Saturday, September 02, 2006

Red-light cameras to be placed along state highways

Eyeing cameras on Texas roadways

Rowlett hopes to watch intersections by Dec. 1; Plano, Frisco to follow

September 2, 2006

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

Rowlett, Plano and Frisco expect to be among the first North Texas cities to operate red-light cameras along state highways in the wake of a ruling by the Texas attorney general's office.

Cameras along Lakeview Parkway (State Highway 66) in Rowlett are expected to begin photographing red-light runners by Dec. 1. It's unclear when Plano's and Frisco's new cameras would be installed and operating.

Plano police Lt. Jeff Wise said he sent an official request to the Texas Department of Transportation this week. He declined to specify intersections until plans are approved, though he said some were likely to be on Preston Road and State Highway 121.

"We've already started the approval process for expansion" of the program, said Lt. Wise, who oversees the program. "We've got intersections identified, but they could change as we move forward."

Frisco spokeswoman Dana Baird said her city would send its request to the state Transportation Department next week.

Rowlett officials have been talking with the state for several weeks, but the city hasn't yet decided which intersections would be monitored by cameras, Police Chief Matt Walling said. Several Lakeview intersections are being considered, including those at Dexham, Rowlett and Dalrock roads. The intersection with the future Bush Turnpike extension – currently where Liberty Grove and Kirby Road meet Lakeview – could also be included, but construction plans for the toll road could affect the city's decision.

Lakeview is among Rowlett's most accident-prone roads, with more than 600 crashes reported since 1999. Chief Walling said the department didn't know how many of those stemmed from red-light running.

"It's because of the speeds and the volume of traffic," he said.

Other cities, including Garland and Richardson, are continuing to investigate whether to use the cameras on state roads.

"Before we do this, we want to show a definitive causative link between red-light runners and accidents," Richardson police Sgt. Kevin Perlich said. "We're still talking about it and looking at the data."

Since the opinion from the attorney general's office in June gave the go-ahead for electronic enforcement on state roads, several cities have shown interest, said Carlos Lopez, director of the state Transportation Department's traffic operations division. He said cities like Rowlett and Plano are finding that state roads, whether frontage roads or highways that act as city streets, have some of their most dangerous intersections.

In Houston, which planned to implement a camera program Friday, the first 10 monitored intersections won't be on state roads. Houston police spokesman John Cannon said highways – especially frontage road intersections – are expected to be added later. Houston plans to roll out cameras 10 at a time, he said, targeting the city's most dangerous intersections.

Several other changes will be made to the Rowlett program. Contractor Affiliated Computer Services Inc. will begin collecting fines that are more than 80 days overdue and will launch a Web site for people to pay fines from red-light violations. The city will also begin charging a late fee for delinquent fines.


© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co


"The governor was simply delaying the expected outrage."

Pay roads will exact heavy toll

September 2, 2006

Sherry Jacobson
Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

Gov. Rick Perry wants us to believe he wasn't being political when he announced this week that the state would delay charging tolls on State Highway 121 until after the election in November.

I don't buy it.

His gubernatorial opponents also cried foul, accusing Mr. Perry of buying the votes of drivers who were grateful they didn't have to start paying tolls yesterday.

But that's not my take on why he did it.

The governor was simply delaying the expected outrage that will occur when this state highway turns into a state toll road. Lots of drivers are going to be angry about this conversion, even though we've been hearing about it for years as the road was being rebuilt.

Driver outrage could easily carry a lot of Texans into the voting booth in November if they consider what's been happening to the state's highway system in recent years.

From my view, the state has cleverly abdicated its responsibility to build highways financed with gasoline taxes in favor of requiring drivers to pay as they go on toll roads.

Some people may call it a toll or a user fee, but I prefer to call it a tax – unofficial perhaps – but a pure and simple tax on driving.

I build my case on the fact that the money disappearing from my wallet will pay for roads I'm not necessarily using. For example, the millions generated by State Highway 121's future tolls will probably go to refurbish Interstate 35E and widen FM423 in Denton.

In the past, toll revenues went to retire the construction debt on a particular road. Theoretically, the toll ended when the road was paid for, which doesn't happen if the road keeps growing.

But the current arrangement allows them to go on forever and increase over time without public input.

The politicians who are approving these toll roads don't want to be blamed for what the driving public is paying. You might even hear certain elected officials claim they've done such a good job holding down gasoline, property and sales taxes.

But don't be duped.

Remember all the other ways that government has found to make us pay for basic public services, such as building toll roads instead of freeways.

When I complained in a recent column about the proliferation of toll roads in the Dallas area, I was flooded with e-mail from readers who shared my frustration. (A few disagreed, saying they don't want to pay for any road they don't use.)

The anti-toll sentiment might actually turn into something big if the Texas Department of Transportation and the North Texas Tollway Authority add as many toll bridges, toll roads and toll lanes to existing highways as they are capable of doing.

This week, I found some folks who didn't like the toll-road trend. They just happened to be visiting Stonebriar Centre, a regional mall in Frisco at the crossroads of Highway 121 and the Dallas North Tollway.

"I think it's terrible, to tell you the truth," said Marion McGrade, a 78-year-old Frisco woman. "People on fixed incomes don't have enough money to pay tolls, between the electricity costs and everything else."

Josh Kellam said it would cost him about $120 a month to get from his home in Tarrant County to his job in Collin County once Highway 121 is done.

"I wouldn't mind paying tolls," he conceded. "But the roads aren't that convenient. It takes 45 to 50 minutes to get home from work."

Paulette Klein of Plano said toll roads attract drivers mainly because other routes are lacking. "The only alternative in Plano is an incomplete grid of city streets," she said.

Several people who work at Stonebriar said they would stick to Highway 121's service roads to avoid paying tolls, even if the drive were clogged with traffic lights and yield zones.

A couple of mall visitors admitted they were resigned to using toll roads because the state wouldn't build anything else.

"Just think if we didn't have them, what would it be like?" asked Robby Campbell, a Plano contractor who drives all over the Dallas area. "I'd spend more money on gas and lost time."

State officials are counting on Texans to embrace toll roads as an either-or proposition: Either you accept a toll road or you get no road.

But eventually, people will ask themselves why they're being forced to spend hundreds – even thousands of dollars every year – to drive on local highways.

And then we can have a real debate about state funding priorities, about direct public approval of toll roads and about how to generate adequate tax money to support our roads.

Until then, let me suggest a new Texas motto: Toll roads are us.


© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co


Friday, September 01, 2006

"We will ensure this road stays a freeway now and forever."

Strayhorn says she'd stop tolls on Texas 121

Sep. 01, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

LEWISVILLE -- Carole Keeton Strayhorn says that if she's elected governor, Texas 121 north of Grapevine won't become a toll road.

"State Highway 121 was originally planned as a freeway," Strayhorn said Thursday afternoon during a joint news conference with, a group protesting at a business park on the frontage road.

"Tolling roads planned as freeways, and converting freeways into toll roads, is wrong. It's double taxation," she said. "We will ensure this road stays a freeway now and forever."

But the independent candidate declined to say how she'd go about reversing the decision by city and county officials across the Metroplex -- collectively known as the Regional Transportation Council -- to make Texas 121 a toll road.

The council, the region's official planning body, expects the toll road to generate nearly $300 million to be used on other projects in the coming years.

Reversing their decision -- the result of several years of tense negotiations -- could create a major highway funding shortfall through 2030.

Strayhorn faces Republican Gov. Rick Perry, independent Kinky Friedman, Democrat Chris Bell and Libertarian James Werner in the Nov. 7 election.

Under the council's plan, Texas 121 in Carrollton, Coppell and Lewisville would be managed by a yet-to-be-selected private firm, which would be expected to provide investment dollars for use on other area roads such as Interstate 35E.

But Strayhorn disagrees with Perry's and the Texas Department of Transportation's belief that toll roads are necessary to make up for shortfalls in highway funding, which is mainly supported by gas taxes.

Instead, Strayhorn would:

  • Appoint an independent inspector to make the Transportation Department more efficient.
  • Expand the I-35 corridor on existing right of way.
  • Expand rail lines.
  • Urge employers to stagger work schedules and allow employees to telecommute to reduce peak traffic.

She said the Transportation Department's budget "has increased from $7 billion to $15.2 billion just since Perry was promoted to governor. That's a 117 percent increase. If Austin politicians can't figure out how to build freeways with that kind of money, I will."

About 30 supporters joined Strayhorn at the podium, less than a mile from a Coppell school where Perry on Tuesday announced that Texas 121, which is to be the area's first all-electronic toll road, would remain toll-free for months because of problems with toll equipment.

Randy Jennings of Plano, the anti-toll group's founder, accused Perry of postponing toll collection until after Nov. 7. "Texans can see through Governor Perry's election-year politics," he said.

Charles Hollimon, a member of the anti-toll group who owns property in North Richland Hills and the San Antonio area, said he worries that the cost of groceries and other everyday goods will increase as trucks use the toll roads.

Gordon Dickson, 817-685-3816

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


"The people of Texas will not be fooled by this election gimmickry."

Strayhorn: 121 toll delay is a victory - for now

Lewisville: She calls Perry's announcement 'election gimmickry'

September 1, 2006

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

Gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn was joined by the anti-toll crowd on Thursday along the new State Highway 121 toll road in Lewisville. Mrs. Strayhorn declared the state's recent decision to delay toll collections on Highway 121 a victory. Earlier this week, Gov. Rick Perry came to nearby Coppell and announced that the state will not start charging drivers until at least mid-November.

"What he is doing is buying himself votes to get this past Nov. 7," said Mrs. Strayhorn, an independent candidate for governor. "The people of Texas will not be fooled by his election gimmickry."

Earlier this summer, the state announced it would start collecting tolls on Highway 121 today.

Mrs. Strayhorn scheduled her campaign event for Thursday because it was supposed to be the last day of free rides on the new highway. Earlier this week, however, Mr. Perry announced the delay in collecting tolls. He said workers needed more time to install equipment and iron out bugs in the new video toll-collection system.

About 30 people braved the afternoon heat to support Mrs. Strayhorn. Many carried her campaign signs or anti-toll signs with slogans including "Keep Texas Freeways" and "No Perry Tolls."

"Most young people don't care, but this is going to affect everyone directly," said Christina Hollimon, 24, who came to the Strayhorn speech with her father, Charles. The family owns property in North Richland Hills and in Stockdale in Central Texas, where Mr. Perry's planned Trans-Texas Corridor toll road could run near their farmland.

Linda Curtis said she's concerned about turning over toll roads to private companies. She also said it's not clear where the toll revenue will go.

Four private groups are vying to take over operation of the Highway 121 toll road in Denton and Collin counties.

State and regional leaders expect to receive close to $1 billion from the winning bidder up front and receive a share of future toll revenue over time.

"Transportation is not the issue. No one really knows where this money is going," Ms. Curtis said.


Mr. Perry's campaign staff has accused Mrs. Strayhorn of advocating construction of toll roads before her campaign for governor.

"She's flip-flopped on this issue pretty hard," said Perry campaign spokesman Robert Black.

Mr. Black also challenged Mrs. Strayhorn's alternate transportation plan, which calls for widening Interstate 35 instead of building the Trans-Texas Corridor from the Red River to the Rio Grande. The state already has plans to widen the interstate to three lanes. Anything more, he said, would require taking many notable and expensive properties alongside the highway.

So what will be the role of toll roads in the upcoming election?

"We see it as more the role of transportation," Mr. Black said, noting that half of all Texans live along I-35 and that the state will double in population in the next 40 years. "Texans are tired of being stuck in traffic. Our infrastructure, and the way we fund infrastructure, cannot meet those needs."

Toll revenue

The governor and state officials point out that tolls on Highway 121 are expected to raise hundreds of millions of dollars that will be spent for other long-awaited projects. Those projects include $200 million to help rebuild and widen nearby portions of Interstate 35E and $80 million to rebuild and widen FM423 in Denton County.

Local and regional leaders approved the tolls and have budgeted toll bond revenue for those projects.

When asked whether she would override local opinion that supported the tolls, Mrs. Strayhorn said she would seek a vote on all toll roads, including Highway 121.

"I believe it was built as a freeway and it should stay a freeway," she said. "If the people vote for this, fine."


© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co


Perry's office called Texas Highway Commission to ask when TxDOT would begin tolling Highway 121.

Strayhorn fires back at Perry on tolling issue

September 01, 2006

By Josh Hixson
Lewisville Leader
Copyright 2006

Texas gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn, appeared Thursday near the State Highway 121 Bypass in Lewisville to speak on Gov. Rick Perry’s announcement to postpone the eventual tolling of the highway.

“Toll ways are being crammed down Texans’ throats,” Strayhorn said. “Highway 121 was originally planned as a freeway, not a tollway. I am adamantly opposed to tollways.”

Strayhorn called the delay in tolling by TxDOT “a great victory for the people of Texas” and accused Perry of using the delay as a ploy to “buy votes.”

“Texans will not be fooled...Rick Perry is trying to buy votes by waiting until after Nov. 7 to start tolls,” Strayhorn said. “Texas has the money to meet transportation needs without tolling every new road in Texas. I would love to debate with (Gov. Perry) any time, any place, anywhere.”

Perry stated his stance on tolling Tuesday at the State Highway 121 bypass dedication in Coppell.

“There is no such thing as a free road. There are toll roads and there are tax roads. It made all the sense in the world to follow the path we are on,” Perry said. “[We] charge tolls for obvious reasons. It’s faster, it’s cheaper and Texans appreciate that.”

During the dedication, Perry denied allegations that moving back the tolling date was actually a tactic aimed at increasing his chances of re-election. According to Perry the decision was made by TxDOT to ensure that the tolling plazas are fully operational and accurate.

“It was TxDOT’s decision because we wanted to fully test all the electronic tolling equipment,” said Brian Barth, director of transportation planning and development with the Dallas District Office of TxDOT. “Our concern was that the whole “back office” issue hadn’t been fully tested and we didn’t want to penalize people for that. This is the first time TxDOT’s back office systems are being used.”

Barth did say that the governor’s office called the Texas Highway Commission to ask when TxDOT would begin tolling Highway 121.

Regardless of when the tolling begins, Strayhorn firmly believes that there is no reason to charge a toll for the use of Highway 121.

“As governor I’m going to see to it that this road is never tolled. We have the money. I will make sure that (Highway) 121 remains free,” Strayhorn said. “Texas can have a freeway system that is the envy of the nation.”

Contact staff writer Josh Hixson at or 972-538-2115.

© 2006 Star Community Newspapers :


Central Texans blast TTC-35 in Public Hearings

Thursday, August 31, 2006

"Apparently it doesn't matter how Texans feel about the Trans-Texas Corridor."

Trans-Texas Corridor not solution to traffic congestion

Aug. 31, 2006

The Baylor Lariat
Copyright 2006

Apparently it doesn't matter how Texans feel about the Trans-Texas Corridor. The decision to build has been made by the powers that be.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) held dozens public meetings during the summer in areas that would be affected by the corridor. Most of the people who showed up at the meetings were against it.

Among the public's complaints were the corridor's multibillion-dollar price tag, the several decades it would take to construct and the government's use of eminent domain to acquire the necessary land for the project.

But that's not stopping TxDOT from constructing an incognito corridor east of Austin and calling it state highway 130.

In June, Cintra-Zachry reached an agreement with the state to construct the southern tract of highway 130, a 90-mile road that will connect Georgetown to Seguin.

The highway reportedly was going to end south of Austin at the junction with State Highway 183 because of underfunding, but Cintra-Zachry put up the $1.3 billion to complete the highway. In exchange for financing, constructing and maintaining the highway, Cintra-Zachry will collect a share of tolls for 50 years.

The Trans-Texas Corridor also would be a toll road. Its proposed path runs directly over highway 130. Furthermore, Cintra-Zachry is the same partnership that is developing the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Coincidence? I think not.

The Trans-Texas Corridor would be part of a superhighway stretching from Mexico through the United States to Canada to facilitate the mass transportation of goods between the three countries.

Truck traffic on Interstate 35 has increased dramatically since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in the mid-1990s. Congestion, particularly around Austin, is forcing TxDOT officials to think of an alternative north-south route to ease the burden off I-35.

"We're planning for the next 20 to 50 years," says Gabby Garcia, spokeswoman for the Texas Turnpike Authority Division, which is responsible for planning the corridor. "I-35 is not going to be sufficient to handle the demands of the next generation."

A noble objective, undoubtedly, but here's the rub: According to TxDOT, 47 residences and 18 commercial businesses will be displaced to make way for the Cintra-Zachry portion of highway 130 alone. That's just a 38-mile stretch of highway. How many more homes and businesses would be displaced by the corridor's remaining 400 miles?

Garcia says the impact would not be as severe as some think. TxDOT is looking to incorporate existing roads and railroads to minimize the amount of right-of-way, or expropriated land, the corridor requires.

To the state's credit, it recognizes there is a transportation problem in Texas. However, our resources would be more efficiently applied to upgrading Texas's existing infrastructure.

Instead of usurping thousands of acres from private owners and investing billions of dollars in a superhighway, why not expand I-35 and construct a loop around Austin? The government would not have to acquire as much land and not as many homes and businesses would have to relocate.

That said, highway 130 is a good start, but it should only be used as an alternative route around Austin, not as the future Trans-Texas Corridor.

Joe Dooley is a junior English major from Portland, Texas.

© 2006 The Baylor Lariat:


"It increasingly seems that in Austin, the fix is in."


A Texas two-step

Aug. 31, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

If you believe that 400 pristine acres bordering Eagle Mountain Lake in northwest Tarrant County are destined to become public parkland just because there is overwhelming popular support for such a move, you are a little naive.

Never mind that Tarrant County -- the third-most-populous of Texas' 254 counties with 1.7 million people -- lacks a single state park (even though the state has approximately 110 state parks and natural areas).

Never mind that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission claims that one of its highest priorities is to create more urban parks to serve exploding populations in the state's relentlessly growing metropolitan areas.

Never mind that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department bought the 400-acre Eagle Mountain site a quarter-century ago with the intent of making it a state park.

Never mind that there is ample money available to develop the site as a limited-use, nature-oriented park that would provide badly needed open space and a haven for wildlife in one of the fastest-developing areas in Texas.

Never mind that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department could use already available natural-gas drilling revenues from the site to help pay for the park development. Or that the Tarrant Regional Water District and Tarrant County have offered to buy the property, develop it as a limited-use, nature-oriented park and assume operation of it.

Never mind that there's a huge grassroots push throughout the state to provide much more money -- not less -- for Texas' money-starved, pathetically deteriorated state parks system.

You see, all those things may not matter.

It increasingly seems that in Austin, the fix is in.

It appears that state officials -- most notably Gov. Rick Perry and state Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson -- are leaning strongly toward selling a big chunk of the 400 acres to some developer, who then could carve up the site for high-dollar homes.

In other words, it's all about the money.

As Star-Telegram reporter R.A. Dyer chronicled in a Wednesday story, Perry's office "worked aggressively behind the scenes to facilitate the auction" of the 400 acres "to the highest bidder," according to documents obtained by the newspaper.

One of the scenarios discussed, the article said, was to set aside only 100 acres of the 400-acre site as a "conservation easement" that would not be developed. That would tragically diminish the value of the site as a nature-oriented park and haven for wildlife.

Patterson's office has claimed that Perry has the final say-so on the disposition of the property. Perry's office has claimed that Patterson does. Or is it really some money-hungry developer who has the final say? Who's on first, guys?

Patterson has said outright that he favors turning part of the property into a high-dollar residential development.

With all due respect, Commissioner Patterson, high-dollar homes can be built in lots of places without destroying a precious opportunity to create a highly attractive and badly needed urban park on a site that state taxpayers paid for long ago.

Perry has done nothing but talk out of both sides of his mouth on the issue of not only the proposed Eagle Mountain Lake park but funding for state parks in general.

After the enormous public outcry in recent months about the shortsighted, inexcusable neglect of the state parks system during his tenure as governor, Perry suddenly has been publicly professing to be a parks lover.

But actions speak far louder than words. In reality, Perry's actions -- and lack of such -- as governor have consistently been radically anti-parks, including his thumb-twiddling as the parks system became financially emaciated.

In other words, Perry has virtually zero credibility on parks issues. And only he has the power to change that.

It now looks as if Patterson and/or Perry and/or some unnamed developer might announce the fate of the Eagle Mountain Lake park site shortly after the Nov. 7 election.

How convenient -- and cowardly -- that might prove to be.

Governor, we and other North Texas residents want to know now whether you support preserving all 400 acres of the Eagle Mountain Lake site as parkland. What's your answer?

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


Widespread use of RFID tags is coming.

New technology raises privacy concerns


Gannett News Service
Copyright 2006

WASHINGTON -- Microchips similar to those used to pay highway tolls and enter an office building with a swipe card can also help you assemble an ensemble.

Need a dress shirt to match that new red plaid tie you got for your birthday? BLEEP!

Or how about a 'smart shelf' that catalogues your DVD collection or tells you whether you have the ingredients necessary to make chocolate chip cookies? Or a suitcase that alerts you when you forget to pack your toothbrush?

These are some of the already-possible applications for RFID, radio frequency identification, a technology that is quickly becoming a part of our every day lives.

How it works: Using a microchip as small as grain of rice or about the size of a postage stamp, often with a maze-like antenna configuration, this technology identifies and tracks items.

It's like a barcode, but because it communicates through a radio frequency, it can be scanned faster and from farther away. It also can carry data that can be linked to a database, which can tell you, for example, that you have a blue shirt that would look wonderful with that new tie.

Katherine Albrecht, author of 'Spychips,' said anything that tracks certain items or stores data could be used to compromise security or invade a person's privacy by identifying, without their knowledge, what they are carrying in their purse or have in their living room.

'People could walk around with RFID readers and find out what you paid for your clothing and what is in your bag,' she said. 'That's pretty invasive.'

Already, these tags are used by millions of drivers who pay highway tolls with EZ Pass or Smart Pass; buy gas with Exxon Mobile's Speedpass; pay subway or bus fare with Washington's SmartTrip card; or enter their office building with a keycard.

The technology is used by the Department of Defense to identify airplane and tank parts, Wal-Mart and Procter & Gamble to catalogue pallets and crates of products; and several airports, starting with the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, to track baggage.

'We're right now at the very, very early stages of the technology,' said Rob Atkinson, founder of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. 'As the technology drops in price and as more companies apply it and put it on products, we'll see a lot of new uses.'

Albrecht describes a futuristic world in which RFID tags would be secretly implanted in everything form your new running shoes to the tires on your car. Then readers could be installed in doorways, on highway exit ramps or in public buildings that could instantly read both what you are carrying and where you have been.

Proponents of the technology say any retailer that implants secret RFID tags risks ruining consumer confidence in their product. They also point out that tags must be very close to a reader to be picked up, so it's highly unlikely that a thief could drive past your home with a reader and easily determine whether you have anything valuable.

In the meantime, uses for this technology are multiplying.

Pet owners have RFID tags with contact information imbedded in their animals and humans can now also be implanted with these tags, to store medical data, such as severe allergies.

Amal Graafstra of Bellingham, Wash., gained notoriety for implanting RFID chips in each arm to open his office door, apartment door and turn on his computer.

The travel industry isn't far behind. Great Wolf Lodge in Poconos, Pa., a family resort with an indoor water park, issues guests plastic wristbands with RFID tags that serve as both room key and resort charge card. And, tickets for this year's World Cup in Germany were imbedded with RFID tags to weed out scalpers.

'It's not the cure to cancer, but it's a nice little convenience that makes people's lives a little easier,' Atkinson said.

Tim Heffernan, a policy expert at Symbol Technologies, which makes RFID tags and tag readers, said widespread use of these tags is coming. He says logical places for it to catch on first are at hospitals to monitor patient care and medication, and at airports to track baggage, especially since recent terrorist alerts have increased the number of checked bags.

But concepts like the 'clueless closet' and 'smart shelf' aren't far behind.

To contact Malia Rulon e-mail


Congress, state legislatures taking notice of minichips

WASHINGTON -- As the uses of RFID have increased, so has the attention it's getting from both federal and state lawmakers.

Cincinnati-based, a video surveillance company, was the subject of national news in February when it asked employees to have chips implanted in their arms to gain access to the company's data center instead of using a traditional key card.

The company's president, Sean Darks, and another employee were implanted, but the furor over the concept prompted an Ohio state Sen. Bob Schuler, R-Cincinnati, to introduce a bill to ban involuntary implantation of microchips into employees by private companies or the government.

A similar bill was just signed into law in Wisconsin earlier this year.

Meanwhile, a bill in California would ban the use of RFID chips in driver's licenses and school ID cards.

At the same time, however, the State Department just this month started embedding RFID chips in all new U.S. passports that contain the person's name, sex, date of birth, nationality, photograph and other information, such as blood type and medical history.

Bills pending in several states would require any product with an RFID tag to be labeled so consumers could decide whether to remove the tag or not.

In Washington, Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., launched an RFID Caucus in July to promote the technology, and a bill pending in Congress would require RFID tags to be placed on all bottles of prescription medications to prevent counterfeit drugs from being sold to consumers.

What is RFID?

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a system that wirelessly transmits the identity of a person or product -- using a unique serial number -- through electromagnetic waves.

Components: A transponder (usually a microchip and antenna combined on one chip) is attached to a label or imbedded in a device, product, human or pet. A reader is then used to scan the chip, and a database is used to read the information.

Kinds of chips: An 'active' tag is battery powered and broadcasts a signal that can be read up to 1,500 feet away. A 'passive' tag is not self-powered and can only be activated by a reader, usually within inches or up to 15 feet away.

Common Uses: Tracking products through the distribution system; gaining entry to a car or office building; cataloguing books or videos at a library; tracking baggage; wireless payment at gas stations or on toll roads; identification at resorts, amusement parks or athletic competitions; livestock management; interactive toys.

History: The technology dates to World War II when it was first used to identify friendly aircraft. Over the years, it's mostly been used to track products.

On the Web:, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation., Site by Katherine Albrecht, author of 'Spychips', RFID Journal., Information Technology Industry Council.

© 2006 Gannett News Service:


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ric Williamson: "We're not getting enough feedback."

Still a free ride

Perry says extra grace period needed to debug gear, but toll-road critics call it a political move

Aug. 30, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

COPPELL -- Tarrant County residents who commute to the Dallas area may continue to use the Texas 121 toll road gratis for a couple more months, or maybe longer, Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday.

Toll collection on the area's first all-electronic toll road, which informally opened to traffic in July to give motorists a free test run, was supposed to begin Friday. But the Texas Department of Transportation is still testing the high-tech gantries and camera equipment designed to keep track of vehicles on the road, the governor explained during a speech Tuesday at Coppell Middle School-North.

"Today, I've got good news for you: State Highway 121 will continue to be toll-free throughout the fall," Perry told about 200 supporters during a grand opening ceremony for the six-mile-long toll road connecting Lewisville, Carrollton and Coppell. "That deadline has been extended as the state thoroughly tests the equipment ... and to be absolutely sure the equipment has no bugs."

Once the system is up and running, owners of vehicles with TollTag windshield transponders will have the toll deducted from their accounts as usual. Vehicles without TollTags will have their license plates photographed, and the registered owner will be mailed a bill.

Toll-road critics picketing outside Perry's speech criticized the extra grace period.

"It was postponed until after the election, to delay the battle," said Jeff Harper of Fort Worth, a member of the Independent Texans political group.

But Perry and his supporters said the Nov. 7 election had nothing to do with it.

"I didn't make the decision," Perry said. "The Texas Department of Transportation made the decision, and I stand by it."

Since the road informally opened in mid-July, motorists whose vehicles were photographed have been mailed forms asking them to verify the time and date they used the road. But apparently few motorists are taking the time to mail in their responses, so state officials aren't certain the equipment is working properly.

"We're not getting enough feedback," said Ric Williamson of Weatherford, the Transportation Commission chairman.

It could be as late as January or February before toll collection begins, Williamson said.

Gordon Dickson, 817-685-3816

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


"A shotgun marriage between our two nations appears prearranged."

NAFTA Super Highway

August 30, 2006

By Pat Buchanan
Pittsburgh Tribune Review
Copyright 2006

This is a "mind-boggling concept," exploded Lou Dobbs. It must cause Americans to think our political and academic elites have "gone utterly mad."

What had detonated the mild-mannered CNN anchor?

Dr. Robert Pastor, vice chair of the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on North America, had just appeared before a panel of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations -- to call for erasing all U.S. borders and a merger of the United States, Mexico and Canada in a North American union stretching from Prudhoe Bay to Guatemala. Under the Pastor-CFR plan, the illegal alien invasion would be solved by eliminating America's borders and legalizing the invasion.

"What we need to do," Pastor instructed, "is forge a new North American Community. ... Instead of stopping North Americans on the borders, we ought to provide them with a secure, biometric Border Pass that would ease transit across the border like an E-ZPass permits our cars to speed through tolls."

Speaking in Madrid in 2002, Mexican President Vicente Fox declared: "Our long-range objective is to establish with the United States ... an ensemble of connections and institutions similar to those created by the European Union, with the goal of attending to future themes as important as ... the freedom of movement of capital, goods, services and persons."

Critical element of the Fox post-NAFTA agenda: absolute freedom of movement for persons between Mexico and the U.S. -- a merger of the nations.

To appreciate what Fox, Pastor and the CFR wish America to merge with, consider a few excerpts from the State Department information sheet on Mexico:

"Crime in Mexico continues at high levels, and it is often violent, especially in Mexico City, Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo (and) Acapulco. Low apprehension rates and conviction rates of criminals contribute to the high crime rate.

"Women traveling alone are especially vulnerable. ... Victims ... have been raped, robbed of personal property or abducted. ... Kidnapping, including the kidnapping of non-Mexicans, continues at alarming rates."

When Fox proposed his merger of America and Mexico in a North American Union, Robert Bartley, for 30 years editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, declared him a "visionary" and pledged solidarity: "He (Fox) can rest assured that there is one voice north of the Rio Grande that supports his vision ... this newspaper."

The American people never supported NAFTA, and they are angry over Bush's failure to secure the border -- but a shotgun marriage between our two nations appears prearranged. Central feature: a ten-lane, 400-yard-wide NAFTA Super Highway from the Mexican port of Lazaro Cardenas, up to and across the U.S. border, all the way to Canada. Within the median strip dividing the north and south lanes would be rail lines for both passengers and freight, and oil and gas pipelines.

As author Jerome Corsi describes this Fox-Bush autobahn, container ships from China would unload at Lazaro Cardenas. From there, trucks with Mexican drivers would haul their cargo to a U.S. customs inspection terminal -- in Kansas City, Mo. From there, the trucks would fan out across America or roll on into Canada.

According to Corsi, construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor, the first leg of the NAFTA Super Highway, is to begin next year.

The beneficiaries of this NAFTA Super Highway project would be the contractors who build it and the importers and outlet stores for the Chinese-manufactured goods that would come flooding in. The losers would be U.S. longshoremen, truckers, manufacturers and taxpayers.
The latter would pay the cost of building the highway in Mexico and the U.S., both in dollars and in the lost sovereignty of our once-independent American republic.

Pat Buchanan edits The American Conservative magazine.

© 2006 Pittsburgh Tribune Review :


Gov. Perry's Texas liquidation sale moves to parklands

Documents show Perry pushed for park land sale

Aug. 30, 2006

Associated Press
Copyright 2006

AUSTIN - Despite a growing outcry over the loss of Texas parks, Gov. Rick Perry's office appears to have worked aggressively to facilitate the auction of 400 acres of state park land, according to documents obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The property is at Eagle Mountain Lake near Fort Worth and has become the subject of intense interest by several residential developers.

The governor's proposal would set aside several gas well drilling sites on the land, and the auction would guarantee that only a fourth of it remain green space, according to e-mails and documents obtained through the state's open-records law.

"This is a terrible deal for Texas parks," said Luke Metzger, an advocate with the Austin-based Environment Texas. "Clearly, the governor's office is talking out of both sides of the mouth. On the one hand, Gov. Perry says he wants to create a world-class parks system, but then behind closed doors he's pushing to develop and drill this natural treasure."

A spokeswoman for Perry has said he wants the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the General Land Office to develop a plan for the property that best suits the state's needs. Kathy Walt denied that the governor's office pushed any plan or made recommendations for the site.

Perry and Texas lawmakers have come under fire for shortchanging the parks department, which in recent years has reduced park operations, ordered staff layoffs, and contended with inoperable or deteriorating equipment.

The department bought the 400 acres at Eagle Mountain Lake in 1980. But in December, after the state land office declared it an unused resource, Perry's office authorized its sale. As a condition, Perry's office stipulated that the parks department retain proceeds from the sale and the mineral rights.

Beyond that, whether to proceed with any deal was up to Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, said representatives for the governor's and Patterson's offices.

But in a June 9 e-mail to a political supporter, Patterson said "the final decision on the property will be made by the governor."

In another e-mail, a staffer in Patterson's office wrote: "Expect a call from ... an attorney in the governor's office, who is trying to put together the terms and conditions under which this property could be offered at a bid sale."

In a June 5 e-mail, land office asset manager Hal Croft described a phone call he received from an attorney in the governor's office.

"She called to discuss some plans 'they' have for the disposition of Eagle Mt. Lake. They being the Gov. Office, however it is clear that they have been talking with (the parks department)," Croft wrote.

The "plans" would set aside 100 acres for a conservation easement and reserve several sites for natural gas drilling. At least one well already operates on the park property.

"She (the attorney from the governor's office) said they would like a sealed bid sale on the tract," Croft wrote. "Help, I need some direction!"

On June 12, another land office staffer reported "almost daily calls" from the governor's office.

Walt said the governor's office wanted to clarify how a bid sale on the property would proceed. She said the transaction described in e-mails did not reflect official proposals from Perry or his staffers, but rather an attempt to monitor ongoing proceedings.

"It was not an idea being pushed by the governor's office," Walt said, adding she did not know where it originated.

Croft also discouraged reading too much into the e-mails. He likened the involvement of the governor's office to that of any other interested party.

A spokesman for Patterson said the land office operates independently from the governor's office. The spokesman also noted that selling the land made sense because it had remained unused for more than 25 years and that the parks department could use the proceeds elsewhere.

But Metzger said there would have been plenty of money to develop the land if lawmakers had not diverted tax dollars originally dedicated to Texas parks.

The correspondence also illustrates aggressive behind-the-scenes interest from several developers.

Walt said she did not know whether the governor's office had been contacted by lobbyists or developers.

Further complicating matters is a July 13 letter from parks commission Director Joseph Fitzsimons asking Patterson to delay any transaction for 120 days to pursue a deal that could lead to preserving the property as a park.

The moratorium, which Patterson approved, will delay any deal until the week after the Nov. 7 gubernatorial election. Both Fitzsimons and Perry's office said the timing is coincidental.

© 2006 The Associated Press:


"Perry's deception is going to backfire on Election Day."

A political ploy or a genuine break on SH121 tolls?

Perry says collections' delay till mid-November about bugs, not election

August 30, 2006

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

COPPELL – Gov. Rick Perry unveiled a surprise Tuesday during a formal dedication ceremony for the new State Highway 121 toll road.

Glitches in the all-electronic toll collection system mean motorists won't pay to use the road until at least mid-November, he said.

"Today we've got some great news for you. I am announcing today the state highway will continue to be toll-free throughout the fall, so continue to enjoy that," he said. "I applaud TxDOT, especially since SH121 will become a model for toll roads."

Mr. Perry's political opponents seized on the announcement, labeling it little more than a ploy to curry favor with voters before the Nov. 7 general election. Earlier this summer, Texas Department of Transportation officials said toll collections would begin Friday.

"This delay is just another election-year gimmick," said Laura Stromberg, a spokeswoman for Kinky Friedman, an independent candidate for governor. "Perry underestimates the voters of Texas, but they're smart enough to see through the politics as usual. His deception is going to backfire on Election Day."

State Highway 121 in Denton County, nicknamed the "Golden Corridor" by state transportation leaders, is becoming a campaign battleground for Mr. Perry's plan to build more toll roads in North Texas and across the state.

As Mr. Perry spoke to 200 supporters at Coppell Middle School North, about 10 toll road protesters picketed on the sidewalk.

Protester Gary Maddux of Farmersville said the state started building the Denton County portion of Highway 121 as a freeway and then decided later to charge tolls to raise revenue for other projects.

"Our taxes already paid for it," he said. "The general public is not aware of what's going on."

The other independent candidate for governor, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, has scheduled an anti-toll road rally Thursday next to Highway 121 about a mile from where Mr. Perry gave his speech.

"Clearly, they're pushing this problem past the November election," said Mark Sanders, a Strayhorn spokesman. "It's cynical and disrespectful to the voters to not admit this is the truth."

With all the attention on State Highway 121, Democratic candidate Chris Bell also thought about making an appearance on Highway 121 but couldn't fit it into his schedule, said spokeswoman Heather Guntert.

The delay in collecting tolls "seems a little too convenient," Ms. Guntert said. "They're now going to wait until mid-November to charge Texans to drive on Texas roads."

Testing the road's electronic systems could even push back the start of toll collection until January or February, said Ric Williamson, a former Republican state representative who became Mr. Perry's appointee as chairman of the Transportation Department.

Mr. Perry said he stands behind the decision to delay collections. He said the Transportation Department made the decision, not him.

"This is a political season, and I expect to hear everything from my political opponents with the exception of pats on the back," he said. "We make decisions on good public policy. TxDOT makes decisions on good public policy. I'll let the critics stand on the sideline and criticize."
State officials said they could not get all the electronic equipment installed and working by the Sept. 1 deadline. They also said they need time to make sure the billing system works.

With crews still installing overhead structures to hold the high-tech equipment, some delay is probably warranted, said Randy Jennings, founder of

"I don't think some delay is politically motivated, but waiting until after the election is probably politically motivated," Mr. Jennings said.

Highway 121 opened to traffic in early July, giving drivers a direct route between Coppell and north Carrollton. When tolls begin, motorists with toll tags through the state or the North Texas Tollway Authority will pay 75 cents to drive on six miles of the new toll road. A comparable trip in a vehicle without a toll account will cost $1.

The toll road will be the first in Texas without coin baskets or toll plazas. It also will be the first toll road in the nation to feature all-video toll collection. Cameras will read license plates and use that information to deduct toll fees from customer accounts linked to a vehicle's license plate.

For people without toll accounts, cameras will read license plates and send them their bills.


© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Anti-toll press conference: Response to 121 "toll conversion." Alert to Dallas Area Members!

Copyright 2006 members know that along with the pursuit of the Trans-Texas Corridor, TxDOT is also forcing local communities to create more and more toll roads.

Some of those projects were originally planned and developed as free roads, using your tax dollars. The conversion of those projects, just as they open, to toll roads, is a double tax.

A toll is a tax no matter how you cut it.

The latest of these last minute "conversions to toll" is SH 121 in the North Dallas area. The opening ceremonies were held today at Coppell Middle School, 120 Natches Trace, Coppell, Texas, and the VIPs include Rick Perry and Ric Williamson.

Now TxDOT claims a technical problem with the tolling equipment will delay the collection of tolls until after the November election.

On the day that the tolls were set to begin, August 31, an anti-toll press conference will be held at 2:00 pm at the Vista Point Business Park, 405 SH 121, Lewisville, featured speakers will be organizer Randy Jennings, founder of, and Texas State Comptroller Carole
Keeton Strayhorn, Independent Candidate for Governor. members who attend these events will draw attention to the opposition to these projects. There will be a lot of media at each event. Show them what we think about double-tax toll conversion, let Rick and Ric know we don't like the idea and support our anti-toll friends in the SH 121 area on Thursday, August 31, at 2:00pm in Lewisville.

2:00 pm Thursday August 31
Vista Point Business Park
405 SH-121, Lewisville

© 2006 CorridorWatch


"It is a cash cow machine they're putting in place, and it has nothing to do with transportation."

North Texas Toll Road Opens To Controversy

Aug 29, 2006

Robbie Owens Reporting
CBS 11 News
Copyright 2006

COPPELL Tuesday marked the official opening of the new State Highway 121 Bypass. The stretch of road runs from north of Denton Creek to east of FM 2281, through Carrollton, Lewisville and Coppell.

Governor Rick Perry was on hand for the dedication. He said that the public/private partnership is a model for the state's future infrastructure needs. "There is not a highway fairy that will come and some way magically make highways appear. You can either pay for them with tax dollars or you can pay with tolls," Perry said.

North Texas drivers will have at least two more months of free driving on the highway before toll collection begins, however, the delay has done little to silence the highway's critics.

"They have not made their case," said Linda Curtis. She opposes the toll road. "It is a cash cow machine they're putting in place, and it has nothing to do with transportation."

Officials will not collect tolls until the middle of November or later. Governor Perry says that this decision was not influenced by critics or politicians, but rather, it was decided upon by the Texas Department of Transportation. They are in no hurry to begin tolling.

"It may be January of February [before tolling begins]," said TxDOT chair Ric Williamson. "We're not going to start collecting people's money until we know it works."

Critics of the tolling say that taxpayers have already paid for the road's construction, and that it is not right to charge them again to drive on the highway.

However, transportation officials have made themselves very clear. Toll roads are here to stay, and looking forward, there will be a lot more of them.

"The fact of the matter is," said Perry, "there is no such thing as a free road."

© 2006 (CBS 11 News) MMVI, CBS Stations Group of Texas:


"I think the whole deal stinks."

Perry Announces Toll On Hold For S.H. 121

Governor Says Toll Equipment Needs Further Tests

August 29, 2006
Copyright 2006

COPPELL, Texas -- Gov. Rick Perry announced on Tuesday that a plan to begin collecting tolls on state Highway 121 on Sept. 1 is being put on hold.

Perry said tolls will not be collected on the busy highway until after this fall so that the high-tech equipment used to charge drivers can be further tested.

Perry spoke Tuesday morning at Coppell Middle School while taking part in a ceremony dedicating the new highway.

Demonstrators on hand during the ceremony said they were outraged that they were now being asked to pay to use the 6-mile stretch of road.

"Why should we give money to Spain if we couldn't do it ourselves. It seems like Texans are smart enough -- if they want a toll road to fund it, build it and not send the money to Spain. No. 2, why is the contract hidden -- secret? What sort of special deal does Rick Perry have? So, I think the whole deal stinks," said opponent Russ Russell.

Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, said his commission decided to delay tolls to test the system and that tolling may not begin until January or even February.

© 2006 NBC Universal, Inc. :


"What happened to the protection from eminent domain that our state leaders promised?"

Swath across this state

August 29, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

What happened to the protection from eminent domain that our state leaders promised after the Supreme Court ruling in Kelo vs. New London?

In our area alone, eminent domain has been or will be used for such private developments as the Dallas Cowboys stadium and the Trinity River Vision. Now it appears that it could be my family's turn with the Trans-Texas Corridor toll road.

My grandfather owned two cotton gins in Belfalls and Oenaville from the 1930s through the 1970s. My mother proudly owns two farms in the same area.

I'm stunned by the massive amount of acreage (more than 1 million acres) that the Trans-Texas Corridor would carve out and destroy across the state. If Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Department of Transportation really wanted feedback on the environmental impact, even the most simple-minded citizen could list about a thousand reasons why concrete, machinery and pollution will destroy fertile farmland.

Thousands of homes, farms, businesses, schools, waterways and cemeteries are in the path of this pork-barrel project. The key to my family's keeping our land is getting rid of this hare-brained scheme and ending the abuse of eminent domain.

We don't want toll roads, we despise taking farmland and pouring concrete, and we're disgusted that our land will belong to a private company from Spain.

Linda Lancaster, Arlington

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


Rick Perry's park land liquidation sale timeline

Park timeline

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

* 1980: The state buys 400.7 acres on the west side of Farm Road 1220, just northwest of Fort Worth, for $3.9 million. But citing a lack of funding, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department never develops the land.

* September 2005: Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson declares the property as an unused state resource and recommends its sale. “With 2.5 miles of waterfront, there has been much interest in this property for many years,” the General Land Office states in a report.

* Dec. 19, 2005: Gov Rick Perry’s office authorizes the sale of the property, but stipulates that proceeds be deposited with the parks department and that the state retain the mineral rights.

* June 5, 2006: An attorney for the governor’s office outlines a proposal under which the property would be sold to the highest bidder, according to internal e-mail correspondence at the land office.

* June 9, 2006: Patterson writes in an e-mail that “the final decision on the property will be made by the governor.”

* June 12, 2006: A staffer at the land office reports getting “almost daily calls” from the governor’s office “to start putting together the conditions of the sale.”

* July 13, 2006: State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, holds a town-hall meeting in which he expresses support for preserving all 400 acres as parkland. Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Chairman Joseph Fitzsimons, requests a 120-day delay on any sale of the property.

* Aug. 28, 2006: The governor’s office distances Perry from any proposed deal on the Eagle Mountain Lake site, saying Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has the final word. “The general land office is the agency that’s responsible,” Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt says.

SOURCES: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas General Land Office and Star-Telegram archives.

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


Governor Perry's Texas liquidation sale continues..

Perry pushed for land auction

Aug. 29, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry’s office worked aggressively behind the scenes to facilitate the auction of 400 acres of state parkland in Tarrant County to the highest bidder — despite growing outcry over the loss of Texas parks — according to documents obtained by the Star-Telegram.

While publicly distancing itself from the dealings, the governor’s office appears to have privately pushed for an auction that would guarantee that only one-fourth of the property remained green space, according to e-mails and documents obtained through the state’s open-records law.
The governor’s proposal would also set aside several gas well drilling sites on the 400 acres, according to the documents. The property is at Eagle Mountain Lake, just northwest of Fort Worth, and has become the subject of intense interest by several residential developers.

“This is a terrible deal for Texas parks,” said Luke Metzger, an advocate with the Austin-based Environment Texas. “Clearly, the governor’s office is talking out of both sides of the mouth — on the one hand, Governor Perry says he wants to create a world-class parks system, but then behind closed doors he’s pushing to develop and drill this natural treasure.”

A spokeswoman for Perry has said that the governor wants the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the General Land Office to come up with a plan for the property that best suits the state’s needs. She denied that the governor’s office pushed any plan or made any recommendations for the site.

“We’re monitoring the situation,” spokeswoman Kathy Walt said.

Park Problems

Perry and Texas lawmakers have come under fire for shortchanging the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which in recent years has reduced park operations, ordered staff layoffs, and contended with inoperable or deteriorating equipment. Under Perry’s tenure, state spending on parks has gone down while state spending overall has gone up.

Perry has also signed off on budgets that redirected tens of millions of dollars away from the parks department to other state agencies. At the same time, the land at Eagle Mountain Lake has remained undeveloped, the result of pervasive budget shortfalls, agency officials say.

The parks department bought the 400 acres at Eagle Mountain Lake in 1980. But in late December, after the state land office declared it an unused state resource, Perry’s office authorized its sale. As a condition, Perry’s office stipulated that the parks department retain proceeds from the sale and the mineral rights.

Beyond that, whether to go forward with any deal was up to Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, said representatives for both the governor’s and Patterson’s offices. “He [Patterson] makes those decisions,” Walt said. She made similar assertions in a Aug. 22 article in the Star-Telegram.

But in a June 9 e-mail to a political supporter, Patterson said “the final decision on the property will be made by the governor.” In the same e-mail, Patterson wrote, “I hope to have the governor’s decision by summer’s end, and we could paper the deal very quickly after that.”

In another e-mail, a staffer in Patterson’s office writes: “Expect a call from . . . an attorney in the governor’s office, who is trying to put together the terms and conditions under which this property could be offered at a bid sale.”

In a June 5 e-mail, land office Asset Manager Hal Croft describes a phone call he received from an attorney in the governor’s office.

“She called to discuss some plans ‘they’ have for the disposition of Eagle Mt. Lake. They being the Governor Office, however it is clear that they have been talking with [the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department],” Croft wrote.

The “plans” he described in that e-mail would set aside 100 acres for a conservation easement and reserve several sites for natural gas drilling. At least one well already operates on the park property.

“She [the attorney from the governor’s office] said they would like a sealed bid sale on the tract,” Croft wrote. He concluded with a plea for assistance. “Help, I need some direction!”

On June 12, another land office staffer reports “almost daily calls” from the governor’s office.

Walt, the Perry representative, said the governor’s office wanted to clarify how a bid sale on the property would proceed. She said the transaction described in several e-mails did not reflect official proposals from Perry or his staffers, but rather an attempt to monitor ongoing proceedings at the land office.

“It was not an idea being pushed by the governor’s office. I don’t know where it originated. I don’t know if the proposal had been made by an outside party,” Walt said.

Croft also discouraged reading too much into the e-mails. He likened the involvement of the governor’s office to that of any other interested party. “We received many phone calls from people who have given us their opinion,” he said.

A spokesman for Patterson — who was out of the country Tuesday — said the land office operates independently from the governor’s office.

Land unused

The land office spokesman also noted that selling the Eagle Mountain Lake acreage made sense because it had remained unused for more than 25 years and that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department could use the proceeds to buy more parkland elsewhere.

But Metzger, of Environment Texas, calls that argument disingenuous. He said there would have been plenty of money to develop the land if lawmakers had not diverted tax dollars originally dedicated to Texas parks.

“We’ve seen the tremendous public support for parks over the last few months. Texans want more, not less, parkland,” Metzger said. “The money is available to protect existing parks and create new ones. We don’t need to make this kind of shady deal.”

The correspondence also illustrates aggressive behind-the-scenes interest from several developers.

At one point, land office staffers appeared to have become flummoxed by an apparently unexpected $250,000 earnest money check sent to the agency by Fort Worth’s Mira Vista Development Corp.

In a May 24 letter, Mira Vista Vice President Thomas Nezworski urged land office staffers to “proceed with an actual sale in a timely manner in 2006 so as to preserve the maximum value of this asset.”

The company also sent a $10 million purchase contract, according to the e-mail. The check was returned to the developer.

Nezworski could not be reached for comment.

Lobbyist Jay Stewart also said he contacted the parks department, the land office and state lawmakers about the Eagle Mountain Lake site on behalf of Southlake developer Terry Wilkerson. Stewart works for the lobby firm of former U.S. Rep. Kent Hance, who is also registered as a lobbyist for Wilkerson’s development firm.

“We hope there is an open process and that this property is put up for the good of parks and wildlife and the state and it’s put up for honest bid,” Stewart said.

Walt, the Perry spokeswoman, said she did not know whether the governor’s office had been contacted by lobbyists or developers interested in the property.

Further complicating matters is a July 13 letter from parks commission Director Joseph Fitzsimons in which he asks Patterson to delay any transaction for 120 days.

Fitzsimons, a Perry appointee, said he wants to use the time to pursue a deal that could lead to the preservation of the property as a park.

However, the 120-day moratorium, which Patterson approved, will delay any deal until the week after the Nov. 7 gubernatorial election. Both Fitzsimons and Perry’s office said the timing is coincidental.

“One hundred and twenty days is a normal study period, but it may take less time than that,” Walt said.

R.A. Dyer, 512-476-4294

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


"This will not only cripple the economy, it'll tax people into bankruptcy."

Transportation plan worries board


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

Members of a local transportation planning board found it too difficult Monday to sign off on what essentially is an imaginary check for all the money needed for the next 25 years.

Some Metropolitan Planning Organization board members voiced concerns about community opposition to planned toll roads, and another complained about public transit getting just a brief mention in the 2030 needs-based plan.

The board, comprising 19 elected officials and staff members from area cities, agencies and the county, voted 9-2 to postpone the already-late Texas Metropolitan Mobility Plan another month. It was due at the state Aug. 1.

"We have a number of things that need to be sorted out," said board member Sidney Ordway, who represents VIA Metropolitan Transit.

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson wanted references to the Trans-Texas Corridor — a statewide network of toll lanes, railways and utility lines — taken out of the plan.

"It's a poison pill," he said. "As an elected official, I can tell you we're on the firing line."

City Councilwoman Elena Guajardo said she was bothered that the document didn't mention an ongoing public debate over nearly 75 miles of proposed toll roads.

"I find that a little disheartening," she said.

VIA board member Melissa Castro-Killen said she wasn't happy that the 38-page plan only had half a page for transit.

"I was highly, highly offended," she said.

Alamo Area Council of Governments Director Al Notzon questioned why light rail and streetcars aren't in the plan.

Other board members, even some who agreed to table the matter, said the plan doesn't lock the organization into anything, but rather lists possibilities and what the needs are.

"We need to be open and prepare to look at all options," said City Councilman Richard Perez, the board's chairman.

The plan doesn't list projects but instead estimates traffic congestion, the costs to eliminate it and how much of those costs are unmet. The purpose is to find out how big a pot of money would be needed to address the needs.

A draft plan says there's a shortfall of $19 billion through 2030, up from $16.9 billion two years ago because costs were added for rail relocation, bridges, bicycle amenities and sidewalks.

Officials approve specific projects in a different plan — called the Metropolitan Transportation Plan. The 2004 version forecasts $8.2 billion in funds through 2030 — with 25 percent spent on toll roads, 16 percent on new non-toll lanes and 35 percent on transit.

Toll critics say the $19 billion funding gap is a delusion based on an estimate that ignores where road congestion occurs, travel by other modes, high gas prices and different impacts of land development, such as whether patterns are sprawling or compact.

"They need $40,000 from the average family in San Antonio in the next 25 years," said Terri Hall of San Antonio Toll Party. "This will not only cripple the economy, it'll tax people into bankruptcy."

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News:


Monday, August 28, 2006

"Perry and TxDOT have gone out of their way to limit public input and belittle the thousands of Texans."

Can’t breathe? Take the TTC to OKC

August 28, 2006

Patrick Barkman
Cleburne Times Review
Copyrigh t2005

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
— Genesis 2:15

Environmentalism as a political movement owes its existence to the Republican Party.

It was the last good Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote, “Defenders of the short-sighted men who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things sometimes seek to champion them by saying, ‘The game belongs to the people.’ So it does; and not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose and method.”

Roosevelt also said, “The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others.” The Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, were all signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1970. It is, therefore, surprising and disappointing to see the extent to which the GOP has become the party of “greed and selfishness.”

I would pay good money to see the Bush administration merely ignore the environment; instead, from the moment he took office, George W. Bush has declared war on America’s natural resources, wildlife and wilderness areas. From his insistence on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (the last sliver of Alaska’s North Shore not already open to exploration), to expanded drilling, mining and logging on public lands (all heavily subsidized by the taxpayer), to his plan to privatize the National Park Service, Bush has consistently worked to rob the “unborn generations” Roosevelt spoke of 90 years ago of their birthright.

Texas has never exactly been on the cutting edge of either conservation or environmentalism.
Our laws are antiquated and obsolete, our enforcement agencies weak, our politicians blatantly for sale.

Gov. Rick Perry, however, is virtually in a class by himself, a failing class.

While our under-funded state parks are literally crumbling, he and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson are working to sell off protected lands.

Patterson in particular has been hard at work trying to spin this auctioning of public resources through double-talk, obfuscation and political hot air. Cleburne State Park was recently “featured” in another newspaper with the dubious honor of being the poster child for the embarrassing reality of the second largest state in the Union’s unwillingness to spend even money already appropriated to keep its parks from falling apart.

Rick Perry’s response? The governor has actually called for more budget cuts for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Perry’s crowning glory, however, is his pet boondoggle, the Trans Texas Corridor, a multi-billion dollar concrete abomination that will pave over 580,000 acres of wilderness and farmland right through the heart of the state, increasing pollution (due to increased traffic), and fragmenting wildlife habitats.

This monstrous toll-road will be operated a foreign (Spanish) corporation, Cintra, which has been granted unprecedented powers to condemn property, including denying citizens the right to a court hearing to determine the fair market value of their land before its seized. Like the new subsidized Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington, the TTC was specifically exempted from new state laws that bar the taking of private property for the benefit of corporations. Even worse, the contract with Cintra contains secret provisions that both the company and the Texas Department of Transportation have refused to disclose, in spite of an attorney general’s opinion that they must.

When U.S. Senate Candidate Barbara Radnofsky pointed out the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars Cintra’s partner, Zachry Construction, has pocketed over the years and the donations they have made to both Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, the company was downright miffed.

How dare the peasants presume to question their betters? Shut up and eat your concrete!

Perry and TxDOT have gone out of their way to limit public input and belittle the thousands of Texans who have turned out at public hearings to voice their overwhelming opposition to this bloated, unwieldy cement trough for funneling special-interest money.

How can Republicans support this? Where are the rabid, paranoid anti-government loonies when you really need them?

Actually, it’s only Rick Perry and his cronies, not even all or most Republicans; both the Democratic and Republican state conventions adopted platforms opposing the TTC.

So, folks, whether you are a tree-hugger, a hunter or just someone who’s developed a fondness for breathable air and drinkable water, it’s time to stand up and make your voice heard.

Decades from now, when our grandchildren have never seen a tree that wasn’t planted in someone’s front yard or a deer outside of the zoo, are they really going to thank us because Mexican trucks can roar from the Rio Grande to the Red River, hauling cheap products north and their jobs south?

Patrick G. Barkman is a Cleburne resident who invites you to comment on this column and enjoy additional wise-crackery and general political incorrectness at his blog,

© 2006 Cleburne Times Review:


Sunday, August 27, 2006

North American Public Pirate Partnerships (PPP): The New Masters of Your Domain

North American PPP 2006: The Infrastructure Finance Conference

“Providing innovative financial solutions to North America’s infrastructure challenges”

Dates: September 19- 20, 2006
The Waldorf-Astoria, New York

Euromoney Seminars
Copyright 2006

The issue of North American shortfall in infrastructure is a serious one. Research estimates that in the US alone $90 billion is required each year just to maintain current standards.

In order to actively improve the network, a cash investment is required that would upgrade transport networks, hospitals, airports, ports, municipal buildings, housing and schools. Federal and state governments alone are not in a position to fund this injection. Going to the municipal bond finance markets is becoming more difficult as public debt grows ever larger. Moreover, an inability to raise funds through higher taxes means public revenue will continue to remain relatively flat.

Step up to the plate PPP…

The US has a long history with the private operation of turnpikes, but the government’s role in the highway system has expanded over the 20th century. As the government’s ability to support road networks becomes strained, it is looking to new and old methods of financing upgrades.

America has been slower to adapt concession-based PPP structures than other OECD countries.

The time is right for all this to change. In recent years there have been a number of landmark PPP transactions in the US and Canada, most notably the Chicago Skyway, Indiana Toll Road, Pocahontas Parkway and the Richmond to Vancouver rail link.

This has proved that PPP can work. It is important now that the deal flow begins to increase and transaction time speeds up. Already 20 US states have legislation compatible with PPP and more are coming on board all the time. However, so far only 4 states have successfully concluded deals - the potential for the project finance community remains immense.

Be a part of this exciting market as it develops and book now.

Confirmed speakers include:
• Tyler Duvall, Assistant Secretary, Transportation Policy, US DOT
• Barbara Reese, CFO, Virginia DOT
• Kenneth Newman, CFO, Wisconsin DOT
• Lowell Epp, Director, Capital Markets, Alberta Finance
• Cedric Grant, Deputy Secretary, Louisiana DOT
• Lowell Clary, Assistant Secretary, Florida DOT
• Kirk Avila, Treasurer and Public Finance Manager, Orange County Transportation Authority
• Art James, Innovative Partnerships Project Director, Oregon DOT
• Darryl Jordan, Deputy Executive Director and Project Manager, Alaska DOT
• Dana Levenson, CFO, City of Chicago
• Michael Whalen, Managing Director, Project Finance, Americas, HSBC
• Stephen Howard, Senior Vice President, Lehman Brothers
• Saad Rafi, Partner, Deloitte & Touche LLP
• Robert Vitale, Partner, Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP
• Alec Montgomery, Managing Director, Project Finance, Americas, The Royal Bank of Scotland
• Kent Rowey, Partner, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP
• Ryan Kitchell, Public Finance Director, Indiana State
• Jose M. Lopez de Fuentes, Director, USA and Latin America, Cintra
• Larry Blain, CEO, Partnerships BC
• Michael Kulper, Senior Vice President, Transurban
• Dennis Galligan, Executive Vice President, Balfour Beatty Construction
• Jon Engelke, Senior Program Director, Earth Tech Inc
• Robert Prieto, Senior Vice President, Fluor Corporation
• Borja Gari Mansuri, Subdirector Internacional, Acciona Concesiones
• Bob Shulock, Vice President, Transportation Principal, Hatch Mott MacDonald
• Michael Kulper, Senior Vice President, Transurban
• Senior Representative, Parsons
• Francisco Fernandez Lafluente, Senior Director, Dragados
• Senior Representative, Bechtel
• Mark Florian, Managing Director, Goldman Sachs
• Oscar de Buen, Head of Toll Roads Unit, Government of Mexico
• Mark Weisdorf, Managing Director, Infrastructure Investment, JPMorgan Asset

• Jeff Murphy, Vice President, Infrastructure Investment, RREEF
• Julia Prescot, Senior Investment Director, Meridiam Infrastructure
• Barry Gold, Managing Director, Carlyle Group
• Christopher Lee, Managing Director, AIG Highstar Capital
• Corinne Namblard, CEO, Galaxy Fund
• Michael Replogle, Transportation Director, Environmental Defense
• Daniel Mathews, Partner, Global Finance, Orrick
• John Schmidt, Partner, Mayer Brown Rowe and Maw
• David Slade, Partner, Allen & Overy
• Pamela Bailey-Campbell, Market Leader, Public-Private Initiatives, Vice President, Parsons Brinckerhoff

Co-lead sponsors: HSBC & ORRICK



© 2006 Euromoney Seminars: