Saturday, March 17, 2007

"A growing number of lawmakers, worry that the state is moving too quickly on turning over state highways to private companies..."

Toll road legislation could hurt plans for Tarrant improvements

March 17, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Seven private companies have applied to manage one of the largest highway improvement projects in Tarrant County despite pending legislation that could jeopardize the deal.

Until otherwise notified, Texas Department of Transportation officials said they are moving forward with plans to hire private contractors for the $2 billion North Tarrant Express in the mid-cities area and the $762 million DFW Connector, formerly known as the Grapevine Funnel, near the north end of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

But as Thursday's deadline for applications on the North Tarrant Express passed, local transportation and civic leaders said they were worried that this project may not go forward as planned because of mounting anti-toll sentiment in the state.

Legislation has been introduced in the state Senate and House that would place a two-year moratorium on private contracts with toll operators in the state.

Both the North Tarrant Express, a 36.2-mile improvement project involving State Highway 183, Loop 820 and Interstate 35W, and the 16.2-mile DFW Connector would involve private contractors and would have toll and free lanes.

The application deadline for contractors on the DFW Connector is next month.

"We can't two more years on these projects," said Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley. "We need to move forward on this now.

"We've already been waiting on improvements to Northeast Loop 820 for four years – that's the busiest piece of 820 loop, and it will be the last to be improved."

Fighting moratorium

Meanwhile, Vic Suhm, executive director of the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition, has sent an e-mail to hundreds of Tarrant County residents and business and civic leaders asking them to contact lawmakers and try to block the proposed moratorium.

"Placing even a two-year moratorium on [private contracts] would be a disaster for priority transportation projects in our regional mobility," he said.

Local leaders said they are lobbying lawmakers to exempt Tarrant County projects from the two-year ban, if it is approved. They said private contractors and toll projects are a way to get road projects done quicker because the state lacks the capital to pay for the improvements.

But critics, including a growing number of lawmakers, worry that the state is moving too quickly on turning over state highways to private companies, which could end up costing motorists excessive amounts in tolls down the road.

The Transportation Department so far has only one private contract, with the Spanish firm Cintra for the State Highway 130 toll road in the Austin area.

The state recently awarded a 50-year contract to the same firm to operate State Highway 121 in Collin and Denton counties as a toll road. But the contract has not been executed and could be held up by a moratorium, officials said.

Transportation Department officials said they were pleased that seven companies are vying for the two high-profile Tarrant County projects. Ten contractors bid on the State Highway 161 toll project in western Dallas County, which has yet to be awarded.

"We're pleased with the response," said Michael Peters, a spokesman for the Transportation Department in Tarrant County. "We knew there was a lot of interest in this project."

Collecting applications is the first step in the lengthy process of awarding a private contract.

A final contractor won't be identified until late this year or early next year.

DFW Connector

The DFW Connector, which will involve five new interchanges and seven roads and freeways around D/FW Airport, could begin in 2008. Public funding is available for most of this project, officials said.

The North Tarrant Express, with limited public funding earmarked, will be built in phases with the first section to begin in 2009, if a contract is executed, officials said.

The seven bidders include five Texas companies and two out-of-state firms. Only one bidder is from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Cintra did not bid on the project.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


"I think that these legislators are finally listening to their constituents across the state of Texas."

Lawmaker battles Trans-Texas Corridor

Project tied to 'North American Union' threatens property rights

March 17, 2007
Copyright 2007

Citing concern for personal property rights, a Texas lawmaker has filed legislation to delay construction of the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor, a proposed network of privately funded, limited-access toll roads seen by some critics as part of an incremental merger of the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Republican Rep. Rick Hardcastle said the "critical point for me is when the state disregards the personal property rights of hard-working Texans," the Gainesville Daily Register in Texas reported

Hardcastle, whose district has little support for the project, filed House Bill 3831 in the Texas House of Representatives, which seeks to halt the project until specific improvements on Highway 35 are made. He also is co-author of House Bill 2772, a statewide two-year moratorium on toll road development.

The latter bill would stop all toll projects while legislators and government officials re-examine contracts and plans. The two bills are awaiting committee referral.

An activist opposing the project, Gainesville obstetrician Amy Klein, applauded the new legislation as an example of citizen representation in action, the Daily Register reported.

"I think that these legislators are finally listening to their constituents across the state of Texas," Klein told the paper.

Klein pointed to a proverb frequently quoted by David Stall, founder of the anti-Corridor group CorridorWatch: "You eat an elephant one bite at a time."

"I think that we're slowly devouring this elephant," Klein said.

© 2007 Inc.:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Friday, March 16, 2007

"A groundswell seems to be developing in Texas against the privatization of toll roads."

Nichols fights private roads

March 16, 2007

By Jim Goodson, Editor
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – A groundswell seems to be developing in Texas against the privatization of toll roads. And State Senator Robert Nichols is a key leader of the fight.

Nichols has filed SB 1267, which would place a two-year moratorium on the privatization of toll roads. Companion SB 1268 prohibits converting existing roads to toll roads – a fight many voters thought they’d already won.

Under current law an existing road can still be converted to a toll road even though many have regional or statewide use.

“These roads were built with public money for public use,” Nichols said March 6 when the bill was filed. “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.”

SB 1267 would establish a moratorium on the privatization of toll roads or the sale of existing toll roads to private interests, including those roads planned as part of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Nichols conceded that toll roads allow the state to build more roads faster without raising fuel or other taxes. But since most companies require at least a 50-year contract to operate and collect tolls, Nichols said decisions are being hastily made that will impact taxpayers for the next half-century.

Companies seeking toll road contracts are also asking for and receiving “non-compete” clauses that preclude the state or anyone else from building a similar road nearby.

“The state is enacting a policy that will force Texans to drove on toll roads with very few alternatives for the next 50 years,” Nichols said. “In high-growth areas, the private toll operator will be free to increase tolls as demand for the road increases. New road construction by the state would be penalized, thereby setting up a classic monopoly, agreed to by the state, forcing Texans to pay ever-increasing tolls.

“There should be incentives to relieve congestion, not penalties.”

Nichols is a former Texas Transportation Commissioner who has supported toll roads in the past.

“However, supporting toll roads does not equate to supporting a plan that prohibits competition or agreeing to policies that enrich a few shareholders at the expense of the taxpayer.”

SB 1267 has received widespread, including the backing of CorridorWatch, an organization of taxpayers that monitors the construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

© 2007 Jacksonville Daily Progress:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Many in Frisco think that TxDOT just went through the motions of having a public hearing."

SH 121 plans taking their toll

March 16, 2007

By Penny Rathbun
The Mckinney Courier-Gazette
Copyright 2007

The City of Frisco has sent a long and detailed response to Jennifer Halstead of engineering firm HTNB on the plan to turn State Highway 121 into a toll road.

The Texas Department of Transportation held a public hearing last month to hear public comments on the plan to toll SH 121 and the next day announced the developer proposed for the project, Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, a Spanish construction firm.

Many in Frisco, including Frisco City Council members, think that TxDOT just went through the motions of having a public hearing.

Mayor Pro Tem Maher Maso sent a copy of the city's letter to everyone on his Frisco First mailing list and urged residents to make their opinions known on the project to TxDOT before the deadline for public comments, which was March 8.

Even though the deadline has passed he said it is not too late for residents to tell state and federal representatives what they think of the project.

Although Cintra will pay the region $2.8 billion, Maso said that tolls are unfair to those who must drive on SH 121. He said that residents have already paid for roads through gasoline taxes. TxDOT Public Information Officer Mark Ball said that House Bill 3588 gave TxDOT the option to receive unsolicited proposals from companies for road projects. TxDOT received five, three of which were from foreign companies. The two Texas companies that submitted proposals dropped out of the running and Cintra was chosen.

Ball said tolls on SH 121 will average about 14 cents a mile.

Frisco City Manager George Purefoy said he thinks the tolling of State Highway 121 is extremely unfair.

"It seems like everybody is wanting to get money out of this area," Purefoy said. "Who is watching out for the citizens who have to drive on 121?"

He said that State Highway 121 is a diagonal road and there are no parallel roads to it. Those who must use 121 have no alternative. He also said trucks will have to pay more in toll fees. Trucks will likely drive on side roads instead of 121 because of the tolls. That will cause more pollution and tear up the side roads.

"I'm still asking people for public input," Maso said. "I personally will not give up." He asks residents to communicate with state and federal representatives.

The letter the city sent to HTNB can be found on the City of Frisco Web site.

"Someone has to stand up for the citizens, and I am very proud of our City Council for doing that," Purefoy said.

© 2007 The Mckinney Courier-Gazette:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Thursday, March 15, 2007

"A moratorium signals that problems are more than merely superficial."

Bumps in the road

Area lawmakers don't like where Perry plan headed

March 15, 2007

By Carroll Wilson
Wichita Falls Times Record News
Copyright 2007

Gov. Rick Perry's plan to let private companies lay concrete and steel on as much as 4,000 miles of Texas soil has lost traction with Wichita Falls area legislators.

Sen. Craig Estes of Wichita Falls and Rep. David Farabee are co-sponsoring bills that would stop the Trans-Texas Corridor plan dead in its tracks for two years.

Estes, who along with Perry is a Republican, said he supports the governor's plan in principle, but not the direction in which it's headed.

Farabee, a Democrat, said he originally liked the TTC idea, but he, too, now has problems with it, particularly the way the plan is being managed by leaders at the Texas Department of Transportation.

Far more than a mere handful of Texas' 31 senators have signed on to a bill that would stop the process of contracting for construction of privately funded toll roads for two years.

So far only a few members of the House are co-sponsors of the companion measure, one of whom is Farabee.

Estes wants the contracting process stopped because, "There are too many unanswered questions, and recent revelations of poor accountability require the Legislature to step in."

The Texas Auditor's Office recently concluded that even though TxDoT was moving quickly to sign contracts with developers, "There is a lack of reliable information regarding projected toll-road construction costs, operating expenses, revenue and developer income."

The contracts are to be for 50 years for each segment, and a master plan states that the total cost could be more than $105 billion, one of the numbers the auditor said can't be determined.

Farabee said he has a problem not just with the cost uncertainty but also with how the state's power of eminent domain should be used.

Sen. Robert Nichols, a former state transportation commissioner and author of the bill, put his own case this way:

"Imagine if you could make a deal with the state to build a store in your hometown, use the state's power of eminent domain to take the land needed for your store and then get the state to agree to refrain from building another store in your hometown for 50 years," he said in a Web posting. "Now, imagine your hometown was projected to have double-digit population growth. While it may be hard to fault any business for pursuing such a deal, the taxpayers would hold elected officials accountable."

Right now, Texas has few toll roads. Today's interstate system was started in the mid-1950s with mainly federal dollars.

The state's population is expected to double in the next 20 years, Estes said, so "to say we need no more infrastructure would be disastrous. But we've got to get it right.

"I'm a strong proponent of toll roads," Estes said, "but the devil is in the details."

For example, he said, "if you're going somewhere on the ocean, and you're off one or two degrees you can miss an entire continent. So you have got to get it started right."

Besides the length of contracts and the lack of risk analyses, the senator said he is also concerned that foreign investors will gain more than they should.

Farabee indicated that the fact that Nichols, who once was a strong supporter of the toll-road and TTC ideas, is now pushing for a moratorium signals that problems are more than merely superficial.

The Trans-Texas Corridor would not take a route through the Wichita Falls area, but would be built through parts of Wise County near the Montague County line.

© 2007 Wichita Falls Times Record News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


TxDOT throws away another $300 million (and asks for more toll roads)

TxDOT Expects $300M Cut In Highway Funds

March 15, 2007

KXAN (NBC) Austin
Copyright 2007

If you like toll roads, you may be in luck.

More "pay to drive" highways could be on the way.

The Texas Department of Transportation on Thursday said it expects to have to return nearly $300 million in unspent highway funds to the federal government.

That's on top of another $305 million Washington took back over the past 15 months.

KXAN's Jim Swift reports on what the cuts will mean for Texas drivers.

Traffic noise.

How bad is it?

Well, consider this: According to TxDOT, over the past quarter-century, our use of roads grew 95 percent while road capacity rose only 8 percent.

Over the next 25 years, road use is expected to climb a whopping 214 percent, with capacity rising even less than before, by just 6 percent.

It gets worse: The agency said by 2030, what it calls an "acceptable level of mobility" will require $188 billion, but it estimated available funds of only $102 billion, leaving a funding gap of $86 billion.

"We want to get some public input," said TxDOT spokesman Randall Dillard. "We were criticized the last time we dealt with a federal transportation cut that we didn't take public input. So that's what we want to do this time. We'll take that input, and our commission will make the difficult decisions that have to be made.

"We're feeling the heat that people complain about being stuck in traffic every day," Dillard continued. "That they can't get home in time to get to their son or daughter's softball game or baseball game. We're hearing the heat that the congestion that people have to deal with every day impacts their quality of life, and they don't like it. That's one of the things that we're hearing loud and clear, and we've got a plan to try and address that."

The Texas Transportation Commission has planned a public meeting for Thursday morning at 9 a.m. to hear suggestions on how the latest federal cuts should be absorbed. The meeting will be downtown at TxDOT headquarters, 125 E. 11th St.

© 2007 WorldNow and KXAN:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Why Doesn't the Republican Party give Perry the boot?"


Walking the Party Plank

March 15, 2007

The Waxahachie Daily Light
Copyright 2007

What does party affiliation mean to a candidate? Apparently, it means a lot if a candidate wants to get elected to public office in Texas. But beyond the drawing power at the ballot box, it is clear that in Texas, the party platform means very little once the oath of office has been administered.

The current governor of Texas is a classic example. Rick Perry, the Republican incumbent who recently won re-election to the state’s highest office with 39 percent of the vote, wasted no time cashing in on his “mandate” from the people by issuing a number of executive orders that run counter to Texas Republican Party Platform.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but the party faithful not only work to get their candidates elected, they actually expect officials with an “R” behind their name to vote in accordance with GOP doctrine.

Based on Perry’s executive orders, one could surmise he never took the time to read all the paperwork when he signed up to be a Republican. We’re sure he had a good reason — after all, the party platform is 31 pages long, and it is single-spaced.

On Page 10, there is actually a clause on the Trans-Texas Corridor. Printed in bold letters and underlined, it’s tough to miss.

Guess what?

The GOP is against it. According to the platform, there’s no wiggle room for interpretation. In fact, the platform states, “... we urge the repeal of the Trans-Texas Corridor legislation.”

On Gov. Perry’s executive order mandating that all sixth-grade girls receive the HPV immunization — which reportedly protects them against some types of the virus (contracted through sexual contact) which may lead to cervical cancer — again brought the wrath of the GOP faithful.

The GOP platform has an entire chapter dedicated to parental rights (Pages 16-17). Actually, most of the platform centers around limited government intrusion on personal and parental rights, and not to shock anyone, several clauses on morality.
Guess what?

While the Texas GOP Platform doesn’t specifically address the HPV immunization, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how the party would take a dim view of the government forcing young girls to be inoculated with a relatively new (and some have added the word “unproven”) vaccine that may protect them against some forms of a virus contracted through sexual contact that may develop into cancer.

What we can’t figure out is why hasn’t the party sanctioned Perry, who so blatantly legislates in opposition to the party platform?

If he’s not going to be a Republican and walk the party plank, why doesn’t the party make him an Independent by giving him the boot?

Not only would it set an example - it might actually help boost the party’s tarnished image and restore it to a new era of respectability.

© 2007 The Waxahachie Daily Light:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


La Entrada al Pacífico: “It grieves me that our state leaders would sacrifice this region for a few people in Midland.”

Hundreds object to La Entrada at Alpine meeting


Big Bend Sentinel
Copyright 2007

ALPINE – In an informal show of hands, about 400 Alpine, Marfa and Fort Davis residents opposed a highway-based La Entrada al Pacífico at a Texas Department of Transportation public hearing in Alpine Tuesday night.

The transportation department recently partnered with HDR Engineering to begin a study of the La Entrada trade corridor, which would increase freight traffic from the Mexican port of Topolobampo, Sinaloa to Midland-Odessa by way of Presidio, Marfa and Alpine.

This week’s meeting in Alpine and Presidio and next week’s meetings in Fort Stockton and Midland are the first of three rounds of public hearings on the feasibility study, which TxDOT expects to finish by March 2008.

The Texas Transportation Commission, urged by the Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance, approved the La Entrada concept in 1995, and the corridor was signed into law by then-Governor George Bush in 1997.

La Entrada al Pacífico signs soon appeared along the proposed route, which follows US 67 from Presidio through Marfa, Alpine and Fort Stockton and up US 385 and Interstate 20 to Midland-Odessa.

Mexico has since finished its first 35-mile segment of the corridor between Chihuahua and Ojinaga, Chihuahua and in 2005 TxDOT received a federal go-ahead to build a Midland reliever route, the first La Entrada segment in Texas.

On Tuesday, hundreds of people crowded into the Alpine High School cafeteria to hear about the current proposal to create a four-lane divided-highway along the length of the corridor. At about 6:30pm, TxDot statewide planning coordinator Peggy Thurin interrupted the hour-long “Open House” on TxDot’s meeting agenda to make enough time for public comment. She tried to assure the grumbling crowd La Entrada was not set in stone.

“I swear, on my mother’s 80th birthday, this is not a done deal,” Thurin said. “That is why we are doing this study.”

Thurin and Brian Swindell, an HDR senior project manager, explained the purpose of the meeting was to get feedback on the corridor.

Swindell said the study would analyze alternatives to the proposed highway upgrades, including building bypasses, reviving the South Orient railroad and the “no build,” or do nothing, alternative.

Swindell also said the study would consider the project’s consistency with TxDOT’s statewide goals to reduce congestion, enhance safety, expand economic opportunity, improve air quality and increase the value of transportation assets.

After Swindell’s brief presentation, Marfa resident and transportation planner Bob Schwab said it would be difficult for everyone in the audience to speak at the meeting.

“I would like everyone’s opinion to be recorded even by a show of hands,” Schwab said.

Swindell and Thurin hesitated, but Schwab stood up and asked the crowd who was in favor of a highway-based La Entrada.

One man from Presidio, Benny Matchett, raised his hand.

During the ensuing three hours of public comment, about 40 Alpine, Marfa and Fort Davis residents voiced their opposition to a highway-based La Entrada.

Most people objected to the increased truck traffic that a highway corridor would bring through the region, and several said that traffic’s impact on the area would conflict with TxDOT’s statewide goals.

Alpine Mayor Mickey Clouse said, “Alpine, Marfa and Fort Davis do not want truck traffic in this area.”

Several people argued the regional tourism industry would be destroyed by a steady flow of trucks through downtown Marfa and Alpine.

Teri Smith, owner of Alpine’s Antelope Lodge, said the truck route would pass directly in front of her motel and many other hotels on Highway 90.

“If the trucks come through Alpine, they will put us out of business,” Smith said.

“We’ve been growing,” she continued. “And we can lose all of that because tourists won’t come to a place where they have to fight trucks to get to a hotel.”

Alpine resident Roger Siglin agreed area businesses had worked hard to build the tourism industry here. He pointed to TxDOT’s goal to increase transportation assets and said, “What about preserving our tourism assets?”

Others pointed out the trucks’ impact on a tourism-based economy would conflict with another TxDOT goal to enhance economic opportunity.

Increased truck traffic would also harm tourism by polluting the area’s environment, several speakers argued.

Sierra Club of Texas Big Bend Chapter President Don Dowdey said truck exhaust contributes to ozone and other types of air pollution.

Alpine resident Martha Latta said trucks driving at night would create light pollution.

“I think we could kiss McDonald Observatory, all the astronomers, and all the people that come for that, goodbye,” she said.

Dowdey alluded to the noise pollution trucks would create. “We own a precious natural resource,” he said. “Peace and quiet.”

In addition to light and noise pollution, several people argued the trucks would increase air pollution. A few mentioned air pollution’s larger impact on climate change, and others said air pollution would conflict with another TxDot goal to improve air quality.

Siglin said, “We have a hard time understanding how these trucks are going to improve our air quality.”

Sierra Blanca resident and activist Bill Addington said, “That diesel soot is going to impact every one of your health.”

Several others argued diesel exhaust would exacerbate residents’ respiratory problems, such as COPD, asthma and allergies. Alpine resident Robert Flanders said small particles in the exhaust also carry cancer-causing toxins.

“Having a bunch more diesel trucks, if it even caused one cancer death that would be too many,” Flanders said.

Another Alpine resident, Joe Goldman, said he recently retired from Houston to Alpine for the clean air. If the trucks come through Alpine, he said, “The reason I left Houston will then reside here, and I will have to go elsewhere.”

Goldman was one of several retirees who said they had moved to the region for the environment and air quality. They argued truck traffic would keep others from moving here, as well as forcing many residents with health problems to leave.

Marfa resident Bill White said his wife’s chemical sensitivity prompted them to move to Marfa, which, along with Fort Davis, has the cleanest air in the country.

“We’d like to keep it that way,” White said. “We’ve got nowhere else to go.”

Many people raised concerns about the safety of the Mexican trucks themselves.

“Our real nightmare is the Mexican trucks,” Fort Davis resident Harold Pattillo said.

Alpine resident Craig Frye said 5,200 Americans die annually in collisions with semi-trucks. And those are American trucks with good inspectors and good trained drivers, he said. Frye and others said Mexican trucking companies do not have the same emissions, equipment safety, insurance and driver training standards as American trucking firms.

Several people argued increased Mexican truck traffic would cause more accidents in the region. Dowdey said the limited medical facilities in the area would not be able to handle those accidents.

Most people who objected to truck traffic on a highway-based La Entrada said they would support a railroad-based La Entrada using the existing South Orient rail line.

“The trains are a no-brainer,” said Alpine resident Mary Bell Lockhart.

Mayor Clouse read an Alpine City Council resolution that supported the rail option, which Dowdey said the Sierra Club also thought was more suitable.

“You’re not the Texas department of roads,” Dowdey told the TxDOT speakers.

Dowdey and many others argued moving freight by rail is cheaper, more efficient, and less environmentally damaging than by truck. Other alternatives, such as building bypasses around Marfa and Alpine, would still bring traffic and pollution through the area, they argued. And building a bypass around Alpine would be difficult because of the mountainous terrain, Lockhart said.

Those who favored the train route argued it would keep trucks from damaging the Big Bend region but still enable the trade corridor to reach Midland, they argued.

“We’re not saying don’t make money Midland-Odessa,” Antelope Lodge owner Smith said. “Just make it in a way that doesn’t hurt us.”

A few people said Midland-Odessa was pushing the La Entrada project at the expense of Marfa and Alpine.

Sierra Blanca resident Addington said, “It grieves me that our state leaders would sacrifice this region for a few people in Midland.”

Aside from looking at alternative routes in Texas, other people raised concerns about the Mexican segment of La Entrada.

Alpine resident Fran Sage and others questioned the feasibility of moving freight through the rugged terrain of Copper Canyon. Alpine resident Pam Gaddis said encouraging the development of this Topolobampo-to-Chihuahua segment was wasteful.

“This whole premise of a corridor is weak on both ends,” Fort Davis resident Pattillo said, questioning Midland-Odessa’s ability to become a distribution center.

While most public comments focused on where and what La Entrada should become, a few people questioned whether the corridor should exist at all.

Marfa resident Schwab said the world has changed considerably since then-Governor Bush first signed La Entrada into law. Schwab brought up a recent call from now-President Bush to focus our national attention on reducing our reliance on foreign oil, decreasing greenhouse gases and preventing terrorism. Schwab said La Entrada would increase foreign oil use, worsen global warming and put the nation at risk of terrorist attacks.

He asked how our nation would benefit from foreign drivers bringing foreign manufactured goods through a foreign port with foreign shippers. “Does that make sense to any of you?” he asked.

He told the TxDOT representatives it might be time for them to reconsider La Entrada and have the courage to say, “Let’s scuttle this when we can and respond to a national call to do a better thing.”

© 2007 Big Bend Sentinel:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"We don't have to have a toll road to make the parks and lakes happen. That's a fallacy."

Trinity toll road plans challenged

Dallas: Council member wants vote on moving it outside levee walls

March 15, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt said Wednesday that she will lead a fight to secure a citywide referendum that seeks to move a planned toll road outside the Trinity River's levee walls.

As conceived, the six-lane, nine-mile toll road would irrevocably harm the $1.2 billion-plus Trinity River Corridor Project's park and recreation components, said Ms. Hunt, who represents council District 14, which includes much of downtown.

"We simply do not believe the park is the best place to put the toll road. We're not trying to kill the road, we just don't want it running through an urban oasis," Ms. Hunt said. "I trust the Dallas voters to make that decision."

Negative reaction to Ms. Hunt's idea came swiftly.

Mayor Laura Miller and former Mayor Ron Kirk said Wednesday afternoon that they'll oppose Ms. Hunt's initiative, adding that they'd soon release a joint statement on the issue. Such unity between them is rare.

"This is not anything either of us will support," Ms. Miller said, describing Ms. Hunt's effort as "odd" given that "she never asked the city attorney's office for any opinion or asked about what authority under which this could be done."

Mr. Kirk was mayor in 1998 when Dallas voters approved a $246 million bond package to provide initial funding for the corridor project.

"You can't build anything by looking back all the time," he said. "This has been studied ad nauseam. It's the most appropriate, sensitive plan we could come up with."

Ms. Hunt has formed a political action committee, TrinityVote, to raise money ahead of efforts to collect the roughly 50,000 registered voter signatures needed to place such a referendum on a Dallas ballot in November.

She announced her intentions as she and about 75 supporters stood within the Trinity corridor near Sylvan Avenue.

Volunteers will collect signatures between April 30 and June 28, Ms. Hunt said. City Hall allows 60 days to complete a formal referendum signature drive.

Question of legality

But since the Trinity toll road is part of a complex project that involves local, state and federal governments, several city officials – including Ms. Miller and Ed Oakley, chairman of the City Council's Trinity River Corridor Project Committee – questioned whether Dallas voters have the jurisdiction to alter one element of it.

City Attorney Tom Perkins said that until he has reviewed the language of Ms. Hunt's proposition – which she says is not yet complete – he will decline to comment on whether it could go before voters.

Trinity River Commons Executive Director Craig Holcomb said he supports the current toll road alignment, and the Greater Dallas Chamber also released a statement Wednesday saying "taxpayers of Dallas voted for this project and their voices were heard – we must continue to move forward with this project."

The Dallas Citizens Council also released a statement Wednesday describing the current corridor plan as "extraordinary ... well-planned and thoroughly scrutinized at all levels."

But political consultant Mike Davis, who supports Ms. Hunt's effort, said: "Heavy hitters and big names have never deterred me from anything. I'm really, really energized, and we're betting that citizens will want a referendum on this, too."

Said Ms. Hunt: "Unfortunately, there's not the political will among the leaders of this city to get this project done right."

It's uncertain how strongly the issue resonates with Dallas residents. A Dallas Morning News telephone poll this month indicated that only 4 percent of respondents ranked the Trinity River Corridor project as the single most important issue facing the city.

Changes in proposal

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in November mandated, as a condition for its support of the corridor plan, that the project's toll road be realigned to run up to several hundred feet within the corridor's eastern levee.

Corps engineers say a toll road built into the Trinity's earthen levees, as originally proposed, could compromise their integrity, making surrounding areas more susceptible to flooding.

Ms. Hunt says she's particularly upset at city estimates that indicate between 40 and 45 of the 136 acres of parkland slated for creation in the downtown portion of the Trinity River Corridor Project would disappear because of the toll road realignment.

Meanwhile, an island that engineers plan for the middle of an urban lake would expand by 25 or 26 acres, city staff estimates.

"This project has fundamentally changed from what voters approved in 1998," Ms. Hunt said. "We don't have to have a toll road to make the parks and lakes happen. That's a fallacy."

Ms. Hunt says her organization will not offer a specific proposal on where the toll road should be built, as long as it's not within the Trinity Corridor's levees.

"If you're going to do something like this, you ought to at least have an idea where it goes and how you pay for it," Mr. Oakley said.

Of the various toll road alignments that city and state officials have previously considered, several versions proposed building the road outside the corridor's eastern levee along Industrial Boulevard. Critics say such an alignment would be prohibitively expensive and displace dozens of businesses.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co.

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


"Imagine a huge stinking tollroad in this park."

Critics Want New Vote On Trinity River Plan

March 15, 2007

NBC Channel 5 (Dallas/Fort Worth)
Copyright 2007

DALLAS -- A petition about a new voter referendum on the controversial Trinity River plan is circling Dallas.

Critics said the latest toll road plan cuts into the park, which voters approved nine years ago.

They want a new vote on moving the road in November.

"Imagine a huge stinking tollroad in this park, that's the visual alternative, or imagine taking it out. It's pretty simple,” Dallas councilmember Angela Hunt said.

"And I think you're giving some bad information and it's a shame that people are being misled by what you are saying," plan supporter Bill Ceverha said.

Supporters said that there has been enough debate and it's time to build.

© 2007 NBC Universal Inc.:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Do we get our park as was promised, or do we get a toll road in the flood plain?"

Activists Want Toll Road Plans Blocked

Mar 14, 2007

Bud Gillett
CBS 11 News
copyright 2007

(CBS 11 News) DALLAS A group of Trinity River activists wants to block the planned toll road for the Trinity River Corridor.

The group is launching a petition drive to put the issue to Dallas voters.

Campbell Read and his dog regularly enjoy nature's offerings along the Trinity River.

He thinks the proposed 4-or-6 lane toll way in the river bottoms west of downtown is not the beautiful, lake-dominated park that was sold to the voters.

"The voters need to be given a chance to vote on this one way or another," Read said. "Do we get our park as was promised, or do we get a toll road in the flood plain?"

He and 100 others announced plans to get 50,000 voters' signatures and force a referendum on the toll road and to let the park be a park.

"We don't have to have this toll road to make this project happen," said Angela Hunt, Dallas City Council. "That's a fallacy you're going to hear time and time again from the folks who want to put his toll road in the park."

Hunt says residents have been victims of what she calls "bait and switch" tactics at City Hall. The group claims the toll way has not only morphed into a billion dollar project that will require a third of the available park land, it will also compromise the safety of the levees.

"It's a shame that people are being misled by what you're saying," said former state legislator Bill Ceverha. He served on some early trinity committees and says these criticisms are bogus.

"To say that it's all the interference and taking away a third of the park, like Angela said, is a gross exaggeration and misrepresentation of this project," he said.

The group will begin collecting signatures during early voting for the May election with an eye on getting on the ballot in November.

(CBS 11 News)

© 2007 CBS Stations Group of Texas:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"As if our governor wasn’t already having a bad hair day..."


Flattened by a (Two-Party) Mack Truck


Fort Worth Weekly
Copyright 2007

As if our governor wasn’t already having a bad hair day last week, just as the Weekly was putting to bed its latest story on the Trans-Texas Corridor (“Brake Lights,” March 7, 2007), rookie State Sen. Robert Nichols, a former state transportation commissioner, was introducing two bills that should have made that famous coif turn white.

  • The first would prohibit any non-toll road or bridge from being converted to a toll facility and stipulates that if toll lanes are added to a non-toll road, the number of free lanes cannot be reduced.
  • The second would put a two-year moratorium on all toll roads not already under contract, during which time their potential impact would be studied. Can you say “kill the TTC”?
Oh, and by the way, Nichols is a Republican, just like State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, who introduced an identical bill in the House earlier.

And Nichols’ bill was co-signed by 24 of the Senate’s 31 members.

Don’t look now, governor, but your troops are dropping like doves on the opening day of hunting season.

None of the three bills, nor any of the other dozen or so anti-TTC measures introduced in the last month, are guaranteed to pass, of course, and Perry would no doubt veto any that did. But they are a pretty good indication that this Republican-dominated legislature is in open revolt.

© 2007 Fort Worth Weekly:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"RMAs can build roads outside the city, outside the state, and outside the country."

Council Votes For RMA After Tense Debate

March 14, 2007

by Rene Leon
Copyright 2007

A heated debate on how to meet the needs of our city’s strained traffic system ended when the El Paso City Council voted to form the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority. The Council voted 5-3 to form the transportation group that would allow El Paso to complete the much needed transportation infrastructure in the next few years, rather than by the year 2030.

Voting in favor of the motion were City Representatives Susie Byrd, Steve Ortega, Ann Lilly, Presi Ortega, and Beto O’Rourke. Representatives Alex Lozano, Melina Castro, and Eddie Holguin voted nay.

Projects identified by Council and the Texas Department of Transportation that could be completed with the RMA included the Southern Relief Route that would ease congestion along I-10. Construction of the Northeast Parkway was also discussed; this would allow truck traffic to bypass I-10.

Byrd cited the need for the capacity to move international trade through our area as a key factor in supporting the formation of the RMA. “We need to facilitate trade that creates jobs and economic activity in our area,” she said. She added that communities such as Laredo and McAllen have RMAs and are taking advantage of the trade they bring to those regions.

Mayor John Cook pointed out the advantages of forming an RMA in the El Paso area. “RMAs can build roads outside the city, outside the state, and outside the country,” he said.

The City of El Paso cannot fund transportation projects outside the city limits, and the State of Texas cannot pay for roads outside state lines. But, a RMA has the ability to build projects beyond the El Paso city limits and in other states, such as New Mexico. A RMA could also enter into cooperation with Mexico to build international bridges and roadways.

Holguin questioned the need for El Paso to build roads outside of the city, to which Cook responded that they could help bring in money to the area.

Byrd joined Cook by adding that the lifeline to El Paso’s economy is in the International Bridges. “We need them,” she said.

Steve Ortega cited El Paso’s projected growth in the upcoming 25 years as a good reason to form the RMA. “A Regional Mobility Authority will finance much needed future infrastructure,” he said. “The RMA will complete needed projects by 2012 and 2013, not by 2030.”

The RMA would help to complete these projects in the coming few years by making the El Paso area transportation projects eligible for low-interest loans that are currently only available to regions with established RMAs.

Critics of the RMA told Council they believe that the Authority would abuse its powers; RMAs have the power of eminent domain and can toll roads. Critics also contend that the RMA is a mistake as its members are not appointed by voters and cannot be removed until the end of their term.

In the end, the Council voted in favor of creating the RMA and established the number of City-appointed members at 6, with a Chair being appointed by Governor Rick Perry. Three of the members will serve a one-year term, expiring February 1, 2008. The other three will serve a two-year term to end on February 1, 2009.

As the Council moved on to discuss the nominations of the six RMA members, arguments erupted between Rep. Melina Castro, who voted against the RMA, and council members who had supported it.

Castro disagreed with many of the nominees brought up for discussion by Byrd. Castro said the nominations were not discussed by the full Council. All council members were asked to submit a list of their own nominees, though not all did, to include Castro and Holguin.

“If you have objections, I’m open to hear why,” Beto O’Rourke told Castro. Castro did not bring up any objections to particular nominees.

The debate continued and the majority of Council appointed the six members to the RMA. They are David Marcus, J.O. Stewart, Anne Herkenhoff, Tanny Berg, Ralph Adame, and Dr. Tony Payan.

Mayor Cook then randomly drew lots to decide how the staggered terms would be assigned; Marcus, Hirkenhoff, and Adame each will serve a one-year term; Stewart, Berg, and Payan each will serve for two years.

Rene Leon can be contacted at

© 2007 Newspaper Tree:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"The state might limit the length of concession agreements to 50 years."

Best Practices for P3's

Florida Officials Weigh in at Conference

March 14, 2007

By Matthew Hanson
The Bond Buyer
Copyright 2007

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Still in the early phases of deciding how public-private partnerships will work into transportation finance plans, Florida officials are considering some best practices to ensure the state gets the best deals possible for any potential P3s.

Part of making sure that the state and its cities gets as much as possible from future P3 deals means, among other things, limiting the maximum length of long-term concession deals, refusing to include non-compete clauses in concession agreements, and maintaining the state’s policy of having the legislature appropriate any payment to the concessionaires, said William Thorp, chief financial officer of Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, at a P3 conference hosted by MBIA Inc. last week here.

“Florida is trying to position itself to move forward in the P3 area,” Thorp told the group of investors, advisers, and other officials interested in these hybrid infrastructure funding deals. “We realized that we really needed to tweak the language of this legislative package to make things work.”

The state statute addressing transportation P3s was enacted in 1991 and amended in 2004. Officials at the Florida Department of Transportation have begun drafting legislation to amend the law yet again, though nothing formal has been completed and there are not yet plans to introduce a bill in Tallahassee, Thorp said.

He added that one idea being batted around is that the state might limit the length of concession agreements to 50 years, requiring that any longer agreements get legislative approval. The Port of Miami Tunnel and Access Improvement Project would give concessionaires up to five years to design and construct the project, and then 30 more years to operate and maintain the tunnel, according to the project’s request for proposals.

When time-value of money is taken into account, not much value is added by extending the lease beyond 50 years, Thorp said, adding that it is also nearly impossible to tell how much Florida’s population growth will affect that value of the asset five decades from now.

This concept is likely modeled on Texas’ P3-related statutes, according to Robert Poole, director of the transportation group at Reason Foundation, California-based think tank that advocates for privatization and other libertarian principals. Poole now lives in Florida and does some consulting for the Florida DOT on the side.

“Texas seems to be getting terrific proposals with that as a limitation,” Poole said. “And while you probably would get somewhat more in upfront payments, depending on the specifics of each project with a longer term, it’s an awfully long time.”

Thorp added that officials have considered the merits of keeping non-compete clauses out of any potential lease agreement. These provisions could limit the state’s ability to build other roads within a certain distance from the one under contract.

The inclusion of strict non-compete clauses are generally now thought of as too restrictive, Poole said, adding that common practice is now to work out a sort of compromise based on the state’s or city’s plans for future projects.

“You as the concession-holder take into account the long-range transportation plan of the relevant jurisdiction,” he said. “Everything in that you have to just accept — take your lumps. If we build everything in that plan, that’s the breaks of the game, and you knew that going in. There’s no compensation from any of the effects from that.”

Another wrinkle in establishing P3s in Florida has been the state’s mandate that payments to potential concessionaires are subject to lawmakers’ appropriation, just like any other state expense. This is something that Florida does not plan to bend on for this new form of privatization, Thorp told the conference group, many of which represented the international firms that have bid on U.S. toll roads in recent years.

“Many of you concessionaires that we have talked to before have real heartburn with this annual appropriation risk — something that will not change,” Thorp said. “Even the way that debt service on Florida Turnpike bonds — and we have over $2 billion of bonds that are outstanding — everything is subject to appropriation in the state of Florida.”

© 2007 The Bond Buyer and SourceMedia Inc.:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


“The toll road being a 50-year deal is bothersome to me. That’s two and a half generation ordeal.”

Local officials react to S.H. 121 toll contract

March 13, 2007

By Crystal Forester
McKinney Courier-Gazette
Copyright 2007

The announcement of a deal with Cintra to develop State Highway 121 brought mixed reactions from local officials.

State Rep. Jim Jackson, R-Carrollton, said he would prefer that the North Texas Tollway Authority operate and own all toll roads in the region but the state has to focus if the Cintra partnership is a good deal.

“We had NTTA created in the legislation more than a decade ago so that the cash flow from our region would stay in our region and we could plan a regional wide toll road system,” Jackson said. “That is what I would have preferred, but the state, before I was here, the state had different ideas.”

Gov. Rick Perry announced on Feb. 27 that Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, the Spanish company that is half of the partnership of the state contract for the Trans-Texas Corridor, won the bid to build, operate and maintain S.H. 121 toll lanes in Denton and Collin counties.

State Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, said he agrees that he would like to see the bid closer to home.

“I would have preferred it to go to an American company, but apparently an American company didn’t bid high enough to gain that project. They were all in the game,” Solomons said. He also said the road is taking too long.

“The toll road being a 50-year deal is bothersome to me. That’s two and a half generation ordeal,” Solomons said. “Yes, we need the money. Yes, we need transportation. Yes, we think having a toll road is not necessarily a bad thing. In essence we’re having to move in that direction for a little while, but to have it for 50 years, I think a lot of people are stunned by that.”

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, announced in a released statement that she opposes the deal.

“There is a growing discomfort among citizens about the rush to toll so many roads in our region and about turning over highway construction to a foreign company,” Nelson said. “The author of this legislation, who served on the Texas Transportation Commission, helped me better understand what the state is giving up by entering into these contracts that have yet to be fully disclosed. Non-compete clauses prevent the state from building roads that would compete with toll roads, buyback provisions require us to repay the up-front money and the operators have unlimited authority to raise toll rates. Acting in haste now is not worth the long-term costs to taxpayers.”

Jim Witt, city manager of Coppell, said he is in support of SH-121 being turned into a tollway. He said the city has been in support of the project even before it was changed into a toll road.

Approximately five years ago, Coppell, Carrollton, The Colony, Grapevine and Lewisville joined together to put in money to finish the highway since the state did not have enough funds.

Coppell planned to put $200,000 a year toward the project reaching a total of $1 million input. However, when the project was changed into a privately-owned toll way, the city of Coppell got its money back.

Witt said the city is in support of the completed project as it benefits the city in many ways. First, there are several undeveloped pieces of property near the highway. The highway would increase the value and make the property better for economic development.

Second, traveling is made easier for commuters en route to their jobs. Witt said although it only saves five to seven minutes now, the highway is less than a third completed which would save even more time for commuters once it is completed.

Finally, it will help move employees to the industrial part of town.

Witt said large trucks and construction vehicles will be more easily moved once there is an easily accessible highway along Coppell.

Witt says the city only worries that if the current contract falls through and the toll road project doesn't get funded, the excess revenue won't go to Coppell and the other original funding cities. Since the last eight mile construction of Freeport Parkway toward the new toll area of SH-121, it is directly affected by the tollway and revenues from it, Witt said.

The way the highway was originally designed benefitted the surrounding communities, and if the revenues are spread into other communities not directly affected, the city will have to fund greater portions of Freeport Parkway that are constructed for the purpose of 121, Witt said.

"What we fear is that the excess revenue will go into a larger pot of cities not affected by the highway," Witt said.

A new bill was recently introduced by State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, that could put a “moratorium” on toll road projects taken over by private companies, which could possibly delay future development of S.H. 121.

Senate Bill 1267, a bill authored by Nichols and signed onto by 24 additional senators, including Florence Shapiro, would place a hold on comprehensive development agreements or sale of toll projects to private companies saying they “may not contain a provision permitting the private participant to operate and collect revenue from the toll project,” according to the bill.

The bill also calls for a nine-member legislative committee to be created to study “the public policy implications of including in a comprehensive development agreement entered into by a toll project entity with a private participant in connection with a toll project a provision that permits the private participant to operate and collect revenue from the toll project,” according to the bill.

If passed, the bill would last for nearly two years officially taking effect on Sept. 1. A companion bill, House Bill 2772, also has the support of 66 state representatives, including State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, according to Texas Legislative records.

If Cintra is awarded the final bid, which is conditional until final environmental clearance of the S.H. 121 segment in Collin County and the successful financial close of the apparent best value proposer, the main lanes will be constructed 25 years earlier than if regular state gasoline financing was used.

Cintra is committing to 49 payments in excess of $700 million, for a total of $2.8 billion for the S.H. 121 project, $5.06 billion to the region and $2.1 billion for the completion of construction in Collin County, said Bill Hill, the district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation Dallas District.

Jackson said people are focusing on the wrong issue.

“There are a lot of people talking about foreign ownership. That’s really not the issue,” he said. “The issue is, is it a good deal. As long as the people who are buying assets in our country allow us as individuals to buy assets in their country, we’re not going to stop that. I never saw a toll road that you can put in a brief case and carry off. So, it’s here. I think whether the ownership is by somebody or some group that has out of country ownership or not is beside the point. The point should be, are we getting a good deal.”

Staff writers Danny Gallagher, Brandi Hart, Dan Eakin, Katy Moore and Tasha Hayton contributed to this report.

© 2007 The McKinney Courier-Gazette:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Perhaps that whistling we’re hearing is Perry boiling in the pot."

New Anti-Toll Slang


Keli Dailey
San Antonio Current
Copyright 2007

For starters, no one’s called it “the Trans-Texas Catastrophe” since Granny Strayhorn’s failed bid for governor. And the word “boondoggle,” as it applies to the Trans-Texas Corridor network of superhighways and railroads, is going the way of “bling” and its wearying Urban Dictionary variations (“bling blung” … “bling bling silver spring”).

Don’t Trans-Texas watchdogs deserve words that “break like a bull through the hall … like a gull takes to the wind?” They especially need a New Slang now that state legislative momentum is building against privately financed toll roads. There are a dozen or so bipartisan bills challenging the TTC and the Texas Department of Transport-ation’s toll-road mandate … creating the perfect opportunity for anti-toll rebels to abandon necro’d and stale soundbites and invent some vibrant slanginology. Let the linguists at the Current show you how.

ABBA-ttack — The Current was subjected to the sugar-dispensing Europop group ABBA while a DVD of their videos played on a flat screen at Boston Nails on Broadway last week. Held captive in the pedicure spa chair for 30 vibrating minutes, and suffering a mild case of Stockholm Syndrome while the Swedish song birds sang their under-appreciated and final single, 1982’s “Under Attack,” we found the inspiration for this word: ABBA-ttack. As in, “TxDOT’s privatization efforts are under ABBA-tack this session.”

There are two bills that have TTC opponents particularly geeked up with excitement: Republican state Senator Robert Nichols’s Senate Bill 1267 and the companion bill from Republican state Represent-ative Lois Kolkhorst, House Bill 2772. Filed last week, the bills call for a two-year ban on new contracts for privately built tolls and “[the establishment of] a study group appointed by the Governor, Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House to evaluate the long-term [e]ffect of privatizing toll roads.”

Forget, for a moment, that Governor Perry and Speaker Tom Craddick always side with the free market, even at Texans’ expense. (We ABBA-ttack the governor for privatization experiments like last year’s Health and Human Services debacle, in which Bermuda-based Accenture LLP denied qualified applicants their welfare benefits. Afterward the governor’s spokeswoman, Kathy Walt, told blogger extraordinaire Off the Kuff that “the governor certainly believes that privatization is an appropriate cost-saving approach.” Expect any toll-study group Perry appoints to be as toothless as the Baker-Hamilton Commission.)

A-gangers — Of all the branches of the U.S. military (Army. Navy. Air Force. Marines. Privately contracted mercenaries.) the Current likes NAVspeak best. Their “A-gangers” refers to the Navy’s Auxiliary Division of the Engineering Department, what Wikipedia defines as “the only gang on the boat.”

The first notable TTC opposition was touched off by a former city manager of Columbus, an East Texas Republican named David Stall, who formed a TTC study group in 2002 months after Governor Perry announced his super-corridor.

“We were a voice in the wilderness at that point,” says Stall (mixing up our watery A-ganger metaphor). Stall and his wife Linda started Corridor Watch in 2004. Other A-gangers climbed onboard, including Sal Costello’s Texas Toll Party, its splinter group the San Antonio Toll Party, Environmental Defense, Citizens Against the TTC, the Independent Cattlemen Association, and free radicals working their skinny asses off to rally NAFTA-bashing protectionists (afraid the TTC will create a North American Union and an express route for Mexican immigrants) alongside people legitimately threatened by Texas’s most ginormous public-works project ever.

Eight hundred outraged citizens attended an eight-hour state-senate transportation hearing on tolls March 1, more than 3,000 protestors marched on the Capitol the next day, rally organizer Hank Gilbert told reporters. Most of the lawmakers responding to grassroots transportation policy pressure should be referred to as “B-gangers.”

Buffalo Steamer — The roots of this reference are pretty nasty. And fitting when you’re describing a report that disproves TxDOT’s “toll roads, at no cost to the taxpayer” claims, one that A-gangers can use to call the state agency a liar and smear its chest with excrement, metaphorically speaking. February’s state auditor’s report, for example, is a Buffalo Steamer. First off, it caught TxDOT’s bad bookkeeping on the TTC-35 project, a 50-year leased tollway that Spanish company Cintra and local Zachry Construction Corp. are set to build from San Antonio to Oklahoma: $4.3 million in invoices were coded to incorrect projects. It’s not a lot of money when you consider TxDOT handled a third of all state contracts last year and its overall budget is $11 billion.

“But if a private corporation did this they’d be in jail” for mislabeling expenses, says plucky A-ganger Terri Hall of the SA Toll Party. “They cooked the books.”

The real price distortion worth noting from the audit, however, we borrow from the trucker-friendly Land Line Magazine:

“The Texas Department of Transportation estimates the cost of the [TTC] to be about $184 billion, while state auditors found that one section alone — approximately 14 percent of the proposed corridor — would cost $105 billion.”

Nibblas — This is a fairly easy slang definition to explain. The unrestricted period for introducing bills just ended and there are 5,922 bills gestating in the state Capitol’s pink granite uterus. A few just “nibble around the edges” of TxDOT’s ability to privatize highways. Nibblas include the riders fixed to appropriations bills that won’t have to pass through Round Rock Republican Mike Krusee, the pro-toller gargoyle sitting atop the House Transportation Committee.

One lawmaker notes that nothing anti-toll will make it out of any committee if Speaker Craddick doesn’t want it to. If that’s the case, then those bills out to kill the TTC aren’t going anywhere. That includes Kolkhorst’s HB 1881 and Democratic State Representative David Leibowitz’s companion HB 857, which both call for a Back to the Future-like revision of the transportation code that gave birth to the TTC — that would jeopardize its very existence! Kolkhorst’s HB 1880 would prohibit public-pension funds from investing in private toll-road projects, effectively starving the TTC of billions of yummy dollars.

Pulling an Oppenheimer — The Current is always looking for an opportunity to mention Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb.” WMD Bob did an about-face after helping wipe out Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and spent his post-war years lobbying against atomic energy and the nuclear genie he unleashed.

The parallel between Oppenheimer and State Senator Nichols only has to do with a perceived change of heart. Nichols served six years on the Transportation Commission and supported toll roads and privatization back when Perry unveiled plans for the TTC in 2002. This year the senator filed a pair of bills proposing a two-year moratorium on the privatization of tolls and SB 1268, preventing existing roads from being tolled.

His spokesperson, Alicia Phillips, explains the Oppenheimer move this way: When Nichols left TxDOT in 2005, toll-road contracts were still in negotiation. He had no idea how “alarming” the provisions would be, particularly the non-compete agreements which limit the expansion of nearby freeways, and the lack of a road buy-back provision in case the state wants out of the comprehensive-development agreement legally binding it to private companies like Cintra — who just won a bid to build and collect tolls for 50 years along on State Highway 121 north of Dallas.

“These contracts can tie the state up in courts for years,” Nichols’s spokesperson said.

Potboiler Perry — The Current was listening to Arcade Fire’s first album, Funeral, one rainy night (see a review of their latest, Neon Bible, on page 47) and thinking up slang. “A watched pot won’t ever boil,” sang Win Butler. “Just like a seed down in the soil, you gotta give it time.”

The effort to slow down or stop Perry’s signature project, the TTC, has taken patience (and conventional wisdom says anti-toll opponents will get some modest satisfaction by the end of the 80th lege). But there’s something else that’s taken time: James Richard “Rick” Perry has been governor since 2000, since George W. Bush left for a higher branch (there’s a German proverb that comes to mind: “the higher the monkey climbs, the more it shows its behind,” but we digress). And this year, Perry’s handling of the HPV mandate, the coal-plant fast tracking, and the Texas Youth Commission sex-abuse scandal has created “near-universal animosity toward the governor,” reports Texas Monthly canary Paul Burka. Perhaps that whistling we’re hearing is Perry boiling in the pot.

© 2007 San Antonio Current:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Senator Nichols lays out the good, the bad, the ugly--and the awful truth

Sen. Nichols on Trans-Texas Corridor moratorium bill


Waxahachie Daily Blog
Copyright 2007

Senator Robert Nichols
Senate District 3

On Senate Bill 1267:

Few issues have become as emotionally or politically charged over the past few years as toll roads. As a Texas Transportation Commissioner for eight years and current state senator, I have a well-documented history of supporting toll roads to ensure our transportation infrastructure meets the demands of our growing population.

However, supporting toll roads does not equate to supporting a plan that prohibits competition or agreeing to policies that enrich a few shareholders at the expense of the taxpayer.

The Good

Governor Perry, the Texas Transportation Commission and the Legislature exhibited bold leadership and vision by embracing the toll road concept. Utilizing toll roads enables the state to build more roads faster without raising fuel or other taxes. Few Texans realize that current state fuel taxes do not cover the cost of maintaining current roads, much less to build new roads.

The Bad

As is usually the case, the devil is in the details. As the Transportation Commission began negotiating contracts with private companies to build and operate new toll roads, they hit several bumps. Most companies require at least a 50-year contract to operate and collect tolls. So the decisions we make today affect taxpayers for the next half-century. In the event the state needs to “buy back” the road during the 50-year period, it is imperative for us to have a clear buy-back provision to protect taxpayers.

The private companies prefer to put off addressing the buy-back issue until another day. This means the private companies would be free to hire experts to determine what they think the road is worth. It does not take a genius to figure out the companies will calculate the price in a way that enriches shareholders and leaves taxpayers holding the bag. Therefore, before any contract is signed, the state should negotiate an agreed-upon formula.

The Ugly

Imagine if you could make a deal with the state to build a store in your hometown, use the state’s power of eminent domain to take the land needed for your store and then get the state to agree to refrain from building another store in your hometown for 50 years. Now imagine your hometown was projected to have double-digit population growth. While it may be hard to fault any business for pursuing such a deal, the taxpayers would hold elected officials accountable.

When the Transportation Commission announced the proposed Corridor along I-35 in 2004, both Cintra-Zachary, the company chosen to build the system, and the Transportation Commission publicly stated there would be no “non-compete” clause in the contract.

Fast-forward a few years later and reality is like a cold glass of water in the face. With few exceptions, the Cintra contract contains a non-compete clause stating no alternative roads can be built within miles of either side of the toll road for 50 years without paying penalties. It has been indicated that many similar contracts are currently being negotiated giving private companies exclusive rights to many-mile wide areas of land in Texas’ highest growth areas.

Put simply, the state is enacting a policy that forces Texans to drive on a toll road with very few alternatives. In high-growth areas, the private toll operator will be free to increase tolls as demand for the road increases. New road construction by the state would be penalized, thereby setting up a classic monopoly, agreed to by the state, forcing Texans to pay ever-increasing tolls. There should be incentives to relieve congestion, not penalties.

The Solution

Texas’ transportation policy is too important to determine without open debate. Moving fast to meet today’s demand does not merit shortsighted decisions.

I filed Senate Bill 1267 to place a two-year moratorium on private equity toll projects. Toll roads can be built in the interim by the local authority or TXDOT; however, the government may not contract with a private company to operate toll roads until the Legislature ensures adequate protections are in place. Surely we can agree that signing away our ability to expand our transportation system for 50 years in the name of expediency is not a wise decision.

Senator Robert Nichols represents Texas Senate District 3. He is a retired engineer and former Texas Transportation Commissioner.

© 2007 The Waxahachie Daily Blog (From the editorial staff of the Waxahachie Daily Light):

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE