Saturday, August 05, 2006

Gubernatorial candidates offer opinions about the Trans-Texas Corridor

Hopefuls offer their opinions on transit

Aug. 05, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

Transportation is a fiery issue in the governor’s race, especially the hotly disputed Trans-Texas Corridor.

“It’s one of the top three or four issues,” said Harvey Kronberg, an Austin political analyst. “There’s transportation, cronyism, parks and wildlife, stem-cell research, the tax bill, home insurance rates. If I had to bet today, I’d bet on transportation, because there’s already so much passion for it.”

Traffic usually doesn’t veer into state politics. Why now?

Part of it is timing.

This summer, just as the five-person governor’s race heats up, 54 hearings are scheduled on Trans-Texas, a proposed statewide network of toll roads and rail lines that could cost $184 billion over 50 years. The subject of the hearings is the first piece of the project: a toll road from the Oklahoma border to San Antonio.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry unveiled Trans-Texas in 2002, saying it would generate billions of dollars in private investments for Texas roads.

The other candidates mostly hate the idea. Supporters of Democrat Chris Bell and independents Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman are packing Trans-Texas hearings, demanding that it be stopped.

Libertarian James Werner favors private investment in roads but worries that Trans-Texas would be a land grab.

Plus, observers say, it was only a matter of time before traffic became a top issue in statewide political campaigns. Drivers are sick of the daily battle not only in Dallas-Fort Worth, but all over the state. And it’s only going to get worse, because the number of vehicles on the road is expected to double in the next quarter-century.

So who’d be the best governor when it comes to gridlock?

The Star-Telegram chatted with candidates and their supporters in an attempt to boil down their positions on Trans-Texas and other transportation topics.

Bell believes

The Texas Department of Transportation is spending money inefficiently, which reduces the amount of road work that can be done, and is due for new leadership.

Even though the department turned over the highway funding selection process three years ago to local leaders in the state’s eight largest metro areas, the decision about where to spend money is still too political — and favors those with the best Austin connections.

A motor-fuels tax increase may be needed to generate more highway money.

Local officials should have the power to hold referendums asking voters to raise sales taxes by a half-cent for transportation needs, including commuter rail. Currently, this can’t be done because state law caps the tax at 8.25 percent.

The Trans-Texas Corridor is the wrong approach for reducing truck traffic on existing highways because it lacks government oversight. There’s too much secrecy and potential for corruption.

The state is moving too fast to privatize highways and turn them into toll roads.

Foreign companies should not be awarded primary contracts to manage toll roads.

“Traditionally, with transportation we’ve controlled our own destiny,” Bell said.
Toll roads are OK in areas such as Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, where residents want them, but they should be a last resort on the state highway system. They are unfair to people who can’t afford tolls.

“I think Perry’s approach, which is let’s make everything a toll road, is wrong,” Bell said. “There’s not a whole lot of other options being discussed. The problem with that idea is, you’re making transportation a battle between the haves and have-nots.”

Platform problems: Opposes the Trans-Texas Corridor but must be pressed for details about what he would do alternatively to relieve congestion. He can be inconsistent. During a recent interview, he spoke with grave concern about raising the gas tax in this $3-a-gallon era, but minutes later he advocated higher gas taxes at the local level to pay for transportation needs.

Friedman feels

Not only should plans for toll roads be scrapped, but existing toll roads such as those built by the North Texas Tollway Authority should be converted into non-toll highways. Friedman wants to name the roads in honor of musicians such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Bob Wills and Buddy Holly.

The state motor fuels tax, currently 20 cents a gallon, should possibly be raised a penny or two to increase highway funding.

Production of biodiesel fuel, including fuel made by processing corn and recycled vegetable oil, should be dramatically expanded. Co-ops should be established to organize farms.

The Trans-Texas Corridor, which could cost $184 billion over 50 years, should be stopped immediately. Friedman calls the project the “Santa Ana Highway,” citing its convenience to Mexico. He says Trans-Texas lacks oversight and is prone to corruption between government officials and private companies investing in it. He also opposes foreign control of toll projects.
“The price tag is almost as big as Iraq,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing a failing governor does to take the focus off education and the environment.”

Platform problem: Abolishing toll roads would be enormously expensive, and Friedman didn’t seem to realize that a penny-per-gallon motor fuels tax would raise only about $100 million — a drop in the bucket for a state that spends $6 billion a year on roads. He declined to comment on a proposed half-cent sales tax increase for regional rail in North Texas, saying it was “local stuff” that didn’t concern him.

Perry pledges

To aggressively court the private sector to spend money on Texas roads, relieving taxpayers of the burden. He also welcomes foreign investment but is optimistic that U.S. companies will join the competition.

To let market forces shape the future of Texas transportation. He believes that Texas must take advantage of economic opportunities in the next half-century, particularly with free trade among the U.S., Mexico and Canada. He also believes that the best way to embrace impending change is to effectively convert the state’s transportation grid into a giant, multipurpose port.
Perry believes that the key to reducing congestion is to build toll roads, which allow businesses and private citizens who can afford it to buy their way out of traffic while keeping the existing freeway system available to Texans who don’t want to pay or can’t afford tolls — and prevent higher taxes for everyone.

“The single biggest impediment to addressing congestion and economic opportunity in our state right now is congestion on Interstate 35 today, and congestion that will occur on Interstate 35 in the next 25 years if we don’t do something right now,” said Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson of Weatherford.

Perry appointed Williamson to implement the governor’s transportation plans.

“It’s not a matter of us not having sympathy for those who don’t want their  land lost.. A lot of us farm on the side. Every one of us has land. Rick Perry is from a farming community. There is no one who doesn’t feel pain on this. But with that understanding, somebody has got to do something about I-35, not 10 years from now, not 25 years from now, but right now,” Williamson said.

Perry strongly opposes raising motor fuels taxes, which he believes are a dwindling source of highway money because of improved fuel efficiency.

He also opposes raising the sales tax, even in a local-option referendum, for transportation needs. He believes that metro areas such as Dallas-Fort Worth could pay for needs such as a commuter rail system by inviting the private sector to build toll roads and divert some of the toll revenue for local needs.

Platform problems: Perry’s campaign is taking a public relations beating this summer as opponents flood Trans-Texas hearings to rail against not only the plan, but Perry himself. His state Republican Party opposes Trans-Texas. Even if his transportation plans work, the benefits won’t be known for many years, so some voters may view it as a leap of faith.

Strayhorn says

The state should not build toll roads to relieve congestion. State law allows for many other ways to raise more highway funds. However, local elected leaders should be allowed to build toll roads within their metro areas if they wish.

The Trans-Texas Corridor project should be immediately stopped, and all confidential documents about Cintra Zachry’s master finance and development plans should be immediately made public.

“If they were serious about this push for transportation, the first thing they’d do is make the contract public,” she said. “Instead, they’re tying it up in court, trying to get it past the Nov. 7 election.”

The state Transportation Department needs a leadership change, including executive staff and appointed commission members.

Texas should expand highways by using federal Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle (Garvee) bonds, which allow states to borrow money for highway projects and repay the loans with future gas taxes.

The Texas Mobility Fund, which was created by voters in a 2001 constitutional amendment, should not be used for toll road projects. Instead, the money should be used for non-toll highways. “When we were asking the people of Texas to approve the Texas Mobility Fund, not once were they told toll roads were part of it.”

Platform problems: Critics say Strayhorn switched positions on some transportation issues. In 2001, in her duties as state comptroller she published a review of the Transportation Department. The review, titled Paving the Way, advocated tolls as an alternative to the gas tax and also touted private investment in roads — concepts she now speaks against.

Werner wants

Private investment in toll roads as an alternative to raising taxes.

To rely less upon the taking of private land through eminent domain to build the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“As a Libertarian I oppose the seizure of private property in almost all .” he wrote in an e-mail. “I do, however, like the idea of a . circumstances . Trans-Texas Corridor. I fully expect that land use issues could be resolved between current owners and the management firm that hopes to build and operate most of this road system.”

Less reliance upon motor-fuels taxes to pay for transportation. His proposal calls for a flat consumer sales tax on all new goods and services, and an end to property, business and other taxes.

No increased tax support for commuter rail, which he calls “a terribly inefficient way to manage our transportation challenges, and tends to favor the wealthy commuter at the expense of the less well off.” But he would favor expansion of private bus routes.

Gordon Dickson, 817-685-3816

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


Friday, August 04, 2006

"They're trying to destroy a whole community."

Opponents Unite To Battle Bandera Road Elevated Tollway Option

August 4, 2006
Copyright 2006

SAN ANTONIO -- Several community organizations mounted a continuing effort Friday to put the brakes to an elevated toll-road option over Bandera Road.

Members of San Antonio Toll Party and AGUA are among groups trying to convince the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority to abandon the idea of possibly building an elevated tollway between Loops 410 and 1604 with no exits.

"It just seems outrageous because they're trying ... (to) destroy a whole community," said Terri Hall of San Antonio Toll Party.

Another concern for opponents is that the toll road would be built over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone.

"We want to make sure anything that happens minimizes negative impacts to the water quality in the recharge zone," said Annalisa Peace of AGUA.

Texas Department of Transportation officials estimate that 54,000 vehicles travel daily through Bandera Road and officials are looking for ways to relieve congestion.

Hall agrees about the traffic troubles but said that there are better alternatives, include synchronizing of traffic lights, increasing public transportation and reversing the lanes of travel during peak traffic hours.

Alamo Regional Mobility Authority officials are accepting public comments on the proposal until Monday.

But Terry Brechtel of ARMA stresses that many options are being looked at before a final recommendation is made on what to do about Bandera Road, if anything.

"The alignment we're looking at today is a corridor that has many options available to it," she said. "There's a lot of misinformation in the community about an elevated corridor. We're looking at elevated, at grade. We're looking at the possibility of a creek alignment that was also mentioned in the feasibility study."

Copyright 2006 by :


"I think the message is really clear that the RMA needs to consider other alternatives aside from an elevated tollway."

Groups call on officials to abandon Bandera toll road proposal


Brandy Ralston
KENS 5 Eyewitness News
Copyright 2006

The proposal to build a toll road in Leon Valley would affect the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of San Antonians. Now, several groups are calling on local The section of Bandera Road under scrutiny is nearly 6-1/2 miles long, stretching from Loop 410 to Loop 1604. On any given day, more than 60,000 cars travel the road, making traffic, at times, a nightmare.
While some folks say something has to be done, others who live near the road say leave it alone.

"If we do nothing, based on modeling, in 2030, it would have the same traffic volume that you see on IH-35 today, about a 100,000 to 139,000 cars a day," said Leroy Alloway, with the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority.

Alloway's group was formed to look at the congestion around San Antonio and come up with a solution for areas like Bandera Road.

"Why this big hoopla about a big project that the people who live there feel is not needed," said Annalisa Peace, with the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance.

The aquifer alliance is just one organization not happy about the proposed Bandera toll road.
"I think the message is really clear that the RMA needs to consider other alternatives aside from an elevated tollway that's really gonna destroy that community," said Terri Hall, with the San Antonio chapter of the Texas Toll Party.

"Nothing has been decided. Every option is on the table on how we can improve Bandera Road and keep traffic moving on that roadway, instead of sitting in gridlock," Alloway said.

The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority said this is an 18-month study, and they're just in the first phase. They'll be taking public comment on this first phase up until Monday.

For more information on the Bandera Road proposal, visit the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority’s Web site at

For more information on the opposition to local toll roads, visit the Texas Toll Party's Web site at

© 2006 KENS 5 Eyewitness News:


"Grab everyone you know and bring them to this crucial meeting."

Corridor meetings next week likely to reach fevered pitch


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

A wave of raucous public hearings for the Trans Texas Corridor is wrapping up with a tour through South Texas, where critics and advocates alike are attempting to stack a Tuesday hearing in San Antonio.

The Texas Department of Transportation began holding 54 hearings last month and will finish next week for the planned segment paralleling Interstate 35 from Mexico to Oklahoma.

A draft environmental report recommends narrowing the study area to a 4- to 18-mile-wide swath east of I-35, where officials hope to build toll lanes, rail lines and utility lines. Separate studies would be done for exact routing of specific projects.

For more information, go to

More than 1,000 people showed up at hearings in Waco and Temple, and many of them hammered away at Gov. Rick Perry's vision to crisscross the state with a 4,000-mile network of corridors financed and operated by private companies.

San Antonio activists on both sides of the issue have sent out e-mail alerts to rally supporters.
"Grab everyone you know and bring them to this crucial meeting," said Terri Hall of San Antonio Toll Party. "Let's top Temple's turnout and overwhelm TxDOT with opposition."

The San Antonio Mobility Coalition, a nonprofit group of government and private entities, also hopes to get people to the local hearing.

"These hearings are being targeted by toll opponents on a statewide basis," Director Vic Boyer said. "We absolutely need supporters to show up and provide testimony."

TxDOT scheduled the following hearings, each beginning at 6:30 p.m.:

Monday in the Pearsall High School cafeteria at 1990 Maverick Drive.
Tuesday in the East Central High School cafeteria near San Antonio at 7173 FM 1628.
Wednesday in the Seguin-Guadalupe County Coliseum at 810 S. Guadalupe St.

Proponents say the corridor would better connect Toyota, Toyota suppliers, the Port of San Antonio and other businesses to Texas markets and growing international trade that extends into Mexico and even China.

Opponents say it would suck away U.S. jobs, compromise border security and run up the cost of goods. They also say the corridor — up to 1,200 feet wide — would gobble 75,000 acres of land, split farms, ranches and wildlife areas and deny access to many property owners.

Nearly a million people, almost half of them minorities, live in the recommended study area. About a fourth of households are below the poverty level, twice the state average, and prime farmland makes up 45 percent of the acreage.

The preferred area also crosses three major and six minor aquifers and includes 13 square miles of parks; 25 square miles of surface water; 38 square miles of wetlands; 13 federally listed and 46 state-listed threatened and endangered species; 63 landfills; and five national historic sites of 23 acres or more.
Read Patrick Driscoll's href=>Move It blog about transportation issues

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© 2006 San Antonio Express-News:


Perry stands alone in his support for the Trans-Texas Corridor

Candidates take stand on TTC


Waxahatchie Daily Light
Copyright 2006

If the Trans-Texas Corridor is the modern day line in the sand, each of the gubernatorial candidates have crossed over and left Gov. Rick Perry standing all alone.

Each of the Perry’s four opponents have expressed their displeasure with the current TTC plan over the last several months.

“I am adamantly opposed to this massive toll plan,” Strayhorn said. “Rick Perry calls it Trans-Texas Corridor. I call it Trans-Texas Catastrophe and as governor I will blast it off the bureaucratic books.”

In May, the Fort Worth Star Telegram reported that Perry’s appointed chairman of the Texas Department of Transportation told North Texas elected officials and business leaders, “If you aggressively invite the private sector to be your partner, you can’t tell them where to build the road.”

“Texas property belongs to Texans, not foreign companies; Texas freeways belong to Texans, not foreign companies,” Strayhorn said. “We will not sit quietly by and let this governor embark on the largest land grab in history and cram toll roads down our throats.”

Strayhorn has also made appearances at TxDOT public hearings for the TTC declaring her stance against the project.

But Democratic candidate Chris Bell sees Strayhorn’s stance as a political flip-flop.

“In 2001, state Comptroller Carole Strayhorn officially recommended that Texas build more toll roads all across the state,” Bell said. “In 2003, Rick Perry took her up on that recommendation when he rammed through the bill creating the TTC, a $184 billion land grab that will go down as one of the largest boondoggles in our state’s history. The toll road plan recommended by Strayhorn and passed by Perry will destroy almost 1.5 million acres of prime farmland and will strip Texas landowners of over 150 square miles of privately owned property. All so that Rick Perry could hand out billions of dollars in sweetheart deals to some of his biggest campaign contributors. I think it’s time we applied something as radical as common sense to this debacle.”

If elected, Bell promises to slam the brakes on the whole plan.

“This is corruption you could see from space,” Bell said. “Rick Perry just can’t justify giving billion dollar sweetheart deals to his largest contributors. And Carole Strayhorn can pound the podium as loudly as she wants, but she can’t change the fact that it was her staunch and vocal support of toll roads that helped put this ball in motion in the first place. Our leaders have sold us out to the highest bidder, and we need new leaders in Austin if we want to get serious about ending the culture of corruption and cleaning up the Capitol.”

Independent candidate Kinky Friedman has compared the toll road being built by Spanish company Cintra to the previous national debate over Dubai companies running ports in America.

“Folks, this is a bad idea,” he said. “It’s like having Dubai run the ports of America. I have an idea. Instead of the TTC, take four highways across Texas, name them after Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Bob Wills and Buddy Holly, none of them toll roads.”

Friedman said he’s opposed the Trans-Texas Corridor since it relies on toll road construction.

He feels that the TTC is a land grab of the ugliest kind, with land being taken from hard-working ranchers and farmers in little towns and villages all over Texas.

“The people who will ultimately own that land are the same people who own the governor,” a spokesman for the Friedman campaign said.

Libertarian candidate James Werner said he believes there’s a need for the TTC, but doesn’t agree with all aspects of the plan.

“I’m a pragmatic libertarian,” Werner said. “I’m not a committed anti-government libertarian. I think the state has some responsibility to assist in the state’s infrastructure and I want Texas to continue to be economically attractive as it can be. But our current highway system is not up to the task. I have a couple proposals which tentatively agree with the TTC but with the TTC I’m appalled about the seizure of private property and eminent domain needs to be done with extreme sensitivity.”

Werner also suggests land owners who lose their land to the TTC should be offered shares in the private company.

“Personally I would like to privatize all our roads,” Werner said. “There are three areas where we have the most problems in our state, that’s health care, transportation and education. And each of them suffers from the most government intervention.”
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Copyright © 2006 The Daily Light :


Thursday, August 03, 2006

"PBS&J had done nothing but spend millions of taxpayer dollars to 'study' the problem."

Fired Austin water program director sues

He claims that engineering firm employees accused him of bribery to retaliate for loss of work.

August 03, 2006

By Sarah Coppola
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

The former director of an Austin water program has sued an engineering firm and two of the firm's employees, saying they defamed him by accusing him of bribery.

Bill Moriarty led the Austin Clean Water Program until November, when a city investigation concluded that a woman Moriarty is living with had been hired to do Clean Water work and that Moriarty should have disclosed the relationship.

City Manager Toby Futrell asked Earth Tech, Moriarty's employer, to appoint a new Clean Water Program director, and Earth Tech fired Moriarty.

Moriarty filed a lawsuit in District Court on Monday against national engineering firm PBS&J; Keith Jackson, the company's district director in Austin; and Everett Owen, a former PBS&J employee.

The lawsuit says Jackson and Owen retaliated for a loss of Clean Water work under Moriarty's leadership by telling city officials and a newspaper reporter that Moriarty had once bribed them.

Jackson declined to comment Wednesday, saying he hasn't seen a copy of the lawsuit. Owen did not return phone calls. A corporate communications manager for PBS&J declined to comment.

The lawsuit says city officials were so pleased with Moriarty's management of the $200 million water program that they kept expanding his role and putting extra engineering projects under his purview.

Moriarty discovered that PBS&J was wasting time and money trying to complete two big projects, so he found ways to cut costs and hasten the completion of those projects, angering PBS&J officials, the lawsuit says.

For example, PBS&J had spent a decade designing plans to replace the Barton Creek Lift Station, a wastewater pumping station near Barton Springs Pool, according to the lawsuit.

"PBS&J had done nothing but spend millions of taxpayer dollars to 'study' the problem," even as the station got older and there were incidents of sewage overflows into the pool, the lawsuit says.

At Moriarty's urging, city officials removed PBS&J from part of the project and hired another firm that finished the engineering designs in less than a year, the lawsuit says.

In another case, the lawsuit says, Moriarty was able to find a faster, less expensive solution to a $20 million sewer line PBS&J had proposed.

To retaliate and avoid losing more Clean Water work, Owen and Jackson told city officials that Moriarty had once demanded a $20,000 bribe in exchange for Clean Water contracts, the lawsuit says. "They stated PBS&J refused to pay the bribe, had not been hired, and had lost work with the city," the lawsuit says.

A subsequent police investigation found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing and concluded that Clean Water contracts appear to have been awarded fairly.

Moriarty has also filed a separate lawsuit against Futrell and other city leaders, saying they pushed to get him fired as a favor to well-connected engineering firms. The city has denied that allegation, and the lawsuit is still pending.; 912-2939

© 2006 Austin American-Statesman:


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"Any new facilities are more than likely going to be toll roads."

Toll road or no road, that is the question

August 2, 2006

Inside Collin County Business
Copyright 2006

Officials from TxDOT were available for questioning at the Plano Centre about the proposed tolling of SH 121 within the 13-mile corridor that passes through the cities of Plano, Frisco, Allen, McKinney and Fairview. The SH 121 main lanes through the corridor are in various stages of construction.

In December of 2003, the Texas Department of Transportation Commission approved a policy instructing TxDOT to evaluate all controlled-access highway projects as possible candidates for tolling. This includes all projects, even those under construction and those in the planning stage involving new lane construction, making SH 121 a candidate.

“You have to realize that this is a program in legislation that has only been in place a few years. So, there are more toll roads in the future that are in the planning levels. Any new facilities, like SH 121, are more than likely going to be toll roads,” said Bill Compton, P.E., SH 121 CDA Engineer, TxDOT Dallas District.

TxDOT presented an opportunity for the input of concerned citizens on the conceptual toll plan for SH 121, from the Dallas North Tollway (DNT) to US 75.

The toll rates for SH 121 will be consistent with other toll rates in the region. The toll rate guidelines for SH 121 are a result of the public outreach and decisions made by the North Central Texas Council of Government (NCTCOG) and Regional Transportation Council (RTC).
In April of 2006 the RTC agreed a maximum average toll rate in 2010 would be 14.5 cent per mile. Initially, there will be a set toll of an average of 14.5 cents per mile. After an evaluation has been completed, a set of peak and off-peak tolls are likely to be established to better optimize the facility’s operations. This is a rate that will stay the same regardless of who is controlling the toll road.

“A viable option is to lease it to a private entity made up of a financer, engineering designers, contractors and an operations team in a single contract,” compton said. “The tolling regulation has been turned over to the locally elected officials that have voted and approved a tolling policy all TxDOT roads in the region, regardless.”

The only alternative for riding the Tollway would be to take the frontage road. A driver will have the option of using the non-tolled frontage road for the entire length of the project. The extra time it would take for a free ride is hard to tell.

“It depends how far you are going and how good a job the cities do at synchronizing the traffic signals. Any city over 50,000 people in the State of Texas has control of the signal systems and are responsible for providing good progression,” Compton said.

According to RTC the Metroplex is faced with a critical financial shortfall of $55 billion in transportation needs. In response to this, local policy officials are developing an innovative way to leverage funds. By partnering together, state and local officials can leverage additional state transportation funds, freeing existing allocations for critical safety, capacity and air quality projects.

Toll rates will be adjusted every two-years using the Consumer Price Index and it is unlikely that tolls will ever be removed from SH 121. Revenue is collected from the Tollway will continue to support the operation and maintenance of the facility and will expand the transportation system to meet transportation needs of the traveling community.
“Under the conditions of the financial tool available today its unlikely that new expressway-type lanes are going to be free. Even on expressways that we currently have, when we are going to build or add to them we address the additional lanes as a separate facility with in the facility that will be tolled lanes,” Compton said.

© 2006 Inside Collin County Business:


Mega-developments planned for SH 130

Retail Battles Heat Up for Land, Anchors

August 2, 2006

By Connie Gore
Copyright 2006

AUSTIN-A handful of retail developers are elbowing for land positions on the easternmost boundary of the capital city, using the Texas 130 toll road path as their beacon. Market watchers say the activity is guaranteed to heat up further in the next six to nine months.

"130 is really going to be the story for the next two or three years," says Travis Waldrop, a retail specialist with NAI Commercial Industrial Properties Co. in Austin. "In six to nine months, we will see some of those bigger players line up, but we won't see a site plan for at least nine months."

Todd Wallace, market leader and senior vice president in Austin for Staubach Retail, predicts for that the key intersections could be pushing one million sf once the development seeds are planted. The crossroads to watch will be Interstate 45, US Highway 290 and Texas 71 and 79, all in the path of a 90-mile toll road being built to divert some traffic from the NAFTA Highway or Interstate 35. If Wallace's prediction is on target, it will be the Interstate 45 junction that first comes alive, possibly as early as 2008. And if Waldrop's prediction holds true, the big play will be US Highway 290's junction.

"Everyone's trying to circle around SH 130 and get their tract in front of the big retailers first," Wallace says, explaining the development push is underlain with multiple opportunities. "At each intersection, there are one or two good sites."

The race now is focused on landing giants like Target Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Home Depot Inc. and Lowe's Cos. Inc. "The junior anchors," Wallace says "are waiting to see where the anchors land." The reality is there are only so many anchors to support the mega-developments so it's clearly going to be a hard-fought battle to the finish.

Eastbourne Investments Ltd. has roped off a southern section along the Texas 130 path, but 10 miles to the north is where the activity is really heating up. Those known to be in the running are Archon Group of Dallas, Endeavor Real Estate Group of Austin and NewQuest Properties of Houston, but others are sure to become part of the competitive mix. Some developers have control of their sites; others are still shopping.

Feeder roads and portions of the toll road are opening this year, but only as far as the US Highway 183 interchange. Market speculation about home and retail development was salted in recent weeks when Spain's Cintra Zachry pledged to invest $1.3 billion of its capital to build the toll road's last 40 miles to link Austin to Interstate 10 near Seguin. With that pledge, the road's now on track for a 2012 completion.

The public-private partnership pact with the Texas Department of Transportation includes deploying millions of dollars for right-of-way costs to ease the financial burden from Caldwell, Guadalupe and Travis counties. In exchange, Cintra Zachry will share in the revenue for 50 years, eventually building its claim to a 50-50 split. According to state projections, the toll road could generate $1.6 billion over the life of the agreement. Cintra Zachry not only will build the freeway, but will be responsible for cost overruns and post-construction operation and maintenance for the duration of the pact.

"Now that 130's going to be completed, that's going to change the dynamics of Austin's growth pattern," Wallace explains. "Retailers are recognizing that and positioning themselves."

Waldrop and Wallace agree that the retail plays will be 70 acres or more. Wallace, in fact, has two tracts--98 acres and 77 acres--in the development path. And, one is under contract, but he can't say which one just yet.

© 2006 ALM Properties, Inc:


Monday, July 31, 2006

"This is a political white elephant."

Trans-Texas Corridor stirs taxpayers

By Robert Nathan
Killeen Daily Herald
Copyright 2006

The multiuse transportation network designed to accommodate transportation needs for a growing population has generated some misleading information among residents and state officials, Texas Department of Transportation officials said last week.

TxDOT's proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, or TTC-35, is intended to relieve congestion on Interstate 35. It will parallel I-35 and extend from Oklahoma to Mexico with possible connections to the Gulf Coast. It will not only separate car and truck lanes, but it will also include railroads and underground utilities, such as telephone, water and gas pipelines.

During a July 26 public hearing on the corridor in Temple, residents, candidates and officials of Central Texas cities criticized the state's decision to give the project's contract to Cintra-Zachry Corp. Several people said they view the decision as a political payoff to politicians and argued the contracted entity should not have been a European corporation.

State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a gubernatorial candidate, told the nearly 2,000 people at the hearing that the contract between the state of Texas and Cintra-Zachry is being held "secret" from the general public.

"Hard-working Texas taxpayers have the right to read the full details of the contract they are going to be stuck with for the next 50 years," Strayhorn said.

The corporate partnership

Zachry Construction Corp. formed a partnership for the corridor project with a Spanish corporation called Cintra. The partnership pledged to invest $7 billion for the right to design, construct, operate, maintain and toll the corridor highway for 50 years.

In March 2005, TxDOT and Cintra-Zachry signed a comprehensive development agreement for the corridor. The agreement authorized a $3.5 million planning effort.

Zachry Construction Corp. is a privately held corporation founded in 1924 with headquarters in San Antonio. The corporation provides services in construction, project development and construction management to domestic and international customers.

"The information that has not been made available to the public is the information that pertains to the operations of these companies, which is not information that is available to the public anyway," said Ken Roberts, TxDOT Waco District public information officer. "It really has nothing to do with the state of Texas and this investor."

Roberts said when the state builds a highway, it first seeks bids. A bidding company, he said, will say it can take on the project for a certain amount of money.

"The state would choose the company (that) came in within the estimated bid price and that is the company that would be hired and the state would pay them," Roberts said.

Roberts said the corporate partnership was chosen because "they brought the most money to the table." He added the project bid was not a matter of how much the state wanted to pay, but was a matter of how much the company brought as an investment in the state of Texas transportation corridor.

"This is a political white elephant," says Tom Pappas, a Salado resident. "It's a payoff to Zachry Corp., a big multimillion-dollar supporter of Texas politicians."

Holland resident David Skrabanek described the corporate partnership with the state as one of Gov. Rick Perry's pet projects. Skrabanek is the chairman of the Blackland Coalition, which is an activist group opposing the highway project.

"He had this vision about four or five years ago, and it passed legislation kind of quickly to get things rolling before anybody got wind of it," Skrabanek said of Perry's involvement.

Why a Trans-Texas Corridor?

Roberts said a 1999 transportation analysis determined in order to accommodate state growth over the next 30 to 50 years, several additional lanes on Interstate 35 would be needed. The cost, he added, would be tremendous.

"We had to look at a possible separate facility," Roberts said

The study looked at the costs of the corridor versus widening Interstate 35 and the impact on the environment.

Roberts said TxDOT conducted more than 100 meetings over the past year and a half to present transportation issues to the public.

"One of the things the general public said was to keep it as close as possible to Interstate 35," Roberts said.

TxDOT officials said I-35 will continue to be maintained and upgraded, if necessary, as the TTC-35 project moves forward.

"Interstate 35 will remain a vital artery through Texas," Roberts said. "It will be a roadway that is free. It would have less trucks than we currently see at this point."

Roberts said with the growth anticipated on Interstate 35 over the next 30 years, the number of vehicles that could be pulled off the highway is going to be significant. He said 80,000 vehicles per day – a third of which are trucks – travel I-35 through Central Texas.

"One of the things the Trans-Texas Corridor will do is allow those vehicles that wish to transit the state to do that, high-speed unimpeded, on their own lanes in their separate facility," Roberts said.

Construction phases

TxDOT officials said plans call for the huge highway constructin project 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.

TxDOT officials said the project is expected to create more than 140,000 direct and indirect Texas jobs through its contract with the state of Texas.

The first step, TxDOT officials said, is to complete the ongoing environmental study, which focuses on narrowing the possible final routes. A decision on the project's location from the Federal Highway Administration is expected to be announced as early as September 2007.

"As we indicated previously, we don't know where the corridor is going to go," Roberts said. "That is going to determine what exits are going to be constructed for what towns and cities along the way."

Contact Robert Nathan at

© 2006 Killeen Daily Herald:


Sunday, July 30, 2006

"I think what we can do as a board is we can lay down the infrastructure.”

Building security: RMA complete, board plans funding for development

July 30,2006

Victoria Hirschberg
The Monitor
Copyrigt 2006

McALLEN — Regional Mobility Authority board member Ramiro E. Salazar told the six other members to look out the window at the Second Street overpass.

The complete seven-member board met for the first time this week at the Inter National Bank overlooking that interchange in South McAllen.

“When we were building that overpass, there was nothing on the south side and I used to have people walk in my office and say, ‘Why are you building that overpass? We’re farmers, we don’t need roads,’” said Salazar, a retired Texas Department of Transportation engineer.

That was about 30 years ago. Now there are hospitals, retail outlets, residences and traffic in South McAllen, Salazar said, which is why the Regional Mobility Authority must think ahead.
Charged with this future planning are two bankers, a businessman, a financial adviser, a retired engineer and a retired U.S. Customs agent. The board members, who serve one- or two-year terms, will devise funding to develop Hidalgo County’s infrastructure and transportation system.

The Texas Transportation Commission approved the RMA in November 2005. Since then, the four county commissioners and county judge and McAllen city commissioners each appointed one member and Gov. Rick Perry appointed the chairman to this inaugural board.

“One of the first things we have to do is educate other community leaders and citizens about the shortfall of state highway funds that are available,” RMA Chairman Dennis Burleson said. “This is all over the state and it’s easy to think we don’t get our share — there is some truth to that — but the shortfall is statewide. We’re going to have to make some choices.”

While the RMA can’t levy taxes, it could appeal to Commissioners Court to add money into its budget for transportation purposes. The RMA board plans to borrow money for start-up and projects such as the Hidalgo County loop and connector between the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge and Expressway 83. The RMA will also work closely with TxDOT and the Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Besides building new roads, RMA members plan to discuss rail options for alleviating traffic and toll roads in the county.

“If we go back 10, 20 years and look at San Antonio and Houston, how much would (toll roads) have cost today if they did not (build toll roads),” said Bobby Villarreal, County Judge Ramon Garcia’s appointee. “I think we need to think 20, 30 years down the road.”

“I don’t know if we could have an immediate impact on alleviating traffic down 10th street,” said board member Ricardo Perez. “But I think what we can do as a board is we can lay down the infrastructure.”

Victoria Hirschberg covers Hidalgo County government and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach her at (956) 683-4466. For this and more on local stories, visit

© 2006 The Monitor :