Friday, May 19, 2006

NTRMA Chair gets two more years

Perry Reappoints Austin to NTRMA


Tyler Morning Telegraph
Copyright 2006

Gov. Rick Perry reappointed Jeff Austin III as chair of the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority, the governor's office said Friday.

Austin's term will expire Feb. 1, 2008. Regional mobility authorities were created by the Texas Legislature as a way to allow local communities to forge regional transportation priorities.

The Northeast Texas RMA serves Smith and Gregg counties and is in the process of expanding. It has successfully lobbied the Texas Department of Transportation to accelerate the Loop 49 project by making it a toll road.

Austin is vice chairman and a member of the executive committee and board of directors of Austin Bank.

© 2006 Tyler Morning Telegraph:


"TxDOT is over-representing the costs of the project."

El Paso toll roads take another step forward

May 19, 2006
Copyright 2006

EL PASO, TX. - The El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) takes the next step to bring toll roads here.

MPO meetings feature a virtual "Who's-Who" of local elected officials. Representatives from city, county and state governments from all over El Paso County and Southern Dona Ana County get together to formally decide the region's transportation priorities.

During Friday morning's meeting, the El Paso MPO voted to move the completion of Loop 375, including parts with toll roads to the top of that list.

Texas Department of Transportation (Tx-DoT) officials told members of the board that the state only has about $150 million of the $800 million price tag on the project.

There were 15 members of the board present at Friday morning's meeting and only three of them voted no. State Senator Chente Quinatanilla, City Rep. Eddie Holguin, Jr. and Committee Chairman State Rep. Joe Pickett.

They all say Tx-DoT is "over-representing the costs of the project" and that their constituents have told them they don't want toll roads.

The vote at the end of the meeting was 12 to 3 in favor of continuing to look at the toll road project as the region's priority. However it was not a vote was not a binding one.

It just allows the organization to continue investigating the feasibility of using toll roads to complete Loop 375 and pay for other major highway projects in the county.

© 2006 WorldNow and KVIA:


TTC: "The first time in this country a state DOT has worked with a concessionaire."

Corridor project planners say road will prepare area for the inevitable

May 19, 2006

San Marcos Daily Record
Copyright 2006

They're coming whether we build it or not.

That was the message about the Central Texas portion of the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC 35) delivered to the Governmental Affairs Committee of the San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce Thursday by a representative of an engineering firm advising the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

Between 1990 and 2000, the state's population as well as the number of vehicle miles traveled in Texas has outgrown existing lane capacity. “With some roads (the philosophy) has been build it and they will come, but the need for the TTC is here today,” said Paul Huston. “The need is there for increased transportation options and that need is going to grow.”

First envisioned by Governor Rick Perry in 2002, the Trans Texas Corridor would be a super highway running from the Mexican border to Oklahoma, requiring-right-of-way a quarter mile wide and having separate lanes for car and truck traffic as well as freight, high-speed rail and utility transmission. All or portions of 77 Texas counties would be affected.

The approximately $1 billion toll road project would be developed and managed by Cintra Zachary. Opponents have called the plan a land grab of historic proportions, but Huston said planners envision it would facilitate mobility, relieve congestion on existing roadways like IH-35, open up new areas of land for development reducing environmental impacts to just one area.

He also pitched the possibility of speed limits along the corridor in excess of 70 miles per hour, “possibly 80 or 90 mph.”

So far, TxDOT has held 117 public meetings about the TTC and more are to come. Huston said 50 or so such meetings would be held regarding the TTC 35 in July and August, and that interested residents can also comment by mail and over the Internet.

The original swath has been narrowed to a 10-mile corridor that stretches from just east of Lockhart to just east of Texas Hwy. 21, an area that represents the “shortest path on flattest ground.”

However, that route is very near the route of SH 130, another TxDOT toll road project that would run from Seguin to just north of Georgetown.

While many residents had believed the two roadways would eventually be the same, Huston said that's not yet known. “It could be a part of TTC 35 or it could not.” It could be a “connecting or support facility” for the bigger road but is “moving along as a stand alone project.”

Moreover, Huston said the right-of-way already acquired for 130 is “not nearly as wide as it would need to be” to accommodate TTC 35.

“What might happen is it may split, with roadways on one corridor and rail in a separate corridor.” It could also happen that both roadways would be built.

Huston also said Cintra Zachary has asked TxDOT to accelerate action on portions 5 and 6 of SH 130. Section 6, which would most impact nearby neighbors in Caldwell and Guadalupe counties, and has made the offer to develop, build and finance those segments.

All of this is new ground and represents an “evolution in highway funding,” Huston said, describing the TTC as “the first time in this country a state DOT has worked with a concessionaire,” which would be Cintra Zachary.

For more on the TTC visit; for SH 130, For an opposing view visit

© 2006, San Marcos Daily Record:


"We find that the Government has taken $2.9 billion and converted that into some $600 million. This is not a good deal for taxpayers."

'Taxpayers lose' in sweetheart toll deal

May 19, 2006

Rick Wallace and Imre Salusinszky
© The Australian
Copyright 2006

The financial watchdog has been asked to investigate an unorthodox deal between the Bracks Government and a toll road operator that will help bankroll the state's multi-billion-dollar transport overhaul.

The Auditor-General was urged to step in after claims the "sweetheart deal" deprived Victorian taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The controversy over the funding has taken the gloss off the state Government's $10.5 billion transport package, which includes $2.9 billion for rail, $1.4billion for buses and $2 billion for arterial roads.

In a move criticised as "fabulously generous" to toll road operator Transurban, the Bracks Labor Government has given up the right to $2.9 billion of payments over 30 years for $775million up front.

Transurban was to have paid the money in yearly instalments over 30 years, but negotiated a deal to cash it in at a discount rate provided it assisted the Government with upgrading 75km of roads.

The company's shares shot up more than 2 per cent when the package was announced on Wednesday. They climbed another 1.6per cent yesterday to $6.81 - increasing its stock market value by more than $225 million over two days.

The move allows the Government to fund the West Gate and Monash freeway upgrades in its package without depleting the budget surplus. But experts said the deal compared unfavourably with borrowing the money and retaining the annual payments.

The payments are comparable to rent on the roadways and, when paid out up-front, the total is discounted to reflect the declining value of money over time.

Infrastructure specialist Peter Fitzgerald, who has worked as a consultant to the Bracks Government, said the move meant the Government had cashed in the payments at a discount rate of 9.7per cent, almost three percentage points above market value.

"The discount rate is very generous in favour of Transurban," he said. "It also reflects the desire to get the deal done and get the cash earlier.

"On that basis there may well be hundreds of millions left on the table to the detriment of the taxpayers. The alternative is government borrowing on which the pricing is closer to 6.8 per cent than 9.7 per cent."

Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu, who asked Victoria's Auditor-General to investigate the deal, said the arrangement was a bonus for Transurban and a blow to taxpayers.

"We find that the Government has taken $2.9 billion and converted that into some $600 million. This is not a good deal for taxpayers," he said. But Treasurer John Brumby defended the deal and predicted it would meet with the Auditor-General's approval. "The deal has been independently assessed and market tested to ensure we achieved best value for money," he said.

The debate came as a NSW parliamentary committee concluded the state had plenty to learn from Victoria about the delivery of infrastructure through public-private partnerships, even though the southern state has had a chequered history with such projects.

The second report of the inquiry into Sydney's Cross City Tunnel fiasco details evidence that PPPs in Victoria are subject to more centralised control than in NSW, with fuller public disclosure of contract details.

The committee recommends NSW Treasury continue to collaborate with Victoria, as well as with other jurisdictions.

© 2006 © The Australian:


"Enemies of the Trans Texas Corridor in Central Texas are combining their forces."

Residents Gather to Oppose T.T.C.


KXXV-TV (Waco, Temple, Killeen & Central Texas)
Copyright 2006

Elm Mott- Enemies of the Trans Texas Corridor in Central Texas are combing their forces.

About a hundred of them met together in Elm Mott on Thursday night.

Residents inside the 10 mile-wide study area are being encouraged to file claims against the T.T.C.'s environmental study.

Any archaeological sites or endangered species on their land may keep it from being used.

Mike Glockzin, the mayor of Hallsburg is considering the idea closely. His city falls inside the study area. He wants his residents to take that kind of action, to prevent any damage to their town.

"We feel like you need to do something now to stop something from beginning, than to wait until it's a finished product and then try to do something about it at that time," said Glockzin.

Landowners at the meeting were also asked to show their discontent at the ballot box, by voting for a gubernatorial candidate that opposes the T.T.C.

-pr, reporting by sk

© 2006 KXXV-TV:


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Kansas City 'SmartPort' on hold

Goal is to speed trade with Mexico

Customs facility hung up in review


By Rick Alm
The Kansas City Star
Copyright 2006

A planned Mexican customs facility in Kansas City has been delayed awaiting State Department approval, but project officials are still saying that ground can be broken next month.

City officials had hoped that the first foreign customhouse on U.S. soil would be built and opened by June, but federal approval has bogged down.

Local sponsors of the project said they remained optimistic and did not think the recent controversy over Mexican immigration and border issues played any role in the delay.

At a seminar Tuesday in Kansas City on doing business in Mexico, KC SmartPort spokeswoman Larin Payne told about three dozen regional business executives about the planned groundbreaking.

But in an interview later, Payne acknowledged there was still no breakthrough in a long-awaited decision by the State Department on whether and how to proceed with the project.

“We are waiting for the final OK from the State Department,” she said. “We’re hoping in the next month they will figure it out.”

SmartPort President Chris J.F. Gutierrez discounted any effects from the escalating immigration controversy. “This is about U.S. exports. It has nothing to do with border issues or the president’s remarks last night,” Gutierrez said Tuesday.

“We’re still on track as far as I’m concerned,” he said, with a groundbreaking before Mexico’s presidential election in July.

But he acknowledged, “We expected a much quicker review.”

Under the agreement — already approved by Mexican authorities — Mexico-bound American truck freight would be inspected by U.S. and Mexican border authorities in Kansas City and then sealed for movement directly to Mexican destinations, with fewer costly delays at border choke points such as Laredo, Texas.

At Tuesday’s seminar, Dan Ward, an officer with Kansas City-based Western Forms International, said trucks loaded with his company’s concrete construction forms faced routine delays at the border as long as three weeks.

Under the Kansas City plan, Mexican shippers and deepwater port operators in Manzanillo, Lazaro Cardenas and other Pacific ports would cooperate with rail and highway transportation and foreign trade zone warehousing groups here to market a seamless international trade pipeline. By using the Mexican port, freight also could avoid capacity-strained U.S. ports in Long Beach and Oakland, Calif., and Seattle.

“A planned customs facility in Kansas City would grow the region’s economy and mean more efficient transportation of goods,” Sen. Kit Bond said Tuesday in a written response to questions about the project.

The Missouri Republican’s office did not respond to questions about reasons for the apparent federal delay in approving the project. “I will continue to work with all of the interested parties to move this project forward,” Bond said.

One local critic of U.S. immigration policies is skeptical of the Mexican customhouse proposal.
Public relations consultant Joyce Mucci formed the Mid-America Immigration Reform Coalition on a platform that undocumented immigrants are “a stress on social services, on our hospitals, on our schools. We have our own problems here, and we can’t afford to take care of everybody.”

Mucci said Tuesday the group had more questions than answers at this point about the customs project.

“We’re in favor of economic development and jobs,” she said. “But we are concerned about the sovereignty of the state of Missouri” and whether the facility will be considered to be on Mexican or U.S. soil.

“The Mexican (customs) bottleneck will be moving here,” Mucci said. “We’re going to take on that extra burden. … This has never been done before. We may get lucky, we may not.”

But Mexican business operators and consumers do not appear ready to boycott American goods or services over border issues, Patricia Meza, a Missouri Department of Economic Development trade representative in Mexico City, said Tuesday.

“There’s no backlash,” Meza said. “They understand the complexities of the problem.”
Mexican consumers are not fickle about buying American goods, Meza added. “If it’s a good product and affordable, they’ll go for it,” she said.

The Kansas City Council last year approved a $2.5 million loan to SmartPort to build the 26,000-square foot customs facility on city-owned land in the West Bottoms east of Liberty Street and mostly south of Interstate 670.

Nonprofit SmartPort would lease the site from the city and repay the loan over 10 years with user fees paid by international shippers.

Mexican officials recently named a veteran diplomat in its Washington embassy to head the Kansas City operation.

Last summer city officials signed similar cooperative trade agreements with the city of Winnipeg and the Canadian province of Manitoba. Next month they plan a trade mission to Veracruz, on Mexico’s southern Gulf Coast, which could offer Kansas City a trade link to European sea shipping lanes.

Meanwhile, the city has announced an agreement to sell the Richards-Gebaur Memorial Airport to private interests for redevelopment as an intermodal transit hub that would probably include a Mexican customs component for rail cargo. A Kansas City Port Authority official said Tuesday that construction could begin in 2007.

First glance

_ The Kansas City Council last year approved a $2.5 million loan to SmartPort to build the customs facility in the West Bottoms.

_ U.S. and Mexican authorities would inspect Mexico-bound American truck freight in Kansas City then seal it for shipping directly to Mexico.

To reach Rick Alm, call (816) 234-4785 or send e-mail to

© 2006 Kansas City Star:


Mineta: "What we are about to do will be indeed labeled controversial."

U.S. to battle bottlenecks

New techniques to be used against traffic snarls

May 16, 2006,

Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
Copyright 2006

WASHINGTON - Citing the adverse effects of traffic congestion on the economy, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta on Tuesday unveiled a plan to reduce backups in major metropolitan areas like Houston.

The plan, which also is aimed at limiting delays in rail and air transport, will assure that the United States has the most efficient transportation system in the world, the secretary said.

"President Bush and I recognize the challenge that congestion poses," Mineta said in an address to the National Retail Federation. "We need a new approach and we need it now."

The Transportation Department estimates that roughly $200 billion is lost every year because of delays in road, rail and air transport.

According to the Texas Transportation Institute, an average Houston commuter spent 63 hours caught in traffic in 2003, the fifth-longest per-person delay in the country. That wasted time and fuel resulted in a net loss of almost $2.3 billion, the institute reported.

If congestion continues to increase — as it has in recent decades — traffic problems will begin to affect more than just America's largest cities. The department said small and medium-size cities could see significant backups in coming years.

Mineta said the Transportation Department will select a handful of large metropolitan areas to showcase technologies and procedures designed to ease highway congestion. These include express bus lines, electronic toll collection systems and methods of increasing tolls as roadways become more congested.

Once these techniques prove their effectiveness, Mineta said, urban areas around the country can adopt the ones that best suit local conditions.

States also should allow private companies to invest in toll roads and other infrastructure, Mineta said, noting that such public-private partnerships are vital if states hope to have the money to make crucial improvements. Similar arrangements, such as the leasing of a toll road in Indiana to a private company, have led to fierce debates in state legislatures.

"Some of what we are about to do will be indeed labeled controversial," Mineta acknowledged.

Although he gave no details, the secretary also proposed partnering with the Department of Homeland Security to create a "border congestion team" to ease backups at border checkpoints. In addition, the Department of Transportation will look into expanding capacity and efficiency at airports. New York City's La Guardia Airport was specifically identified as needing improvement.

No cost estimate was given, but Mineta acknowledged that "this will be expensive work."

© 2006 Houston Chronicle:


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Deficit spending in Congress takes a toll on drivers

Mineta plan encourages private investment in public transportation

May. 16, 2006

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

WASHINGTON - Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta offered a modest election-year proposal Tuesday for dealing with the nation's transportation congestion problems.

The proposal does not contain major new funds for large-scale highway, port or airport projects.

Instead, the six-point Bush administration proposal asks Congress for $100 million to fund pilot programs designed to entice private investment in public transportation.

Among other things, the plan calls for identifying the three to five most congested transportation corridors for future relief projects.

"Congestion kills time, wastes fuel and costs money," Mineta said. "We need a new approach and we need it now."

Road and rail delays are a big issue for metropolitan areas like North Texas, which is not only a major aviation center, but also a crossroads for trucking and rail. And congestion is a maddening daily reality for commuters who burn time and fuel in their vehicles.

A 2005 Texas Transportation Institute report showed that peak-period travelers in Dallas-Fort Worth spend 60 hours annually in traffic delays - ranking the area the sixth-worst nationwide.

That costs billions annually in fuel and wasted time for commuters and businesses, said Mike Eastland, executive director of the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

The report estimates that congestion costs the average peak-hour commuter in North Texas $1,012 per year in wasted time and fuel.

"It is bad . . . and it is predicted to get worse as time goes on," Eastland said.

The Bush administration proposal comes as Republicans are trying to show voters in advance of midterm congressional elections that they have solutions to the nation's most vexing problems.

The transportation congestion proposal was rolled out a day after President Bush unveiled his controversial plan for stronger border security. And it comes a week after the Republican-led Senate spent a week on health care issues - without approving a single proposal.

Rep. Pete DeFazio of Oregon, a senior Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, said the proposal fell short, because it does not contain new funding and puts too much emphasis on unproven private-sector investment.

"They are acknowledging a very real and growing problem, but they have come up short with their solutions," DeFazio said. "There is no real discussion for enhanced taxpayer investment."

North Texas transportation experts agreed there wasn't sufficient funding. But they credited the transportation chief for focusing attention on rising congestion that threatens to choke the North Texas economy.

"It will distract from businesses wanting to relocate here or route freight through here," said Terry Pohlen, director of the Center for Logistics Education and Research at the University of North Texas.

In addition to road congestion, Pohlen said, there also are rail delays in Fort Worth where a major north-south line intersects with an east-west line.

Pohlen said he was disappointed that the initiative fell short of being a comprehensive policy that addresses all modes of transportation.

"It is a step in the right direction, but I would have liked to see a much broader strategy," he said.

Officials said financing road, port and airport expansions are difficult because taxpayers are hostile towards tax hikes to pay for big projects even though they are frustrated by congestion.

"The capital needs just in the city of Dallas and Texas are huge compared to the current resources," said Steve Taylor, president of the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce.

Mineta acknowledged that budget deficits make it hard to come up with money for new projects. But he denied that the president's tax cuts were at fault, arguing it has been difficult to raise transportation funds for decades.

As one solution, Mineta suggested lawmakers could give up pet pork barrel projects to fund transportation.

Specifically, the administration's strategy called for increased private investment in toll roads. Some communities are turning to that solution, although officials said it is too early to know if it will work.

Mineta said the $100 million in the president's 2007 fiscal budget could be used to demonstrate that such projects could be an alternative to relying on federal gasoline taxes.

Other initiatives in the proposal include:

_Focusing on freight bottlenecks, including those at the U.S.-Mexico border. The department proposed various teams and meetings with business leaders to deal with issues.

_Encouraging states to use federal funds to promote proven operational and technological solutions.

_Pursing partnerships with cities to test congestion pricing on toll roads, expanding bus service and encouraging employers to establish or expand flextime hours for employees who want to avoid high-peak travel times.


Dallas Morning News staff writer Tony Hartzel contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co


West Lake "Emperor" ousted by Toll Party

Anti-toll campaign claims victory

May 16, 2006

Central Texas Digest
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

Sal Costello and his anti-toll guerrilla movement say they have claimed a second electoral victim: West Lake Mayor Dwight Thompson.

Thompson, mayor of the suburb since 1996, lost Saturday to Mark Urdahl 55 percent to 45 percent. But Costello says that a phone poll conducted a few weeks before the election had Urdahl at 40 percent.

After finding out that Urdahl opposed a toll road plan that Thompson voted for as a member of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Costello's Austin Toll Party sent out 4,000 postcards in three mailings. The cards featured Thompson, who could not be reached for comment, in a crown with the title "toll road emperor" and called on voters to "stop Robin Hood tolls!"

The mailer said Loop 360 (Capital of Texas Highway) is still in the toll road plan, which is technically true but politically false. Thompson and a majority of the CAMPO board did not provide funding for Loop 360 and would have to vote again to actually make it a toll road.

Costello and his compatriots also claimed credit for Sarah Eckhardt's defeat of Travis County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner in the March primary. But they got nowhere in opposing well-funded Mayor Will Wynn and Austin City Council Member Brewster McCracken, whom they had also tried to dump last year with a recall campaign that tanked. Wynn and McCracken won by 3-to-1 ratios Saturday.

— Ben Wear, 445-3698,

© 2006 Austin American-Statesman:


Monday, May 15, 2006

"I am confident that we will replace every toller that has ignored the public's will, and stop the privatization and tolling of our public highways."

Anti-Toll Stealth Campaign Knocks Out Vice Chair of Regional Planning Authority.

May 15, 2006

Austin Toll Party
Copyright 2006

Austin, TX - While all eyes were on the Austin City ballot, the Austin Toll Party quietly ran a stealth campaign to unseat the Mayor of Westlake Hills who is also the Vice Chair of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO). CAMPO is the regional
authority that gave approval for the Phase II Toll Plan.

The campaign hammered Mayor Dwight Thompson for his toll road votes in 2004 and 2005.

Sal Costello, founder of Austin Toll Party said, "We are ecstatic that we've removed the Vice Chair of CAMPO, Dwight Thompson, who voted to toll roads we've already paid for. To date we've helped win two of the first two local toller vs. nontoller races we've focused on. I am confident that we will replace every toller that has ignored the public's will, and therefore stop the privatization and tolling of our public highways."

Mayor Dwight Thompson's opponent and now Mayor-Elect, Mark Urdahl, was approached three weeks before the election by Westlake Hills resident, Austin Toll Party member and Grammy Award winner Jimmy Vaughn. Vaughn found out that Mark Urdahl opposed the Austin Toll Plan and the toll party went right to work. Last year, Jimmy Vaughn played a benefit concert for the Austin Toll Party called "Tunes not Tolls."

Richard Reeves of the Austin Toll Party, said, "Before the toll party stepped into the race, our Westlake Hills tracking poll showed Mark Urdahl losing with 40% of the vote to Thompsons 60%. The same poll revealed a whopping 88% opposed the freeway toll plan. Most of the Dwight Thompson supporters also opposed tolls, so we quickly informed them of his toll advocacy to suppress his turnout. The election night results show we impressively moved the race by 15 points in less than 2 weeks." By the end of election night Mark Urdahl won 55% of the total vote to Dwight Thompson's 45%.

Costello gives a lot of credit to Austin Toll Party members and a wide spectrum of coalition partners from the Libertarian, Democrat, Republican and Independent parties who all oppose the Austin Toll Plan.

"I actually had an Austin City Council candidate, Wes Benedict, take time out of his campaign to work with us the day before his election! He helped us hand deliver hundreds of copies of Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn's report that exposes the toll plan as "Double Taxation without Accountability". We slipped in one of our "Dump Dwight Thompson" direct mail pieces and delivered them door to door to folks that had not yet voted," said Sal Costello.

Sal Costello, who has won national design and marketing awards for clients such as Hallmark,
Wrangler and PepsiCo, also creates the anti-toll strategies and campaigns that have proven to be so effective. To date his work for Austin Toll Party has been Pro Bono. Costello implemented what could be called his anti-toll graphic trademark with the Thompson/Urdahl race - a picture of the candidate with a crown and sash that says "Toll Road Emperor."

In 2004, CAMPO asked the public for feedback on the plan that includes tolls on Loop 360, MoPAC, Hwy 71, US 290 and US 183. This marked the first time in the U.S. that public highways would shift to tollways.

The majority of the CAMPO board voted for the toll plan after 93% of the public feedback opposed the idea. Sal Costello says that is when he decided to form the group that opposes the shifting of public highways to tollways. Austin Toll Party is not opposed to all toll roads, only the ones that privatize and toll public highways.

Even though the first Phase II Toll Road vote took place in 2004, the first toller vs. non-toller race for Austin took place in this year's primary. Earlier this year, the toll party focused on long-time incumbent, Travis County Commissioner, Karen Sonleitner for her "Yes" vote and helped Sarah Eckhardt win with 57% in the recent primary election.

Sarah Eckhardt has no primary party opposition in November.

Contact: Sal Costello

© 2006 Austin Toll Party: