Saturday, April 15, 2006

"Perry appears to have an affirmative-action program for wealthy donors."

Appointees from El Paso contribute thousands to Perry

April 15, 2006

Brandi Grissom, Austin Bureau
El Paso Times
Copyright 2006

AUSTIN -- El Pasoans appointed to powerful state boards and agencies by Republican Gov. Rick Perry have contributed more than $500,000 to his campaigns during the past five years.

An El Paso Times analysis shows 28 El Paso appointees gave Perry contributions ranging from $100 to more than $120,000 from 2001 through 2005.

A separate analysis of all Perry appointee contributions released this week by an Austin-based political watchdog group, Texans for Public Justice, shows that about 300 appointees and their employers gave nearly $7 million in five years.

"Perry appears to have an affirmative-action program for wealthy donors," said Andrew Wheat, Texans for Public Justice research director.

El Pasoans account for 79 of Perry's appointments, about 8 percent.

Of those, 28 gave Perry $547,332 from 2001 to 2005, according to Texas Ethics Commission reports. On average, the 28 contributed $19,547 each.

The remaining 51 El Paso appointees did not contribute to Perry. The El Paso Times analysis indicates, however, that those who did contribute heavily received appointments to more prestigious boards that control large budgets.

The El Paso appointee who contributed the most to Perry was J. Robert Brown, president of Desert Eagle Distributing Co. Brown gave Perry $129,513.

He was appointed to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in November 2003 and previously was on the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents.

He said his qualifications as an experienced, successful businessman were the reasons for his appointments, not his generosity to Perry's campaign.

"I think we as a group of business people in El Paso felt if we wanted to have a voice in Austin, we needed to get actively involved in politics and at least have a seat at the table," he said.

Perry campaign spokesman Robert Black said contributions are not a factor in appointments. El Paso appointees said their positions were granted based on their merit, not the depth of their pocketbooks.

"The tie between the governor and his appointees is their shared principles and philosophies on how government should work," Black said. "To suggest any different is just nonsense."

Perry has appointed 1,027 Texans to 235 state agencies, boards and commissions. According to the research report, about one-third, or 330, of those appointees and their family members gave Perry an average of $3,769 each from January 2000 to December 2005. Several wrote six-digit checks.

Coming in second and third in appointee contributions from El Paso were Paul Foster, president of Western Refining, and Rick Francis, chairman and CEO of Prime Capital Management and Francis Properties.

Foster gave Perry $112,224. He was appointed to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which oversees public universities, in July 2004. Foster could not be reached for comment because he is climbing Mount Everest, an aide said.

Francis gave Perry about $110,000. The governor placed Francis on the Texas Tech University Board of Regents in November 2003.

Ted Houghton, a self- employed financial consultant, is the first El Pasoan to serve on the Texas Transportation Commission. He gave Perry about $7,000 between 2001 to 2005.

He said contributions from El Paso appointees were "a drop in the ocean" of Perry's campaign finances.

During the 2002 gubernatorial race, Perry spent more than $25 million. The most recent reports filed with the ethics commission show that Perry has $9.4 million in his re-election campaign chest.

Rather than an indication of a "pay-to-play" system, Houghton said, the appointments represent Perry's commitment to El Paso.

"This is the first governor that has given these appointments at these levels in these volumes," he said.

The Texans for Public Justice analysis found that appointees to education-related boards spent the most on Perry campaigns.

University boards of regents oversee billion-dollar budgets and control tuition prices for the millions of students in Texas institutions of higher education.

Larry Anders was appointed to the Texas Tech Board of Regents in March 2005. He was the largest Perry appointee contributor statewide, according to Texans for Public Justice, and gave more than $220,000.

All totaled, 330 appointees and their families gave Perry about $3.8 million during the five-year period analyzed. Their employers gave the governor an additional $3.1 million, the Texans for Public Justice report shows.

"We're not saying the governor shouldn't appoint these people," Texans for Public Justice researcher Wheat said. "We're saying it raises concern when people he does appoint are large donors, and the public needs to monitor this."

Perry spokesman Black said it only makes sense some of the governor's appointees would also be his benefactors.

"The governor appoints people to boards who not only share his philosophies and his principles but who also support him as governor," Black said. "And, yes, some of those people may have given him money in the past, but the two are not connected."

Black accused Texans for Public Justice of acting in "the height of hypocrisy" because the organization does not reveal its own financial supporters.

Wheat said the group keeps most of its supporters' names secret to protect them from retribution by public officials angered by the group's publications.

Wheat said, "The difference, of course, is that Mr. Perry is a public official."

Brandi Grissom may be reached at; (512) 479-6606.

© 2006 El Paso Times


Friday, April 14, 2006

"We are fighting for what our citizens want."

Panel backs putting tolls on 121 stretch

Rates could be higher than other roads; votes counter Frisco's wishes

April 14, 2006

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

A divided Regional Transportation Council voted to approve placing tolls on State Highway 121, one of only a handful of instances where the group has endorsed a road project over the wishes of a nearby local government.

And in another vote that could set a precedent for the region, the group approved setting tolls on Highway 121 that could be higher than other area toll roads. The proposal also could result in motorists paying an even higher premium for driving during peak commute times.

Thursday's votes approve:

• Setting average toll rates of 14.5 cents per mile on Highway 121 from Central Expressway to near the Dallas-Denton county line.

• Setting maximum toll rates of 17 cents per mile to drive from 6:30 to 9 a.m. and from 3 to 6 p.m.

• Requiring 75 percent of excess toll revenue – estimated at $750 million to $1 billion – to be paid in an upfront payment, and 25 percent would be paid over time.

The toll rates could go lower when private companies submit bids for the rights to build and operate the Highway 121 toll road. Those bids should come in late this year.

The votes counter an April 4 resolution approved by the Frisco City Council, which states that the council does not support placing tolls on Highway 121 "at the present time."

The resolution adds, however, that Frisco leaders are willing to discuss Highway 121 options as the region evaluates proposals from private consortia and the North Texas Tollway Authority around the end of the year.

'Not real happy'

"We're not real happy about it," Frisco Mayor Mike Simpson said. "We are fighting for what our citizens want."

The votes supersede local governments' wishes, and the maximum rates may be too high, Collin County Commissioner Jack Hatchell said.

"I didn't agree with the toll rates that were set," he said. "That was my main concern."

The Regional Transportation Council will take Frisco's concerns into account, said Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. The key is that Frisco has signaled its intention to continue talking about Highway 121 as a toll road, Mr. Morris said.

"I think Frisco's position is the same. They're just arguing it from a different point of view," he said.

Mr. Morris serves as the primary adviser to the Regional Transportation Council.

The transportation council is made up of 40 appointed members, most of whom belong to area city councils or commissioners courts. The group has authority to approve most road projects in the urban area.

Driving the Highway 121 toll issue is the stated need to raise more money for road construction in North Texas. The state gas tax has remained flat at 20 cents per gallon since 1991, and state leaders now say that it would have to rise dramatically – at least 75 cents per gallon for 10 years – to make a noticeable dent in Texas' road construction needs.

"We are so far behind, we have to maximize our returns on any toll road," said Duncanville City Council member Grady Smithey, who sits on the Regional Transportation Council.

"This is the toughest issue I've faced in my 13 years on the RTC," he said.

To Mr. Simpson, the Frisco mayor, the issue of higher tolls could affect company decisions to bring jobs to Collin County because of the effect on wage-earners' pocketbooks.

A McKinney resident who works at EDS in Plano would have to pay $1,105 a year to travel on Highway 121 based on the new toll rate set Thursday, he said.

In addition, the operators of three regional sports venues and a major regional mall didn't know there would be toll roads on two sides of them when they decided to open in Frisco, he said.

"If I were Arlington, how would I feel if Highway 360 were tolled and I-30 were tolled?" he asked. "They wouldn't like it."

Sharing of revenue

Regional leaders also adopted a policy Thursday that dictates how future excess toll revenue will be shared. For any new toll projects like Highway 121, a percentage of excess toll revenue would be set aside for each county in the area. That percentage would be based upon the share of motorists from each area county.

The maximum toll rates approved Thursday also contrast 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.

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.

Thursday's vote could affect motorists in many areas of North Texas. The use of variable tolls could be applied to future area toll roads, including State Highway 161 in southwest Dallas County.


© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co


"I guess they can overrun us."

Planners bypass Frisco's toll-road objections

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

ARLINGTON- North Texas leaders often say they put the good of the region above local desires. On Thursday, that was put to the test.

The Regional Transportation Council, the area's official planning body, agreed to pursue a toll road on Texas 121 in Collin County -- and potentially many other future toll roads in Tarrant and other counties-- over the objection of elected leaders in Frisco.

The RTC also agreed to allow pricing on toll roads to vary by time of day, reaching up to 17 cents per mile during rush hour beginning in 2010. Today's Dallas-area toll rate is a flat 10 cents a mile.

The approval, on a voice vote --with at least three of the RTC's 40 members opposed--was a notable break with tradition. When development decisions are made in North Texas, it's not uncommon for politicians to grant veto power to a city or county directly affected by a project. Not this time.

"We left here with the reaction that the region is the No. 1 priority for the RTC," Tarrant County Commissioner Glen Whitley said.

Frisco Mayor Michael Simpson had a different take.

"I guess they can overrun us," he said after the meeting at the Arlington Convention Center. "I'm not happy about it."

Simpson said he calculated that if the 17-cent maximum was applied to Texas 121, a typical commuter using the road during peak morning or afternoon traffic would spend about $1,100 a year on tolls.

"We want a toll low enough that people are willing to pay," he said. "I hope it doesn't kick traffic onto the streets of McKinney, Allen and Frisco."

Last week, the Frisco City Council withdrew its support for the proposed toll road roughly from the Dallas North Tollway to McKinney.

Frisco originally supported the toll road, on the condition that tolls be kept as low as possible. But other North Texas leaders and the Texas Department of Transportation wanted to seek bids from private companies, to see whether the toll road could generate a large cash payment up front.

All Thursday's action really does is set up a competition for the Texas 121 Collin County toll road project between the tollway authority and any private bidders.

The state transportation department could select a winner by November.

Whether Frisco likes it or not.

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


"A bypass is not what this booming metropolitan area wants, needs or deserves."

Don't Bypass D-FW: Keep Trans-Texas Corridor within reach

April 13, 2006

Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

America's transportation picture became clear enough in the 1800s: Running railroad tracks alongside a village transformed it into a city.

Construction of interstate highways in the 1950s demonstrated the reverse effect: Bypassing a town often caused it to wither.

Hence the intense disappointment by many civic and business leaders in the Dallas-Fort Worth area last week when they saw the state's latest planning maps for the gargantuan Trans-Texas Corridor tollway.

The proposed Mexico-to-Oklahoma transportation swath hugs Interstate 35 for much of its route but manages to give Dallas a mere sidelong glance as it passes on the east.

A bypass is not what this booming metropolitan area wants, needs or deserves.

From some local communities, motorists and truckers would have a haul of 30, 40 or 50 miles or more to reach the corridor.

Planners need to make improvements in the next phase of the design process.

Let's review the solid arguments in behalf of the unprecedented project:

•Texas' jammed interstates need reliever routes, especially for trucks, and tax money isn't keeping up with expansion needs.

•Hazardous materials should go around, not through, urban centers.

•It helps air quality to reroute through traffic and keep it moving.

•The corridor would lay the groundwork for adding passenger rail when the time comes.

Accomplishing those objectives appears possible if state planners work closely with regional transportation and elected officials about local transit needs.

North Texas' Regional Transportation Council advocates an alternate local route that resembles a giant doughnut touching or encircling at least eight counties. Under its proposal, the corridor would approach that doughnut from the south near the mid-cities, instead of making the state's recommended eastern swing.

More local input would better protect North Texas' economic interests, including the flourishing trans-shipment industry in southern Dallas and Dallas County.

This region will have another chance to press its case when five weeks of hearings begin this summer on the state's recommended route. We urge local officials to speak with a clear, unified voice.

Downstate, the recommended path for the Trans-Texas Corridor makes a tight semicircle around San Antonio, as if to respect that city's interest in being within reach of an important new river of commerce.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area certainly shares that interest and should insist on the same access as our neighbor to the south.

© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co


Thursday, April 13, 2006

"This decision is a Robin Hood plan for highways that will not require other cities to contribute."

SH 121 toll rates will be higher

April 13, 2006

McKinney Courier Gazette
Copyright 2006

Collin County's representatives on the Regional Transportation Council were divided on Thursday, when the agency easily approved average rate of 14.5 cents per mile for prospective toll lanes on State Highway 121.

The toll rate approved is 2.5 cents higher than North Texas Tollway Authority proposal and calls for a rate of 17 cents per mile during peak hours.

While McKinney Mayor Bill Whitfield endorsed the plan, Plano Councilman Scott Johnson and Collin County Commissioner Jack Hatchell were the only two votes against the measure among the 40-member council.

Hatchell warned Plano City Council members on Monday that he wouldn't have the votes for a lower toll rate and wanted a delay. But didn't have a chance to request the move during Thursday's meeting in Arlington.

The meeting involved long explanations about the four proposals for the toll road, but very little debate. Only a few questions were allowed before members asked for a vote, fearing they might lose a quorum. Members easily endorsed the plan after just a few questions.

"We need to move this down the road and get to a competitive process," said Duncanville Councilman Grady Smithey

NTTA vice chair Jack Miller asked to talk, but wasn't recognized during the initial discussions.

"We want to be part of the solution," Miller said later. "We have a decision to make and don't know what we will do."

Frisco Mayor Mike Simpson immediately conducted a news conference after the decision, saying drivers would pay an estimated $1,000 a year in additional "taxes" to use the SH 121 toll road.

"The cost of going to work will be tremendous. We've spent a year and a half trying to get an agreement on the toll concept, and most were concerned about the effective rate," Simpson said. "I'm not sure this is an effective rate."

The RTC's survey of 958 people showed Frisco drivers preferred a toll of 12 cents per mile and wanted the NTTA to build it. Meanwhile, McKinney respondents preferred 15 cents a mile and using a Comprehensive Development Agreement that would enable a private company to vie for the work, said Mike Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. That organization organizes the RTC, which in turn distributes federal funding.

Allen, Plano, McKinney, Frisco and the county approved a resolution supporting the NTTA as the builder of the toll road. The four cities and Collin County wanted a lower rate than that approved on Thursday. Just last week, Frisco dropped its support of the county-wide because of questions about negotiations.

"This decision is a Robin Hood plan for highways that will not require other cities to contribute," said Johnson.

The NTTA may not be able to effectively compete with private companies expected to provide extensive funding in advance, said Allen City Manager Peter Vargas. He plans to brief Allen council members to determine their next step.

"They will have to borrow money to build and then for the upfront money," Vargas said.

The tolls would pay for building and operation of SH 121 main lanes and constructing interchanges at North Central Expressway and the Dallas North Tollway.

A typical eight-mile one-way trip would cost $1 at a rate of 12 cents a mile, $1.16 at 14.5 cents and $1.36 at 17 cents, said Morris. The RTC's staff members suggested a higher toll rate for peak times to help tackle air quality issues and encourage car pooling, he said.

The RTC dropped one proposal that would have required it to pay for bonds if bond obligations were not met.

"I thought the advantage of a CDA was that they had all the risk," Johnson said.

The final plan calls for toll revenues that exceed costs to be allocated to the county in which drivers live. Denton County's proceeds are allocated through a "near neighbor/near term" approach that provides funding to specific projects in that county. Denton County approved its SH 121 tolls before the current debate.

The RTC has been analyzing a funding crisis that includes $16.2 billion to improve capacity requirements and $31.4 billion for road rehabilitation for months.

State transportation officials have been leaning toward a private developer to sign a Comprehensive Development Agreement because of proposals to provide upfront money and additional revenues to finance other road projects. State gas tax dollars to don't provide enough money to build and maintain Texas roads, Texas Department of Transportation officials have repeated.

Private companies are expected to detail their plans later this year, said Morris.

The plan approved on Thursday calls for local governments to participate and monitor any Comprehensive Development Agreement the state forges. Those agreements are not expected to be finalized until later this year.

A full house of officials from Collin County was on hand for the vote, including Commissioner Jerry Hoagland and County Judge-elect Keith Self.

Contact staff writer Amy Morenz at 972-398-4263 or

© 2006 Star Community Newspapers:


"Perry is the only one running for Governor of Texas who thinks the Trans-Texas Corridor is a good idea."

TTC would bypass Milam County

By Curtis Chubb
The Cameron Herald
Copyright 2006

TTC-35, the planned Trans-Texas Corridor which parallels Interstate 35, will not include any part of Milam County according to information released by the Texas Department of Transportation last week.

The 800-mile long TTC-35 is described as being up to 1,200-feet wide with six lanes for passenger vehicles, four lanes for trucks, six rail lines, and a 200-foot utility zone.

The map accompanying this article reveals that of the alternative routes, number 5 (shown in blue) has been selected as the "preferred route."

A 4,000-page draft environmental impact statement signed by TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration shows that the narrowed study area lies slightly to the east of and incorporates the southern half of I-35. The statement and maps can be accessed by going to

TxDOT's release stated: "The narrowed study area was identified as the preferred option because it best supports the purpose and need for TTC-35 and incorporates the most miles of existing highways and rail, 195 and 214 miles respectively - an important factor according to public comments received."

More public hearings will be held this summer throughout the study area. Dates, times and locations of the hearings will be released by TxDOT in the near future.

The Trans-Texas Corridor started out as Rick Perry's dream in 2002, and it appears that Perry is the only one running for Governor of Texas who thinks the Trans-Texas Corridor is a good idea.

Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Independent, said that the Trans-Texas Corridor is "is "the beginning of the largest land grab in Texas history and runs down the heart of Texas... The only way to stop this is to change the leadership at the top... it should not be forced on communities that reject it."

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

Kinky Friedman, Independent, said: "The Trans-Texas Corridor is a greedy land grab. Financing is completely screwed-up with Texas losing money. It is unfair to the property owners of Texas."

In addition, Milam County Judge Frank Summers does not support TTC-35. When asked for a comment about the announcement that TTC-35 will not go through Milam County, Summers said on Monday: "That's great news for Milam County and Milam County landowners. But not so great for those counties that will be affected."

Copyright © 2006 The Cameron Herald


"The voters have made a decision."

Harris ungracious after runoff defeat

Collin: He doesn't plan to help in transition, but Self wants to talk

April 13, 2006

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

Collin County Judge Ron Harris, trounced by Keith Self in a bitter Republican runoff, said Wednesday that he will not speak to Mr. Self or cooperate in the transition.

Less than 24 hours after his stunning defeat Tuesday night, Mr. Harris issued a sarcastic assessment of Mr. Self's abilities.

"He supposedly knows the job. He knows how to get roads built quicker. He's the one who knows all the money we're losing in all the places," said Mr. Harris, who has served as county judge since 1990.

Mr. Self, who has no Democratic opposition in the fall, will take office Jan. 1. He said Tuesday that he would like to meet with Mr. Harris despite his acerbic comments.

Mr. Harris' irritation and decision not to congratulate his opponent is unusual in politics. Most losing incumbents wish their successors well and agree to help ease them into the new office.

"The two of us will need to talk," said Mr. Self, a retired Army officer. "I want to hear what he has got to say about the job and the office.

"Of course, he controls the transition. He's the one in office. For the time being, I need to leave it at that."

Mr. Harris, who has not had an opponent since his first term, said he was surprised that he lost and thought Mr. Self made false statements throughout the campaign.

Mr. Harris said that on state highway funding, for instance, Mr. Self used misleading figures to assert that Collin County wasn't getting its fair share. Mr. Self denied that the figures were incorrect.

"He certainly didn't take the hint on anything I tried to correct him on, particularly in the final days," Mr. Harris said.

He said he didn't know why Mr. Self would want to meet with him.

"I don't see any need to be an albatross around his neck," Mr. Harris said.

During the campaign, Mr. Self favored cutting the county property tax rate, capping increases in home appraisals, reducing the budget and securing more state highway funding.

He pounded those messages home over and over.

"We weren't going to allow ourselves to be distracted," he said.

Mr. Harris finished slightly ahead of Mr. Self in the three-man Republican primary March 7. But he didn't receive a majority, making Tuesday's runoff necessary.

Mr. Self took a huge early lead as partial returns were posted on the county Web site. He steadily built his advantage, finishing with 63 percent of the vote.

The county judge, who earns $119,000 a year, heads the five-member Commissioners Court, which approves the county budget and sets the tax rate.

On Wednesday, three commissioners said they wanted to work with Mr. Self as he prepares to assume office.

"We have to start letting him transition in," Commissioner Jerry Hoagland said. "You can't expect the guy to come in there Jan. 1 and learn everything that's been going on.

"I'll probably start having some meetings with him ASAP."

He said he expected that Mr. Harris would change his stance and help Mr. Self in the transfer of power.

"I think he's shocked about the whole thing and still wondering what happened," Mr. Hoagland said. "I expect him to come around. It may take a little bit of time, but I think he's a bigger man that that."

Commissioner Joe Jaynes said "the voters have made a decision."

"We owe it to everyone to work together," he said.

Mr. Self said he had already talked to several commissioners and was eager to work with them right away.

"I'm going to be dialoguing with them, totally unofficially," he said. "I have no authority. I just want to start building those bridges."

Mr. Self said he planned to attend a Regional Transportation Council meeting today. The 40-member group, which approves most road projects in North Texas, will discuss whether to make State Highway 121 a toll road. Area leaders have wrangled over the issue.

"My first priority is to get deeper into transportation," Mr. Self said. "I think we are fixing to have some decisions made on Highway 121, and I don't know how good those will be for Collin County."

Mr. Harris said he is unsure what he will do when his term expires. Some commissioners suggested he could become a political consultant or lobbyist.

"I'm paid until Dec. 31, and I will be there, doing my due diligence to get things done," he said.


© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co


TTC-69 is impossible to justify


Rein in Perry's vast I-69 vision

April 13, 2006

The Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2006

The comparatively simple and sensible idea of upgrading parts of existing U.S. Highways 59, 77 and 281 and collectively renaming the improved highways Interstate 69 makes sense.

It would enhance transportation links from Mexico across Texas and to other states. U.S. 59 ends at Laredo, U.S. 77 at Brownsville, and U.S. 281 runs south of Pharr, then turns east to Browns-ville. The first two also run through Victoria.

The Interstate 69 project is "a planned 1,600-mile national highway - connecting Mexico, the United States and Canada - involving eight states," Valley Freedom Newspapers explained.

But this simple, sensible idea has metastasized in Texas into something far different - with the potential malignancy of huge expense, costly toll roads and massive amounts or private property condemned by state use of eminent domain.

That resulted from incorporation of the proposed Interstate 69 corridor into Gov. Rick Perry's grandiose vision of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The Texas Department of Transportation is now officially requesting "proposals form the private sector to develop the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor," The Lufkin Daily News reported last week.

"Earlier this year, to accelerate the development of I-69/TTC, the Texas Transportation Commission authorized staff to initiate a competitive, two-step selection process for a private sector partner that may finance, design, construct, operate and maintain the project," The Daily News continued.

"The route under consideration includes broad swaths along major Texas roadways from Texar-kana through Houston, past Interstate 37, and splitting off to Laredo, McAllen and Brownsville," Valley Freedom Newspapers noted.

"The southernmost stretch of the proposed Canada-to-Mexico interstate could come to the Rio Grande Valley as a brand new toll road cutting through untouched ranchland rather than an upgrade to highways 77 or 281," The Brownsville Herald added.

"I-69 would eventually include separate lanes for cars and trucks, several rail lines and a utility corridor," The Lufkin Daily News reported.

The Rio Grande Valley is a rapidly growing part of Texas. Although U.S. 59, 77 and 281 are reasonably good highways, they are only now becoming more limited-access, and the Valley is not directly connected to the interstate highway system.

So Interstate 69 is vital to strengthen the economy of an ever-more-important part of the state. The upgraded highway corridor also is vital to facilitate the overland movement of goods to and from Mexico.

But, like most of Perry's grandiose vision for the Trans-Texas Corridor, what the state apparently has in mind for the I-69 corridor is too much. And the governor's grandiosity is drawing increasing concern, particularly if the Transportation Department decides to build a completely new and - impossible to justify - toll road west of U.S. 281.

State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, warns that communities along U.S. 281 between San Antonio and the Valley could be hurt by building a new superhighway to the west of the existing four-lane highway.

"They would bypass a lot of small towns like Premont, Falfurrias, Alice, and they would become dying towns by this, and I'm opposed to it," Hinojosa told The Brownsville Herald. "You've got to think about the people, the schools, the towns."

"As a conservationist and a as a taxpayer, you would like to have these dollars spent as efficiently as possible, and you'd like to have your land that's going to be condemned used as efficiently as possible," Hidalgo County landowner Felo Guerra told the Brownsville newspaper. "You'd think that the infrastructure on 77 or 281 would be of use."

The King-Kleberg dynasty took defensive action generally not available to people who do not own hundreds of thousands of acres of ranchland when Congress last year passed a rider to a transportation bill limiting the state's ability to condemn land on the historic King Ranch, according to The Herald.

With the descendants of Capt. Richard King owning more than 800,000 acres across South Texas, both U.S. 77 and 281 run by their holdings. Building a new highway west of U.S. 281 would skirt that limitation - at the expense of other property owners, as well as the communities along the existing highway.

The King Ranch is getting special treatment that wealth and holdings do not justify if the public interest truly is at stake. But legitimate public interest is at stake much more modestly than Perry's grandiose I-69 vision suggests.

Congress should modify the King Ranch's protection to allow the state to acquire minimal, truly necessary amounts of land from the King-Kleberg dynasty for upgrading existing highways. This family should not be exempt when other property owners are not.

Congress also needs to restore funding for I-69.

"We all realize the federal funding genie is dead. By the time Washington funds I-69, we'll be driving around in hover cars or whatever," Perry last December told the I-69 Alliance, a group of officials representing cities and counties in the areas that would be served.

Unfortunately, he is using that as an excuse to turn the I-69 corridor into a gargantuan monster the state does not need and cannot afford. The Texas Legislature should rein in the governor and return to the comparatively simple and sensible idea this project began as.

© 2006 The Victoria Advocate:


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

"Clearly, this is not in the best interests of the public."


April 12, 2006

Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

Put tolls west of I-35

Re: April 5 article, "I-35's toll road twin to swing east, go to Laredo":

The proposed route for the Trans-Texas Corridor parallels Interstate 35 on the east for most of its planned route, cutting through fertile farmland in Texas. This was deliberately done to make it more palatable to monied interests planning to build and own the toll road.

Desirable land will be acquired through eminent domain. Clearly, this is not in the best interests of the public.

The corridor should be built west of I-35 on the semi-arid stretches of prairie that need development. New towns and communities will spring up as necessary support to the trucks, trains and automobiles that would avoid the more congested areas now under consideration.



Don't take away land

We have given away our ports to foreign countries, and now Texas is wanting to give away a 10-mile wide strip of our best land to Spain. We need to get Gov. Rick Perry out of office — he is totally out of touch with the people of Texas.

Why do they need a strip of land 10 miles wide to build a highway and railroad tracks? The population of the United States is getting bigger, and the land is getting smaller because of development. Is there a politician running for governor who can stop this madness?



Trashing Austin with tolls

The folks who support "Keep Austin Weird" are very successful, and the ones who advocate keeping Austin trashy are doing a tremendous job.

Look at the proposal to toll roads that have already been paid for.

I'm glad to see that Jesse James is alive and well in Austin.




© 2006 Austin American-Statesman:


"Some say traffic in El Paso is not that bad."

TxDOT Looks For Public Input On Toll Roads

April 11, 2006

Arleene Barrios

El Paso, TX, Las Cruces, NM
Copyright 2006

Talks about toll roads in El Paso have been going on for months, and Texas Department of Transportation will host one of three open houses on the toll issue Wednesday.

In February, City Council representatives voted to create a Regional Mobility Authority. The RMA would be responsible for constructing, maintaining and operating tolls.

As KFOX has reported, tolls would only be placed on new lanes added to Interstate-10.

TxDOT has been pushing for tolls to give commuters an alternative to congestion on the highway, but some say traffic in El Paso is not that bad.

"Sometimes it could get busy like around 5 o'clock. (I could see how adding extra lanes would help, but not toll roads," said Daniel Robinson, from Canutillo.

"I don't think it's a good idea because El Paso is not big enough, and there's only IH-10," said Emmanuel Mercado, from West El Paso.

However, TxDOT believes tolls would work in El Paso because anyone trying to get from one side of town to the other doesn't have a choice, but to take IH-10.

Toll money will be used to fund new roads and highways in our area.

If you want to know more about the future of tolls in El Paso, TxDOT is hosting three question and answer sessions at UTEP. Wednesday's meeting will be held on the third floor of the Union East Building in the Tomas Rivera Conference Center. It will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

There will be another meeting on Thursday, April 20th, at the Riverside High School cafeteria (301 Midway Drive) from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. A third session is scheduled for Thursday, April 27th, at the Camino Real Middle School cafeteria (9393 Alameda Avenue) from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

© 2006 KFOX:


"People don’t want their land taken for this type of project."

Trans-Texas Corridor still proves contentious for politicians

April 12, 2006

By Dan Genz
Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2006

The rural Robinson land where state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, runs his cattle is in the 10-mile zone where state and federal officials may build the first section of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

So is his home.

Close to 1 million Texans are now in the uncomfortable position of seeing their property, businesses or homesteads on a map where a huge highway may be built in less than a decade.

Although just a small portion, about one-fortieth, of that study area would be used for the road if it is built, the huge swath of potentially affected families and farms in the region is translating into pressure for local lawmakers.

Anderson was elected after the corridor was essentially approved in 2003 but is conditionally supportive of the project. His counterparts in the local delegation to Austin, however, have become much more opposed to the corridor after initially voting for it.

“If it dies a natural death, fine,” Anderson said. “If it gains legs, if it is going to happen, then we need to protect Waco and ensure it has a close proximity to Waco, because the last thing we need is a sign that says, ‘Waco — 75 miles that way.’ ”

State Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, whose Chilton residence also is in the path of the corridor, is fiercely opposed to its construction. State Sen. Kip Averitt, R-McGregor, whose home is outside of the proposed path area, said so many of his constituents are alarmed about the project that he is “pessimistic” about its prospects but wants the planning to continue.

Three years ago, Dunnam and Averitt voted for the bill that made the corridor possible, which received close to unanimous support from the Legislature.

“When it was first proposed, it was a vague concept and nobody was against it,” Averitt said. “A lot of property rights folks looked at it, the Farm Bureau looked at it, and it was just a concept and not something to oppose.”

The Legislature passed a wide-ranging law in 2003 that outlined the Trans-Texas Corridor and also included other transportation priorities for the state.

As the proposal has moved from a political talking point to the planning phase over the past three years, generating organized local opposition, some lawmakers say the vote today would be different.

The project had to develop into the planning stages before it could be critiqued, Averitt said.

Dunnam said he voted for the law for its other provisions, including a funding mechanism that can be used for all toll roads, not specifically the Trans Texas Corridor.

“I don’t have any problem with the Sam Houston Tollway (near Houston),” Dunnam said, “but I do have a problem with giving a toll road to a company from Spain and wiping out 100,000 acres of farmland.”

One point that has drawn criticism was not anticipated at the time the Legislature voted in favor of the corridor: who would build and operate the toll roads.

A Spanish-owned company, Cintra-Zachry, has entered negotiations to build the project and collect its proceeds for 50 years, although the complete plans have not been thoroughly detailed.

Dunnam compares the local response to the furor that greeted plans to close the Waco Veterans Affairs Hospital in 2003.

“The last time I had any kind of organized meeting about it in (Chilton), it was more heavily attended than really any meeting I’ve had about any issue,” Dunnam said. “People don’t want their land taken for this type of project, particularly when the details are not known and there is so much secrecy around it.”

Some corridor proponents say the plan still has sufficient support in the Legislature but that some politicians have caved to local pressure.

“People recognize the need for something to be done but don’t want it done in their back yard,” said state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Arlington, the author of the bill.

Krusee said the road is going to have the opposite impact some critics anticipate, making it easier to reach destinations instead of harder.

Waiting and seeing

Averitt agreed that the corridor’s planning is causing problems for many of his constituents but wants the preparations to continue, saying the project can be better judged when the actual outline of the road is finalized.

He said the announcement of a 10-mile window demonstrated the kind of mixed results that make the massive project difficult.

Averitt said the Legislature should have more than two regular legislative sessions to study the project and will have ample time to advise its course.

Dunnam said he hopes to put the corridor’s future to a vote on the transportation funding bill in 2007, which could give critics a chance to defeat the plan.

The map intensified fears in Hillsboro, where civic leaders worry that the local economy will be hurt if the road is located too far away. Averitt said he will push to make the road closer to Hillsboro.

McLennan County Commissioner Lester Gibson, who has two-thirds of his Precinct 2 in rural and eastern portions of the county included in the 10-mile study area, said he sees no advantage to building the corridor and offers a list of concerns.

Some rural residents and small towns could be separated from Waco due to the corridor’s limited cross-streets, existing roads may have to be re-directed and the tollway’s few exits and access points could limit its economic impact, Gibson said.

But proponents said they expect the project to proceed and be improved through local feedback.

“The governor proposed the TTC in 2002, and since then the Legislature has consistently worked with the governor to advance the initiative,” Perry spokeswoman Rachael Novier said. “This is right, and it’s moving forward and that has not changed. That (progress) shouldn’t change because there are such clear benefits of this initiative for our state.”

The initial $6 billion section is expected to be an 800-foot- to quarter-mile-wide system of toll roads, railways and utility lines running north and south from Mexico to Oklahoma. A map outlining an approximate route for the road released last week places the project just east of Interstate 35 in McLennan County. It soon will become the focus of 50 public meetings across the affected areas.

Lawmakers are split on whether there are alternatives to building the project.

Dunnam said Interstate 35 could be widened, but Anderson said that option is too expensive.

Anderson said he tells constituents who see their property in the study area to learn more about the proposal and attend upcoming public hearings.

Anderson said if the state needs to acquire his or anyone else’s land to make the road, “they need to do it the right way.”


© 2006 The Waco Tribune-Herald


TxDOT spokesperson dismisses negative reactions to Corridor plans

Trans-Texas Corridor continues to progress

April 12 2006

Curtis E. Burton
Wilson County News
Copyright 2006

Wilson County residents who are opposed to the Trans-Texas Corridor, because it possibly could take valuable land from the tax rolls and displace families, may find some relief in the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) latest environmental report.

The proposal is to construct a transportation corridor to parallel I-35 from the southern part to the northern part of the state.

The 4,000-page document contains a preferred plan for the route of the proposed toll road, and it stays northwest of Wilson County, using existing roads and highways in Bexar County.

Wilson County Judge Marvin Quinney, who feared earlier that the superhighway project would take sources of tax money from the county and disrupt the lives of many area residents, said that he agrees with many Bexar County officials the preferred route is a much better plan than the alternative plan.

Quinney said, as he understood the preferred plan released last week, the first leg of the corridor, which generally would parallel I-35, would connect with Loop 1604 in south Bexar County, then join I-10 near Seguin, and finally continue into I-130 south of Austin.

“I don’t think this proposed route will affect Wilson County, although the study area for the route may encompass part of our county,” Quinney said.

Many San Antonio officials see the preferred route through Bexar County as good news because it would come fairly close to Toyota and its suppliers, according to a Bexar County official.

Wilson County residents certainly have not been by themselves in feeling less than optimistic about the project. At one point, during the earliest planning, citizens in Karnes County were led to believe the corridor would pass through acreage of their properties.

Fred Staggs, a retired teacher who lives on F.M. 2579 in the northwest part of Wilson County, remains skeptical of the preferred route of TTC-35.

“I have concerns about many problems that I think this project will produce aside from its expense, including the increased flow of dope. What an opportunity,” he said.

Because of his convictions, Staggs is in the process of writing congressmen and other political officials throughout the state and federal government, expressing his objections.

Quinney, who shares some of Staggs’ sentiments, said he strongly encourages all property owners to attend every hearing that will be conducted regarding the Trans-Texas Corridor beginning in early summer.

“People need to let our ranking officials know exactly how they feel about the project, which many of us see as threatening. Their input is essential,” he said.

Gabriela Garcia, a spokesman for TxDOT said, “No final decisions have been made and there is no need for anyone to become upset or to panic regarding the proposed corridor, which is just under study.”

Garcia, in a telephone interview with the Wilson County News, said that people need to understand that at this point, officials and researchers are only making a study of the feasibility of such a project.

Garcia said the recent projections about the project — many very negative — from environmentalists aren’t all together accurate if not deceptive.

Reports have estimated how many people will be displaced, how the environment will be adversely affected, and other similar projections.

“We do not know exactly where the proposed route will be constructed, or when, or how it will be financed. I can only emphasize that studies and research are being conducted and it will take significant time before any of this will come to pass,” Garcia said.

“We do have some ideas under consideration, and Wilson County possibly could be affected, although it is not a part of the current preferred route,” she continued, “but nothing has been decided.”

In an alternative plan, however, the corridor would consume about 6,200 acres of Wilson County. This is based on a 1,200-foot right of way across the county within the recommended preferred corridor as it exists today.

According to one Wilson County resident, this would mean the county possibly would lose a substantial amount from its tax rolls.

Current findings are not final and will be subject to more than 50 public hearings along the I-35 corridor this summer, Garcia repeated.

Not unlike Quinney’s advice, Garcia said those individuals who are concerned about the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor affecting them directly should attend the hearings to express their opinions.

She also said that she did not know at this time whether a hearing would be conducted in Wilson County, but all that information will be forthcoming and will be presented to the media well in advance for announcements.

This last week a TTC-35 draft report refined the study area and identified the need of the project.

A press release from TxDOT, also issued last week, said a multi-use transportation alternative to the heavily congested I-35 corridor could lie slightly to the east while incorporating the interstate’s southern half.

The report’s findings show a narrowed study area from Gainesville to Laredo to be generally 10 miles wide and within close proximity to I-35 and metropolitan centers, except where it is centered on I-35 south of San Antonio to Laredo.

Gov. Rick Perry was quoted in the press release to have said, “The Trans-Texas Corridor will provide unprecedented trade opportunities, a faster transportation system that moves freight and hazardous materials out of city centers, and thousands of new jobs.”

The narrowed study area was identified as the preferred corridor alternative because it best supports the purpose and need for TTC-35 and incorporates the most miles of existing highways and rail — 195 and 215 respectively.

The TTC draft report also examined population and traffic demand within the I-35 corridor and concluded that increased freight traffic and growing congestion compound the need for additional transportation alternatives within the I-35 corridor.

The complete draft environmental impact statement for TTC-35, including a map of the narrowed study area, is available on

Why is TTC a bad idea for Texas?

A number of opponents to the Trans-Texas Corridor have posted their objections to the project on the “Corridor Watch” Web page. These are only a few.

•It’s designed to generate money first and provide transportation second.
•Potential for tremendous liabilities created by Comprehensive Development Agreements.
•The plan is based on uncertain assumptions.
•Doesn’t solve the problem.
•Inefficient transportation plan.
•Adverse economic impact.
•Private interests vs. public interests.
•Loss of local property taxes.
•Too much money.
•Creates a “soft” terrorism target.
•Divides the state.
•Turns private land into state land.
•Toll roads represent double taxation.
•A don’t fix it, just move it approach to air pollution.

© 2006 The Associated Press:


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

In Texas political patronage is big business.

Group: 1 in 3 Perry appointees donated to campaigns

Non-profit group says individuals and their families raised $3.8 million over past 5 years

April 11, 2006

By JANET ELLIOTT, Austin Bureau
Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2006

AUSTIN - One-third of Gov. Rick Perry's appointees to state agencies, boards and commissions have been campaign donors to the governor, raising along with their families a total of $3.8 million over the past five years, according to a report released Monday.

Perry's appointees gave an average of $3,769 apiece to his campaign, with appointees to university governing boards among the most generous donors. Educational appointees averaged $10,616.

Women received 38 percent of the appointments, with the average female appointee giving Perry $1,762, compared with the male average of $4,476.

'Big business'

Texans for Public Justice said its report is the first comprehensive analysis of campaign contributions by gubernatorial appointees in Texas. The group said Perry's predecessors also favored big donors with plum appointments.

"Political patronage is big business," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice. "The huge overlap between gubernatorial contributors and appointees strongly suggests that Gov. Perry has an affirmative-action program for wealthy donors."

The report said the timing of the contributions varied, with some arriving in advance of the appointment and some after the fact, with many donating before and after.

"The governor appoints good capable men and women, who share his philosophy and his principles, to boards and commissions in state government," said Robert Black, a spokesman for Perry's campaign.

Black criticized Texans for Public Justice for not disclosing its donors, saying the group has a "liberal anti-Republican" bias.

Andrew Wheat, research director for TPJ, said the nonprofit group has issued reports on campaign contributions of public officials from both major parties. He said the group exercises its constitutional right not to disclose its donors.

"If people didn't have protection against exposure of their contributions, they might be intimidated from contributing to a hard-hitting organization such as ours," Wheat said.

Six-figure donations

Texas Tech University regent Larry Anders, who heads Plano-based life insurer Summit Alliance Cos., was Perry's largest donor among appointees at $220,304.

Three other regents made six-figure donations to Perry's campaign, including University of Texas regent Robert Rowling ($207,262); Texas Tech regent J. Frank Miller III ($175,000) and Texas A&M regent Erle Nye ($131,000).

None of the regents was available for comment.

James Huffines, chairman of the regents board at UT, questioned the group for counting large donations that his father made to Perry to reach a total of $122,180. Huffines, president of PlainsCapital Bank in Austin, gave less than $4,000 of that amount.

Huffines said he has no control over his 83-year-old father, adding that he is "a big Aggie to say the least." Perry is a graduate of A&M.

Wheat said he thinks it's valid to include family members when calculating donations. He offered to clarify in the report that the elder Huffines made most of the donations.

Friends and family

Perry tapped 1,027 appointees to serve on 235 state agencies, boards and commissions between Dec. 5, 2002, and Feb. 22, 2006. Between January 2000 and December 2005, Perry received a total of $3.8 million from 220 of these appointees or their family members.

Perry's campaign took in another $3.1 million during the same period from sources affiliated with his appointees' employers. The largest amount came from Perry Homes founder, Bob Perry, who is no relation to the governor but is one of his largest contributors. Perry Homes attorney John Krugh was named to the Residential Construction Commission, an agency that handles disputes involving homebuilders.

© 2006 Houston Chronicle:


"We are going to be the transportation and trade corridor of this hemisphere."

State wants to tap private sector for I-69 project

By Matt Whittaker
The Brownsville Herald
Copyright 2006

WESLACO — State transportation officials are asking private companies to contribute ideas for Texas’ 600-mile portion of a Canada-to-Mexico highway and rail corridor that could run through McAllen or Brownsville, or both.

The Texas Department of Transportation is beginning a competitive process of mixing state and private money for financing, designing, building, operating and maintaining the state’s section of the Interstate 69 project, a planned 1,600-mile national highway — connecting Mexico, the United States and Canada — involving eight states.

Within the state, the Interstate 69 highway project is being called the Trans-Texas Corridor, which could include tolls to help investors recoup their costs and turn a profit.

“We are going to be the transportation and trade corridor of this hemisphere … if we are smart about it,” Commissioner Ted Houghton, of the Texas Transportation Commission, said at a news conference here Monday. “Brownsville, McAllen and Harlingen are part of this corridor. We’re going to develop an Interstate highway to the Valley.”

The state transportation commission oversees TxDOT, the agency in charge of the state’s roads.

The first round of proposals, which the transportation agency began asking for Friday, are due by June 7. The process could result in a state-picked developer by mid- to late 2007.

As TxDOT explores private investment possibilities, an environmental study to determine the final route for the $30 billion TTC-69 continues. The route under consideration includes broad swaths along major Texas roadways from Texarkana through Houston, past Interstate 37, and splitting off to Laredo, McAllen and Brownsville.

A draft of a separate but similar environmental study for the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor-35 — part of the larger Trans-Texas Corridor concept that will include passenger vehicle and large truck lanes, freight and high-speed commuter railways and telecommunications infrastructure — was released last week.

TTC-35 generally parallels Interstate-35 from North Texas to Laredo. It will go from Oklahoma to Mexico, and TTC-69 is planned to go from Northeast Texas to Mexico, the United State’s No. 2 trading partner after Canada.

Construction cannot begin until federally required environmental studies, similar for both corridor legs, are completed, according to TxDOT. Sections of the final routes for the two proposed corridors may be identified sometime between 2007 and 2010.

The TTC-35 leg of the project is about eight months ahead of the TTC-69 leg, Amadeo Saenz Jr., an assistant director for engineering with TxDOT, said at the news conference Monday.

State transportation officials expect the first draft of the TTC-69 environmental study by late this year or early 2007, with the route narrowed to an approximately four-mile-wide corridor. Subsequent studies would determine the final route for the project.

Asked after Monday’s meeting whether the final route will go to McAllen, Brownsville, Laredo or all three cities, Houghton said he could not comment on what the environmental study will dictate. However, he said that because the TTC-35 portion of the Trans Texas Corridor project is going to Laredo, it would be logical for the TTC-69 portion to go to McAllen or Brownsville or both.

That would depend on whether the private sector thinks it can recoup the investment required to build legs to both cities. It likely would not go to both Valley cities and Laredo, he said.

TTC-35 likely will have a price tag similar to TTC-69’s, said Mario Jorge, TxDOT’s district engineer based in Pharr. Construction could begin on both legs in five to 10 years. Construction would happen in stages, and the project could be finished 20 to 25 years after initial construction, Jorge estimated based on the TTC-35 proposal.

The private sector has offered to put up more than $7 billion in equity to build TTC-35. A similar figure is not available for the TTC-69 portion because the process involving private businesses has just begun, Jorge said.

State officials say using private investment to fund the I-69 project within Texas will get the state’s portion done more quickly than waiting for federal funds. So, in Texas, the highway will be developed under the Trans-Texas Corridor master plan, which could be completed in phases over the next 50 years.

TxDOT will oversee planning, construction and ongoing maintenance, although private companies will be responsible for much of the daily operations. To recoup their investment, those private companies likely would be allowed to collect tolls on portions of the expanded system.

Existing U.S. 77 and U.S. 281 lanes, according to state law, will remain toll-free. However, additions to those highways, such as truck lanes, likely would be tolled to help pay for the improvements, TxDOT’s Saenz said at the news conference.

Monday’s announcement flows from Gov. Rick Perry’s December instructions to TxDOT to build an Interstate-quality highway to the Valley, Houghton said.

The region is the only metropolitan area in the state without direct access to an Interstate system.

“Immediately begin developing proposals to build an Interstate-quality highway to connect the Lower Rio Grande River Valley to I-37, including the consideration of new, separate lanes for commercial truck traffic,” the governor told TxDOT in a Dec. 9 letter to Richard F. Williamson, Texas Transportation Commission chairman.

© 2006 The Brownsville Herald


Bidding process for TTC-69 will be similar to TTC-35

State allows contractor bids for construction on I-69

April 11, 2006

Longview News-Journal
Copyright 2006

LUFKIN — State officials have taken the first formal action to allow for a private contractor to bid on handling the construction of the proposed Trans Texas Corridor-69, a thoroughfare that could bisect East Texas as part of a trade route connecting Canada with Mexico.

A time line was given in a joint press conference held Monday afternoon by Louis Bronaugh, Lufkin mayor and board member of Alliance for I-69 Texas; Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission; and John Thompson, Polk County judge and vice chairman of Alliance for I-69 Texas.

The bid process, not unlike highway construction, can be painfully slow, Williamson said.

"Twenty-years from now is not an unusual length (of time for a corridor to be built)," Williamson said.

The TTC-69 time line begins with the request for qualifications in which the Texas Department of Transportation publishes notice, which occurred with Monday's press conference, followed by a June 7, 2006, deadline for submissions. The short list of proposers will be selected by late July.

At that point, TxDOT will request detailed proposals, with the department allowing for industry review of the proposal before officially publishing it. This is expected to be done in the August/September time frame, Williamson said.

In November 2006, TxDOT will publish the official notice, and in February 2007, proposals will be due. The best value developer will be named by the commission in mid- to late 2007.

Then come the environmental studies, divided into two tiers. Tier 1 will be a broad analysis over the entire length to determine the final study area, with the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Study in late 2006 or early 2007. A record of the decision will come in late 2007. Tier 2 will include detailed alignment studies, likely numerous studies to cover different segments and modes.

"If someone came with a bid tomorrow, they'd have to wait," said Williamson, because everyone should be given a chance to give in their bids, and that could take six months.

"The environmental process typically takes five years for such projects," he said.

But for the first time, Williamson said, the federal government has permitted TxDOT to study the environmental impact on bits and pieces of the corridor which allows the process to be expedited. "If a developer is ready, then those sections can be built."

A press release from the TxDOT concurred with Williamson, stating, "If environmentally approved, the project would be developed as needed and as private sector resources are available."

City Councilman Jack Gorden, executive vice president of First Bank and Trust East Texas and a Lufkin mayoral candidate, wanted to know whether TxDOT was asking East Texans to pay for the connection between Canada and Mexico.

Williamson said the I-69 project was expected to be a toll road.

The interstate will be built by one developer but have different contractors, he said. "I'm guessing it would be between $7.5 and 10 billion." And 75 percent of this amount would have to come from a private partnership.

By asking for early proposals, he said, TxDOT is also hoping for the private partnership to pay for environmental studies.

"It is apparent to the Texas Transportation Commission that neither the federal government nor the state government has the resources to pay for I-69," Williamson said in the TxDOT press release. A private alternative is the best alternative to move forward on this project, he said.

The request for qualifications issued by TxDOT initiates a competitive, two-step selection process to develop a public-private partnership for I-69/TTC.

© 2006 Longview News-Journal


San Antonio's Free trade Alliance promotes Corridor to China

Mexican States Want Closer Ties with Far East

April 10, 2006

Frontera NorteSur
Copyright 2006

Mexican and U.S. officials and businessmen are stepping up contacts with China and other Asian nations in high-stakes bids to expand economic relations. Trade missions from Baja California, Chihuahua, Michoacan and Texas all have recently flown to meetings and tours in the emerging global economic powerhouses of the Far East.

Headed by Chihuahua Governor Jose Reyes Baeza, a state delegation of cabinet members, elected officials and university leaders journeyed to China late last month to strike new business, industrial and tourist agreements. Prior to the trip, Alejandro Cano Richaud, Chihuahua state secretary for industrial development, said Chihuahua representatives were interested in examining the Shanghai free trade zone, and exploring the possibility of having Chinese manufactured products finished in Ciudad Juarez before exporting them to the United States. "We don't see China as a competitor but as an ally," Cano said.

As a result of the trip, Chihuahua officials signed several academic, research and business development accords, including pledges to increase language-learning exchanges between Chinese and Mexican students.

In an almost simultaneous Asian tour, Baja California Governor Eugenio Elorduy Walther led a group of businessmen and state officials to China and South Korea for a round of dealmaking on investment and tourism. China has recently emerged as a hot, new source of tourists visiting Mexico. Gov. Elorduy announced that an unnamed South Korean company agreed to invest US$40 million in a new Baja California factory dedicated to the production of televisions and computers. The plant is expected to employ about 1,200 workers.

Not missing out on the trade tour circuit, members of the Free Trade Alliance from San Antonio, Texas, and officials from Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan, planned a joint China trip the first week of April to promote their emerging trade mega-corridor that stretches from the Pacific to the U.S. Midwest via the Kansas City Southern Railroad. In San Antonio, the old Kelly Air Force Base has been transformed into a transportation intermodal site to handle the anticipated upsurge in trade-driven traffic.

Geared up for a massive influx of Chinese imports, the port of Lazaro Cardenas is undergoing a US$200 million container ship facility uplift paid for by Hutchison Port Holdings. Hector Carranza, the port's business director, said the Michoacan coastal city is poised for expanded action. "We are ready. The port is ready," Carranza insisted. Given Lazaro Cardenas' new strategic importance, Mexican officials have reacted sharply to recent labor strife in the port, warning investors could be driven away.

Their eyes fixated on the expanding Chinese star, Mexican officials are now considering opening an eastern-oriented Pacific port in Baja California to help handle the burgeoning trade volume. Located about 150 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border, Punta Colonet is emerging as a possible super port. Carlos Jauregui, the executive director of the Port of Ensenada said construction of the port could begin in 2008 and be completed by 2012. Jauregui estimated the facility could cost about US$5 billion to build, including a rail link to the United States.

Sources: El Diario de Juarez, April 1 and 5, 2006. Articles by Gabriel Simental and the Notimex news agency. La Cronica (Mexicali), April 2, 2006. Articles by Edgar Lopez and editorial staff. Norte, March 28, 2006. Article by Hugo Hernandez Jauregui. Albuquerque Journal/Associated Press, April 6, 2006.

Frontera NorteSur (FNS)
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

© 2006 Frontera NorteSur


Monday, April 10, 2006

Feral Pigs to benefit from Gov. Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor

Creature features of the Trans-Texas Corridor

April 10, 2006

By Gordon Dickson
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

Many endangered or threatened species living in the Trans-Texas Corridor study area have colorful names.

So colorful, in fact, that opposing sides in the debate over whether to build the toll road may be tempted to use the creatures as political fodder.

Take the American burying beetle. According to an environmental study released last week by the Federal Highway Administration, the black bug with orange markings lives in trees and pastures along the proposed toll road path from Gainesville to Laredo. It digs holes to hide its food.

Cintra Zachry, the private team planning the $6 billion road, is familiar with burying -- having refused to disclose its financial plans, despite a pending open-records lawsuit.

But it would be unfair to insinuate that the beetle is involved.

To ensure that cooler heads prevail in the discussion, Brake Time offers a sample of other creatures on the Trans-Texas list, along with slightly embellished descriptions:

Paddlefish. This little fellow feeds off floating organisms in Texas ' large, flowing rivers. It won't be of much use to drivers who can't afford the tolls -- and find themselves up a creek.

Blue sucker. A fish known to live in channels and pools in 11 counties along the study area. No, Trans-Texas opponents, there is no proof that one of these is born every minute.

Texas kangaroo rat. This nocturnal critter eats seeds and plants mostly in North Texas . It should not be confused with the kangaroo court that may form if public opinion turns against Trans-Texas.

Golden-cheeked warbler. A songbird that migrates to Texas between March and July. It's not to be confused with partisans who warble the same old party line about toll roads -- either pro or con -- without thinking through the issues themselves.

Blowing smoke

Don MacKenzie , an engineer with the Massachusetts -based Union of Concerned Scientists, offered a gem of a quote while arguing in a news release that the federal government's new fuel efficiency requirements aren't tough enough.

'Fighting America's oil addiction with these standards,' he said, 'is like fighting lung cancer by smoking 49 cigarettes a day instead of 50.'

Come on, Don. You expect America to quit cold turkey?

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to "bank" land to mediate loss of habitat from massive corridor plans

ECO-WATCH: Houston & Texas


Chronicle research; Associated Press
Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2006

A $6 billion toll road that would connect North Texas to Laredo could potentially affect 2,400 acres of farmland, 46 endangered species and 13 square miles of parkland, according to a federal review released last week. The 10-mile-wide road, which is one segment of the multibillion-dollar Trans Texas Corridor, would be finished by 2015.

BANKING HABITAT. Two state agencies brokered a deal last week aimed at restoring ecologically important habitats in the face of highway development. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will identify land parcels and obtain the necessary permits for the property. Then, when the state Department or Transportation builds a highway that results in the loss of habitat, the land "banked" by the parks department can be used to offset the impacts.

© 2006 Houston Chronicle:


First part of TTC-69 would be built near cities

Port of Houston included in plans for new corridor

The statewide network's 2nd leg would run from North Texas to the Mexican border

April 10, 2006

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2006

Texas highway officials said Monday they are seeking proposals to build a leg of the Trans-Texas Corridor from North Texas to Mexico, with connections to the Port of Houston.

The route, designated I-69/TTC would be the second segment in what Gov. Rick Perry proposes as a statewide network of corridors, each up to 1,200 feet wide in places, with separate toll lanes for trucks and cars, tracks for freight and passenger rail and space for pipelines and power cables.

Contract for first corridor

In March 2005 Cintra-Zachry, a consortium led by construction firms in Spain and San Antonio, contracted with the Texas Department of Transportation to build the first corridor parallel to Interstate 35 through Central Texas, passing near Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and Laredo.

Harris County Judge Robert Eckels said the main corridor of I-69/TTC would pass west of the eight-county metro area so that through trucks would not aggravate ozone levels.

He said the port and corridor could be linked by spurs from Fort Bend and Brazoria counties to the west and from Liberty and Chambers counties to the east.

Steve Simmons, deputy executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, laid out a best-case timetable Monday at the Houston TranStar traffic control center.

"By late July or August we may have a short list of proposers," Simmons said. "Possibly by late October or November we will publish the actual detailed proposal we want them to move forward with. Around February 2007, we'll expect those proposers to come up with their concepts.

"Then we'll evaluate them again, and in late 2007 we'll actually select somebody to move forward with developing them, just as we did with TTC-35. It's a long process, but we have to take this first step now," Simmons said.

Built in pieces

Eckels said both of the corridors are likely to be developed in pieces, starting near cities and other high-traffic areas.

Texas Transportation Commissioner Johnny Johnson of Houston said local governments, toll road authorities and regional mobility authorities could submit proposals for I-69/TTC, along with private firms.

© 2006 Houston Chronicle:


"Don't expect any miracles."

Taming the beast that is I-35.

April 10, 2006

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

Interstate 35 is the elephant in the room of Central Texas transportation.

There it is out there in the middle, ponderous and slow-moving, clogging up everything. If you want to get from the hallway over to the bathroom on the other side, you just find a way to go around the elephant, even if you have to build another room (charging aunts and uncles a fee to walk through the add-on).

And while everyone talks about what a problem it is, no one has any firm ideas about how to get the beast moving.

That's about to change. The Austin district of the Texas Department of Transportation is about to start a $1 million study of the 8.5-mile stretch of I-35 between the new Texas 45 North toll road in Round Rock and U.S. 183 in North Austin. That suburban stretch, all of it with three express lanes in each direction and generally two frontage road lanes on each side, had anywhere from 160,000 to 225,000 vehicles a day on it in 2004, the latest count available.

It's unpleasant at rush hour, to say the least, and no bargain through the rest of the day. Some interchanges, such as the one at Parmer Lane, totally jam up during peak drive time. And there's no money sitting around right now to go out and add an express lane in each direction (the urban area south of U.S. 183 to Town Lake mostly has eight lanes).

But Terry McCoy, the state Transportation Department's North Austin area engineer, says there are some ways to shrink the elephant, as it were.

The frontage roads, interchanges at Parmer Lane, Grand Avenue Parkway and other intersecting roads, and the entrances and the exits were designed years ago based on the best assumptions engineers could make at the time.

But things change. Michael Dell builds some plants, Tech Ridge springs up, Pflugerville explodes, and suddenly the traffic is flowing in and out in patterns that don't necessarily work best with the old design.

That's what the study will look at, and the end product would involve moving frontage roads outward in anticipation of widening the expressway, tweaking bridge approaches and changing how people get on and off the highway. And it will meld I-35 with four flyover bridges planned on the south side of Texas 45 North and two on the north side of U.S. 183.

"How that's going to look in the end, I couldn't tell you for sure," McCoy said.

It could take one to two years for the study, which will produce a preliminary schematic of the changes, he said. Then there will be public meetings, an environmental report, final drawings and, he hopes, money to build it.

Starting sometime in 2007, there will also be a larger study of I-35 all the way through downtown Austin and south to the city limits.

"It's a hugely difficult place to work," McCoy said. "There's nothing you can do that's easy."

But engineers can devise some things that will help. Having too many entrance ramps, for example, significantly slows rush hour traffic.

Just don't expect any miracles. It's still an elephant.

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

© 2006 Austin American-Statesman:


Sunday, April 09, 2006

"Commissioner Williamson has no credibility on our lack of funds on transportation."

Corridor route plan irks North Texas

April 9, 2006

Tony Hartzel
Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

North Texas leaders now have a rough idea where the Trans-Texas Corridor probably will be built.

While the first part of the corridor won't open for at least 10 years, the political arguments and battles over its exact location can begin in earnest.

On Tuesday, state and federal transportation officials held a news conference at the Grand Hyatt DFW at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to announce an agreement that establishes the 10-mile-wide, 521-mile-long proposed corridor study area, which runs on or near much of Interstate 35.

Just a few minutes after – and just a few feet down the hall in another Grand Hyatt ballroom – some North Texas leaders gathered to denounce the proposed alignment.

They don't like it because it splits off from I-35 and runs too far east of Dallas.

A final 10-mile-wide study area will be announced in about a year, after dozens of public hearings beginning this summer.

Local leaders said the state did little to solicit their input on the route.

"Nobody asked for any input, really," said Dallas County Commissioner Ken Mayfield.
State officials said selection of the study area is an environmental process that takes into account many factors, including environmental hazards, wetlands that could be claimed, and developed property that would have to be bought.

As such, the state and environmental planners could not consider political concerns and released as much information as they could.

"We followed the rules and regulations of the federal government. The process that has been followed in the last year was as open and as transparent as the law and the regulations permit," said Ric Williamson, Texas Transportation Commission chairman.

They emphasized that local concerns will be a major factor in the next phase of the project, which will determine where specific toll roads, rail lines and utility lines will be built.

The battle over the corridor may just be beginning. Mr. Mayfield said he wants to talk with the new chairman of the state Senate's Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, John Carona, R-Dallas, about the corridor.

Mr. Mayfield and others also question how the state got to where it now says it needs $86 billion to meet its transportation needs by 2030.

They point out that Mr. Williamson served in the Legislature in the 1980s, when lawmakers began taking gas tax revenue that was dedicated to building highways and using it for things like the Department of Public Safety and public education.

Those gas tax diversions are a sore point for local leaders trying to get more money for transportation without having to place tolls on many new highway projects.

"Commissioner Williamson has no credibility on our lack of funds on transportation. He was one of those who made the decision to divert transportation funds away from transportation," Mr. Mayfield said.

Mr. Williamson was prepared when the subject came up at the state's announcement last week.
The state is billions of dollars short for several reasons, he said: Texas lost an estimated $7 billion because it hasn't received a fair reimbursement on federal gas tax revenue it sends to Washington; it lost $10 billion from diverting state gas tax revenue; and its maintenance costs for all the highways built in the 1950s and 1960s grew more than expected, while gas tax rates remained relatively flat.

"I don't think anyone stopped and thought about the maintenance costs of the National Highway System," he said.

Tony Hartzel can be reached at and at P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, Texas 75265.

© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co


Private developers sought for the second Trans-Texas Corridor

TxDOT seeks proposals on making I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor Monday

April 09, 2006

The Lufkin Daily News
Copyright 2006

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and local officials on Monday are planning to take the second step on the long road to construction of Interstate 69: officially request proposals from the private sector to develop the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor.

Earlier this year, to accelerate the development of I-69/TTC, the Texas Transportation Commission authorized staff to initiate a competitive, two-step selection process for a private sector partner that may finance, design, construct, operate and maintain the project, a TxDOT press release said.

Lufkin Mayor Louis Bronaugh said though TxDOT has asked for local contractors to form a partnership, "I don't know when the project will start. It can't start until funds are available."

He said the process to starting the project begins with asking for a partnership with private contractors. "This process is starting Monday. And then we sit back and watch it unfold."

Bronaugh said he is known as the grandfather of I-69 among TxDOT officials because he has been pushing for this project since 1991.

"But it cannot start until we have crossed the 't's and dotted the 'i's ... plans are laid out, drawn out. It could be 20 or 25 years until it actually begins."

I-69 is being developed under the Trans-Texas Corridor master plan, the release said. The proposed project is approximately 600 miles long and extends from Northeast Texas to Mexico, it said.

However, at this point in time, the plans have not been laid out, the route has not been determined and the cost has not been estimated.

Bronaugh said TxDOT officials are requesting requesting proposals from the private sector before a cost or route is estimated or drawn because "the contractors will design and pinpoint the route. They will select the most economic route. We don't want to relocate schools and cemeteries and elevate areas."

I-69 would eventually include separate lanes for cars and trucks, several rail lines and a utility corridor, the release said.

Currently, the initial environmental process for I-69/TTC is underway with the goal of narrowing the study area to approximately four miles wide, it said. Additional studies will be needed to identify a final route for the project, it said.

"The process is so slow and so frustrating," Bronaugh said.

Hina Alam's e-mail address is

© 2006 The Lufkin Daily News: