Saturday, March 10, 2007

Kudos to the 'Daily Light'

‘On TTC coverage’

March 10, 2007

Letters To The Editor
The Waxahachie Daily Light
Copyright 2007

To the Editor,

I would like to commend you on the follow up you have done on the Trans-Texas Corridor topics, and also the work required for the open records info pertaining to Tom Craddick.

It appears the TTC idea is a real boondoggle with no holds barred. I have been a registered civil engineer in Texas since 1958 and the idea certainly provides me with no surface feasibility. The few engineering meetings on this subject which I have attended, furnished me with little or no reason to support the program.

In summary, you appear to be in the top 10 percent of the small paper editors who are presenting meaningful facts on the TTC.

Keep up the good work and very best regards.

W.H. (Houston) Humphries,
Received via e-mail, Fort Worth

© 2007 The Waxahachie Daily Light:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


100 House votes needed to put Kolkhorst’s bill into immediate effect and override Gov. Perry's veto

10th in a series

Pitts backs TTC limits

March 10, 2007

The Waxahachie Daily Light
Copyright 2007

State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, has signed on as co-author of a bill that would have an immediate impact on the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor if passed.

“This legislation has the best success of coming out of this Legislature,” Pitts said of state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst’s House Bill 2772. “It will put a moratorium on the Trans-Texas Corridor and get some answers to a lot of people’s questions.”

Pitts said he also is looking into legislation that would address related issues with eminent domain proceedings.

Several thousand people from across the state recently visited the Capitol, attending a public hearing held by the state Sen. John Carona, R- Dallas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security, as well as a rally on the Capitol steps.

Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, was joined by fellow state Reps. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, and Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, in addressing the crowd on hand for the rally March 2. She said she was filing legislation that would receive bipartisan support - and as of Friday, 61 representatives had signed on her bill from both sides of the aisle.

HB2772 calls for an immediate halt to any further public-private partnerships or comprehensive development agreements. The bill would also enact a two-year moratorium on such agreements and create a study group to look at the issue.

In the Legislature’s other body, state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, is carrying a companion bill, Senate Bill 1267.

Twenty-four other senators, including Sen. Kip Averitt, R-McGregor, whose district includes Ellis County, have signed on as co-authors of the bill, which would provide the two-thirds vote necessary to put the bill’s provisions into immediate effect as well as indicate the ability to override any gubernatorial veto.

At least 100 votes would be required in the House to put Kolkhorst’s bill into immediate effect and also give it the ability to override an expected veto by Gov. Rick Perry, whose signature transportation project is the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The Kolkhorst and Nichols bills join numerous other pieces of legislation filed this session relating to the Trans-Texas Corridor, tolling of public roadways and other transportation-related issues.

In a press release earlier this week, the citizen-based group San Antonio Toll Party described Nichols’ bill and the support it has garnered as demonstrating “a total repudiation of Gov. Rick Perry’s transportation policies.”

Complaints against the Trans-Texas Corridor have ranged from loss of farm and ranch land that has been in families for generations to loss of livelihood, as well as economic devastation for rural Texas. Many people have expressed fears their communities will be bypassed and or cut off by the transportation project that could - if built out completely - include 8,000 miles of roadway criss-crossing the state. Opponents to the project say thousands of acres would be taken from property owners in eminent domain proceedings.

Concerns also have been raised in Texas as to whether or not Perry’s plan is part of a greater plan that would seek to bring about a North American Union comprised of the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor plan would encompass not only lanes for passenger vehicles, but would also bundle lanes for large rigs, freight rail, passenger rail and other utility easements into a bundle that would be 1,200 feet wide.

Texas isn’t the only state seeing opposition within its citizenry relating to transportation projects such as proposed by Perry’s massive transportation plan. Other states are seeing their residents raise concerns that the Trans-Texas Corridor is a harbinger of a potential North American Union they say would result in the loss of U.S. sovereignty. reports 12 statehouses to date have seen legislation filed in opposition to United States participation in a North American Union and a President Bush-supported Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America that has linked the three nations.

The measures filed in the other states - Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Washington - is in various stages of the legislative process in the respective states. Several of the pieces of legislation indicate opposition to “superhighways.”

The Illinois legislation, HJ0029, notes, “Whereas Congressman Ron Paul has written that a key to the SPP plan is an extensive new NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) superhighway under this new ‘partnership,’ a massive highway is being planned to stretch from Canada into Mexico, through the state of Texas … .”

The Montana legislation, HJR25, notes its opposition to a NAFTA superhighway, citing concerns of loss of control of U.S. borders, insurance issues with foreign drivers, increased smuggling opportunities and lack of inspection.

“Whereas a NAFTA superhighway system from the west coast of Mexico through the United States and into Canada has been suggested as part of North American Union and the broader plan to advance the Security and Prosperity Partnership … (and) whereas, a NAFTA superhighway system would be funded by foreign consortiums and controlled by foreign management, which threatens the sovereignty of the United States … (and) whereas, state and local governments throughout the United States would be negatively impacted by the Security and Prosperity Partnership or a North American Union process, such as an open borders vision, eminent domain takings of private property along potential superhighways and increased law enforcement problems along such superhighways … ,” are among issues cited by the Montana House joint resolution.

Also online:

E-mail JoAnn at

© 2007 The Waxahachie Daily

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Friday, March 09, 2007

"No issue has so inflamed passions — and unified such disparate groups — as the current toll-road proposals winding through state government."

Some lawmakers want to delay toll roads, examine alternatives


Carlos Guerra:
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

Over the decades of watching the Legislature, no issue has so inflamed passions — and unified such disparate groups — as the current toll-road proposals winding through state government.

Texas Department of Transportation officials have argued that the state's highway needs greatly exceed what fuel taxes will generate, and the only way to catch up with the traffic congestion is to sell some planned and existing roads to private operators and use the cash to build other roads.

Clearly, the proposal that has most inflamed opponents has been the Trans-Texas Corridor, a massive 50-year project for which the state would seize quarter-mile swaths of land for toll roads with multiple lanes dedicated for autos, others for trucks, and right-of-way for railroads and utility easements.

But after taking the land, the state would turn it over to private operators who pay for construction in exchange for keeping the tolls and other revenues the corridors would generate.

Opposition to those plans grew quickly.

TxDOT was accused of inflating anticipated highway building costs and underestimating projected tax revenue. State officials were also faulted for negotiating in secret.

As opposition to Texas' public-private toll-road plans continue to mount, strong efforts are building in the Legislature to delay the toll project for at least a few years until the plans can be scrutinized more closely and other options can be developed and evaluated.

Whether such measures ever make it out of legislative committees remains to be seen, but even if such a law were to pass, wouldn't Gov. Rick Perry — who introduced TTC plans — simply veto it?

This is an important debate because it addresses a very basic issue: What is the role of government, and when is it appropriate for it to turn important elements of the public infrastructure to private-sector operators?

Other privatization experiments, most notably, the mess that private contractors made of the Child Health Insurance Program, aren't encouraging.

But other related issues must also be addressed, such as the notion that more highway lane-miles will relieve congestion.

We ought to remember how we got to this point.

For decades, Texans bragged about having the nation's finest highways.

That fabled system of well-maintained roads traversed a very different Texas, however, one that was thinly populated and largely rural, dotted with small towns and lots of space. And our few urban areas were small enough that the whole state could be served with a transportation system that relied heavily on two- to four-lane roads, some rudimentary freeways and a railroad system that served national and regional needs.

In time, interstate highways — generously funded with federal dollars — developed into the trunk system where road traffic is now most congested. But along the way, Texas also developed a pretty vast system of small roads that crisscross most of the countryside, and many of which have fueled development.

Now that Texas is the nation's second-most populous state and home of three of the nation's 10-largest cities and several of the country's fastest-growing metropolitan areas, relying solely on building more lane-miles — regardless of how they are funded — is not an option.

We must now incorporate mass transit and intermodal transportation between larger cities into the mix.

It won't be cheap, but the price will rise the longer we put it off.

Now, how to pay for it.

The only thing likely to reduce vehicular congestion that is choking some Texas cities is higher fuel prices. World shortages and instability may hike those prices — or we hike them ourselves by upping fuel taxes and using some of that revenue for alternatives to more asphalt.

To contact Carlos Guerra, call (210) 250-3545 or e-mail
MySA Ad Links

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


Stroock, JPMorgan Asset Management also involved with Cintra in SH 121 toll road deal

Stroock Advises JPMorgan Asset Management in Privatization of Toll Road in Texas


Infobolsa (Spain)
Copyright 2007

Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, a national law firm with offices in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, is representing a private fund advised by JPMorgan Asset Management - Real Estate & Infrastructure in its joint venture with Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, S.A., one of the world s leading private-sector developers of transport infrastructure, to develop Texas State Highway 121 (SH 121) into a toll road in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area.

The privatization proposal made by the Cintra joint venture was selected as the winning bid for the project and approved by the Texas Transportation Commission.

The award of the privatization of SH 121 to the Cintra joint venture is one of the largest toll road transactions in the United States.

"We are very pleased to be represented in this important investment by Stroock, our long-term fund and investment counsel," said Steven Greenspan, JPMorgan Asset Management s Global Director of Product Development.

The transaction provides for a 50-year concession from the Texas Department of Transportation for which the project joint venture will pay $2.1 billion upfront and annual lease payments totaling $700 million.

"Private investment in infrastructure assets is growing in importance as a means of financing the long-term infrastructure needs of state and local governments, and private investment funds are being created specifically for this purpose," said Richard Madris, a partner with Stroock s Private Funds Practice Group.

"We are proud to be representing JPMorgan Asset Management on one of the leading toll road transactions in the United States." The agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation is a public-private partnership that allows the provider to handle all facets of developing the toll road, including completing construction and operating and maintaining the corridor.

Stroock attorneys that advised on this matter include:

Partners: Jeffrey S. Lowenthal, Richard G. Madris, Jeffrey D. Uffner and Mark S.

Associates: Todd Zornik and Adam Scoll.

Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP is a law firm providing transactional and litigation guidance to leading investment banks, investment funds, multinational corporations and entrepreneurial businesses in the U.S.and abroad.

Stroock is one of the country s preeminent real estate and investment management firms.
Stroock s emphasis on client service and innovation has made it one of the nation s leading law firms for 130 years.

Stroock s practice areas include: capital markets/securities, commercial finance, mergers & acquisitions and joint ventures, private equity/venture capital, private funds, derivatives and commodities, employment law and benefits, energy, infrastructure and project finance, entertainment, financial restructuring, financial services litigation, insurance, intellectual property, investment management, litigation, personal client services, real estate, structured finance and tax.

For more information, please visit Stroock s website at

This Stroock press release may contain attorney advertising.
Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

© 2007 Infobolsa:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Converting highways to toll roads and leasing toll roads to private groups will not be enough to fill the revenue gap."

Group calls for increase in U.S. gas tax

March 9, 2007

United Press International
Copyright 2007

WASHINGTON, March 8 (UPI) — A report from a state highway association calls for an increase in the federal gas tax to meet the repair needs of the U.S. interstate highway system.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials group said that by 2009 the cost of planned highway projects will exceed income from gas taxes by $11 billion, and the shortfall could be $19 billion in 2010, reported.

The gas tax, now 18.4 cents per gallon, has not been increased since 1993. The report said that a 3-cent hike by 2009 and another 7-cent increase by 2015 would be needed to to pay for projects that are already in the pipeline.

States are converting some highways to toll roads and leasing toll roads to private groups. However, those measures will not be enough to fill the revenue gap.

But the reality is, no matter how far we try to stretch these resources, we're not even coming close to dealing with the real needs of the critical roads that are the lifeblood of this country, said Pete Rahn of the Missouri Department of Transportation.

© 2007 United Press International

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Giuliani: "Another PPP multi-national opportunist willing to sell out to international toll road companies at the taxpayer's expense."

Macquarie buys Giuliani investment firm

Australian company is leader in leasing U.S. toll roads

March 9, 2007

By Jerome R. Corsi
© 2007

An Australian investment consortium that has been involved in leasing and operating U.S. toll roads now has acquired Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani's Giuliani Capitol Advisors.

It's the latest acquisition by Macquarie, which has been investing in leasing and running U.S. toll roads for some time, and recently has branched out into other industries, including the purchase of American Consolidated Media, which publishes 40 community newspapers and shopping publications in nine Texas and Oklahoma communities, for $80 million.

According to Crain’s reporting in New York, terms of the Giuliani transaction were not disclosed, but experts estimated the business could be valued at some $80 million to $100 million.

Giuliani Capital Advisors, which runs out of an office in Atlanta, Ga., and has about 100 employees, was formed in 2004 with an investment estimated at $8 million to $10 million and the acquisition of Ernst & Young Capital Finance LLC.

The Macquarie Group, with some $140 billion under management worldwide, has been an active player in the move to lease U.S. highways to foreign investment capital firms.

The Federal Highway Administration has documented that Macquarie is a major player in the public-private partnerships that the FHWA is promoting as a future means of developing U.S. highway infrastructure.

According to the FHWA, Macquarie has already participated in the leasing of the Chicago Skyway and the Indiana Toll Road.

Sal Costello, the founder of and a vocal critic of the Texas Department of Transportation plans to build the Trans-Texas Corridor toll road parallel to Interstate 35, told WND that, "Giuliani has to be viewed as just another PPP multi-national opportunist willing to sell out to an international toll road company that seeks to benefit financially at the expense of the taxpayer."

Costello told WND that he sees Giuliani preparing to focus on his presidential campaign and he is concerned that Macquarie is the investment firm Giuliani chose as an acquisition partner.

"Cutting deals and profiting tens of millions from one of the world's largest toll road conglomerates has to be considered 'getting tight' in any circle," Costello told WND.

"How many billions of dollars worth of our public highways will be converted to toll roads leased by foreign investment firms under a President Giuliani?" Costello asked WND.

WND reported on Jan. 29 that Macquarie had acquired American Consolidated Media which publishes the Texas and Oklahoma periodicals. At that time, Costello told WND that, "Macquarie being allowed to buy these newspapers is just another con job. Macquarie is buying our news organization to hide the fact that they are stealing our land."

© 2007 WorldNet Daily:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


TxDOT plans toll road loop for New Braunfels

TxDOT has eyes on Comal loop study


Roger Croteau
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

NEW BRAUNFELS — San Antonio has an outer loop. New Braunfels may get one.

The Texas Department of Transportation has told local officials that the department has hired three consultants to perform a study to find the best route for an outer loop around the city that likely would be a toll road.

"It probably won't happen in my lifetime, but at least we will be ready when it becomes necessary," said Comal County Judge Danny Scheel. "This study doesn't mean we are going to build a loop. It means we can start acquiring land on the route and make sure schools, churches and subdivisions don't get built over it."

The outer loop would require a pair of bridges over the Guadalupe River and would connect to Interstate 35 north of Farm Road 306 on the north side of town and south of Solms on the south end, said TxDOT engineer Michelle Kopp.

"The goal is to have a planning document in about a year," she said. "We have not looked at funds for any portions of the road yet. What this would do is allow local officials to preserve the route."

Kopp said most of the loop would be new roadway and not follow existing roads in the area and it "is being developed with the idea that it would be a toll road."

Scheel said he would never support putting tolls on existing lanes, but he realizes there would likely not be any other way to get funding for the parts of the loop that are new road.

"I'm certainly glad we are moving forward on it," said County Commissioner Jan Kennady.

New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce President Michael Meek said the existing Loop 337, which goes around the west side of I-35 only, has been a boon to the city.

"We've been working for more than 30 years for an eastern loop around the city," he said. "So this is good news. It's a plan whose time has come. TxDOT certainly sees the growth in this area and I applaud them for having that kind of vision."

Meek noted that with no bridges over the Guadalupe River between Interstate 35 and McQueeney, it creates major choke points as all the local traffic on the east side of town has to funnel to I-35 to get to the other side of the river.

"We have tremendous traffic backups on (Texas) 46 because of that," he said.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


Thursday, March 08, 2007

"Many lawmakers question if Texas drivers are being sold down the road."

Effort to limit toll roads gains steam

Legislature: Bill would set two-year moratorium on private partnerships

March 8, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Texas' push toward private toll roads encountered more opposition Wednesday among state lawmakers.

A bill to halt more private toll road deals for two years gained steam in the Texas House a day after a majority of senators expressed their support for the measure. In addition, a key state senator has asked for more information concerning the $2.8 billion State Highway 121 deal recently announced by state officials.

Dozens of state representatives have signed on to the bill that would place a moratorium on any public-private contracts such as the one for Highway 121. The winning bidder, Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte SA, agreed to pay $2.1 billion in upfront money and $700 million over the life of the 50-year contract for the rights to operate the Highway 121 toll road in Collin and Denton counties.

The moratorium bill's House sponsor, Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said a state auditor's critical assessment of toll road financing – coupled with the Highway 121 contract's upfront payment and generous profit margin – has led many lawmakers to question if Texas drivers are being sold down the road.

"I don't think it's too much to ask to take two years to look at contracts that will govern our grandkids 50 years from now," she said.

The bill is aimed at "alarming contracts" being signed for toll roads, lawmakers said. It would eliminate noncompete clauses that could prevent the state from building new roads or maintaining existing ones near a new toll road. It also would put some limits on tolls to ensure they remain reasonable.

Under the proposal, a private company could not collect revenue from or operate a tollway. Nor could a toll project entity such as the North Texas Tollway Authority sell a toll road to a private interest.

In the Senate, at least 25 of the 31 senators have signed onto the bill that is being carried by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville. Before winning election last year, Mr. Nichols served on the Texas Transportation Commission – the five-member board appointed by Gov. Rick Perry that oversees highway policy in the state.

"When a former commissioner of the Texas Department of Transportation and head of the subcommittee on the Trans-Texas Corridor introduces this kind of legislation, it makes a very huge statement that we need to slow down," said Ms. Kolkhorst.

Meanwhile, Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, has asked for more information about another potential bid for Highway 121. In a letter Friday, Mr. Carona asked the North Texas Tollway Authority to compile what would amount to an informal bid for the Highway 121 project. That bid would be used solely for comparison purposes, he said.

The tollway authority will consider Mr. Carona's request at an upcoming board of directors meeting, agency spokeswoman Donna Huerta said.

The tollway authority originally was a bidder for the Highway 121 toll road but dropped out after it reached an agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation about which agencies would build a host of future toll road projects.

Mr. Carona said his request will not affect the state's final negotiations with Cintra but could help lawmakers on future projects.

"We as a committee can analyze what the proposal of NTTA would have been versus that of Cintra," he said. "All we could do would be to analyze the competing bids and try to understand whether the taxpayers received a good bid, and use the results of our analysis for legislation affecting future contracts."

Staff writer Terrence Stutz in Austin contributed to this report. ;

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


"There is something unTexan about these 'Lexus highways.' "

Texas toll roads

Miles to go

Should Texans have to pay to drive?

Mar 8, 2007

The Economist (UK)
Copyright 2007

TEXANS are addicted to aggressive driving. They have made an art form of tailgating, honking and weaving across clogged interstate-highway lanes. Plenty more of this sort of behaviour on the roads lies ahead. By 2030 the state's population is projected to rise by at least 40%, with most growth occurring in the big cities.

Toll roads are the answer, the state has decreed. In the past few months drivers have begun paying to use roads north of Austin. More will open later this year. Other free highways in central Texas could also be converted to tollways, including a popular route to the airport in Austin.

Some tollways are seen as necessary, but not too many. In 2004 one Texan, irked at the prospective tolling of a bridge near his house, founded the Texas Toll Party, which urges people to vote against toll roads. In February a Texas legislator introduced a bill to stop building on all new toll roads planned by the state Department of Transportation until September 2009. “People are frustrated and angry,” says Kirk Watson, a former mayor of Austin, now a state senator. Other bills, including one from Mr Watson, are also circulating.

Critics claim there is something unTexan about these “Lexus highways” (as the chief executive of the American Trucking Associations has dubbed them). But toll-road supporters insist that this is the best way to meet the needs of a fast-growing state. At the moment highways are funded by a motor-fuels (ie, petrol) tax of 20 cents a gallon; a federal motor-fuels tax; and vehicle registration fees. The state petrol tax does not rise with inflation and has not increased since 1991. Just try raising such a tax in the heart of oil country.

An even bigger issue looms. Governor Rick Perry's pet project is the Trans-Texas Corridor, running more than 300 miles (480km) from Dallas to San Antonio, more or less parallel to existing, often-congested Interstate 35. Cars choosing to avoid the interstate could run on tollways. Unlike the recently opened tollways near Austin (which were financed mainly by bonds), these would be operated by private companies. A consortium led by Cintra, a Spanish company, is preparing plans. It is giving Texas $1.2 billion up front for the privilege of developing the corridor, in which it plans to invest $6 billion.

The drone against foreign companies has reached a predictable pitch. An animated YouTube video, prepared before last November's election and now visited more than 33,000 times, warns against allowing moneybag-laden Mr Perry to hand over Texan infrastructure to “foreign robber barons”. The real issue, says Mr Watson, is the tollways' potential effect on existing state roads. Private operators' contracts with the state could include non-compete clauses—or penalties against the state for making improvements to non-toll highways, such as adding lanes. As public roads suffer, more people would be forced onto tollways. Operators, wanting to recoup their investment, could boost prices considerably. The alternatives are a rise in the petrol tax, or eternal congestion.

© 2007 The Economist Newspaper Limited:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Do the Math"


Letters: Driver's-eye view of toll roads

March 8, 2007

A lousy idea only government could love

Re: "Roads Toll for Thee – Cintra-121 deal a key part of commute solution," Sunday Editorials.

Toll roads are an idea so silly and wasteful that only government would embrace them. They cost more to build and operate than a conventional expressway and, due to their size, are twice as ugly.

It's never a good idea to overpay for anything, including something as mundane as roads, notwithstanding all the official gibberish that those who use them should pay for them. Fine. Then make all roads toll roads.

The only prudent method to pay for roads is through a gas tax; the more we drive, the more gas we use and the more tax we pay. The system works unless fraud or incompetence breaks it. Tolls are egregious gas taxes foisted on the unfortunate few who happen to live near one of Texas' tiny number of toll roads.

Now, we see a foreign corporation seize an opportunity to capitalize on government bungling by transforming a toll road into a golden goose. I'm not surprised that The Dallas Morning News embraces this as a good thing – but future motorists will rue the day that our so-called leaders gave foreign business the right to levy and collect taxes on Texans.

Ed Watkins, Plano

Do the math of tolls vs. a higher gasoline tax

At the recent Senate hearings in Austin, one person's testimony pointed out these facts: The toll for a car getting 30 mpg would be approximately 15 cents per mile, which would cost $4.50 to drive 30 miles. With gas at $2.25 per gallon, add the $4.50 for tolls to drive 30 miles. That comes to $6.75 per gallon.

During the 50-year leases, the tolls would increase these numbers dramatically. If the 20-cent per gallon state gas tax were increased by 2,000 percent, the cost of the same trip would add $4 a gallon. Using the same base of $2.25 per gallon, a gallon of gas would go up to $6.25.

The legislators aren't talking about increasing the state gas tax by anything near 2,000 percent. Raise the gas tax a reasonable amount and index it for inflation!

The public-private partnership is becoming increasingly unpopular. We would do better with the state collecting the tolls, rather than private investors. That would give the people of Texas some control over their economic future.

Elaine C. Lee, Farmersville

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


Watson and Krusee team up

Proposed bills would expand city and county land-use powers along Texas 130 in Austin area

Watson launches long-shot bid to allow cities and counties to manage growth in toll road corridor.

March 08, 2007

By Kate Miller Morton
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

Central Texas counties and cities along the Texas 130 toll road would have more power to control and influence development in the fast-growing corridor under legislation soon to be proposed by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

Watson plans to file three bills Friday. The most ambitious would allow Austin to create a special district around the toll road where it could impose its development rules and collect sales and property taxes to pay for roads, streets and utility improvements in the district without being required to provide city services for years.

"It's a combination of two very significant tools," said Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman. "One, it gives the city the ability to do land-use (planning), and the other is it gives the city a revenue stream in order to invest in infrastructure. One without the other wouldn't work."

Watson is also proposing that counties along Texas 130 be granted zoning authority and the ability to levy impact fees and that cities near the toll road be allowed limited-purpose annexations regardless of their size.

The Legislature is notoriously stingy in granting new land-use or taxing powers to cities and counties, and the chances of all three bills passing is far from certain.

A 25-mile segment of Texas 130 runs through Austin's designated future growth area, surrounded by about 174 square miles of the city's extraterritorial jurisdiction, an area nearly 60 percent of the city's current size.

City officials and environmentalists view the area as highly desirable for the type of mixed-use, high density development needed to accommodate the area's rapidly growing population. But the mostly rural area lacks the water, wastewater, and road and utility infrastructure to support that type of development. The city fears the area will be built-out with sprawling, resource-draining suburban subdivisions if the city is not granted land-use controls and funding mechanisms currently unavailable for land not fully annexed into its jurisdiction.

The city estimates that it would cost $2.4 billion in capital improvements to fully annex the 174-square-mile area.

Even a less ambitious annexation of the 42 square miles the city thinks will be developed first would cost an estimated $570 million for water, wastewater, drainage and roads. That estimate assumes Travis County would invest in the major roadways and does not include the cost of providing services such as fire and police protection, libraries and parkland.

Huffman said the cost is driven largely by the distance Austin's services will have to be extended, leapfrogging undeveloped areas closer to the city. The special district would only include the 42 square miles likely to develop first.

The bill has the support of Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, who said he supports the idea of creating a special district because otherwise it will be impossible for Austin to keep up with the infrastructure that is needed to plan for growth around the toll road.

Texas "130 is a special circumstance," Krusee said. "Usually it takes the state decades to build a road of that magnitude that has that sort of impact, and so local governments have time to keep up with construction and to keep up with infrastructure. But when we put over 50 miles of road on the ground in less than five years, the city simply can't keep up with (the growth) under current annexation laws."

Krusee said he knows of no other transportation service districts in the state but also knows of no other case in which so much road has been built in so little time.

"This is a new method of building roads that has been an enormous success for our region. And just as the road building and financial model was different, I think that following up with water, wastewater and local transportation infrastructure also has to be different," Krusee said. "It's important for us to realize that this is a new way of developing."

Krusee said he is open to the idea of allowing other cities to set up their own special districts similar to the one proposed for Austin, but he is reluctant to expand zoning powers to counties that are unprepared for it.

"Right now, I don't see granting zoning powers to counties," Krusee said. "I don't think my county would be interested in taking on that cost burden of hiring staff and gearing up on zoning expertise."; 445-3641

Watson's plan

Special Austin district in the Texas 130 corridor:

•Would allow Austin to create an infrastructure district within 5 miles of Texas 130 and within its extraterritorial jurisdiction.

•Would give the city limited purpose annexation authority over the district, including land-use powers and tools that maximize development potential.

•Would allow the district to collect sales and property taxes to pay for utilities and infrastructure within the district.

•Would forbid any taxation within the district until residents there can vote in at least one City Council election.

Limited purpose annexation for small cities in the Texas 130 corridor:

•Would allow small municipalities to do limited purpose annexation if any of their incorporated territory is located within 15 miles of Texas 130 and of Austin.

Zoning powers for counties in the Texas 130 corridor:

•Would grant counties zoning power exclusively in an area that's within 15 miles of Texas 130 and of Austin.

•The bill would have no effect outside Travis and Williamson counties, nor could it pass over Austin's city limits to affect growth in areas of Travis County far from Texas 130.

•Would grant counties the ability to regulate height, the percentage of a lot that may be occupied, population density, land use and building construction standards.

•Would permit counties to levy impact fees within the 15-mile zone unless cities are already imposing an impact fee there.

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman: www.

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"We must closely evaluate private toll contracts before we sign away half a century of control of our transportation system."

Mayor pushes back on toll ban


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

FORT WORTH -- Interstate 35W, Loop 820 and Airport Freeway would not be expanded until 2015 at the earliest if a two-year ban on toll roads is approved by the state Legislature, area leaders say.

A bill calling for such a ban was filed Tuesday in Austin and has strong support in the Senate.

North Richland Hills Mayor Oscar Trevino says it's time to hold North Texas lawmakers accountable for, he said, joining the anti-toll-road fervor and endangering Metroplex road projects.

The backers

The bill was filed by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and co-signed by 25 of 31 Senate members, including Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, John Carona, R-Dallas, and Royce West, D-Dallas.

"Any senator or state representative who gets on the bandwagon should be told we don't appreciate it. It goes against the region's mobility plan. We're gridlocked," Trevino, chairman of the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition, said Wednesday morning.

While sentiment against toll roads has swirled statewide, particularly about the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, Metroplex leaders have sought toll financing for projects that won't get enough gas-tax funding for many years.

Texas Department of Transportation officials have already mapped out spending for gas-tax money through 2015, and the Tarrant County projects aren't fully funded.

The toll-road argument

But Transportation Department officials say that if they invite private companies to invest money in roads, Tarrant County's projects can be built in just a few years. The agency is seeking private bidders to collect tolls on express lanes on I-35W, Loop 820 and Airport Freeway for up to 50 years.

Privately run toll lanes have also been proposed for the Texas 114/121 DFW Connector project in Grapevine, which is scheduled to be under construction early next year.

Loss of control

But Nichols' bill could halt that work.

"We must closely evaluate private toll contracts before we sign away half a century of control of our transportation system. Many provisions in recent toll contracts are alarming," Nichols said in a statement. "These roads were built with public money for public use. Converting existing roads to toll roads would break a promise to taxpayers. No one should have to worry that the roads they drive on today will be tolled tomorrow. Tolling provides a valuable tool for expansion but should be reserved to add new capacity."

Nichols was a champion of toll roads and privatization when he was on the Texas Transportation Commission from 1997 to 2006.

Hillwood executive Russell Laughlin said Metroplex leaders should ask senators to at least exempt the region's plans from a two-year ban.

Gordon Dickson, 817-685-3816

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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"When the legislation was approved for the TTC we didn’t realize we were giving up all we gave up. We should have asked more questions."

Nelson defends road work delay


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

State Sen. Jane Nelson says road work in Tarrant County may need to be delayed to ensure that the Texas Department of Transportation gets it right.

She’s concerned about contracts with private toll road companies and has cosigned legislation to ban new toll projects for two years.

The Lewisville Republican’s district includes the Texas 114/121 DFW Connector in Grapevine and the 35W/820/183 North Tarrant Express.

Both projects, which would include privately-run toll lanes, are scheduled to be under way next year but would be delayed by a moratorium.

“Yes, we want to unclog our highways,” Nelson said Thursday in a phone interview. “But I am worried that in our haste to get these roads built we are signing them away for the next 50 years. We have no disagreement about our transportation needs. My concern is the rush to toll so many roads without fully understanding what the state is giving up when we enter into these contracts. The more I have learned, the more concerned I have become.”

The roads making up the DFW Connector and North Tarrant Express, which together carry more than a half-million cars per day, have been over capacity for two decades.

Without tolls, Tarrant County leaders say expansion could be delayed until 2015 or longer because of a lack of gas-tax funding.

To fill that gap, the Transportation Department is seeking to hire private companies, who would then use private investment money to build toll express lanes, and collect the tolls for up to 50 years. But the bill cosigned by Nelson would halt those projects, and other toll road proposals, until September 2009.

The bill is authored by state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and cosigned by 25 of 31 senators. Most Metroplex senators signed the bill, although Republican lawmakers Chris Harris of Arlington and Kim Brimer of Fort Worth did not.

Leaders from area cities and counties say supporting the moratorium is tantamount to killing Metroplex toll projects planned for years.

But Nelson and other critics of TxDOT say the agency has been too quick to enter into contacts that guarantee long-term profits for companies while reducing the state’s own authority to govern roads. For example, she said, companies are granted non-compete clauses that prohibit the state from building non-toll roads.

But the payoff for giving up those powers is big. TxDOT recently announced an agreement to lease Texas 121 in Denton and Collin counties to Cintra, a Spanish firm that has agreed to pay $2.8 billion in fees and toll sharing to build other projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.

Cintra is also a partner in Cintra Zachry, which is planning the multibillion-dollar Trans-Texas Corridor toll road from North Texas to San Antonio.

“There are very few issues more important to my constituents than transportation needs. It’s a real quality of life issue in my district,” Nelson said. “But when the legislation was approved for the Trans-Texas Corridor we didn’t realize we were giving up all we gave up. We should have asked more questions.”

Nelson says she’s trying to protect North Texans “from having the same kind of buyer’s remorse I have with the Trans-Texas Corridor. We all want the same thing. I’m just saying we probably ought to slow down and make sure we are entering into this with our eyes wide open.”

Gordon Dickson, 817-685-3816

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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"Where have you been the past two to three years?"

County, state leaders disagree on Cintra deal

March 08, 2007

McKinney Courier-Gazette
Copyright 2007

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, announced in a released statement Tuesday that she opposes a deal made with Cintra to develop State Highway 121.

“I do not support the decision to award this contract to a foreign country,” she said. “Nor do I believe we have the full story about what we would be giving up for these upfront dollars.”

But Collin County Judge Keith Self said the delays have gone on long enough.

“Collin County must have S.H. 121 built,” he said. “Any further delay is going to cost Collin County economic development.”

Self said anyone who talks of delaying S.H. 121 needs to offer an alternative solution, something he said no legislator or bill has proposed thus far.

“We have no option at this point and anyone that talks about delaying S.H. 121 needs to offer an alternative solution,” Self said. “Nobody's done that.”

Collin County Commissioner Precinct 3 Joe Jaynes agreed with Self's sentiments.

“I'm not crazy about the process, but at the same time, I'm not hearing any alternative plans from the naysayers,” Jaynes said. “If they have a concern, that's great, but let us know how to fund those roads for the 102 vehicles we're adding every day in Collin County.”

State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said he feels the issue of control of the roadways should be over whether the control is public or private, not local or foreign since “we live in an age of globalization.”

“The larger issue is really whether or not the toll road should be operated by the private sector or agencies of the state,” he said. “I personally believe the most efficient way to operate the toll road is by it being operated by a state agency such as tollways that have been previously operated by the Texas Turnpike Authority.”

Carona also said he feels if the state gives the roads away to a private company, the state could miss out on a lot of revenue.

“It's potentially the richest stretch of roadway in the country in terms of revenue they've projected bringing in,” he said. “I'd rather see those dollars remain in public hands rather than see the bulk of the profits go to the private sector.”

But Jaynes said funds that have been going to the state through the gasoline tax have just been diverted to the general fund.

“Collin County is getting many, many times more road revenue with contracting with companies than we ever did with the state,” Jaynes said. “If these folks are so concerned about this, one, where have you been the past two to three years and two, give me a solution. If you can come up with a better way to give us $1 billion, we're all ears.”

Contact Danny Gallagher at To post comments online, access this story at

© 2007 McKinney Courier-Gazette:

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"Tolling...not a 'silver bullet' to fix the country's transportation funding problems."

Report: Tolls can't meet future highway needs

March 08, 2007

By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer
Pew Research Center
Copyright 2007

State highway officials warned Wednesday (March 7) of a looming $11 billion hole in federal highway funds and said the growing shift toward tolls and private leases of roads can’t generate enough money to meet the nation’s short- or long-term transportation needs.

Instead, the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, last raised 14 years ago, would have to go up at least 3 cents by 2009 and 7 cents more by 2015 just to maintain the current highway system and keep pace with the fast-rising cost of roads, according to a new report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

One popular solution to road-funding woes involves state and local governments adding toll lanes or leasing toll roads to private companies. In 2005, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) inked a $3.85 billion deal to lease the Indiana Toll Road to an international consortium for 75 years. In 2002, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) launched a 50-year plan to build 4,000 miles of privately financed toll roads along portions of I-69 and I-35. Pennsylvania and New Jersey are considering leasing portions of their toll roads to private companies.

In 2005, tolling earned $7.7 billion, which was 5 percent of highway revenues nationally, AASHTO reported. Tolling could increase to 9 percent of highway funds over the next decade, a significant amount but not a "silver bullet" to fix the country's transportation funding problems, said Victor Mendez, director of the Arizona Department of Transportation and AASHTO president.

Pete Rahn, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, said states are looking for innovative ways to use the marketplace. “But the reality is, no matter how far we try to stretch these resources, we're not even coming close to dealing with the real needs of the critical roads that are the lifeblood of this country," he said.

The report is the first of six that AASHTO plans to provide a congressionally chartered panel analyzing the country’s future transportation needs. The last similar comprehensive study was issued in 1979 and called for deregulation of the aviation, rail and trucking industries and major investments in transportation.

The AASHTO report said the capacity of the Interstate highway system will have to double during the next 50 years and the number of people riding public transportation should double within 20 years. Railways must be prepared to handle a 63 percent increase in freight by 2035, according to the association's estimates.

The half-century old Interstate highway system is in danger of being overwhelmed by long-term neglect, a steady increase in the number of drivers, a stagnant source of funding and rampant inflation of road-building costs, according to AASHTO.

The biggest immediate hurdle to improving roads is that federal gas taxes, which pay for more than 45 percent of the nation’s transportation infrastructure, have not been raised since 1993 and are not even sufficient to cover the spending authorized in the 2005 federal transportation law. Federal gas taxes will fall $11 billion short of planned road projects by 2009, but the gap could be as big as $19 billion the following year.

U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar (D) of Minnesota, chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said the average individual pays $240 a year for gas taxes, or about 2 cents per mile driven. He told state highway administrators, meeting in Washington, D.C., that political will is needed to raise the gas tax, as three of the last four presidents have done.

A longer-term problem is that the cost of building and fixing roads has grown rapidly in recent years. Between the last gas-tax hike in 1993 and 2015, construction costs will have increased by more than 70 percent, report stated.

Mendez of Arizona said costs in his state have risen 20 percent to 30 percent in the past 18 months because of higher-priced steel, oil for asphalt, and fuel for road-building equipment.

While the United States faces financial shortfalls in keeping up its highway system, emerging economies such as China are being bolstered by major transportation initiatives, AASHTO warns. China, with a population of 1.3 billion compared to 301 million in the U.S., is building a 53,000-mile expressway system -- 6,000 miles more than U.S. interstates -- that is slated to be finished in 2020.

Related Story: Road funding takes a toll on states

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© 2007 Pew Research Center:

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

"Senators and representatives...unlike Perry, won't be able to outrun this."

My thoughts on the TTC


The Navasota Examiner
Copyright 2007

Sorry I wasn't at the Trans Texas Corridor rally in Austin, or the hearing before that.

In Dallas, of course, we had the main line of the TTC proposed to go through there. And, that tied in with my previous newspaper group.

Gov. Rick Perry was in south suburban Dallas two weeks before Election Day last fall. Now, southside suburbanites had been wanting at least some sort of beltway, if not a full-blown freeway, for a decade or more, to match the Bush Turnpike on the north side, or at least approach it.

Perry said he had no problem speeding up a 20-25 year construction timetable to just a couple of short years ... if local leadership would sign on the bottom line to make this Loop 9 a part of the TTC. And, they did.


That gave Perry the cover of getting people in the Metroplex on his side. Well, he didn't get State Sen. John Carona on his side, obviously. And, he got less than 40 percent of overall voters to buy into his view.

I can't see how Perry can ram this through... either the I-35 or the I-69 proposal in this part of the state. Senators and representatives won't get lucky enough to be involved in four-way election contests, unlike Perry, and won't be able to outrun this.

Besides the problems with turning something that big over to a private company - even Texans have limits on privatization, if nothing else - it's just not needed.

First, using bonds rather than pay-as-you-go funding, we can address long-term highway needs in the state that way.

Second, on major interstates such as I-35, if we'd do things like enforce the "left lane for passing only" rule (I think anybody in the left lane driving under the speed limit should get an automatic ticket, myself), getting people off their cell phones while driving on a busy freeway (pet peeve), and so forth, we could do something to help traffic flow that way.

Third, if shipping from Mexico, whether it's in Mexican or American trucks, is really going to continue to grow that much, then maybe they need to pay a few more road tax dollars for highway growth. And, why should we have a TTC with rail automatically thrown in? Texas - and other states - haven't built freebie lines in the past.

Fourth, it sounded like residents will support a reasonable increase in gas taxes as part of the deal.

Anyway, I think there's a lot of things the state can do "around the edges" to improve transportation without building a monster like TTC. And, obviously, a lot of people agree.

Besides, Perry and Rick Williamson's Texas Department of Transportation have already spent $30 million on legal fees related to this. That's at a rate of more than $500 per hour. Heck, Perry and Williamson could already have been building some highways with that much money.

Contact Steve Snyder at

© 2007 The Navasota Examiner:

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"Many provisions in recent toll contracts are alarming."

Bills in Texas would disrupt toll road privatization


Associated Press
Copyright 2007

State Sen. Robert Nichols, who supported toll road plans when he was on the Texas Transportation Commission just two years ago, says it's time to take a closer look.

The Jacksonville Republican filed a bill Tuesday that would slap a two-year moratorium on privatization of toll roads, including those in the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The bill calls for setting up a group to study the long-term impact of the state enlisting private corporations to build and operate toll roads in exchange for collecting profits. The group would be appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker.

Nichols, who stepped down from the Transportation Commission in 2005 to run for the Senate, isn't alone. Twenty-five of the Senate's 31 members are co-sponsoring Senate Bill 1267, including several from Bexar County.

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, filed an identical bill in the House.

"We must closely evaluate private toll contracts before we sign away half a century of control of our transportation system," Nichols said. "Many provisions in recent toll contracts are alarming."

Nichols said he'd like to ban agreements that restrict construction of state roads when they compete with tollways and enact safeguards for reasonable toll rates and predictable buy-back costs of toll leases.

He filed a separate bill to outlaw any conversion of an existing free lane to a toll lane, regardless of whether local voters sign off on such a switch.

© 2007 The Associated Press:

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Privatizing Mexico's Roads-Again

Commerce, Labor, and Economics

The Great Highway Auction

January-March 2007

Frontera NorteSur (Las Cruces, New Mexico)
Copyright 2007

Drivers heading south through the Mexican border state of Nuevo Leon will pay a Spanish company money for the privilege of using the new Monterrey-Saltillo freeway.

Traveling recently to Nuevo Leon to formally inaugurate construction of the road, Mexican President Felipe Calderon used the occasion to promote a broader re-privatization program for Mexican highways. The Calderon administration initiative will affect highways that were taken over by the federal Mexican government from private companies during the financial crisis of the 1990s in a bail-out that cost tax-payers billions of dollars. The ownership rights to dozens of roads were previously handed over to the private sector during the 1988-94 administration of former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

More than a decade later, President Calderon is putting the highways on the auction block once again, and even offering partial subsidies to private companies that take over the road maintenance and user fee collection services.

According to President Calderon, income from the sales of highways will also bring in new money and permit doubling the amount of highway construction authorized in the congressionally- approved 2007 budget. The new policy, which could tap into a $250 million-dollar line of credit from the Inter-American Development Bank if needed, proposes awarding private highway concessions for a 30-year period.

Currently, Mexicans and foreign travelers pay very high fares to travel on toll roads in varying degrees of condition operated by the federal government. Earlier this year, Mexican broadcast media carried stories about the deplorable conditions between Cuernavaca and Acapulco on the popular Highway of the Sun, which once whisked millions of sun-seekers to Pacific Coast beaches in record time but is now plagued by rock slides, pot holes and even trench-like cave-ins. The road has deteriorated to such an extent that the federal government state recently slashed the popularly- criticized expensive fares as an incentive to keep tourism moving.

Guerrero state Governor Zeferino Torreblanca has made an urgent call to the federal government to finish its repairs on the Highway of the Sun, even if it means foregoing additional discounts for travelers.

Reaction to the Calderon administration's highway re-privatization package has been mixed. Jose Luis Flores, vice-president of business development for Moody's, assessed the program as attractive to big investors that partner with construction companies, but he cautioned that investors who are not in the business of highway maintenance might neglect "the operation of the highway."

In the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, representatives of the PRI and PRD political parties questioned awarding national roads to private companies, while Cristian Castano, vice- coordinator for President Calderon's PAN party in the legislative body, praised the highway project. In order to avoid a future public bail-out. Castano urged that conditions be attached to the program.

In an editorial, the left-of-center Mexico City daily La Jornada questioned the role of Communications and Transportation Secretary Luis Tellez in the re-privatization scheme. The newspaper criticized Tellez for his past record as a Salinas administration agriculture department official who promoted the North American Free Trade Agreement and the privatization of Mexican ejidos, and raised questions about Tellez's ties to the US-based Carlyle Group historically associated with former US President George Herbert Walker Bush. Tellez also served as Secretary of Energy during the presidency of Salinas’successor, Ernesto Zedillo.

Several Mexican and foreign companies have expressed interest in the new highway program. The firms mentioned include Gutsa, IDEAL and ICA, among others. In the case of the Monterrey-Saltillo road, the Spanish company Isolux-Corsan has been granted the right to collect fares for 30years.

In PRI-ruled Mexico state, meanwhile, a new state freeway system in the Toluca Valley has been contracted out for 15 years to magnates Carlos Hank Rhon and Carlos Slim Helu, the founder of IDEAL. Governor Enrique Pena Nieto has pledged that his administration will triple the number of miles devoted to freeways in Mexico state by the end of his administration.

Sources: La Jornada, March 3 and 6, 2007. Articles by Israel Davila and editorial staff.

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

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"The Goliath of Texas road projects, is taking a real bruising from the slingshot crowd."

Brake Lights

A traffic jam of opposition is facing the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Fort Worth Weekly
Copyright 2007

Organizers said 3,000 to 4,000 TTC opponents marched on the state capitol last week.

The Trans-Texas Corridor, the Goliath of Texas road projects, is taking a real bruising from the slingshot crowd these days, with so many Davids piling up stones that critics and supporters alike are beginning to believe it may be stoppable.

In the last few weeks, more than a dozen bills have been introduced in the both the Texas State and House to either stop the project cold or put enough restrictions on it to chill the interest of private investors.

In late February, a state audit report revealed that millions of public dollars have secretly been spent on the project and that hundreds of millions more might be needed.

At least one legislator is considering calling for an investigation of the Texas Department of Transportation. And thousands of opponents from around the state showed up last week in Austin to march in opposition to the giant toll-road proposal and to testify against it at a public hearing.

Gov. Rick Perry, Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson, and other top- ranking state politicos are still pushing to get ground broken on the 4,000-mile network of privatized toll highways planned throughout Texas in the next several decades. But with opposition growing on both sides of the aisle, critics are suggesting that supporters of the TTC may find they have a price to pay at the ballot box next time around.

“There’s no doubt there’s a huge groundswell of opposition to the TTC,” said Hank Gilbert, a businessman and rancher who organized a March 2 rally in Austin against the project. “We had between 3,000 and 4,000 people rallying against it. That is huge ... . And when even people like State Sen. Steve Ogden, a co-author of the bill that permitted the privatization of roads, come out and say the Texas Department of Transportation is out of control with the TTC, well, I think that’s the point at which other politicians will realize that those of us who’ve been fighting this thing are not just lunatics.”

Ogden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is reportedly considering legislation that would eliminate tolls on all roads once the road is paid for — which generally takes 20 to 30 years — as opposed to allowing the private company that built and leased the road to keep charging tolls for a contract period of 50 to 60 years, as will be the case with the TTC if it goes forward as planned.

But while Ogden, a Republican from Bryan, hasn’t yet introduced a bill to rein in the TTC, others have. State Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat, recently introduced a bill to place a moratorium on all new toll roads in Texas for a period of two years “so that the issue can be studied, rather than rammed down our throats.”

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham has introduced two bills that would effectively kill the TTC. One would “repeal ... authority for the establishment and operation of the Trans-Texas Corridor”; the second would prohibit public pension funds from being invested in private toll roads — cutting billions in funding that private toll road builders would probably try to use to raise capital.

And powerful State Sen. John Carona of Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, has introduced 10 bills that together would severely curtail private businesses’ interest in building toll roads.

Among them is a measure requiring that the price paid for land taken under eminent domain be established by three disinterested voters who live in the county where the land is located, rather than by a judge.

Another would limit the length of a toll-collecting contract held by a private entity to 30 years, after which the highway would become a free road.

Other bills would limit toll rates rather than letting private companies set them at will, eliminate the “no compete” clauses in toll road contracts that many believe would hamper the state’s ability to maintain and improve other roads, and tie the state gas tax rate to the amount needed for highway building and maintenance, to ensure that tax funds rather than tolls could be used for those projects.

Carona admits he made a huge error in signing the measure that created the TTC. He told Fort Worth Weekly that he and nearly everyone else in the Texas Legislature were “deliberately deceived” by that bill, and that it’s time to put a halt to the TTC. At a hearing he held last week, he said, “About 1,000 people came, and the overwhelming majority were against the TTC.”

He believes an overwhelming majority of state Senate members now oppose the TTC as well, and that, as chinks begin to show in Perry’s armor, the senators are more willing to oppose him on this issue. “The fact is, the death of the TTC and other toll roads is just one gubernatorial election away,” he said. “The opposition to these things is growing daily.”

“I think the bills I’ve proposed will pass in the Senate,” Carona said. “The real question is whether they will get a fair hearing in the House Transportation Committee. I don’t know. [Chairman] Mike Krusee has the power to bury them there.

“On the other hand,” he added, “Krusee won his last election by a surprisingly narrow margin, and he will have public rage to deal with on this. Of course, if he intends to leave his position as an elected representative and enter the private sector, he may have another agenda. But if he wants re-election, he may realize that following the governor’s lead on the TTC hook, line, and sinker is not the best road for him to take.”

Krusee said he handles bills before his committee fairly. “But it’s up to every member to convince the committee that the hearing won’t be a waste of time, that there is some support and reason to listen to it.”

Coleman said he thinks the TTC can be stopped only if legislators in both houses “feel the heat and know it’s going to be an election issue.”

The recent state auditor’s report may provide plenty of ammunition for the election debates. Auditors concluded that millions of dollars in public funds had already been used for the TTC, in both direct and indirect costs, while Perry has repeatedly said that no public monies would be used to fund the project.

And much of the money spent on the TTC was taken from funds set aside for other projects, the report said. At least $52,000 used to pay for TTC advertising — billboards and radio spots — was listed as “engineering” expenses.

The report also noted that Cintra Zachry LP, the partnership hired to develop a comprehensive plan for TTC-35, the 333-mile stretch of toll roads from San Antonio to Dallas, had not met all of its 2006 insurance requirements until October of that year. If Cintra Zachry can’t cover its liabilities under the contract, auditors noted, “it is possible that plaintiffs could seek recovery of these damages from the state.”

The report also noted other problems: Public money would pay for 55 percent, or $16.9 billion, of the rail projects touted as part of the TTC package. The state would be responsible for collecting from toll-jumpers. Under the contracts, the state could be forced to build some segments of the corridor that the private firms didn’t find profitable.

And auditors said TxDOT may have been seriously underestimating the cost of the corridor.

The agency has put the price tag of the entire 4,000-mile network at $145 billion to $184 billion, but auditors said one 560-mile stretch alone —from Laredo to Oklahoma, paralleling I-35— will cost more than $105 billion.

“I think that auditor’s report is particularly damning,” said Carona. “The most damning thing, I think, was that the governor, when he announced the Trans-Texas Corridor, said that no public funds would be used for its development. And the auditor now says that $90 million in public funds have already been used, and that number is climbing daily.”

Gilbert said that in light of the auditor’s report, Kolkhorst may ask the attorney general to investigate TxDOT over the subterfuge on TTC spending. She could not be reached for comment.

Proponents of the TTC say it remains the answer to Texas’ current and future transportation problems. Williamson, the commissioner, has insisted, publicly and repeatedly, that with Texas’ population expected to double in the next 30 years and with the shortfalls the state is facing in highway funding, allowing private corporations to build and run toll roads is the only possible solution.

His sentiments were echoed by former Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr, currently a member of the TTC advisory committee. “There’s just not money available to build all of the roads that we need,” he told the Weekly. “That means that goods will not move efficiently and people will not move, and there’s a cost associated with that.” However, he said, the transportation agency has done a poor job communicating that to the public. “There is an awful lot of dialogue that needs to be held that hasn’t been held,” he said.

Terri Hall, founder and director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, a statewide group fighting the TTC, said the situation is worse than that. “TxDOT continues to operate in complete denial of the reality of the situation. The governor’s Business Council’s own report — done by the Texas Transportation Institute — says that toll roads are not necessary. The sky will not fall if we don’t build the TTC.”

Staff writer Eric Griffey contributed to this story.

© 2007 Fort Worth Weekly:

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