Saturday, April 07, 2007

"Index the gas tax to the Highway Index rather than the Consumer Price Index."


Gutsy hike in gas tax belongs on the table


San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

The growing traffic congestion in Texas is a multipronged problem that cannot be solved by one policy.

At a time when toll roads appear to be state leadership's primary answer to the dilemma, a bill proposed by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, has merit.

The legislation would index the gas tax to the Highway Cost Index, or the cost of highway construction over time.

According to Carona's office, the bill by 2030 would generate about $16 billion in gas tax revenue — or 31/2 times more than the current gas tax would.

Not only would more money be available for transportation infrastructure, consumers would pay less over time, according to Carona's office.

The cost to the typical driver in 2030 would be an additional $21 per month, compared to an additional $100 in toll and additional fuel costs if the gas tax remains static.

Texas drivers have gotten a cheaper-than-warranted ride for too long. The gas tax, a pairing of 18.4 cents in federal taxes and 20 cents in state taxes, has not been raised since 1991.

Tax bills must originate in the House. Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, has proposed a similar bill that indexes the tax to the Consumer Price Index, which rises more slowly than the HCI.

Both Carona and Krusee chair their respective transportation committees.

Lawmakers should seriously consider pursuing legislation that indexes the gas tax to the highway index rather than the consumer index.

Something must be done about the growing congestion on Texas roadways.

Toll roads are one of the cornerstones of Gov. Rick Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor, a web of roads, railroads and communications and utilities lines scrawled across the state.

In some cases, privatized toll roads make sense. They provide upfront funding to build the necessary infrastructure. The speed this method can bring to launching a project is a crucial asset as the state falls farther behind its roadways needs.

But toll roads should by no means be the only tool the state uses to relieve pressure on state highways and byways.

An indexed gas tax should receive a fair trial.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


"The powers-that-be misled us. They lied in the past, they're lying now, and they'll continue to lie. Nothing changes but the content of the lies."


Paying for Texas highways

April 07, 2007

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

Private toll roads are an excuse for the Texas Department of Transportation and other entities to accept up-front corporate money to spend on other projects. It's not about relieving congestion.

It's a disturbing way to fund other road projects. Then the taxpaying public gets saddled with excessive tolls and hidden fees for the duration of a 50-year contract.

Has anyone in power ever stopped to think that we 'little people' in the Metroplex don't want every new and old road to be a stinking toll road? We don't want to drive around with cameras pointed at our faces and receive 10 bills from 10 different toll companies with 10 different charges.

I attended a March 1 state Senate hearing on transportation and toll roads. Yes, I was part of what a local newspaper called a 'howling mob.'

Guess why Texans are howling? We're sick and tired of being taxed, tolled and gouged to death by state agencies, the private sector, public utilities, and insurance and drug companies.

How arrogant are Dallas-Fort Worth political and business leaders, our local newspapers and the normally compassionate columnists to want Texas voters/taxpayers/the driving public to run along, shut up and get with the program without question or review? We see and understand what's going on.

Linda Lancaster, Arlington

Since Gov. Rick Perry announced the need for a Trans-Texas Corridor, I've been opposed to the idea. But in the last two months, I've driven to Laredo four times. Now that I've seen the light of day, I'm absolutely in favor of this massive project.

On March 23, I left Laredo at 6 a.m. and arrived home in North Richland Hills at 5:45 p.m. -- 11 hours and 45 minutes for what's normally a seven-hour drive, including fuel and rest stops.

Now that I'm committed to favoring this huge project, I'm completely opposed to allowing anyone other than the state to build and operate a toll road. Why should we let a foreign country reap the profits of Texans using their own road? If ownership is such a good deal for the Spaniards, why shouldn't it be a good deal for us?

Remember when the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike paid off its bonds and the toll booths came down? This corridor could be done the same way.

Also, it seems to be time for a two-tiered toll system: one toll for Texas-registered vehicles and another (with a 25 percent surcharge) for out-of-state and out-of-country vehicles.

Now that I've seen the miserable traffic on Interstate 35 between Laredo and Fort Worth, I see the wisdom in building this wide road. I just think that Perry is doing us a horrible disservice by allowing the operation of a Texas road by foreigners.

Gene Barnett, North Richland Hills

Much opinion has been voiced on how to finance roads in Texas. Lately, we learned that monies spent on specialty license plates and meant for the upkeep of our parks was diverted to other areas. And, of course, our parks system is hurting.

The same is true for our roads. We now know that not all of our state gasoline tax has been used for maintenance and construction of roads. We're told that some of those monies were siphoned off to other 'needs.'

What if, from Day One, we had an appropriately set gasoline tax and every penny of it went only for roads? Many think that if the gas tax money had been used wisely, there would be no need for toll roads. But we'll never know.

The powers-that-be have misled us. They lied to us in the past, they're lying now, and they'll continue to lie. Nothing changes but the content of the lies.

Michael E. Holland, Fort Worth

Copyright © 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram, All Rights Reserved.

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


Friday, April 06, 2007

"What's nine bucks [for 10 miles] if you're headed to Las Vegas to blow a hundred on the blackjack table?"

91 Freeway's top toll hits nearly $1 a mile

The peak fare for the 10-mile drive from Orange County to Riverside County is going up to $9.50.

April 6, 2007

By David Reyes
Los Angeles Times
Copyright 2007

Along with death and taxes, commuters on the 91 Freeway may never be able to escape rush-hour congestion and rising tolls.

Starting today, it will cost drivers as much as $9.50 to use the Express Lanes to get from Orange County to Riverside County — or nearly a buck a mile.

The new top fare, up a quarter from the last rate increase in January, places the 10-mile toll road among the most expensive in the country. It has doubled since 2002.

Denver-area motorists pay $9.75 on Interstate 470, but that gets them nearly 50 miles.

Tolls on the 91 generally will start at $1.15 if you are traveling from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. But commuters' pocketbooks will be hit hardest if they want to head east at prime time: 4 to 5 p.m. Fridays.

Why the increase? Because the toll lanes are too popular, said Kirk Avila, the Express Lanes' general manager.

"We have to raise the toll to try to move people to the 'shoulder,' or off-peak hours, where they can save money," he said.

In planner parlance, it's called "congestion pricing."

The peak westbound toll will be $4.05, from 7 to 8 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays.

Planners are banking that commuters change their habits, said a spokeswoman for the Orange County Transportation Authority, which approved the fare increases.

For example, on Thursdays, if eastbound motorists can head home from 3 to 4 p.m., the toll is $4.95. Wait until 4 p.m. and prepare to pay $4 more.

Otherwise, the toll lanes eventually will clog, leaving little motivation for those who travel the freeway to use them, Avila said.

It's part of the toll lanes' balancing act of supply and demand, where it's not about making money but ensuring that traffic flows faster, said Hamid Bahadori, public policy and programs director for the Automobile Club of Southern California.

The key is whether the new toll discourages enough drivers from using the toll lanes and sends them onto the regular freeway lanes, he said.

The 91 Express Lanes were owned by a private firm until they were bought by the OCTA five years ago for nearly $208 million. In fiscal 2006, the Express Lanes made enough money to pay the annual $12.5 million bond debt and to pay for the tollway's upkeep, Avila said.

The OCTA's authority to charge tolls will end in 2030 or when the bond debt is retired.

Until then, the lanes will only get more popular. Last year, the Express Lanes, which run from Anaheim to near the Riverside-Orange County border, reported more than 14 million trips, double the amount in 2000, Avila said.

That popularity is fueled in part by high real estate prices in Los Angeles and Orange counties that have driven home buyers into the Inland Empire, said David Brownstone, chairman of UC Irvine's economics department.

The 91 Freeway also has become the major feeder to Interstate 15, which takes people to Las Vegas, Brownstone said.

On Friday evenings, when the tolls are highest, commuters will be sharing the lanes with thousands of motorists headed to Nevada, along with others in motor homes and pickups pulling trailers with ATVs out for a weekend in the desert or the mountains.

"A lot of those recreational drivers don't drive the 91 Freeway every day, so for them, what's nine bucks if you're headed to Las Vegas to blow a hundred on the blackjack table?" Brownstone said.

© 2007 Los Angeles Times:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"There's no reason that Texans must become slaves to toll roads."

The toll vs. the tax


By Jack Z. Smith
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

The raging controversy over transportation funding and toll roads isn't limited to Texas.

It's increasingly becoming a nationwide issue, as reported by Eric Kelderman on the Web site, which tracks issues facing state governments.

As Kelderman noted, the trend toward growing reliance on toll roads for funding new and expanded highways has become a hot-button issue not only in Texas but also in other states such as Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Colorado. An important ancillary issue is whether toll roads should be operated and maintained by private firms whose chief motivation is making money.

There's a simple, judicious way to avoid becoming addicted to toll roads: Individual states that are strapped for transportation dollars should raise their gasoline tax. Congress also should raise the federal gasoline tax.

Both state and federal gas taxes also should be indexed for inflation to keep pace with rising road-building costs.

For Texas, a sizable increase in the state and federal gas taxes would go an enormous way toward meeting the state's long-term transportation needs. We still would need some new toll roads, especially in the near term. But higher gas taxes could sharply reduce the need for toll roads.

The state gas tax should be boosted substantially, with an up-front increase of perhaps 8 to 10 cents a gallon, coupled with inflation-indexed increases going forward. The 20-cents-per-gallon tax hasn't been raised since 1991. Its buying power has been eroded greatly by a strong rise in road-building costs. That increase has been particularly pronounced in congested urban areas, where the need for more road capacity is most severe.

The federal gas tax of 18.4 cents a gallon hasn't been changed since 1993, and its funding capability also has been greatly diminished. Meanwhile, maintenance needs have escalated on the aging interstate highway system birthed in the 1950s. The federal tax should be raised in similar fashion to Texas' tax.

Call me conservative and old-fashioned, but I generally prefer a traditional "pay-as-you-go" concept for Texas roads. I'm not keen on the idea of paying tolls for 50 years or more on a highway.

State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security, is sponsoring a bill to index Texas' gas tax to inflation. But there's no guarantee that it will get through the Legislature, which dreads the mere mention of any tax increase, no matter how logical and needed it is.

In Texas, much of the mania for toll roads has been generated by Republican elected officials who made pledges to never support any tax increase. That's a foolish vow for any politician, given needs that might arise. It's especially stupid in the case of the gas tax, because inflation has greatly eroded its funding capacity. In major metropolitan areas, costs just to acquire highway right of way have skyrocketed.

One thing I like about the gas tax is that it provides a direct financial incentive for energy conservation, which reduces our reliance on foreign oil, air pollution and emissions of carbon dioxide that are believed to contribute to global warming. Those who drive small, fuel-efficient cars consume less gasoline, and hence pay less gas taxes, than those who drive gas-gulpers the same number of miles.

I'm not opposed to toll roads in general. The old Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike (now Interstate 30) and Dallas North Tollway were worthy ventures. I support the Southwest Parkway project designed to ease congestion in southwest Fort Worth. I also think, given the current crisis in transportation funding for North Central Texas, that a proposed moratorium on toll road projects is a bad idea and that some toll roads definitely will be needed quickly.

Nevertheless, there's no reason that Texans must become slaves to toll roads. We can avert toll mania if we raise state and federal gas taxes to help compensate for the ravages of a decade and a half of inflation in road-building costs.

Jack Z. Smith is a Star-Telegram editorial writer. 817-390-7724

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


TxDOT considers adding toll lanes to Interstate 10 in Austin County

Expansion of I-10 in TxDOT's plans


Mary Hogan
The Sealy News
Copyright 2007

The state is growing but the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) may not be able to keep up with its infrastructure needs, Mark Wooldridge, a representative of the department said Wednesday.

Texas owes $288 million to the government, who is asking for the money back so it can be used to fund the war in Iraq. This sum is in addition to the $305 million the state has already paid back to the government in recent months. Repayment of these funds will have a large impact on the capacity of the transportation department, Wooldridge said. The average cost of completing one project already exceeds the department's annual budget, he said.

One way the lack of funds may affect highways and interstates is through an increased building of toll roads. In Austin County, the department is considering expanding I-10 to include additional lanes in some areas. If the plans materialize, the additional lanes may be privy to tolls paid electronically. Existing lanes of I-10 would remain free. Some of the entrances to I-10 may change, though.

"We're evaluating it," Wooldridge said. "Some of the points of entry would change, but only certain entrances would be specifically for the toll way."

Another route TxDOT might take to pay for projects is by shadow-tolling, which is a financial mechanism rather than an actual toll system. Under a shadow-tolling plan, a private entity would issue bonds to come up with the capital to build a road or make improvements. TxDOT then pays the entity back based on the amount of motorists who use the road.

In determining which projects the department focuses its time and resources on, safety is a large factor. Highway 36 could be expanded to a four-lane road with a dividing median in the middle, and this project would likely take precedence over others, Wooldridge said.

"Safety is a big part of project prioritization," Wooldridge said. "We were having a large number of fatalities along Hwy. 36."

The bridge above Hwy. 36, which continually gets hit, Wooldridge said, might be raised in addition to Hwy. 36 being widened. The department also plans to improve drainage in that area.

In regard to I-10, the department plans to widen the shoulders on the westbound side in addition to building additional lanes.

"Putting in shoulders and widening it are safety measures which would be useful if there was another hurricane evacuation like Katrina," Wooldridge said.

Another area in the county that the department looked at due to safety problems was the area around Gebhardt road, mainly the series of traffic lights. The area is poses a threat to motor vehicle safety because there are a lot of intersections closely spaced. The department is in the process of designing new plans for the area and has had a consulting firm make recommendations after looking at the road. The department lacks funding to begin putting any plans for the area in order. If funding became available, the department would be able to construct the project within two years, Wooldridge said.

Austin County's capacity to keep up with infrastructure demands was compared to that of Fort Bend County, which completed projects on its own because of a growing tax base.

"They have big pockets but big needs as well," Wooldridge said. "There's a lot of congestion still in that area."

The growth rate of the county is not as great as it is in other surrounding areas of Houston, Wooldridge told citizens who were concerned about the lack of funds for a growing area.

"In Fulshire, they are building one new housing development which will have 3,400 homes," Wooldridge said. "Some of these other counties are growing faster than ours is."

© 2007 Sealy Publications, Inc.:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Sen. Ogden: 'Undoing the sin' of House Bill 3588

Capitol Briefs


Kimberly Reeves
Austin Chronicle
Copyright 2007

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, passed the second of his package of bills on Tuesday intended to undo the sin of passing the toll-road bill, House Bill 3588, two sessions ago as chair of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

Senate Bill 718, which passed with nary a comment from Ogden's colleagues, would designate the state's highway trunk system, whenever possible, as the preferred route for the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Ogden already has passed SB 1795, which doubles the cap on bonds that TxDOT can issue to fund highway projects, up to $6 billion.

His other bills include limiting tolls on a TxDOT-owned project to simply cover the cost and maintenance of that project and ending private concession deals on toll roads.

Ogden said leasing or selling a state highway should be a last resort for the state.

© 2007 The Austin Chronicle:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Respected transportation experts have given the legislature a clear warning."

Letter to the Editor

Road Warning


David K. Stall
Houston Business Journal
Copyright 2007

Respected transportation experts have given the legislature a clear warning.
Among them Senator Robert Nichols who sits on the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee and Jere Thompson Jr., former chairman of the North Texas Turnpike Authority. Both have raised issues with the state’s toll road policy.

Senator Nichols who just completed eight years on the Texas Transportation Commission has serious concerns with the pending SH-121 contract. Nichols says contracts containing those terms will create a monopoly forcing Texans to pay ever-increasing tolls while leaving very few alternatives.

Thompson describes the SH-121 contract as a perfect example of a bad deal. The state’s Spanish partner will take billions in profit for very little risk. Those dollars will benefit the company and their banks instead of funding additional transportation projects.

It’s no surprise that those who will profit from the SH-121 deal, including TxDOT and others ready to spend the concessionaire’s upfront money, steadfastly support the agreement. On the other side are the citizens and consumers who will ultimately pay for the roads plus the hefty private profits. Both sides want highways built quickly, the question is how much taxpayer money should be given away in the process.

The majority of legislators recognize there is a problem and support bills that give temporary pause in the contract process to allow for review. But two key legislators, Representative Mike Krusee and Senator John Carona, chairmen of House and Senate transportation committees, are blocking those bills and that opportunity. Why?

Decisions carry consequences and when blame is assigned for bad decisions the most damning question is, “What did you know and when did you know it?” History will forever record that the Legislature knew these things now when they had the opportunity and obligation to act.

David K. Stall is co-founder of, a non-partisan grassroots organization.

© 2007 Houston Business Journal:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Despite a building backlash, toll roads and highway taxation-by-the-mile schemes are grinding ahead in the face of public opposition.


Toll roads, user fees are stale ideas

April 5, 2007

Russell Sadler
Register Guard (Eurgene OR)
Copyright 2007

Despite a building backlash against toll roads and highway taxation-by-the-mile schemes, these gimmicks seem to have a life of their own, grinding ahead in the face of public opposition that will eventually kill them.

In Oregon, a "pilot project" is under way to tax vehicles by the mile. Public employee vehicles and some private drivers are installing GPS systems to track when and where they drive. The data are collected when the driver fills the tank at selected gasoline stations, and taxes are assessed.

We are assured that this data will remain secret and will be used for no purpose other than determining how much highway tax to pay. But after six years of the Bush administration, such promises are no longer credible. The only way to protect against the misuse of that kind of intrusive information is not to collect it at all.

But absent intervention by the Legislature, this juggernaut just keeps rolling along and picking up momentum until it inevitably becomes the way we are taxed to use the highways. It is, after all, the leading alternative to taxing gasoline by the gallon.

The future of toll roads is playing itself out in the sprawling suburbs of Virginia, including Loudoun County, one of the fastest growing 'burbs in the country.

When the Dulles Greenway was opened through farm and forest land in 1995, it was dubbed the "road to nowhere." Today, the 14-mile, privately financed toll road connecting the Dulles Toll Road with burgeoning Leesburg is the main artery in this sprawling county, featuring titanic traffic jams and a fight over raising the one-way toll from $2.70 to $4.80 over the next five years.

The original owners, Toll Road Investors Partnership II, has lost money since the road opened. Despite these chronic losses, The bought a controlling interest in TRIP II and wants to raise tolls so the company makes money. Australian-based Macquarie Infrastructure Group bought a controlling interest in TRIP II and wants to raise tolls so the company makes money. Macquarie also got caught lobbying against improvements to Route 7, a road that parallels the Dulles Greenway, to perpetuate congestion and create an "incentive" for drivers to use the toll road.

Macquarie insists it has a right to make money, like any other business. Local residents insist a "premium" high-cost, low-congestion toll road was not what they were promised when TRIP II first promised to build a privately-financed highway.

No one wants to admit this business model is failing already.

Macquarie has been dabbling around the fringes of Oregon's transportation policy for several years now. The company proposed to finance a toll road bypassing major communities in Yamhill County, but concluded the toll road could not make enough money unless a toll was also charged on Highway 99. Tolls on both routes would reduce drivers' incentive to avoid the private toll road.

As it became apparent to government officials and private developers that the public is no longer willing to build and maintain unlimited freeways and bypasses that simply generate more traffic, they have apparently decided to use tolls to ration the limited space on the highways.

This concept lacks the public support required to become widespread policy for two reasons.

  • First, the 99-year contracts some of these privately financed projects require lock communities into transportation systems that may become obsolete or cannot be changed by elected officials if public opinion changes in the future. Privately owned public infrastructure is undemocratic.

  • Secondly, rationing space on the highways by raising the price so only people with ready cash or credit can afford them is an affront to the egalitarian principles we all learn in kindergarten: First come, first served; wait your turn; no cuts in line.
The chronic traffic congestion in some parts of the state, the rising cost of highway maintenance and the increasing price of petroleum combine to demonstrate our post-World War II transportation and housing system is not sustainable.

Yet toll roads, rationing highway space by raising prices and other ideas we are talking about are aimed at sustaining the unsustainable for those with money, while the rest of us can just find ways to get along.

That is a prescription for a political backlash of the kind we saw last November.

We need a serious conversation about alternative transportation and housing models for the future. We are not hearing that conversation is Salem this session.

Political commentator Russell Sadler lives in Eugene.

© 2007 The Associated Press:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Thursday, April 05, 2007

“They’re supposed to be in the business of moving people, and instead they want to be real estate developers.”

Metro buys Midtown tract, and developer buys time

April 5, 2007

By Rad Sallee
Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

Metro is buying two blocks along its light-rail line in Midtown from a developer the agency expects will buy the property back and build transit-friendly residential and business space.

In a transaction unprecedented in the agency's history, the Metropolitan Transit Authority board voted March 22 to spend $7.2 million for the blocks bounded by Main, Holman, Travis and Winbern, next to the Ensemble station of Metro's light rail Red line.

The idea is to sell the tract back to developer Robert H. Schultz of RHS Interests for at least the same price after Schultz's partnership is ready to build. Schultz approached Metro with the proposal, he and Metro said.

Agency spokeswoman Raequel Roberts said Metro knows of no other instances in which a transit agency has bought land to hold and sell to a private company for what is known as transit-oriented development.

The board did not discuss the purchase publicly when it voted for the transaction, but Schultz and Todd Mason, Metro's vice president of real estate services, since have outlined the plan for the Houston Chronicle.

Schultz said Metro may join in developing a parking garage on the site that could be used by rail riders but that the agency chose not to invest in other parts of the project.

"They didn't want to extend that kind of money. They wanted to be much more conservative until they could see this thing was going to happen," he said.

Mason agreed, saying, "Metro does not want to be a developer and take on a lot of risk, but we want to be an enabler of projects like this one."

He projected that the development could increase Metro ridership by 1,000 passengers a day at virtually no cost. "By comparison, a typical Park & Ride lot adds 1,500 riders but costs $20 million to $25 million," he said.

Not everyone's on board

But City Councilman Michael Berry, who chairs a council committee on transportation and is in the real estate business, disagrees with the whole approach.

"Metro has completely lost focus," Berry said. "They're supposed to be in the business of moving people, and instead they want to be real estate developers."

Schultz, who also owns the Continental Club in the 3700 block of Main, said he expects the project to cost in the "low hundreds of millions" of dollars. "It depends on how much garage and residential and office and retail we can get," he said.

Under discussion are up to 50,000 square feet of retail, 400 residential units (probably apartments) above the retail, and possibly hotel and office space, Mason and Schultz said.

By purchasing the land to hold until the time is ripe to build, Schultz said, "Metro is giving us a little bit of breathing room." He said that the project as planned would require some exceptions to building codes and that it will take several months to obtain the variances.

Both parties want to attract renters and customers seeking an urban environment in which they can get around on foot and by transit. For that, developers generally prefer parking garages rather than surface lots and buildings closer to the street than the 25-foot minimum now required.

"The code works well in the suburbs but not necessarily in a dense urban environment," Mason said.

Schultz said the planned garage would be above ground but surrounded by other buildings or otherwise "masked" architecturally. Because the project's eventual scope is not clear, authoritative maps or drawings are not available, Schultz said.

Desirable property

Although there is no buy-back guarantee, Schultz and Mason said that, if plans fall through, Metro likely will be able to sell the land for a profit. Mason described it as "a very nice two-block assemblage in the middle of Midtown that is very marketable."

Mason also said that, in recent years, parts of the neighborhood have been plagued by drug dealing and vagrancy. "Metro and the city and everybody want to see it cleaned up," he said.

Metro officials say that the agency does not use its eminent domain authority for development purposes and that no condemnations are included in this transaction.

Schultz said RHS Interests assembled properties in the two blocks from multiple owners. The Metro sale will be closed over the next four weeks, Schultz said, and then the clock will start running.

For the next 12 months, he said, RHS Interests will be able to buy back the property at the price Metro paid. For six months after that, RHS can maintain buy-back rights for the original cost plus interest. After 18 months, Metro may sell the property or use it as it wishes.

Lost tax revenue

Holding the land could cost taxpayers some lost interest on Metro money tied up in the deal. And since Metro doesn't pay property taxes, the city, county and other taxing entities will lose out on revenue while the land is off the tax rolls.

The property's most recent annual tax bill was less than $200,000, including city, county and school taxes, county tax office records show.

Metro says the development would generate far more than that in property taxes and that the increased transit use would benefit the public.

Roberts said the agreement was reviewed by Metro counsel "and is fully compliant with the law."

Mason said the cost could be prohibitive for a private company to just hold the property itself until ready to develop it.

If Metro did not step in, Mason said, the blocks could be developed in ways that do not provide the urban flavor and residential density the agency thinks will increase ridership.

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


Bill seeks to authorize high speed rail authority for the Texas/Louisiana and Texas/Mexico borders.

Frost co-authors bill to create Texas high-speed rail authority


Jodi Sheridan
Texarkana Gazette
Copyright 2007

Texas Rep. Stephen Frost, D-Atlanta, thinks a piece of legislation is key to giving Northeast Texas more rail access.

Frost is co-authoring House Bill 3819 with state Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, to create a high-speed rail authority for the Texas/Louisiana and Texas/Mexico borders.

‘This bill aims to give us much more rail access in our area’ Frost said, adding it was vitally important for businesses looking to locate here or transport goods here. Frost said the Texas/Louisiana border referenced in the legislation encompasses the Northeast Texas area, so its time to step up and go after more rail access.

‘If we waited for the state to get us rail like we need, well be waiting for a very long time’ said Frost. The authority would be a political unit or body governing what would happen in securing more rail access, including where to put it, how to use funds and how it would be financed. ‘That would be their decision’ said Frost.

The authority would include 11 people appointed by the governor and have representatives from each county in the border region, creating a diverse voice, Frost said. The bill also addresses taxes, eminent domain and bonds. ‘Thats one way to finance it’ Frost said of issuing bonds to pay for construction.

However, the bill doesnt address where rail would be located. ‘There is no route in mind’ said Frost. ‘Thats where we would be looking for the input of the community and region. He said while officials would look to business and industry for input, ‘we also want to make sure whatever routes are chosen will be the least disruptive (to residents) in those areas.

HB 3819 has been scheduled for a public hearing Tuesday in the House Border and International Affairs committee. Frost said with most legislators focusing on their own projects, he and Merritt wont get a lot of feedback until after the committee meeting. ‘This is a work in progress’ he said. ‘I'm looking forward to getting the committees input on this bill.'

© 2007 Texarkana Gazette:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Complicated structures favored by infrastructure groups make it difficult for even professional analysts to understand the cash flows & accounts."

Roads to riches

High returns keep shareholders happy.

April 4, 2007

Beth Quinlivan
Brisbane Times (Australia)
Copyright 2007

The debate about whether listed infrastructure stocks were set up mainly to generate fees for investment bankers or to secure defensive long-term investments suitable for anyone looking for a reasonable yield is as strong as ever.

It's more than a decade since the first of the infrastructure groups was launched on the Australian investment scene and, excluding the public utility groups, infrastructure funds listed on the stock exchange are valued at close to $35 billion.

The biggest - and oldest - is Macquarie Infrastructure Group, worth $10 billion with toll roads in Australia, Europe and North America.

The smallest - and newest - is RiverCity, which floated last year. It is building a north-south bypass in Brisbane due to open in 2010, but the price has dropped 20 per cent since listing, to $252 million.

In the middle are Transurban (toll roads mainly in Melbourne and Sydney), Macquarie Airports (interests in six airports around the world including a major stake in Sydney Airport), Macquarie Communications (television and radio transmission infrastructure), Babcock & Brown Infrastructure (ports, power transmission, wind generation), ConnectEast (building Melbourne's newest toll road) and Australian Infrastructure Fund (interests in nine airports, three seaports, light rail and one toll road).

At face value - looking at the quality of assets and the returns generated to date - there is plenty to like about infrastructure investments. They generate reliable and inflation-indexed cash flows that are valuable for a broad spectrum of investors, from institutions to retirees running their own super funds.

As far as returns, most have been pretty impressive. Anyone who put money into Macquarie Airports has enjoyed an average total return over the past three years of 40 per cent a year. The share price of Transurban has been flat recently but it has returned 26 per cent on average for the past three years. According to Aspect Huntly, Macquarie Infrastructure has the lowest average total three-year return - hardly disastrous at 19 per cent a year for a mature company.

Ask the sceptics about infrastructure, though, and they run through a series of negatives. At the top of the list are the complicated structures favoured by most infrastructure groups which makes it difficult for even professional analysts to understand the cash flows and accounts.

Other negatives include the hefty fees that are paid by the funds to managers and promoters and high levels of gearing which make them susceptible to interest rate rises.

And although the underlying businesses tend to generate reliable cash flows, stock prices are volatile.

The larger funds trade as triple-stapled securities. Investors buy shares or units in three separate corporate entities which trade as a single unit. For Macquarie Airports, the traded security consists of units in two trusts (which hold the assets) and equity in a Bermuda-based company.

With Macquarie Communications, securities are made up of equity in both a local and an international company (Bermuda) and units in a trust. Transurban and others follow roughly the same arrangement.

The funds say they use these structures because they are financially efficient but it really means investors end up having to take it on faith that the managers know what they are doing. The chances of ordinary shareholders making sense of the information provided - enough to pick up warning signs or follow important developments - is pretty slim.

Common practices, such as treating asset revaluations as revenue, also sit uneasily with some more conservative investors.

With Macquarie Infrastructure, for example, the $1443 million reported net profit for the July-December half-year was heavily dependent on asset revaluations. The group reported revenue from its toll roads of $121.5 million for the six months, but further revenue of $1160 million was booked after asset revaluations.

"The assets are unilaterally good - if you look across the funds, it is hard to find duds," says Clinton Wood, analyst with Deutsche Bank. "Investors are getting decent yields, infrastructure looks reasonable value among the defensives."

But he notes not everyone is entirely comfortable with the sector. "Some of the institutions still won't touch infrastructure because of the structures and fees. Prices also tend to whip around on sentiment.

"But the market is maturing. If you compare infrastructure to property, infrastructure is still smaller and impacted by quirky accounting. The big difference is that with property you're getting 5 per cent yield. With some of the key infrastructure names, you're getting 7 to 8 per cent yield. In my mind, the risk reward is still in favour of infrastructure."

Prices across the sector dipped in the middle of last year although most picked up again by the end of the year - in some cases up 30 per cent of the mid-year lows. In more recent months, the three Macquarie funds have outperformed the other infrastructure stocks, with not much excitement anywhere else.

Wood says last year's falls followed a combination of investors cashing out of defensive investments to allow them to buy resources stocks and negative sentiment following interest rate rises and high oil prices, especially the impact on toll road and airport traffic.

So with the outlook for interest rates uncertain, investors should ask is it a good time to buy infrastructure?

"They are defensive stocks and that has been one of the recent attractions, but when interest rates go up, the stocks are sold down," says Luke McNab, an analyst from broking firm ABN Amro.

As for recommendations, McNab believes the pick of the sector is Macquarie Airports and has a price target on the stock of $4.50 (trading about $4).

"[Macquarie Airports] reported a solid result in 2006 but the real story is what is happening in 2007. We expect strong earnings growth from core assets, the sale of Birmingham airport, the refinancing of Brussels airport to fund a special distribution, buyback or acquisitions," he says.

Wood takes a different view. After its recent price rises, he believes Macquarie Airports is fully valued. He thinks there is better value in Transurban and Australian Infrastructure.

"Australian Infrastructure has a very good portfolio but gets overlooked because it is small. But its airport interests are in some of the fastest growing population areas, especially Perth and the Gold Coast."

He says the upcoming sale of the 15 per cent stake in Perth Airport owned by British group BAA (following BAA's takeover by Spanish infrastructure group Ferrovial) will update the real value of the asset. Given the demand for quality assets, he believes bidding for the facility will be strong. He says potential US acquisitions will underpin price rises for Transurban over the next year.

© 2007 Brisbane Times.:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Has anyone in power ever stopped to think that we 'little people' in the metroplex do not want every new and old road to be a stinking toll road?"

Lemmings and Toll Roads

April 5, 2007

Dallas Observer
Copyright 2007

Don't need no stinking road: I agree wholeheartedly with Jim Schutze ("Steve Blows," March 29) when it comes to the back-door politics behind the Trinity River project.

The Dallas Morning News editorial staff has made council member Angela Hunt out to be a person who single-handedly wants to stop "their" Trinity project.

Have you forgotten about the voters and taxpayers?

Has anyone in power ever stopped to think that we "little people" in the metroplex do not want every new and old road to be a stinking toll road?

We don't want to drive around with a camera pointed at our butts and then receive 10 bills from 10 different toll companies with 10 different charges/fees.

Private toll roads are just an excuse for TxDOT and other entities to accept upfront corporate money to spend on other projects. It's not even about relieving congestion.

Then the taxpaying public gets saddled with excessive tolls and hidden fees for the duration of the 50-year contract.

I attended the March 1 Senate hearing on transportation and toll roads. Yes, I was part of what The Dallas Morning News called the "howling mob."

Guess why the Texas public is howling?

We are sick and tired of being taxed, tolled and gouged to death from our state agencies, the private sector, public utilities and insurance/drug companies.

We have no control over who gets to seize our land using eminent domain for these economic development projects disguised as "flood control" and "blight control."

Mr. Schutze talks about the big money behind the Dallas project. Hearing the names Perot and Trammell Crow and Rob Allyn makes people realize how hard it is to fight people who can throw millions of dollars at our local and state leaders.

An example from Arlington: Jerry Jones set aside $10 million to advertise using Rob Allyn's firm to promise that if Arlington voters would vote "yes" for the new Cowboys stadium, that it would lower crime, create 2,000 jobs, save our schools and just about darn near bring world peace! A

ll that we nice Christian folks in Arlington ended up doing is using eminent domain to take homes and businesses from our fellow citizens and agreeing to fork over millions in taxes that could have been used for other city services.

Notice in Schutze's article that Allyn's firm will have an advertising blitz to promote the Dallas Trinity project—stand back and watch the promises, smokescreens, bells and whistles. It will become an emotional issue and people will lose all sight of common sense, like with toll roads.

People have become lemmings and don't bother to really think about what they're being told and who will be the beneficiary of these projects.

Ms. Hunt deserves accolades for questioning the costs and time frame of the project, the confusion over having a road crammed through the supposedly "serene" park and the fact that somehow someone has snuck a toll road into the process.

How arrogant are Dallas business leaders, The Dallas Morning News and the normally compassionate Steve Blow to want her to "run along" and "go with the program" without question or review?

Linda Lancaster


© Village Voice Media :

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


“I don’t think that four years ago anyone imagined that we could basically sell our roads to the highest bidder.”

Toll-Road Battle Goes On in Texas

Public or Private Financing at Issue


by Richard Williamson
The Bond Buyer
Copyright 2007

DALLAS — A battle over public versus private financing of Texas toll roads escalated yesterday after Gov. Rick Perry went to bat for the private investors while the state Senate voted unanimously to double tax-backed bond issuance for highways.

Under SB 1795, sponsored by Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, bond authorization for the Texas Department of Transportation would double to $6 billion. The bill still needs to pass the house.

The bond debt would continue to be backed by the state’s gasoline tax, and additional funds would come from diverting $150 million a year of gas tax revenue from the Department of Public Safety. The DPS, the agency that operates state highway patrols, would instead be funded by general state taxes and fee revenues.

Ogden, who once supported Perry’s proposed public-private toll road financing play, has changed his mind in favor of traditional public financing.

“I don’t think that four years ago anyone imagined that we could basically sell our roads to the highest bidder,” Ogden said in a hearing on the bill last month in the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

As Ogden won passage of his bill, a stronger rebuff to privately financed toll roads remained bottled up in the Senate Transportation Committee that he serves on. A proposed two-year moratorium on privately financed toll roads, co-sponsored by 26 of 30 state senators, awaits a committee recommendation, as does a similar House bill.

Transportation Committee chairman Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, has indicated that the moratorium may be too harsh of a solution to the rapid rise of privately financed highway projects.

Fearing the legislators could still pass the moratorium, Perry lashed out at the idea in a press conference in which he was backed up by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters.

“Our message today is that building needed infrastructure is essential to creating jobs and attracting economic development investments in Texas,” Perry said. “And you can’t accomplish that with a two-year moratorium on needed road projects.”

Perry noted that even though private investors, such as Spain’s Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, might own the roads themselves, the state would continue to own the land beneath the pavement.

“Let no one be confused: There are no such things as freeways,” Perry said. “There are taxways and tollways, and for 50 years we have tried taxways that have been underfunded by Austin and Washington and that have left local communities choking on pollution and brimming with congestion.”

“You have heard me say before that we have three alternatives: toll roads, slow roads, or no roads,” he continued. “If this moratorium passes the Legislature without some other significant investment in our roads, we will be down to one alternative — no roads. Let’s get roads built so that jobs, trade, and opportunity continue to come to Texas.”

Perry’s alarm at the prospect of sidelining private investors echoed that of officials from Tarrant County in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, who testified last month about how the moratorium would cripple projects already in the works.

Cintra is on the front lines of the battle after winning preliminary approval to operate a toll section of Highway 121 north of Dallas for $2.1 billion upfront and $700 million over the 50-year contract. Critics, including Ogden, say the project could be operated at lower cost by the North Texas Tollway Authority because of its ability to issue lower-interest debt.

Peters, who appeared with Perry at a press conference in Austin Tuesday, also met with state transportation officials struggling to adjust to a reduction in federal funds.

State transportation officials on Tuesday cut funding for several projects under orders to return $288 million to Washington by April 19.

“The reductions will not impact existing construction projects and are being made in a way to maintain flexibility so locally determined priorities can be achieved,” said Mike Behrens, TxDOT executive director.

TxDOT held a public hearing last week, in which speakers tended to favor across-the-board cuts in all regions rather than targeting a single project.

The reductions come on top of $305 million of funds TxDOT has had to return to Washington over the last 15 months.

“This situation is not unique to Texas,” Behrens said. “All 50 states have been directed to return federal transportation funds to Washington.”

Other federal funding priorities, such as the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina relief, are forcing the reductions in funding for state projects, officials said.

© 2007 The Bond Buyer:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Carona: "It does little more than make a political statement."

Defanged private tollway ban passes

Senator says real action on tollways likely to begin in two weeks.

April 05, 2007

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

A two-year ban on long-term toll road leases with private companies, pockmarked with exceptions and thus largely symbolic, cleared a Texas Senate committee Wednesday on a unanimous vote.

However, the more meaningful action on toll roads should begin in the next two weeks, when a large bill addressing a wide range of concerns over tollways will be introduced in the Senate.

The much-publicized moratorium bill by Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, Senate Bill 1267, has an excellent chance of passing the Senate, given that 29 of 31 senators have either signed on as co-sponsors or voted for it in committee.

But despite 111 House co-sponsors, it could run aground in that body.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, supports private toll road contracts.

"With the time it covers, and the amendments, it does little more than make a political statement," said John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

Carona, who voted for the bill in committee despite saying in recent days that he doubts its worth, said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, presiding officer of the Senate, had urged him to give the bill a vote.

But the bill was largely defanged on its way to committee passage. It exempts two road projects in Tarrant County that would add toll lanes to existing highways: the proposed Trinity River Parkway toll road through downtown Dallas and all of El Paso County.

The moratorium, were it passed and signed by Gov. Rick Perry (unlikely, given his condemnation this week of the concept), might or might not apply to the Texas 121 project northeast of Dallas.

The Texas Transportation Department has announced that a consortium led by Spanish toll road concessionaire Cintra would build and run that 26-mile road for 50 years, the second such contract in Texas. But if the law were to take effect before a contract is signed, then the ban would apply to Texas 121.

That road aside, Carona said, given the exceptions and the early status of Trans-Texas Corridor work, there are basically no other pending toll road projects in the state that would be affected by SB 1267.

But Nichols, a former Texas Transportation Commission member who in recent months developed concerns about the state giving away too much in toll road leases, said his bill needs to pass.

"We don't have the luxury of time," Nichols said. "If we wait too long, these contracts will be signed, and Texas will be trapped in agreements that will hold our transportation system hostage for the next half-century."

Carona and Krusee, along with Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson and Perry's office, are in the final stages of drafting a large bill likely to roll back some of the toll road powers granted to the Transportation Department in recent session.

Carona, though not ready to disclose the substance of the bill, said the draft negotiated with Krusee probably will be shared with legislators next week and then get its first hearing in his committee April 18.

That would be about five weeks before the session ends.

"In the current atmosphere of suspicion, I think it would be a huge mistake to pass this bill with just a few short days to review it," Carona said.; 445-3698

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman: www.

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


Speculation in Texas legal circles proves to be 'on the money.'

State Supreme Courts

Supreme Court judge hears case of appealing campaign donor


by Rob Luke
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN -- Part of the mystery over who recently gave Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht more than $340,000 to pay his legal bills has been solved.

Austin-based PAC Hillco, funded by Houston home-builder and generous pro-Republican contributor Bob Perry, gave Justice Hecht $16,000 last month, according today's Dallas Morning News.

Speculation in Texas legal circles, reported last week in LegalNewsLine, linking Perry's legendary generosity to Hecht's sudden cash influx, proved on the money. Perry and his PACs altogether donated over $175,000 to the nine Texas Supreme Court Justices last year.

The donation is especially controversial since Perry Homes recently appealed a $1 million lawsuit against it to the Texas Supreme Court. The Morning News reports today that Hillco gave Hecht $15,000 just five days before hearing the Perry Homes case on February 20.

Perry then donated $50,000 to Hillco, one of two Texas judicial PACs he funds, six days after the case began.

Hecht was slammed recently after revelations he had solicited legal-fee donations in February from campaign contributors while also seeking to bill the state, LegalNewsLine reported. The two Republican sponsors subsequently yanked the Bill permitting it.

Hecht has refused to disclose his campaign's contribors until he is legally obliged to do so in July. Hillco's donation to Hecht was revealed in the PAC's monthly filing to the Texas Ethics Committee.

The judge says he incurred the $340,000 bill defending himself from what he calls wrongful misconduct charges. The charges stemmed from Hecht using his office to help boost the failed nomination of his old friend, Harriet Miers, for the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005.

Texas Watch, which tracks campaign contributions in the state, has strongly criticized Hecht's behavior.

"Taking the money when he did to pay for his personal legal expenses, at the very least, calls his impartiality into question with regard to the Perry Homes case," Executive director Alex Winslow told the Dallas Morning News today.

Hillco most recently contributed $20,000 to Supreme Court Justice Don Willett in early March, the PAC's filing also revealed.

© 2007

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"Many have questioned the U.S. Department of Transportation’s role in advocating P3s [public-private partnerships]."

Possible P3 Roadblocks

S&P: As Plans Proliferate, Opposition Looms


by Humberto Sanchez
The Bond Buyer
Copyright 2007

This year could be pivotal for transportation public-private partnerships, with several large projects poised to move forward, but challenges persist that could hinder their growth, including possible opposition from state and federal lawmakers, according to a report published yesterday by Standard & Poor’s.

The report comes as a number of states are exploring P3s. Pennsylvania is looking into a potential lease of the 172-mile Pennsylvania Turnpike. New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine is considering various options related to leasing the New Jersey Turnpike System, the South Jersey Transportation Authority, and other state infrastructure.

In Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature are considering legislation to expand highway development by allowing the Florida Department of Transportation to lease its facilities, excluding the Florida Turnpike, for up to 75 years.

States and localities have been looking to P3s to finance transportation infrastructure as other sources of funding fail to keep pace with growing transportation needs.

“The main impetus is that there is an amazing amount of need and an enormous willingness on the part of the market to invest in infrastructure right now,” said Standard & Poor’s analyst and report author Matthew Hobby.

One possible challenge to P3s is opposition from the public and lawmakers.

“Political and public perception is certainly an important new focus for the industry,” Hobby said.

Hobby pointed to recent attempts by Texas lawmakers to limit P3s in the state, such as by proposing a two-year moratorium on private equity toll roads and requiring more legislative oversight of the Texas Department of Transportation.

“What ultimately becomes law remains to be seen, but any modifications to the process that increase time or alter the risk-reward calculus — or, most importantly, inhibit the ability of the operator to increase tolls consistent with the provisions of the concession agreement — could have the effect of slowing or stopping the state’s long list of projects exploring P3s,” the report said.

At the federal level, some Democratic lawmakers have spoken out against attempts by the U.S. Department of Transportation to raise the profile of P3s.

“The chairmanship of transportation-related oversight committees has returned to long-time Democrats with a more traditional view of federal government-financed projects,” the report said. “Indeed, many have questioned the U.S. Department of Transportation’s role in advocating P3s”

One market participant believes that the way to allay concern from the public and lawmakers is for the concession agreements to carefully balance public and private interests.

“Public perception is incredibly important in terms of balancing public policy with” private interests, said Robert Collins, head of infrastructure mergers and acquisitions at Morgan Stanley. “We believe that the [previous] transactions have created a body of concession agreements that do protect the public from private interests that are not aligned with serving the citizens that utilize the asset.”

“We think that the first step in the process should be a thorough review of financial operation and public policy issues,” he said. “We do spend a lot of time up front trying to understand the balance of corporate governance from the standpoint of how the entity is going to be regulated going forward, with giving the private operator maximum degrees of freedom to earn a reasonable return on its capital.”

The ultimate public protection is that these concessions include a provision that the private entity can reclaim operation of the facility if the private operator does not live up to its concession agreements.

“The municipalities really aren’t selling their house and all the furniture, they are just leasing a room in the house,” Collins said.

Other challenges to greater acceptance of P3s include the difficulty of valuing the asset, which has led to a wide disparity in bids for concessions, the report said.

Collins said that this is likely the result of two few projects being sought by a large number of private consortiums.

“At the same time, the capital markets are becoming more efficient in understanding how to achieve the lowest cost of capital and maximum proceeds, and so I think we are going to see tighter ranges for concession agreements … in the future,” he said.

© 2007 The Associated Press:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Perry said there will be no new roads in Texas without his public-private financing scheme."

Perry rips bill to hold off on toll roads


Clay Robison, Austin Bureau
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — With U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters offering her support, Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday lashed out against legislation that would impose a two-year moratorium on toll-road privatization.

Perry said the proposal, co-sponsored by strong majorities in the House and Senate and reflecting the public controversy over the Trans Texas Corridor, would cost the state critical business expansion opportunities.

"Our message today is that building needed infrastructure is essential to creating jobs and attracting economic development investments in Texas. And you can't accomplish that with a two-year moratorium on needed road projects," Perry said.

Although the moratorium legislation is co-sponsored by 27 of 31 senators and 111 of 150 House members, it faces an uncertain future because of strong pressure to continue building highways and waning mileage from the state gasoline tax, the traditional revenue source for highway construction.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee is likely to approve the bill today but that further action would be delayed as lawmakers continued seeking a compromise.

In a related development, the Senate approved a bill Tuesday by Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, that would double to $6 billion the cap on bonds that may be used to fund highways.

Ogden said the bill would eliminate the need for highway officials to seek "exotic funding" in the form of privately owned toll roads.

But Perry said there will be no new roads in Texas without his public-private financing scheme. And Peters said other states need to adopt Perry's approach to road building.

The governor chose a visit to a Samsung semiconductor plant in Austin to make his highway pitch. The plant is near the route of the first Trans Texas Corridor project, a proposed series of toll roads running parallel to Interstate 35.

It has sparked considerable controversy, mainly over the state's decision to contract with a private consortium headed by a Spanish company, Cintra, to develop a long-range plan for the corridor.

The state would share in profits from the toll roads. But a recent report by the state auditor's office was sharply critical of the corridor project, concluding that taxpayers might never know how much they could end up paying for it.

Austin Bureau Reporter Polly Ross Hughes contributed to this report.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Sen. Ogden: No need for 'exotic' funding measures

Highlights Tuesday from the Texas Legislature


April 3, 2007

The Associated Press
Copyright 2007

Gov. Rick Perry, joined by U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, spoke out Tuesday against proposed legislation that would put a two-year moratorium on private toll road projects.

Perry said the state's current transportation system, which involves public-private partnerships to build toll roads, needs to continue if Texas is to keep attracting big companies and jobs.

Perry visited the Samsung Austin Semiconductor expansion site in north Austin to make the pronouncement. He noted that eight years ago, Dell Corp. decided to expand in Tennessee rather than Austin because of road congestion in Texas' capital city.

"We've come a long way in a short few years," Perry said. "We're pouring more concrete, we're building more highways than any other state in the nation."

Perry said the state will always own the land beneath private toll roads and said there will always be a free road alternative for motorists. He said federal highway money is drying up. Both he and Peters said it's important to find road funding methods beyond the gas tax.

Peters, who met with some state legislators about transportation earlier in the day, said Texas is blazing a trail in highway construction that's being followed throughout the country.

The toll road moratorium bills in the House and Senate remain pending in committees. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the Senate version could get voted out of committee as early as Wednesday.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate voted to allow transportation officials to use up to $6 billion in bond money — twice the current amount — for road projects.

Although the words "toll roads" were avoided in debate, the sponsor of the bill, Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, left little doubt his bill reflects concerns many lawmakers are raising over private toll road projects.

The measure should give the state plenty of money it needs as opposed to "exotic" funding measures, Ogden said.

© 2007 The Associated Press:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE