Saturday, October 14, 2006

Houstonians were allowed to vote on their toll roads. Austinites were not.

Houston on tollways: We have no problem

Turnpikes in Houston financially healthy, popular, and cited by Austin tollway supporters.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

HOUSTON — There's a story told around here about A.J. Foyt and Houston traffic.

Foyt, the race car driver pretty much synonymous with speed on four wheels, came to town in the 1970s and as part of a radio station promotion took a lap around the still-new Loop 610 in traffic. It took him, so the story goes, an hour and a half to drive that 38 miles. That's about 25 miles per hour.

Limo driver Paul Hanrath, like many Houstonians, uses tollways daily. He passes the fees to customers, who are happy to pay for the convenience.

Cars paying with cash at Houston's toll plazas pay 25 cents more than drivers with EZ Tags. More than a million city drivers use the toll tag, which is similar to the TxTag available to Central Texas drivers. Some tollways will open in Central Texas on Nov. 1.

"I guess they took heed of that, and that's why they've built so many roads since then," says Paul Hanrath, a professional driver himself. In Hanrath's case, the vehicle is a Lincoln Town Car, not an open-wheel racer, and the mission is providing limo service, not winning Indy.

Perhaps the Foyt tale has ripened with time. But Houston traffic, as anyone who ever spent a few hours there knows, is definitely real.

Given that, maybe success was predictable for Houston toll roads, which got an 18-year head start on the Austin tollways opening next month.

The 108-mile tollway system last year turned a $137 million profit, and more than 1 million cars are driving around Greater Houston with EZ Tags, the electronic windshield sticker that allows drivers to pay without cash and without slowing down.

Every weekday, about 1.2 million times a day, a car passes one of the tolling stations set up on the Harris County Toll Road Authority's four roads. Had Harris County leaders not pushed for the system in 1983, persuading voters by a 7-3 ratio to go along, it's likely that a sizeable portion of those 108 miles of highway would still be just lines on Texas Department of Transportation maps. And that those million or so car trips would be occurring on Interstate 10, Interstate 45, U.S. 59 or other Houston free roads.

As Central Texas prepares to enter its own tolling age — kicking and screaming to a degree, especially over toll plans for some expansions of existing roads, and unsure of how many people will use the system — the Houston experience indicates at least that some Texans will buy tollways if the product meets a demonstrated need for speed.

"Toll roads are not really controversial here because everyone loves to drive," says Hanrath, who puts in about 100,000 miles a year, about 80 percent of that on the toll roads. "Anything that gives them another option or speeds up their commute, people are willing to pay for the privilege."

His monthly EZ Tag bill is about $150, most of which he passes on directly to customers.

"They'd rather spend an extra 10 minutes with their client before heading back to the airport and pay $2 for the toll road," Hanrath says.

Unlike many of Hanrath's clients, Janet Schell can't slap her toll charges onto an expense account. And the fourth-grade teacher isn't exactly swimming in disposable cash. Even so, she finally broke down last month and came to the EZ Tag store on the Sam Houston Tollway's southern stretch to get herself a toll tag.

"I'm very frugal," Schell said. "But I have to do early morning duty (at school) and be there by 7:20. And traffic is a bear."

Schell, who lives in Clear Lake southeast of Houston and commutes about 15 miles to work near Hobby Airport, estimates using the tollway and the tag, rather than sitting in the cash line, will save her five or six minutes and cost her 75 cents each morning. She's decided to give herself that extra time as a birthday present.

"Here's the bad part," she says, contemplating the opening of a transportation Pandora's Box when she's not on her way to work. "Now that I have the toll tag, I'll probably take the tollway more."

Toll road evolution

State Sen. Jon Lindsay, who as Harris County judge was credited with pretty much willing the toll road system into existence in the 1980s, says no one was certain that toll roads would work. His commissioners court colleagues, he says, were lukewarm to the idea, especially about issuing $900 million in bonds that, if toll revenue fell short, could have sapped county property taxes.

But voters approved creating the toll road authority and borrowing the money. The authority has never had to use property taxes, contributes $20 million a year for other county road projects and has about $650 million stowed away in various accounts.

"If TxDOT had known this was going to do this, do you really think they'd have let us do it?" says Edwin Harrison, the Harris County finance director. "No, they'd have done it themselves and taken the money."

Houston is not Austin, of course. The Houston metro area has 5.3 million people, more than three times Greater Austin's 1.5 million.

Then there's the basic mind-set. Houstonians, utilitarian sorts by and large, care mostly about getting it done, not so much about how. The town's lack of zoning laws is the most famous example of this let-it-be approach. Austinites, gifted with a more scenic area, tend to fret more about what might grow from growth. Highways in Houston are a blessing. Here, for many, they're a mixed blessing, at best.

