Saturday, June 10, 2006

"Drivers may not have to pay more during peak times."

121 tolls may not rise for peak times

Plan would keep rate constant, increasing cost for off-peak drivers

June 10, 2006

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

Motorists using a future State Highway 121 toll road may not have to pay more to drive on the road during peak times, according to a tentative proposal that could be considered next week.

The proposal would lower previously approved toll rates of 17 cents per mile to 14.5 cents per mile from 6:30 to 9 a.m. and from 6 to 9 p.m.

However, the 14.5-cents-per-mile rate also would apply at all other times of day, up from the current off-peak rate of 12 cents per mile.

If approved, the proposal could take a bite out of the commuting tab for peak-time users of Highway 121. A daily driver could save about $125 a year on the 10.5-mile Collin County portion from Central Expressway to the Dallas North Tollway.

A driver on the 13.9-mile portion of Highway 121 from the tollway to Business 121 in Coppell could save about $167 a year.

The Regional Transportation Council, the policymaking body of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, could consider the proposal at a tentatively scheduled meeting next week.


© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co


"They're going to want to move as quickly as possible."

Private firm likely to build last part of Texas 130

Cintra-Zachry and state working on $1 billion deal to extend tollway to Seguin.

June 10, 2006

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

The Texas 130 toll road, already nearing completion from Georgetown to south of the Austin airport, would be extended 40 miles to Seguin by the Spanish-American partnership Cintra-Zachry LP under a more than $1 billion tentative agreement reached with the state.

The 50-year deal, likely to be approved by the Texas Transportation Commission at its June 29 meeting, would mark the first time that the state has handed over construction and operation of a state highway to a private company.

But almost surely, it won't be the last.

Cintra-Zachry, under an umbrella agreement with the state reached last year, will have the right to make a similar first offer for various pieces of a proposed 315-mile tollway parallel to Interstate 35 from San Antonio to north of Dallas.

And the Texas Department of Transportation has made it clear it wants to attract private investors to build and run major new roads all over the state.

The agreement in principle on Texas 130 was announced Monday in New York by Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton at a seminar for investors put on by the agency, declaring that it was "open for business."

The out-of-the-way venue for such a major announcement — the agency did not follow up with a press release — was a signal from the Transportation Department to the toll road investment community that it is serious about making such deals, officials said.

"If the lawyers don't wander off the reservation, we'll ink this thing pretty quick," Houghton said Friday.

Had the state built the rest of Texas 130 on its own, officials said, the agency would have had to borrow money and divert gas tax money from other projects. Instead, under this proposal, all the money will come from the private sector, and the state will get a cut of the toll revenue.

A route for Texas 130 south of the Austin segments being completed by Lone Star Infrastructure LLC was set several years ago, although an ongoing environmental reassessment might cause minor changes.

But, in general, the four-lane tollway would overlay U.S. 183 from Mustang Ridge to north of Lockhart (with four frontage lanes alongside that would be free and replace the existing highway), then jog west of Lockhart before running south to Interstate 10 at Seguin.

The 30 or so miles after the road leaves U.S. 183 would not have continuous frontage roads.

Given that the agreement is still being committed to paper, and that commissioners have not voted on it, Transportation Department officials Friday were willing to release only a mixture of specifics and generalities.
  • Cintra-Zachry would spend more than $1 billion doing the road's final design, negotiating with and paying private land owners for right of way (although the state would get title to the land), moving utilities and constructing the roads and toll facilities. It would then pay for operations and maintenance for the next five decades.
  • Cintra-Zachry, in its initial proposal for the umbrella agreement on the entire 315 miles of what would be called TTC-35, had said it would pay the state an upfront concession fee of $36.7 million for this section. There would still be a payment to the state, officials said Friday, but for now, they would not specify the amount.
Amadeo Saenz, the Transportation Department's engineering director, said the agency's general policy on such concession agreements is going to be to get an upfront payment as well as an immediate and escalating portion of all toll revenue.

Saenz outlined a three-tier scenario in which the state would get a certain percentage of tolls immediately, then more once the private road operator had made a certain rate of return on its investment, then finally a 50-50 split after yet another threshold rate of return occurs.
  • The agreement will set out a base toll rate, then allow it to increase by an index tied to inflation. Details of that toll regime, as well as the concession and revenue-sharing, will be released just before or at the June 29 commission meeting.
  • The 40 miles, unlike the northerly 49 miles under construction by another contractor, would have no cash toll collection facilities. Instead, motorists would need an electronic toll tag to use the turnpike.
  • The state, through Cintra-Zachry, would buy about 400 feet of right-of-way width along the route, Saenz said.
  • A new freight rail line, long discussed as an alternative to the Union Pacific tracks running from Round Rock to San Antonio, would run in a separate and as yet undetermined path. Officials in the past had indicated that such a rail line might be installed in the median of Texas 130 south of Austin.
  • Cintra-Zachry, in its larger 2004 proposal, had contemplated construction beginning in 2007.
The revised environmental analysis should be done by year's end, Saenz said, and that would free Cintra-Zachry to begin acquiring right of way.

Saenz and other officials declined to predict a groundbreaking date but said that Cintra-Zachry, assuming it borrows money to build the road, would surely make it sooner than later.

"The interest clock will be ticking," Saenz said, "so they're going to want to move as quickly as possible."; 445-3698

© 2006 Austin American-Statesman:


Friday, June 09, 2006

News blurbs: CAMPO, Ric Williamson and Mike Weaver

Naked City

CAMPO; first TxDOT forum; "pass- through financing (AKA "pass through tolls" or "shadow tolls")

JUNE 9, 2006

Austin Chronicle
Copyright 2006

(CAMPO Forecast)
  • Toll roads and revised revenue forecasts have shaved about $8 billion off the projected shortfall of relieving traffic congestion in Central Texas. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's Texas Metropolitan Mobility Plan, which is being shopped around the region this week, still maintains it will cost about $27 billion to relieve Central Texas' long-term traffic woes. Subtract revised revenue and toll roads, however, and the total funding for those needs now falls only $10 billion short. That's compared to the $18 billion shortfall projected only two years ago. CAMPO also has a list of short-term unfunded projects – those that must be done by 2015 – to alleviate current traffic tie-ups. To take a look at the plan, check out CAMPO's final meeting tonight, at the San Marcos Public Library, 6-8pm. Or take a look at CAMPO's Web site, – K.R.
(Shadow Tolls)
  • In other transportation news, Central Texas cannot circumvent toll roads by using the Texas Department of Transportation's new method of "pass-through financing," a panel told county commissioners at this week's meeting. Pass-through financing, much touted by toll road opponents in recent weeks, is a new TxDOT financing method in which the state repays local jurisdictions for fronting the cost of much-needed improvements on the state road system. Under the system, a jurisdiction, such as Travis County, would tell the state it agrees to put up the cost of the road improvement, as well as agrees to complete it quickly, and the state agrees to repay the majority of that cost to the jurisdiction over time out of gas tax revenues. Consultant Mike Weaver, who is working with Hays County, said pass-through financing is limited to those roads that are not considered "toll viable," such as major farm-to-market roads. In the case of Travis County, that won't be Highway 71 or US 290, but it could be improvements to roads such as FM 1826 to Pflugerville, FM 2244 out to Bee Caves, and FM 1626 out to Hays County. – K.R.
(Don't mess with TxDOT)
  • The Texas Department of Transportation kicks off its first Texas Transportation Forum this week under the auspices of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the federal highway system, with high-profile speeches from Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta and Gov. Rick Perry. Obviously, a forum in Austin is nothing unusual. What has transportation insiders talking is the fact that TxDOT's forum is a clear pre-emption of the 9th Annual Transportation Summit in Irving in August, sponsored by Dallas-based Dean International. Dean International has been on the "outs" with TxDOT since it backed some anti-TTC-35 maneuvering by the City of Dallas. At the time, Texas Transportation Commission Chair Ric Williamson publicly rebuked Dean International and instructed TxDOT staff to stop attending Dean-backed functions. The Irving summit is considered the biggest event of its kind in the nation and often includes keynote speeches from notable transportation experts and key federal lawmakers. – K.R.

© 2006 Austin Chronicle Corp.:


Transportation Secretary: "Rickie you're doing a heckuva job."

Perry, Mineta laud new wave of toll roads

June 8, 2006

Associated Press
Copyright 2006

PFLUGERVILLE, Texas - While state transportation leaders touted the impact of 50 years of interstate highways Thursday, they also joined Gov. Rick Perry in lauding Texas' burgeoning pay-as-you-go system of toll roads.

Perry, federal Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and other officials toured part of a 40-mile section of the Central Texas Turnpike, which will be early and under budget when it opens this fall.

The $3.5 billion turnpike is designed to reduce congestion in and around Austin.

Motorists using the roads will stop and pay cash at the toll booths or drive straight through using a TxTAG, an electronic toll device placed on the windshield.

Perry has touted toll roads as a way to quickly and cheaply build Texas out of a growing problem of crowded highways.

While Interstate 35 remains a freeway, the new toll roads will allow drivers to pay to avoid Austin traffic at a price of 10 cents to 12 cents per mile.

"Soon Texans can leave behind the traffic jams, the bottlenecks, the jackknifed big rigs on I-35 for a small toll," Perry said. "That's the exchange. Drivers won't even have to slow down."

The state Transportation Department on Thursday also opened a two-day conference on the 50th anniversary of the interstate highway system started under President Eisenhower.

But Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said the days of Texas counting on federal gasoline tax revenues and work projects to pay for and build major new highways is long gone.

"That time, and that circumstance, has passed," Williamson said.

The Central Texas Turnpike was paid for with a combination of road bonds, a federal loan and local government contributions.

It includes some of the highest interchanges in the area at 110 feet.

The network of roads was built in less than four years, compared to the estimated 25 it would have taken if the state relied solely on federal tax money, Perry said.

The only other way to build that fast would be to raise the current gasoline tax of 20 cents per gallon by $1 or more, Perry said.

Mineta said Texas should be a model for other states looking to build major highways.

"Texas is showing the rest of the country how to expand major parts of its highway system," Mineta said.

Toll roads haven't come without their political speed bumps.

The state is in the early stages of the Trans Texas Corridor highway system Perry first proposed in 2002.

The overall plan calls for 4,000-plus miles of tollways and railways across the state that would incorporate oil and gas pipelines, utility and water lines and even broadband.

The project has been criticized by farmers and private property rights activists.

Perry's opponents in the race for governor, independents Kinky Friedman and Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Democrat Chris Bell, all have criticized the toll road plan.

Strayhorn has called on Perry to make public the state contract with Cintra-Zachry, the Spanish-American partnership developing the first phase of the corridor.

Cintra-Zachry reached a $7.2 billion deal with the state last year to develop a traffic route running roughly parallel to Interstate 35.

Cintra-Zachry and state transportation officials went to court to keep parts of the deal secret.

Perry campaign spokesman Robert Black said most of the contract is open to the public except for proprietary information.

© 2006 The Associated Press:


Thursday, June 08, 2006

“Folks, I don’t have a problem telling them where to put it.”

TTC raises ire in Cooke County

June 07, 2006

Gainesville Daily Register
Copyright 2006

WOODBINE —About 450 people packed the cafetorium of the Rad Ware building of Callisburg Elementary School off FM 3164 for an informational meeting regarding the Trans-Texas Corridor. At the starting time of 7 p.m. a line of people stretched past the library’s door to sign in. As the meeting commenced it was standing-room-only, as visitors took to the cafetorium stage and steps for seating.

“Oh wow,” said Billy Baldwin, a Woodbine area rancher and one of the organizers of the meeting.

Baldwin led the opening and closing prayers for the gathering, then asking for each person in the audience to ask God if the Trans-Texas Corridor plan, as currently envisioned, is right or wrong.

In a show of hands, perhaps 5 to 10 percent of the audience raised their hands when asked how many in the audience were undecided on whether the Trans-Texas corridor should be built. The great majority of the audience cheered statements against the tollway system, with few in favor of the project scattered throughout the cafetorium.

Amy Klein, also one of the organizers, emceed the event. She asked that each person sign-in for a mailing list and register to vote. She said the only way change can be made is if Cooke County residents come together as a group to oppose the project.

Following Klein, Cooke County Judge Bill Freeman read a resolution passed by Cooke County voicing opposition to the Trans-Texas corridor project, including TTC-35, the arm of the vast network of toll roads proposed by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). TTC-35, a proposed four-to-10-lane highway which also could include six rails and utility lines, would be 400 to 1,200-feet wide spanning Texas from north to south.

Freeman’s reading of the ordinance met applause. He said it is possible to halt the project “if each person got together and let the Legislature know what you desire to happen.”

The “preferred route” for Trans-Texas Corridor 35 (TTC-35, the portion of the road which will run roughly parallel to Interstate Highway 35 in most places), cuts through southeastern Cooke County. TxDOT presented a map in March which included a 10-mile study area through Burns City, Callisburg, Collinsville, Gainesville, Lake Kiowa, Mountain Springs, Oak Ridge, Whitesboro, Woodbine and all points in between.

Freeman said though many are opposed to the possible taking of private property in eastern Cooke County, TxDOT is not the enemy.

“TxDOT maintains all these roads we have, and our bridges ...” Freeman said. “The Legislature is not our enemy. But we need to work with these people and hopefully use the Interstate 35 corridor where it exists.”

Chris Hammel, of the Blackland Coalition, headquarted in Bell County which is also along I-35 and the preferred route of TTC-35, followed Freeman.

“I could say ‘amen, you touched on all the issues, and you can go home now,’” Hammel said, meeting laughter.

He shared a brief history of the Blackland Coalition, and how it was formed in Holland, Texas, as news of the Trans-Texas Corridor plan was made known via a public meeting there.

“I was just kind of alarmed at what was happening,” Hammel said, noting he met a contractor from France. “I got the impression that the information was being controlled.”

He said future meetings grew in attendance until the Blackland Coalition was formed. He said Cooke County is experiencing a similar situation with hundreds gathered to learn more about the project.

“It hasn’t touched a nerve here, has it?” Hammel said.

Hammel reminded the audience of the importance of voting. He said in September 2001 68 percent of voters approved of unelected Regional Mobility Authorities which would have the authority to carry out projects like TTC-35.

Hammel said “I’m a rube — I didn’t know what I was voting for.”

He said Gov. Rick Perry told a group of people at TxDOT to come up with a plan in 90 days to implement the governor’s vision of a statewide network of toll roads, to be compatible with a larger plan known as the Crossroads Across America. The result, he said, was the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Hammel said his intent is not to “demonize” TxDOT or the governor, but to let the public know “it (TxDOT) is being held hostage by political opportunists.”

Hammel said a Houston Chronicle article dated Aug. 30, 2002, stated donations from companies involved in transportation projects were “a lucrative source of campaign contributions” to major candidates. (The information in the article could not be verified by press time.)

He said he fears the Trans-Texas Corridor may also be lining the pockets of officials seeking re-election.

“That fact is, Texas is going into the private property business, and is leasing it to a foreign business,” he said, noting Cintra-Zachry’s financing of the corridor.

Cintra-Zachry, a Spanish company based in Madrid, would own TTC-35 “50 years beyond economic feasibility.”

“What happens to a road after 50 years?” Hammel asked, meeting laughter. “... They’ll give it back just in time for us to rebuild it. Aren’t we fortunate.”

He continued later, “I have a hard time with foreign ownership of American infrastructure.”

Hammel said money will “flow out of the country” in the form of “concessions” to businesses who invested in the project.

Hammel said he supports Initiative and Referendum, a political proposal where voters could “initiate” bills in the Texas Legislature and also approve of them in a “referendum” election. He said having such a system in place would allow voters to overrule TxDOT.

Hammel later proposed term limits for Legislators.

Hammel said though his group is not supporting a candidate for Texas governor yet, he noted independent candidate Carole Keeton (Rylander) Strayhorn was the only one who attended a recent forum of candidates regarding the TTC-35 project at Seaton Hall near Temple. No one from Perry’s office attended, he said, though campaign officials from Democrat Chris Bell’s campaign and a campaign manager from independent Richard “Kinky” Friedman’s camp attended. Neither campaign officials knew about the Trans-Texas corridor at first, he said.

Hammel urged those in attendance to send in information, opinions and other items to Legislators and other state officials regarding TTC-35.

“My advice: Bury them. Bury them in information,” he said.

He said though the project may not be stopped in the near future, the immediate plan should be to “Make it wiggle ... slow it down a bit and push it into the next gubernatorial election.”

He said by property owners securing eminent domain lawyers, they will effectively raise the cost of TTC-35 by representing higher property values — assuming the values would be lower if an attorney was not hired. TxDOT is looking for the cheapest, simplest route, he said.

Following Hammel was Agnes Vogel, also of the Blackland Coalition. She said Texas transportation commissioner Ric Williamson noted a problem with privately funded road projects, such as TTC-35 — the government would have a hard time telling them where to put it.

“Folks, I don’t have a problem telling them where to put it,” she said, meeting applause.

Vogel announced a series of “Reroute Rick’s Road Rallies” across Texas, and urged those present to organize a similar rally.

Following Vogel, Christopher Swanson, an attorney with Barron, Adler and Anderson of Houston, who specialized in eminent domain property issues, spoke and answered questions.

“Quite honestly, I hope you never have to call me,” he said, noting that when state appraisers come in to make offers on private property it’s too late to do much to stop land acquisition.

He said the TTC-35 issue is the “only project I’ve ever seen where the land owners are this well organized.”

He said the audience, by being involved so early, have a “strategic advantage.”

Swanson answered a question from the audience they do not have to allow appraisers on their property (unless a judge says so) and they are never required to answer an appraiser’s questions about land.

“... You’re under no obligation to communicate with them whatsoever,” he said.

He said there is usually an offer made by the appraisers for “fair market value” of the land, and the property owner may make a counter-offer. He said sentimental value means nothing to an appraiser, so a property owner should do things to increase the value of his or her property, such as add access roads and work on infrastructure. He said “landlocked” property is the least expensive.

Answering another question from the audience, Swanson said a property owner may not recoup attorney’s fees from the state.

A gray-haired man in suspenders addressed the audience during the question and answer period saying, “If this gets to eminent domain, we’ve lost!”

One man took to the microphone to voice his reluctant support for the Trans-Texas corridor.

“It’s gonna happen,” said Rupert Hoenig of Muenster, meeting jeers from the crowd.

He told dissenters to “shut up” and let him speak. He called such gatherings “two hours of nothing happening.” He said previous projects, such as Interstate 35, were inevitable.

He could not be reached for further comment, as he left the meeting shouting that he was “forcefully dejected.”

By 8:45 p.m. the audience had thinned out to about half its original size.

Hammel, taking the podium to answer another question, said the 10-mile study area is not the width of the road, and will not be purchased. He added the length would be 4,000 miles if you count the lanes individually.

Following some other comments, Klein noted the Republican Party of Texas has a plank in its platform against the Trans-Texas corridor.

Klein encouraged the audience to return to next week’s meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. June 13 at the Rad Ware school.

Baldwin gave a closing remark, requesting “the same show of force” and just as many people for a TxDOT meeting July 10 at the Gainesville Civic Center.

The meeting adjourned around 9:15 p.m. with a closing prayer by Baldwin.

“Lord, help us save our land and our homes ...” he prayed.

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at
print this story email this story

© 2006 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc (Gainesville Daily Register):


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Spanish Acquisition continues...

BAA accepts takeover bid from Ferrovial

June 6, 2006

The Associated Press
Copyright 2006

LONDON - BAA PLC, which operates seven airports in Britain, said Tuesday it has accepted a 10 billion pound ($19 billion) takeover bid from a consortium led by Spanish airport operator and engineering company Ferrovial SA.

The announcement came a day after BAA, which operates London‘s Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports, confirmed that it was in talks with Ferrovial and with another consortium.

The Takeover Panel, an independent body that administers London‘s code on mergers and takeovers, had on Tuesday extended the deadline until June 16 for Ferrovial to announce a firm intention to make an offer for BAA or to walk away.

The Ferrovial consortium also includes Canadian investment fund Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec and Singapore government fund GIC.

In a filing with the Spanish stock market supervisor, the CNMV, Ferrovial said the shares in the new company would be listed on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange.

The Goldman Sachs-led group made a preliminary offer of 870 pence a share in May, which BAA rejected. Britain‘s Competition Commission last week issued a "put up or shut up" order to the group, giving it a deadline of June 9 to come forward with an offer.

BAA owns and operates airports that handle 63 percent of travelers to and from Britain, a figure that rises to 86 percent in Scotland — where BAA runs airports at Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen — and to 92 percent in London.

The company‘s international business includes managing the Indianapolis airport, and retail management at Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Boston-Logan airports.

The company also manages 19 toll roads in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Chile, Canada and the United States, and is a partner with the state of Texas in designing the $175 billion Trans-Texas Corridor railway and highway project.

© 2006 The Associated Press:


"It creates a buzz and it's certainly not a happy buzz."

Cash-strapped states embrace toll roads

As highway funds dwindle, South Carolina eyes revenues from I-95 tolls. Indiana and Texas lease roads to firms.

June 07, 2006

By Patrik Jonsson
The Christian Science Monitor
Copyright 2006

ATLANTA – America has a freeway problem.

It needs to spend an extra $118.9 billion - above and beyond current state and federal highway funding - to upgrade its roads and bridges through 2022, the Federal Highway Administration estimates. But motorists, already distraught over rising fuel prices, don't want to foot the bill with higher gasoline taxes. So politicians from Oregon to South Carolina are reviving an old solution: the toll road.

Once seen as harbors of patronage, turnpikes are seeing a roadway renaissance. New technology that allows drivers to buzz through booths at a full clip is changing how Americans perceive their motoring experience, and revealing creative - and profitable - ways to build and maintain roads. Critics say the trend threatens to wreck the egalitarian spirit of highway travel in America by creating a form of travel tiered by wealth.

"There's clearly a trend for states to look at [tolls] and there's a lot of money on the table," says Matt Sundeen, a policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver. "It's very alluring, because a lot of states have enormous highway budget shortfalls."

Politicians are scrambling for new highway funding options because traditional ones are dwindling. Gas taxes raised per mile of interstate highway, for example, have fallen by about half since the 1960s, after accounting for inflation, says the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank in Los Angeles. "We have a shortfall between the capacity that's needed and money that we have to build it," says Geoffrey Segal, the group's government reform director.

For many Americans, toll roads, especially with the advent of zip-through lanes, are increasingly appealing - if it eases their morning commute. Sixty percent of Californians said recently they favor toll roads over freeways if they save time, according to Lake Research Partners, a Washington, D.C., market research firm.

As a result, states are making bold moves. South Carolina has petitioned the federal government to turn its swath of I-95 into a toll road. The new I-25 high-speed toll lanes opened last week in Denver. Oregon is considering eliminating its gas tax in favor of making motorists pay for road usage per mile - with the help of toll transponders linked to a GPS system. Atlanta is mulling putting truck tolls on I-285, its crammed perimeter road.

Moreover, states are increasingly looking at an option already popular in Europe and Australia: leasing to a company the right to collect tolls on roads that it maintains. Illinois last week signed legislation that would allow such public-private partnerships. New Jersey is considering leasing out the New Jersey Turnpike. Texas has gone one better, partnering with Spain's Cintra to build a new highway - the $6 billion, 316-mile Trans-Texas Corridor 35 - expected to open in 2014.

States woke up to the possibility of leasing existing toll roads to private management firms when a partnership of Cintra and Australia's Macquarie Infrastructure Group agreed to pay $3.85 billion to Indiana for the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road, a year after the same group paid $1.8 billion for the eight-mile-long Chicago Skyway. Some $25 billion worth of public-private toll ventures are under way in at least six states, says the Reason Foundation.

"Right now, Americans are looking at toll roads - or no roads," says Peter Samuel, editor of Tollroads News, an online newsletter. Yet many projects face "popular suspicion."

Some critics complain that no-compete clauses in toll deals often include measures to lower speed limits on parallel free roads to drive traffic to the toll road - a polite form of highway robbery, they say.

"When government starts talking about raising tolls, putting in new tolls or selling off tollways, it creates a buzz [among motorists] and it's certainly not a happy buzz," says Eric Skrum, a spokesman for the National Motorists Association in Waunakee, Wis.

Protest has bubbled over in some states. Only one Democratic legislator in GOP-dominated Indiana voted for the toll road deal, as complaints rose about selling rights to the road to a foreign concern. In Austin, Texas, activists cobbled together the "Toll Party" to fight new toll roads there. The group claims to have unseated the pro-toll mayor of an Austin suburb.

© 2006 The Christian Science Monitor:


Skid Marks

State puts firm on shelf for now

Accounting irregularities at PBS&J caused overcharges on numerous highway contracts

June 06, 2006

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

The Texas Department of Transportation has stopped granting new contracts to a Florida engineering company that has overcharged the state and clients nationwide because of accounting irregularities.

Amadeo Saenz, the agency's engineering director, told PBS&J in a May 23 letter to the company's Dallas office that it would fall out of consideration for any new contracts until further notice. In addition, the department will not issue any additional work authorizations to the company on existing contracts, meaning in-progress projects could eventually be shifted to other construction companies or delayed.

PBS&J is overseeing three Austin-area toll roads and doing engineering and design work on other road projects statewide.

The state Transportation Department has been in negotiations with PBS&J for months to recover overcharges stemming from by suspected theft by the company's former chief financial officer and two other Miami employees. W. Scott DeLoach, the former chief financial officer, resigned in March 2005 and has admitted to authorities his role in the misappropriation of funds, company president Todd Kenner said Monday.

The accounting improprieties had the effect of increasing what is called an overhead rate, or multiplier, in the construction industry. That multiplier is applied to base rates for engineering and design services to determine billings to clients.

Officials with the agency could not say Monday how much the state may have been overcharged. But Saenz, in a May 24 memo to his chief engineers in the department's districts around the state, said the overcharges had run from as early as 2000 to the present.

Kenner said the company had hired an independent accounting firm since DeLoach's departure and has calculated a new and lower overhead rate. He predicted that the state and PBS&J would settle their differences shortly.

"Both parties are working for a final resolution by the end of June," Kenner said. PBS&J has about 3,900 employees — 800 in Texas — in 75 U.S. locations, he said. The company has about 40 active contracts with the state Transportation Department.

PBS&J is the general engineering contractor for the Central Texas Turnpike Project. The $2.5 billion, 66-mile project began in 2003 and should wrap up next year with the opening of Texas 130, Texas 45 North and an extension of Loop 1 (MoPac Boulevard).

Bob Daigh, the Austin district engineer for the Transportation Department, said the suspen- sions will not delay the project.; 445-3698

© 2006 Austin American-Statesman:


Even Ric Williamson can come. Free of charge.

Cooke Co. meeting of Citizens Against Trans-Texas Corridor open to everyone

Jun 5, 2006

By media release
North Texas e-News
Copyright 2006

Two meetings concerning the highly controversial Trans-Texas Corridor are scheduled Tuesday, June 6, and Tuesday, June 13, at Woodbine, Texas, in the Woodbine Elementary School cafeteria, at 7 p.m.

According to, the TTC-35 will span a width of about four football fields (1,200 feet), and will include separate, multiple toll lanes for passenger vehicles and large trucks, freight railways, high-speed commuter railways, and infrastructure for utilities including water lines, oil and gas pipelines, and transmission lines for electricity, broadband and other telecommunications services.

It is part of a broader proposal of corridors across Texas, including a portion of the national I-69 Project which involves 7 states, connecting Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. Concerned Indiana citizens, including farmers and especially the Amish community, have been fighting their portion of “new terrain” I-69 for years.

Concerns of many North Texas citizens over TTC-35 include environmental impact, eminent domain issues, the loss of valuable farm land, desecration of historic sites and cemeteries, taxation issues, funding issues, impact on local economy, and the divisive nature of such a massive transportation corridor, some 1,200 feet wide, stretching from Laredo to the Red River. Current plans endanger 2,800 acres in Cooke County alone.

Speakers at the June 6 meeting will include Agnes Voges from Blackland Coalition, and eminent domain attorneys Barron, Adler, Anderson, LLP.

Speakers at the June 13 meeting will include State Representative Rick Hardcastle, and representatives from the Austin office of the Texas Farm Bureau, and Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

The elementary school is located on 3164 just south of 678. Woodbine is south of Hwy. 82, on 678, southeast of Gainesville. Signs will be posted with directions to the cafeteria in the new building. Everyone is welcome.

North Texas e-News:


Monday, June 05, 2006

"The people there are just as vulnerable today as they were before."

Eminent domain case was like shot heard 'round U.S.


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Copyright 2006

The first battle of Fort Trumbull in Connecticut, captured by British troops led by traitor Benedict Arnold during the Revolutionary War, produced less impact than the siege simmering there now.

One year ago, homeowners in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London lost their legal battle before the U.S. Supreme Court to keep their homes from being condemned by the city to make way for upscale development. Their loss sparked a backlash that resulted in Georgia — and most states across the nation — passing laws to limit similar condemnations.

Georgia legislators had discussed eminent domain before the ruling, but immediately after the ruling, the issue caught fire. Study committee meetings led last summer by Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick) were packed with citizens, attorneys and lobbyists.

State Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Atlanta) led the House Judiciary Committee that oversaw the writing of Georgia's law through numerous hearings with standing room only crowds this year. It has been a long time since he has seen an issue that attracted such broad public interest and input, Willard said.

"It took that [court] decision to wake up people and say, golly, we are all subject to that same law," he said.

Larry Morandi, director of state policy research at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said, "Every state Legislature that went into session or was in session since June 23 of last year [44 total] has considered legislation restricting the use of eminent domain."

Twenty-seven of them passed laws restricting the use of eminent domain; others are still working on the issue.

"I've never seen this much legislative action this quickly after a Supreme Court decision," Morandi said.

Scott Bullock, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Va., which defended the homeowners in New London, said he knew there was resentment against condemnations, but he was surprised at the national reaction.

"There was outrage, and people could not believe that could happen here. ... And it has been a true turning point in the battle."

The lawyers from the Institute for Justice did a masterful job of portraying this as an "everyman" case, Morandi said — everybody has a home, every home could be subject to being taken away by powerful developers with government collusion.

"This is a gut issue, whether you are in Georgia or Vermont, Democrat or Republican, property rights affect everyone," he said.

The broad appeal led to strange alliances, he said.

That happened in Georgia also, where members of the Christian Coalition, the Sierra Club, the Georgia Baptist Convention and the Henry County chapter of the NAACP joined in a news conference to urge Gov. Sonny Perdue and the Legislature to take decisive action.

Georgia passed one of the better laws, in the estimation of the Institute for Justice. But it came too late to help the most high-profile case in Georgia.

The city of Stockbridge is condemning Mark Meeks' flower shop to make way for a downtown development to be built largely by private companies. Legislators considered whether they could make the law retroactive to save Meeks' land before deciding not to try.

Meeks is fighting the condemnation through court appeals. He will be a guest of the Institute for Justice at a national conference on eminent domain next week in Arlington, along with Susette Kelo, one of the homeowners in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood.

Though Kelo lost her case, she and five other families have yet to relinquish their homes. New London legally owns them and set a deadline for the owners to accept the city's final monetary offers last week.

Bert Gall, another Institute for Justice attorney, said, "[The city is] going to take the money off the table and are threatening them with back taxes and fines."

Connecticut considered new legislation restricting eminent domain, but it did nothing.

"The people there are just as vulnerable today as they were before," Gall said.

"It was the epicenter and nothing happened."

© 2006 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:


"You are a disgrace to the city, the state and the nation."

New London preparing for evictions in eminent domain dispute

June 5, 2006

By Stephen Singer
Associated Press
Copyright 2006

NEW LONDON, Conn. --City officials were preparing Monday to begin eviction proceedings against residents who refuse to leave their riverfront homes, a move that could signal the end is near in an eminent domain dispute that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I anticipate we are headed into the home stretch," New London Mayor Elizabeth Sabilia said Monday morning, hours before the City Council was due to vote on whether to evict the two families remaining in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood.

The meeting was under way Monday night. No vote had been taken. About 100 people filled the meeting room, a hallway and an adjacent room.

Michael Cristofaro, one of the Fort Trumbull holdouts, spoke out against the property seizures.

"Just give us back our deeds," Cristofaro said. "You are not being straight with us or the public. You are not listening to the general public."

Cristofaro singled out five of the seven council members who favor taking the property.
"You are a disgrace to the city, the state and the nation," he said.

The small city has been trying for a decade to redevelop the once vibrant riverfront neighborhood. Seven homeowners challenged the city's plans to seize the property and build a hotel, convention center and upscale condominiums along the Thames River, saying eminent domain can't be used to make way for private development.

But a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling last year upheld the city's right to take the homes. Since then, all but two people have settled with the city and agreed to leave.

One Fort Trumbull resident, William Von Winkle, agreed to a settlement with the city Monday, just minutes before the City Council meeting began, The Day of New London reported. The terms were not disclosed.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has proposed letting the holdouts remain in their homes but giving the city the right of first refusal if the houses ever were sold.

"Tonight's a really big night," said Scott Bullock, an attorney for the residents. "They have the chance to accept the governor's proposal and resolve this once and for all."

Sabilia said Rell's proposal won't be approved. With the settlement deadline expired, the City Council was to vote Monday night on whether to begin evictions.

"The balance of councilors are staying the course," said Sabilia, who also votes on the council.
One local resident who spoke Monday night, Donald Harrington, was against Rell's plan.

"What right has she got to tell the city of New London what to do?" he asked.

An eviction process, which includes another court fight, would take a month to three months. But that's negligible in a land dispute that has been up and down the court system over several years.

"You know how some things take on a life of their own?" Sabilia said. "This thing is like a cat. It's taken on nine lives."

Bullock said he doesn't think the city wants the publicity that will come with razing the homes.
"It would be a disaster, evicting Susette Kelo from that pink house that nearly everybody in the nation recognizes by now, when you've got a proposal from the governor on the table," he said.
Kelo, a 49-year-old nurse who bought her home in 1997, became the lead plaintiff in the court battle and has refused to sell, as has Cristofaro.

© 2006 The Associated Press:


"The first foreign customs facility allowed to operate on U.S. soil."


Coming soon to U.S.: Mexican customs office

June 5, 2006

Jerome Corsi
Copyright 2006

Kansas City is planning to allow the Mexican government to open a Mexican customs office in conjunction with the Kansas City SmartPort. This will be the first foreign customs facility allowed to operate on U.S. soil.

City leaders voted last month to give the facility an innocuous name to hide its true identity as an arm of the Mexican government, staffed by Mexican officials.

In fact, Kansas City is so enthusiastic about the opportunity, the cost of building the $3 million dollar facility for Mexico will be paid for by Kansas City taxpayers, not by the Mexican government.

The current plan for the NAFTA Super Corridor calls for the construction of a 12-lane highway (six lanes in each direction) along Interstate 35. The Kansas City SmartPort is designed to be the central hub in the planned NAFTA north-south superhighway cutting through the heart of the United States.

Supercargo ships, carrying goods made by cheap labor in the Far East and China, will unload in the Mexican port at Lazaro Cardenas, eliminating the need to use costly union longshoremen workers in Los Angeles or Long Beach. Rather than transporting the containers by trucks from the West Coast, using Teamster drivers, or on rail, with the assistance of railroad labor in the United Transportation Union, the containers will be loaded onto Mexican non-union railroads at Lazaro Cardenas. At Monterrey, Mexico, the containers will then be loaded onto Mexican non-union semi-trailer trucks that will cross the border at Laredo, Texas, to begin their journey north along the Trans-Texas Corridor, the first leg of the planned continental NAFTA Super Corridor.

To speed the crossing at Laredo, Texas, the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America working groups within the U.S. Department of Commerce will allow Mexican trucks to be equipped with electronic FAST technology so the trucks can cross the border in express lanes.

At the Kansas City SmartPort hub, the containers can be transferred to semi-trailers heading east or west, or simply stay on the Mexican trucks all the way into Canada.

According to the SmartPort website, in March 2005, Kansas City signed a cooperative pact with representatives from the Mexican state of Michoacan, where Lazaro Cardenas is located, to increase the cargo volume between Lazaro Cardenas and Kansas City. The whole point is to move cargo fast, using cheap, below union-wage scale Mexican workers to move the containers from Asia into the heart of the USA.

Shipments will be pre-screened in Southeast Asia, and the shipper will send advance notification to Mexican and American Customs with the corresponding ''pre-clearance'' information on the cargo. Upon arrival in Mexico, containers will pass through multiple X-ray and gamma ray screenings, allowing any containers with anomalies to quickly be removed for further inspection.

Container shipments will be tracked using intelligent transportation systems, or ITS, that could include global positioning systems or radio frequency identification systems, and monitored on their way to inland trade-processing centers in Kansas City and elsewhere in the United States.

As the Kansas City SmartPort website brags: ''Kansas City offers the opportunity for sealed cargo containers to travel to Mexican port cities with virtually no border delays. It will streamline shipments from Asia and cut the time and labor costs associated with shipping through the congested ports on the West Coast.''

Kansas City Southern, or KCS, has just completed putting together what is being called ''The NAFTA Railroad.'' On Jan. 1, 2005, KCS took control of The Texas Mexican Railway Company and the U.S. portion of the International Bridge in Laredo, Texas.

Then in April 2005, KCS purchased the controlling interests in Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana, which KCS promptly renamed the Kansas City Southern de Mexico, or KCSM.

Again, the Kansas City SmartPort website notes that ''Kansas City Southern is installing Spanish-language versions of its computer operating system (MCS) in an effort to increase train speeds, reduce waiting times at terminals and enable the free flow of locomotives and rail cars between the United States and Mexico via Kansas City Southern's railroad bridge at Laredo, Texas.''

No stop is planned for customs inspection for KCSM trains until the Mexican customs facility located at Kansas City. The only security check planned at the U.S. border with Mexico is electronic, with the KCSM railroad moving along pre-approved KCS rail lines.

© 2006 :


TxDOT sets the stage for a private toll road builder in Houston

Plans for Beltway 8 near Fall Creek fuzzy

June 4, 2006

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2006

Tracy Carrico and Mike Wantulla ask whether there are plans to extend Beltway 8 from the Eastex Freeway to U.S. 90, finally closing the big loop also known as the Sam Houston Tollway/Parkway.

"As the development increases at Fall Creek at Wilson Road and all of the new developments on West Lake Houston Parkway, the traffic would seem to justify an expansion," Carrico said.

Wantulla said that since he moved to Fall Creek in January 2005, "traffic has slowed to stop-and-go conditions ... and is getting worse."

It's a good question, because right now, the future of that segment is in doubt.

Today it consists only of frontage roads, between which is a wide median where the Harris County Toll Road Authority would like to build tolled main lanes. But spokeswoman Patricia Freise says plans for that project are not final.

One sticking point is money. For decades, the Texas Department of Transportation lacked authority to build toll roads and was willing to let the Harris County Toll Road Authority use state-owned right of way to build its own free of charge.

But legislation in 2003 gave TxDOT new powers, including the right to contract with others, such as the Toll Road Authority and private business, to build and operate toll roads on TxDOT land.

This meant that TxDOT could "use roads as a tool to generate revenue," said agency spokeswoman Janelle Gbur.

Now vigorously following that policy, TxDOT recently advised Harris County officials that it will cost them $1.2 billion and an unspecified share of future toll revenue for the Toll Road Authority to build three planned toll roads — including the segment in question — on TxDOT land.

Gbur said TxDOT has neither sought nor received other proposals for the route. She said it gave the authority "first opportunity to be a partner with us" as a courtesy because of their past relationship.

Although Gbur said she knows of no deadline for the county to respond, the offer is not likely to sit on the table forever. "The northeast quadrant is rapidly developing, and the demand for those main lanes increases every day," she said.

© 2006 Houston Chronicle:


Sunday, June 04, 2006

Republican platform calls for scuttling Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor

Delegates back border barrier

Jun. 04, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

SAN ANTONIO -- Texas Republicans wrapped up their two-day convention in the Alamo City on Saturday by adopting a party platform demanding that a "physical barrier" be built along the Rio Grande.

Continuing a theme that emerged from the convention podium Friday, the state's two U.S. senators vowed to resist any effort to grant amnesty to undocumented immigrants.

And they blamed the federal government, which has been under full Republican control since the 2002 elections, for neglecting border security.

"Make no mistake, this is the responsibility of our federal government," Sen. John Cornyn told the 10,000-plus delegates in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

"And our federal government has failed for too many years."

Cornyn and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison voted against the legislation that the Senate recently passed, saying that it would have created a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 12 million people who have entered the country illegally.

Both vowed to strip that provision from the bill before final passage.

Hutchison tried to soften concerns that the get-tough-on-immigration message roiling on the convention floor and from the speakers podium might cast Republicans as mean-spirited and insensitive to minorities.

"We are a proud nation of immigrants," Hutchison said. "I am for legal immigration. I am against illegal immigration."

State Sen. Jane Nelson, a Lewisville Republican who represents part of downtown Fort Worth and parts of Northeast Tarrant and Denton counties, said illegal immigration has become a primary concern in her heavily Republican district.

"The top issue used to go back and forth between transportation and education," Nelson said in an interview. "But immigration has jumped over both of those issues in a big way."

For her constituents, Nelson said, the concern is as much about homeland security as it is about how immigration affects public services and employment.

"They're concerned that terrorists come in without any problem across our southern border," Nelson said.

In her speech to the delegates, Hutchison tried to frame the issue in a similar way.

She also warned the party faithful that President Bush's sagging poll numbers and general unease across a spectrum of issues could jeopardize the Republican majorities in Congress.

"We have never had so much to lose, and we've never had so far to fall," said Hutchison, whose re-election is being challenged by Democrat Barbara Ann Radnofsky, a Houston lawyer.

Democrats will meet in Fort Worth this week for their state convention.

In the state GOP platform, sections of which are routinely ignored by candidates, Republicans also called for scuttling Gov. Rick Perry's chief transportation initiative, the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The platform now says the mammoth system of highways, tollways and rail lines would infringe on private-property rights.

Delegates also elected the party's first African-American vice chairman in modern history.

Robin Armstrong, a Galveston-area physician, said that although he was raised in a Democratic household, he has aligned himself with the GOP since 1989 because of its anti-abortion platform and conservative outlook.

"I grew up a Democrat, I guess," Armstrong said.

"I believe [most Texans] are very conservative. I believe that minority groups are very conservative."
John Moritz, 512-476-4294

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


"When did our local leaders stop being public servants and become full-time fundraisers, albeit for public purposes?"


It's all about revenue

June 04, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

Did I miss something? When did our local leaders stop being public servants and become full-time fundraisers, albeit for public purposes?

I first noticed this phenomenon during the recent round of public meetings by the North Texas Council of Governments on potential toll roads. Little mention was made of improved mobility, better accessibility or better roads. The discussion was about how much we could charge drivers, how to divide the cash and how much cash prospective toll contractors would have to provide up-front to get the contracts.

Now it's cameras to catch red-light runners. Already the police chief in Arlington is figuring out how to spend the excess funds raised. Does no one understand that if the program is successful there will be no excess, only continued payments to the contractor, estimated by columnist Jack Z. Smith at $5,000 per month? (See May 26 column.)

Early adopters of cameras had to shorten the yellow cycle to improve the cash flow, and I suppose the ultimate is to go simply from a green to red signal as the very early stop signals did.

John Sweek, Arlington

Cities always want more revenue. National safety studies have shown that the length of the yellow light dictates both safety and revenue from traffic cameras. A longer yellow promotes safety and accidents decrease, but when the pause is lessened, revenue soars!

Traffic cameras are about revenue. A city that leases a camera at $60,000 per year needs for drivers to understand that yellow means: 'Speed up. We need the money.'

Justus Hardin, Fort Worth

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


Highways to Oblivion


Are we building highways to oblivion?

May 31-June 6, 2006

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor
The Rock River Times (Illinois)
Copyright 2006

Most Americans remain in denial or only somewhat aware of the reality of peak oil, climate change and the fiction of unlimited growth. Government is doing little to dispel those notions.

While the fact of finite resources is immutable, the politicians plan to build more and bigger roads, pledging hundreds of billions of dollars to expanding the interstate highway network.

These massive road plans assume unlimited cheap oil, a condition that is already past. That is a trillion-dollar error that can co-opt the future of our post-carbon society.

The public is focused on and concerned about $3-a-gallon gasoline, but that fixation has not resulted in any significant change in public policy. There is no political pressure to tax windfall profits, create inter-city rail networks, install solar panels on homes or to take other steps to alleviate the constriction of supplies of fossil fuels.

Instead, we are promoting more suburban sprawl, more roads and more overdevelopment all dependent on cheap gasoline. An effective response to dwindling supplies of oil will take cooperative efforts from the local level all the way to the global level.

What if someone suggested you dig up that prize bluegrass lawn and plant lettuce, radishes, onions and other food crops? How about if government decided to plow up the golf courses to plant corn and other crops?

That’s not as nutty as it sounds. Food will be one of the primary issues of the peak oil period, particularly for large cities that are some distance from farmlands. In the not-too-distant future, those big trucks may not be rolling in at your local supermarket, and the shelves may be rather bare.

We need a new transportation policy. Highway construction, which is a key part of our car culture economy, links real estate speculators, developers, road construction firms, sand and gravel mining companies, and lending institutions. Not surprisingly, in most places, these people are the bankrollers of local politicians, who make the zoning and planning decisions about building new highways and the associated development.

Considering the many campaign donations by developers, take a look at the local County Board. How many members are in the real estate or legal professions or have ties to developers?

Witness the strong political pressure to extend Perryville Road. Drive those cars.

Witness the Sunil Puri/Dyn Cannell, LLC’s request for a special-use permit to pursue a 123-acre subdivision in Rockton township—right next to the Nygren Wetland Preserve (See related stories on page A1, A5 and B5). Beloit dumped sludge containing heavy metals in the 1980s on the very land for this “Planned Community Development.” Drive those cars.

Witness the huge subdivision that is being foisted on the Village of Caledonia under questionable circumstances. Drive those cars.

Witness the costs and taxes Loves Park is trying to foist upon Rockford and farmers for the extension of Riverside Boulevard. Drive those cars.

Witness what happened to the Ditzlers, their wetlands and a Native American historical site for the Springfield-Harrison extension at the hands of the County Board. Drive those cars.

In the 1950s, the country built the interstate highway system, inspired by Hitler’s Autobahn network in Nazi Germany. That development largely happened because of a conspiracy among General Motors, Firestone Tire and Standard Oil to eradicate public transit systems in more than 100 cities. If you doubt that, go on the Internet and punch in “streetcar conspiracy” and see what comes up. There are numerous articles documenting these events.

Now, we are trying to rectify that mistake. We are spending billions on new light rail and streetcar networks in cities across the country. Rockford and Winnebago County are trying to obtain rail service for this area. Had we left the rails in place, we would not be as dependent on cars and trucks today, and dealing with peak oil would be much easier. Rail transport is much more fuel efficient than automobiles.

The interstate highways soon created huge areas of auto-dependent suburbs, which ringed the inner cities with development, leaving the core of the city largely neglected. In a speech in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. said: “These 40 million [poor] people are invisible because America is so affluent, so rich; because our expressways carry us away from the ghetto, we don’t see the poor.”

A number of cities, including Chicago, have had campaigns to stop the construction of highways. Freeway opposition was common in the 1960s, and few new roadways were proposed.

But a resurgence of such plans occurred in the 1990s, with several upgrades of the interstate system, proposed to aid in implementing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). These plans called for new and expanded north-south truck routes to expedite traffic between Canada and Mexico, plus many other projects to benefit the highway lobby, big companies like Wal-Mart, and ever-growing suburban sprawl. That was President George H. Bush’s highway law.

Mark Rabinowitz of, said laws were added to expand the program during the Bill Clinton administration and now in the second George W. Bush administration. The public, he said, has paid little attention, even the very groups that do not want more roads.

He notes many environmental groups were fooled into focusing on proposed bike paths to accompany these highways while ignoring the majority of the funding was going for the roads. A Washington, D.C.-area bicycle group, for example, is urging its members to demand inclusion of a bicycle path with the $3 billion Inter County Connector superhighway in Maryland. This flies in the face of other environmental groups there who have spent years fighting this highly destructive project.

Hopefully, the Larry Morrissey administration’s good move of planning to connect the area’s disconnected bike paths and putting bike lanes on some streets will not take the same route as Maryland’s debacle.

In Portland, Ore. Interstate 84 carries six lanes of freeway traffic plus a light rail line. The traffic on the roadway, Rabinowitz said, is helping to melt the polar ice caps. but commuters have transportation options. The electricity to run the train is provided by a mix of coal, natural gas, hydropower, nuclear power and wind.

We need a strong environmental challenge to centralized energy conglomerates’ plans to revive nuclear power, “clean” coal, oil drilling in wilderness areas and turning farmland and forests into production of biofuels. These things are unlikely to stop until we explode the myth that we can have unlimited, endless growth in a finite world.

Sustainability refers to practices that can be continued generation after generation. We have a long way to go. Walk. Bike. Buy hybrid and E-85 vehicles. Live close to work or in the central city, and fight development that robs us of our nature and farmland. Don’t drive those cars.

Editor and Publisher Frank Schier contributed to this editorial.

© 2006 Copyright 2002-2006 - The Rock River Times:


"As if there weren't already enough reasons for motorists to flip each other off."

Lexus lanes might drive new habits


By Diane Carman
The Denver Post
Cop[yright 2006

There's a let-them-eat-hydrocarbons feeling about the new Express Lanes project on I-25.

For $3.25 each way during peak travel times (less during off-peak), well-heeled commuters can leave the riffraff behind and sail along the luxurious champagne asphalt of a high-occupancy toll lane for 7 miles on Denver's north side.

On Friday, Colorado joined California, Texas and Minnesota in providing a ticket out of gridlock for anyone willing to pay for the ride.

As if there weren't already enough reasons for motorists to flip each other off.

Michael Huttner of was among the first to object to the project, which could be expanded to the Boulder Turnpike and C-470.

"It's the first type of public infrastructure in the state that is paid for by all taxpayers where there is a clear disparity in access between the wealthy and lower- and middle-income families," Huttner said. "It's really a terrible precedent."

HOT lanes have not been shown to reduce congestion, he said, "and if supporters of toll roads get their way, all over Colorado we'll have a two-class system with roads for the rich and gridlock for everybody else."

He's got a point.

Then again, so does Stacy Stegman, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation, who has seen her share of taillights on her daily commute from Highlands Ranch.

Sure, she said, paying up to 49 cents a mile to drive to work is not something she'd do every day. But if it were available on a night when the traffic was at a standstill and she wanted to get to her kid's baseball game on time, "it would be well worth it."

The HOT-lane system is designed to be self-supporting, with revenues paying for enforcement and maintenance costs. And unlike E-470 and the other toll roads around town, anybody who wants to escape traffic congestion for free can still carpool or take the bus to gain access to the high-occupancy vehicle lane.

Now, as a lifelong brown-bagging, coupon-clipping cheapskate, I can't imagine developing a HOT-lane habit.

I also find it a bit creepy to think that if I became a regular on the toll roads, along with tracking my book-buying patterns and my phone calls, the goons at the NSA could subpoena the records of my Express Lane toll travels too. I could end up implicated in all kinds of crimes committed by terrorists who read Barbara Kingsolver, make frequent calls to voicemail and occasionally drive to - gasp - Boulder.

So don't look for me among the folks racking up credit-card debt just driving to work.

Despite that, I'm all for Lexus lanes.

Bring 'em on, I say, precisely because they are expensive, elitist and offer little in the way of relief from traffic congestion.

They finally may succeed in making people aware of the real cost of solo commuting.

After all, a $140-a-month Express Lane bill added to the Visa card is pretty hard to ignore.

The pay-to-drive trend is the first step in putting a price on a lifestyle that has been subsidized by taxpayers ever since General Motors ripped up the streetcar lines across America to create a bigger market for cars after World War II.

It's long overdue.

And in Denver the timing couldn't be better.

Since metro voters made a huge commitment to restoring mass transit when they approved FasTracks in 2004, convenient, low-cost alternatives will be available to thousands of commuters over the next several years.

But they will need incentives to get out of their cars.

A little reality check on the true price of the car culture can only help drive them to light rail.

Then, once they're on the train, they'll find they can relax, read the newspaper, tune up the iPod and laugh at all the one-finger salutes coming from the people out there in the Lexus lanes, eating hydrocarbons alone.

Diane Carman's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at 303-820-1489 or

© 2006 The Denver Post:


"Who's calling the shots?"


Let North Texans decide

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

Who's calling the shots?

Who will have final say on where and how the Trans-Texas Corridor system is developed in the Dallas-Fort Worth area?

Will it be the Texas Transportation Commission, working with North Central Texas elected officials and transportation planners who know the region and its long-term mobility needs better than anyone?

Or will it be a Madrid-based company, Cintra, whose primary interest is making bucks by extracting tolls?

The Star-Telegram Editorial Board strongly believes that state and regional officials and transportation planners should decide.

The primary determinant should be what best meets the current and future transportation and economic needs of the Metroplex, rather than what ensures the most lucrative outcome for Cintra and its Texas partner, Zachry Construction of San Antonio.

A priority of the Trans-Texas Corridor in the D/FW, Austin and San Antonio areas is to relieve congestion on Interstate 35, which runs through both Fort Worth and Dallas.

Cintra and Zachry are lead partners in a venture in which they propose to use $6 billion in private investment to build a 316-mile, four-lane toll road dubbed TTC-35 from the Metroplex to San Antonio and pay a $1.2 billion concession to the state.Cintra-Zachry would collect tolls for 50 years.

Cintra favors running the TTC-35 segment around the east edge of Dallas County, presumably because it would be more profitable.

Many D/FW-area officials, business leaders and transportation experts want the corridor to run up the Metroplex's middle, along the path of an extended Texas 360 and on to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

That concept, which we prefer, has been endorsed by the Regional Transportation Council (RTC), which includes many local officials and is the chief transportation planner for North Central Texas.

Metroplex officials are concerned that Cintra-Zachry might have greater sway in determining TTC-35's path than they do. Comments by Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson magnified those concerns.

Williamson also has said, however, that D/FW officials will have a voice. He noted that Cintra has proposed eventually to build a rail line around the western side of the Metroplex. It could become part of a huge outer transportation loop for freight trains, 18-wheelers and autos, similar to one envisioned by the RTC.

The Trans-Texas Corridor is to be discussed in RTC meetings, open to the public, June 26 and 27 in Fort Worth, Dallas and Richardson. The Fort Worth meeting is at 6:30 p.m. June 26 at the Intermodal Transportation Center, 1001 Jones St.

Regional transportation issues also are to be discussed at RTC meetings June 12 and 13 in Fort Worth, Lewisville and Duncanville. The Fort Worth meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. June 13 at the Intermodal Transportation Center.

The Trans-Texas Corridor is likely to become the most expensive and far-ranging transportation undertaking in the state's history.

It's important that it be done right in the Metroplex, with state and local officials and transportation planners calling the shots instead of Cintra.

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


"By the time the Trans Texas Corridor is built, no one will be able to afford to drive on it."

Comment: Build rail lines, not more highways

06/04/2006 12:00

Michael McWilliams
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

Gov. Rick Perry's Trans Texas Corridor idea is almost right, but who will be able to afford gasoline or diesel in five, 10 or 50 years?

Let's think about the generations to come and leave a legacy we can be proud of.

In light of escalating fuel prices, the last thing we need is to build more highways. By the time the Trans Texas Corridor is built, no one will be able to afford to drive on it.

Instead, let's build and expand on the idea of the rail system. Create and have people ride the TEX (Texas EXpress).

Create a quick and efficient rail system to move people between major cities via the TEX and create “feeder” lines to get people to those major lines.

Have people spend their hard-earned dollars on something other than gasoline.

That is a tough pill to swallow here in Texas, but as President Bush said, it is time to quit relying on foreign oil, not to mention getting scalped by speculators and oil barons.

If we have an efficient and reliable rail system and a natural disaster hits, who cares? There will be that much more money to spend on rebuilding instead of the price-gouged cost of gasoline.

If some lunatics in a foreign land decide they want to blow up their country's primary source of income, who cares?

The Amtrak system is a joke. Do you know anyone who has ridden on Amtrak?

Did you know it takes about eight hours to get to Dallas via Amtrak?

Come on. I did that in my car on a Wednesday before Thanksgiving because of traffic. That's an average of 35 mph on Interstate 35, and it will only get worse.

Perhaps the real issue, Mr. Bush and Mr. Perry, is if this rail system was built, what would the impact be to the $3 billion annually brought in from motor fuel taxes alone? Perhaps Bush did not mean what he said about finding alternate ways.

Bush, Perry and the Texas lawmakers who are in their roles to shape the future of Texas need to be leaders and show the nation that the great state of Texas can and will adapt.

Michael McWilliams of San Antonio, whose career expertise is in the software field, was born in Africa, was in the military in Europe, spent 10 years in Iowa and has lived most of his life in Texas.

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News: