to speak to the crowd, making it the three challengers' first joint appearance of the campaign.

By 7 p.m., the room was full, and the response to the challengers during the next two hours was full-throated, giving at least some indications that Perry has genuine political work ahead.

His plan for a network of cross-state toll roads and rail lines has many rural Texans in an independent frame of mind.

"This area went Republican" in the mid-1990s, said Inez Cobb, a board member of the year-old coalition formed in opposition to the corridor plan. "But they better watch their step or it might not be for long."

The path of the first leg of the corridor plan, to be called TTC-35, will parallel Interstate 35 and probably will pass within a few miles of Seaton.

Perry and legislative supporters of the corridor plan have been at pains over the past year to adjust it to address rural concerns, assuring people that most state and farm-to-market roads would connect to the corridor or pass over it.

They have strengthened protection for landowners who would have to give up land for the road.

Strayhorn spoke first, sprinkling toll and corridor talk amid a wide-ranging stump speech.

"Gov. Perry and his land-grabbing highway henchmen want to cram toll roads down Texans' throats," she said. To her right, there was a placard and seat for Perry, who was invited but did not attend. "In a Strayhorn administration, (the corridor) is going to be blasted off the bureaucratic books."

Friedman, next up, only lightly grazed the subject of the evening among a blitz of jokes.

"This is a bad idea," Friedman said and then hit on what is becoming a familiar theme among Perry's critics: that having Spanish company Cintra build and run the corridor project is wrong. "It's like having Dubai run the ports of America. It means we'll be paying tolls to a cowardly Spanish company for 70 years."

Bell told the crowd that he was there "to ask you to fire Rick Perry and stop the Trans-Texas Corridor. . . . We need roads, we all know that. What we don't need is to have our land taken away to benefit a private business."

Strayhorn, whose intention to supplant Perry in the Governor's Mansion has been well known for a couple of years, has periodically hammered Perry over his preference for toll roads as a solution to the Texas highway crunch.

She was quoted in January saying, "This voice is dead set against toll roads."

But the Perry campaign says that wasn't always the case, noting news releases and reports out of her office in 2000 and 2001 touting toll roads as the way to get roads built quickly and boost the state's economy.

That was, of course, before the Legislature overhauled transportation law and transformed toll roads from a concept into a reality.

"Carole Strayhorn's opposition to toll roads is a complete fraud," Perry spokesman Robert Black said this week. "She's been calling for toll roads for years."

Black said the corridor plan, despite demonstrations of widespread rural discontent such as Friday night's, won't hurt Perry in November.

"The governor believes that the vast majority of Texans, including rural Texans, understand that with a population expected to double in the next 40 years, the current Texas infrastructure can't handle that increase," Black said. "Something has to happen."; 445-3698

© 2005 Austin American-Statesman:


"Fire Rick Perry."

Perry's challengers blast tollway plan at meeting


Associated Press
Copyright 2006

Gov. Rick Perry's challengers in the November election took turns Friday attacking his vision for the Trans Texas Corridor, a $184 billion plan to build megahighways around the state.
Appealing to a crowd of mostly rural residents concerned about losing land to the project, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell was joined by independent candidates Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman as he asked the crowd to "fire Rick Perry."

More than 700 residents attended the meeting in Seaton, a town just east of Temple where the first leg of the corridor will likely be built within a few miles.

"Gov. Rick Perry and his land-grabbing highway henchmen want to cram toll roads down Texans' throats," Strayhorn said in Saturday's edition of the Austin American-Statesman.
"In a Strayhorn administration, (the corridor) is going to be blasted off the bureaucratic books."

The proposed first phase of the project, a 300-mile stretch of tollway from San Antonio to the Oklahoma border, would run parallel to Interstate 35.

Texas farmers are worried they'll lose large chunks of land and be inconvenienced if a large highway splits their property. If the corridor is 1,200 feet wide in some areas as planned, a farmer could lose as much as 146 acres per mile, according to the Texas Farm Bureau.
"We need roads, we all know that," said Bell, a former congressman. "What we don't need is to have our land taken away to benefit private business."

The panel was organized by the Blackland Coalition, which formed last year to rally opponents of the plan. To the right of Strayhorn on the stage was a placard and seat for Perry, the Republican incumbent, who was invited but didn't attend.

A board member of the coalition, Inez Cobb, said the area around Seaton went Republican in the mid-1990s but "they better watch their step or it might not be for long."

Perry's spokesman, Robert Black, didn't think opposition to the corridor plan would hurt the governor in November.

"The governor believes that the vast majority of Texans, including rural Texans, understand that with a population expected to double in the next 40 years, the current Texas infrastructure can't handle that increase," Black said. "Something has to happen."

Friedman, the author and entertainer, saved his strongest remarks for the decision to let the Spanish consortium Cintra-Zachary build and run the project.

"It's like having Dubai run the ports of America," he said. "It means we'll be paying tolls to a cowardly Spanish company for 70 years."

Outside the building, volunteers for Friedman and Strayhorn gathered petition signatures to get on the November ballot. Independent candidates for governor must collect 45,540 signatures from registered voters who did not cast ballots in either the Republican or Democratic primaries March 7.

© 2006 The Associated Press:


"The Trans-Texas Corridor is a product of the culture of corruption."

Political trio hits the road – and the governor, too

Saturday, March 25, 2006

By Mike Anderson
Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2006

SEATON, Texas – Three gubernatorial candidates Friday night raised their voices in a chorus of opposition to the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor and the Republican governor who crafted it.

About a thousand people gathered at Seaton Star Hall, near Temple, to hear speeches by Democratic candidate Chris Bell and independent candidates Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman focusing on the increasingly controversial transportation plan.

Gov. Rick Perry, who proposed the corridor in 2002 as a way to accommodate the state's projected trade and population growth, didn't attend Friday's event.

The proposed corridor would bisect Texas from the Mexican border to Oklahoma and bring together highways, rail and utility infrastructure in a 1,200-foot-wide tollway. The corridor is expected to parallel Interstate 35 and pass through McLennan County. State highway officials could announce the 10-mile-wide environmental impact study area for the corridor in the next few weeks.

Friday's program was hosted by the Bell County group Blackland Coalition, formed in April 2005 to oppose the corridor plan. Coalition chairman Chris Hammel said the group opposes the proposal in part because it would use eminent domain to acquire private property for the corridor when existing right of way is already available along I-35.

The group also objects to the possibility that a portion of the corridor passing through Central Texas could be operated as a toll road by a Spanish company, Cintra.

Rather than engage in debate, each of the gubernatorial candidates walked to the podium, discussed his or her opposition to Perry's corridor plan, then launched into other issues ranging from crime to school finance before quitting the hall.

Calling Perry's proposal "the Trans-Texas Catastrophe" and "the biggest land grab" in Texas history, state Comptroller Strayhorn said she was adamantly against the tollway project.

"Texas property belongs to Texans, not foreign companies," she said. "You cannot ask Texans to give up their land, then expect them to pay toll to drive their tractors across." Instead, she said, Interstate 35 should be expanded.

Peppering his comments with the humorous one-liners that have characterized his campaign, country-western musician and mystery novelist Kinky Friedman also expressed reservations about the tollway, including its operation by a Spanish firm.

"Folks, this is a bad idea," he said. "It's like having Dubai run the ports of America. I have an idea. Instead of the Trans-Texas Corridor, take four highways across Texas, name them after Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Bob Wills and Buddy Holly, none of them toll roads."

Friedman then talked about biodiesel fuel, an alternative fuel touted widely by Nelson.

Like Strayhorn, Bell criticized Perry for going to court to withhold details of the state contract with Cintra. He said Perry's handling of the corridor proposal has led many Texans to distrust their state government. He suggested the plan ought to be put on hold and taken to the Legislature to rework.

"I think the Trans-Texas Corridor is a product of the culture of corruption," Bell said. "Rick Perry's toll road boondoggle doesn't make any sense except for the road builders who've poured money into his campaign coffers."

Falls County resident Calvin Whatley said he was afraid the proposed corridor would cut through the farm that has been in his family 145 years.

"The main thing we are after is anything that will prevent this damnable highway," he said, adding that this included supporting anyone who could defeat Perry in the November election.

Milam County resident Stanley Glaser echoed Whatley's sentiments but said he also feared Friday night's trio of candidates will split the vote and ensure Perry's victory.

Hammel said the coalition invited Perry to speak at the event but never received a response from his campaign. Hammel said he believes Perry might have been afraid he would be ambushed by three candidates and a room full of people who oppose a project he proposed.

"If the governor came and wanted to defend the Trans-Texas Corridor, it would be our responsibility as hosts to make sure he got an open opportunity to share his views," Hammel said. "You get 1,000 people in a room, you can't guarantee someone won't give a catcall or something, but we would try to make sure that didn't happen."

Perry campaign manager Robert Black said Perry's absence was driven by pressing duties in the public school funding crisis rather than any fear of being ganged up on by corridor opponents and gubernatorial rivals.

"It's more of a situation that we are a few weeks from a special session and that is where his focus is right now," Black said. "However, this group does tend to be particularly hostile towards finding solutions to the transportation needs of Texas."

Hammel said the coalition has formed a political action committee and plans to again invite each of the four candidates to speak on separate occasions as the governor's race progresses. Based on their comments, the group will then pick one to endorse and will contribute campaign funds, he said.

Sixty-two corridor opponents contributed money to the PAC Friday night, Hammel said.


© 2006 The Waco Tribune-Herald


Friday, March 24, 2006

"We believe that this planning is not adequately considering the Texas citizens' concerns."

Land owners speak out against I-69

More than 200 attend public hearing Wed.

Ofelia Garcia Hunter,
Alice Echo-News Journal
Copyright 2006

Many South Texas landowners objected to the building of Interstate 69 Corridor if constructed west of Highway 281 and voiced their concerns Wednesday at a Texas Department of Transportation public meeting.

'We support the routing of Interstate 69 on (Highway) 77 and 281 and any routing west of that we are not,” said Berdon Lawrence, who has property on Labrocitas Creek Ranch. 'We have learned from past years that businesses began to crumble with the economy and we've seen many communities dry up.”

Lawrence said besides hurting businesses, the corridor would divide ranch property for many landowners. That would interrupt the farming industry and could obstruct wildlife.

About 200 South Texas residents packed a classroom at the Coastal Bend College Alice Campus to attend the TxDOT public meeting. More than a dozen individuals expressed their opposition to the construction of the I-69 Corridor.

Their concerns included the loss of property, loss of revenue for businesses that will be bypassed leading to decline in economic growth, historic sites that would be destroyed and foreign investors possibly controlling the highways.

No individual at the meeting spoke in favor of the corridor being built west of Highway 281.

Corridor officials said they are looking at three options - building the corridor on existing Highways 281 or 77 or re-routing another leg west of Highway 281.

The department is currently in its environmental study of the process and would release a decision by the fall of this year.

'All of these will be looked at independently and the one with the least environmental impact will be the one we select,” Corridor Assistant Executive Director Amadeo Saenz said. 'When you are identifying a corridor, you have to look at alternative properties.”

Corridor officials said the corridor was important to the trade industry, would free congested traffic, would bring opportunities for economic development south and west of Houston and provide a market-driven project to the area. The cost of the corridor would be between $28 and $30 billion to construct over a 30-year period.

'We are addressing the needs that extend to the next 50 years,” said Jack Heiss with the TxDOT Turnpike Authority Division.

Heiss said the corridor was designed in 1991 from Mexico to Canada. TxDOT officials said to maintain the roads in Texas takes about $2.3 billion a year and the state gas tax is barely meeting that revenue. Officials said that in 1920 there were about 4.5 million people in Texas and 456,000 vehicles. That number has risen to 22 million people and more than 26 million vehicles on the roads, or 1.2 cars per person.

TxDOT officials said the department cannot afford the project, so private investors would be sought.

'Are these private investors limited to American investors?” asked Mauro Garcia, a Falfurrias resident. 'You are disrespecting the historical traditions and culture even before the King Ranch existed. I hope you throw away the corridor in the trash.”

Homero Vera, Chairman for the Jim Wells Historical Commission, presented a map with historical Spanish and Mexican land grants in western Jim Wells County.

'We have cemeteries that are over 100 years old,” Vera said. 'There is a battle site near Premont and the Hinojosa site that's registered as an archeological site.”

Legislative representatives, State Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles and Sen. Jesus 'Chuy” Hinojosa both stated in the meeting they opposed the construction of I-69 west of Highway 281.

'Our transportation needs need to continue to grow,” Hinojosa told the group. 'There's been some talk to extend the corridor west of (Highway) 281 and I'm opposed to that.”

Audience members clapped in support of Hinojosa's statement.

'I'm here to support the expansion of (Highway) 281 and (Highway) 77,” Hinojosa continued.

Edwin Goldapp, a board member with the Farm Bureau, read a list of concerns about the corridor being assembled west of Highway 281.

'Remember, private ownership of the roads means toll roads, foreign investors' control and loss of taxpayer control,” he said. 'Times change and the population is growing...we believe that this planning is not adequately considering the Texas citizens' concerns.”

© 2006 Alice Echo-News Journal


Thursday, March 23, 2006

"We have some problems with this process."

Landowners' I-69 wait drags on

Ranchers, residents fear being in the path of proposed highway

March 23, 2006

By Brandi Dean
Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Copyright 2006

More than 200 people in the possible path of Trans-Texas Corridor-69, the Texas portion of the I-69 proposal, gathered Wednesday looking for answers.

Howard Gafford, for instance, doesn't know what's going to happen down the road. He is pretty sure his ranch in Ben Bolt is going to lose some land when I-69 is built. But depending on its path, he may have to move his house as well. He was hoping the meeting with Texas Department of Transportation representatives at Coastal Bend College in Alice would help him know what to expect.

"We're not very well informed," he said.

That seemed to be a common theme in the standing-room-only audience. The meeting was designed to give government officials, business leaders and landowners in Brooks, Jim Wells and Hidalgo counties an update on the road's progress. Because talk of the 650-mile highway stretching from Texarkana to Mexico began more than a decade ago, many have been waiting since the early 1990s to know how their land will be affected. And the wait has caused frustration.

"We understand that TxDOT has to go through this process, but we have some problems with this process," said Berdon Lawrence, a rancher speaking on behalf of the landowners.

The group was primarily concerned with one of the routes the department is considering. Originally, state transportation department assistant executive director Amadeo Saenz said, the options were to expand portions of U.S. highways 77 or 281. But about a year and a half ago, the department realized that King Ranch might present a problem to the route because King Ranch is designated historic property and federal law required other options be considered.

So the department began looking west of U.S. 281. That could mean blazing a 1,200-feet-wide trail through ranch and farmland, a prospect that worried many farm and ranch owners.

"When properties are divided, it creates a huge disruption for your operations," Lawrence said. "I'm not sure you can continue to operate in a lot of cases. The economic impact is too severe."

Saenz said legislation passed in August changed the situation again. This legislation allows the transportation department to build on historic land, if the impact is minimal.

"Does that mean we throw away that west project?" Saenz said. "No. But it means we can go back and look more closely at 281 and 77."

Saenz couldn't say, at this point, which path had the greatest chance of being chosen. The transportation department will be looking at the impact on endangered species, historical property and local economies for all the options. A preliminary decision should be ready late this year, but Gafford said that's not a lot of help right now.

"I really didn't know much more when I left than when I came," Gafford said. "We'll just wait and see."

Contact Brandi Dean at 886-3778 or HYPERLINK

© 2006 Scripps Texas Newspapers, L.P. A Scripps Howard newspaper.


"Suddenly all these gas taxes we are paying seem to be disappearing."

Toll road concerns

March 23, 2006

The Cameron Herald
Copyright 2006

Dear Milam County Citizens,

Do you recall a few months ago reading an article in which State Representative, Mike Krusee, Chairman of the House Transportation Committee (and according to the Star Telegram, one of six Texas representatives issued a subpoena investigating accusations of illegal fundraising), made statements telling Milam county not to worry because the Trans Texas Corridor was not going to run through Milam County? I read it in a local newspaper, and I wondered at the time how he knew this when the proposed route had not been decided on or approved by Washington yet.

But, have you heard that Milam may just have a brand new toll road of its own, anyway?

Suddenly all these gas taxes we are paying seem to be disappearing. They are no longer enough to fund roads for Texas, so we must still pay gas taxes, but pay tolls, too.

And please ask yourself, even if we are assured that this one is only for transportation, unlike the TTC which will allow ancillary enterprises for profit within its route, how long before some new bill out of Austin suddenly allows for extra eminent domain seizure for more property for necessary additions along the roadway?

And think about the Dubai Port Deal, which thankfully seems to have fallen through. The Trans Texas Corridor (perhaps connecting to the Milam toll road at some point in the future) would be like one long port running from a foreign border all the way through our state, built, operated and controlled by a foreign company. Do we know who all their stockholders might be, or what controls would be used to prevent terrorists and/or their supplies and equipment from easily entering into and crossing our whole state?

Please, citizens, start hollering like the national crowd did. It got results swiftly, and so can we! Let's demand a safe Texas, for Texans, by demanding our elected representatives be honest and vote their constituents wishes, not their own political agendas.

Margaret Green


© 2006 The Cameron Herald


Corridor veers east to corral concession fees.

Official: Steer Trans-Texas Corridor east of I-35E

March 23, 2006

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

AUSTIN – The Trans-Texas Corridor would be more profitable if it were built on the east side of Interstate 35E, a project official told a state committee Wednesday.

In the next few weeks, state officials will probably unveil a map outlining a 10-mile-wide study area, stretching from the Red River to the Rio Grande, where the Trans-Texas Corridor could be located.

Initial traffic and toll revenue predictions by project developer Cintra-Zachry show that an eastern route has the greatest potential.

"We have given the state of Texas our view of where the corridor could be done more economically and faster. In our view, there is going to be more traffic on the east side of Dallas than on the west side of Fort Worth," said José M. López, director of U.S. and Latin American operations for Cintra.

Mr. López spoke to the Trans-Texas Corridor Advisory Committee for the first time Wednesday.

An easterly route – which could go as far east as Kaufman and Terrell – could begin construction by 2010, while a route west of Fort Worth as far as Weatherford might not be needed until 2025 or later, according to Cintra's preliminary plans.

The state has been reviewing 180 variations of the corridor route for months. Officials expect to make a final decision on the route by summer 2007. Its location could change noticeably after public hearings this summer, state officials say.

North Texas leaders have expressed concern that the corridor might draw existing businesses farther outside the urban area, creating even greater demand for roads in the new areas.
They have proposed some interim projects to connect the urban area to the future corridor and keep traffic and development closer to the heart of North Texas.

These projects, which include a major extension of State Highway 360 and the southern portion of Loop 9 through southern Dallas County, also would serve more immediate traffic demands.

"Anything outside the area to any degree is going to create demand for increased infrastructure that we cannot currently fund nor can we fund in the foreseeable future," said Grady Smithey, a member of the Regional Transportation Council who also serves on the corridor advisory committee.

The region is united in its concerns, said Mr. Smithey, adding: "This is the first time I have ever seen Dallas and Fort Worth in agreement on anything."

North Texas leaders' ideas for corridor connections will be reviewed after the map outlining the 10-mile-wide study area is released, said Phillip Russell, director of the Texas Turnpike Authority division of the state Transportation Department.

While Cintra has proposed the order in which corridor segments should be built, the state can reprioritize the project order. But changing priorities could come at a cost. Cintra-Zachry has pledged to pay the state $1.2 billion in concession fees if it is awarded an estimated $7.2 billion in corridor projects.

"If we move projects, the concession fee may not be there," Mr. Russell said.


© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co


Cintra proposes Texas-sized triple bypass to boost bottom line

Corridor plan depends on how the money flows

03/23/2006 12:00

Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News

AUSTIN — Jose Lopez, Cintra's director for North and South America, has some ideas on where to build the first sections of the colossal Trans Texas Corridor, and the analysis boils down to a simple equation.

"It's the money," he told a state advisory committee Wednesday. His ideas:

To get the most money the fastest, Texas 130 toll lanes should be extended 46 miles from Lockhart to Seguin. The segment to Georgetown is to open next year, and if all goes well, the rest could open in four years.

Then a 105-mile toll bypass east of Dallas would make the most sense, followed by toll lanes from Dallas to Texas 130, with work starting by 2010.

"This is what will attract the most cars," Lopez said.

The Trans Texas Corridor is a 4,000-mile network of car and truck lanes, freight and passenger rail lines and utility lines that Gov. Rick Perry proposed four years ago.

Cintra, a Spanish company, and Zachry Construction of San Antonio in 2004 offered $6 billion to build the San Antonio-Dallas toll road and pay $1.2 billion to operate it and collect toll fees for up to 50 years.

Some of the $1.2 billion could relocate freight rail around Austin, and build a toll road around Southeast San Antonio to link Texas 130 traffic to Interstate 35.

That's the financial perspective, which omits high-speed rail and the border for at least 20 years.

"That's the problem when it's driven by money," said committee member Linda Stall of Fayetteville, a critic of the Trans Texas Corridor.

Then there's politics, and questions.

Dallas and Fort Worth officials want toll lanes through the Metroplex instead of around it, and they've come up with ways to use Cintra-Zachry's $1.2 billion there.

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News:


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

TTC-35 favors Big D over Cowtown.

Proposed toll road may go east of Metroplex

Wed, Mar. 22, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

AUSTIN — Tarrant County officials are concerned that a planned toll road viewed by many Texans as a key to future economic growth may bypass the western Metroplex.

“We’re arriving at the conclusion that Fort Worth and Tarrant County aren’t getting the level of consideration needed, and that’s unacceptable,” former Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr said.

Barr and other members of a Trans-Texas Corridor advisory committee met Wednesday to review plans for the privately funded toll road and high-speed rail corridor from North Texas to San Antonio.

Wednesday’s briefing came just a few weeks before the expected release of the project’s environmental study, which will include maps narrowing the location of the proposed road to within a 10-mile-wide swath. About 50 public hearings will be held across the state before the project is submitted to the Federal Highway Administration for approval.

A private firm chosen by the state to manage the project, Madrid-based Cintra, showed committee members a route that Cintra estimates would generate the most toll revenue — and it’s a route that would favor Big D over Cowtown.

Cintra has proposed building a toll road that runs generally parallel to Interstate 35 from San Antonio to Hillsboro, then follows I-35E in a semicircle around the eastern fringe of Dallas. That project is expected to be under construction by 2011 in the Dallas area and to be completed by 2015.

A second semicircle would eventually be built around the western fringe of Fort Worth, but not until 2025 or after, Cintra officials said.

Tarrant County Commissioner Glen Whitley said he was dismayed that Cintra’s proposed route did not incorporate the work of the Metroplex’s Regional Transportation Council, which for two years has worked on a plan to bring the Trans-Texas passenger lanes, freight and passenger rail lines through the metro area, rather than around it.

The RTC plan also ensures that truck traffic would circumvent the Metroplex both to the east and west.

“If the presentation comes out and it only goes around us to the east, somebody’s going to have to explain to us why you listened to us and told us what we wanted was great, but then didn’t do it,” Whitley said.

Jose Maria Lopez, Cintra’s director of U.S. projects, told Metroplex leaders that Cintra was simply presenting the most economical route but would build the road any way the state desires.

Cintra’s proposed Dallas route was chosen because preliminary traffic studies suggest it is where “more people are going to vote with their wheels,” Lopez said.

But he added: “We have given the state of Texas our view of where it can be built more economically and faster, but if they want it to go west, we can go west.”

The catch is that Cintra’s route is based on the assumption that tolls can cover all the road costs, state officials said.

If Metroplex leaders want better local connections to the corridor, tax dollars or other funds may need to be added to the project.

But Phil Russell, turnpike director for the Texas Department of Transportation, said the agency would work closely with Metroplex officials to ensure that funding is made available to bring the corridor through the Metroplex, rather than around it.

“We are listening,” he said after the contentious meeting. “We think the ideas coming out of Dallas-Fort Worth are great ideas.”

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


Gubernatorial candidates to speak about eminent domain and the Trans-Texas Corridor

Governor candidates to visit

March 22, 2006

Temple Daily Telegram
Copyright 2006

SEATON - Three of the four Texas gubernatorial candidates are scheduled to speak at a Blackland Coalition meeting Friday night in Seaton.

Democratic nominee Chris Bell and independent candidates Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman confirmed they will address the coalition.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Seaton Star Hall SPJST.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, the Republican nominee, said the governor will not attend the meeting.

The candidates are expected to speak on the issues and impact of the proposed corridor and laws pertaining to eminent domain.

The Blackland Coalition is a Political Action Committee formed to provide financial and political support for candidates that oppose the TransTexas Corridor, which was first proposed by Perry in 2002.

The corridor is part of the governor’s transportation plan, a $184 billion project that would result in thousands of miles of tollways, railways and utility lines across the state.

© 2006 Temple Daily Telegram


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Will the latest toll tax syntax put them on EZ Street?

New Name for Toll Roads

Supporters have decided to use new language to refer to proposed pay highway lanes.

March 21, 2006

By Jim Forsyth
Soft Rock 101.9
© 2006 Clear Channel Broadcasting, Inc.

When is a toll road not a toll road? When it's an 'express lane.'

Internal documents sent by toll road supporters and obtained by 1200 WOAI news show advocates of toll lanes on Highway 281 and Loop 1604 across the city's north side are recommending that supporters use the phrase 'express lanes' when referring to the controversial project.

The change in syntax comes on the eve of two extremely important hearings next week at Reagan High School and Bush Middle School, at which the Texas Department of Transportation will get input from both sides on the toll road plan. The memos indicate businesses which support toll roads, some of whom stand to profit from their construction, are encouraging employees to attend the hearings to give the appearance of a huge groundswell of support for toll lanes.

Construction which was to begin on toll lanes on Highway 281 between Loop 1604 and Stone Oak Parkway hit a snag when environmental groups got the Federal Highway Administration to freeze the project until an environmental impact statement is completed. Two separate lawsuits also seek to derail the toll road concept in Texas.

Supporters of toll roads argue it is the only way to quickly increase the capacity of highways to deal with huge increases in traffic volume expected in far north Bexar County in coming years.

Opponents, including Commissioner Lyle Larsen, argue that much more sensible and lower cost alternatives are available, including building overpasses on Highway 281 to bypass four east west cross streets where red lights currently cause much of the congestion. Some toll road opponents also claim having some lanes free and others tolled would create a 'two tiered society,' where the wealthy could glide along on open roads, while the poor would be stuck in endless highway congestion.

When asked about the new 'express lane' name for toll roads, one toll road opponent told 1200 WOAI news, "we don't care what they call it. It's still garbage and we'll defeat it."

© 2006 Clear Channel Broadcasting, Inc.


Monday, March 20, 2006

Pattern of missed opportunities for leadership seems to be rampant throughout the Texas government."

Letters to the editor


San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

Put $200 million toward things we really need

It is amazing how quickly County Judge Nelson Wolff and his cronies can find $200 million to throw at a Major League Baseball team and I am driving on major arteries filled with potholes and trash.

Extending the hotel and rental car tax seems to be the answer to funding everyone's boondoggle. The tax funded the SBC/AT&T Center, which, of course, had nothing to do with tourism. Now that it will soon expire, either rescind it or point it toward something that tourists actually use, such as our roadways and other infrastructure.

The tax itself is one of the highest in the country, and it is time to make good use of the funds on things the city actually needs and not pie-in-the-sky projects.

Jonathan Epstein

Toll roads stifle growth, slow everyone down

The Editorial Board needs to reconsider its stance on toll roads and their value to a community. I can think of no better way to stifle growth and slow down the efficient movement of people and goods. Having lived in Chicago for 10 years and seeing the tollways there in and around Illinois, I have concluded toll roads are no better than free roads during any period of heavy traffic — just more expensive.

The article "The logical route" by Rebeca Chapa seems to rely heavily on quotes by those interested in seeing the tollways built and not on those who oppose them. This myopic view pays a disservice to readers and exposes the paper to the criticism that it and its editorial staff are influenced by those who will profit financially from the toll construction and not by the people of the community who have already paid for the roads and will have to do so again.

It is not so much the fact that the construction will merely have to build frontage roads and call this "equivalent." The fact is that the right of way that they will be assuming and charging me for was already paid for with my tax dollars once.

This pattern of missed opportunities for leadership seems to be rampant throughout the Texas government. Saying every future road should be a toll road allows Gov. Rick Perry to sidestep one of the hard issues, just as he and the Legislature have sidestepped other hard issues. Another example is school funding and property tax reform. By doing nothing, the politicos have had a solution forced on them by the courts so they can individually claim they are not responsible for the outcome.

Any publication worth its salt would investigate all sides of an issue and report both sides fairly — which the Editorial Board has plainly not done. The board has obviously missed the fact that improvements for "fixing" the problem with U.S. 281 were already funded and ready to go when the tollway solution was mandated on the unsuspecting public. My suspicion is that inflation will cause these funds to be insufficient when the toll solution is finally rejected and that my tax dollars will have to make up this shortfall.

Further, I have a problem with any deal made between the state and a private concern where the contracts are not available for the public to examine — especially when I'm paying for the service the firm will be delivering.

Please take a step back and re-examine this issue from the standpoint of a taxpayer who has already paid for a service once and will have to pay for many times more if the tollway issue is not stopped. It would not be so bad if the tolls were stopped when the road was paid for, but the profit motive of a private company will ensure they will live on forever.

Tom Bergo

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News:


"People see these maps and they panic."

Officials eye narrowing path of Corridor-69

Brooks, Jim Wells, Hidalgo officials to address concerns

March 20, 2006

By Brandi Dean
Corpu Christie Caller-Times
Copyright 2006

Ideas for Trans-Texas Corridor-69 are slowly but surely rolling right along.

The concept, which was known as Interstate Highway 69 until 2002, has been around for more than a decade, but Gaby Garcia, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation's turnpike division, said it's getting closer to becoming a reality.

"What we're looking at now is taking all the comments we've received and identifying a narrowed study area," Garcia said. "That's where we get a specific area where people can say, 'How would this affect my property?' "

Right now, she said, the projected path for the corridor cuts a 20-mile-wide swath stretching from Texarkana to Mexico, with possible branches shooting off in different directions. The transportation department's next step is to narrow that to a path about four miles wide.

In the meantime, Garcia said, there's another question to start considering:

"How do you put it on the ground once you find a route?" she said.

In April the department will begin requesting concept proposals from private businesses for answers to that question. It's looking for a team - a construction firm working with developers and financial advisers - to bring to the table all the resources needed to make the corridor happen. Garcia said the department is taking the same approach with Trans-Texas Corridor-35, which generally parallels the existing Interstate Highway 35.

The proposal process will take a year to complete. Public hearings on the narrowed path won't start until fall or winter. But The Alliance for I-69 Texas, a group of government and business officials from 34 Texas counties, isn't waiting for that to let those with a special interest in the project know what's going on.

"Now we're at a point where, because the Trans-Texas Corridor is taking on more form and shape, people along that corridor are turning to the alliance to say 'We have questions,' " said Anne Culver, a member of the alliance.

To answer those questions, the group is facilitating a series of meetings with the transportation department and stakeholders along the corridor's path. The next one is scheduled for Wednesday in Alice for a group of government officials, business leaders, ranchers and property owners in Brooks, Jim Wells and Hidalgo counties.

"What I've been getting from these local meetings is people see these maps and they panic," Culver said. "But it isn't finished. It's a work in progress."

© 2006 Scripps Texas Newspapers, L.P. A Scripps Howard newspaper.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Perry's parallel universe

Officials not linking ports deal, new tollway

March 19, 2006

By Mike Anderson
The Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2006

Federal officials have been squabbling in recent weeks over a proposal to give operations of some U.S. ports to a Dubai company, but in Texas, state officials don't appear to share the same concerns about a Spanish company operating portions of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor.

On Thursday, a state-owned Dubai company announced it was backing out of a deal to manage some terminal operations at six American ports, amid a political firestorm in Congress. President Bush supported the arrangement, but it was opposed by some in Congress who expressed concern about security issues arising from having a foreign company operating U.S. ports.

Meanwhile in Texas, the Spanish company Cintra, joining with San Antonio-based Zachry Construction, has signed a contract with the state to develop portions of the Trans-Texas Corridor between Mexico and Oklahoma.

Gov. Rick Perry proposed the project in 2002 as a means to handle current and future trade traffic and population growth by providing an alternative to the interstate highway system. The project would bring together highways, rail and utility infrastructure in a 1,200-foot-wide tollway. The Texas Department of Transportation is expected to announce a 10-mile-wide environmental impact study area for the corridor in the next few weeks. The corridor will likely pass through McLennan County.

Cintra has proposed investing $6 billion to build a toll road between Dallas and San Antonio by 2010, with an additional $1.2 billion to extend the corridor to Mexico, state officials have said. In return for the investment, Cintra has proposed to negotiate for a 50-year contract to maintain and operate the new highway as a toll road, officials have said.

When Perry proposed the corridor, he promoted it in part as a way to improve the state's ability to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks or other disasters by creating hazardous material routes outside major cities. He also touted the corridor as providing transportation alternatives which would make it more difficult to paralyze the state's infrastructure.

On Friday, Perry spokeswoman Rachael Novier said while ensuring Texans' safety is the governor's number one priority, she does not see a parallel between the operation of the Trans-Texas Corridor and the concerns expressed over a Dubai company overseeing American ports. Novier pointed out that Cintra will be working with Zachry Construction, which she described as the nation's largest construction firm.

State transportation department spokeswoman Gabby Garcia said even if Cintra operates the toll road, the state will retain oversight and ownership. She added that while Cintra will be the first at the table to negotiate to build and operate the corridor, that does not mean they are guaranteed to be the builder. She said the competitive process is ongoing.

One person who has been critical of the state's corridor plan, Waco resident Rick Wegwerth, laughed when ask about a possible comparison between foreign operation of ports and the corridor.

“Isn't that funny that we give a 50-year monopoly to a Spanish company to put in a highway to nowhere, then at the same time everybody has a huge problem with a foreign company running our ports,” said Wegwerth, an organizer of the McLennan County anti-corridor group DERAIL.

The New York Times news service contributed to this story.


© 2006 The Waco Tribune-Herald