So, it's hard to know how much credence to give the Houston tollway experience when pondering how Austinites will react.

And then there's the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which, although it has just two toll roads now, both of them heavily used, has an even longer toll road history. What is now Interstate 30 between Dallas and Fort Worth, a free road, was for several decades a tollway. When the debt was paid off, the tolls went away.

Toll roads supporters in Austin, at least, think what has occurred in Houston (and to a lesser extent, Dallas-Fort Worth) is highly relevant. Over and over during the past three years, they have talked about how toll roads could be an "economic engine," eventually churning out hundreds of millions of dollars for roads and rail projects in Central Texas. Just like in Houston, they say.

The Harris County toll authority, after building most of an outer beltway called the Sam Houston Tollway and the Hardy Toll Road to the north suburbs in the early years, added the Westpark Tollway to western Harris County last year. The four-lane road was an instant success and already is jammed at rush hour. Yvette Scheiber, a mom who runs a foundation from her Richmond home, now can't imagine living without it.

"Now everybody takes it," said Scheiber, who uses it twice a day to take her daughter to and from school inside Loop 610. "I would say at least 50 percent to 60 percent of the people I know have toll tags and use them every day.

The main blemish on the Houston toll road picture is the first road that opened, the Hardy. It was originally expected to bring in 80 percent of the money and the Sam Houston Tollway just 20 percent.

It worked out just the opposite, Lindsay said. Since the first section opened in 1987, the Hardy, flanked by free competitors I-45 and U.S. 59 heading north from Loop 610, has brought in $366.6 million in total revenue. Meanwhile, the 61 miles of the Sam Houston, some of which didn't open until 1997, have ginned up $2.2 billion.

The Sam Houston has prospered despite free frontage roads flanking its entire 61 miles, a handy competitor for the toll lanes that, in theory, could seriously dampen revenue. The Austin toll roads opening this year and next have free frontage roads in some places, generally near interchanges with crossing roads. But a controversial second phase of five toll roads planned in Austin would have continuous, free frontage roads like the Sam Houston.

Toll road critics have speculated that the free frontage roads would cause the Austin toll roads to fail financially. The experience with the Sam Houston contradicts that. The road has already produced more than three times its $663 million construction cost.

Attitude in Austin

With three toll roads scheduled to open Nov. 1, and a fourth in the spring, one other thing Austin has that Houston didn't is a sour attitude about toll roads.

There was no election for toll roads here, just policy decisions made years ago by engineers and politicians. When that second phase of roads was proposed in 2004, with four toll roads in the first phase already under construction and a fifth planned, Central Texas was suddenly staring at going from no tollways to 10 in a short time, each charging 15 cents to 18 cents a mile, about double what Houstonians are paying. And several of the proposed second-phase roads were actually expansions of current roads.

But the roads that are about to open in Austin aren't part of that controversy. And like some of the Houston tollways, they seem ideally situated to relieve existing congestion. So, what will carry the day: the utility of the new transportation product, or the cost and odor attached to it?

"Austinites — and I don't know how many, but many — have been offended by the greed of wanting to toll roads we've already paid for," says Sal Costello, a graphic designer from Southwest Austin who has led opposition to toll roads in Austin. "The question is, how many people have been turned off already?"

We're about to find out.; 445-3698

How to get a TxTag

Drivers with a TxTag, a windshield sticker with a tiny transponder, will be able to drive toll roads without stopping at booths and will pay 10 percent less than cash customers. The tag is free, but you'll have to establish an account with a credit or debit card and prepay $20 in tolls. You can get a tag by calling (888) 468-9824, going to, or visiting the state's tollway customer service center at 12719 Burnet Road.

© 2006 Austin American-Statesman: www.


'Grandma' airs TV ad highlighting Gov. Perry's TTC Boondoggle

Strayhorn ad attempts to breakdown Perry support


The Associated Press
Copyright 2006

Details of a new television campaign ad from independent gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn:

TITLE: "Beyond"

LENGTH: 30 seconds.

PRODUCER: Alex Castellanos, media consultant; WF of R Inc., media placement.

AIRING: Started Friday in most markets; will be airing statewide by Monday.

SCRIPT: Carole Keeton Strayhorn: "Tolls across Texas?

"Gov. Perry's plan is beyond anything we've ever known. It's the largest land grab in Texas history. A deal to seize more than a half million acres of private property and hand it over to a foreign company, so they can charge us tolls.

"I believe Texas property belongs to Texans, not foreign companies. And I believe we ought to protect our property rights and stop this land grab. Austin doesn't.

"It's time to shake Austin up."

KEY IMAGES: The ad is shot in the same style as all of Strayhorn's have been so far - the candidate wearing a red blouse under a black jacket, standing before a white background and talking to the camera.

ANALYSIS: Gov. Rick Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor has been contentious - farmers and ranchers oppose selling their land for the massive transportation network, drivers oppose having to pay tolls and others have criticized the contractor's European ties. The issue is an easy target for Perry challengers and Strayhorn has led the charge against it. By putting the issue on television, she's taking it directly to voters - who may not have been paying close attention before now - and offering them an alternative. Strayhorn continues to poll below Perry, but she hopes that ads like this will breakdown enough of his support to give her an edge.

FACT CHECK: She calls the project the "largest land grab in Texas history." While the state plan could eventually include as much as 4,000 miles of highway, the state authorized 7,500 miles of farm-to-market roads in 1946. That grew to 35,000 miles in 1962 and included 41,755 miles by 1989. Strayhorn's campaign argues that the farm-to-market road system is still smaller than Perry's corridor because the rural roadways are not as wide as the swath planned for the new highway system.

Strayhorn contends the land will be "handed over to a foreign company." The contractor, Cintra-Zachry, is a consortium made up of Spain-based Cintra investing 65 percent and San Antonio-based Zachry Construction in for 35 percent. They've partnered with 16 other firms, which include two European-based companies.

Texas will own and control the roads, but Cintra-Zachry will maintain the roads and collect the tolls.

Strayhorn herself issued a press release in 2001 saying the Texas Department of Transportation should build more toll roads. Her campaign said she never envisioned such a sweeping toll road plan as Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor plan, adding that the transportation department's budget has increased enough in recent years to build roads without tolls.

Analysis by April Castro, Associated Press writer.

© 2006 The Associated Press:

Associated Press' FACT CHECK Wrong - OCT. 15, 2006

Copyright 2006

The Associated Press released analysis of a campaign ad today erroneously stating that Spain-based Cintra holds a 65-percent equity position in Cintra Zachry LP. That's wrong. The correct equity position is 85-percent with Zachry Construction holding the small 15-percent equity balance. Zachry holds a larger 35-percent position in their collaboration with Cintra on SH-130 segments 5 and 6.

Associated Press also questions the claim, "largest land grab in Texas history." The AP compares the 4,000 miles of the TTC to 41,755 miles of Texas farm-to-market roads (1946-1989).

In doing so they miss the glaring difference of added land being taken for utilities, rail and other purposes. Land taken for farm-to-market (and ranch-to-market) roads range typically from 60-feet to 90-feet in width and many were constructed where roads had already existed. The TTC, with a width of 1,200-feet, requires 13 to 20 times more land than a farm-to-market road. All the farm-to-market roads built over the last 50-years do not consume anywhere near as much land as the TTC.

© 2006


Friday, October 13, 2006

Third 'NAFTA Corridor' in the works

TxDOT to study alternative transportation along Ports-to-Plains


By Eric Finley
The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Copyright 2006

The Texas Department of Transportation director said his department will study alternative transportation possibilities along the Ports-to-Plains corridor, which could lead to additional funding to finish the project.

Michael Behrens said the department will use the same study it used for possible routes of the Trans-Texas Corridor, looking at whether railroads or utility lines could be added to enhance the Ports-to-Plains roadways.

"The study will take about 90 days," Behrens said. "Hopefully we'll have it by midspring."

Behrens made the announcement Thursday at the Ports-to-Plains annual summit in Lubbock.

The project has sought funding for the past 10 years to turn existing roads from Laredo to Denver into four- or six-lane divided highways. About half the project has either been completed, under construction or has designs in place. Once construction projects in the Panhandle and New Mexico are complete, the corridor will have four-lane divided highways from San Angelo to Raton, N.M., a distance of about 530 miles.

Eventually, it will link seaports in Mexico with the U.S.-Canadian border.

The Trans-Texas Corridor will be funded primarily through toll roads. Ports-to-Plains uses existing roadways, so tolls aren't an option. Funding has been a concern for the project, since federal gas taxes don't cover the needs of the state and additional federal highway money is hard to come by.

Ports-to-Plains received about $120 million in the most recent federal transportation bill, but organizers are seeking about $2.8 billion to finish the current plans for the project.

That's why Ports-to-Plains president Michael Reeves said alternative funding sources the TxDOT study might turn up are worth pursuing.

"We know the (federal) gas tax isn't providing enough. We should look at doing something different," Reeves said.

Speakers at the conference suggested the route was poised to explode with trucks carrying corn or sorghum for ethanol use, or carrying ethanol from processing plants. The project could gain revenue from leasing rights of way for transmission lines to Interstate 20 and I-10 to carry wind energy to the eastern part of the state.

Communities and counties that support the project are hopeful of the economic benefits the traffic would bring. The American Trucking Association expects another 1 million trucks on U.S. highways in 10 years.

"You can't talk about traffic without talking about economic development," U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, said during the summit's keynote speech.

To comment on this story: 766-8725 766-8717

© 2006 The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Institute for Justice: "The responsible use of eminent domain does not ever involve the purpose of economic development."

N.M. Task Force Hearing Earful On Limiting Eminent Domain Use


By David Bowser
Livestock Weekly
Copyright 2006

VILLAGE OF LOS RANCHOS, N.M. — "No Mas!" was the resounding message of those speaking at the final public comment session of the New Mexico Governor's Task Force on the Responsible Use of Eminent Domain for Economic Development.

The task force will continue to meet weekly through October to hammer out their recommendations, but will accept only written comments from now on. Their recommendations concerning the use of eminent domain in New Mexico are due Nov. 1.

"What this is all about is the Kelo case," says J.D. Bullington, co-chair of the task force, "which was decided by the United States Supreme Court a year ago."

In that case, he says, occupied homes were taken in the state of Connecticut for a redevelopment project. An eminent domain action was brought to take some of those homes for the economic development project.

"The Supreme Court upheld the use of eminent domain in that context, saying that the use was a public purpose," Bullington says. "The use was economic development, so therefore eminent domain could be used to advance that public purpose."

Bullington says there's been a lot of reaction to that case across the nation. He says New Mexico’s governor was concerned that a similar situation might become an issue in New Mexico.

"This task was created and appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson by executive order," Bullington says.

Earlier this year, Richardson became the first governor in the country to veto legislation aimed at limiting eminent domain. The legislation had received overwhelming support in the state House of Representatives.

The New Mexico Legislature passed House Bill 746 during the last legislative session. However, the governor's office maintained that the bill was overly vague and had several loopholes. Richardson vetoed HB 746 on March 7, saying he would appoint a task force to study the problem.

"The governor certainly did not consult me on why he vetoed the bill," said Walter Bradley, the former lieutenant governor and a dairy farmer who serves on the task force.

In June, Richardson formed the 22-member task force, Bradley continued, and every member of the task force is there at his personal expense. The state is not paying them to be there.

"We all have an interest," Bradley says, "and we were all asked to serve on this task force with that interest to get the viewpoint of the public and see exactly what the laws are. Members on this task force are not in a conspiracy as to what the outcome is going to be. There is no vast conspiracy theory on this task force. I don't know any of us who was asked by the governor who was even asked to lean any particular direction."

"We have various views on eminent domain," says Kevin Jackson, mayor of Rio Rancho. "There are different views on this panel, and I think the governor did that for a reason."

"Gov. Richardson wants eminent domain exercised in a responsive fashion here in New Mexico," Bullington says. "He created this task force to study this issue and to take comments. We're open, certainly, to written comments at any time from anyone in the public."

Bullington says the task force is to hear any comments on the use of eminent domain in the economic development context.

"We have been meeting in August and September, basically to take input from experts on all sides of this issue," Bullington says. "We've heard from numerous organizations and individuals on all sides of this issue."

He says all of the task force meetings are open to the public. During October, the meetings will be weekly at the Rodey Law Firm in Albuquerque.

"In the month of October," Bullington says, "we're not going to be taking any more input from professional public speakers. We're going to be working on the recommendations ourselves internally. All our meetings are open to the public. We will not allow public comments at those meetings. We do, however, accept written comments from the public at any time."

In her public comments to the task force, Jennifer Perkins with the Institute for Justice said New Mexico can and should avoid the abuses that she says were apparent in the Kelo case.

"The Institute for Justice is the law firm that represented Susette Kelo and the other Connecticut homeowners in the Kelo v. New London U.S. Supreme Court case," said Perkins.

Perkins said her firm is opposed to using eminent domain for economic development.

"The title of this task force is that you're examining the responsible use of eminent domain for economic development," Perkins said. "We believe very strongly that the responsible use of eminent domain does not ever involve the purpose of economic development. I think that should be a starting point."

Her firm did some research into what they call the abusive use of eminent domain, she said.

"That is where the owner will be a private owner," Perkins said, "and the transfer is from one private owner to another private owner, whether it's an actual condemnation or a threat to use eminent domain as a negotiation tool."

She defined abusive use of eminent domain as using the condemnation proceedings or threat of condemnation to transfer property from one private property owner to another private property owner.

"Before Kelo," Perkins said, "in the 1998-2002 period, there were an average of 2000 documented cases (of eminent domain used to condemn private property for other private uses). In the one year since Kelo, there have been almost 6000 documented cases. That's heartbreaking."

She claimed private property rights are disappearing.

"As Justice O'Connor noted in the Kelo opinion," Perkins said, "the effects of that are not random. They are not falling equally. It falls largely on the poor, the minorities and the elderly."

She said that is what is going to happen in New Mexico if it is not stopped.

Perkins is proposing several legislative changes to New Mexico’s eminent domain law.

"First and foremost," she said, "you should require that eminent domain be for public use and clearly defined public use. Second, remove the blight exception. Bogus blight is a problem everywhere. "

Virtually any property in the state of New Mexico could be declared blighted under the current definition, she contended.

"If the concern is that the government wants the ability to deal with a truly blighted property that causes public health and safety problems, first I would submit that's what the police power and the public nuisance laws are for," Perkins said, "but there is also a power of eminent domain for slum properties. There's no need for blight exception."

Third, Perkins said the burden of proof should be on the government.

"If the government believes that the taking is truly constitutional and the right thing to do, it should not be afraid of proving such in a court of law," Perkins said. "It should not place that burden on a property owner."

Fourth, she said property owners challenging eminent domain takings should be allowed to recover attorney fees.

"I'm an attorney," Perkins said. "I know that most attorneys require as much as $10,000 retainer to take on such a case. You cannot get that money back at the end of the case, regardless of whether or not you are successful. That needs to change. If cities and governments that would like to use the power of eminent domain believe what they are doing is consistent with the Constitution, they should not be afraid of such a provision because they wouldn't have to pay if they're doing the right thing."

Of the some 30 people making comments at the task force meeting, only two appeared to support the use of eminent domain. Many of those speaking were residents of the Rio Grande Valley north of Albuquerque who have watched as half-million and million-dollar homes have sprouted up from ground that was being sold for five dollars down and five dollars a month 50 years ago.

Several speakers from the Rio Grande Valley south of Albuquerque spoke, noting that they could trace their land ownership back to 1600.

While the concerns of the residents of the North Valley revolved around land use, many of the South Valley residents and rural residents were concerned with water rights, particularly pre-1907 water rights that could be taken under eminent domain.

Few of the speakers complained about such traditional uses of eminent domain as building roads or schools, but all appeared concerned about the use of eminent domain to take private property from one individual and sell it to another for development.

Jon Panlener, representing several civic and non-profit groups, noted that states can impose their own rules with regard to eminent domain.

"Last year's landmark ruling in Kelo v. New London," Panlener said, "certainly got everyone's attention."

The Supreme Court, he said, tempered its decision, expressly emphasized that nothing in its opinion precluded any state from placing restrictions on the takings power.

"To date," Panlener said, "twenty-eight states have already passed restrictions on eminent domain."

Howard Hutchinson, speaking on behalf of the Coalition of Arizona and New Mexico Counties, said the board of directors of his organization passed a resolution opposing the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes.

"Ten of those counties are New Mexico counties," Hutchinson said. "They are primarily rural counties."

He said the coalition also endorsed State Representative Al Parks' proposed constitutional amendment during the last legislative session.

"We supported the House Bill that ultimately did pass that was vetoed by the governor," Hutchinson said.

He said the coalition would like to have seen some minor changes to the proposed constitutional amendment.

"We felt that it ought to be more clearly spelled out that true public purposes would be allowed of eminent domain such as utilities and common carriers," Hutchinson said. "We also felt that there should be statutory amendments put in that eliminate the use of blight designations for condemnation of property for economic development, but leaving intact the ability to control nuisance property."

The control of nuisance property does not require a government to condemn that property and transfer the ownership, Hutchinson pointed out.

"You could remedy a nuisance without taking a property," he said.

Being rural counties, Hutchinson said that most of the populations represented by the coalition are engaged in agricultural activities.

"Our primary concern does not focus on municipalities located within our counties, because they typically do not exercise those types of eminent domain activities," Hutchinson said. "We are more concerned with condemnation of water rights, which is allowable under New Mexico law and poses a threat to our agricultural industry and to our rural counties."

© 2006 Livestock Weekly:

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"The release of information helps Perry politically, whether he acknowledges it or not."

Trans-Texas Corridor planning should have trumped politics


Rebeca Chapa
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

It's all out there now.

Hundreds and hundreds of pages of detailed information about one of the largest contracts the state has ever signed with a private consortium.

The Texas Department of Transportation recently released a controversial document that outlines how Cintra-Zachry plans to build and operate toll roads and rail lines across the state.

The project, known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, is a massive undertaking, spanning hundreds of miles and 50 years of profits for the company, a marriage of Spanish and Texas interests.

Gov. Rick Perry, the department and Cintra-Zachry had rightfully come under fire during the past 18 months for refusing to release the details of the contract, despite an attorney general's opinion that the information is public.

They argued that the contract's financial details were too sensitive to release and could have given the company's competitors an unfair advantage.

The delay and eventual release was not intended to hide anything untoward or give him an electoral advantage, Perry said this week at a meeting with the Express-News Editorial Board.

"There is no big secret," said Perry, the project's chief cheerleader. "If we'd waited until December, I doubt there'd be one vote change. I really don't care if there is one vote changed."

I find that hard to believe. The release of information helps Perry politically, whether he acknowledges it or not.

It takes the air out of one of the key weapons that Perry's four gubernatorial opponents have used to bludgeon him throughout the campaign.

Democrat Chris Bell and independents Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman are opposed to the TTC, while Libertarian James Werner does support limited aspects of it.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose office had urged the release, this week called the timing of the announcement "interesting," but stopped short of calling it a political move.

"It may or may not have had anything to do with the election cycle," he said. In his opinion, the release date had more to do with the legal calendar than the upcoming gubernatorial battle.

The case was set to go to trial this week.

But even with the information out, the Trans-Texas Corridor will continue to be a campaign issue, and should be.

We're talking about a major transportation project that will change the way Texans and cargo move across the state.

It's an issue no one can afford to ignore. The Texas population is expected to double by the year 2040. Unless we're all willing to forgo driving our individual cars and start seriously thinking about light rail or other mass transit options, privately financed transportation options have to be considered.

While I'm not crazy about a company profiting for 50 years by maintaining public roads, private investment seems the only realistic way to fund our needs.

Maybe in the future, politicians will look ahead to the state's challenges and deal with them pro-actively rather than reactively. They could raise the gas tax incrementally, for example, rather than hide behind a "voters-will-never-go-for-it" mentality after it's too late.

In other words, maybe political considerations will take a back seat to foresight when it comes to big-ticket items like transportation.

But I doubt it.

Advice for Kinky

It's been a fun ride, but Kinky Friedman has fallen far short of proving his case to the Texas electorate. In the upcoming gubernatorial battle, Friedman seems to have traded a desire to boot the incumbent for 15 more minutes of fame.

If Kinky really believes that Perry no longer belongs in the Governor's Mansion, he'll take Chris Bell's advice — proffered by the Democrat this week — hit the bench and help one of his fellow teammates work to unseat Perry.

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News:


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

D.J. Gribbin, Former National Field Director of the Christian Coalition and counsel to the FHA, works for Macquarie


P3 Toll Roads on the March

Expert Sees 16-25 Concessions Over 2 Years


by Lynn Hume
The Bond Buyer
Copyright 2006

CHICAGO - During the next two years, states will probably award between 16 and 25 concession projects for toll roads to be operated and improved by public-private partnerships, D.J. Gribbin, a division director at Macquarie Holdings Inc., told the bond lawyers meeting Thursday night.

"For 2007, I expect we will see states award six to 10 concession projects," Gribbin, former chief counsel of the Federal Highway Administration until earlier this year, said in a speech to the American College of Bond Counsel. "The following year will be a little busier with between 10 and 15 projects awarded," he said.

"While the number of projects is quite modest, the value of these transactions over the next couple of years could reach $80 billion," Gribbin said.

In such concession projects, a private company signs a long-term lease with a state or local government to operate a toll road in exchange for the right to collect tolls. The government, however, still controls the price of the tolls, and the timing and nature of the improvements to be made on the roads, which are detailed in the agreement.

Macquarie Holdings is an affiliate of Macquarie Bank Ltd., in Australia, which is a provider of investment, advisory, trading, and financial services around the world. Macquarie Infrastructure Group is the leading investor, developer, and operator of transportation concessions - toll roads built and operated through public-private partnerships - in the United States and other developed countries.

Macquarie's concession investments in the United States include the Chicago Skyway - the first privatization of an existing road in the country - the Indiana Toll Road, the Dulles Greenway in northern Virginia, and the South Bay Expressway in San Diego.

So Gribbin, who became Macquarie's first employee in Washington, D.C., in January, and worked on the legal and public policy issues involved in public-private partnerships for eight years before that at the FHA, Koch Industries Inc., and the National Federation of Independent Business, is uniquely qualified to talk about PPPs or P3s, as they are called.

He told the bond lawyers that in the next year, he expects to see six states adopt new P3 legislation allowing for concession toll road projects: New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey, and Delaware.

Gribbin said the U.S. highway system, which began development as long ago as 1794, is "a wonder of the world" but something that most Americans take for granted.

However, many U.S. highways today are failing to keep up with growth. They are over-congested and need repair, he said. Gribbin attributes the failure of highways to two things. First, he said, Americans have stopped building highways. Since 1980, vehicle miles traveled have increased 103% but lane miles have increased by only 5%.

In addition, governments have refused to adequately allocate "rare space" on the highway network, he said. Gribbin explained that "rare space" means rush hour space in which governments could allow commuters to pay tolls and essentially "buy" their way out of congestion.

The solution to highway failures, Gribbin said, is to treat the highway system like the phone system, pipeline systems, and the electricity network - allow the private sector to operate it and price it accordingly.

"While some have been dismissive of the prospects of toll roads in the U.S., the evidence indicates a strong, growing acceptance of this old, but new approach to providing highway infrastructure," Gribbin said.

In a yet-to-be-released study, pbConsult found that during the last 10 years an average of 50 to 75 miles of new, limited-access highways have been constructed each year as toll roads, representing 30% to 40% of all limited-access roads constructed during this decade, he said.

The report also found that 22 states and one territory have moved forward with about 147 new toll road projects since the passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), the highway reauthorization act of 1991. Of these projects, 28 have made it through the environmental process and are either in design or construction, according to the report.

If all of these projects were constructed, they would provide 13,800 new lane miles of capacity at a cost of about $77 billion, Gribbin said.

© 2006 The Bond Buyer:


Monday, October 09, 2006

David Laney to co-chair U.S. Infrastructure Investing Summit in New York City

AMTRAK Chairman to Co-Chair U.S. Infrastructure Investing Summit in NYC

Oct 9, 2006

SURCE: International Quality and Productivity Center (IQPC)
Copyright 2006

NEW YORK -- David Laney, partner at law firm Jackson Walker LLP and current Chairman of the Board at AMTRAK, will co-chair the upcoming U.S. Infrastructure Investing Summit to be hosted by IQPC on October 18-19 in New York City.

Attendees will benefit from Mr. Laney's extensive experience in corporate and partnership commercial and financial transactions in a broad range of industries. His expertise also includes transportation planning, construction and finance, and he is actively involved in the representation clients in connection with State legislative matters. Mr. Laney is pastchairman of the Texas Transportation Commission and a past member of the Texas Turnpike Authority.

Public infrastructure is an emerging asset class that is fast gaining the attention of institutional and private investors alike. Interest stems from the fact that Infrastructure is a long-term, relatively stable asset class that is a unique match to the long-term liabilities of pension funds, endowments, foundations and insurance companies.

Taking place at the Digital Sandbox in New York City, this conference will feature investor- and government-led discussions and bring together other top institutions such as La Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, Goldman Sachs, the City of Chicago, both Virginia and Texas departments of Transportation, Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP. Mr. Laney will co-chair the conference with Richard Ornitz, Chairman of the Americas Infrastructure group at DLA Piper.

Discussions will include:

* Landmark case studies from domestic and international projects

* Various types of infrastructure assets opening up to private investors -- railroads, toll roads, ports, energy, lotteries

* Identifying potential revenue streams and addressing risk factors

* Access to the asset class for large, medium and small investors

* Tax treatment

This summit is organized by the International Quality and Productivity Center (IQPC). To obtain the latest information, contact IQPC at 1-800-882-8684 or visit Please mention registration code PR1 to receive your discount.

SOURCE: IQPC Related links: #

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Copyright © 2006 PR Newswire Association LLC :


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Tolling existing highways: Penny-pinching, targeted taxing or a load of manure?

Toll roads a dishonest way to raise our taxes

October 8, 2006

Yvonne Mintz
The Facts
Copyright 2006

Whether we call it penny-pinching, targeted taxing or a load of manure, the plan to make new lanes on Highway 288 subject to toll fees amounts to nothing more than passing the buck.

We hope taxpayers — better yet voters — are smart enough to see the Texas Department of Transportation’s plan to make most of all new highway projects toll roads for what it is: an in-our-faces consequence of government attempting to sneak through a tax increase.

For a long time now, “holding the line on taxes” has translated to little more than a shell game. Austin or Washington can say it hasn’t raised taxes, can demand its departments turn in zero-sum budgets or spending plans that reflect cuts from what they spent last year, and voters will be satisfied those fiscal conservatives we elected are keeping their campaign promises.

Everybody’s happy.

That is, until the incidentals start creeping in. The sin taxes, the higher fees for visiting a state park, for vehicle registration or for a hunting or fishing license. Or until the services start being cut: reduced hours, staff cuts resulting in longer wait times for services and the like. Or until the sliding tax burden hits taxing entities further down the food chain through unfunded mandates, forcing them to turn to us anyway to make up the difference.

Such is the case here, where a service we used to expect would be paid by the highway department, with some local funding match through taxes and some federal assistance — also our money — now won’t be.

New lanes on Highway 288 that will run from Highway 59 in Houston to CR 60 near Iowa Colony will be constructed as toll roads, county and state officials said. Planning is ongoing and construction could start within five years.

Not to worry, though. Existing lanes will remain free, those in on the plans tell us.

Free? Hardly.

And at what speed will the existing lanes be set? Will they remain 65 mph roads or will those speed limits be lowered to push most of us who travel Highway 288 — which amounts to just about everybody in Brazoria County — to EZ Tag it on the pay lanes?

We’re not alone, though. The Harris County Toll Road Authority director says most new highway projects will be considered as toll roads because of a lack of state funding and a rise in construction costs. That’s even worse news, considering many roads we used to drive on for free (not really) now will expect us to drop a token at the gate.

The plan to toll the roads might be understandable if tolls were collected just to pay off the debt on expanding the roadway and then were ceased, with the roads then going into the state’s maintenance plan so money collected through taxes would be used to fix them.

Tolling might also be acceptable for new, convenience projects like the Grand Parkway superloop long planned to ring Beltway 8 through further flung areas such as Brazoria County.

Few of us, however, will consider improvements to Highway 288 as constituting a new roadway. Rather, it’s an old roadway more people now are using — people whose taxes on gas, property and other purchases we’re constantly told will offset the cost of the infrastructure they use.

Toll roads certainly are acceptable in some cases. However, in this case and others like it, let’s call a tax increase a tax increase. Trying to disguise it as something else would be dishonest.

Today’s editorial was written by Yvonne Mintz, managing editor of The Facts.

© 2006 The Facts.:


Comptroller Candidates: Combs (R): FOR the TTC. Head (D): AGAINST the TTC.

Comptroller rivals far apart on funds


Polly Ross Hughes
San Antonio Express-News Austin Bureau
Copyright 2006

AUSTIN — A former Democratic state lawmaker out of office for a quarter-century is attempting an unlikely comeback against a well-financed Republican veteran in this year's race for Texas' top tax collector.

"Everything's being run by the influence peddlers, lobbyists and king makers," said Democrat Fred Head, 67, of the East Texas town of Athens. "We need to take the government back for the average citizen."

With $0 in campaign funds reported in July, compared with $3.5 million for Republican Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, Head's only successful tactic to grab attention to the race has been, well, novel.

"She needs to come clean with the people of Texas about this pornographic book," he said, referring to Combs' 1990 foray into pulp romance fiction, "A Perfect Match."

Combs, 61, is a West Texas rancher who has worked on Wall Street and as a prosecutor in Dallas. While serving in the Legislature, she championed property rights, and as agriculture commissioner she made national news by banning junk food in Texas public schools.

She said the only person seriously worried about the out-of-print book she wrote long ago as a lark is Head.

"I think it's an interesting indication of his turn of mind," she said. "He's a mystery."

Combs, Head and Libertarian Mike Burris of Austin are vying to replace Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who is leaving the post she's held for nearly eight years to run for governor as an independent.

Beyond tax collection, the comptroller manages state treasury investments and issues warrants to pay state agency bills. Under the Texas Constitution, the comptroller also estimates how much money is available to spend when lawmakers write their two-year budgets.

Strayhorn rankled lawmakers in 2003 when she doubled her estimated budget shortfall to nearly $10 billion just as the Legislature convened. When she blamed lawmakers for holding a spending party, they retaliated by stripping the comptroller's office of key political powers.

Combs said that if elected she wants lawmakers to give her back those powers to conduct performance reviews of state agencies and Texas school districts. She said she'll also review all spending by state agencies, looking for streamlining opportunities to save money.

"Under the authority still vested in the comptroller's office, they have the ability to do what is called expenditure analysis," she said. "The comptroller's office can look at any agency and how it expends funds."

Combs cited state reports indicating that more than $1 billion in state taxes is uncollected. If the comptroller's office can't retrieve the money in 120 days, she said, she'd hire outside firms to collect the money.

Combs has pledged not to accept political donations from individuals or companies with an interest in tax cases before the agency. She has not agreed to retroactively give back money raised during her initial bid for comptroller.

Head, a former state representative who left office in 1981, said his next campaign report, due this week, won't show a huge influx of money into his campaign, adding his race is not about money.

"We have not raised a large amount of money. We don't think that's necessary. We are sick and tired of people buying these offices," he said, adding he thinks state government "is really in bad shape."

The Democrat cites a funding crisis for state parks needing repairs. And he calls the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor toll road project, which Combs supports, a "boondoggle."

Combs said she has sent a letter to highway officials, suggesting they make that project's "footprint" on the state's farms and ranches as undisruptive as possible.

Libertarian Burris, 55, is a certified internal auditor who has worked at the state auditor's office, Texas Workforce Commission and the former Department of Human Services.

He recommends abolishing the portion of property taxes that pays for schools in favor of a consumer tax on sales and services.

"I would not have a voting voice to change any of that," he conceded, "but I would be an advocate for that."

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News: