Saturday, May 13, 2006

Anadarko Petroleum gives boy scout troup a lesson they'll never forget.

Striking camp


The Beaumont Enterprise
Copyright 2006

WOODVILLE - With blotchy red eyes, 45-year-old Andy Dentremont, teared up Friday evening as he reminisced of a special trip he took to the Camp Urland last weekend with his two children. Together, they relived his time as a 10-year-old scout at the Boy Scouts of America Campground - an adventure that might never be repeated.

In a decision that might result in the closure of several facilities on the campground, a group of Tyler County special commissioners awarded $34,000 to the Three Rivers Council of the Boy Scouts of America for Springfield Pipeline LLC's acquisition of land for a pipeline right of way.

"It's devastating because the Scouts have no choice," Dentremont said. "We are going to have to shut down part of our camp because that pipeline is there and we shouldn't have to."

The hearing was held following the filing of a lawsuit charging the Three Rivers Council, the Southeast Texas governing body for Boy Scouts of America, with not agreeing to the land's fair market value price of the 4,550 foot stretch of land along the northern border of Camp Urland, located about two miles south of Woodville.

Springfield Pipeline, a subsidiary of Woodlands-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp., offered $3,694 for using eminent domain to acquire the 30-foot wide permanent easement that totals about 3.1 acres.

The Scouts contend the amount should be more than $410,000 for the land and damages the pipeline construction would cause to the property - including being forced to relocate several campground facilities to stay accredited with the national organization.

"If we're not accredited, we can't be insured and we have to close the camp," said Jack Crawford, Three Rivers Council of Boy Scouts of America executive. "If one of these areas does not meet mandatory requirements then it's closed."

The pipeline easement will remove many of the trees that currently serve as a barrier for the camp's rifle and shotgun ranges. Without the natural barrier, the ranges would have to relocate, according to the Scouts national guidelines. Additionally, the Scouts would have to relocate a campsite and build new road and water lines - all of which comes at a big price tag.

The camp, which provides an outdoor retreat for about 6,000 boys from about 10 counties, will have to be closed while the pipeline is constructed.

In the appraisal, the oil company contends that the value of the 715-acre campground decreased significantly after a storm damaged buildings in March. But when pressed as to whether the Boy Scouts should be compensated for the relocation of the facilities, the question was at first avoided.

"It looks like someone at the (Scouts) national organization needs to have more sense," said Ronnie Harris, the oil company's appraiser who was paid $750 by the company for his testimony Friday.

The Boy Scouts filed a motion for continuance, but the judge did not show up or call to rule on the motion.

"When we asked for a few more days, they refused and madeus do it and the judge wasn't there," Crawford said. "They are just rushing it through."

The commissioners took only five minutes to make the decision after three-and-a-half hours of testimony and, at times, heated cross examinations by Springfield's lawyer, Michael Jancek.

After Jancek pressed Glenn Cummings, Boy Scout executive board member, about the damages to the property, Cummings asked the lawyer if he was ever a Scout, bringing laughter from the audience of about 25 Scouts. The lawyer avoided the question and then admitted he had been a Cub Scout.

At one point, Jancek, in his well-pressed suit, glared from about a foot away at Crawford, wearing his traditional beige Scout uniform, as they argued repetitiously about the relocation of the firing range. As the testimony went on, he started with a barrage of questions as to whether Crawford has ever been angry with the oil company or ever cursed or yelled at the company's employees. Commissioners quickly intervened and ended to the questioning for a recess.

For Dentremont, the decision was devastating.

"How am I going to keep these boys safe," he asked. "Do I even bring them back? I felt like the oil company was approaching this as a hardball negotiation for the taking of land without taking concern with the purpose of the land."

Next week, crews will start construction on the pipeline, which is completed up to the border of the campground. The Scouts plan to appeal the decision.

On Thursday, Anadarko's shareholders approved a 2 for 1 split of the stock. The stock was down 4.04 Friday closing at 106.71.
(409) 880-0731

© 2006 The Beaumont Enterprise:


When are public records NOT really public? When they're TxDOT's

Gag law may hinder toll-study discussions


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

A brewing controversy has shed light on a 1997 state law that could hamper public discussion of toll-road studies.

When Terri Hall of San Antonio Toll Party recently asked for a feasibility study on Bandera Road toll lanes, the Texas Department of Transportation demanded she sign an agreement that says she wouldn't share the information with anyone without state permission.

"This is really crossing the line, for TxDOT to try and block us from finding out what they're doing on something so major like this," Hall said.

The law allows the state to copyright studies, maps, planning documents, designs, manuals and other materials and control how they're publicly distributed, TxDOT attorney Sharon Alexander said.

Just how people are supposed to get permission to discuss or distribute copyrighted public records isn't clear. Alexander said she didn't see a problem with people reciting such information in speeches or debates but putting it on the Web would need state approval.

"I'm not trying to defend the idea, I'm just saying that's my understanding of it," she said.

Also, nobody has explained what's so valuable about the Bandera toll-lane study. TxDOT engineers say they're worried that the report, which is preliminary, could be construed as final. But Alexander said that's not a legitimate concern under public information laws.

"The public is entitled to consider the numbers that we're considering and give us their feedback," she said.

The issue might have come up sooner when Hall asked for studies on toll lanes and ramps for U.S. 281, Loop 1604, Interstate 35 and Wurzbach Parkway, but Alexander said she believes those studies had already been made public and therefore didn't seek a gag agreement.

On Thursday, the department determined that the Bandera Road study had also already been made public and decided to drop its request for a nondisclosure agreement.

But gaping questions remain on how a slew of additional feasibility studies for more than 70 miles of planned toll roads in San Antonio will be handled when completed. Multiple studies are expected in coming years for proposed projects overseen by TxDOT and the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority.

Apparently, officials could opt for nondisclosure agreements on any or all of those reports.

"I don't know," mobility authority Chairman Bill Thornton said. "You're hitting me with something I haven't heard of or thought of."

TxDOT officials couldn't be reached for further comment.

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News:


Thursday, May 11, 2006

"There is a lot of blue sky in this project. We think it needs to be looked at."

Trinity Uptown dominates forum

May. 11, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

FORT WORTH - The proposed $435 million Trinity Uptown project took center stage Wednesday night at the final candidate forum for the Tarrant Regional Water District candidates.

Supporters of the controversial development praised potential benefits to the city while detractors warned that it will cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Eleven of the 13 candidates running in Saturday's election for two seats on the water board appeared at the forum near downtown Fort Worth. They also answered questions about water conservation, wetland projects, Trinity River flooding and managing the water level at Eagle Mountain Lake, a reservoir owned by the water district.

The candidates -- and questions from the audience -- kept steering the conversation back to Trinity Uptown, a project that would create a town lake and bypass channel through the near north side of Fort Worth, creating an 800-acre area for mixed-use development including housing, retail and commercial ventures.

Board member Gina Puente Brancato said the election is being seen inappropriately as a referendum on the project, which has been approved and is being jointly funded by the federal government, the water district, Fort Worth and other local taxing entities. She said the Army Corps of Engineers considers Trinity Uptown to be a model project

"It is in progress. The train has left the station," Brancato said. "It's not a referendum."

Candidates Tracey Smith and Clyde Picht reminded the audience that the election is the first time voters have really had a chance to express their opinion about Trinity Uptown and that they can send a message to the other three members of the board that they are upset.

"There is a lot of blue sky in this project," Smith said. "We think it needs to be looked at."

The water district is providing $64 million to Trinity Uptown, with the largest contribution, $217.5 million, coming from the federal government. Fort Worth is kicking in $26.6 million, Tarrant County $11 million. A tax increment financing district was established by Fort Worth and other taxing entities, and is expected to pour in another $115.9 million.

Supporters such as former Fort Worth City Councilman Jim Lane say Trinity Uptown is the only way to redevelop what has been described as a no man's land between the central business district and the historic Stockyards. Lane said that the development must be watched closely and that his experience in dealing with projects such as the Texas Motor Speedway while on the council gives him a unique perspective.

"We will control it? Will we let it get out of hand?" Lane asked. "We need to elect people with experience at that."

Opponents like candidate Ben Boothe wondered if there wasn't a less disruptive way to approach Trinity Uptown's primary mission of providing flood control. Boothe called the lake it creates a "downtown reflecting pool" for the "Seventh Street fat cats to walk on."

Besides Boothe, Picht and Smith, three other candidates oppose Trinity Uptown as it is proposed: Timothy Nold, Walter Stone and Mike Utt. Along with Brancato and Lane, five other candidates support it, but with reservations: Gary Alexander, J.R. Kimball, Marty Leonard, Marty Martinez and Tom Waltz.

The candidate forum at the Marquis on Magnolia was sponsored by the Fort Worth chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the League of Women Voters. Stone and Waltz did not attend the forum.


The $435 million Trinity Uptown project would create a town lake and bypass channel through the near north side of Fort Worth, making way for mixed-use development that would include housing, retail and commercial projects. Officials say the project will enhance flood control efforts while paving the way for redevelopment of the area.

Q: Will Trinity Uptown require the Tarrant Regional Water District to buy land for economic development?

A: The Tarrant Regional Water District will buy land necessary for the public infrastructure -- roads, bridges, dam, water features -- but not for the entire Trinity Uptown development, which will take in about 800 acres on the near north side of Fort Worth. Preliminary plans have identified 95 landowners who could be affected, but all of that land may be not be needed. Infrastructure planning started recently.

Q: Will the district have land to sell, and if so, how will it be sold?

A: Once the bypass channel and other infrastructure is completed, the district will tear down some of the existing levees along the Trinity River, creating about 150 acres of open land. The district will keep some of it -- the shoreline is to remain under public control. But some of the land may be sold or leased for development.

Q: While Congress is promising money for the project, how strong is the commitment, given the federal government's growing budget deficit and other projects such as rebuilding the New Orleans levees?

A: The federal government is expected to pay for about half of Trinity Uptown. The money will come from various departments, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency. U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, has persuaded Congress to authorize $110 million for the project, but the money has not been entirely appropriated. A cautionary note is that sometimes the amount of money sought in a request doesn't come through in full or when requested.

Q: There are a lot of fears about condemning land through eminent domain. How will landowners be compensated?

A: Under the federal Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, the property needed for the project will be appraised and owners will be offered fair market value for land needed for such things as the bypass channel, bridges and dams. The businesses in the path of Trinity Uptown that must move will receive reasonable costs for relocating, including finding a new location, plus an allowance for re-establishing the business. The Constitution states that the government can't take private property without justly compensating the owner, and governmental entities have used eminent domain proceedings to condemn land for roads, reservoirs and other public projects. A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year reaffirmed the government's right to take land to eliminate blight for private development. The Texas Legislature recently passed a bill restricting the use of eminent domain, but approved exceptions that will allow condemnations for the new Cowboys stadium in Arlington and the Trinity Uptown project.

Sources: Tarrant Regional Water District, Star-Telegram archives and research
Max B. Baker, (817) 390-7714

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


"This is a shot across the bow of TxDOT. We are a small craft, and they are a battleship."

Toll agency stays in 121 running

Authority remains in bidding on proposed tollway, in opposition to TxDOT

May 11, 2006

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

The battle between two state agencies over control of the proposed State Highway 121 toll road in Collin County – and the revenue it would create – will continue for a few more months, the North Texas Tollway Authority decided Wednesday.

In a 4-3 vote, the tollway authority's board agreed to take another shot at winning the right to build and operate the Highway 121 tollway from Interstate 35E to Central Expressway.

The agency had the choice of submitting a bid to the Texas Department of Transportation by November or withdrawing from the competition, which has four other bidders.

To the majority of the tollway authority board, the decision came down to fulfilling the agency's mission.

"Our mission is to be a provider of roads," said board member Kay Walls of Johnson County, widely viewed as the board's swing vote. "Until that's not our mission, I will continue to support our involvement."

Money also entered into it. The road has been described as potentially the most lucrative toll project in Texas and possibly the United States, generating perhaps billions in excess revenue for the operator.

If the tollway authority wins the Highway 121 contract, income could be used to finance other toll roads in North Texas, according to board member Paul Wageman, who supported pursuing it.

"It will guarantee our future as a toll authority to leverage money for other projects," said Mr. Wageman, who represents Collin County. "Should we choose not to follow it, I think we have sealed our fate."

The decision sets up a potential confrontation with the state Transportation Department.

Some local officials view the tollway authority, a quasi-governmental agency, as the best bet to keep 121 tolls as low as possible.

State transportation officials have pinned their hopes on bids from private, profit-making contractors as the route to the most revenue on Highway 121.

"This is a shot across the bow of TxDOT. We are a small craft, and they [TxDOT] are a battleship," said Bill Meadows, Tarrant County's representative on the tollway board. "I think instead of competing, we should negotiate with [TxDOT] and define our universe."

Wednesday's debate has roots in the Texas Department of Transportation's growing emphasis on toll roads as a way to raise money for construction and maintenance.

State leaders have little or no interest in raising the 20-cent-per-gallon fuel tax.

Instead they are eyeing a Highway 121 toll road as a source of new revenue.

Traditionally, the tollway authority built toll roads and collected the revenue – not the state Transportation Department.

In the past, the state allowed the tollway authority to build toll roads, even on state roads like Highway 121 or State Highway 190, as a way to get projects built sooner.

The tollway authority, for example, built the main lanes of Highway 190, now known as the Bush Turnpike. The frontage roads still bear the Highway 190 name.

Now both agencies are looking to control future toll roads.

"Our partnership with TxDOT has been fractured. Somehow, we've got to get together and figure out how to get back on track," said board chairman David Blair of Dallas County.

Others are more optimistic.

"I wouldn't say it's fractured," said Bill Hale, the Dallas district engineer for the state transportation department. "I would say that we are at odds."

Mr. Hale said the tollway authority's decision to bid on the Highway 121 project, after months of delays, means construction in Collin County can begin by next year, as planned.

The toll road's Collin County segment, which runs from the Dallas North Tollway to Central Expressway, could open by 2010. The Denton County segment, which runs from I-35E to the tollway, should open by August.

The state and the tollway authority recently tried to find middle ground. One idea was to allow the tollway authority to negotiate toll-collection contracts with the successful bidder on Highway 121 construction.

The tollway authority would then get some revenue from the Highway 121 toll road. But the state couldn't guarantee those contracts. This uncertainty led some tollway authority board members to question the wisdom of abandoning the Highway 121 construction bid.

Motorists may not see much difference in the tolls they pay on Highway 121 regardless of which agency builds and operates it.

Collin County leaders have supported the tollway authority because they believe it would charge the lowest rates.

The Regional Transportation Council, which sets transportation policy in North Texas, last month approved maximum 17-cent-per-mile toll rates on Highway 121. Collin County officials hope the tollway authority will stick as close as possible to its previous proposal of 12 cents per mile.

"It's about setting a toll rate and building the road and not penalize the people who drive on it," said Frisco Mayor Mike Simpson. E-mail

© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The North Texas Tollway Authority is risking a fight over Highway 121

Tollway Authority Moves To Build New Toll Road

May 10, 2006

CBS 11 TV (Dallas-Fort Worth)
Copyright 2006

The North Texas Tollway Authority is risking a fight over Highway 121 in Collin County. By a 4-3 vote it decided not to merely run the proposed toll road---but to build it as well, putting it in competition with private sector heavyweights.

NTTA directors saw it as an all-or-nothing proposition. "We've got a real dilemma here," observed NTTA chair David Blair.

The issue is whether the agency should step out of its traditional role of merely collecting tolls or build the whole tollway system from the ground up. That's called a comprehensive development agreement, or CDA.

Supporters think the agency can beat the private sector. Among them is a man Collin County appointed to the board, director Paul Wageman. "The CDA process is going to require a 70% higher price at the peak period than we currently charge on our roads. So we'll generate a lower toll rate but still generate enough excess revenue to build other projects in the region."

The Denton County portion of Highway 121 is finished but unopened because there's no one to collect any tolls yet. The NTTA wants to build the rest of the tollway to McKinney.

One problem the NTTA faces is if it's unsuccessful winning the bid, it could be shut out of the Highway 121 process altogether. Tarrant County appointee William Meadows opposed the measure, which passed by a single vote. "My guess is the NTTA will not prevail and it'll be a private contractor that will build and operate the roadway," he said, agreeing that the agency might wind up on the outside of the project looking in.

The agency is also bumping up against both the Texas Department of Transportation and the Regional Transportation Council. Those agencies will make the final decisions and would rather see the NTTA in its traditional role, partly because they want the traveling public to see toll plaza consistency. They also want no further delays in attacking another $60 billion worth of toll road needs for an aging infrastructure in North Texas.

Michael Morris, who's with both the regional transportation council and the North Central Texas Council of Governments, tells CBS 11 News, "The money is not in the bank to replace these facilities, so this is an upcoming crisis in transportation." Morris adds that most of this area's highways were built between World War II and 1975. He fears widespread highway failure by 2030.

© 2006 CBS Stations Group of Texas


Tollway board members question whether they can compete with millions of dollars in concession fees.

Tollway authority uncertain about project bid

May. 10, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

The North Texas Tollway Authority hasn't decided whether to join the bidding for a toll road to relieve traffic on Texas 360 in Arlington, officials said after a special meeting Wednesday at the agency's Plano headquarters.

Three groups of private companies are competing to build the southwestern extension of Texas 161, from Airport Freeway in Irving to Interstate 20 in Grand Prairie. The road would be parallel to Texas 360, about two miles to the east.

The Plano-based tollway authority would like to merge Texas 161 with the President George Bush Turnpike, but tollway board members question whether they can compete with companies that may offer the state highway department millions of dollars in concession fees to win the Texas 161 project.

Also undecided is whether the tollway authority should compete with private companies to build Texas 121 in Collin County. A decision could come at the next board meeting next Wednesday.

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


The future of the NTTA is on the line

Bigger role for tollway agency?

Authority may choose to turn down SH121 project, sell its services

May 10, 2006

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

When the North Texas Tollway Authority decides the future of State Highway 121 today, it could affect more than just a 10-mile stretch of road in southern Collin County.

At stake could be the future role of the agency.

The tollway authority will weigh whether to abandon Collin County wishes that it build and operate Highway 121 in exchange for the chance to sell its services to outside agencies, including planning and evaluating toll roads regionwide and possibly statewide.

While the agency could make more money in an expanded role, some officials are concerned that toll rates could rise.

Without the tollway authority staking its premier position on toll roads, decisions about those roads, the revenue they create – and rates they charge motorists – eventually could be made in Austin, Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher said.

"These [tollway authority] board members are not elected officials," Ms. Keliher said. "They have a fiduciary duty to the NTTA. They have a project that is a huge moneymaker and that the citizens want them to do. I don't know how they can explain voting for the NTTA to just be a toll collector."

Two major issues are driving the debate on a Highway 121 toll road. First is the revenue the toll road could raise. The road has been described as the most lucrative toll project in Texas. Second, Collin County and surrounding cities have repeatedly stated that if Highway 121 must have tolls, then the tollway authority should be the agency to build and operate the project.

"It's disappointing that the NTTA appears to be headed away from representing the region, which is exactly why we created them," said Collin County Judge Ron Harris. "The asset holders of the tollway authority in Collin and Dallas counties have been forgotten in all of this."

Rate concerns

For motorists, the end result of a tollway authority project on Highway 121 could have meant lower rates on tollway authority projects and higher rates on state toll roads, agency supporters say.

For example, the tollway authority's last proposal called for rates of 12 cents per mile on Highway 121 in Collin County, lower than other proposals.

"We want to build the road at the lowest rate possible while still allowing us to build other projects in the region," said tollway authority board member Paul Wageman of Collin County.

However, the Regional Transportation Council, which establishes transportation policy in North Texas, set maximum toll rates of 17 cents per mile during peak hours for Highway 121 and an average rate of 14.5 cents per mile. The tollway would be expected to offer similar rates under the new regional guidelines.

"This whole deal is all about money," said tollway authority board chairman David Blair, who represents Dallas County. His agency proposed the defined role in future toll road projects to get a concession as the state pushes private competition, Mr. Blair added. "TxDOT [the Texas Department of Transportation] is always asking us to give and give. We are asking what we can get out of it."

Mr. Blair said he remains inclined to support the agency's bid to build and operate Highway 121 as a toll road. The agency also must decide today whether to bid on State Highway 161 in southwest Dallas County.

A step forward?

The pending decision follows months of contentious debate that pitted the tollway authority against the Transportation Department. Even if it drops the Highway 121 project, the tollway authority would be considered for a potentially lucrative contract to collect tolls for the private company that will build and operate the road.

Others see the decision as a chance to move beyond fighting about which agency would build each toll road.

"You can look at this decision as about Highway 121, but strategically, that's a mistake," said tollway authority board member Bill Meadows of Tarrant County, who supports collaborating with the state.

"This is an opportunity for us to say to TxDOT that it would be our desire to not be forced into a competitive environment, but to decide who would be better to do a toll road project."

Although the tollway authority is considering a defined role in the new era of private toll roads, it can still compete with private bidders on the roads. The state, tollway authority and regional transportation officials will decide on a case-by-case basis which agency builds a toll project. In addition, the tollway authority will build several long-planned area projects, including the Bush Turnpike eastern extension, Trinity Parkway, the Lewisville Lake Toll Bridge and Southwest Parkway.

The Dallas County Commissioners Court recently passed a resolution stating it prefers the tollway authority to be the exclusive builder and operator of all regional toll roads.

Leaders in Denton County say that competition among bidders will bring more money for needed projects.

"I prefer to have competition," said Denton County Judge Mary Horn. "Whoever gives the taxpayers the best bang for the buck, that's the one I want to look at."

State leaders have stood firm against raising the gas tax from its existing 20 cents per gallon, and they argue that the state needs more than what a nickel or even dime per gallon tax could raise. Toll roads like Highway 121, they argue, are the only answer.

Allan Rutter, the tollway authority's executive director, said he would present both options to the board today without a recommendation.

"This is a very tough choice," Mr. Rutter said. "Various parties in the region will be pleased or displeased with whatever choice we make."


© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Strayhorn: "We have blown the barn doors off this petition drive."

Strayhorn turns in 223,000 voter signatures early


Associated Press
Copyright 2006

Independent candidate for governor Carole Keeton Strayhorn turned in 223,000 voter signatures to the Secretary of State's Office on Tuesday, far more than she'll need to make the November ballot.

"I told you, Texas," Strayhorn said while standing in front of 101 boxes stuffed with signatures. "We have blown the barn doors off this petition drive."

Strayhorn had to collect 45,540 signatures from registered voters by Thursday to make the ballot as an independent. The signatures still must be verified by Secretary of State Roger Williams.

"What this message says is the people want change," Strayhorn said while flanked by three of her five granddaughters. "I have broad-based support, and I have the resources."

Musician and author Kinky Friedman, the other major independent in the race, planned to wait until Thursday's deadline, his spokeswoman said.

"We congratulate her," said Friedman spokeswoman Laura Stromberg, who declined to say how many signatures their campaign has collected.

Both are hoping to run against Republican Gov. Rick Perry and Democratic candidate Chris Bell in November.

The signatures must be from registered voters who did not cast ballots in the Republican or Democratic primaries or runoffs this spring. Voters cannot sign a petition for more than one of the independent gubernatorial candidates. Strayhorn's campaign gathered some of its signatures using volunteers, but it also paid workers to get them.

Perry campaign spokesman Robert Black said Strayhorn's numbers were low and said far more eligible voters chose not to sign.

"After turning her back on both political parties and her own principles, Texans just aren't buying her act anymore," Black said. "It will be interesting to see how many invalid signatures Carole Strayhorn has turned in just to keep up with Kinky Friedman."

By turning in her signatures a little early, Strayhorn doesn't gain any advantage over Friedman, but it does get the verification process moving, said Scott Haywood, spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office.

"The sooner they turn them in, the sooner we can begin working on them," Haywood said.

Initially, the agency said it could take up to two months to determine whether the candidates' petition signatures were valid. But because of outside help the agency is hiring and an internal system it has set up, it may only take five to six weeks to verify the names, Haywood said.

The outside vendor will enter the petition information into a computer database. Then officials from the state agency will run checks to validate the signatures.

Strayhorn asked in a federal lawsuit that state election officials use statistical sampling to verify the signatures, in which only a portion of the total would have to be examined. Her lawyer argued that would save time.

Williams has said each signature will be verified individually. The lawsuit is pending.

Strayhorn said her campaign's in-house research has verified more signatures than she'll need.

"All they'll have to do is look at the first 45,000 petitions," she said.

AP Political Writer Kelley Shannon contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Associated Press:


Monday, May 08, 2006

Harris County Toll Road Authority plans major purchase of RFID tags

Houston's Harris County Toll Road Authority Latest to Embrace TransCore's eGo Plus RFID

Paper-Thin Windshield Sticker Technology, Commits to a Million Tags

May 08, 2006
Business Wire
Copyright 2006

PHILADELPHIA The Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) in Houston, Texas, selects TransCore's multi-protocol eGo(R) Plus radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to replace its current EZ TAG(R) transponder, upgrading from the older hard case tag in use for the past 13 years to the next-generation paper-thin, non-battery windshield sticker tags. HCTRA plans to migrate approximately 1.2 million motorists to the new eGo Plus tags over the next couple of years. The order is for one million eGo Plus tags with distribution slated to begin in Spring 2006.

TransCore's eGo Plus tag, also selected by the Texas Department of Transportation in September 2005, overcomes the cost barrier to widespread adoption making it more attractive for electronic payment of tolls. The non-battery tag also eliminates the additional cost of batteries and tag refurbishment. The multi-protocol tag provides the ability for motorists to use their EZ TAGs on toll roads in other parts of Texas and also any other states that have established interoperability agreements with the toll authorities in Texas.

"As HCTRA did in pioneering electronic tolling over 13 years ago, HCTRA once again demonstrates its commitment to improving their patrons experience by implementing next generation eGo Plus technology," said John Worthington, president of TransCore.

"HCTRA will be able to operate more efficiently and offer the convenience of wireless payment to more motorists with the reduced cost of tags and tag distribution. Increasing the number of users and creating statewide or multi-state interoperability brings tremendous value to toll road customers in Houston."

About eGo Plus Technology

The eGo Plus sticker tag is a 915 MHz radio frequency programmable, windshield tag, and requires no battery. Packaged as a flexible paper-thin sticker, this transponder is ideal for applications that require low-cost, easily installed tags and is appropriate for high-speed electronic toll collection, airport ground transportation management systems, parking and security access. The eGo Plus tag is similar in size to a state inspection sticker and adheres to the vehicle windshield, positioned unobtrusively behind the rear-view mirror. The tag supports multiple protocols, making it easy to migrate from a mixed-tag population and works with the current reader infrastructure.

The eGo Plus tag offers a read range of up to 31.5 feet (9.6 meters) and 2048-bit read/write memory at a fraction of the cost of older, less flexible RFID technology. The tag provides the capability to read, write, rewrite, or permanently lock individual bytes. Custom printing and labeling is also available.

Each eGo Plus sticker tag comes equipped with a factory-programmed unique tag identification number that prevents the tag from being duplicated.

About TransCore

TransCore, a transportation services company, is a unit of Roper Industries, a market-driven, diversified growth company with annual revenues of $1.5 billion and a component of the S&P MidCap 400 and Russell 1000 Indexes. With installations in 41 countries, more than 100 patents and pioneering applications of RFID, GPS and satellite communications technologies, TransCore's technical expertise is unparalleled in the markets it serves. TransCore's 60-year heritage spans the development of RFID transportation applications at Los Alamos National Labs to implementation of the nation's first electronic toll collection system.

TransCore's extensive global experience with tolling systems includes more than 6,200 installed electronic toll collection lanes worldwide and 22 customer service centers. TransCore offers an extensive suite of enterprise software applications, business process outsourcing, system integration, and maintenance services to provide complete solutions, configurable to customers' requirements.

For more information, visit

© 2006 Business Wire:


Houston's Metropolitan Transit Authority's communication chief leaves for Utah

New UDOT spokesman is familiar

An old hand: Connaughton was an SLC television journalist, and helped Corradini through tough times


By Patty Henetz
The Salt Lake Tribune
Copyright 2006

Former newsman, broadcast executive and political operative Ken Connaughton is back in the Salt Lake area as the Utah Department of Transportation's chief spokesman.

Connaughton, who spent the past three years as communication chief for Houston's Metropolitan Transit Authority, started work last week at his new job, which pays nearly $75,000 per year.

"I'm just delighted to be back in Utah. This place is home to me now," he said.

During his time in Salt Lake City, Connaughton worked for United Press International, KUTV Channel 2 and KTVX Channel 4 news, first as a reporter and then for seven years as KTVX's executive producer. He helped Mayor Deedee Corradini's election campaign and was her spokesman from 1995 through 1999, dealing with the mayor's politics and her brushes with the bribe scandals that surrounded the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Connaughton left Salt Lake City to work as news director for the NBC affiliate in Sherman, Texas, a college town north of Dallas. He took his post with Houston Metro in 2003, just as the city's first light rail line started operations - and cars began crashing into trains. As of last summer, more than 100 motorists have collided with the light rail, sparking a kind of cult of crash-watchers and betting pools, and causing headaches for the transit agency's spokesman.
"Every time a car would hit the train, my pager would go off," Connaughton said. The first car vs. train crash occurred before the Metro light rail was open to the public when a reporter made an illegal left turn on Main Street. When responding to angry motorists claiming they didn't see the trains, the New York native said he would ask, "What car have you ever driven that had a 98-foot blind spot?"

That East Coast attitudinal edge, well-known in his Salt Lake City days, sharpened in contentious Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city and one of its most car-dependent metropolitan areas.

"It was a feeding frenzy at almost every opportunity," he said. "You're on the defensive all the time."

Besides handling the smoldering politics of the Legacy Highway, getting Utah residents to back toll roads and toll access to carpool lanes are the biggest public-relations challenges Connaughton faces.

He's familiar with both: Metro Transit has supervised Houston's tolled carpool lanes since 1998 and Texas is a leader in developing partnerships to build toll highways.

Utah's resistance to paying for interstate access doesn't surprise him, nor does public ire scare him.

"I can take incoming rounds. I've done it many times before," he said. "That's the first thing I tell a prospective employer: I don't believe my job is to lie for you."

Utah, he said, has been a little spoiled by its successes in getting federal tax funds for transportation projects. "One thing that I always noticed in Utah was people saying, 'It's not taxpayer funds. It's federal money.' ''

Those days ended after Corradini and Sen. Bob Bennett got 80 percent of the cost of TRAX from the federal government, he said. Now, UDOT and the Utah Transit Authority combined face a $23 billion funding shortfall for planned road and transit projects.

© Copyright 2006, The Salt Lake Tribune:


Sunday, May 07, 2006

The 1,500-foot question

Plan brews to cut Metro power

Wong looks to reduce 1,500-foot allowance for eminent domain

May 7, 2006

By Jenna Colley
Houston Business Journal
Copyright 2006

A movement is afoot to curtail the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County's broad power of eminent domain.

State Rep. Martha Wong (R-Houston) says her staff is reviewing the transit agency's condemnation authority and could propose limiting legislation in the near future.

Wrangling over a light rail segment along a stretch of Richmond Avenue in Wong's district has raised questions about a 1978 decision by the Texas Legislature that gives Metro the power to condemn property within 1,500 feet -- about the length of five football fields -- of a transit station.

The allowed range is far too excessive for Wong, who looks to adjust the distance allowed in the enabling legislation passed almost 40 years ago.

Says Wong: "They could buy up the Galleria basically if they wanted to do that. They could claim eminent domain there."

Her residential and retail constituents in the Richmond corridor also have put eminent domain center stage as an issue in their ongoing battle to untrack Metro's plans.

Ted Richardson, a retired architect who lives near a projected rail path, wants Metro officials to reaffirm a commitment made by the agency more than 20 years ago.

Richardson cites a resolution approved by the Metro board in 1983, when members voted that eminent domain should be used within the 1,500-foot parameter only on projects considered critical to transit plans.

A recent change in Metro real estate strategy shows how the agency that first put light rail on Main Street could be taking a different direction in the next phase under current chairman and local developer David Wolff.

The transit agency hired veteran real estate consultant Todd Mason in 2004 for the purpose of putting together possible real estate deals.

Since then, Metro has partnered on several real estate transactions, including a mixed-use project in the Texas Medical Center and a retail development on U.S. Highway 290.

Critics like Richardson would contend that such projects are not crucial to transit plans and go against the 1983 resolution.

Others think the quest for real estate deals increases the odds that Metro might decide to play the condemnation card up to the 1,500-foot limit.

Houston Property Rights Association President Barry Klein refers to a quote by President Teddy Roosevelt: "Walk softly but carry a big stick."

Klein says eminent domain, although rarely used, is Metro's big stick.

Metro spokesman George Smalley won't speculate about Metro's land needs until a route is determined for the next segment, but offers assurances that condemnation powers will be used only if absolutely necessary.

Explains Smalley: "We are better off doing everything possible to minimize disruption to businesses. When it comes to land acquisition, it's to our advantage to acquire as little as possible. The more we purchase, the more our project costs. The more it costs, the harder it is to win federal funding."

Power to scare

State Rep. Wong supports an alternative route for light rail along less developed Westpark, where eminent domain would likely have less of an impact compared to the heavily populated Richmond corridor.

The debate has elevated her concerns over Metro's ability to eliminate large portions of neighborhoods by exercising eminent domain as far as 1,500 feet.

Says Wong: "It seems to me that they want a lot of power. If the public really knew, there would be an uproar -- not just on Richmond but everywhere."

Claims by Metro officials that eminent domain will be used sparingly aren't enough for Wong.

"Even if they say they are not going to do it, they could. And that's what scares us," she says.

U.S. Congressman John Culberson (R-Houston) is closely monitoring the Westpark versus Richmond debate.

Culberson, who has a large say in federal funding, is on the record in opposing unrestricted use of eminent domain.

The local conservative voted in favor of a bill last year to limit the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Kelo v. City of New London allowing governments to seize private property for economic development.

But Culberson won't get involved in a political dispute over Metro's condemnation power in the Texas Legislature, according to Nick Swyka, director of the Congressman's Houston office.

Says Swyka: "Congressman Culberson has no intention of doing that, and believes that's not the federal government's role. He is sticking to the federal funding issue and wants to make sure that what Metro asks for has good support in the community."

The 1,500-foot question

Supporters among the residents and business owners along Richmond Avenue appear few and far between.

Retired architect Richardson sticks to his contention that Metro should renew the 1983 commitment.

He points out a clause in the original resolution that reads: "The Board of Directors hereby expresses its intent against exercising the power of eminent domain to acquire existing residences or businesses within 1,500 feet of transit facilities other than those which otherwise would be required for transit purposes for the construction of station or terminal complexes associate with the development of the Stage 1 Regional Rail System."

No mention is made of future rail projects in the non-binding document, but Richardson says such a formal statement would be a show of good faith and could help avoid litigation if the transit agency decides on Richmond over Westpark.

Says Richardson: "Metro's got a real credibility problem with the public. Many people just don't trust them."

While the 1,500-foot issue takes on a more prominent role in the current debate over where rail will go next, Metro's Smalley makes it clear that the transit agency will continue to pursue real estate ventures.

In fact, Smalley argues that the deals already done should be characterized as smart rather than aggressive.

Says Smalley: "If we can take a piece of property and do something that helps boosts our ridership and therefore make Metro more cost-effective, and take steps to add a new revenue stream that also helps manage Metro's costs, that is a pretty smart move in my book."

© 2006 American City Business Journals