Saturday, July 29, 2006

"The city does not need an RMA that is not elected by local residents."

TxDOT sparks debate on toll roads


Brandi Grissom
El Paso Times
Copyright 2006

In a warm-up for an expected transportation showdown today, El Paso's elected officials serenaded, lectured and thanked state transportation commissioners holding only their first regular meeting here since 2000.
Discussion of El Paso's projected transportation needs and of city plans to appoint a transportation authority with wide-ranging powers to plan, fund and build local roads dominated the first two hours of the meeting. While City Council has approved creating the Regional Mobility Authority, the El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization has denounced the plan, creating a heated local controversy.

Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said he didn't want to involve himself in El Paso's fight over the RMA and possible toll roads, but urged residents and local officials to make their own decisions based on facts.

"Don't run and don't hide from the truth," he said. "The truth is there isn't some pot of money in Austin, Texas," that could be used to fund El Paso's transportation needs.

Chuck Berry, Texas Department of Transportation El Paso district engineer, outlined more than $1 billion in new construction the city will need over the coming decade. With more than 20,000 soldiers and their families coming to Fort Bliss, infrastructure requirements will balloon, Berry said.

Currently, El Paso gets about $20 million per year from the state to fund new construction, Berry
said, a virtual drop in the bucket compared to the cost of projects and road maintenance needed.

RMA proponents say the appointed body will be able to access money for construction more quickly by using both tolls and bonds to pay for projects.

Mayor John Cook thanked the commission for giving El Paso the authority to appoint an RMA, saying local officials would have better knowledge of local needs. He then picked up his guitar and sang a song he wrote about El Paso patterned after the Woody Guthrie folk anthem "This Land is Your Land."

Opponents say El Pasoans oppose tolls and the city does not need an RMA that is not elected by local residents. "El Pasoans do not want to pay for a toll road," said Anthony Cobos, county judge-elect, in a vitriolic speech. "They want a free outer loop just like other communities in (Texas)."

Today, the MPO, which is made up of local city and county elected officials, will meet to discuss a highway construction plan different from the one the RMA is pursuing that uses standard funding.

Brandi Grissom can be reached at; (512) 479-6606.

© 2006 The El Paso Times: pigicon

Friday, July 28, 2006

"Many residents from our area are angry that the corridor may be coming through our area and they don’t seem to know how to stop it."


July 28, 2006

Stephenville Empire-Tribune
Copyright 2006

Dear Editor,

I have been following the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) closely. I went to the Clifton meeting and heard about what went on at the Waco meeting. I know that many residents from our area are angry that the corridor may be coming through our area and they don’t seem to know how to stop it.

I think the way to stop it is by voting. If you don’t vote, you cannot blame the government for what they do. Elections are coming up this fall; do you know where the candidates stand on the TTC? If you vote for any incumbent, they have already approved the TTC, and will not decide to end it now.

As for the governor’s race, there are four candidates. Rick Perry, the current Republican governor, is obviously pro-TTC. Chris Bell, the Democratic candidate, is against building the TTC both because land will be taken from Texans and because taxes pay for construction of the road, but yet we would still have to pay tolls (to a Spanish company) when driving on it. Carol Keton Strayhorn is against the TTC, but has mentioned creating something like it by expanding I-35 out and up into a double-decker highway. Kinky Friedman opposes the TTC because land should not be taken from Texans and because it relies on tolls to finance its construction.

No matter what your opinion about the TTC is, you need to vote for the candidate you believe will do the best for Texas and Texans in the future. Pro-TTC or Anti-TTC, it doesn’t matter, just know what your gubernatorial candidates stand for and vote for the one you want to represent Texans.

Ashley Stricklin, Stephenville

© 2006 Stephenville Empire-Tribune:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


"He won't lift a finger to save the people of Texas from the Trans-Texas monstrosity, but I will."

Attorney general candidate campaigns in Longview

July 28, 2006

Longview News-Journal
Copyright 2006

David Van Os, the Democratic nominee for Texas attorney general, was about a half hour late Thursday afternoon for his "whistle stop" in Longview.

It was, after all, his sixth whistle stop of the day. By now he needs no notes or prompting. He's well into his 254-county tour, and he has rehearsed his crowd-pleasing lines for weeks as newspapers at each stop put his one-liners into print.

About a dozen or so people, including several members of the press, stopped by to hear him in front of the Gregg County Courthouse, but he moved right into the small crowd, uttering his lines with the passion of a man who'd never said them before.

The man who wants to unseat "that stooge in the AG's office" (Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott) threw out the usual raw meat for the group, and what few supporters were there scarfed it up with enthusiastic applause.

His best lines:
— On winning the attorney general's office as the Democratic nominee and bringing the power back to the people: "Fight 'til hell freezes over, and then fight on ice."

— On Republican politicians in Austin: "They get in office, and they're paid to look the other way while stealing you blind."

— On political dishonesty: "That gang of cross who stole the election in 2000."

— On the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor: "No! It's an exercise of incredible arrogance tearing up hundreds of thousands of acres of good Texas farmland so they (the politicians in Austin) can cater to the greed of fat cats who gave huge campaign contributions."

— On the political powers that be: "This is the new age of power barons."

— On his Republican opponent, incumbent Attorney General Greg Abbott who he says won't talk to him, debate him or comment on his criticisms: "A Rick Perry mouthpiece. He won't lift a finger to save the people of Texas from the Trans-Texas monstrosity, but I will."

— On rich corporate tycoons: "Texas roots are going to stop this monopolistic system. We're going after the corporate robber barons."

— On the existing corporate monopolies in Texas: "When I get in power, I'm coming after you."
As a way of demonstrating how much money Exxon Mobil made in the past 12 months, Van Os said, "Exxon Mobil made $3 billion a month for 12 months. That's a lot of money. If you go back just one billion minutes, George Washington would be president. Thirty six billion minutes ago, no city had ever been built."

© 2006 Longview News-Journal:


"They are not conducting the people's business. They are conducting business for themselves and their cronies."

Van Os visits Marshall as part of his state attorney general 'Whistle-Stop' campaign

July 28, 2006

Marshall News-Messenger
Copyright 2006

Kilgore native David Van Os is a tough-talkin', cowboy hat-wearin' Democrat who has vowed to dethrone Republican state attorney general Greg Abbott and give Texas government "back to the people."

"Rick Perry and his entire executive branch of government in office in Austin, including the attorney general Greg Abbott, are not doing the people's business and the people have got to fire them," said Van Os Thursday afternoon in front of Harrison County Courthouse. "They are not conducting the people's business. They are conducting business for themselves and their cronies."

Van Os has been a labor lawyer for nearly 30 years, specializing in civil and constitutional law. On his Whistle-Stop tour of Texas, he intends to visit all 294 county courthouses in Texas, made his 97th stop in Marshall.
While Thursday afternoon's unexpected downpour sent people fleeing indoors before a crowd could gather to hear him speak, Van Os outlined his primary objectives to the News Messenger : the price of gasoline, insurance monopolies, child support overhaul and bringing a "value system" to the state government.
Where the price of gasoline is concerned, giant oil companies making what Van Os refers to as "pure profit" while American citizen struggles with an average of $3-a-gallon gasoline is unacceptable.

"What's happening is the people in government are just rolling over and they're just sopping up the bureaucratic excuses from the oil tycoons and from the gobbledygook of international finance," Van Os said. "(They say) 'oh, there's nothing we can do about it. We have nothing do with the fact that we're making $3 billion a month in profit. It's out of our control. We're just bystanders to the big profit we're making as we cry all the way to the bank.'"

One of Van Os' first initiatives as state attorney general would be to serve investigative subpoenas to the giant oil companies, which are consolidating and merging to form monopolies, and the massive insurance corporations that make is hard for Americans to get health coverage, he said.

"The attorney general of Texas is supposed to be the one minding the store," Van Os stressed. "The Texas Constitution says the attorney general shall inquire into the activity of private corporations and shall do anything necessary and proper to prevent any private corporation from exercising any power not authorized by law."

Monopoly power is not authorized by law, he pointed out and as the "watchdog of the people," the attorney general has the power to question large corporations that are "gouging Texas," he said.

In his child support overhaul initiative, Van Os said the current child support enforcement program is "a scandal" where records are not kept accurately and it needs to be "be placed in real-live human being ombudsman immediately to resolve the immediate crisis."

Another important item on Van Os' agenda is the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, which will run a highway through 4,000 miles of Texas, which he called "the worst gigantic corruption of greed and corporate arrogance that we have ever had in the history of this state."

Recent public hearings involving people whose land will be affected by initial plans of the corridor have yielded heated reactions, Van Os said.

And Cintra, the Spain-based company that would be in control of the highway network, will make billions of dollars a year from people driving on Texas roads.

"Now, this is so radically wrong," he said, speaking of the thousands of acres of Texas farmland that will be sacrificed and the people who own them.

Van Os' intention is to not only reach Democrats, but Republicans, liberals, independents and anyone else who just wants the government to be for the people.

Despite the "naysayers and the smart alecks and people who think they know everything," Van Os is prepared to work toward his goal.

Contact staff writer Bridgette R. Outten via e-mail at:; or by phone at (903) 927-5966.

© 2006 Marshall News-Messenger:


Gas tax payments will be shifted to other counties' 'pass-through financing' projects to subsidize sprawl, or the Trans-Texas Corridor boondoggle."


Tolls Levied East of I-35

July 28, 2006

Austin Chronicle
Copyright 2006

Dear Editor,

I understand that the Chronicle has limited space for news coverage. As is often the case, coverage of toll-road issues leaves out the concerns of people living east of I-35. In a nutshell:

CAMPO has approved building brand-new "free" freeways west of I-35. Not a single mile of new untolled freeway is proposed for east of I-35.

CAMPO will not toll any roads west of I-35 that had previously been funded with gas tax dollars. Every mile of every road east of I-35 that was previously funded with gas tax dollars will be tolled.

CAMPO has approved the tolling of four existing freeway facilities east of I-35. Not a single existing freeway facility west of I-35 is slated for tolls.

CTRMA has publicly stated that toll roads east of I-35 will be used as "cash cows" to subsidize road projects west of I-35.

CTRMA director Mike Heiligenstein said that replacing tolls with increased gas taxes would cost "$2 to $3 dollars per gallon." CAMPO staff estimated the cost at "1.6 to 2.1 cents per gallon."

None of the new "free" freeway projects proposed for the CAMPO area are located in Travis County. Travis County gas tax payments will be shifted to other counties' "pass-through financing" projects to subsidize sprawl, or the Trans-Texas Corridor boondoggle.

US 183S, if built as current plans propose, will have 18 lanes where it crosses the Colorado River.

Vincent May


© 2006 Austin Chronicle:


TxDOT video: "misleading because it depicted the proposed area as a desert or desolate prairie devoid of communities, homes and farms."

Corridor project opposed in Rockdale

July 28, 2006

by Jeanne Williams
Temple Daily Telegram
Copyright 2006

ROCKDALE - The Texas Department of Transportation’s 32nd hearing on the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor drew a smaller, but no less potent crowd of dissidents Thursday in Rockdale.

TTC-35 is proposed as a 600-mile network of highways, railroad lines, and utilities running roughly parallel to Interstate 35. TxDOT is conducting 54 hearings from July 10 to Aug. 10 throughout the TTC-35 study area to gather comments on the draft environmental study.

During a brief video and Power Point presentation, the corridor was explained as the answer to the state’s future transportation needs and growth by providing faster, safer movement of people and goods, relieving congested roadways, providing alternate routes for hazardous materials, expanding economic growth and developing new markets and jobs.

Less than 100 people attended the session at the Knights of Columbus Hall, with 15 protestors going on record vocally with complaints and criticism, ranging from destruction of valuable farmland to cries rallying all Texans to vote against every incumbent on the ballot to defeat the corridor proposal. Some speakers criticized the video as misleading because it depicted the proposed area as a desert or desolate prairie devoid of communities, homes and farms.

Conn Tatum charged that Gov. Rick Perry intends to cut Texas in two “like a watermelon, we are going to have separate East Texas and West Texas.” Tatum also criticized the corridor as a key target for terrorists. He also said the route would have a negative economic impact on Texas, and would have a negative impact on controlling illegal immigration.

Tatum called the corridor “a road to nowhere.”

Hank Gilbert, Democratic Party candidate for Texas Agriculture commissioner, said the corridor would “facilitate NAFTA ... taking the vegetable industry away from Texas. By building this corridor from here to Canada, we will effectively take the U.S. out of the fruit and vegetable market. We will seriously deteriorate the beef cattle industry in this country because of the influx of foreign products across this border.”

“This is the one single largest thing that is going to affect and begin to destroy Texas agriculture,” Gilbert said. “And this is just one road. There are over 4,000 miles of these toll road plans taking up over 600,000 acres of farmland.”

Evelyn Summerlin said the corridor would effect everyone. She added the state should use the roadways already in place, and build elevated highways to accommodate traffic volumes.

© 2006 Temple Daily Telegram:


Thursday, July 27, 2006

"I really don’t understand why TxDOT even bothers going through the motions of trying to make us 'little people' feel we have a voice."

In defense of the Indefensible

July 27, 2006

Larry M. Jones
Weatherford Democrat
Copyright 2006

For years David Letterman has been famous for his “Top 10” lists of singularly distinguished people, places and events. In this vein, I’ve decided to create my very own list. I hereby declare that the No. 1 Top 10 all-time worst job in America would be to work for the Texas Department of Transportation and travel across Texas conducting Trans Texas Corridor community forums. Every one and every thing has its price, but I’m not sure there’s enough money to make me prostitute myself in support of such a charade.

A week ago Thursday, representatives from TxDOT showed up at Weatherford College’s Alkek Fine Arts Center to allow the public to ask questions, comment on the draft environmental study, and submit official statements and comments regarding the development of the Trans Texas Corridor. Despite having attended one last year in Mineral Wells, I elected to waste my evening at this event. I wasn’t disappointed.

I really don’t understand why TxDOT even bothers going through the motions of trying to make us “little people” feel we have a voice in what happens to Texas. The Trans Texas Corridor appears to be a foregone conclusion that shares equal billing with death and taxes — deal with it, my friend! A contract has been signed and, one way or another, we are going to have this conduit across Texas whether we want it or not. Sam Houston is probably rolling over in his grave.

Despite being a fairly well informed citizen and tax payer, by the time I first began hearing about this “toll road from hell” fiasco, the authority for creating this monstrosity and the legislative approval had already been effected. How many people do you know who can tell you what Proposition 15, HB 3588, or HB 2702 have to say? I’ve been told these seemingly innocuous little documents give our entrusted Austin officials all the authority they need to proceed with the rape of our once sovereign republic.

Mark Twain once said, “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” He may have been correct in his assessment, but he wasn’t the first to recognize this fact. When the Texas constitution was first drafted, the state leaders deliberately authorized sessions to be held every two years. No way could we endure or afford annual sessions.

The more closely I examine what few facts are actually offered on this massive toll way, the more appalled I become. Growing up down on a “hardscrabble” peanut farm and raised by honest, hard-working parents, I suppose I am a bit naive about what makes the business world click. I imagine most of the folks in the county are in much the same boat. I would expect a huge, new road system across Texas would be to assist in easing traffic flow within the state due to increased population. I must have fallen off a turnip truck!

Nowhere do you read about this Spanish operated consortium creating a conduit for tax free goods from China and other nations being funneled into the U.S. through Mexico as a result of NAFTA. Why can’t these foreign goods be shipped to U.S. ports instead of Mexican ports? Nowhere do you read about this opening up the border to unrestrained drug trafficking or illegal immigration. Why must all this commerce come through the center of Texas? Why not Arizona or New Mexico where there are wide open spaces?

Perhaps now we see the real reason for not sealing our borders. It isn’t just demand for cheap Mexican labor that creates a porous border. There are several much larger snakes under this rock.

Quite a few local citizens offered formal statements to the TxDOT delegation with regard to this transportation project. Almost without exception, each speaker opposed the project and offered a myriad of sound reasons for rejecting this boondoggle. If the project were offered to the voters of Texas for approval, I can guarantee it would be resoundingly defeated by a huge margin. Perhaps we should demand it.

During an intermission at the meeting, I directly asked the moderator for this gathering if he could tell me how this toll way would benefit me or any other resident of Parker County. He could not!

You cannot defend the indefensible.

Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy Commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to Columns submitted to The Weatherford Democrat by guest writers reflect the opinions of the writer and in no way reflect the beliefs or opinions of The Weatherford Democrat.

© 2006 The Weatherford Democrat:


"We can build four highways with the money needed to build one toll road."

County group to fight regional mobile board


Ramon Bracamontes
El Paso Times
Copyright 2006

While City Council is proceeding with plans to appoint a transportation authority that has the power to build toll roads and issue bonds for highway projects, a separate countywide board of elected officials is working to derail that process.

This fight will continue today and Friday at two separate meetings.

The Texas Transportation Com mission, which approves every highway construction project in the state, will conduct its monthly meeting today in El Paso. This commission, which has El Pasoan Ted Houghton as a member, authorized City Council last month to establish a regional mobile authority, or RMA. The RMA would have power to build roads more quickly because it could use tolls and bonds to pay for projects.

At today's meeting, supporters of the city's RMA are expected to attend to talk about El Paso's highway needs. Others are also expected to present.

Then on Friday, when El Paso's Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO meets, the elected officials sitting on that board will be asked to vote on a motion to denounce the need for an RMA.

MPO members will be asked to approve a highway construction plan that is different from what the RMA is pursuing and uses standard funding, which means no toll roads, no bonds.

The MPO consists of city and county elected officials, as well as elected officials from Southern New Mexico, Sunland Park, Vinton, Anthony, Horizon City, Clint and Socorro.

The MPO already voted once before to oppose an RMA. When the transportation commissioners approved the El Paso RMA, they told city officials that it would be best if the MPO supported the RMA.

The final commission order approving the RMA does not include that stipulation.

The only stipulation in the order is that all RMA projects must also be included on the MPO project list. That means what the MPO does will affect the future of the RMA.

And what the MPO does Friday will also affect the completion of Loop 375. In its request, city officials said the first highway to be built by the RMA would be the Southern Relief Route, which expands the Border Highway from Downtown to the West Side somewhere on Paisano.

City officials and Texas Department of Transportation officials have said this Southern Relief Route, which is a part of the region's plan to connect the Border Highway to Paisano Drive, will cost more than $400 million and is the continuation of Loop 375 to the West Side.

To speed up construction of this road, the city and TxDOT are pursuing the RMA.

However, state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, will ask the MPO to approve a plan that builds this Southern Relief Route for less than $200 million and without tolls.

"We can build four highways with the money needed to build one toll road," Pickett said. "If you don't put toll lanes on the road, the cost goes down."

Pickett said he will continue to work against toll roads and the establishment of an RMA because he said El Paso can keep building roads without toll roads and the money is there to make it happen.

Details of his plan will not be revealed until Friday.

City Rep. Steve Ortega said the city is moving forward with the appointment of an RMA. The city will appoint six members and the governor will appoint the chair. Nominations are currently being solicited.

"The RMA is needed so that we can provide transportation infrastructure, that is much needed, in a manner that is timely and efficient," Ortega said. "With an RMA, we can complete the Southern Relief Route in a couple of years; without it, the route will not be done until 2030."

Anthony Cobos, the El Paso County Judge-elect who takes office in January, said he is opposed to the RMA and toll roads because more roads are needed right now. He sat on the MPO for two years, so he is familiar with the issue, he said.

"I don't think we've had adequate public comment and a year ago, the public was very much against toll roads and an RMA," Cobos said.

According to the El Paso Times/KVIA ABC 7 Poll done in February, 59 percent of El Pasoans oppose toll roads as a way to pay for expensive transportation projects while 38 percent favor them. That is the same percentage of opposition as in the Times' 2004 poll.

Chuck Berry, the TxDOT district engineer in El Paso, said the establishment of the RMA gives the region more tools from which to draw money for projects.

"This gives us access to funding that is not otherwise available to us," Berry said.

Among those scheduled to speak at today's transportation commission meeting is El Paso businessman John Broaddus. He is the co-chair of the steering committee that formed the new Borderland Mobility Coalition. The coalition is an advocacy group that will seek funding and support to build up the region's transportation needs.

"We, as a region, need to come together with one single message about what we need," Broaddus said. "That has not happened before."

Ramon Bracamontes may be reached at; 546-6142.

The Texas Transportation Commission will meet at 9 a.m. today in City Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization will have its quarterly meeting at 9 a.m. Friday at 10767 Gateway West, Suite 605.

© 2006 El paso Times:


"What this governor has had the TxDOT staff do is outrageous."

Crowd flocks to hearing on corridor


By Robert Nathan
Killeen Daily Herald
Copyright 2006

TEMPLE – A public hearing concerning the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor project drew nearly 700 Central Texas residents and state and local officials Wednesday.

A multi-use transportation proposal many Texans argue is designed only to generate revenue and transform private land into state land brought one of the largest public turnouts in one of 54 scheduled public hearings concerning the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, or TTC-35, at the
Frank W. Mayborn Civic and Convention Center.

The Texas Department of Transportation's proposed TTC-35 is considered to be one of the largest transportation endeavors in the state and will not only separate car and truck lanes, but will also include railroads and underground utilities such as telephone, water and gas pipelines.

Its stated purpose is to improve international, interstate and intrastate movement of goods and people and address the transportation needs for a growing statewide population.

TxDOT officials said plans for TTC-35 are to be constructed in phases over the next 50 years with the development of specific projects to be prioritized according to state transportation needs.

Before the project's right of way acquisition and construction can begin, TTC-35 must first gain federal environmental approval for a final route alignment, TxDOT officials said.

The first step, officials said, is to complete the ongoing environmental study that focuses on narrowing the study area.

A decision on the project's location from the Federal Highway Administration is expected to be announced as early as September 2007.

"What we can anticipate, if this budget is able to go forward, the reduced congestion on Interstate 35 will make it a much safer and efficient facility for the greater Fort Hood area," said Ken Roberts, TxDOT Waco District public information officer.

Many of the state and local officials and Central Texas residents who would be affected by the corridor, argued it would change their way of life.

"What this governor has had the TxDOT staff do is outrageous," said state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a gubernatorial candidate. "These 54 so-called public hearings are deliberately designed not to get public input, but to wear the public out."

David Skrabanek, the chairman of the Blackland Coalition, said TTC-35 would affect everyone living near I-35, including the Killeen area.

Skrabanek said that even if local residents don't get on the highway and pay the toll, businesses will pass along the price of goods and services shipped on the roadway to consumers in cities such as Killeen and Harker Heights.

"You're going to pay it indirectly," he said.

Troy Mayor Sammy Warren said the Troy City Council recently approved a resolution stating Troy is against TTC-35 because it would destroy family farms and divide the community in a way where the EMS and Fire Services would be unable to cross the massive highway.

"We're not against the concept, but the way it is set up, it doesn't sound like its the best thing for Texas," Warren said.

Bell County Judge Jon Burrows told TxDOT officials to not forget the ongoing needs to widen and improve and complete existing project on I-35. He added the county has more than 47 miles of I-35 going through the center of the county. It is consistently overcrowded, he said, and the site of almost daily traffic accidents and fatalities.

"Concerning the Trans-Texas Corridor, if that project proceeds and if the actual route does cross Bell County, the adverse effect on property owners must be limited to only necessary transportation and feeder road needs," Burrows said.

Contact Robert Nathan at

© 2006 Killeen Daily Herald:


"It's time for the governor to consider a Trans-Texas alternative."


Trans-Texas alternative

Perry's transportation idea has merit but overlooks key issues


By: Andrew Burleson
The Battalion
Copyright 2006

Texas is facing a significant turning point. Gov. Rick Perry has called for the State to build a massive network of freeways with freight rail, commuter rail, utility lines, communication towers and oil and natural gas pipelines all concentrated into a single route. This massive corridor is intended to meet the future transportation needs of the state, which is expected to increase dramatically in the next 50 years.

Texas highways are already packed with cars and trucks, and gridlock strangles our major cities day and night. While the lofty goals of Perry's transportation program are admirable, the program has been met with opposition. In fact, all of Perry's opponents in the November elections are vehemently opposed to the plan.

Critics suggest that the corridor won't even require trucks to stop for customs at the border, but rather will operate as an "EZ-Tag"-style terminal, tracking shipments to central depots in Kansas before subjecting them to any examination. Of course, the trucks will have to exit the freeway numerous times to stop for gas before they could reach Kansas, and who is going to supervise the trucks there?

The route will do little to ease congestion in the cities. By looping 30 to 50 miles around every major metropolitan area, passenger vehicles are unlikely to find the corridor very practical. The suggested speed limit of 80 miles per hour is supposed to lure drivers to the alternative route, but how many Texans are going to want to drive an extra hundred miles and pay tolls the entire way just so they can avoid a bit of traffic?

Another problem with the plan is its rail component. Although a comprehensive high-speed rail system would be an economic boon, and being able to take a high speed train from San Antonio or Austin to Dallas could definitely reduce the number of passengers on I-35, it is doubtful that many people would want to drive 50 miles to the train station and rent a car at their destination, when they could just as easily fly or save money driving the whole way.

These challenges render the entire idea of the multi-modal corridor useless. Instead, the state needs to consider a different approach, routing different uses in different directions.

The most promising component of the plan is the freight rail. The freight rail could work as planned, but it would be even more effective if it was coupled with a system of spurs for freight trucks to transfer cargo on the final leg of its journey from an intermodal depot to the destination city. By picking up cargo in Laredo or McAllen and shipping it to Texarkana or Denton, countless freight trucks could be diverted from the interstate. Not only could this save the state a massive amount of money, but less land could be taken. Better, safer service could be provided using less fuel and generating less pollution and noise.

The passenger rail should also go directly to and from city centers. Texas could build high-speed rail networks through the medians of existing freeways, or over abandoned freight and utility lines. Austin and San Antonio have already been planning a connection using old right of way, which is currently underutilized. Coupling this with an investment in local level light rail and commuter trains could generate huge savings, reduce environmental impact and generate thousands of jobs. Not only could this offer rapid service between city centers (new trains can operate as fast as 300 mph) but would also give passengers safer, more affordable ways to travel. With an average of 43,000 Americans dying every year in automobile accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, now is the time to invest in safer transportation modes.

More congestion relief could be provided in the form of smaller regional bypasses, such as Austin's SH-130. That toll road is being built away from the major commuter destinations and will have limited entry and exit points in a deliberate effort to limit development on the bypass. By connecting to I-35 on either side of Austin, but running only slightly east of the city, travelers not intending to stop have a superior option to pass through the most congested parts of the existing freeway, without needing to add significant mileage to their trip.

Finally, to improve connectivity through areas currently underserved by infrastructure, an improved network of state highways � la SH-21 from Bryan to Caldwell could be built with bypasses around the busier towns along the route. Divided roads offer improved safety (which the Texas Department of Transportation claims is their primary concern) without mandating excessive taking of property or cutting off current property owners. Taking the example of SH-6, roads like this can be expanded over time as traffic counts justify increased capacity, rather than sinking billions of dollars into roads, which will be virtually unused for an entire generation.

It's time for the governor to consider a Trans-Texas alternative, investing in multiple modes of transportation but routing them separately to fit the strengths and weaknesses of each transport type.

© 2006 The Battalion:


People will no longer "spout concerns into a microphone."

Toll road meeting to use new method


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyrigh t2006

The city's latest public meeting for a proposed toll road will be unlike any other held so far.

The meeting, to get input for an environmental assessment on possible toll lanes along Bandera Road, will be held 7 p.m. today at Marshall High School, 8000 Lobo Lane.

Instead of people lining up to spout concerns into a microphone, the typical format, participants will break into groups to discuss funding and design options and reconvene to share opinions.

"In order to have true community involvement, you have to have two-way conversation," said Terry Brechtel, director of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority.

The agency is studying potential toll lanes on Bandera from Loop 410 to Loop 1604 but will also consider alternatives such as transit and improvements to smooth traffic flows.

"All options are on equal footing," an agency statement says.

A Texas Department of Transportation study estimated that building two to four elevated toll lanes could cost from $281 million to $358 million.

A toll fee of 13 cents a mile, which would increase with inflation, would cover less than half the cost.

Other funds could come from gas taxes or private firms interested in operating the toll lanes.

If toll lanes are built, construction could start as early as 2010 and finish two to three years later, Brechtel said.

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News:


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Costs increase as Cintra adds more highway assets in North America

Cintra 1st-Half Profit Drops 65% on Higher Financial Expenses

July 26, 2006
Copyright 2006

Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte SA, which operates toll roads in countries including the U.S. and Canada, said first-half profit dropped 65 percent as costs increased after the company added more highway assets.

Net income fell to 17.8 million euros ($22.4 million) from 51.3 million euros a year earlier, Madrid-based Cintra said today in a regulatory filing. Revenue rose 21 percent to 389 million euros as traffic increased.

Cintra, controlled by builder Grupo Ferrovial SA, is expanding in North America, where it runs the 407-ETR highway in Toronto and has projects in Chicago and Texas. About 68 percent of Cintra's revenue comes from outside Spain.

Financial expenses increased to 201.9 million euros from 121.8 million euros, Cintra said.

Analysts were expecting profit of 15.9 million euros, according to the median of six estimates in a Bloomberg survey.

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

© 2006


"We have had a lot of opposition especially from groups like 'Stop 121' which is a local group that feeds into a state group."

Plano crowd mixed on SH 121

July 26, 2006

By Joshua C. Johnson
Plano Star-Courier
Copyright 2006

Another in a long line of public hearings and meetings on the proposed State Highway 121 toll road drew a handful of Texas Department of Transportation officials, politicians, and only a handful of residents genuinely interesting in learning more about the construction to the Plano Centre Tuesday.

Many attendees where surprised when they entered the ballroom prepared for a town hall type meeting and found only map displays, 3-D demos and TxDOT engineers willing to explain the interworkings of the new toll road.

"The reason why we chose this format is to give folks the opportunity is to ask questions and give them the chance to get as much information as possible," said TxDOT spokesperson Angela Loston.

According to Loston who has been intimately involved with the development of the $700 million project, this style of meeting has produced positive results in past ventures.

"We have used this profile with other projects that we have done such as Southern Gateway in Dallas and the I-30 project," she said. "From what we heard from people that went to our public meeting last year in Denton County is that a lot of them felt like they didn't get their questions answered or voice all their comments."

Among the small throng many were politicians running for office who criticized the project such as Denton County Commissioner candidate Amy Manuel and Collin County Commissioner candidate Bill Baumbach, who condemns the use of toll roads to finance future projects. Baumbach is seeking to unseat Precinct 2 Commissioner Jerry Hoagland.

Among the voiced distain for the project the toll price has yet to be confirmed by the HNTB Corporation the private engineering firm that will build the road. Currently in Denton County toll prices are 13.3 cents per mile. According to Loston, by the time the 12.5 mile Collin County portion is complete it will be up to 17 cents during prime hours [6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.].

Many of the critics of this toll price which is based on the Consumer Price Index call the toll a double tax.

"I have heard that in the past and the reality is that folks are not getting double taxed," said Loston. "The toll road is optional; it's not something that people have to use. They won't be restricted to driving just riding the main lanes."

According to the diagram a three lane frontage road traveling in both directions will be available to those who don't wish to pay the toll.

"You can move traffic pretty quick, but it [frontage roads] won't be as fast as it would be on the toll road," said Commissioner Jack Hatchell.

The payment of this toll, called one of the highest in the region will not be via the traditional cash to manned toll booth but motorists have the option of buying a toll tag or being billed a monthly statement.

Those wishing to be billed will pay a 1/3 higher toll in addition to a $1 administrative fee

Like a traditional toll booth the gantries along SH 121 will be armed with cameras that will take a picture of the vehicle's license plate and a bill with be sent to the registered owner.

"I have visited with a few people their main concerns that there where no cage lanes, but that is TxDOT's decision we the county and the four cities pushed for at least one caged lane," said Hatchell, who also voiced his concerns for visitors traveling along the toll road.

The solution presented was temporary toll tags would be sold in $5 increments at various locations around the toll road.

"Their [HNTB Corporation] line of reasoning used is that it would cost more for operators than it would be for the violators that go ahead and run through them. It would cost you more to collect the tolls," he said.

Hatchel says that other than the toll pricing many of the opposition have accepted that the road will open.

"We have had a lot of opposition especially from groups like 'Stop 121' which is a local group that feeds into a state group. And each time we had a public meeting they will come and speak against it," he said.

While the Collin County portion of the toll road is set for completion around 2010, officials agree that Denton County motorists have gasped to the idea much quicker than those of Collin County.

"Denton County residents have pretty much agreed to tolling, there was portion that was against it but since it has been there they have changed their minds," said Loston.

The next official public hearing is set for the winter months after an environmental evaluation is complete.

Contact staff writer Joshua C. Johnson at 972-398-4255 or

© 2006 Star Community Newspapers :


" TxDOT still has our same preferred corridor area."

TxDOT may look at TTC options

July 26, 2006

Waxahachie Daily Light
Copyright 2006

After public hearings in Ennis, Waxahachie and Hill County, the Texas Department of Transportation may expand its environmental study area to include a possible alignment for the Trans-Texas Corridor 35 along Highway 360, but TxDOT is neither confirming nor denying the change.

“Any changes could be made,” Kelli Petras, assistant public information officer for TxDOT, said. “We’re still holding all our public hearings on the TTC and nothing will be decided until all the meetings are over. We’re considering everything but right now TxDOT still has our same preferred corridor area.”

Currently, TxDOT’s preferred route for the north to south transportation corridor includes a route through Ellis County from Milford to east of Ferris.

The TTC 35 plan is the first phase of a much larger transportation plan envisioned by Gov. Rick Perry and TxDOT to provide high speed lanes for personal vehicles, trucks and rail to criss-cross the state over the next 50 years.

The roadways will be constructed using future tolls on the road.

The TTC 35 plan is still in the early design phase, with routes narrowed down to 10-mile wide environmental study areas, but after public hearings end in August, TxDOT will submit its proposal to the Federal Highway Administration for approval and then begin whittling down the areas of study to a 1,200 foot right-of-way that stretches from Laredo to the Texas-Oklahoma border.

According to TxDOT, the TTC 35 will use existing infrastructure whenever possible and, in some locations, two or more corridors may be used to carry rail, commercial trucks, personal vehicles and utilities from one end of the state to the other.

With TxDOT’s preferred alignment virtually cutting Ellis County in half, the Ellis County Commissioners Court joined the North Central Texas Council of Governments earlier this month in support of a resolution to move the corridor to the Highway 360 and Loop 9 corridors.

Ellis County, along with the cities of Carrollton, Cedar Hill, Dallas, Duncanville and Lancaster, have each passed resolutions recently supporting the Highway 360 alternative.

“The Regional Transportation Commission started looking a year and a half ago at adopting a preferred alignment for the TTC,” Lara Rodriguez, a spokesman for NCTCOG, said. “We wanted to address some of the congestion and air quality issues. We’ve been negotiating with TxDOT and TxDOT is not yet at the point of deciding a specific alignment but I believe we’ve come to an agreement with TxDOT for them to at least study the area in the Highway 360 and Loop 9 corridor.”

While TxDOT continues its public hearings on the alignment, members of the RTC have been at a number of the meetings and shared their preferred alignment.

“One thing to keep in mind is that anything significantly suggested or planned by the Metropolitan Planning Organization has to be signed off on by RTC,” Rodriguez said. “And in the same way, anything the RTC wants to do will have to be signed off on by TxDOT.”

But a clear answer from TxDOT may not be available until after public hearings have been completed, Aug. 21.

“There have been discussions between the NCTCOG and top level people at TxDOT,” Greg Royster, principal transportation engineer for NCTCOG, said. “They have said they would expand their study area to include the 360 corridor but there likely won’t be an announcement until the end of the public hearings, which is Aug. 21.”

“The COG has presented their idea at every public hearing,” Petras said. “We are considering what they’re saying but we’re not actually changing the study area. It may change or it may not change. But as of right now we’re not changing anything.”

More information on the TTC can be found at and

© 2006 The Daily Light:


"Rural Texans can only stand so much before we have to stand up.”

Loss of valuable farm land discussed at Taylor hearing

July 26, 2006

by Clay Coppedge
Temple Daily Telegram
Copyright 2006

TAYLOR - Not far from where more than 150 mostly Czech-American families lost their farms on the Blackland Prairie to Granger Lake 30 years ago, a number of farmers and rural landowners stepped up to the microphone at Taylor High School on Tuesday night and asked that more Blackland dirt not be taken away for the sake of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Hank Gilbert introduced himself as a farmer and cited the importance of agriculture to the state’s economy.

“The loss of 180,000 acres of farmland would have an economic impact in the billions of dollars, all to facilitate transportation,” he said.

“People in government don’t care about rural voters. I was born and raised in Texas, and I can tell you that rural Texans can only stand so much before we have to stand up.”

Chris Hammel, co-founder of the Blackland Coalition that opposes the corridor, said during the public comments portion of the meeting that construction of the corridor anywhere within its current 10-mile study area would push urban vehicle pollution into rural areas. He cited a study by the American Farmland Trust that names the Blackland Prairie as the fourth most threatened agricultural region in the country.

“The corridor would mean the loss of numerous Heritage Farms,” he said, alluding to a designation by the Texas Department of Agriculture that recognizes farms and ranches that have been in the same family for more than 100 years.

“We’re told that this will be built to alleviate traffic problems,” Jane Van Pragg of Bartlett said. “We don’t have a traffic problem in rural areas. We have it in the cities. Build it there.”

The comments were part of the public comment part of the Tier I environmental impact study for the Trans-Texas Corridor, which was proposed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2002 as a combined toll road and rail system that would move traffic through Texas faster and safer.

TTC-35 would be the first segment of a 600-mile, $184 billion system of transportation corridors criss-crossing the state. The corridors could be up 1,200-feet wide with six lanes for cars, separate lanes for trucks, along with rail lines, oil and gas pipelines and water and utility lines.

© 2006 Temple Daily Telegram:


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Trans-Texas Cartoon

Trans Texas Corridor Land Grab

© 2006 Trans-Texas Corridor Blog:


“When Texans find out what it is they are adamantly opposed to it.”

Strayhorn becoming a regular at highway public hearings

July 25, 2006

By Noelene Clark
Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2006

Fighting a proposed Oklahoma-to-Mexico thoroughfare has long been a pet plank in Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s gubernatorial platform. Now, speaking up at public hearings about the controversial superhighway is becoming a pet tactic in her campaign strategy.

Monday evening’s Trans-Texas Corridor hearing at the Waco Convention Center was the fifth one that Strayhorn has attended since the Texas Department of Transportation began its 54-meeting circuit two weeks ago, Strayhorn spokesman Mark Sanders said.

“She’s trying to get to as many as she can,” he said.

At each meeting, she argues that an efficient highway system does not require funding from toll roads and criticizes Gov. Rick Perry for his “secret contract with a foreign company” — the U.S.-Spanish consortium that the state has approved to build and operate the $184 billion corridor, which would parallel Interstate 35. The Perry administration is now battling an attorney general’s ruling to fully disclose the contract.

Strayhorn’s tactic of touring public hearings seems to be working. Her complaints about the project are applauded at such forums by rural Texans afraid of losing their farmland.
“When Texans find out what it is,” Strayhorn said in Waco on Monday, “they are adamantly opposed to it.”

At an airport press conference, Strayhorn said, if she were elected, she would appoint a clean-air advocate to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and push for greater use of clean-burning natural gas, wind energy and gasification at utility plants. She said Perry is “fast-tracking dirty, coal-fired plants” through the permitting system, referring to executive orders to expedite approval for 11 controversial TXU coal-fired power plants.

Strayhorn, who is running as an independent, also spoke about her platform on education, which advocates reinstating performance reviews of public schools. She also said she would push the Legislature to fund tax cuts — 10 percent every five years — for fixed-income seniors.
Musician, novelist and political activist Kinky Friedman, another gubernatorial candidate, will be in Waco from 5 to 7 p.m. today to meet with supporters.

The meeting will be at Poppa Rollo’s Pizza, 703 N. Valley Mills Drive.

© 2006 Waco Tribune-Herald :


"You can’t move the Blackland Prairie.”

Georgetown public hearing crowd speaks out against corridor plan

July 25, 2006

by Clay Coppedge
Temple Telegram
Copyright 2006

GEORGETOWN - The first of two public hearings on the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor 35 (TTC 35) in Williamson County drew about 300 people. One speaker asked for a show of hands, which indicated that about 298 of the people who showed up are opposed to the project.

Most of the two dozen speakers, including some who are running for office, criticized the concept of the project, the international consortium headed by Cintra of Spain and decried the loss of critical Blackland Prairie habitat that TTC-35 would bring about.

Ralph Snyder of Holland set the tone early when he criticized the state’s position that it needs “the Spaniards” to finance and build the project, which he estimated would take out 67,000 acres of prime farm acreage and 54 million bushels of corn in the Blacklands at a time when bio-diesel fuels, including ethanol made from corn, are being developed and ethanol plants are being built.

“You can’t move the Blackland Prairie,” Snyder said. “Since the Spaniards are going to rob us of a national treasure, it’s hard to believe they have our best interests at heart.”

The hearing opened with a presentation from the Texas Department of Transportation on the need and benefits of TTC-35 as part of the solution for meeting the state’s future transportation needs.

The vision of the Trans Texas Corridor was announced by Governor Rick Perry in 2002, and would eventually stretch 600 miles across Texas as a series of six-lane highways with separate lanes for cars and commercial trucks, high speed rail lines and utility corridors. The corridors could be as wide as 1,200 feet.

TTC-35 would run from Gainesville to Laredo, roughly parallel to Interstate 35. Construction would be phased in gradually over 50 years with the most congested areas getting the first segments.

An international consortium, Cintra-Zachry, would build the road, set the toll rates and operate concessions along the corridors.

The foreign flavor of the project did not sit well with many of Monday night’s speakers, including Democratic candidate for State Comptroller Fred Head.

© 2006 Temple Telegram :


An election issue 'as big as Texas.'

A Trans-Texas Horror

July 25, 2006

By Karl-Thomas Musselman
The Daily Texan
Copyright 2006

There is an issue in Texas quietly building steam in what could be a major campaign theme in this fall's elections for governor and the state agricultural commissioner.

It's an issue that has folks in rural Texas feeling the pain of Native Americans centuries prior. It's an issue that has farmers and ranchers readying their pitchforks. And it's an issue that has some of the most conservative counties in the state upset with Republicans they used to consider defenders of free men on the range.

The issue is the Trans-Texas Corridor, a 4,000-mile, $183-billion plan proposed by Republicans and promoted by Gov. Rick Perry as the 50-year solution to Texas' traffic needs. The routes span the state, snaking across central and eastern Texas, connecting Laredo to Oklahoma and Arkansas. Future routes could bring in an East-West line from El Paso or others up through the Panhandle.

Each corridor could contain up to four trucker lanes, six vehicle lanes, six rail lines and a 200-foot utility path. At its maximum size, each TTC could be 1,200 feet wide, consuming up to 9,000 square miles of land, more than exists in all of New Jersey.

These massive property and investment requirements give rise to much of the objection from rural landowners. Cutting through countless farms and ranches and looping around suburbia will be a path wider than the distance between Austin's Congress and First Street bridges. One could set the entire state Capitol inside of the right of way.

An unsettling vision, landowners will be faced with inaccessibility to land split on opposite sides of this monstrosity. The state would ideally pay fair market value for the 5.7 million acres wanted for construction, but as with any municipality, the "lowest" fair market value will likely be found.

Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, any acreage desired from particularly cantankerous landowners can also be taken via eminent domain. The Texas Legislature did pass a bill granting protections to Texans from excessive abuses of eminent domain in the wake of that ruling, but it made a convenient exception specifically for the TTC.

For localities, any land consumed by the TTC disappears from the tax rolls, hitting small rural communities the hardest. Proponents claim that new business growth around interchanges and the corridor will offset that.

Unfortunately, primary TTC users will be transporting goods, not buying them. The frequency of off-ramps will likely be less than that for traditional highways, allowing for fewer business opportunities. The few ramps that will exit the TTC will be surrounded by land owned by the management company, Cintra Zachry.

Any commercial value that land will have will belong to Cintra Zachry, not the rural communities torn apart by the TTC. They won't see a string of gas stations and IHOPs as doing much to replace the revenue, character or community lost to this multi-billion-dollar boondoggle.

There are other facets of the project that are unsettling as well. While the Texas Department of Transportation has worked around historic lands or sensitive properties before, there is no law to guarantee that old community cemeteries won't be paved over or that historic buildings won't meet the bulldozer.

Add to that the fact that the presumptive private construction partner Cintra Zachry is an overseas firm based in Spain. Just as security-oriented citizens were unsettled by Dubai running American ports, many are cautious about having a foreign firm build a transportation network connected to Mexico. It only amplifies conservative concerns about border issues and immigration, though in truth, the TTC does not create any new border crossings.

The most unsettling thing about the project is that the terms are sealed, unreadable by the public. Texans have no way of knowing who will ultimately pay for the inevitable cost overruns, nor do they know what will happen when the actual revenues from the TTC are lower than the estimates used to secure the financing. Who will pay for that: the private management company or Texas taxpayers?

Already, 186 of Texas' 254 counties have made their disagreements with the plan public record. Both the Texas Democratic and Republican Party platforms officially state their opposition to the TTC. Every candidate for governor is in opposition to Perry on the issue. The TTC has even shaped up to be the prime topic in the otherwise quiet race for agricultural commissioner between state Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, who co-sponsored the TTC legislation, and Democratic candidate and farmer Hank Gilbert, who opposes it in any form.

Headed to November and through the next decade, the Trans-Texas Corridor will likely become an issue that is, pardon the pun, as big as Texas.

Musselman is a government senior.

© 2006 The Daily Texan :


"You're stealing our land!"

Local residents oppose Trans-Texas Corridor at regional meeting


By Victoria Rossi
The Daily Texan
Copyright 2006

GEORGETOWN - The more than 250 Williamson County residents who gathered at Georgetown High School Monday night weren't there to hear a Texas Department of Public Safety official explain the ins-and-outs of the Trans-Texas Corridor. Though questions abounded, most of the meeting attendees came ready with their own answer: Don't build it.

The Trans-Texas Corridor, proposed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2002, is scheduled to begin construction in 2010 and slated to cut a 1,200-feet-wide toll road through Texas running from Oklahoma to the Mexico border.

"I'd like for all of you that are opposed to this to raise your hands," said former state Rep. Fred Head, who is running for state comptroller in November, at the public hearing.

Nearly every hand in the room shot up.

Dieter Billek, one of the project managers for the Trans-Texas Corridor, didn't seem bothered by the show of opposition.

"That's the first time someone's interrupted me," he said, referring to a bearded man in the front row who yelled, "That's a lie!" and "You're stealing our land!" during his presentation.

"More people that oppose the plan tend to come to these meetings," Billek said.

Billek has spoken at 10 public hearings so far. He and two other corridor officials will attend a total of 54 statewide meetings.

"It's all part of the process," he added.

The town hall-style meeting, accompanied by a corridor informational video, slideshow presentation and public commentary at the end, was hosted by the Texas Department of Transportation as a way to get public input about the plan.

Some at the meeting remained skeptical about the outcome of the public meetings.

"I think it's a done deal, and they're just having these meetings to appease us," said Larry Bielss, who wore an anti-corridor sticker on his plaid shirt. His Walburt County house could be bulldozed under some of the proposed plans.

The comments and testimonies from the hearings will help the state narrow its proposed development area from a 50-60 mile wide swath of land to a strip that's 10 miles wide, Billek said. From there, state officials will choose the corridor's final alignment.

Farmers and landowners in the area have protested the plan for what they call its abuse of eminent domain rights and the miles of blackland prairie the concrete corridor will eat up.

Others have opposed the plan's use of toll roads and its sealed contract with the private, Spanish-owned construction company Cintra-Zachry.

Georgetown resident Marlene Williams, who brought her 14-year-old daughter Shelby to the meeting, said she would lose her home under any of the state's 150 plans. She squinted her eyes and shook her head when asked if she planned to start looking for a new place to live.

"I think there's still hope," she said. "We can vote for the leaders who will oppose this."

Williams, who calls herself a "conservative Republican," said she would consider switching her support to a Democrat who opposed the plan.

"I'm very disappointed in Perry," she said. "I voted for him."

© 2006 The Daily Texan :


"The DEIS does not show a specific need for the corridor. It justifies the corridor merely by showing projected population increases in Texas."

Forum part 1 of 2

Corridor not answer for rural Texas

July 25, 2006

By Susan Garry
Taylor Daily Press
Copyright 2006

The Texas Department of Transportation will show Taylor-area residents the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the TTC-35 portion of the Trans-Texas Corridor on Tuesday at Taylor High School. This DEIS shows the Recommended Preferred Corridor Alternative passing west of the Taylor area.

Even though Taylor is not in the Recommended Preferred Corridor Alternative, the edge of the area, called Reasonable Corridor Alternatives, cuts across Taylor. Thus, Taylor-area citizens need to stay informed about the corridor project as it proceeds.

Currently, some officials are saying that the vehicular part of the corridor through Williamson County is SH 130, which is already under construction west of Hutto. State Highway 130 is within the Recommended Preferred Corridor Alternative. However, TxDOT's Randall Dillard was quoted in the Taylor Daily Press as saying, “The corridor would provide outstanding economic development opportunities for Taylor much like SH-130 did for Hutto.”

However, Taylor is not in the Recommended Preferred Corridor Alternative.
Does Mr. Dillard mean that a second major highway will be built between Hutto and Taylor, just a few miles east of SH 130? Does he mean that SH 130 will not be the corridor route through Williamson County and the actual corridor might include Taylor? Does he mean that portions of the corridor other than vehicular - such as pipelines and utility routes or the six-track rail element - would impact Taylor?

If this is the case, Taylor would not realize “outstanding economic development opportunities.” The pipeline/utility corridor segment would negatively impact Taylor by removing much land from the tax rolls with no economic development. The same can be said for the six-track rail element, which would bypass Taylor, removing land from tax rolls with no economic benefit.

The recent study commissioned by Williamson County commissioners concluded that the Taylor area could not support a rail hub or depot.

The corridor plan calls for thousands of miles of a one-fourth-mile-wide corridor criss-crossing the entire state. The negative impacts of such a monstrosity are too many to be enumerated here, but they include environmental, economic and social problems for towns and rural communities all over Texas.

The DEIS does not show a specific need for the corridor. It justifies the corridor merely by showing projected population increases in Texas. It does not use specific transportation projections for the problem areas in the state and does not show how the corridor will alleviate the traffic problems, which are in and around major metropolitan areas.

Even though it seems that Taylor may not be harmed by the corridor right now, I encourage residents to attend the Tuesday hearing and to make comments about impacts on the entire state of Texas.

A period to look at displays and ask questions begins at 5 p.m. The formal presentation begins at 6:30 p.m. You may make oral comments during the hearing or submit written comments, which must be received by TxDOT by Aug. 21. Comment forms should be available at the hearing.

We can all see that congestion in some urban areas of the state needs to be alleviated by new or improved transportation projects, but carving up the state with a massive corridor is not the answer to localized problems.

© 2006 Taylor Daily Press: www.taylordailypress

TxDOT continues with TTC-35 plans

"The crowd applauded as speaker after speaker blasted the Trans-Texas Corridor."

More than 1,000 voice Trans-Texas Corridor views at Waco meeting

July 25, 2006

By J.B. Smith
Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2006

A proposal to build a huge transportation corridor parallel to Interstate 35 faced a tough crowd of more than 1,000 people Monday at a Texas Department of Transportation public hearing at the Waco Convention Center.

The crowd applauded as speaker after speaker blasted the Trans-Texas Corridor — its displacement of farmland, its funding as a toll road and the choice of a Spanish company to develop it. State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn used the occasion as a stump speech in her gubernatorial campaign against Gov. Rick Perry, denouncing the corridor and pledging to “blast it off the bureaucratic books.”

But the hearing also exposed a rift among local leaders about whether an alternative to I-35 is needed at all.

McLennan County commissioners and state Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, condemned the corridor as a threat to rural Central Texas, while city of Waco officials offered conditional acceptance of it.

Waco City Manager Larry Groth told transportation officials they should concentrate first on expanding I-35 “to its utmost capacity.”

“At that point, and that point only, should you consider alternative routes,” he said.
If the corridor is built, he said, it should come as close to Waco as possible and include access at all major crossroads. The priority should be removing trucks from I-35, he said.

Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce president Jim Vaughan echoed those concerns. State transportation officials noted that by law all U.S., state and interstate highways that cross the corridor would have to connect to it.

In contrast to Groth and Vaughan, McLennan County Commissioner Lester Gibson suggested that, if the transportation corridor is built, it should skirt McLennan County entirely.
“What you’re proposing is going to harm Waco and McLennan County,” Gibson said. McLennan County commissioners have expressed their opposition to the corridor in a resolution.

Dunnam said he would do everything he could to kill the corridor plan, which Perry has proposed as a quarter-mile-wide conduit for highways, rail and utilities over the next 50 years. Dunnam said Texas taxpayers should not have to bear the financial brunt of highway expansion needed for increased international truck traffic.

“If the federal government wants a NAFTA highway, let them come build it,” he said.
State transportation officials said the corridor would help meet Texas’ growing traffic loads. By some estimates, I-35 would need to be expanded to 12 to 16 lanes in coming years unless an alternative is built.

The Trans-Texas Corridor improvements would be financed and developed by a Spanish company, Cintra Zachry, which would collect tolls, but the system would belong to the state of Texas.

The transportation department this summer is holding a series of 54 public hearings in counties affected by the Trans-Texas Corridor to gather public comment on the alignment of a 10-mile-wide “study area” for the corridor. The exact route has not been proposed.

Monday’s meeting in Waco had the largest turnout of any Trans-Texas Corridor meeting in the state so far, transportation department spokesman Ken Roberts said.

Strayhorn found a receptive audience for her fiery populist speech denouncing Perry’s plan as “the largest land grab in Texas history” and accusing him of “trying to cram toll roads down our throats.”

She denounced the state’s arrangement to allow the Spanish company to collect tolls. “Texans want the Texas Department of Transportation, not the European Department of Transportation,” she said to wild applause.

In an interview, Strayhorn said she supported expanding I-35, but she was short on details on how to meet Texas’ future north-south traffic load.

“You could double-decker it,” she said of I-35. “There’s many different things you could do.”
Others who signed up to speak included eastern McLennan County farmers who opposed the taking of prime farmland, and environmentalists who drew a link between the Trans-Texas Corridor and plans for new coal-fired power plants.

Roberts said the spoken and written comments gathered at the meeting will make a difference in the state’s decisions on the corridor.

“We had a great turnout,” he said. “Whether they’re pro or con, we’re happy to have them out here.”


© 2006 Waco Tribune-Herald:


"I will not let the voices of Leon Valley citizens be silenced."

Council delays toll-road decision


Amanda Reimherr
San Anonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

LEON VALLEY — The City Council on July 18 again took no action on a decision regarding elevated toll roads along Bandera Road.

After the matter was tabled at the July 6 council meeting, many residents were expecting a decision last week on one of two resolutions — the original, which states the city does not support the elevated road, or an amended version.

The concern is over what type of project to alleviate heavy traffic congestion along Bandera Road will be recommended by the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority to the Texas Department of Transportation.

Residents still have an opportunity to voice their concerns about elevated lanes or toll roads at the public meeting the authority is conducting on proposed improvements to Texas 16/Bandera Road from the intersection of Bandera Road and Loop 410 West to Loop 1604 from 6:30-9 p.m. Thursday at Marshall High School, 8000 Lobo Lane.

At the July 6 meeting, Councilman Art Reyna presented a resolution stating the city did not want an elevated roadway in Leon Valley under any circumstances. Councilwoman Liz Maloy presented numerous modifications that were incorporated into an amended resolution, which was presented at the July 18 meeting.

Following passionate comments from speakers during the citizens-to-be-heard portion of the meeting, as well as comments by authority Executive Director Terry Brechtel, Reyna stated that he wanted to pull his original resolution and said the amended resolution should not be allowed for consideration.

"The motion for the amended resolution did not receive a second at the (July 6) meeting, so we should not be allowed to vote on it," he said. "The tabling was done because my colleagues on council wanted to see the amendments incorporated into the resolution. I did not agree with the amendments at all. I think the amended resolution absolutely gutted the original one and took away any teeth it had by saying elevated toll roads could be used as a last resort. The original one said they were not wanted at all, and I believe that is what most residents really want."

Neither this resolution, nor any other action, will affect the already-approved flyover lane under construction that will run from the Bandera/Loop 410 interchange to the median at Rue Francois.

Resident Cathy Nelson spoke against that change in the language as well.

"It opens the door for the possibility and I don't want there to be any kind of loophole," she said.

City attorney Adolf "Jake" Jacobson disagreed with Reyna's opinion about voting on the amended resolution. He said the resolutions were connected and either could be voted on. Reyna, who also is a lawyer, said he did not agree with Jacobson's interpretation of the rules of order because the amended version never received a second.

Maloy then announced she wanted to "pull down" her resolution as well.

"Well, I think both resolutions were premature since we have not had any public hearings on the matter yet," she said. "I think we need more public input. We are at the very beginning of a very long process and pursuing the resolution any further, did not seem like the right thing to do at this time."

With both resolutions off the table, Mayor Chris Riley consulted with Jacobson. She said since nothing was presented for discussion or action, they had to move to the next agenda item.

"I was utterly and absolutely perplexed," Riley said of the moves by Reyna and Maloy. "I really don't understand why they both pulled them down and I don't know if any resolution will be on the table anytime soon. However, this issue will continue to be looked at because we want TxDOT and the RMA to really look at all of their options. But I think that the overwhelming majority — including myself — don't want elevated toll roads."

The Thursday meeting was cited by Reyna as part of the reason he withdrew his resolution.

"I will not let the voices of Leon Valley citizens be silenced," he said. "I proposed this resolution because I felt it was saying what the majority of the residents want. After the RMA meeting, when they have said what they want to say, we might want to look at a resolution again because it is their resolution, not mine. It is their voice, not mine."

Brechtel said she sees the council's actions in a positive light.

"I really see this as a vote of confidence by the city in the RMA to allow us the appropriate amount of time to conduct research and talk with citizens," Brechtel said after the meeting.

"Ultimately, we will take every suggestion into consideration and see if tolls are even viable. What I heard tonight is the city is willing to wait for citizen input before they pass anything."
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© 2006 San Antonio Express-News:


Monday, July 24, 2006

Pickett's Charge

Major RMA Battle Scheduled This Week


by Sito Negron
Copyright 2006

If the Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) debate resembles a war, then the last few months have seen skirmishes and battles, intelligence operations, and fierce competition to create and maintain alliances.

Given that scenario, a major battle in the war is to be joined at the next meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), coming Friday (July 28). The agenda calls for an action to oppose the creation of an RMA, and to change its “priority project,” considered the most pressing, from the Southern Relief Route, an $800 million project to expand the Border Highway, to the Northeast Bypass, which would allow heavy traffic to go around the city and to New Mexico through the Anthony Gap. [agenda]

In addition, one MPO board member who supported the RMA has been kicked off the board -- on Monday (July 17), the county voted to remove Bob Geyer from the MPO. And mayors of small towns have been lobbied, including offers of projects they have been working for years to get.

The El Paso MPO is a 24-member body that includes 19 elected officials from El Paso city and county, staff from those entities, and elected officials from Dona Ana County and small towns around El Paso -- Clint, Socorro, Anthony, Vinton, Sunland Park and Horizon City. It also includes the TxDOT district engineer for El Paso and the NMDOT district engineer, who is based in Deming. [members]

The MPO is meant to plan and coordinate transportation projects around the region, and there is concern about its role in relation to the RMA, an entity that can build and maintain roads, generally through tolls. The Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) on June 29 gave the city of El Paso approval to create an RMA; however, the priority project/s must match those identified by the MPO, which might complicate things if the MPO changes its priority project/s. [ttc minute order]

“It’s pretty clear in the minute order there is an RMA formed in El Paso, but you can’t have a project unless the MPO approves it; but that’s any RMA,” said Ted Houghton, an El Pasoan and member of the Texas Transportation Commission.

The MPO previously passed a resolution opposing the RMA in a meeting June 23, leading to the TTC stipulation June 29. [background]

The opposition to an RMA is led by state Rep. Joe Pickett. He has been involved in a protracted fight with the Texas Department of Transportation, which he says is using threats and bribes to promote RMAs across the state. He has joined with County Judge-elect Anthony Cobos and likeminded politicians such as city Rep. Eddie Holguin, as well as small town mayors who distrust the concept because they fear it would focus on the city of El Paso to their detriment. Also in that mix is U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, who wrote a letter opposing the idea.

The proponents of the idea include: TxDOT, and Gov. Rick Perry; Houghton; El Paso state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh; Mayor John Cook and most members of City Council; and the Greater Chamber of Commerce, the Paso del Norte Group and other business organizations.

* * *

“They have the right to change it if the correct information wasn’t provided to them when they voted to make the Southern Relief Route the priority. There may be a different set of facts ... that cause them to revisit the Southern Relief Route versus the Northeast Parkway,” said Roy Gilyard, MPO director, of the meeting scheduled for Friday.

He said that his staff was working on figures to compare the financing of the two projects, but didn’t have the information prepared yet.

Pickett said “I am suggesting for the whole region that I have a better idea then what TxDOT has.” He has argued that the case for an RMA is financially flawed, and that in order to make appear to work TxDOT has had to shift money from other projects. In a year or so from now, he said, “Once they get started with the RMA, it can’t be stopped, and if they can’t fix the numbers and the financial people come back and say ‘No’ TxDOT still will kill more projects to get this done.”

Veronica Callaghan, who is chair of the mayor’s task force on transportation, as well as a member of the Foreign Trade Association and the PDNG, agreed with one part of Pickett’s statement -- that the financiers of toll roads, those who buy the bonds, will have the final say. “The biggest test is investment bakers who will check the numbers.”

However, she said, Pickett is pursuing funding sources that simply are not there.

“I’ve told him ‘If you think there’s money in some pots, we’ll go to Austin and fight with you. In the end, nothing happens, and we have to move on,” Callaghan said.

* * *

“I’m not voting against anybody. The way I’m voting is for the city of Socorro. I need projects done in the city of Socorro. We have been ignored forever,” said Socorro Mayor Trini Lopez. He said he had been offered projects for his support of an RMA, although he declined to say who made the offers.

He said he also has been lobbied by supporters on the merits of the project, whose names he did not remember. It’s been a difficult decision, he said. The vote to oppose the RMA, which he voted for, was his first meeting on the MPO, and he is trying to learn quickly, he said.

Callaghan was one of the people who lobbied Lopez. She said she tried to explain the benefits of an RMA. “It’s hard to make people understand, especially if they’re being told it’s another tax. You don’t have a choice with a tax, that’s one thing. The difference between express lanes and regular is they are on same road system, and you have a choice to pay to go faster or not. On the Internet, for example, I’m willing to pay to go faster, that’s all it comes down to.”

Another benefit of an RMA that supporters have been touting is local control. If a toll road is built without an RMA, it is under the control of TxDOT. Such a distinction may not matter to those who oppose an RMA. The city names RMA board members, with the exception of the chair, who is appointed by the governor.

El Paso Mayor John Cook said the city will consider all qualified applicants. He hopes to name a board by September. The criteria and applications are on the city’s Web site. [link]

While there has been lobbying, pointed agenda items and pointed comments, there are other tactics, as shown by Monday’s removal of Geyer from the board by County Commissioners. The item was pushed by County Judge Dolores Briones.

While multiple sources have said Geyer was removed for his support of the RMA, Commissioner Larry Medina said he was supporting Briones’ item. Dan Haggerty was the only no vote. The item replaced Geyer with Manny Rivera, who heads the county road and bridge department.

“Most of us thought that Manny would be a better fit because of his work with roads and bridges,” Medina said. He acknowledged that “it did look suspicious but that was the answer given on the public record.”

Geyer could not be reached for comment.

Cook said that “I’m not sure what to think of it. I haven’t had a chance to talk to Dolores or anyone else. I’m not going to mess in the county’s business and the rural mayors’ business. I’ll appoint who I want and they can appoint who they want.”

Of the battle ahead for Friday, Cook said: “What I’m hoping happens this Friday is we postpone it for month and let cooler heads prevail.”

* * *

Sito Negron can be reached at

© 2006 Newspapertree:


"Basically, we're saying government's for sale."

Leasing highways is gaining traction around nation


By Elisa Crouch
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Copyright 2006

Selling the Brooklyn Bridge is an old joke, but leasing the Chicago Skyway for $1.8 billion wasn't.

Nor was leasing the Indiana Toll Road for $3.8 billion or a future 40-mile stretch of Texas highway for $1.3 billion.

As Missouri officials try to persuade Illinois to lease a future $910 million Mississippi River bridge to private investors, other states and cities are moving forward with similar deals.

Called public-private partnerships, they give governments large infusions of cash in exchange for the operation and maintenance responsibilities of bridges and highways. Where no road or bridge exists, investors build it themselves and without many of the bureaucratic constraints that slow construction. Private entities can secure longer-term loans than governments, giving them more time to repay debt and turn a profit through tolling. And, they allow politicians to open new roads without asking voters for a tax increase.

The partnerships reverse the notion that highways are a public responsibility, a view held since the early 19th century, when governments took over roads, bridges and canals that had gone bankrupt in private hands.

Privatization is common practice in Europe and Australia. In the United States, it's not. States from New Jersey to Oregon and Alaska are considering privatization for a number of projects without much of a track record to learn from.

"There's a learning curve," said Neil Grey, director of government affairs for the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, an alliance of toll operators. "We don't have a lot of experience in it to tell you the truth."

Skeptics say agreements are quietly hatched and more motivated by money than interests of the motoring public. The leases can keep the public sector from fixing future congestion problems. Noncompete clauses can impose a decades-long prohibition on building nearby roads that motorists can use for free, or adding lanes to nearby highways.

Proponents argue that partnerships are a way to fix the nation's decaying interstate system. Revenue from federal and state gasoline taxes is falling further behind the need. Where the free interstate system was the model for the 20th century, some argue that public-private partnerships are the model for the 21st.

Missouri Transportation Director Pete Rahn is an advocate of building a new river bridge this way.
Public-private highway projects

"Clearly, our resources as states do not allow us to tackle very many big projects," he said. "If the public is not willing to pay the taxes necessary to construct and maintain our interstate system, then we have to find alternatives."

The 2005 lease of the Chicago Skyway sent legislatures exploring privatization, primarily due to the $1.8 billion windfall the city received from the deal. The 7.8-mile elevated highway is now operated by Cintra Macquarie, a Spanish-Australian consortium. The consortium also paid Indiana $3.8 billion last month to lease the Indiana Toll Road.

A Fitch Ratings report in March says toll roads are good candidates for privatization. It also cites several North American flops.

A Toronto toll road operator defaulted on debt payments in 2004. The city and the concessionaire sparred over toll rate increases, resulting in numerous lawsuits.

In 2003, Orange County, Calif., bought out investors who built and operated the "91 Express Lanes" so the county could expand traffic capacity on nearby roads. A noncompete clause in the 1995 lease prohibited nearby road expansion. The toll lanes were a financial success, but privatization became a political problem when traffic increased.

"It's a mixed bag of success," said Matthew Sundeen, a transportation policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "It depends who you talk to as far as how successful they are."

This month, Gov. Matt Blunt signed a bill that allows Missouri to enter into such an agreement to build a new Interstate 70 bridge between downtown St. Louis and Illinois. The arrangement would allow investors to build the project with private money, operate the bridge and charge tolls for up to 99 years to recover construction costs.

Motorists would pay those tolls, unless the states adopted "shadow tolling." This kind of tolling charges government for each vehicle using the bridge, rather than charging motorists.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich says he opposes any bridge financing method that results in tolling Illinois motorists. In northern Illinois, motorists use the 50-year-old Illinois Tollway, which is its own self-supporting entity and does not use state or federal money. No tolling facility exists in Southern Illinois.

Legislators are holding hearings on leasing the 274 miles of toll road, which runs through northeastern Illinois, an idea that Blagojevich and his Republican opponent, Illinois state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, have publicly opposed.

The Legislature approved a bill this year allowing public-private partnerships in Illinois, opening up the possibility for the Tollway. Sen. Frank Watson, R-Greenville, said privatizing a new Mississippi River bridge should be examined more closely. Without Illinois' approval, Missouri cannot solicit bids for a private partner, Rahn has said.

"It has to be acknowledged that it's an option," said Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. "Having said that, it makes it more complicated than a straight government project. You're breaking the mold. You're trying to do something new."

Missouri's legislation allows tolls only on the new bridge - the other river bridges would remain free. A public-private partnership for any other project would need separate legislative approval.

The legislation also says that details of a partnership agreement would be kept private until becoming final, giving the public no opportunity to evaluate details such as caps on toll rates, maintenance standards and timely removal of roadkill.

Rahn said he would handle the process more openly than the legislation calls for. Information would be kept private only until all bids are in, he said.

"There's a reason you want to protect information at that very early crucial stage. It's only fair," Rahn said. "But, once you've gone through a solicitation process, once you've accepted the proposals and you're not accepting any more, at that point the proposals have to be shared with the public - prior to making the choice."

More than 21 states have legislation allowing for public-private partnerships. Off-shore investors are doing much of the bidding. A handful of U.S. investment banks, including Goldman Sachs & Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., are reportedly trying to get in on the action.

"Basically, we're saying government's for sale," said Don Schaeffer, vice president of the Mid-West Truckers Association. "Just because it's a foreign entity doesn't mean it's bad, but it raises questions on who's controlling infrastructure in the United States." 314-340-8119

© 2006 St Louis Post-Dispatch: