Friday, April 28, 2006

The Rio Grande Valley wants an interstate. Perry offers a toll road.

State seeks alternatives for Valley interstate

April 28, 2006

The Associated Press
Copyright 2006

BROWNSVILLE - News of a possible Panama Canal expansion makes the Rio Grande Valley's quest for interstate highway access even more important, state Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson told a crowd of South Texas officials pleading Thursday for the interstate.

President Martin Torrijos of Panama on Monday urged Panamanians to support a $5.25 billion expansion that could increase cargo ship traffic and the need for new or expanded ports.

Rio Grande Valley leaders see the port of Brownsville as both a key Gulf of Mexico port and a destination for goods coming across Mexico from expanded Pacific Coast ports taking traffic from clogged-up California. From Brownsville, goods could then be shipped by truck or rail across the nation.

"In light of the Panama Canal announcement, we need to be moving things very quickly," Williamson said. "We don't want companies that might help build this road moving to Biloxi, Mississippi."

With hopes dashed last year for a federally funded interstate for the Rio Grande Valley, state and local transportation officials have been looking at ways to end the Valley's distinction of being the only metropolitan region of its population - 1.2 million - to lack access to an interstate highway.

Officials haven't ruled out Gov. Rick Perry's "Trans-Texas Corridor 69," a proposal that would rely on private sector design and funding. The alignment for TTC-69 is not yet clear.

But with realization of that proposal likely years away, Perry in December asked officials to research upgrading existing roadways to interstate standards. That means no traffic slowdowns through towns and connection with an existing interstate.

Interstate 37, which now ends at Corpus Christi, could be linked with an upgraded U.S. 77 to Harlingen and Brownsville on the Valley's eastern end. U.S. 281, which links to McAllen on the Valley's western end, also connects to Interstate 37 and could be brought to interstate standards.

Texas Department of Transportation engineer Amadeo Saenz told commissioners that the U.S. 77 upgrades would cost about $640 million and the U.S. 281 upgrades between $840 million and $850 million.

He said a toll lane for overweight trucks could be a unique feature that could offset those construction costs because truckers coming from Mexico and the Valley would pay to be able to double loads.

Dennis Burleson, a financial consultant for A.G. Edwards in McAllen, said the two traffic signals along U.S. 77 and three signals along U.S. 281 could be replaced with ramps for about $250 million.

"As long as trucker doesn't have to come to a traffic signal, I don't think they care whether there's an "I" on it or not," he said.

Thursday's Texas Department of Transportation meeting was the first in the Valley since 1997. It attracted about 200 people, including mayors from Corpus Christi and Brownsville.

The officials universally want an interstate, and at least a dozen communities presented commissioners with resolutions in support. The city of Harlingen offered $2.5 million over 10 years for the project.

Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa said that the Valley's seaports, airports, population growth, and numerous international bridges with Mexico made an interstate crucial.

"Everything is set up to connect to an interstate system that will benefit Texas and the rest of the United States," he said.

© 2006 The Associated Press:


"I haven’t seen anything about this project done the 'right way,' from its midnight approval through discussing routes in secret."


Toll highway pitfalls

April 28, 2006

Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2006

To State Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, who says of the Trans-Texas Corridor [April 12, Page 1] “they need to do it the right way”: Well, Sir, I haven’t seen anything about this project done the “right way,” from its midnight approval through discussing routes in secret.

I want to toss at state officials just one probability that will happen with this project:

When TTC-35 is constructed and long-term managed by this foreign company, and the toll lanes are open, there will be an ongoing revenue evaluation for profitability.

Let’s suppose it will cost you $20 to $30 to travel from Waco to Austin, but you decide to travel Interstate 35 for no toll. This foreign company will complain to our elected officials until I-35 will become under its long-term management and become a toll road for profit as well.

Our great state, with the best land and highways, will become hijacked for profit because this “was just a vague concept and not something to oppose” as stated by Sen. Averitt.

Wow. Define “vague” now, Senator. How vague is it now to almost a million Texans whose residences, school districts, businesses and farms lie in the pathway of this “concept”?

© 2006 The Waco Tribune-Herald


More circular reasoning

N. Texas pushes big loop option


Gordon Dixon
Fort worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

North Texas leaders want a giant outer loop around the Metroplex for cars, trucks and trains, rather than allowing the state to build a toll road bypassing the area.

The proposed loop could be about 200 miles long — nearly triple the length of the Capital Beltway in Washington — based upon conceptual drawings by the North Central Texas Council of Governments. Motorists who use the loop would likely pay tolls.

It’s being pitched by North Texas leaders as an alternative to the Trans-Texas Corridor, a privately funded toll road that, according to preliminary plans, would steer automobile traffic well east or west of the Metroplex. Area leaders worry that such a bypass would pull jobs away from the urban core and into the countryside.

Tarrant County politicians and business leaders, who until now have been careful not to speak too critically of Trans-Texas, say they are ready to conduct a vocal campaign against the plans unless changes are made that reflect the local preference for a mega-loop. The change came earlier this month, after state officials unveiled drawings still showing that Trans-Texas route as a Dallas-Fort Worth bypass.

“We don’t want to leapfrog undeveloped areas and create pockets of problems,” Tarrant County Commissioner Glen Whitley said. “That’s just not acceptable, and not worth it to us. We want to be organized in our growth.”

The proposed loop would wrap around Fort Worth, Dallas, Denton, Mansfield and more than 100 other cities in Tarrant, Wise, Denton, Collin and Dallas counties. It would tie into existing roads.

As for Trans-Texas, the Texas Department of Transportation will conduct more than 50 public hearings statewide this summer, so residents can learn about the plan to criss-cross the state with toll roads and high-speed rail lines. The most likely scenario is that Trans-Texas would be built east of the Metroplex, although an alternate route west of the area is still an option.

There is still time to change the Trans-Texas study area and bring the toll roads closer to the heart of the Metroplex, Transportation Department spokeswoman Gabriela Garcia said.

“Right now, the question is, how do you connect Oklahoma to Mexico,” Garcia said, adding that the first of a two-tier environmental study will continue through mid-2007. “We really want to connect to the city centers. We just can’t do it yet. Patience at this point is still key. Give us time to get through tier one and answer all those questions, and then we’ll work on ... the justification for moving it further north or south.”

An outer loop isn’t really a new idea. Plans to build a Loop 9 around the greater Dallas area go back to the 1950s and are still in the region’s long-term plans.

But until now, planners didn’t think that another circular road would be needed until the mid-21st century.

That began to change four years ago with Trans-Texas, Gov. Rick Perry’s plan to criss-cross the state with a network of superwide toll roads, rail lines and utility corridors.

The first component of Trans-Texas, a $6 billion leg from San Antonio to North Texas, is being planned by private consortium Cintra Zachry.

North Texas is no stranger to loops. In Tarrant County, there is Loop 820. In the Dallas area, there’s Loop 12, LBJ Freeway and the President George Bush Turnpike.

Each was added as the Metroplex grew outward.

Not unlike an arborist determines a tree’s age by counting the rings in its trunk, a motorist can learn about a region’s traffic history by observing its highway loops.

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


"I'm not going to let you steal this from the Boy Scouts."

Boy Scouts in land war


F.A. Krift
The Beaumont Enterprise
Copyright 2006

A pipeline company's eminent domain power is testing Boy Scout law to be courteous and kind.

Springfield Pipeline LLC filed a condemnation petition Tuesday in Tyler County District Court to seize land for extending a pipeline through Camp Urland, a 715-acre Boy Scouts of America campground about two miles south of Woodville.

The lawsuit charges Three Rivers Council, the Southeast Texas governing body for Boy Scouts of America, with not agreeing to the land's fair market value price. However, Craig Sherlock, a Three Rivers Council board member, said the pipeline company offered one-fifth the typical price.

"I said, 'I'm not going to let you steal this from the Boy Scouts. You're a big, rich oil company. You can afford to pay what everybody else pays," Sherlock said.

He said Springfield offered about $27,500 for land that was worth as much as $137,900.

Springfield's lawsuit claims a "bona fide" effort was made to reach an agreement. After months of negotiations, the only option was petitioning for condemnation, said Teresa Wong, manager of public affairs for Anadarko Petroleum Corp. Springfield is a subsidiary.

Wong said an offer considerably more than the appraised value was made, but Three Rivers disagreed and made an unreasonable counter-offer.

"We realize that Boys Scouts have a unique piece of land and they are not a typical landowner," Wong said. "We believe in what they are trying to do and want to work for them ... At the same time, we believe it is a good route and a safe route for the pipeline."

The nearly mile-long easement and right-of-way through Camp Urland property will seize about 3.1 acres. The 8-inch-wide pipeline, buried at a minimum of 3 feet, will run through a 30-foot-wide permanent easement taken from the Three Rivers Council, which oversees Camp Urland operations, according to the petition. Furthermore, a 50-by-50-foot temporary work area will be used to establish the pipeline.

Springfield, a wholly owned subsidiary of Woodlands-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp., is listed by the Texas Railroad Commission as a "gas utility," and it is a common carrier, transporting natural gas for a fee, said spokeswoman Ramona Nye.

Because of the status, Springfield is given eminent domain capability. That means it can negotiate with private landowners for right-of-way on which to build new pipeline.

If the company and a landowner cannot reach an agreement on fair market value, Springfield is allowed to initiate a condemnation lawsuit, which causes the commissioners court of a county - or a county court-at-law in the county - to determine appropriateness of the condemnation and the property's fair market value.

Wong said the basic goal of any pipeline company is to build the straightest route because it is the most economical. The route taken actually follows a property line instead of running right through the camp, although Sherlock claimed the company's route ran right through Camp Urland.

Deep in East Texas' Piney Woods thicket, Camp Urland provides year-round camping where Boy Scouts earn merit badges for archery, camping, basketry and crime prevention.

Sherlock said the campsite provides an outdoor retreat for about 6,000 boys from nearly 10 counties. The proposed pipeline route runs adjacent to campsites and near camp improvement projects, he said.

"They're not going to allow any trees or bushes (around the easement), and they're going to cause damage to surrounding trees," Sherlock said. "It's very pristine. We don't have any pipelines there. You've probably got parents up there that are going to be concerned about their kids being around a pipeline."

(409) 880-0728

© 2006 The Beaumont Enterprise


Thursday, April 27, 2006

A primer on the corruption of eminent domain in the U.S. and the Republic of Texas

TSCRA Members Hear Background On Eminent Domain Controversy


By Colleen Schreiber
Livestock Weekly
Copyright 2006

SAN ANTONIO — The June 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision commonly known as the Kelo case sparked a firestorm across the country which brought the issue of eminent domain front and center.

Austin-based attorney Trey Blocker, an associate with Jackson Walker, told participants in a legal seminar held in conjunction with the annual Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers’ convention here that the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision shouldn’t really come as a surprise.

“It’s simply an affirmation of how the use of eminent domain has evolved over the years,” Blocker said.

In his overview presentation of the federal and state laws pertaining to eminent domain, he reminded TSCRA members that eminent domain is an inherent power of the government. However, how that inherent power may be used is clearly defined both in the U.S. Constitution as well as in the Texas Constitution. The state constitution in Article 1 Section 17 says, “No person’s property shall be taken, damaged or destroyed for or applied to public use without adequate compensation.”

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution deals with eminent domain. It says, “No person shall be ... deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The term “eminent domain,” Blocker noted, is derived from the Latin phrase dominum eminens, which means “supreme Lordship.”

“The residents of New London certainly got a taste of this supreme Lordship.”

On June 23, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court held in the Kelo v. City of New London that governmental entities can condemn private property and transfer it to a private interest for economic development purposes.

“Basically, what the court said was someone can take your property and give it to someone else who can generate more tax revenue than what you were generating, so long as just compensation is paid.”

The city of New London had been experiencing economic decline for decades. In 1990 a state agency declared the city to be a distressed municipality. Then in 1996 the naval base outside New London was shut down, and by 1998 the city’s unemployment rate was double that of the rest of the state.

In an effort to reverse the economic decline, the city activated the New London Development Corporation. The group was tasked with setting up a revitalization plan for the area. The ultimate plan focused on about 90 acres of the Fort Trumbull area, Blocker said. Within those 90 acres were 115 privately owned properties and another 32 acres around the former naval facility. The city authorized the NLDC to acquire property for the revitalization plan and delegated to it the power of eminent domain.

“At no point did the city allege that the area was blighted or otherwise in poor condition, which is oftentimes a prerequisite under urban renewal plans,” Blocker pointed out. “Its stated goals were to create jobs, generate tax revenues to make the city more attractive, and to create recreational and leisure areas along the waterfront.”

The vast majority of land acquired by the corporation was acquired through negotiation with landowners. Nine of the landowners, however, refused to sell. Among those nine was Susette Kelo. She objected to the taking of her property, arguing that it was not sought for a public use as required under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Oral arguments were heard in February 2005 and the Supreme Court issued its decision in June of that year.

“The court, in its opinion, stated that it had long ago rejected ‘any literal requirement that condemned property be put into use for the general public.’

“In fact, in the mid-19th century the Court embraced the broader and more natural interpretation of public use as ‘public purpose.’

“The lesson I take away from this is that when the Supreme Court doesn’t like a word in the Constitution they simply change that word,” Blocker told listeners. “That’s what they’ve done here.”

Much deference, he noted, has been given to the government’s definition of what is and isn’t a “public” use. He cited a 1984 Supreme Court case, Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff, as an example.

“I was shocked when I came across this case,” Blocker commented.

In the 1960s it was pointed out that the state and federal governments owned almost 50 percent of the land in Hawaii. Another 47 percent was owned by 72 private landowners. The legislature concluded that such concentrated land ownership “skewed the state’s residential fee simple market, inflated land prices, and injured the public tranquility and welfare.”

“To remedy these problems, the legislature passed a law that said if you are leasing or renting property from one of these 72 landowners, you can request that the Hawaii Housing Authority condemn the property and sell it to you,” Blocker said. “Additionally, the housing authority would lend them the money to buy the property.”

In its 1984 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court said it “would not substitute its judgment for a legislature’s judgment as to what constitutes a public use unless that use is palpably without reasonable foundation.”

The Court concluded that the Hawaiian law was constitutional. The court said the act “presumes that when a sufficiently large number of persons declare that they are willing but unable to buy lots at a fair price, the land market is malfunctioning.” Thus condemning this property “is a comprehensive and rational approach to identifying and correcting market failure.”

“I don’t think Joseph Stalin died. He just got tired of the cold weather and moved to Hawaii,” Blocker quipped.

“One thing that is abundantly clear to me is that these justices must have been absent in high school economics class when they taught the concept of a willing buyer and a willing seller.”

Dissenting in the Kelo case were Justices O’Conner, Scalia, Thomas, and Chief Justice Rehnquist. Justice O’Conner, in her dissent, noted that “the specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.”

“What’s interesting about this quote in Justice O’Conner’s dissent is that she wrote the majority opinion in the Midkiff decision in 1984,” Blocker told listeners. “I guess we should be happy that she saw the light and decided property rights were worth protecting.”

Blocker shifted his attention from the federal level to what’s happening in Texas specific to eminent domain. He told listeners that the progression of the eminent domain law in Texas almost mirrors the federal law.

“For at least the past 25 years, cities in Texas have had the same authority that the city of New London had to condemn for economic purposes,” he told TSCRA members. “Most people weren’t aware that this existed on the books.”

It didn’t start out that way, however. For more than 50 years the state followed and enforced a strict interpretation of the laws pertaining to eminent domain. He talked about the 1905 Borden v. Trespalacious Rice & Irrigation Co. case in which the Texas Supreme Court issued an opinion that property is taken for a public use “only when there results to the public some definite right or use in the business or undertaking to which the property is devoted.”

“For most of us that means projects such as roads, railroads, public buildings, city halls, jails, libraries or common carriers for transporting gas, electricity and water, etc.”

Beginning in 1957 the Texas Supreme Court seemed inclined to expand its interpretation of what constitutes public use.

“In 1957 the State took a major step closer to condemnation of private property for economic development when it passed the Texas Urban Renewal Act of 1957,” Blocker opined. “This law permits blighted and slum areas to be condemned by cities and turned over to private interests for development.”

There are those who argue that this law has led to revitalized inner cities and increased economic prosperity. Others contend that the law has only served to force out low income residents and profitable small businesses.

He pointed to an example in San Antonio where a federal housing project just south of the convention center was in very poor condition with a high crime rate. The City of San Antonio, with state and federal assistance, demolished the federal housing project and replaced it with a newer, more modern complex.

“I don’t know this for a fact, but I would suspect they could not have done that without the power of eminent domain. So the law cuts both ways. Sometimes it may be deemed a necessary evil, other times it might be used for a good purpose, and still other times it might be abused.”

In 1979 the state legislature passed the Economic Development Act, which allows cities to create economic development corporations that can exercise the power of eminent domain for economic development purposes. And, in 1994, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, he noted, upheld the city of Arlington’s condemnation of homes and businesses to build a parking lot and office complex for the Texas Rangers baseball team.

Currently the city of Freeport is condemning 50 year-old Western Seafood Company to build a multi-million-dollar arena for private use.

Blocker concluded his remarks with an overview of Texas’ Senate Bill 7, enacted in the second special session in the fall of 2005.

“The bill prohibits any entity, governmental or private, from taking property through eminent domain if the taking confers a private benefit on a particular private party, is for public use that is merely a pretext to confer a private benefit on a particular private party, or is for economic development purposes, unless the economic development is a secondary purpose resulting from an urban renewal project.

“If it makes sense to you, then I think Jackson Walker may look to hire you, because it doesn’t make any sense to me,” he told listeners.

Various exceptions were added to the bill in the form of amendments, Blocker noted. The exceptions included such things as transportation projects, water supply projects, public buildings, hospitals, parks, waste disposal projects, libraries, museums and the like. In addition, an exception was made to allow the city of Arlington to condemn property to build a new stadium for the Dallas Cowboys.

Some senators insisted that language be included which required an interim study so good law could be developed.

“One thing can be certain — come next session in 2007 several bills will be filed, and we’ll be chasing them around to make sure that good law does come forth.”

He noted that statutes can be changed by a simple majority of each chamber of the legislature, but if real reform is the goal, a constitutional amendment might be needed.

“Even at that, this subject probably won’t be settled without years and years of litigation and interpretation by the courts, which brought us here in the first place,” Blocker pointed out.

He made a plea for TSCRA members to be cognizant of who the TSCRA political action committee supports in various judicial races.

“The thought may have crossed your mind a time or two as to why this organization would want to get involved in these judicial races. The Kelo decision is a prime example of why that is important, because no matter how well you draft a statute, no matter how well you draft a constitutional amendment, it’s always going to be subject to the interpretation of the court, and because of that it’s important that we get to know our judges and that we elect qualified judges who are going to respect property rights,” he concluded.

© 2006 Livestock Weekly:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Corruption we can see from space."

Quote of the Day

Chris Bell
Democratic Candidate for Governor

Rick Perry’s idea for rural Texas is to take a half million acres off the school district tax rolls just to benefit the roadbuilders who’ve written the big campaign checks.

Did you know that in some places the Trans-Texas Corridor will be wider than the Amazon River?

This is corruption we can see from space.

The Trans-Texas Corridor isn’t New Mainstream, folks.

It’s just the same old corruption dressed up in a three-piece suit.

© 2006 Chris Bell for Governor Committee


"This is the wrong road being built and forced on citizens for the wrong reasons."

Kudos for Chubb

Subject: Trans-Texas Corridor

April 27, 2006

The Cameron Herald
Copyright 2006

I am writing to thank staff writer Curtis Chubb for his story on the Trans-Texas Corridor regarding the release of the Environmental Impact Study last week by TxDOT. My concern is that the caption, "TTC Misses Milam" may be misleading. It's true that Milam does not fall within the preferred route shown. But, the effects of this highway as proposed will impact our entire state and should not be taken lightly.

I'm a Thorndale High School Class of '70 graduate and a resident of Davilla. I'm also a board member of the Blackland Coalition. The Coalition was formed by local residents in and around the Bell County area as a way to help educate and inform Texans about the TTC. Our continued research shows that this is the wrong road being built and forced on citizens for the wrong reasons.

When HB3588 was passed into legislation, most of us were so busy with our daily lives that we didn't realize all that was entailed in the bill. Unfortunately our legislators failed to fully understand the bill either and many didn't quite understand the sweeping powers given to the Regional Mobility Authority.

We had no idea that under camouflage of transportation needs, a deal would be made with a foreign company (Cintra) to create a plan to divide our entire state.

When the Dubai World port deal surfaced American's were outraged and it was ultimately placed on hold. Now Texas legislators have authorized turning over control of a major portion of our transportation infrastructure to a Spanish company for the next fifty years. Many residents are still standing by idly and allowing it to happen.

Residents should thank the Thorndale City Council and Milam County Commissioners for signing a resolution against the TTC. They realize that this plan is not the answer to addressing our transportation needs.

My concern is now that Milam is not in the direct path, folks will feel like they can sit back with a sigh of relief and not address the damage which will be done by the construction of this monstrous road. Those Texans in the direct path will continue to fight the battle against this huge tax burden and protect the lands our forefathers fought for.

So my plea goes out to you as editor, your staff writers and to every voting citizen in Milam County. Continue to stay informed of the progress of this wrong road. Attend the public hearings and voice your opinions, ask questions and hold our elected officials accountable.

The TTC may be Rick Perry's "dream" but unless we pull together as Texans and fight it may very well turn into our nightmare.

Cindy (Helbert) Miller


Copyright © 2006 The Cameron Herald


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"The U.S. market has lots of potential."

Cintra 1st-Qtr Profit Climbs 79% as Traffic Increases (Update2)

April 26, 2006
Copyright 2006

Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte SA, which operates toll roads in countries including the U.S. and Canada, said first-quarter profit jumped 79 percent as traffic increased and it posted a gain from the sale of a stake in a Spanish highway.

Net income was 5.6 million euros ($6.95 million) compared with 3.1 million euros a year earlier, Madrid-based Cintra said today. Revenue rose 24 percent to 185 million euros after it added roads in Chicago and Ireland.

Cintra, controlled by Spanish builder Grupo Ferrovial SA, is expanding in North America where it already runs the 407-ETR highway in Toronto and has projects in Chicago and Texas. The company gets about 68 percent of its revenue outside Spain.

``The U.S. market has lots of potential,'' Enrique Fuentes, Cintra's director of corporate development, said in a conference call. ``It's a market that is slowly developing.''

Shares of Cintra have gained 11 percent this year, valuing the company at 5.33 billion euros. They rose 1 cent, or 0.1 percent, to 10.86 euros as of 12:44 p.m. in Madrid.

``Cintra released a broadly positive set of results, with foreign exchange appreciation against the euro netting a significant positive effect,'' Banco BPI SA analysts Bruno Almeida da Silva and Flora Trindade said in an e-mailed statement.

407-ETR Highway

The 407-ETR highway contributed 39 percent of total sales. The appreciation of the U.S. dollar, Canadian dollar and the Chile's peso currency against the euro, as well as an increase in 407-ETR tolls, also helped lift revenue, Cintra said.

The company posted a gain of 9.7 million euros from the sale of a 1.49 percent stake in the Europistas highway in northern Spain. Cintra's debt increased to 7.74 billion euros at the end of the first quarter from 7.71 billion euros at the end of December.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization rose 24 percent to 120 million euros in the first quarter. Sales at the car parking unit rose 17 percent to 31 million euros, the company said.

Cintra is interested in 40 projects in countries such as the U.S., representing total investment of 41 billion euros, and is under consideration for nine of those projects. The company is competing for the Ionian Road in Greece and the Malaga-Las Pedrizas road in southern Spain. It expects a winner or winners to be picked for the two projects this year.

Earlier this year, Cintra won a bid for the Indiana Toll Road after offering $3.85 billion with Macquarie Infrastructure Group. Competitors for this project included Spanish rival Abertis Infraestructuras SA, which this week agreed to buy Italy's Autostrade SpA for 12 billion euros in stock to form the world's biggest highway operator.

``I don't think this merger should change at all the competition landscape in our target market,'' Cintra's Fuentes said today.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Joao Lima in Madrid at

Last Updated: April 26, 2006 06:48 EDT

© 2006 Bloomberg L.P.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"TxDOT is cocking their guns."

Proposed Dallas County Toll Roads Debated

Apr 25, 2006
CBS 11 News, Dallas
Copyright 2006

When it comes to building new highways in north Texas, Dallas County Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield believes the state has the county backed into a corner.

Because the state doesn't have enough money, any new roads will have to be toll roads, and Mayfield says the state is demanding private firms build them... against the county's wishes.

"TxDOT is cocking their gun and they're saying 'you gotta maximize the revenue out of here or we're not going to approve your projects' we're not going to give you funds for that," Mayfield said.

A TxDOT spokesman agrees. The state favors private firms over the North Texas Tollway Authority because a private firm can pay the state millions of dollars up front for the right to build the toll roads.

The Tollway Authority can only pay the state back over many years.

"I'm not going to cave in," Mayfield said.

Commissioners say the problem is fairness.

While other counties in the region would receive extra money back from the private firms operating the new toll roads, Dallas County residents don't get that now from their existing toll roads.

All of the money stays with the Tollway Authority and is used to build toll roads in other counties.

Commissioner Mike Cantrell says, ""It does put our area at a disadvantage... it does form an inequity."

To be fair, commissioners want the Tollway Authority to give Dallas County back some of the toll revenues.

(CBS 11 News)

© 2006 CBS Stations Group of Texas


County Commissioners ask Transportation Commission to use every effort possible to use existing roadways for TTC-69

Use existing rights of way for I-69 route, officials urge

April 25, 2006

The Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2006

In an effort to encourage state road-builders to claim as few privately owned acres as possible for the proposed I-69 trade route through Victoria County, commissioners on Monday passed a resolution in favor of using existing rights of way for the new highway.

The resolution, which will be sent to the Texas Transportation Commission, asks that every effort be made to use the existing roadways "and not create new parallel corridors in the rural areas of Victoria County."

County Judge Don Pozzi said county and area residents attending a meeting in Victoria last month with state highway department officials delivered a clear message: "If there were to be any expansion, certainly (the residents') preference would be along the existing U.S. 59 and U.S. 77 roadways."

Pozzi said use of existing highways would "prevent the needless taking of private property" from areas other than those along the existing highways.

The judge said county officials understand that some private lands now bordering the highway routes would likely have to be taken for an expansion. "We recognize that there'd be some of that," he said.

The commissioners' resolution supports I-69 because the trade route would "help safely move people and commerce across our state and help improve economic development opportunities for our area."

The judge said he concurred with a letter sent to him by Victoria resident Bill Jones, who wrote that he sees the resolution as in no way supporting the Trans-Texas Corridor, but only as a signal to road developers and residents that the county is serious about protecting rural interests.

The I-69 project is a proposed eight-state highway and trade route that would cross Victoria County while connecting Mexico, the United States and Canada.

A version of the I-69 plan has been incorporated into the newer proposed Trans-Texas Corridor superhighway, which would feature separate truck and passenger car lanes, rail lines and various utility rights of way.

Pozzi said the I-69 concept was developed years ago and many different versions of the trade route have been promulgated - "Some good and some bad."

In other action:

• Commissioners approved a proposal from Wakefield Bridge Construction of Wharton County, which will be hired to build a new county bridge southeast of Fordtran.

Wakefield will be paid $98,500 to build the new bridge on J-2 Ranch Road at Wagner Flats to replace an often-flooded, low-lying bridge.

• Pozzi said the county's ban on open burning enacted in late December will continue. Rain during the past week reduced the drought index about a dozen points to 652, he said. But the ban is scheduled to remain in effect as long as the drought index, a gauge of dryness and fire danger in the county's fields, remains above 500.

"It's still very dangerous," Pozzi said.

• In honor of the work done by the local soil and water conservation district, a resolution proclaiming this week as Soil and Water Stewardship Week in Victoria County was approved by commissioners.

• Commissioners approved a resolution in support of a grant application seeking state funds for a "Click it or Ticket" program in Victoria County over the coming Memorial Day holiday period, May 22-June 4. The program is designed to increase seat belt use among drivers.

• This week was proclaimed as County Government Week in recognition of the leadership and services provided by county government. Monday's activities included a group of students from Memorial High School and St. Joseph High School "shadowing" elected officials and department heads to learn more about county government.

Other activities include: Today, county officials will address students in selected high school classrooms; Thursday, volunteer fire departments will visit area schools; Friday, a county employee appreciation luncheon will be held at 11:30 a.m. in DeLeon Plaza.

• Donald Day, Rex Easley Jr., and Ernest Zuniga were reappointed to the board of directors of Citizens Medical Center.

• Milton Greeson Jr. was reappointed as a member of the Victoria County Airport Commission.

• County commissioners voted to terminate their contract with McLemore Building Maintenance for janitorial services at the Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center. The work will be done in the future by a full-time, three-person county crew. "It will save us dollars in the long run, probably about $5,000-6,000 per year," said Pozzi.

• Commissioners thanked Advocate reporter Greg Bowen for his work covering county government since 1999. Bowen has taken a position with an Austin public relations firm and will be leaving the Advocate at week's end. "He has always been accurate and fair," said Commissioner Jerry Nobles.

© 2006 The Victoria Advocate:


Sunday, April 23, 2006

High gas prices drag down toll revenues

Fuel prices, storm blamed for toll revenue dip

N.J. Turnpike Authority reports lower revenue for its two highways


By Larry Higgs
Asbury Park Press
Copyright 2006

Climbing gasoline prices and a winter storm at the start of 2005 caused traffic and revenues on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike to dip last year, officials of the toll roads say.

"Toll revenues are down $5 million," said Michael Lapolla, executive director of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which oversees the two highways. "Last year we had a bad snowstorm early in the year and minor traffic-diversion issues with construction at the Driscoll Bridge, and the state opened the (reconstructed) Victory Bridge."

But the sucker punch was delivered by two devastating hurricanes, Katrina and Rita.

"Since gas prices went up after Hurricane Katrina, it had a definite impact on both roads and continues to have an impact," Lapolla said. "If people have an alternative to going on toll roads, they'll take it."

Parkway toll revenues dipped by $5 million between Dec. 31, 2004, and Dec. 31, 2005, from $208 million to $203 million, according to an authority report. While 601 million passenger vehicles used the parkway in 2004, that number dropped to 496 million in 2005.

Toll revenues are sensitive to weather, and one significant storm can depress earnings by 1 percent because people are not driving, Lapolla said. Although the number of people taking the Parkway to work remains constant, the revenue drop can be attributed to reductions in discretionary driving.

Many of the drivers interviewed at the Parkway service area in Wall said they have no alternative to taking the toll road to work.

"It's the most direct route," said Stephen Holld of Spring Lake. "Using a local road is more stop and go."

James Golden of Little Silver said he uses a toll-free section of Parkway to go to work and makes the return trip home on local roads to avoid the expense.

"When I had a long commute, I had no choice. Now, I get on at (exit) 105, go five miles and get off at 100," Golden said. "On the way home I take local roads and don't pay a toll."

Christine Boyle of Stafford, who also finds herself compelled to drive on the Parkway, said she compensates for rising gasoline prices by shopping around and avoiding higher-priced brands of gas.

"I don't have a choice. I have to take toll roads," said Boyle, who commutes to Newark and Bergen County.

Even discretionary drivers, such as Dr. Lloyd Ross of Ridgewood, said the Parkway is the better choice for a direct and faster trip than local highways to his summer house in Barnegat.

"I can come down the Parkway or Route 9," he said.

With the price of some grades of gas around $3 per gallon, Lapolla said he expects traffic to be off this year. Gasoline prices will be the wild card in revenue growth from tolls.

"What you'll see this year is revenue will grow a little, but it will not grow as much," he said.

That wasn't the case on the Turnpike, where the number of passenger cars was up slightly by 514,007 vehicles from 214,095,494 in 2004. But 304,745 more tractor-trailer trucks and 170,950 more buses used the big highway in 2005.

"Trucks are the main source of revenue on the Turnpike, and truck traffic was up," Lapolla said.

Other factors also depressed earnings for the authority. They include the cost of voluntary separation agreements that offered veteran toll collectors and other workers half a year's salary for leaving, and one-time gains from refinancing debt in 2004.

Total revenues dipped from $829,255,596 in 2004 to $812,242,729 in 2005.

Several factors caused that, said Joe Orlando, Turnpike Authority spokesman.

The authority did not have a $31 million fiscal shot in the arm last year, which it got in 2004 from refinancing its debt

"We did a debt restructuring, so we don't have to pay as much," Lapolla said. "It's like refinancing your house. We got a $31 million benefit in '04, but it was a one-shot deal."

A severance package of half a year's salary offered to employees with 15 years of service or more who retired cost the authority $2.9 million, which was charged to the cost of toll collections, Orlando said. In 2005, $81.3 million was budgeted for toll collection, up from $78.3 million in 2004. That figure doesn't include E-ZPass toll collection costs.

Of the 140 workers who took the severance offer, 60 were toll collectors, and a total of 100 jobs were eliminated, Orlando said. That should bring a $6.8 million annual savings, according to the 2006 Turnpike Authority budget.

Larry Higgs: 732-643-4277 or

© 2006 Copyright Asbury Park Press.