Saturday, August 12, 2006

"Metro's real mission is transporting people to and from work, not real estate development."


Rail spelled backwards is liar

Aug. 12, 2006

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2006

Howard Horne's Aug. 7 Outlook article asked why the Metropolitan Transit Authority shouldn't "take more property than it would need and pay the property owners for what it takes, then share the increased value with all of us."

State law gives Metro the right to use eminent domain on the surrounding 162 acres of land around any rail stop. But Metro's real mission is transporting people to and from work, not real estate development.

Metro should honor the referendum language in the 2003 election. Would any judge say to the voters that Westpark is Richmond Avenue? Eminent domain should not be used in this manner.

Why do we not have commuter rail to our airports or to Houston's major growth areas?

The problem in a nutshell is that Houston has always had an unelected transit board with many political masters running the show. Our mayors have considered their control of the Metro board as a perk.

The direction of our mass transit changes with each new mayor — there is no continuity. This is not the fault of any those mayors, but of voters who allowed it to happen. We need to stop wasting taxpayers' money. We voted for Westpark, not Richmond Avenue.


© 2006 Houston Chronicle:


Friday, August 11, 2006

Thornton reappointed to Alamo RMA by Gov. Perry

Perry reappoints Thornton to lead Alamo Regional Mobility Authority

August 11, 2006

San Antonio Business Journal
Copyright 2006

Former San Antonio Mayor Bill Thornton has been re-appointed head of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority for the next year-and-a-half.

In this role as presiding officer, he will continue to lead the seven-member body, set board agendas and lead discussions on planned transportation projects.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry re-appointed Thornton to another term, which is set to expire on Feb. 1, 2007. Bexar County Commissioners Court is responsible for appointing the other six members.

The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority sets local transportation priorities in Bexar County, including highways, bridges, farm-to-market roads or even toll roads.

Local recommendations are then forwarded to the Texas Department of Transportation for review, says Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for the governor's office.

© 2006 American City Business Journals, Inc.:


Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison on the TTC: "It seems to not be economically viable."

Officials agree to make corridor a loop

Aug. 11, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

IRVING — State officials say they’re ready to do what North Texas leaders have asked for months: convert the Trans-Texas Corridor into a new outer loop toll road around Fort Worth and Dallas.

The planned toll road would include a new east-west road spanning the southern tip of Tarrant and Dallas counties, then connect with new urban outer freeways in the Metroplex, rather than bypassing populated areas and running through rural northeast Texas.

The breakthrough in a months-long argument between state and local leaders came Friday on the final day of the annual transportation summit in Irving.

Phil Russell, director of the Texas Department of Transportation’s turnpike division, said during a lunchtime speech that he would ask the Federal Highway Administration to redraw the Trans-Texas study area in the next month or so to include the outer loop. The federal agency is the lead in an ongoing study to build the North Texas-to-San Antonio toll road and must be consulted before the project’s scope can be changed.

“I think we’re going to work it out,” Russell said before the speech.

Russell congratulated the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the official planning body for Dallas-Fort Worth, for coming up with a workable alternative for Trans-Texas.

The announcement came a few minutes after about a dozen local elected leaders, mostly from the eastern Metroplex, held a news conference demanding that the Transportation Department immediately bend to local desires.

“If we find a different route has been chosen than this one, we’re going to go to the state Legislature and fight,” Dallas Councilman Bill Blaydes said during the news conference at the Westin Dallas Fort Worth Airport, where the summit was held. “This is one final plea.”

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, also a summit speaker, said the Trans-Texas project was flawed because it pitted state government against local governments.

“I’m concerned with several aspects of the Trans-Texas Corridor,” she said. “No. 1, I’m very concerned about a big toll road going from South Texas and taking farmers’ land by eminent domain. To that extent, it seems to me to not be economically viable. I think they should also take into consideration the local issues that have been raised. In the early stages, it doesn’t appear they gave consideration to the local impact.”

Some other Metroplex leaders were more cautious, saying they believed they were close to smoothing things over with the Transportation Department and didn’t want to be overly critical.

Tarrant County Commissioner Glen Whitley noted that dozens of Metroplex leaders attended public hearings this summer and offered to throw their political support behind Trans-Texas as long as it was moved closer to the Metroplex.

“The last couple of weeks, there’s been a lot of comments from leaders in this area endorsing this plan,” Whitley said. “Recent conversations lead me to believe that TxDOT is going to listen to those comments.”

Gordon Dickson, 817-685-3816

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


Conversion of Interstates to toll roads in Louisiana?

Tolls on I-10, I-12?

State floated idea; senators oppose it


Hector San Miguel
American Press
Copyright 2006

U.S. Sen. David Vitter wants Gov. Kathleen Blanco to withdraw a state proposal put forth earlier this year to collect tolls along Interstates 10 and 12.

"I couldn't believe what I heard was right," Vitter told the American Press on Thursday.
The state Department of Transportation and Development earlier this year filed a nonbinding "expression of interest" with the Federal Highway Administration about charging tolls on the two highways.

Blanco's office referred all questions Thursday to the DOTD, whose secretary, John Bradberry, said there is no such plan in the works. He accused Vitter of "causing Louisiana citizens to be misled."

"It is regrettable that Senator Vitter chose to distort the facts regarding this matter," Bradberry said.

In a March 7 letter to the Federal Highway Administration, Bradberry wrote, "Our proposal is for converting the I-10/I-12 corridor in Louisiana to a toll facility."

Local officials contacted by the American Press on Thursday said they had not heard of the toll-collection idea. They included Calcasieu Parish Administrator Mark McMurry, Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach, state Sen. Willie Mount, and visitors bureau chief Shelley Johnson.

U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., who represents Southwest Louisiana in Congress, said he had no comment.

Vitter, R-La., said, "I talked to the Federal Highway Administration and demanded that they give me something on paper about this." He obtained Bradberry's letter.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said Thursday that "putting tolls on the interstates does not appear to be a wise step. I am opposed to this proposal."

Bradberry issued a two-page statement Thursday in response to Vitter.

"Governor Blanco has not instructed me to toll I-10 and I-12. DOTD has not proposed tolls on I-10 or I-12, and DOTD has not submitted formal application to place tolls on I-10 or I-12," he said.

"In our quest to explore alternatives to higher gasoline taxes for transportation funding, I explored options available in the Bush Administration's Highway Bill that enjoyed the support of Senator Vitter."

Bradberry said he met with Vitter on June 8 in Washington to talk about the tolling program "as a financing option."

"Sen. Vitter thanked me and offered to intercede on our behalf with the Federal Highway Administration on anything we need," Bradberry said.

Bradberry, in his March 7 letter to Wayne Berman of the Federal Highway Administration, wrote, "As you know, the southern portion of Louisiana was recently devastated by two hurricanes. We believe this project is essential to the economic recovery of the state and to better prepare for future events."

Bradberry did not suggest in his letter the amount of the toll or where collection points might be set up.

He said in his statement Thursday that the federal highway bill contained only $2 million for widening I-10 and no money for I-12 despite the roads' being "the heaviest traveled roadways in Louisiana."

"Since 2004, I have consistently told citizens and community groups, political and civic leaders and the media that Louisiana faces tough choices ... and we can no longer look solely at gasoline taxes as a way to fix our roads," he said.

"The consistent feedback I have received is that Louisiana should explore all alternatives to gasoline taxes."

Bradberry said his department is meeting with "legislators, citizens and the media to share information about our infrastructure and the challenges and opportunities that are before us."
"At the end of the day, citizens of Louisiana expect their governmental leaders — both elected and appointed — to study alternatives to higher taxes before dismissing them out of hand," he said.

The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century allows states to collect tolls on interstate highways. There are more than 5,000 miles of federal toll roads, bridges and tunnels in operation nationwide.

The entire print edition is available online daily through the American Press ePaper, just $10 per month, or $3.50 monthly if you already subscribe to the print edition.

© 2006 American Press:


""Putting tolls on the interstates does not appear to be a wise step."

Idea for interstate tolls draws criticism from Senators

August 11, 2006

Melinda Deslatte
Associated Press
Vopyright 2006

BATON ROUGE -- An idea floated by Gov. Kathleen Blanco's transportation chief to turn Interstates 10 and 12 across south Louisiana into toll roads ran into opposition Thursday from Louisiana's two U.S. senators.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who released information on the proposal, said it would unduly tax thousands of people who use the highways and asked Blanco to scrap any proposals to put toll booths on Louisiana's interstates.

Vitter wrote a letter to the Democratic governor Thursday, complaining about the toll proposal. The Republican senator said the two interstates were more critical for people after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"Many of them must commute on these highways daily, often traveling far distances to work and to repair their severely damaged homes. To impose a significant tax on these trips -- on top of their hurricane losses, on top of high gasoline prices -- is wrong and counterproductive," Vitter said in the letter.

DOTD has been trying to find ways to pay for a $12 billion backlog of road and infrastructure repairs, saying the current federal and state financing sources aren't sufficient to address construction needs growing annually at $300 million a year. Louisiana Transportation Secretary Johnny Bradberry has been reviewing an array of financing options, including proposals to raise the state's gasoline tax, but he said no decisions had been made.

Bradberry, head of the state Department of Transportation and Development, said a pilot toll proposal was one of a series of alternatives to higher taxes that he would present to the governor within the next six months in a package of financing options.

He said he had made no decision whether he would suggest interstate tolls as a viable plan, however, and he said the governor never directed him to set up toll booths along the interstates. Bradberry accused Vitter of distorting the facts.

"Governor Blanco has not instructed me to toll I-10 and I-12. DOTD has not proposed tolls on I-10 or I-12, and DOTD has not submitted a formal application to place tolls on I-10 or I-12," Bradberry said in a statement released Thursday.

"I owe it to the citizens of this state to aggressively pursue all alternatives to higher gasoline taxes in order to maintain and improve our roads and bridges," he said.

Blanco's spokesman wouldn't say whether the governor would even consider interstate tolling as a highway funding plan.

Bradberry submitted an "Expression of Interest" to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration about the possibility of converting I-10 and I-12 into toll roads, in a March 7 letter Vitter's office included with his statement to Blanco. The "Expression of Interest" is not a formal application, according to the highway administration.

In the letter released by Vitter's office, Bradberry said the toll project was "essential to the economic recovery of the state" after the hurricanes and "to better prepare for future events."
Federal officials haven't given a response to the Blanco administration about whether they would approve interstate tolls in Louisiana.

Vitter asked Blanco to withdraw any application and pledged to actively work against the plan at the federal level if Blanco refused. "I'm asking the governor to exert some leadership and withdraw this formal submission to the federal government," he said.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans, also issued a statement opposing the idea, saying Louisiana residents already have been hit hard by hurricanes and high gas prices. She said the state should find other ways to boost transportation dollars.

"Putting tolls on the interstates does not appear to be a wise step," she said.

Vitter said tolls along the 360 miles of interstate and its 40 miles of spurs and loops would deter truckers and freight haulers from using the roads and would, therefore, also harm businesses that have locations along the interstate exits.

Bradberry and Vitter disagreed about how much information the state transportation department provided about the tolling concept.

Vitter said he heard about the toll request about 10 days ago and then got written confirmation from the federal highway administration office. But Bradberry said he personally briefed Vitter and an aide in Washington on June 8 about the tolling proposal and other transportation issues. Vitter said the general transportation briefing didn't include an outline of the tolling proposal.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

© 2006 The Associated Press:


"These tolls appear to be a 'tax' going to other things than retiring these roads' debt."

Does it toll for me again?

August 11, 2006

Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

Re: "Pact would clear the way for toll roads," Wednesday Metro.

This left one item unanswered: Who will pay for the roads?

Based on tolls collected, the Dallas North Tollway should have become a free road, with only the newest sections a "tollway." Instead, the entire length remains a "pay-for-use" road. The President George Bush Tollway apparently is subsidizing other roads, too.

I don't mind paying for what I use, but these tolls appear to be a "tax" going to other things than retiring these roads' debt. When did I get to vote on this tax?

The Trans-Texas Corridor meeting, held recently in Dallas, avoided discussing how tolls would be applied, except to say that it might take 20 to 50 years to complete the proposed corridor.

In that time, several roads would have been paid off, but it appears the "authority" is going to become another IRS and levy taxes without the Legislature voting to do so. This is not acceptable.

Scott Pinkston, Dallas

© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co


"If this huge thing goes through, no eminent domain project will be off limits. It will be a big green light."

Public and politicians blast corridor project

August 11, 2006

Sonny Long
Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2006

YORKTOWN - You would be hard pressed to find anyone who attended Thursday's public hearing in Yorktown in favor of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor 35.

The hearing was the final one of 54 held across the state during the last month.

Jack Heiss of the Texas Department of Transportation said that as of Tuesday night, about 12,500 Texas citizens had attended the meetings. About 80 showed up in Yorktown, including Carole Keeton Strayhorn, state comptroller and independent candidate for governor, and David Van Os, Democratic candidate for attorney general.

After introductory background on the project was presented by TxDOT personnel, several of those opposed to the Oklahoma to Mexico transportation network spoke their mind during the public comments portion of the hearing.

Yorktown Mayor Patricia Nelson was the first to speak. She first thanked the TxDOT for making Yorktown one of its stops for its "little dog and pony show."

"I am not sure this is the best thing for Texas to do," said Nelson. "It's something that should have died a long time ago. It's a bad idea that has gotten nothing but worse."

Nelson also expressed concern about the land and the animals that will be affected.

"We're looking at taking land that has been in families for generations and generations and generations. We're cutting a swath through the middle of the state that contains some endangered species of animals, like the golden cheeked warbler and the horned toad."

Strayhorn, who said she has attended 13 of the public hearings, also expressed her displeasure with the plan.

"I am proud to be standing shoulder to shoulder with Texans who are saying no to the largest land grab in Texas history, no to destroying crop land and necessary farm and food production, no to double taxation, no to replacing freeways with tollways and no to a secret foreign contract, and no to taking land that has been in family for generations," began Strayhorn.

"We once had a freeway system that was the envy of the nation, and we can do that again. I salute the good folks of DeWitt County and all the surrounding counties who are speaking up and speaking out. I am adamantly opposed to this massive toll plan. Rick Perry calls it Trans-Texas Corridor, I call it Trans-Texas catastrophe, and as governor I am going to blast it off the bureaucratic books," said Strayhorn.

"Texas property belongs to Texans. Texas freeways belong to Texans, not foreign companies," Strayhorn added. "The attorney general said more than a year ago that the contract for this project should be made public. Release that contract. Make it public tonight. Texans have a right to know. Texans want the Texas Department of Transportation, not the European department of transportation."

The comptroller said that Texas voters should have the right to decide the fate of the corridor by voting on a referendum.

Local resident Rhonda Kutschur also spoke during the hearing.

"I am one of those Texans that lives on property that has been in the family for five generations. Our great-great grandfather is buried there. His log cabin is there. And you want to come right through the middle of it," said Kutschur. "I do not have a problem with progress, and I do not have a problem with spending my tax dollars as long as I know what it's being spent on. TxDOT works for me, so why don't you tell me what you're spending my money on. I want to know. If I had the power to, I'd fire every one of you. I don't want to spend my tax dollars to build something, have someone else run it and reap all the benefits. I am an American Indian. You stole from me once. Please don't steal from me again."

Van Os then took his turn.

The candidate for attorney general commended the TxDOT staff for the professional and courteous way they handled their responsibilities during the meeting knowing they are dealing with something very unpopular with the public.

Then he blasted the project itself.

"This project, if followed through and completed as planned, will be one of the biggest single exercises of forcible eminent domain in the history of the entire United States," said Van Os. "We are talking about 1/2 million acres of private property, mostly good farm and ranch land. If this huge thing goes through, no eminent domain project will be off limits. It will be a big green light. Private property will lose its sovereignty. This forcible eminent domain will destroy the proper balance between the individual and government with respect to the individual's ability to control his or her own property." Van Os urged those in attendance to fight against the proposal, which he called the "first leg of a NAFTA highway."

"There is no legislation that can't be repealed, and no politician that can't be fired at election time," said Van Os. "This thing has got to be stopped. It will destroy many things that are precious to us. We're going to stop this. I know we're going to stop it. I urge you my fellow citizens to fight this dad gum thing till hell freezes over if you have to. Fight it and beat it."

Van Os' wife, Rachel, gave perhaps the most dramatic display of the possible affect of the proposed corridor as she ripped a Texas map along the proposed route.

"I urge y'all to stand and fight for your rights and save beautiful Texas," she said.

Additional speakers took to the microphone expressing concerns for everything from water availability to a possible "American Union" of the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, based on the European Union model.

Sonny Long is a reporter for the Advocate. Contact him at 361-275-6319 or, or comment on this story at

© 2006 The Victoria Advocate:


"Provocative actions by both agencies had increased tension in recent months."

Tollway authority votes to settle feud

Deal with state details which agency builds, operates planned roads

August 11, 2006

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

PLANO – An agreement designed to end feuding between North Texas' two majorroad-building agencies got its first official endorsement Thursday.

The North Texas Tollway Authority board of directors voted unanimously to approve an agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation. The deal specifies which agency will build and operate several planned toll roads. It also specifies that the tollway authority will get contracts to collect tolls on every planned toll road.

"We truly are entering a new era and a new way of doing business and a new era of trust," tollway authority board member Kay Walls said.

The Texas Transportation Commission is expected to ratify the deal at its Aug. 24 meeting in Austin.

The commission is a policymaking body that oversees the Transportation Department.
Provocative actions by both agencies had increased tension in recent months, leading to occasionally difficult negotiations – and a few threats – before the deal was reached.
The tension centered on toll roads and control of their potential revenue.

Several months ago, the tollway authority vowed to work with a private company to submit a bid for the toll road rights to State Highway 121 in Collin and Denton counties and the State Highway 161 project in southwest Dallas County. That irked state officials, who already had a short list of four private companies vying for the Highway 121 project.

The state responded with its own threat. For years, the Transportation Department had allowed the tollway authority to control planning and construction of the Southwest Parkway in Fort Worth and the Bush Turnpike's eastern extension through Garland, Sachse and Rowlett.

Then, in July, the state shocked the tollway authority by taking a step toward reclaiming those projects.

The new agreement won't have much impact on motorists' wallets. Toll rates would be about the same no matter which agency operates the roads. But the agreement should smooth the way for quicker completion of road construction and, therefore, fewer traffic snarls.

Without a working agreement, the Transportation Department and the tollway authority were facing potential construction delays of at least a year on some projects.

So both sides took a step back and focused on the agreement approved Thursday.

The main points call for the tollway authority to abandon its plan to bid on the Highway 121 and Highway 161 projects. In turn, the state will abandon efforts to reclaim the Southwest Parkway and Bush Turnpike eastern extension.

In addition, the agreement calls for the tollway authority to collect tolls on every North Texas toll road. For roads built by private companies, the tollway authority will have a five-year toll collection contract, which could be renewed. The tollway authority also is expected to have a larger role in planning and developing toll roads.

"I believe this is a beginning. It's a way to move forward and build trust," said Bill Hale, Dallas district engineer for the Transportation Department.

Although the proposal received unanimous support, board members Dave Denison and Paul Wageman said they were concerned that the agreement had no penalties or other ways to ensure compliance.

"A lot of people are watching what we say we're going to do," tollway board vice chairman Jack Miller said.


© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co


"The rights of private property owners may be more endangered than those blind salamanders or spotted owls."

No shortage of opinions on Corridor

August 11, 2006

From staff reports
The Gazette-Enterprise
Copyright 2006

Wednesday night’s meeting at the Seguin-Guadalupe County Coliseum proved the issue of the Trans-Texas Corridor is a volatile one.

Rural landowners are angry and upset about the prospect of another concrete monstrosity snaking across their property — swallowing up fields and valleys that have been in their families for generations.

The sting of a Supreme Court decision that allows government to seize private property for development just served as another warning sign that the rights of private property owners may be more endangered than those blind salamanders or spotted owls.

Everyone at the public hearing was against the proposed mega highway — and the state should pay attention.

If the state believes the people are misguided, then its incumbent upon it to explain the project correctly. People also have a responsibility to get the facts and not to bite on spin coming from either side of the issue.

That Texas will face transportation challenges in the years ahead is an unavoidable reality. Those challenges require answers, but they must be answers the people are informed about and comfortable with.

© 2006 The Gazette-Enterprise:


"The battle over that corridor is really a time-honored battle between those who have clout and those who don't.”

Super Highway Not So "Super" in East Bexar County


Lauren Jenkins
San Antonio

A proposed super-highway of the future is stirring up bad memories of Texas’ past highway plans. The Texas Department of Transportation is traveling across the state, pushing for support of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor. The corridor, a toll road, would run somewhere East of San Antonio and would be the first of its kind in the United States.

Thursday night, hundreds of rural Bexar County residents showed up to a public meeting on the TTC to fight the state’s plan to take their land; the very land they use to make a living.

“That's what most people out here do, they work and then they come home and take care of the livestock,” says Linda Green.

Green’s family owns 17 acres in Bexar County and is one of the many families opposed to the potential path of the corridor.

Green attended the meeting tonight and says she can’t help but notice the contrast between the working-class families speaking out against the corridor and the chamber of commerce-types who support it.

“We’re perceived as not having a lot of wealth over here, or political clout,” says Green.

That perception comes by no accident, according to Trinity University urban studies expert, Char Miller.

"All highways, whether they're old interstates or the Trans-Texas Corridor, go through cheap ground or what they conceive as cheap ground,” Miller tells News 4 WOAI. “[That] means those who live on that property tend to get bulldozed out of the way."

San Antonio’s history is rich with examples of just that. Most of the city’s interstates were built right through poor, inner city neighborhoods. The TTC is no different; half of those who live in the Corridor’s study area are minorities and 25% live in poverty.

"What we're seeing playing out in the battle over that corridor is really a time-honored battle between those who have clout and those who don't” says Miller.

Unlike the urban highways, built in the 1950s, the whole purpose of the TTC is to draw traffic away from the cities and into the countryside.

Something people in East Bexar County, like the Greens, do not want.

"We don't want it over here,” she says. “And we just feel like nobody's listening to us."

TX-DOT says the purpose of the meetings, a total of 54 in all, is to give everyone an equal voice. (The process is required by law.)



Thursday, August 10, 2006

“The state is getting very excited about all the RMAs but about us in particular."

Rusk County takes leadership role on mobility panel


Henderson Daily News
Copyright 2006

Getting a highway or road project done in Texas these days can be a wait-and-see proposition - a long wait.

But counties around Texas have found a way to speed up the process by creating Regional Mobility Authorities (RMAs) to fight for funding for local projects.

Smith and Gregg counties came together in April 2005 to form the Northeast Texas RMA (NET RMA) and have been working to secure funding for highway projects that benefit both counties. Now Rusk, Cherokee, Harrison and Upshur counties have been accepted as members of NET RMA.

John Cloutier, chairman of the Henderson Area Chamber of Commerce's Legislative Affairs Committee, has been attending NET RMA meetings for the past eight months. He recently discussed the advantages of the RMA with the Henderson Daily News.

“It's a big step to be the first RMA to accept rural counties,” Cloutier said. “The state is getting very excited about all the RMAs but about us in particular - we're really the first region to use it in the mode the governor wanted to use it. It's giving rural and urban communities the chance to get what they want.”

The NET RMA's first big project, Loop 49 in Tyler, will celebrate a grand opening at 9 a.m. on Aug. 19 with a parade, a ribbon cutting, free food and activities for the whole family and the first sales of the TxTag, a sticker for the windshield which gives easy access to toll roads throughout Texas. It lets drivers pay tolls electronically from a prepaid account while traveling at highway speeds - there's no stopping at toll booths or searching for change. In addition, most toll roads throughout the state offer discounted rates when using a tag.

“The tags are usable in Houston and Dallas, almost anywhere in the state,” Cloutier said. “It's like a pre-paid phone card - you buy one for $20 and slap it on your car. When the tag runs out you can still go through, we'll just send you a bill. There are no toll breakers, only customers who need to be sent a bill.”

Cloutier said he is looking forward to the opening of the loop for business reasons, since his employees will be able to get to I-20 and on to his customers much quicker and more reliably.

“People don't know how they're going to use it yet,” he said. “They can take the other roads and go around still. We don't want people to feel they're being forced into a toll road, they're not.”

Toll roads are a new approach to funding transportation projects, Cloutier said.

“One road being tolled can get five more roads built,” he said. “If we can find the roads with the business and the traffic that's willing to pay a little extra to be on a quickly moving road, we may be able to break through the log jam and get some of the other roads we need regionally that may not be toll-viable.”

But RMAs are not just about toll roads, he said.

“We're about rail spurs and anything that has to do with transportation - airports, intermodal hubs - it's a kind of regional thought process that counties need to be participating in,” Cloutier said. “We have a huge airport in Rusk County - the third longest runway in East Texas. We have all sorts of resources here that make us a regional player. We've just never been in a position to do anything because it's always been controlled at the state level.”

Now that Rusk County has a seat at the larger table, the October meeting of the NET RMA will be held here. That will give the county time to select a board member to represent the area on the RMA board of directors. Nomination/application forms can be obtained from County Judge Sandra Hodges' office, Suite 104 in the Rusk County Courthouse, or the Regional Mobility Authority handbook can be found online at and are due back in Hodges' office by Aug. 14.

Staff writer Alexa Duke can be reached via email at

© 2006 Henderson Daily News :


More West Texans Pork Courtesy of Speaker Tom Craddick

Reliever route construction close


Burr Williams
Midland Reporter-Telegram
Copyright 2006

Texas Department of Transportation officials said Wednesday that the $34-million Highway 349 reliever route west and north of Midland remains on track despite the low bid for Odessa's JBS Parkway overpass having come in $8. 2 million over budget.

District Engineer Lauren Garduño said at a Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance appreciation reception for TxDOT that the Texas Transportation Commission's $10-million appropriation for the reliever route last Dec. 16 provided the last of the necessary funding.

Reporting at Midland International Airport that right-of-way purchases will be finished this fall and bids taken next spring for the 16-mile road, Garduño said, "We believe $34 million will get the first phase of the project completed."

He said two lanes of the La Entrada al Pacifico trade corridor-related road will be laid across virgin land from Highway 191 and Farm to Market 1788 west of Midland to 349 north of town, connecting Interstate 20 to Lubbock. Garduño said right-of-way acquisiton has also begun for Highway 349's widening to four lanes from Midland to Lamesa.

The engineer said his office is reconsidering the Odessa overpass and might be able to trim the cost by $6 million by reconfiguring steel work and a steel plate where the overpass will span Business I-20. Projected at $16.4 million, Tuesday's low bid by the local Reece Albert Co. was $24.6 million.

The overpass is considered a crucial link to the southeast Odessa industrial area and from the interstate to Ector County's Schlemeyer Field airport, where TxDOT is financing a runway extension.

TxDOT Executive Director Mike Behrens of Austin and Congressman Mike Conaway of Midland addressed 50 area city and county leaders in place of Texas Transportation Commissioner Esperanza "Hope" Andrade of San Antonio, who had reportedly been delayed at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

MOTRAN Chairman Drew Crutcher said Andrade still planned to attend Wednesday night's baseball game between the Midland Rockhounds and Springfield Cardinals, where 300 TxDOT employees got in free and were offered hotdogs and softdrinks.

Behrens said the overpass came in over budget in part because his agency's construction costs have ballooned by 20-30 percent in 18 months. He said Texas' 23 million population will double and its traffic quadruple in 35-40 years and necessitate toll roads.

Behrens said such roads might not be as objectionable as some motorists expect because they can take other routes if they want and tolls will allow the construction of many more highways than the state could otherwise afford.

Conaway said the JBS Parkway overpass problem points up the urgency of transportation improvements. "The sooner we can get these projects done, the less they are going to cost," he said.

© 2006 :


Agreement between TxDOT and NTTA creates new discord

Collin official targets toll road plan

He cites fiscal fallout; backers say drivers just want highways built

August 10, 2006

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

A proposed agreement designed to end a feud between North Texas' two major road-building agencies has created some new discord.

Collin County Judge Ron Harris said Wednesday that the Collin County Commissioners Court should consider legal action against the North Texas Tollway Authority if it abandons its bid to build, operate and get revenue from a State Highway 121 toll road.

Abandoning the bid "will bankrupt the NTTA," Mr. Harris said.

Legal action would be based on the tollway authority's board of directors "failing to perform their fiduciary responsibility," he said.

The tollway authority and the Texas Department of Transportation privately reached an agreement this week that specifies which agency will build each of several planned toll roads.

The Dallas Morning News obtained a copy of the pact and published its contents Wednesday.
Under the proposed agreement, the state-chartered tollway authority would drop its plans to compete with private companies to build and operate toll roads on State Highways 121 and 161. Mr. Harris says Highway 121 tolls could provide the tollway authority with money for other road projects.

In return for the tollway authority not bidding to build and operate Highway 121 and Highway 161, the state would drop its efforts to take over two other toll road projects that the tollway authority has worked on for years – Southwest Parkway in Fort Worth and the Bush Turnpike's eastern extension through Garland, Sachse and Rowlett.

Protests by Mr. Harris or others could harm the agreement's goal of getting projects under construction as quickly as possible, said tollway authority executive director Allan Rutter.
"All this is going to do is mean that people can't drive on roads as soon, and those roads are going to get more expensive to build," he said.

Mr. Harris asserted that the tollway authority got the short end of the deal with the state Transportation Department. He described Southwest Parkway and the Bush Turnpike extension as "dog projects" that won't generate enough toll revenue to sustain themselves.

Mr. Harris said the tollway authority needs revenue from a Highway 121 toll road to offset its costs on the projects it was awarded in the agreement.

"Without Highway 121, I don't think the [tollway authority] system can hold it together," he said.

Mr. Harris' theory may not stand up, because the tollway authority would not get that much revenue from a Highway 121 toll road after paying expenses to operate it. That's because recent decisions by the Regional Transportation Council, which oversees most North Texas road projects, dedicates some Highway 121 toll revenue to road projects not controlled by the tollway authority.

Mr. Harris may have a difficult time persuading county commissioners to take legal action.
"Taking them to court will just set this thing back farther than it already has been," said Commissioner Joe Jaynes. "My constituents tell me they just want the road."

The Transportation Department controls the rights to Highway 121, and it will be difficult for Collin County to challenge it or the tollway authority, said Commissioner Phyllis Cole.
"We've been tilting at that windmill, and we have gotten nowhere," Ms. Cole said.


© 2006 The Dallas Morning News :


"There is much more to red-light cameras than the political doublespeak of public safety. The cameras are extremely lucrative."


Morning: Proponents of red-light cameras are shooting for more than safe intersections

August 10, 2006

Michael Morning, Local contributor
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

I read with horror that Austin is considering placing red-light cameras at various intersections across the city. Not only are such cameras a violation of civil liberties and an unconstitutional privatization of the police force, but statistics from around the globe clearly show that they end up doing far more harm than good.

Red-light cameras are a fix for a situation that's not broken.

The writer of a recent editorial in favor of the cameras cited a handful of deaths supposedly attributed to Austin drivers running red lights. But, if we take a hard look at statistics, the number of deaths quoted is tiny compared to all other traffic fatalities, and cameras can never reduce that number to zero.

There is much more to red-light cameras than the political doublespeak of public safety. The cameras are extremely lucrative. Corporations such as Lockheed Martin set up and maintain the camera systems by contract and receive 50 percent or more of the fine from each citation generated by the cameras. This amounts to tens of millions of dollars per year.

But worse than that, such contracts typically include provisions that forbid any alteration of the length of the yellow light, which has been shown in numerous studies to almost eliminate injuries and fatalities from drivers running red lights.

Further, the companies typically handle all processing of the camera tickets, making them judge, jury and executioner of the law in blatant violation of most state constitutions that forbid the privatization of the police.

Worst of all, it has been proven in numerous American cities, Canada and Australia that accidents from rear-end collisions rise dramatically at intersections with the red-light cameras — actually causing more accidents and fatalities than before the cameras were installed.

Here are some sobering reports:

•The Burkey-Obeng Red Light Camera Study, the most comprehensive government study of accidents and red-light cameras, concluded that "the results do not support the view that red-light cameras reduce crashes. Instead, we find that RLCs are associated with higher levels of many types and severity categories of crashes."

•In 2005, The Washington Post wrote an investigative report studying the camera system in Washington, D.C., and found that the number of crashes at red-light camera intersections more than doubled. It found that injuries and fatalities climbed a whopping 81 percent.

•In 2005, an extensive study of all seven red-light camera programs by the Virginia Transportation Research Council showed an overall increase in injury accidents where the red-light cameras had been installed. Virginia has since banned the red-light camera program.

•A December 2003 study by Ontario, Canada, found that intersections monitored by cameras experienced a 2 percent increase in fatal and injury collisions. In fact, the noncamera intersections used as a control fared better than the camera intersections in every accident category.

•A 10-year study conducted in Australia on the correlation of red-light cameras and accidents found the cameras offered "no benefit."

Those statistics are not unusual.

This is a shame considering that merely altering the lengths of yellow and red lights could virtually eliminate traffic accidents from red-light running — without trampling civil liberties, without picking the pockets of taxpayers and without the resultant rear-end collisions.

So, if the issue is truly about safety and not about money, then the less costly and less controversial methods should be tried first.

We need to team together as a city and ban the use of red-light cameras or any similar system.
Morning lives in Austin.

© 2006 Austin American-Statesman :


"Many at Wednesday’s meeting felt the concept was being shoved down the public’s throats."

TxDOT hears from angry Seguin crowd

August 10, 2006

By Bryan Kirk
Seguin Gazette-Enterprise
Copyright 2006

SEGUIN — The battle lines for and against Texas’ most ambitious highway project became slightly less muddy during a public hearing Wednesday night.

The purpose of the hearing inside the Seguin-Guadalupe County Coliseum was to solicit public input on the Trans-Texas Corridor project and possible alternatives, but there were some who’d already made up their minds.

Standing at the top of the steps leading into coliseum, Martha Estes, a retired social studies teacher from Waller County, was joined by hundreds of people who turned out to voice their opposition to the multibillion dollar project.

Indeed, the pro-TTC-35 and pro-toll road advocates were vastly outnumbered by the more than 500 residents who turned out to oppose the massive highway endeavor.

“I didn’t speak up last time because I was just too chicken,” said Poth resident Amber Lyssy, who was wearing a shirt declaring TTC is bad for Texans.

Lyssy and her husband, who ranch about 600 acres, said she would be standing up to be heard because for too long, rural people were not being informed.

“We are really concerned because this isn’t all over the media,” Lyssy said. “This is going to move at least a million people from their homes.”

Gabby Garcia, Texas Department of Transportation spokesperson, said opposition to a project of this magnitude is expected and has been the standard at meetings throughout Texas.

“There are certainly a lot of misconceptions, and based on that, they are using it as a reason to oppose the project,” Garcia said. “I think once you get through the clutter of misconception and get to what we are talking about, I mean this is a transportation issue. This is not about political rhetoric, it’s about transportation.”

However, some felt it was about property.

New Berlin City Councilman Nick Milanovich said many are concerned the city of nearly 500 people will be wiped off the map.

“They talk about intelligent development without overextending the rights of the individuals and how they can help us, then all of a sudden, you see this,” Milanovich said.

Milanovich said he intended to report on the meeting at the next City Council meeting in two weeks.

The Trans-Texas Corridor was reportedly proposed by Gov. Rick Perry as a way to alleviate the current and projected traffic congestion on Interstate 35 and provide travel routes from the Rio Grande Valley to north Texas.

Since the project was unveiled in 2002, there have been hundreds of meetings and public hearings hosted by TxDOT.

However, many at Wednesday’s meeting felt the concept was being shoved down the public’s throats.

Gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who spoke first, blasted Perry and the massive highway project.

Strayhorn said Texans had a right to know what their state government was up to and vowed to scrap the plan if she wins the governor’s race in November.

“I am proud to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Texans who are saying ‘no’ to the biggest land grab in Texas history,” she said. “We once had a freeway system the envy of the nation, and we can do that again. I am adamantly opposed to this massive toll plan. Perry calls it Trans-Texas Corridor, but I call it Trans-Texas Catastrophe, and as governor, I will blast it of the bureaucratic books.”

Strayhorn’s comments were met with raucous applause, as were many of the subsequent comments from people who supported her view.

I can’t believe our land would be better off paved over and not producing food,” said Seguin resident Sarah Langford.

David Van Oss, a candidate for Texas attorney general, spoke as a concerned citizen and like Strayhorn, railed against the proposed highway project and the potential ramifications that could result between the state government and the citizens.

“Forcible imminent domain will fundamentally alter the proper relationship between the individual and the government,” he said. “If this is completed, it will be one of the most gigantic single exercises of forcible imminent domain in the history of the United States.

Amid all of the talk, there is still a long way to go before ground is ever broken on the proposed project.

TxDOT is still working to complete the environmental impact statement, which will not be completed until this fall, followed by a possible record of decision that has to be rendered from the Federal Highway Administration, expected this time next year.

TxDOT spokesperson David Casteel sat quietly listening to the comments before echoing Garcia’s sentiment of misinformation about the project.

“When you look at statistics, it is painfully obvious that we can’t continue with Interstate 35 as our only source of traffic. I have heard a lot of people say there is a problem, but not a lot of other solutions have come forward,” Casteel said. “We have to address trade, traffic and safety issues in this corridor, and this is the most reasonable alternative we could find.”

© 2006 The Gazette-Enterprise. :


"The Trans Texas Corridor is not for the people of Texas."

Corridor leg draws fire


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

There's something about putting lines on a map that grabs attention, revs up talk and riles regular folks, especially when those lines target possible locations for a supercorridor unlike any other highway.

When officials of the Texas Department of Transportation asked for public input two years ago on where to put a quarter-mile-wide swath of toll lanes, rail lines and utility lines to relieve traffic on Interstate 35, just two dozen people showed up at a meeting in San Antonio.

But now that a draft environmental report has been released for what would be the first leg of the Trans Texas Corridor, interest here and elsewhere has shot up like a thermometer dropped in boiling water.

At least 900 people showed up Tuesday for a public hearing at East Central High School, and officials turned away 300 of them because the cafeteria was full. Before the doors closed, another hearing was hastily set for 6:30 p.m. today at the same place.

All but five of the 32 speakers were firmly against the corridor coming down or near Interstate 10 and Loop 1604 from Seguin to I-35, which is part of a preferred 512-mile-long study area.

Many were angry at what they see as an asphalt tentacle destroying or squeezing the life from farms, ranches, wildlife and communities so businesses can move international goods to markets faster.

"The Trans Texas Corridor is not for the people of Texas," Molly Roemer told a cheering crowd. "It is for a small group of people who look at it as benefiting business. I think Enron would fit in with that same description."

Some people seemed overwhelmed by a mountain of unanswered questions.

"Hello, my name's Donald Speer Jr. I'm just a landowner and a truck driver here," one said. "We need more rigorous review and comments, and open questions-and-answer sessions, or something like this."

But the 55 public hearings from Denton to Laredo, which started last month and are slated to wrap up this week, are the chance for people to speak up, TxDOT says. Comments will be considered as part of the environmental report, which officials hope to finish by next summer.

The report will narrow the study area to 4 to 18 miles. Separate studies will be done to nail down exact alignments for specific projects.

The corridor is the first of a planned 4,000-mile network that Gov. Rick Perry wants to see developed across the state in the coming decades to deal with growing traffic congestion. The vision calls for private companies to put up much or all of the financing in return for collecting user fees for up to 50 years.

Some speakers, including gubernatorial candidate and state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, appearing at her 11th corridor hearing, said that to kill the project they need to vote Perry out of office Nov. 7.

The four people who spoke in favor of the project — another was ambivalent — are connected to San Antonio's business community.

Steve Seidel, chairman of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, got a mixture of applause and boos.

"The chamber believes plans for a corridor through Texas from Oklahoma to Mexico is visionary," Seidel said. "It is critical to accommodate the increasing automobile and truck traffic related to the regional growth of international trade.

"That growth will not go away," he said. "It is here, it is part of our community."

Growing opposition to the Trans Texas Corridor doesn't seem to be going away, either.

TxDOT counted 12,481 people at 49 hearings as of Tuesday for the segment that will parallel I-35. Nearly 1,000 spoke, and most weren't happy.

A hearing in Temple drew 1,563 people, and another in Waco had 979. In Floresville, southeast of San Antonio, 791 showed up.

A surge in concerns seems to be fed by skyrocketing gas prices and fears of communities, farms and natural areas being split or wiped out by a corridor that threatens to have a bigger impact than interstates, said Char Miller, director of urban studies at Trinity University.

Suspicions that big contractors and private toll operators stand to gain the most and perceptions that government is ignoring complaints also don't help, he said.

"It's an arrogance of power that people are objecting to," he said. "This doesn't play well in Floresville, and it doesn't play well in Flower Mound."

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News:


"What were they thinking?... WERE they thinking?"

TxDOT Fails in San Antonio

Hundreds of Texans are locked out of the public hearing in San Antonio on August 8, 2006

August 9, 2006
Copyright 2006

Apparently TxDOT didn't realize that San Antonio is the 2nd most populated city in Texas. In fact the Alamo city is. And TxDOT might take note that it is also the 7th most populated city in the entire United States. Really something we would have expected them to have already known.

Hundreds of Texans were unable to attend and participate in the TTC-35 DEIS Public Hearing held in a San Antonio high school on August 8, 2006. When the East Central High School Cafeteria reached it's 600 person capacity the doors were closed. Many of those left standing outside had driven great distances, some from as far away as Houston.

How did this happen? Was TxDOT unaware that metropolitan Bexar County's population had grown to near 2 million? Did they really expect that a meeting room with a 600 person capacity would be adequate, especially given the vigorous debate over the TTC and toll projects in Bexar County?

This stands in stark contrast to Temple, population less than 55,000. When a stunning 1,600 people showed up for the TTC-35 DEIS Public Hearing in Temple, TxDOT needed only add an additional 100 chairs to accommodate the crowd. And that wasn't the only big turn out by Texans who want to let TxDOT know what they think about the TTC. Waco attracted more than 1,000 and Floresville, a stones throw from San Antonio 700.

What were they thinking? Were they thinking? Some suspicious types might even suspect an evil plot designed to repel the thongs of unhappy citizens who or taking advantage of their right to express their unhappiness. is more inclined to suspect it was just horribly poor planning. The kind of planning we fear will be commonplace with the massive TTC project that's currently being designed in secret without coordination with regional transportation planners or meaningful citizen review and comment.

Of course TxDOT will hold an additional Public Hearing in San Antonio to reach those who were turned away on Tuesday. Will they move to a larger facility where everyone, even if there's more than 600, can be assured that they can get in the building? No they won't.

The next San Antonio DEIS Tier One Public Hearing will be held on Thursday, August 10, 2006, at the East Central High School cafeteria, 7173 FM 1628, San Antonio, Texas. The meeting room will open at 5:00 p.m. for open house style displays and discussion with a formal presentation beginning at 6:30 p.m., followed by oral comments from the public.

© 2006 CorridorWatch:


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

"Start with the governor and work your way down. Vote 'em out!"

Almost 800 attend Floresville TTC meeting

August 9, 2006

Nannette Kilbey-Smith
Wilson County News
Copyright 2006

The proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, or TTC-35, continues to elicit responses from citizens in Texas counties that will be affected by the planned transportation route from the Mexican border to Oklahoma.

Nearly 800 interested citizens ranging from ranchers to homeowners, and elected officials to business owners, gathered on Aug. 3 in the Floresville High School gym for a presentation by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the chance to voice their opinions. More than 30 people signed up to speak.

Among elected officials present were Wilson County Judge Marvin Quinney, state Rep. Edmund Kuempel of Seguin, and Mayor Chrystal Eckel of Poth. Former Floresville Mayor Raymond Ramirez also attended.

Transcribers were available to record participants' opinions. Attendees also had the option of registering their comments via computer.

Participants viewed diagrams and maps and voiced concerns to the TTC-35 project team. This continued until 6:30 p.m., when TxDOT provided a video and PowerPoint presentation, showing TTC-35 and arterial roads and highways highlighted in bright red, giving the impression the corridor will make Texas the commercial "heart" of the United States.

"Land can only be purchased after federal environmental clearance can be given. The state can sign an agreement with a willing landowner for an option to purchase the property at a future date," the presenter said.

Landowners choosing this option will be paid a fee, then an additional sum based on the fair market value of the property if TxDOT chooses to buy the land.

Addressing the concern of landowners fearing their property will be condemned to further the project, TxDOT releases state that "No developer for the corridor will be condemning anyone's land."

The Trans-Texas Corridor project is currently at the environmental study stage, with TxDOT gathering public comment and preparing the final environmental impact statement for submission to the Federal Highway Administration. TxDOT anticipates the statement will be with the Federal Highway Administration later this year and hopes for federal approval in the summer of 2007. Approval by the FHWA does not authorize construction, according to TxDOT information.

Judge Quinney, first at the microphone, presented a map, that highlighted parts of Wilson County and subdivisions that will be impacted by the project.

Thunderous applause from the crowd greeted the statement that Quinney and the commisioners court oppose "any part of the Trans-Texas Corridor through Wilson County," the closing statement of a resolution signed July 24 by the judge and all four county commissioners.

Many speakers voiced support for TxDOT's "no action alternative."

TxDOT, in its presentation, had identified several alternatives when researching transportation needs in Texas. Other options explored included improving or enlarging existing roadways and routes, which were determined insufficient to cope with the growing transportation needs of the state.

"Government is no longer of the people, by the people, or for the people anymore," said Hank Gilbert. "It's now of the money, by the money, and for the money!" His comments were also greeted with loud applause.

An emotional plea came from transplanted New Yorker Michael Aurora, who owns property on Roddy Road in southeastern Bexar County near Loop 1604, right in the path of the proposed corridor. The disabled veteran of both Gulf Wars told the crowd, "I'm distraught. I've found my piece of heaven, where I've got cows and hummingbirds. The TTC shatters my dreams."

Many speakers advised those gathered not to be angry with the TxDOT staff making the presentation. "Tell the big shots," David Simpson said. "They're the ones to get in touch with."

"Will the integrity of our community remain intact?" asked Penny Glawe.

"The whole state should be voting on something like this," said Edward Hauschild of Seguin, "not just the counties involved."

"Make your vote count," said Ray Littlejohn. "Vote to put somebody else in Austin."

David Wahl, a lifelong resident of Wilson County, echoed Hauschild's comments, adding, "Start with the governor and work your way down. Vote 'em out!"

Charlotte Tabor was struck by "the tone of inevitability in this room. The issue is: We're Americans! We decide what happens to us; not our politicians! No vote, no road."

David Van Os, Democratic candidate for Texas attorney general, told the listeners, "We can't let it happen! They're banking on the people thinking 'it's a done deal ' feeling powerless and hopeless.

Martin Kufus, a Wilson County resident and volunteer firefighter with the Eagle Creek Volunteer Fire Department, read from a prepared statement. "If a segment of the Trans-Texas Corridor ran through northwestern Wilson County, thousands of acres of private property would disappear from the county's tax base. He outlined a triangular area of the county experiencing fast growth and added, "The proposed corridor segment would be built through that growth area, and, by the way, in the recharge zone of the Carrizo Aquifer." He outlined how the loss of revenues would impact the county and the local emergency services who rely on funding from the county budget.

Kufus also expressed concern over the potential for an increased number of high-speed vehicular accidents, advising, "It would fall on our fire and EMS personnel , under-funded and over-tasked . alongside our local law-enforcement officers to pick up the pieces and clean up the messes, on the proposed corridor."

Echoing Kufus' comments, Andy Belew of La Vernia expressed the concern that "Emergency services will not be able to get through to provide services" if the corridor follows the projected path through northeastern Wilson County. "And there's the high probability of incidents involving caustic materials on the road, rail, or pipelines," Belew said.

Kevin Stanush of La Vernia recently placed a full-page ad in the Wilson County News at his own expense to educate readers and highlight his concerns. "Many details of TxDOT's plan remain unclear," he said. "Will portions of I-35 and Loop 1604 become toll roads? The word 'toll' was only mentioned one time in the 30-minute TxDOT presentation. " TxDOT had gathered plenty of information on TTC-35's impact on wildlife and endangered species, " he said, adding, "The Texas voter should be added to the endangered species list."

"We'll have to pay a foreign entity to drive in our own country," said Cliff Roberts. "The toll corridor will split the state -- and the country -- in half!."

"Why drive a toll road when you can drive a free one?" asked Ervin Neatherlin, who lives between La Vernia and St. Hedwig.

"This project is not good for the average Texan. It's not ethical, it's not moral, and it's not right!."Anthony Kosub said.

Paige Fuller, a teacher in the Floresville Independent School District, said she is "vehemently opposed to the project -- as a taxpayer, as a citizen of Texas and Wilson County, and a teacher in the school district," adding that "There are other options."

Jimmy Zimmerman, who ranches in three counties, including Wilson and Gonzales, took his listeners back to a time when the American colonists felt the British government was pushing them too far, Jimmy Zimmerman summed up many feelings when he commented, "The TTC is like taxation without representation. I stand against it." Words that started a revolution.

The hearings continue through Aug. 10. Look for coverage of the hearings at East Central High School and the Seguin-Guadalupe coliseum in next week's issue of the Wilson County News.

© 2006 Wilson County News:


TxDOT PR piece glosses over registration sticker designed for toll road charging.

TxDOT introduces new registration sticker

Aug 9, 2006

Copyright 2006

AUSTIN - Texans, TxDOT heard you.

Thanks to customer comments and suggestions, the Texas Department of Transportation is introducing a new windshield registration sticker expected to be distributed statewide by early 2007.

"We are very excited about the new design," said Rebecca Davio, director of the Vehicle Titles and Registration Division. "We listened to our customers, used their ideas, and believe we have a sticker Texans will be proud to display."

The sticker will debut in Randall County in August, followed by Williamson and Hays counties in September. After that, it will roll out incrementally across the state.

"Texans told us they wanted a sticker with a clean, uncluttered design that was easy to apply, and that is what we have developed," said Mike Behrens, TxDOT's executive director.

The new design features a blue adhesive border, eliminating fingerprint marks that many customers found unsatisfactory with the translucent border. The blue back is imprinted with a friendly reminder to "Check the date, love your state" to help Texans keep their registration current. For the first time, the sticker features a Web address,, which offers more information about vehicle registration.

"When Texans register their vehicles they are helping the state and their local county," Behrens said. "Registration fees contribute almost $1.3 billion dollars a year towards building and maintaining state and county roads."

Vehicle registration also gives people using the road system peace of mind, Behrens added. "The sticker allows us to provide extra security for each and every registered vehicle owner in Texas," he added.

The white window on the new sticker's front allows the sticker's important information - month and year of expiration, county of origin, license plate number, and part of the vehicle identification number - to be clearly displayed.

"The new design will make it easier for law enforcement officers to immediately identify whether a sticker is valid or in compliance," said Commander Jesse Flores of the Motor Vehicle Theft Division for the Texas Department of Public Safety. "That's good for Texans because it provides added protection against theft and fraud."

A small outline of the state with the Texas flag highlights the white window on the sticker's front. "Texans told us they wanted a state symbol placed somewhere on the sticker's front," Davio said.

However, she added, many state residents found the current Texas flag sticker a little overwhelming. "They also told us the sticker's flag colors appeared faded and looked unattractive on their vehicles," Davio said.

The new sticker, which is a third smaller than the current one, also gives Texans something else they wanted. "We eliminated the punch tab so you can easily peel the sticker off from any corner on the back of the registration receipt," Davio said.

Texas places two stickers on a paper sheet, and then completes the one for your type of vehicle while "voiding" the other. The windshield sticker is for passenger vehicles while the smaller sticker applies to other modes of transportation, such as motorcycles, trailers and farm equipment.

New instructions make it clear the sticker marked "VOID" on the registration receipt should be thrown away.

"By using a single sheet with two stickers we are able to save time and taxpayer money," Davio said. "It also allows us to customize the sticker so you know that sticker was made just for your vehicle."

TxDOT introduced this customized registration process in 2004, which allows stickers to be printed on demand. It replaced pre-printed sticker books that forced the state to estimate how many stickers it would need each year. The sticker books created a cumbersome inventory control system, and the state's 254 tax assessor-collectors were held personally liable for the value of the stickers - more than $1 billion. At the end of each year, excess stickers were destroyed.

In 1993, Texas switched from a plate to a windshield sticker for passenger vehicles to deter license plate theft. In one year alone more than 150,000 rear license plates with registration stickers were stolen in the state.

"The windshield sticker reduced license plate theft," Davio said. "The new windshield sticker process makes it more difficult to steal your car and get away with it."

For more information contact: Kim Sue Lia Perkes, Public Information Officer, 302-2076.
Your TxTag® sticker is the easiest, fastest way to travel on Texas toll roads. Get yours here:

© 2006 North Texas e-News, LLC : www.ntxe-news


Toll roads: "Much of the nation doesn’t want them."

Congressman wants to reignite gas-tax debate


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

IRVING — U.S. Rep. James Oberstar doesn’t blame Texans for their opposition to toll roads.
In fact, the veteran congressman from Minnesota, who spoke Wednesday at the Transportation Summit in Irving, believes much of the nation doesn’t want them.

So instead of building toll roads to raise money for highway projects, the ranking Democrat on the House transportation committee said he wants to rekindle the debate for a 5-cents-a-gallon increase in the federal motor-fuels tax.

He said he doubts that voters would revolt over what he calls a miniscule tax increase. Instead, he said, they would probably hardly notice it — what with gasoline prices hovering around $3 a gallon. The increase could provide several billion dollars a year in additional revenue for road work nationwide.

“The public understands that it’s a highway user fee,” Oberstar said after a speech to about 1,000 summit attendees, whom he urged to support a gas tax increase. “You pay it and drive away. It’s a user fee the public is ready to accept.”

The Bush administration has adamantly opposed raising the tax, which is 18.4 cents a gallon and hasn’t been increased since 1993. Last year, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure initially proposed spending $375 billion over five years on highways, buses and rails, an amount that would have required a gas tax increase. But the committee backed down and dropped the appropriation to $275 billion after reports that the White House would fight it.

In Texas, motorists pay a state gas tax of 20 cents a gallon, and Gov. Rick Perry opposes raising it, too.

Those opposed to raising the gas tax at either level of government say it is a funding source on the decline because cars are becoming more fuel efficient and some are powered by alternative fuels.

Oberstar, a member of the transportation committee since he joined Congress in 1975, said he would counteract that by also taxing alternative fuels “at their source.” For example, hydrogen-fueled vehicles would be taxed by a meter placed at recharging stations.

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, is also a member of the transportation committee. She told the summit gathering that committee members, who are sometimes criticized for adding local “pork” projects to the federal highway budget, are united in fighting for road funds.

“We don’t have any partisan bickering on that committee,” Johnson told the luncheon crowd, which then laughed at her candor: “Everybody in there tries to get what they want, and we try to get them what they want.”

Raising the federal gas tax by 5 cents would protect the federal Highway Trust Fund from inflation, said Matt Sundeen, a transportation official at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

By 2010, the 18.4-cent federal tax will have the buying power of only about 12 cents, because the cost of materials such as steel and concrete are expected to keep rising, he said.

Gordon Dickson, 817-685-3816

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram :


An end to months of bitterness?

Toll-road agreement expected Thursday


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

IRVING — Months of wrangling over who should build area toll roads and collect the tolls may be nearing an end.

The North Texas Tollway Authority is expected to approve an agreement Thursday to build some of the toll roads, including Fort Worth’s planned Southwest Parkway. But the agreement also allows the Texas Department of Transportation to seek private bidders for some toll roads, including Texas 121 in Collin County and Texas 161 in Grand Prairie.

The authority board meets Thursday morning in Plano.

The agreement between the tollway authority and state agency doesn’t change much in Tarrant County. Both parties have understood for many years that the authority would take the lead on Southwest Parkway, the local name for the extension of a state highway, Texas 121, south of downtown Fort Worth, officials from both sides said Wednesday.

But it does signal an end to months of bitterness in places such as Collin and Dallas counties. And, state officials say, it finally puts in writing a policy that everyone can use in planning future Dallas-Fort Worth roads.

“It’s important because, if the tollway authority approves it, it sets the course for the entire region and not just Collin County and Denton County,” said Maribel Chavez, transportation department Fort Worth district engineer. “It’s a cohesive regional policy.”

In Collin and Dallas counties, state officials have called for private development of Texas 121 and Texas 161, which could generate millions of extra private dollars for other road work, while municipal and county leaders have said they’d rather that the tollway authority build the roads – and keep tolls as low as possible.

The compromise allows the state to put Texas 121 in Collin County and Texas 161 in Dallas County up for bid, and let the private sector build them, but designates the tollway authority as the official toll collection agency on those roads for at least the first five years.

“It is workable,” tollway authority board member Jack Miller of Denton said Wednesday. “It requires us to work together, which I think we should be doing anyway.”

If approved by the tollway board, the policy will then be considered by the state transportation commission. The policy calls for the tollway authority to be the lead agency in planning future toll roads. In addition to toll road projects that are already widely known, other possible future projects include the extension of Texas 360 in Mansfield to the south, and the creation of an outer loop roughly following Farm Road 1187 in southern Tarrant County and the old Loop 9 plans in south Dallas.

The compromise

Details of the deal between the North Texas Tollway Authority and Texas Department of Transportation

Tollway authority remains responsible for building Southwest Parkway, the Lake Lewisville Bridge and President George Bush Turnpike eastern extension. The authority also remains the main planner of any future toll roads.

The state agency may accept bids from private firms to build Texas 121 in Collin County and Texas 161 in Grand Prairie. However, the tollway authority will be the toll collection agency on those roads for at least the first five years.
Gordon Dickson, 817-685-3816

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram :


"Some things — like essential infrastructure — are best left in the public sector where they can be held accountable."

Where is the wisdom of selling what we can't do without?


Carlos Guerra
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

For incumbents who support them, toll roads have grown into a political hot potato. Don't be shocked if their challengers turn them into a political wooden stake.

Two years ago, the Texas Department of Transportation held a public meeting in our city to unveil plans for the Trans Texas Corridor, an ambitious proposal by which the state will seize up to 600 miles of quarter-mile-wide swaths of land to build multiple roadway lanes and railroad tracks, and pipeline and utility easements.

The state will then lease this land to a private operator that will fund construction, make an up-front payment and share some of the revenues it collects from tolls and leases with the state.

The beauty of the plan, proponents say, is that roads will be built sooner and Texas will reap a multibillion-dollar windfall that will fund other roadwork — all without raising taxes!

In 2004, Express-News transportation writer Pat Driscoll reported that about two-dozen residents showed up at TxDOT's meeting.

Tuesday, TxDOT held a hearing on TTC plans. This time, 900 people signed in, so when the East Central High School cafeteria's 600 seats and standing room were filled, many were turned away.

Most came to express their opposition, which doesn't surprise me.

Every time I have written about toll roads — and especially about the Trans Texas Corridor — it has generated heavy reader response, almost all against tolling. And among the few who have written to cheer tolling, many have been from people directly connected to the road-construction industry.

Some opponents fear losing family land or having it bisected, while others think that paying to drive on right-of-way bought with public money, while burning taxed gasoline, is double taxation.

Others think giving foreign companies control of the state's infrastructure is dangerously foolish, and still others believe the TTC is part of a conspiracy to build a highway to connect Mexican sea ports with the U.S. heartland and Canada so that U.S. longshoremen and Teamsters can be replaced with lower-wage Mexican workers.

I am reminded of columns I wrote in 1997, when utility deregulation was the rage in Austin. Proponents asserted that market forces not only solve all problems, they do so better and more cheaply.

In San Antonio's City Hall, a study was commissioned to investigate the possible sale of what was then City Public Service, our city-owned purveyor of electricity and gas.

"What if CPS can't compete in an unregulated environment?" study proponents asked, before pointing out that privatizing our utilities would reap the city billions that could fund massive improvements — without raising taxes!

I was suspicious.

"We should be wary of any proposal to privatize (basic infrastructure)," I wrote in 1997, before adding: "We would never consider selling Loops 410 and 1604, Interstates 10, 35 and 37 to private investors (because) they would turn them into toll roads and render us subject to their price demands."

The sale fell through, and today CPS Energy still has some of Texas' cheapest energy rates, and still funds more than a quarter of our city budget, while rates of deregulated private utilities have skyrocketed.

Sure, the market works great in many areas. But some things — like essential infrastructure — are best left in the public sector where they can be held accountable.

To contact Carlos Guerra, call (210) 250-3545 or e-mail
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© 2006 San Antonio Express-News:


"I don't see the need to build a project of this magnitude."

Ranchers speak out against corridor


Ofelia Garcia Hunter
Alice Echo-News Journal
Copyright 2006

Concerns of property rights, crossing access and tax base revenue were some of the comments heard from three individuals at the public hearing held Tuesday at the K.C. Hall for the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor 35.

Long-time rancher and farmer Edwin E. Goldapp had two typed pages of questions and concerns.

"We are primarily concerned with property rights. We recognize the fact that we need access to our property and be paid for what we think it's worth," he said. "We're trying to shrink the right-of-way, take what they need, but scoot it together."

Goldapp said farmers and ranchers might not have access to crossovers and have to drive 10 to 20 miles to find one to get to the other side of their property.

About 30 residents from the area attended the public meeting in Alice. It was one of 54 public hearings throughout the TTC-35 study area where officials with the Texas Transportation Department answered questions and listened to public comment.

State Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles also addressed the group.

"This stuff does scare a lot of people, especially the farmers and ranchers, I can understand their concerns and fears," she said. "I don't think it's feasible to put 12 lanes in the area I represent. I don't see the need to build a project of this magnitude."

The hearing was the fourth set of public meetings on TTC-35 that gave residents an opportunity to comment on the proposed development of TTC-35.

These public hearings will wind up a two-year public involvement process that has already included 117 public meetings netting more than 4,000 comments.

The presentation at the hearing focused on the preferred corridor alternative from Gainesville to Laredo and why it best meets the state's long-term goal of easing congestion and improving safety on I-35. Other corridor alternatives were also presented for public comment Tuesday.

Along with the TTC-35 corridor, TxDOT officials were also on hand to answer questions about the I-69 TTC.

The I-69 corridor is a concern for Robin Carter and her family, who own land in Brooks and Hidalgo counties.

"In general, my family is opposed to the trans-corridor," Carter said. "There will be a lot of revenue taken out of the tax base. My family specifically objects to the I-69 route that takes property west of (Highway) 281. It doesn't seem logical or practical to go west of 281."

The hearing began with an open house so residents could review maps of the preferred corridor alternative and ask questions. The presentation and oral comments began at 6:30 p.m.

Greg Edelen said the project could wipe out farming and ranching.

"Once you take the land out of production, it's lost forever," he said. "A farmer could lose his way of life - forever."

After the public hearings, staff will analyze the comments and submit a final environmental impact statement by the end of the year to the Federal Highway Administration. A decision from FHWA is expected next summer.

Construction could only begin after the additional studies are completed, TxDOT officials said.

"Untill we get to that process, we can't move to the definition of the route," said Craig Clark, district engineer from the Corpus Christi district. "We are still several steps away."

Copyright © 2006 Alice Echo-News Journal: