Friday, June 16, 2006

"The fastest growing form of taxation in the U.S."

Toll Jitters Grip Carriers, Shippers and Logistics Providers

Copyright 2006

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY - JUNE 15, 2006 - Major North American businesses are moving quickly to deal with the looming impact of tolls on their transportation costs according to ALK Technologies, the leading provider of map and location-based technologies for the transportation industry.

"We have seen wide-scale adoption of a new ALK tolls management product in the year since its introduction. This clearly shows the concern many companies have with the rapid rise of toll costs, particularly in the Northeast," said Ed Siciliano, vice president, sales and marketing for ALK.

ALK|FleetSuite Tolls software, recently introduced and extensively adopted, a comprehensive software solution that tracks virtually all tolls on U.S. roads, bridges and tunnels, including cash tolls and discounted toll programs such as E-ZPass, I-Pass and TollTag.

"For example, a five-axle tractor trailer going from a central New Jersey distribution center to Long Island and back already pays $140 in tolls alone," Siciliano said. Tolls for the round trip of only 110 miles include those imposed on the New Jersey Turnpike, the George Washington Bridge, and the Whitestone Bridge or Throgs Neck Bridge between Long Island and the Bronx.

"Multiply that $140 by the number of trucks making the trip daily, many from the same carrier or private fleet, and you see the problem," he said.

In fact, tolls may be the fastest growing form of taxation in the U.S. Their cost is passed on unseen to consumers in the price of almost everything they buy.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, toll receipts at state-run facilities more than doubled from 1994 to 2004 to nearly $7 billion. That number will soon look small if current efforts to toll existing Interstates succeed. Among those states hoping to impose tolls on Interstates are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

Meanwhile, some states want to privatize toll roads. New Jersey lawmakers have proposed privatization of the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway - at least in part. In New York, Governor Pataki wants to sell the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River, part of the New York Thruway. In fact, an Australian company recently purchased Virginia's Pocahontas Parkway, a toll road.

Apparently many companies realize that if only a few of the current tolling efforts are successful, the cost of truck transportation will rise substantially. "ALK|FleetSuite Tolls is already being used by all technically savvy carriers and shippers," Siciliano said.

Among the well-known carriers currently using ALK|FleetSuite Tolls are Schneider National, Stevens Transport, Barr Nunn, Ryder, Tyson Foods, Arctic Express, Ward Trucking, Werner Enterprises, and more. Other customers include major shipper General Mills and on-demand logistics management provider Nistevo.

"Tolls have traditionally been dealt with by reimbursing drivers who produce receipts or by using electronic toll collection services like E-ZPass," Siciliano said. "Both are subject to errors that can prove costly over time."

"Tolls are not always monitored as carefully as they should be. In many instances, tolls are not figured into costs or adequately planned for; they are often absorbed by fleets," Siciliano said. "But that strategy - or lack of one - won't work much longer. Tolls will become a very serious item in every ground transportation budget."

For more information on ALK|FleetSuite Tolls, visit

© 2006


Trans-Texas Corridor or NASCO Bypass?

US divided by superhighway plan


Craig Howie
The Scotsman (UK)
Copyright 2006

A MASSIVE road four football fields wide and running from Mexico to Canada through the heartland of the United States is being proposed amid controversy over security and the damage to the environment.

The "nation's most modern roadway", proposed between Laredo in Texas and Duluth, Minnesota, along Interstate 35, would allow the US to bypass the west coast ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to import goods from China and the Far East into the heart of middle America via Mexico, saving both cost and time.

However, critics argue that the ten-lane road would lay a swathe of concrete on top of an already over-developed transport infrastructure and further open the border with Mexico to illegal immigrants or terrorists.

According to a weekly Conservative magazine published in the US, the US administration is "quietly yet systematically" planning the massive highway, citing as a benefit that it would negate the power of two unions, the Longshoremen and Teamsters.

Another source claimed the highway was a "bi-partisan effort" with support from both Republicans and Democrats that would reduce freight transport times across the nation by days.

Under the plan - believed to be an extension of a strategic transportation plan signed in March last year by the US president, George Bush, Paul Martin, the then prime minister of Canada, and Vincente Fox, the Mexican president - imported goods would pass a border "road bump" in the Mexican port of Lazaro Cardenas, before being loaded on to lorries for a straight run to a major hub, or "SmartPort", in Kansas, Oklahoma.

Border guards and customs officers would check the electronic security tags of lorries and their holds at a £1.6 million facility being built in Kansas City, before sending them on to the road network that links the US cities of Chicago, Minneapolis and Detroit with Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver across the Canadian border.

Rail tracks and pipelines for oil and natural gas would run alongside the road.

Following the release of a 4,000-page environmental study, construction of the first leg of the Trans-Texas Corridor is reportedly due to begin next year, backed by US state and governmental agencies and a Spanish private sector company, Concessions de Infraestructuras de Transporte.

Tiffany Melvin, the executive director of Nasco, a non-profit organisation which has received £1.4 million from the US Department of Transport to study the proposal, said: "We're working on developing the existing system; these highways were developed in the 1950s and we have number of different programmes we're working on to provide alternative fuels and improve safety and security issues.

"We get comments that we are working to bring in terrorists and drug dealers, but this is simply not true.

"This is a bi-partisan effort that will ultimately improve our transportation infrastructure.

"Trade with China is increasing greatly, and the costs of our transportation system are ultimately born by the consumer.

"We do offer links to Canada and Mexico, but we are working on the trade competitiveness of America. We are planning for the future."

Eric Olson, the transportation spokesmen for the California-based Sierra Club, a national environmental awareness organisation, said the road would cause significant damage.

"Something on that scale would have a massive environmental impact," he said.

"Building a large-scale new highway does not seem like the best solution.

"There is a great need for fixing our existing roads and bridges. That needs to be a priority before we start building new massive road projects."

© 2006 The Scotsman Publications Ltd:


Ric Williamson miffed by Fort Worth Mayor's remarks

A Trans-Texas tussle

By Jack Z. Smith
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief assailed the Texas Department of Transportation on Tuesday, suggesting that it was snubbing Metroplex officials' preferred alignment for the region's portion of the Trans-Texas Corridor, the state's proposed toll system on steroids.

After his forceful address to the Texas Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security at its public hearing in Fort Worth, Moncrief attempted to shake hands with Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson of Weatherford before departing the meeting at the downtown Intermodal Transportation Center.

An obviously miffed Williamson, rankled by Moncrief's blunt comments, refused.

Williamson apparently took Moncrief's comments as a slap in the face, although the mayor didn't malign the commissioner personally. Moncrief seemed somewhat baffled by Williamson's becoming so steamed.

After witnessing the tense exchange and talking to the two afterward, I thought: "Oh, no, this is exactly what the D-FW area doesn't need." Strained personal relationships between two important public officials can only make it more difficult to resolve the crucial issue of where the TTC system will be routed in the Metroplex.

After Moncrief's comments, Dallas City Councilman Bill Blaydes, a bear of a man who speaks with a powerful voice and doesn't mince words, offered additional pointed remarks that further irritated Williamson and other TxDOT officials.

But as the dust cleared after the four-hour hearing, I was feeling considerably better. Despite a stream of barbed comments and prickly exchanges, the end result appeared to be that TxDOT officials and Dallas-Fort Worth leaders better understood each other's positions.

Most encouraging is that Williamson repeatedly insisted that the preferences of Metroplex officials would be given great weight at public hearings being held later this summer to solicit comments on the preferred TTC alignment.

Williamson said he finds it "incomprehensible" that a project of such magnitude would be approved without support from a region as large and populous as North Texas. He indicated that local political and business leaders would be strongly influential in determining the route.

A Spanish firm, Cintra, and Zachry Construction of San Antonio are proposing to use $6 billion in private investment to build a 316-mile, four-lane toll road dubbed TTC-35 from the D-FW area to San Antonio and pay a $1.2 billion concession to the state. Cintra-Zachry would collect tolls for 50 years. TTC-35 would be the portion of the statewide Trans-Texas Corridor system relieving congestion on choked Interstate 35.

Cintra favors running a primary leg of the TTC-35 segment around the east edge of Dallas County. But D-FW elected officials, business leaders and transportation experts strongly favor running the corridor up the Metroplex's middle, along the path of an extended Texas 360 and on to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

Local leaders also favor constructing an east-west corridor at the southern edge of the Metroplex and looping it northward around the west edge of Tarrant County.

The locals have been perturbed by earlier comments by Williamson leaving some to believe that Cintra might call the shots as to the alignment for TTC-35 in the Metroplex. But Williamson insisted on Tuesday that local leaders would have far more influence, with TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration ultimately deciding.

Although Cintra officials wouldn't determine the route, they could decline to participate in the project if they believed it wouldn't make enough money, Williamson said.

The plan favored by D-FW officials appears superior. It's now vital that they speak up in important hearings in July and August regarding the proposed route.

In the wake of Tuesday's oral tussles over the TTC, I'm confident that Moncrief and Williamson can resolve their differences if they haven't already.

They're big boys. They know how vital it is that the project be done right to help ensure that the Metroplex traffic jams of the future are not unbearably long and unpleasant.

That's something they should be able to shake hands on.

Jack Z. Smith is a Star-Telegram editorial writer. 817-390-7724

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


Thursday, June 15, 2006

CAMPO balks at Phase II toll road plan

As The Transportation Policy Turns, Latest Episode

June 16, 2006

Austin Chronicle
Copyright 2006

The Texas Department of Transportation could not get the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's Transportation Policy Board to budge, even a little bit, toward moving ahead with toll roads, even if it meant simply finishing engineering plans.

TxDOT District Engineer Bob Daigh asked the board this week to approve – at the very least – the engineering and right-of-way on the toll roads in the Phase II toll road plan so that federal approval won't be delayed. Because the roads would be tolled electronically, with no need for traditional tollbooths, the right-of-way and engineering would be identical, whether or not the roads are eventually tolled.

With so many questions still answered in the minds of board members, though, many were hesitant to move forward with the vote, which would have appropriated $448 million toward eight projects over the next three years. Of course, some of those members still face opponents at the polls in November, and even the hint of toll road support – especially if the impending toll road study comes back in the negative – could be used as a smear tactic in the upcoming campaign season. An alternatives study, spearheaded by Austin Council Member Brewster McCracken, is due back to a steering committee in August. As Rep. Mark Strama noted, how the projects examined in the study are prioritized and built could change, given whether they are tolled or not tolled in the future.

In fact, Strama led most of the charge on the toll road discussion Monday night. His point was that if toll bonds make up so little of the total toll road budget – only 15% in the case of toll roads with frontage roads – then that would appear to express the bond market's lack of faith in the viability of local toll roads.

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority has argued that the percentage of bonding will vary by project, especially if road projects have free alternative lanes. Toll roads that expand current roadways will have less bonding; new roads that give new access to an area will have higher bonding potential.

For now, and before any votes come up, Strama wants answers to three questions:
  • How much would the gas tax have to increase to raise the same amount of revenue the CTRMA projects would be raised from tolls in the Phase II plan?
  • How much does the cost of closing the gap in the Texas Metropolitan Mobility Plan increase – the current funding shortfall is $10 billion – if the region chooses not to toll the roads in the Phase II toll plan? And, finally,
  • How much revenue beyond what's needed for debt service is projected from the toll revenues, and where do those revenues go?
If the study comes back saying that nontolled makes more sense on some roads, then it could lead to an interesting game of chicken between local and elected officials. Austin has the biggest piece of the pie when it comes to the Texas Mobility Fund. But the Texas Transportation Commission has promised to take that away if those funds aren't used in the most efficient way possible, which is, by their definition, toll roads. Stay tuned.

© 2006 Austin Chronicle Corp.:


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Mitch Daniels' next 'Major Move' may be out of the Indiana Governor's Mansion

Strapped States Try New Route, Lease Toll Roads to Foreign Firms

June 14, 2006

By Amy Goldstein
Washington Post
Copyright 2006

ELKHART, Ind. -- Its official state motto is "the crossroads of America." Yet Indiana is about to turn over its entire toll road for the next 75 years to two foreign companies, making it more expensive to drive.

The decision to hand the Indiana Toll Road to an Australian and Spanish team for $3.8 billion at the end of this month has blown up into one of the biggest brawls here in a generation. It has unsettled the state's politics in the months before the November elections, pitting a governor who was President Bush's first budget director against the people of northern Indiana, which the highway passes through.

The decision also places Indiana at the leading edge of a nascent trend in which states and local governments are exploring the idea of privatizing parts of the United States' prized interstate highway system. The idea goes beyond projects, such as Northern Virginia's Dulles Greenway, in which states have turned to private companies to build or widen toll roads. Now, they are considering selling or leasing some of the best-known and most-traveled routes across America.

The trend started 1 1/2 years ago, when Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (D) pushed through a 99-year lease of the Chicago Skyway, nearly eight miles of elevated highway across the South Side, for $1.8 billion.

Since then, a New Jersey lawmaker has proposed selling a 49 percent interest in the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway. New York Gov. George E. Pataki (R) is trying to persuade the legislature to let investors rebuild or replace the Hudson River's Tappan Zee Bridge. In Houston, Harris County officials are studying leasing 57 miles of toll roads.

Locally, Virginia transportation officials announced last month that they would lease a debt-ridden toll road outside Richmond, the Pocahontas Parkway, to a private firm for $522 million.

Half a century after President Dwight D. Eisenhower persuaded the nation to build the interstate highway system, the allure of privatization is a rethinking of the relationship between the government and its roads. It reverses the view of highways as a public responsibility, ingrained since the first half of the 19th century, when states took over roads, bridges and canals that had gone bankrupt in private hands.

The Bush administration advocates the new view. "We are like a poker game," Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said in an interview. "We are inviting more people to the table and saying, 'Bring money when you come.' " Such eagerness for private investment stems from the financial strains on an overburdened highway system at a time when the White House and the Republican-controlled Congress want to curb domestic spending. The interstate system is decaying, and traffic congestion has worsened. Inflation in the price of building and improving roads is rampant.

Most significantly, money from federal and state gasoline taxes that pay for roads are falling further behind the need, with no political appetite in an era of record gas prices to increase the rates. According to U.S. projections, the part of the federal Highway Trust Fund devoted to roads is to run out of money for the first time in its history in 2009.

In response, the administration persuaded Congress last summer to take steps to make it easier for the private sector to finance new roads -- and take over existing ones. Lawmakers removed several legal barriers to charging tolls on interstates and gave private investors new access to tax-free bonds for transportation projects.

Mineta has been urging U.S. financial institutions to get involved. "This type of dialogue really didn't exist two years ago," said Mark Florian, a managing director at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which was paid $19 million to negotiate the Indiana deal and has discussed similar possibilities with officials in more than 35 states.

Still, skepticism abounds: Will companies take good care of highways? Will toll roads become too expensive to drive? Will investors pluck profitable routes, leaving others to crumble? What will happen to public toll-road workers -- including 600 in Indiana who have been promised interviews by the new operators, but not the same job?

In Elkhart, resistance to such change runs deep. At a rest stop here on a recent day -- at Milepost 77 near the midpoint between Illinois and Ohio -- both Indiana drivers and interstate truckers were almost uniformly against what the state has done. "I heard that foreigners were going to lease it, and that sounds like a bad deal to me," said Kreig Eberle, 36, a truck driver from Chillicothe, Ill., who uses the toll road nearly every day. "I think it is kind of baloney. Indiana ought to run it itself."

Dankia McLaren, 22, a kitchen designer from nearby South Bend, said: "It is sad. . . . It is just going to make it more expensive to drive."

The passionate opposition has astonished the architect of the deal, Gov. Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. (R), Bush's first budget director.

Daniels said he had his "little epiphany" about the toll road in 2004, after he returned from Washington and was campaigning for governor. At a barbecue in rural western Indiana, a veteran of the state highway department came over and said: "You understand it's a joke, don't you."

The joke, he told Daniels, was that the state for years had a list of promised transportation projects that would never be built. Running on a platform of economic development, Daniels immediately viewed a roads program as a means of creating jobs and attracting business to spur Indiana's sagging economy.

Soon after taking office last year, the governor ordered his staff to compute the price of the pent-up projects -- $2.6 billion more, it turned out, than the state could afford -- and propose ways to pay for them. Of more than 30 options, Daniels said in an interview, generating money by leasing the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road was the only "real bold stroke that could substantially close this huge gap."

In the shower one morning, he came up a name for his plan: "Major Moves," borrowed from the title of a Hank Williams Jr. country song. The governor announced Major Moves in September, saying the state was open for bids on the toll road to raise money for a 10-year transportation plan.

Late in January, he invited legislators, builders, manufacturers, mayors and trade union leaders to his office in Indianapolis to disclose that the winning bid was $3.85 billion, more than enough to fund the state's road projects. The crowd burst into applause. "Everybody thought, that was that," Daniels recalled. "We can stop dreaming and start digging all these big projects."

But, Daniels had not anticipated what he calls "the x-word" -- for xenophobia -- or the protests or the bumper stickers that say, "Keep the Toll Road, Lease Mitch."

"This was an authentic, spontaneous, very emotional reaction," the governor said, "and no interest group caused it."

The proposal stirred up one of the biggest fights the Indiana legislature had ever seen, with rallies and expensive media campaigns on both sides, and the governor unable to change minds at jammed town hall meetings in communities along the toll road where opposition was most fierce.

"Never in my legislative career will I ever again be faced with a [bill] quite like this," said the chief sponsor, state Rep. Randy Borror (R) of Fort Wayne, who walked the statehouse with thick notebooks filled with figures showing how much transportation money each legislator's district would get from the plan.

The winning bidders were Macquarie Infrastructure Group of Sydney, the same firm that controls the Dulles Greenway, and Cintra Concesiones de Infrastructures de Transporte S.A. of Madrid. Under the lease, the companies got the right to raise tolls -- which have not been increased in two decades -- for cars and trucks right away, and eventually to keep pace annually with inflation. The 103-page lease spells out the companies' responsibilities in meticulous detail, including clearing snow and road kill within specified times, and granting state police the right to patrol.

Steve Allen, Macquarie's chief executive, said the company, which operates toll roads in nine countries, has an incentive to improve the highways to attract more drivers. Since it took over the Chicago Skyway, he said, the company has built electronic toll booths sooner than required and made lane changes that reduce backups.

Indiana legislators were not reassured. Daniels and his allies made big compromises: extra money for each county along the toll road, a postponement of higher rates for cars until electronic tolls are installed, job-training money for economically depressed Gary. Even so, the plan passed the state House by one vote.

Three months after the legislation squeaked through, feelings remain raw.

"The whole thing stinks," said state Rep. B. Patrick Bauer, the House Democratic leader. The two companies, he said, "got a heck of an unbelievable deal. We got a bad deal."

Daniels's approval ratings have plummeted, from about 50 percent early last winter to 37 percent in the most recent polls. Borror said the issue "complicates the election" for state legislators in November.

"There are going to be a lot of states that fail at this," Borror said, "because they underestimate the amount of work it takes to get this bill passed." Even so, Daniels said, "I don't believe we'll ever [again] be able to do any one thing that will be as transformative and positive for the future of this state."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company :


"'One Tough Grandma' is leading the opposition against the biggest land-grab in Texas history."

Carole Keeton Strayhorn slated to attend Trans Texas Corridor meeting

June 13, 2006

Andy Hogue
Gainesville Daily Register
Copyright 2006

Carole Keeton Strayhorn, according to her campaign scheduling director David Green, plans to attend the Save Our County meeting at Rad Ware elementary school in Woodbine around 9 p.m.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

“She is very much looking forward to explaining why the Trans-Texas Corridor is a Trans-Texas catastrophe,” Strayhorn’s communications director Mark Sanders said in an interview Monday.

Strayhorn could not be reached for comment by press time.

Sanders said the candidate has an engagement in the east Texas town of Lufkin today, which gives her barely enough time to make the Woodbine meeting.

Strayhorn, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and one of five higher-profile candidates in the 2006 gubernatorial race, has opposed incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s plan to have “multi-modal” toll roads built across the state.

Strayhorn, who ran as a Republican for Comptroller but filed as an independent in her gubernatorial bid, faces Perry in the Nov. 7 election, as well as Democrat Chris Bell, Libertarian James Werner and independent Richard “Kinky” Friedman.

Sanders said Strayhorn “is leading the opposition against the biggest land-grab in Texas history by this governor.”

He said Strayhorn calls for public disclosure of all records between the state of Texas and CINTRA-Zachry, a Spanish company which has plans to fund the tollway.

TTC-35, if built, would be 400 to 1,200-feet wide and would span Texas from Gainesville to Laredo.

The “preferred route” for Trans-Texas Corridor 35 (TTC-35, the portion of the tollway network which is planned to run roughly parallel to Interstate Highway 35), presented by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), 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 points in between.

Three tollways in the Trans-Texas Corridor are currently planned to feed into the Cooke County area — one from El Paso to the Cooke-Montague county line and another from Texarkana to East Highway 82 near Whitesboro.

Sanders said Strayhorn was raised in and around Austin, an area which could also be affected by the Trans-Texas Corridor.

According to her Web site, Strayhorn was the first woman to serve as Comptroller in Texas, and received the highest number of votes collected for a candidate in Texas history.

Her youngest son, Scott McClellan, is the former press secretary to President George W. Bush.

Her eldest son, Dr. Mark McClellan, is the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. He previously served as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Her twin sons, Brad McClellan and Dudley McClellan are both attorneys. Brad is the manager for Strayhorn’s campaign, and Dudley is Assistant General Counsel for the State Bar of Texas.

She is the daughter of the late Page Keeton, a long-time dean of the University of Texas Law School.

She is married to Ed Strayhorn, the founder and president of a tennis court construction business.

Billing herself as “One Tough Grandma,” Strayhorn is the grandparent of five young granddaughters, with a sixth on the way.

According to Associated Press reports, Strayhorn recently attempted to secure permission to have “Grandma” attached as her nickname on the November ballot.

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at

© 2006 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.:


TTC Opposition in Cooke County eyes plans for an 'inland port'

Second Trans-Texas Corridor meeting scheduled Tuesday

June 13, 2006

Andy Hogue
Gainesville Daily Register
Copyright 2006

Could the second meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday attract an even larger crowd? If so, organizers are getting ready for it.

About 640 names were on the sign-up sheet at the Save Our County meeting at Callisburg ISD Rad Ware elementary school last week, and according to organizers, several others left after seeing the room was packed, or could not find parking.

“We’re saying maybe 1,000 to 1,200 showed up,” said William Baldwin, an organizer of the meeting.

Organizers said the school, located along FM 3164 in Woodbine, is planning to open up the gymnasium adjacent to the cafeteria for overflow seating and provide a video screen for those who cannot see or hear the speakers. Security is also expected to be provided, and the air conditioning will be turned lower.

Both of the meetings were advertised as informational meetings regarding Trans-Texas Corridor 35 (TTC-35), a proposed multi-lane toll highway which also could include six rails and utility lines. The great majority of persons in the audience expressed opposition to the tollway project.

TTC-35, if built, would be 400 to 1,200-feet wide and span Texas from Gainesville to Laredo.

The “preferred route” for Trans-Texas Corridor 35 (TTC-35, the portion of the road which will run roughly parallel to Interstate Highway 35), presented by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), 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 points in between.

Scheduled for Tuesday’s meeting are Rep. Rick Hardcastle, followed by representatives from the Texas Farm Bureau Austin office and the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

Tom Carson, station manager of KGAF-AM, 1580, is scheduled to emcee the meeting.

Beans and cornbread is to be served while they last, according to a flyer for the event.

An official public hearing, hosted by TxDOT, is scheduled for July 10 at the Gainesville Civic Center, beginning with an open house at 5 p.m. and comments at 6:30 p.m.

No confirmation was received by press time of a local meeting in favor of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Inland port plan raises eyebrows

One of the issues which may be addressed at Tuesday’s Trans-Texas Corridor meeting is that of an “inland port,” which was briefly discussed June 6.

According to an e-mail message from Agnes Voges, a member of Bell County’s Blackland Coalition who spoke June 6, there is an “amber circle” on TxDOT maps over the city of Gainesville.

“They have an even larger concern that Blackland Coalition does, in that Gainesville is surrounded by an orange (or amber) line. That means it’s going to be an inland port — i.e., distribution center for the goods coming in from Mexico, via China, etc. ...” Vogel wrote to supporters.

The concept is no point of mere speculation. One already exists between Gainesville and Fort Worth in the Alliance Airport area.

Nor is an inland port a new concept. The McAllen Foreign Trade Zone was established in 1965 as the first inland port to be approved by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Many other inland ports offer tax abatements, tax “phase-ins” and other incentives for distribution centers, warehouses, logistics centers and heavy industry to locate there.

There’s an organization called the North American Inland Ports Network (NAIPN), founded in 2003 to promote trade between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico by use of a network of inland ports.

According to it’s Web site: “NAIPN is a working group in North America’s SuperCorridor Coalition (NASCO). NAIPN advocates the interests of Inland Ports along the Mid-Continent International Trade and Transportation Corridor (MCITTC) and supports NASCO’s mission to strengthen the Secure, Multi-Modal Trade and Transportation System.

“... An Inland Port is a site located away from traditional land, air and coastal borders with the vision to facilitate and process international trade through strategic investment in multi-modal transportation assets and by promoting value-added services as goods move through the supply chain.

“... Inland Ports are efficient Economic Development engines for their regions. By networking Inland Ports together, NAIPN extends economic benefits throughout the whole Corridor. NAIPN improves the efficiency of International Commerce throughout the Mid-Continent. NAIPN increases trade flow with the Pacific Rim, Russia and Latin America.”

Sheila Cox, one of the organizers of Save Our County, noted the possibility of a warehouse district in the “amber circle” in previous Register stories. She said she had confirmed that TxDOT has plans to establish an inland port in and around Gainesville.

“It was in my phone conversation to him (Kris Heckmannm, transportation advisor to Gov. Rick Perry) that day that he discussed with me the warehouse district,” Cox said. “... Also, that day was another phone conversation that I had was with Mike Hallum (of the TxDOT Gainesville office) who reinforced the warehouse district concept inside the amber circle with “overflow space” to come from inside the blue line 10-mile swath and from inside the diagonally-lined ‘modal transition zone.’ Both Heckmann and Hallum said the same information without either one knowing I was talking to the other.”

No word was received by press time of official plans to establish an inland port in Gainesville.

Defining the terms “intermodal” and “multi-modal” is key to understanding the concept of an inland port. Alliance, for example, is described as intermodal and multi-modal, as it features a cargo-only international airport as well as a multi-track rail hub and access to Interstate Highway 35, with plenty of room for trucking companies to load tractor-trailers.

According to Sunday’s Dallas Morning News, Dallas business leaders are working on establishing on inland port closer to their city.

According to the latest TxDOT map, Cooke County may have up to three Trans-Texas Corridor routes running through it, in addition to Interstate 35.

During a meeting May 25 at Foxworth Galbraith in Sherman, Gov. Rick Perry addressed the three corridors which may wind up in Cooke County — one from Texarkana headed west parallel to U.S. Highway 82 ending east of Cooke County, and another from El Paso running east, which would end at U.S. Highway 82 between the Montague County line and Muenster.

On the Net:

• A map of the TTC-35 preferred route, including the “amber circle” over Gainesville, may be viewed at

• More information on NASCO and the inland ports project may be viewed at

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at

© 2006 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.:


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

SH 121 tolls: "Construction firms are vying for one project."

SH 121 toll contracts could be combined

June 13, 2006

By Amy Morenz
McKinney Courier-Gazette
Copyright 2006

The potentially lucrative State Highway 121 toll-road project just became bigger, with bidders vying for both the Collin County and Denton County sections.

Instead of bidding to build and operate sections in Collin County or operate the almost- complete Denton County portion, construction firms are vying for one project, Plano City Council members learned on Monday.

Skanska BOT made an unsolicited proposal to the Texas Department of Transportation to obtain a Comprehensive Development agreement for the SH 121 toll road in both counties. The North Texas Tollway Authority is expected to join the contest against Skanska, Macquarie Infrastructure, Cintra and Pioneer Heritage Parsons, an NTTA briefing document states.

Much of the $210 million Denton County portion of SH 121 from Coppell to the Dallas North Tollway on the Plano/Frisco border n including an interchange with Interstate 35E in Lewisville -- is complete. However, it cannot open until tolling equipment is in place because of a state law that prohibits free highways from becoming toll roads.

Under the toll agreement reached with Denton County, the state will spend $350 million on other Denton County projects.

The Collin County section would cover the portion from the Dallas North Tollway east to Central Expressway and include interchanges at the Dallas North Tollway and Central. The total cost is expected to be in the $752 million range.

State transportation officials have been leaning toward hiring a private developer to build Collin County’s SH 121 toll lanes since the debate over the project began last year. Their proposals would provide initial funds to pay for other transportation improvements.

A private company could generate $575 million in revenue in the Collin County portion over a 50-year period, compared with the $515 million that could be generated by a government-ruin agency, TxDOT engineer Bill Hale told RTC members earlier this year.

It could be March before the Texas Highway Commission selects the final contractor, Plano city engineer Allan Upchurch said on Monday. The Regional Transportation Council is expected to set evaluation criteria for the work during a meeting on Thursday, followed by an industry review in which each bidder would learn more about the project, he said.

Two months of analysis will probably be expected to review bids, which are due in November. From there, the RTC will is expected to allocate two months before a February decision, Upchurch said. The highway commission is expected to analyze e bids in March.

Collin County’s elected officials campaigned for the NTTA to compete for the job. In a split 4-3 vote, the NTTA board agreed to bid. Collin County wanted the NTTA to build and operate SH 121 and Denton County wanted a private company approved through a Comprehensive Development Agreement, NTTA chair Dave Blair said when the board approved its bid.

In other matters, Plano council members had a lively debate before tabling proposed changes to allow open house signs temporarily. Councilman Shep Stahel wanted to draft an ordinance that clearly states the rules applied to open house signs, not all real estate signs.

“We should make the rules workable rather than narrow,” said Councilman Harry LaRosiliere. “If we tighten them, it could be a burden on our inspectors.”

Plano’s city attorney will draft a definition of open house signs for the council’s next debate.

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

Copyright © 2006 Star Community Newspapers:


CAMPO delays funding vote on second wave of Austin toll roads.

Board postpones vote on toll road funding

CAMPO will take up issue in July.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

What appears to be an increasingly skeptical board of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization on Monday night once again delayed a vote on funding for a second wave of toll roads.

Money for the roads had been authorized when the the CAMPO board approved the toll road plan in 2004, but the funding plan has lapsed, necessitating another vote.

Supporters of the five-road toll road plan had asked that the board of mostly elected officials authorize spending $448 million, about a third of the road projects' total cost, on engineering and right of way purchases.

Bob Daigh, the Austin district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation, said the work paid for by that money would be equally applicable if the roads have or don't have tolls.

But state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, after asking a series of questions about the toll road plan, proposed delaying the vote until the July meeting.

Only Travis County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner voted against the delay.

© 2006 Austin American-Statesman:


Cintra, now calling itself "Bluebonnet Infrastructure Investors" competes with its TTC-35 partner to build TTC-69

Two groups will fight for TTC-69 contract

June 13,2006

Elizabeth Pierson
The Monitor
Copyright 2006

AUSTIN – Two groups of companies have submitted proposals with the state to build and operate the Trans-Texas Corridor 69, the giant interstate system that will run for 600 miles from northeast Texas to Mexican border.

One team is calling itself Bluebonnet Infrastructure Investors and is led by Cintra, a company based in Spain. The other is led by Zachry American Infrastructure Inc., a San Antonio company.

Each hopes to convince the Texas Department of Transportation they are most qualified to build an interstate highway from northeast Texas to the border, possibly the Rio Grande Valley. They must also make plans to eventually build rail lines and utility infrastructure along the same corridor.

The interstate portion alone is expected to cost between $12 billion and $15 billion, said Gaby Garcia, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation.

Some portions may include toll roads whose proceeds will go to the private companies to pay for the project. State transportation officials developed the idea because there are not enough state funds to pay for needed roads.

Cintra and Zachry are competing for TTC-69, but are working together on another mega-transportation project in Texas, the Trans-Texas Corridor 35, which will run from the Oklahoma border to Laredo.

Details of the proposals each company submitted last week for TTC-69 are considered proprietary and are not being released, Garcia said.

TxDOT staff members will evaluate each proposal to make sure the companies are qualified and have a solid plan, she said.

"At this point, all they submit is a (proposal) showing that they have experiences in these types of mega projects and they have some general idea of how they want to develop and finance this project," Garcia said.

It is the first step in perhaps a year-long process to choose the developer for TTC-69, Garcia said. By July, staff members will tell the TxDOT commission whether one, both or neither of the groups are qualified.

The commissioners will receive more detailed plans from the qualified group or groups, then choose the developer by late 2007, Garcia said.

The exact route of TTC-69 to the border has yet to be determined. The leg could go to either the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo or both, Garcia said.

If it comes to the Valley, the route will be either along existing Highway 77, Highway 281 or a new path about 20 miles west of Highway 281. Environmental studies being conducted on each of those three routes now will help determine which is used, Garcia said.

Even if TTC-69 ends in Laredo, the Valley will have significant highway upgrades. Garcia said that’s why TxDOT placed signs announcing the future home of Interstate 69 along highways 77 and 281, to let Valley residents know the state is serious about upgrades on those roads.

"Somehow, the Valley as a whole will need additional improvement for their infrastructure and handling international trade that’s coming into their ports," Garcia said.

© 2006 The Monitor :


Monday, June 12, 2006

"TxDOT is using its funding authority to strong-arm communities into forming RMAs."

Pickett: El Paso Toll Roads Are “Done Deal”

June 12, 2006

by Sito Negron
Newspaper Tree (El Paso)
Copyright 2006

The Texas Department of Transportation is hearing comments on a Regional Mobility Authority, a body that would have the power to build roads and charge tolls to pay for them, a process that is being encouraged by the state.

The entity in El Paso would be known as the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority, and would be established with the blessing of the state by the city of El Paso.

Six of the board members would be appointed by the City Council. In addition to the board members appointed by the City, the presiding officer of the board will be appointed by the Governor,” states the public notice for the meeting, tonight (June 12) at 6 p.m. [public notice]

“The Camino Real RMA’s initial project is an approximately seven (7) mile project known as the Border Highway West Project, which is intended to complete the outer Loop 375 by extending the existing terminus of the Loop 375 at the downtown area westward to Interstate Highway 10 (I-10) at the US 85/NM273 interchange,” states the notice.

The proposal has become controversial, with many El Pasoans expressing a gut level distaste for toll roads. Proponents say existing roads would not be tolled, and the procedure is the best way to develop new highways that lead to economic expansion.

In an NPT article Oct. 31, Veronica Callaghan, chair of the mayor's transportation cabinet, said "it's the only way we're going to be able to expedite major infrastructure highway projects or even other kinds of transportation projects like mass transit or rail or whatever. We're going to be able to get funding and accelerate the implementation of some of these projects that sit on our to-do list forever." [article]

However, the plan is not without its critics: State Rep. Joe Pickett, who serves on the El Paso MPO, a long-range planning entity that helps plan and rank projects for funding, questions whether an RMA is the right way to fund projects, and said he had concerns about creating an authority with long-term powers and appointed board members. In addition, he has that the Texas Department of Transportation was using its funding authority to strong-arm communities into forming RMAs.

Of the meeting Monday (June 12), he said, “they'll try to sell the public on it and take potshots at me. So it's a done deal. It's over, it's done, and we will have our RMA next month. I won’t be able to say I told you so. It will take five or six years to fail big time, to cause more congestion and get so bad someone will say ‘I thought someone was going to fix it.’”

However, Pickett said, there is momentum building statewide as toll projects come under increasing scrutiny.

“Here in Austin people are starting to stand up and listen ... eventually it will start coming to the forefront, but it wont do any good for the next several years until (TxDOT director) Rick Williamson and (Gov.) Rick Perry are gone,” Pickett said. He said that TxDOT would “stop doing improvements to roads that will compete with their toll projects.”

Pickett also has been at odds with Ted Houghton, one of three commissioners on the Transportation Commission. During a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee a couple of weeks ago, representatives requested TxDOT officials be present. Houghton appeared, but did not speak before the committee. “I had a flight that I had to take to get back to El Paso,” he said.

As for tolls in El Paso, Houghton said, “In Texas we're doing toll roads all over the state. Why should El Paso be any different? It doesn’t make a difference they're not popular. It's a matter of there's no money. So what are you going to do, let (projects) languish and don’t maintain roads? It gets real simple.”

* * *

Sito Negron can be reached at .

© 2006 Newspaper Tree:


Sunday, June 11, 2006

State Rep. Joe Pickett will speak in El Paso

Pickett to talk about toll roads at luncheon


Staff reports
El Paso Times
Copyright 2006

The El Paso Central Business Association will have a luncheon Wednesday to address issues regarding regional mobility authorities and toll roads for El Paso.

State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, an opponent of the Texas Department of Transportation's toll roads plan for the city, will be the guest speaker.

The luncheon will begin at noon at the Camino Real Hotel, 101 S. El Paso. The luncheon is open to the public and free. The luncheon buffet is $10.

Information: 533-2656.

© 2006 El Paso Times: