Saturday, April 14, 2007

"I know some profit would go to Spain. But that's the price we're paying for the state's failure to fund needed infrastructure."

At intersection of Slow Street and Costly Road

April 14, 2007

Bud Kennedy
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

Of all the Texas-size whoppers I've heard lately, the biggest might have come from Texas Motor Speedway.

Looking into the TV camera with deepest sincerity, Eddie Gossage said traffic at the speedway isn't so bad after all. It's a 'model of efficiency,' he said.

Maybe so.

Inside the parking lot.

But once you're out on the highway, you're a victim of Texas' cheapskate highway planning along the 30-mile-long parking lot also known as Interstate 35W.

The traffic snarl isn't the speedway's fault. Traffic is at a standstill on I-35W every day.

Highway planners want to add two lanes by 2015.

The bad news:

A simple trip from downtown to the speedway in the new toll lanes -- never even leaving Fort Worth -- will cost about $3.

If you want to drive to D/FW Airport or Dallas in the fast lane, that'll cost about $4.

Two toll lanes northward along Interstate 35W and two lanes eastward along Texas 183 are planned as part of the North Tarrant Express, a $2 billion project that involves hiring private companies to widen our highways, then letting them charge us for the pleasure of driving in the new lanes.

Right now, the profit would go back to the private companies, some of them backed by foreign investors. We might not be able to add any free lanes for up to 50 years. Only more toll lanes.

The toll would go up every two years based on inflation.

If inflation in the next 50 years matches that in the last 50, then by 2060 a fast drive to the speedway will cost $18.

Driving the toll lanes to the airport or Dallas will cost $22.

Some lawmakers in Austin aren't sure that's such a good deal. The Texas House voted this week to stop other toll road deals such as the statewide Trans-Texas Corridor for two years but gave the North Tarrant Express a green light, although the project might eventually shift away from private companies.

Depending on what Austin lawmakers and local city and county officials decide, the toll lanes might wind up governed by some other agency, perhaps the familiar local North Texas Tollway Authority.

If you don't want to sign away toll money for the next 50 years or if you want more control over the charges, then now is the time to tell your City Council members, county commissioners and state lawmakers.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, a Lewisville Republican who represents much of north Tarrant County, has said she wants to wait two years and take another look at all toll deals, even if that means delaying new local roads.

County Judge Glen Whitley, a Hurst Republican, is gung-ho to get the new lanes added right now.

Even though the commercial, for-profit toll lanes might or might not be the best deal over time, they're the fastest way to get Interstate 35W and Texas 183 traffic moving, he said.

'I know some profit would go to Spain,' he said, referring to Madrid-based Cintra, a company that owns and operates private toll roads in six countries and might be among the bidders for the North Tarrant project. 'But that's the price we're paying for the state's failure to fund needed infrastructure.'

In other words, if the Legislature won't raise gas taxes and send the money our way instead of out to rural West Texas, then we'll just have to get corporate dollars to build highways faster.

'Nobody likes talking about toll roads,' Whitley said. 'But we're not getting the help we need.'

A statewide slowdown on toll roads might have left Interstate 35W drivers stuck in traffic for an extra four to six years, he said. With the North Tarrant project spared a two-year wait, 'we see some light on the horizon,' he said.

I couldn't find Nelson on Friday to make her case for delaying or changing the North Tarrant toll lanes.

But I did find state Rep. Marc Veasey, a Fort Worth Democrat who also argued for taking another look at the project.

'I think we need to slow down,' he said. 'I think the public has a lot of uncertainty about what's going on.'

He said he's happy with the North Tarrant Express going ahead. That is, as long as the North Texas Tollway Authority has a fair shot at the contract instead of private owners.

'What concerns me is that it seems like everything is just being handed over' to private companies, he said.

'I'm not against private toll roads. But I'm not comfortable with the way this has been conducted. ... The public is concerned about 50-year contracts and about not having any say in the tolls.'

If you don't mind paying a $3 toll to drive the new lanes on Interstate 35W -- or if you'd rather wait and lobby Austin for more free lanes -- now is the time to let city, county and state officials and lawmakers know.

You could call while you're stuck in traffic.

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

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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Political will to raise the gas tax 'simply does not exist' in either the Texas House or Senate

Krusee: Gas tax hike needed for new roads


By Daniel K. Lai
Taylor Daily Press
Copyright 2007

With the passage of a toll road moratorium bill in the Texas House and no sign the legislature will let up on it's reluctance to pass a bill raising gas taxes, Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Dist. 52, said he is worried lawmakers are heading in the wrong direction to accommodate Texas' increasing growth.

“My gas tax bill is still sitting in committee. We had a hearing in February but it is obvious to me that the committee won't pass it out and the legislature does not want to increase the gas tax,” Krusee said.

Krusee and Sen. John Carona, a Republican who heads the Senate's transportation panel, said that the state's 20-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline and diesel fuel should increase yearly, in step with inflation.

“We cannot afford to continue to sit here and do nothing,” Carona said.

Carona said the motor fuels tax was last raised in 1991, but revenue from the tax barely covers the state's maintenance of existing roads causing a backlog of unfunded projects to grow.

It is this factor, Krusee said lawmakers must remain aware of.

“I am worried the legislature is leaving Texas without any ability to build new roads by restricting toll roads and not providing the funding for new roads,” he said.

In a April 2 press conference, Carona said the current gas tax untouched, would bring in only $4.6 billion by 2030, not even enough to maintain roads.

Carona said indexing the gas tax is necessary if the state is to cut back on toll projects.

Indexing the gas tax to consumer inflation - roughly three percent a year - would raise it by 43 cents and bring in almost $10 billion; indexing the gas tax to rising costs of highway construction - seven percent a year - would raise it by 69 cents, and bring in almost $16 billion, he said.

However, Carona said there is no “political will” to raise the gas tax in either the House or Senate.

“It just simply does not exist,” he said.

On Tuesday, in a 137 to 5 vote, the House passed House Bill 1892 effectively putting a two-year freeze on toll project deals. The bill passed with an amendment authored by Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Dist. 99, which allows projects within the boundaries of a regional tollway authority to continue. Krusee voted against the legislation.

Krusee said every day 800 more cars enter an already congested Texas roadway system.

“It's frustrating when the legislature attempts to adopt a moratorium on toll roads and won't look at other resources for roads. I think that is a very dangerous combination,” he said. “For me it's not important how the roads are built but it's extremely important that we keep up with the infrastructure.”

The Senate is expected to hear deliberations on Senate Bill 1267 - an equivalent to the House moratorium bill - later this month.

© 2007 Taylor Daily Press:

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Friday, April 13, 2007

The Texas House: gives a vote of 'no confidence' in TxDOT's Ric Williamson and Transportation chairman Mike Krusee

Analysis: House loses faith in transportation policy


by Christine DeLoma
Volume 11, Issue 33
The Lone Star Report
Copyright 2007

The House April 10 overwhelmingly voted no confidence in the Texas Department of Transportation’s Ric Williamson and Transportation chairman Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock).

The vehicle: a measure to halt the widely unpopular Trans-Texas Corridor toll road plan.

It’s not often that a sitting committee chairman sees the state policy he has worked hard to create get prospectively dismantled in a matter of hours.

House members approved a two-year freeze on private toll road projects. The move came only hours after Krusee and Williamson, in a committee meeting, defended the state’s policy of allowing TxDOT to enter into comprehensive development agreements (CDA) with private developers to build and operate toll roads in the state.

“We think the path we’re on is based on common sense,” said Williamson.

TxDOT has come under stiff criticism for using the tools the Legislature gave it four years ago to help finance and speed up road construction. Yet many lawmakers, including Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), argue that when they voted for Krusee’s 2003 omnibus transportation bill they never dreamed that TxDOT would be pursuing dozens of multi-billion dollar contracts with private developers to build toll roads.

“This is an issue about how Texas will build roads in the future and whether the profits of those roads paid by Texans will stay here in Texas to build more roads that we control or whether the profits are siphoned off to go to investors in Spain, Wall Street, and other areas,” Kolkhorst said. She also said the moratorium did not exclude the construction of all told roads - only private toll roads.

Krusee said if the moratorium is finalized, lawmakers will be faced with having to find new revenue to construct roadways.

“TxDOT will tell you we’re going to run out of money to give to cities for new mobility projects, for new highway construction,” Krusee said. “We’re out of money in 2013, five years.”

He urged members to support an increase in the gasoline tax.

It’s a matter of trust

Over the past few months, lawmakers have expressed concerns to Williamson and the commission over the dozens of proposed comprehensive development agreements that are in the works.

Concerns include non-compete agreements that penalize the state for building or expanding roads near a private toll road, the 50-year length of lease agreements, expensive buy-back provisions, the lack of public disclosure of CDA’s, and unregulated toll rates.

In addition, a Feb. 23 State Auditor’s Office report on TxDOT’s CDA with private consortium Cintra-Zachry, raised serious questions over how much money the Trans-Texas Corridor project would actually cost taxpayers.

The audit report also raised concerns over the non-compete clause in a draft agreement with Cintra-Zachry to complete the last two segments of the toll road, State Highway 130, from Mustang Ridge to Seguin. The provision would have required TxDOT to compensate the developer for lost revenues if the state built ancillary roadways near the toll road.

On Feb. 27, Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton, reassured the House Appropriations Committee that no contracts had been signed so far that included non-compete clauses.

Despite lawmakers’ worries, however, TxDOT went ahead March 22 and quietly finalized a 50-year CDA with Cintra-Zachry to construct and operate the last two segments of State Highway 130.

The contract’s non-compete clause would penalize the state for building ancillary roads that compete with the toll road. The state would receive at least $25 million in upfront concession fees in return for allowing the company to build, operate, and collect tolls for the 41-mile road.

There is also resentment over what legislators see as TxDOT’s meddling in local transportation planning issues and what some call the agency’s take-it-or-leave-it attitude.

“TxDOT came into my community and threatened my community,” said Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso). “They said, ‘If you don’t do what we say, we will cut your funds’.”

Other lawmakers say local officials have been bullied by TxDOT into accepting the agency’s plans for private contractors to build toll roads in their area. And many argue that local quasi-public toll road authorities have a proven track record and can build the roads cheaper as well as keep the toll rate as low as possible.

Yet the state’s current policy doesn’t encourage TxDOT to award projects to the lowest bidder. By using CDAs, TxDOT can extract significant up-front payments from private vendors that can be used for roads. So instead of the project’s going to the lowest bidder, it now goes to the highest.

Many lawmakers from Harris County and the Dallas-Fort Worth area cite the low tolls versus up-front payment debate as one of the sources of friction between the agency and local leaders.

Changing transportation policy

Kolkhorst managed to garner 111 co-sponsors to HB 2772, legislation that would place a two-year moratorium on private equity CDAs. Despite widespread support, Krusee had not given her bill a public hearing in his committee.

Nonetheless, Kolkhorst took the language from HB 2772 and attached it as an amendment to HB 1892 by Rep. Wayne Smith (R-Baytown) on the House floor.

“This is us tapping the brake, looking before we leap into contracts… that last 50-plus years,” said Kolkhorst.

In addition to the two-year moratorium on CDAs, the measure would create a study commission to look into the many toll road issues giving lawmakers heartburn.

Smith’s bill allows the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) the right of first refusal for proposed toll road contracts within the region. It also allows HCTRA to enter into comprehensive development agreements and prohibits TxDOT from decreasing the county’s highway formula funding.

HB 1892 would also allow HCTRA to acquire access to the state’s rights of way without having to pay TxDOT the $1.23 billion it wants for the use of the state’s land.

Earlier this year, former Sen. Jon Lindsay (R-Houston) called TxDOT’s price tag for the right of way “highway extortion.” The bill was also amended to allow the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) similar rights.

Many Tarrant County legislators expressed concern that Kolkhorst’s moratorium would squash the planned State Highway 121 that runs through several counties in North Texas. In order to address those concerns, the bill was amended to exclude projects within that area.

Among other amendments: creating an exemption for managed lane projects in which a portion of an existing highway is converted into a toll lane; prohibiting political contributions by contractors to county judges or commissioners; and allowing federal audits of non-profit toll road contracts.

Krusee did not give up his effort to derail Kolkorst’s amendment and Smith’s bill. He twice called points of order on the bill, both of which Speaker Tom Craddick overruled. He also offered several unsuccessful amendments to put restrictions on the Harris County Toll Road Authority.

Rep. Fred Hill (R-Richardson), the only other nay vote on the final bill, tried to make the bill unpalatable to members by placing an amendment on it that would allow other urban counties to acquire state assets such as access to rights of way in order to build roads without having to pay TxDOT.

Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman), who voted against the bill on second reading, amended it to include all 254 counties under the provision. This move gave Krusee a chance to argue against voting for the bill because it allowed all counties to “seize TxDOT assets” and would make it harder for the agency to sell bonds.

Despite the many amendments to HB 1892, Pickett urged members to vote for the bill so that the issue could move forward in the Senate, where the CDA moratorium has wide support.

If the measure is approved by both chambers the Legislature may have enough time to vote to override a gubernatorial veto. Although Gov. Rick Perry hasn’t indicated he would veto the specific measure, he has tried in recent weeks to drum up support for TxDOT’s use of CDA’s.

“You get a chance to decide whether you trust TxDOT or trust yourself as a legislator…,” said Smith before the vote. The House approved the bill 123-17 on second reading. On April 11, the measure passed on third reading, 137-2, with Krusee and Hill voting nay. O

© 2007 The Lone Star Report:

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"What an interesting experience with Texas tollways!"


April 13, 2007

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

I got a speeding ticket in Denver. Never been there. At least the tag number was one that used to be on my truck. Too bad it wasn't a Texas plate and it was a young blond woman driving. I had to send a copy of my license. I called the FBI because I thought it was a phishing scam — the ticket was only $35. They finally sent me a letter acknowledging it was not me, but told me to carry a copy of the letter should I ever come to Colorado!

Win Edwards, Houston

I got a notice saying a car registered to us had been running toll gates on the EZ tag lane near Denton. There was a photo of the car — not ours! The difference between our fine and yours was about $700 . Turns out that when my son picked up the plates for the car, he was given the wrong set. The right set was placed on another car, and that's who was running toll gates. When the mess was straightened out, the dealership sent a letter to the North Texas Transit Authority. The NTTA wasn't so nice in their response. They said, 'Send us the money and figure it out later.' Yeah, like that was going to happen.

Becky Moore, Katy

Welcome to the club. I had the same sorry experience trying to get them to take an incorrect toll of $1.50 off my record. I tried writing to them to have something for my records, but to no avail. No response, only more invoices with a penalty of $1 for late charges. Finally I gave up and paid them, and I am still mad about it.

Sonny Flores, Houston

I read your article about the Texas toll roads, and I'm still waiting to get a reply from them, too. I e-mailed the TxTAG authorities in Austin back in January. I asked them via their Web site and their "contact us" page whether my Harris County EZ tag could be used on the toll roads around Austin. As of today, I'm still waiting for a reply.

Jerry Wilt, Houston

What an interesting experience with Texas tollways! Mine was almost identical, except I "violated the law" only once — in Dallas. It stated that a white van with my license plate was phot ographed violating the EZ Pass lane. We own a metallic tan Buick Century sedan. Being in our 80s, neither my husband nor I can get into a van without help! I saved the notice I received, because every phone number I called to correct the error is on it! It shows a total of 12 numbers.

I wound up spending $4.64 to settle a $1.60 fine, but who knows how long I'd be hounded or how the unpaid "debt" could multiply?

Peg Glazer, Houston

I read your column on receiving a ticket for running a toll booth in a city you've never been to in a car you've never owned. I have a better one. I also received notice that I repeatedly ran toll booths on Beltway 8. TxDOT sent several of these notices, and I also made the calls to someone that couldn't help me. They even sent pictures of the car that I didn't own and the license plate that I didn't own. Here's the kicker. I live 1,000 miles away in St. Louis.

Bob Windish, St. Louis

I am currently involved in a similar situation with the North Texas Tollway Authority. In January, I received a letter from NTTA, along with a picture of a Honda , advising me that I owed $282.40 in unpaid tolls. I called the number listed and went through the numerous voice messages without ever talking to a human being. I faxed and e-mailed the NTTA informing them that I had traded this vehicle in February 2002 and no longer owned the car. I received an e-mail instructing me to send proof fr om the dealer of the trade. I faxed this information to NTTA and hoped this would end the mistaken identity case.

On April 2, I received a letter from Southwest Credit Systems in Plano. It's a debt collection agency, and it gave me instructions for paying immediately or face multiple traffic citations being issued with a fine of $250 per violation, plus a $25 administrative fee for each violation, plus court costs. I advised them in writing that I had forwarded the proof of trade to NTTA and asked them to remove my name from their list. I also reported this whole deal to the Harris County Sheriff's Department and was told they could do nothing since NTTA has its own police force.

My question is this: If they have a picture of this vehicle and the license plate number, why don't they simply stop this vehicle and take the driver to jail ? My concern is that they have my address and will probably arrest me.

Dan Smith, Huffman

A big thank you and a free Ben & Jerry's ice cream cone on Tuesday goes to Bill Dobson, the regional manager in Houston for TxDOT, and "Sherry in title registration" at Joe Myers Ford for straightening out my mess. A few years ago, someone with a similar name to mine bought a car, and the dealership put my information on his title form. Since they made the mistake, I may take back Sherry's ice cream cone.

The other guy allegedly ran a tollgate in Denton and I got his tickets. I'm starting to think the real problem is the tollgate — I'm getting a bunch of e-mails from people who also didn't run it — but still got tickets.

I hate to wreck someone's life, but if you've got a problem with TxDOT over tollgate tickets, Dobson is your man.

Here's the kicker: After all this, on Thursday I received a notice from TxDOT. They want me to pay $73.30 to register my ... Ford Taurus.


© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

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"The Hub will be a significant factor in the international flow of Asian goods from the U.S. and Mexican ports"

The Allen Group Kicks Off the Dallas Logistics Hub with Grand Opening Event

April 13, 2007

Business Wire
Copyright 2007

DALLAS--( The Allen Group, a major developer of commercial properties across the United States, hosted a grand opening ceremony for its Dallas Logistics Hub on Friday, April 13, 2007, at the Lancaster Municipal Airport, located in Lancaster, Texas. More than 1,000 international, federal, state and local dignitaries, community and business leaders were in attendance for the Texas-style celebration. The event included guided helicopter tours of the logistics park, highlighting the advantages of what is some of the most extensive rail and highway infrastructure in the country.

The Dallas Logistics Hub (“The Hub”) is the largest new logistics park under development in North America, with over 6,000 acres master-planned for the development of 60 million square feet of distribution, manufacturing, office and retail uses. Given its unmatched intermodal rail and highway access, The Hub positions Dallas as the premier trade hub in the Southwestern United States and will serve as the primary gateway for the distribution of goods to the major population centers throughout the Central and Eastern United States.

During the event, The Allen Group announced development plans for two industrial buildings to begin vertical development of the project. Totaling 640,000 and 210,000 square feet, respectively, construction of the two new spec buildings will commence in June and be completed by year-end 2007. The Hub master plan will include warehouse and distribution facilities, light manufacturing, and retail support services, business-class hotels, restaurants, as well as single- and multi-family housing.

“We are extremely proud to announce the opening of the Dallas Logistics Hub today,” said Richard Allen, Chief Executive Officer of The Allen Group. “The Hub will be a significant factor in the international flow of Asian goods from the U.S. and Mexican ports and into the population centers of the Midwest and east coast of the United States.”

Slated to become one of the biggest economic engines for Northern Texas, the Dallas Logistics Hub is projected to create 31,000 new direct jobs plus 32,000 new indirect jobs. The Hub is also expected to increase the tax base for the municipalities of Dallas, Lancaster, Wilmer and Hutchins by $2.4 billion. The economic impact of facility construction and employment for operation within The Hub from 2006 through 2035 is projected to be $68.85 billion.

"Texas has led the nation for the past five years in export revenues, totaling more than $150 billion in revenues last year alone," said Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, who was in attendance. “The new Dallas Logistics Hub opens this region up for even greater opportunities and helps us further solidify and expand our presence throughout the global economy."

Also among the list of distinguished speakers were Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration Julie Nelson, U.S. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, Dallas County Commissioner Maurine Dickey, Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, Lancaster Mayor Joe Tillotson, Hutchins Mayor Artis Johnson, Wilmer Mayor Don Hudson, President of the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce Jan Hart Black, as well as Richard Allen, CEO of The Allen Group and Edward Romanov, President and COO of The Allen Group.

“As the U.S. continues strong trading partnerships with China and Pacific Rim countries, the Dallas Logistics Hub will become a key component of how goods are distributed throughout our hemisphere,” said U.S. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson. “The Hub’s central location and proximity to major trade routes through Mexico and the Midwestern and Eastern United States strategically position Dallas to thrive and take advantage of the international shifting of trade patterns.”

The Allen Group’s Dallas Logistics Hub is adjacent to Union Pacific’s Southern Dallas Intermodal Terminal, a potential BNSF intermodal facility, four major highway connectors (I-20, I-45, I-35 and the future Loop 9/Trans-Texas Corridor) and Lancaster Airport, which is in the master-planning stage to facilitate air-cargo distribution. The Dallas Logistics Hub is a key component of the NAFTA infrastructure and will serve as a major "inland port" bringing products for regional and national distribution from the Ports of L.A./Long Beach, Houston, and the new deep-water ports in western Mexico.

For more information on the Dallas Logistics Hub, please log on to

Editor’s Note: High resolution photos of the Dallas Logistics Hub are available upon request to Diana Torralvo,, or at 310-496-4439.

The Allen Group

The Allen Group is a commercial development firm specializing in rail-served industrial parks and build-to-suit facilities, including Class A office buildings. The Company currently has 8,000 acres under development across the United States, with commercial properties ranging in size from 35,000 square feet to 1.7 million square feet, as well as four master-planned industrial parks. These projects include the International Trade and Transportation Center (; MidState99 Distribution Center (; the Dallas Logistics Hub (, and recently announced, the Kansas City Logistics Hub.

The Allen Group, based in San Diego with regional offices in Visalia and Bakersfield, Calif., as well as Dallas, Texas, is trusted by Fortune 500 companies such as VF Corporation, Cox Communications, FedEx, International Paper Company, Intuit, Kraft Foods and Wal-Mart Stores. For more information about The Allen Group, please visit

© 2007 Business Wire:

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"State and local transportation officials were wise to reopen the competition. "


Read the Fine Print

April 13, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

The North Texas Tollway Authority's decision to assemble a last-minute bid for the State Highway 121 toll project might add a bit of clarity to a chaotic atmosphere for transportation planning.

State and local transportation officials were wise to reopen the competition. Comparing an NTTA bid with one from the Spanish company Cintra should address concerns that the region would get an inferior deal if it carried out plans to lease toll rights to the private partner.

Let the better bid win.

Nevertheless, a cloud of uncertainty hovers, stemming from the Legislature's furious and disjointed attempts to mollify the public's beefs with toll roads. The House this week passed an ungainly measure to impose a moratorium on private partnerships to finance toll projects. North Texas lawmakers succeeded in exempting NTTA's service area, arguing appropriately that vital projects need the option of private financing in the absence of enough state money.

That would be fine, except for potential complications embedded in the fine print. The bill gives NTTA the first option on local toll projects and authority to use state right-of-way without the obligation to pay upfront money. Moreover, the measure says the NTTA can develop a project essentially on its own terms.

It's an open – but important – question whether the bill would effectively exempt the NTTA from oversight by North Texas' Regional Transportation Council, a panel of mostly elected officials from across nine counties. The council, based on public input, regularly assembles a 25-year plan – including a role for the NTTA – for building a regional road network.

Council policy requires would-be toll operators to offer upfront money when bidding on a project. That money would be used to jumpstart other road needs that otherwise would wait years for state funding. Local officials have turned to this funding mechanism because of inadequate state support. Lawmakers should not give final passage to any measure that trumps local efforts to overcome state neglect.

There's no indication that an NTTA bid for 121 would not contain an upfront offer to vie with Cintra's $2.1 billion. But a question mark should not hang over projects down the road.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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"The NTTA is getting one more chance to bid because lawmakers believe it wasn't given a fair shot the first time."

Agency gains projects in retreat from privatization


Gordon Dickaon
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

ARLINGTON-The Regional Transportation Council took a step back from privately built toll roads and assigned several toll projects to the North Texas Tollway Authority on Thursday.

The tollway authority, which is made up of Metroplex officials, is already in charge of building Southwest Parkway from downtown Fort Worth to Cleburne.

The RTC has also asked the tollway authority to submit a bid for the Texas 121 toll road in Denton and Collin counties by May 25.

The project is in limbo because the Texas Department of Transportation selected the private Spanish firm Cintra to build and operate the toll road.

But the authority is getting one more chance to bid because lawmakers believe it wasn't given a fair shot the first time.

The authority was assigned:

Texas 170 in the Alliance area, from Texas 114 in Roanoke to U.S. 287.

A Texas 360/161 connector road in Grand Prairie.

Texas 161 in Grand Prairie.

Trinity project, downtown Dallas.

Dallas North Tollway north extension.

Texas 190 from Texas 78 to Interstate 20.

RTC members said they expect the tollway authority to follow the same ground rules as Cintra in its Texas 121 bid, including a pledge to pay a fee for the right to collect tolls for up to 50 years -- 75 percent of it upfront.

Cintra had promised $2.1 billion upfront, which Metroplex officials planned to spend on other road projects.

Gordon Dickson, 817-685-3816

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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"Cintra agreed to seek the contract with the understanding it would not have to compete against the NTTA."

Texas Toll Plan Could Take Financial Detour


by Richard Williamson
The Bond Buyer
Copyright 2007

DALLAS — Plans to build the $2.6 billion Highway 121 near Dallas were thrown into confusion yesterday as the North Texas Tollway Authority threatened to supplant a private Spanish developer that won preliminary approval for the project.

The NTTA is a governmental division of the state that finances, builds, and operates toll projects in North Texas. Under a deal worked out with the North Central Texas Regional Transportation Council, the NTTA agreed to operate the 121 project, which would be built and financed by Cintra, a Spanish company that has similar projects in the United States and Europe. Cintra was to have paid $2.1 billion up-front for the project and would have been allowed to collect tolls for 50 years.

While the deal was awaiting environmental approvals, the transportation council allowed NTTA to announce plans to reenter bidding for the project. The deadline for reopening bidding was yesterday.

Officials from Cintra could not be reached for comment. Cintra agreed to seek the contract with the understanding it would not have to compete against the NTTA, a public entity that was considered to have an inside track.

The effort to get the NTTA back in the bidding was spurred by Texas lawmakers who are soon expected to pass a two-year moratorium on privately financed toll-road projects. The Highway 121 financing scheme was the result of action by the previous Legislature.

Under a version of the moratorium the state House passed Wednesday, toll projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth area were to be exempted from the moratorium. But some lawmakers were still troubled by the length of the proposed 50-year contract with Cintra.

At issue is whether the state can build toll projects more cheaply with municipal bonds than private developers. Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, author of the legislation allowing the private-public financing in the 79th Legislature, is now the sponsor of bills calling for a moratorium. That has left the Texas Department of Transportation in a state of confusion over its mandate from policymakers.

“We don’t really know what to do,” said TxDOT spokeswoman Kelli Petras. “When we use the tools they give us and we get reprimanded, it’s really kind of a double standard.”

TxDOT is the agency that oversees all Texas projects and was involved in planning a legislatively authorized $184 billion project called the Trans-Texas Corridor that would be idled by the new legislative moratorium. Under current policy, TxDOT, headed by Texas Transportation chairman Ric Williamson, delegates decision making on projects to regional authorities, such as the North Texas Regional Transportation Council.

In a meeting of the 40-member North Texas Regional Transportation Council yesterday, NTTA laid out its plans for Highway 121 and other projects.

NTTA wants to develop five North Texas toll-road projects without tax dollars.

“In the case of SH 121, regional leaders will make the decision using competition to drive down costs and maximize the returns,” Williamson said. “That’s exactly the way it should be.”

The NTTA received legal authority to bid for the project with passage of SB 965 yesterday, which puts it on the same footing as Cintra.

© 2007 The Bond Buyer :

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Budget will 'tighten the Legislative Budget Board oversight of TxDOT's agreements with private companies for the construction of toll roads.'

Budget moves out of Senate

Plan includes more money for education, human services, parks

April 13, 2007

By Jason Embry
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

Senate leaders overcame objections from the left and right Thursday and won approval of a proposed budget that increases spending by about 7 percent over the next two years.

The Senate plan, unlike the budget passed in the House two weeks ago, would pay for merit-based raises for teachers and state employees. Senators also put a greater emphasis on giving college students forgivable loans instead of grants.

The Senate approved the $153 billion budget 26-5. Now it's up to five members from each side of the Capitol to write the final version before the legislative session ends May 28.

"The budget is balanced; it is conservative and fair," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan. "It dramatically increases legislative oversight throughout state government."

But Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, criticized the budget for what it does not spend: about $3 billion set aside to pay for already approved property tax cuts in 2010 and 2011.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, defended the decision to leave some money unspent by pointing out that Comptroller Susan Combs has warned that a new business tax might not bring in as much money next year as projected. The Legislature created that tax to replace property-tax dollars.

But Shapleigh said the money should be spent to loosen eligibility guidelines for the Children's Health Insurance Program and to further increase spending on Child Protective Services and mental health programs, among others.

"You're banking tax cuts for political purposes for 2010 and 2011, and who pays the tab is the children of the State of Texas," Shapleigh said.

Ogden told Shapleigh, "This budget, far from ignoring those complaints, takes them head-on."

He pointed to an increase of almost 80,000 people covered by the CHIP perinatal program for pregnant women, continued staffing increases at Child Protective Services and a $52 million increase for community mental health crisis services. He also touted a $700 million increase in state spending to upgrade children's Medicaid services in response to a federal lawsuit against the state.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said the budget was too large, noting that the state was spending about $100 billion over two years at the beginning of the decade, which marks an increase of about 50 percent.

The five-hour budget debate intensified when Patrick objected to a claim from Sen. Mario Gallegos Jr., D-Houston, that property-tax cuts mostly benefit the rich. Gallegos was back in the Senate for the first time since a liver transplant this year.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, angrily demanded that Patrick spell out $3 billion in savings that Patrick claimed could be found in the budget.

"It's your time to show this body that you know what you're talking about," Whitmire said.

Patrick, host of a conservative radio show, responded, "I don't have to be lectured by you."

Earlier, Whitmire said the attacks from each side of the spectrum bode well.

"If Sen. Shapleigh and Dan Patrick can both criticize you in the same discussion, that's evidence enough to me that you've drafted a good bill," Whitmire told Ogden.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, voted for the budget, as did GOP Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, who represents Hays County and part of Travis County, and Ogden, who represents Williamson County.

The Senate budget also:

•Increases the state's contribution to the Teacher Retirement System.

•Gives state agencies money for merit-based raises but does not provide an across-the-board pay raise for state employees.

•Puts more money than the House into the "B on Time" program, which offers zero-interest loans to college students. Those loans are forgiven for students who graduate in four years with a B average. (The House put more money into Texas Grants, which cover college costs for students who take tough classes in high school and show financial need.)

•Tightens Legislative Budget Board oversight of the Texas Department of Transportation's agreements with private companies for the construction of toll roads.

Bills under consideration

Other bills being debated on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives

House Bill 1634:

Media industry incentives

Author: Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin

Changes the film industry incentive program. Would allow producers to apply for grants of up to $2.5 million for making films, TV shows and videos in Texas. Gov. Rick Perry's office says Texas is losing business to other states: At least 30 films have gone elsewhere.

Next step: Goes to the Senate, where a similar bill is in committee.

House Bill 158:

Reporting value of gifts

Author: Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin

Requires public officials to report the fair-market value of gifts. The issue of cash gifts dogged the Texas Ethics Commission after it was revealed that Bill Ceverha, a member of the state Employee Retirement System board, took $100,000 from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, the state's largest individual Republican campaign donor. Ceverha simply reported the contribution as cash, rather than listing the amount on his personal financial disclosure statement.

Next step: Goes to the Senate, which has passed a similar bill.

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman:

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"We are finally seeing citizen-driven legislation, which is refreshing in this state."

Toll Party happy with Lege's toll road moratorium


Drew Roesgen
KENS 5 Eyewitness News
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

Members of San Antonio's Toll Party were all smiles Thursday night after a big victory in Austin.

On Wednesday, the Texas House of Representatives passed a two-year moratorium on toll roads in Texas. The local anti-toll road groups hopes they'll get a finishing blow on the deal soon from the Texas Senate.

The Texas Department of Transportation has plans for several toll roads in San Antonio including one that would run from Texas 151 on the West Side, along Loop 1604, over to Interstate 10 on the East Side. Another would run along U.S. 281 from Loop 1604 up to the county line.

"It was a very exciting day for us," said Terry Hall of the San Antonio Toll Party. "We are finally seeing citizen-driven legislation, which is refreshing in this state."

TxDOT maintains that toll lanes, run by private companies, would always be optional for drivers.

"We will not be forcing anybody to drive on those toll lanes. They can still drive on those non-toll lanes," TxDOT spokeswoman Laura Lopez said.

The choice has already been made, Hall said.

"Over $500 million of our gas tax dollars have already been allocated to build toll roads. So, whether or not you take that road, all of that gas tax money is going into that toll road," Hall said.

The Texas Senate takes up the bill on Wednesday. However, Gov. Rick Perry has already promised to veto the moratorium. It's not clear whether there are enough votes, or time, left in the session to override the veto.

TxDOT will continue planning for the toll roads because they believe future congestion will have drivers begging for relief.

TxDOT still plans to begin construction on its planned toll roads in 2008.

© 2007 KENS 5 and San Antonio Express-News:

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"Budget would give legislators a tighter grip on the state Department of Transportation."

Senate approves budget

Legislature: Plan includes tax cuts, teacher merit pay, limits on toll roads

April 12, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – The Senate passed a two-year, $152.6 billion budget Thursday that would leave billions unspent for tax cuts and also raise pay for high-performing teachers, make sure poor children receive health checkups and let lawmakers veto toll road deals.

The measure was approved 26-5. Differences with the House must now be ironed out, probably by a committee of five lawmakers from each chamber.

"The budget is balanced; it is conservative and fair," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan. "The state is in the best fiscal shape we've been in since the early '70s."

The budget would give legislators a tighter grip on the state Department of Transportation, which has greatly expanded use of toll roads across the state. That has sparked a backlash, prompting the House to vote this week to stop private toll-road deals for two years.

Mr. Ogden said the budget provisions would require prior approval by lawmakers before the department could spend upfront payments by private toll-road builders, or agree to "no compete" clauses limiting its ability to improve free roads near a toll road. He predicted the rules would survive legal challenges if other bills to rein in toll roads don't survive.

There was criticism aplenty, with both Republicans and Democrats questioning priorities. Some conservative Republicans complained, mostly off the Senate floor, that senators should have taken a harder line against spending. And Democrats said the budget is too tight-fisted when the state has a projected $14.3 billion surplus.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said lawmakers should spend more to restrain college tuition increases and put 200,000 more low-income youngsters on the Children's Health Insurance Program.

"We are starving government," Mr. Ellis said. "We are taking a holier-than-thou attitude that we are smarter and more efficient than 49 other states in this country."

Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, complained that the budget would set aside up to $3 billion to pay for school property tax cuts over the next four years but leave caseworkers at Child Protective Services with workloads that are among the nation's highest.

"You've got CPS foster children sleeping in hotels," Mr. Shapleigh said.

"What's more important, tax cuts four years from now, for millionaires ... or the children?" he said.

Mr. Ogden replied: "It's a false question. The budget addresses the problems you're talking about." He said spending $3 billion more, as Democrats want, wouldn't solve social problems.

And he said the budget manages to protect tax relief but also improve public schools and expand college financial aid by one-third, reaching 80,000 students.

He also said the state would make a "dramatic change" in delivering preventive health care to poor youngsters on Medicaid. Under a proposed lawsuit settlement, Mr. Ogden said, Texas would spend $150 million to dispatch mobile medical and dental units to underserved areas, or give young dentists and doctors incentives to work there.

Senate GOP leaders protected the nation's largest teacher merit pay program. Last month, House members decisively rejected performance-based pay and instead used the money to give teachers and other school professionals an across-the-board raise of at least $800 a year.

On CHIP, Democratic senators complained that the Senate budget would add only 32,000 more children to the program in the next two years, while the House voted to add 101,000.

The proposed spending represents an increase of about 10 percent over the budget lawmakers passed two years ago – or about 7 percent, if last year's extra spending on teacher salaries and high school improvements is taken into account. Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, pounced on the growth, saying he can't believe there's not fat to be trimmed.

Mr. Patrick was one of three Republicans and two Democrats to vote against the budget. The others were Sens. Chris Harris, R-Arlington; Mike Jackson, R-LaPorte; Mr. Ellis; and Mr. Shapleigh.

Other budget writers rallied to Mr. Ogden's defense. Said Lewisville Republican Jane Nelson, who shepherded the social services budget: "It does reflect our values. It shows we do care ... about the needy ... and the children."

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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"There is a price to pay when the government shirks some of its basic duties and opens the door to privatization."

Public work: Some jobs better left to government

April 12, 2007

Longview News-journal
Copyright 2007

Headlines at the state and federal level this week serve as reminders that sometimes, perhaps, we are better off demanding that the government do the government's job.

There are some people in high places who believe that the private sector can always do a better job than the government, no matter what that job might be.

But, as we are finding out in the evolving story from New York, perhaps we were better off when the government stuck to running its own student loan programs rather than subsidizing competition from the private sector.

The gist of the recent news is that private lenders are being accused of using illegal or questionable incentives to get college financial aid offices to steer student borrowers their way. The problem appears to be connected to the departure of a University of Texas official and there are likely more to come around the nation.

That in itself is a problem. But we believe the greater travesty is that the federal government spends hundreds of millions of dollars subsidizing private student lenders, driving the cost of student loans 7 percent higher than if they were made directly by the government.

One of the biggest complaints that critics had when the all of the government's student loans were made directly by the government was that the program lost money on defaulted loans. Ironically, however, the key incentive the government provides to private lenders now involved in the student loan business is a guarantee that it will cover any losses a lender faces on defaulted loans.

As one current critic of the subusidized private student loan process pointed out, the extra money that the government spends to keep private lenders involved in the process could be much better spent on expanding direct student aid like the Pell Grant program.

After all, who needs financial aid more, the low income students or the big bankers?


On to another privatization debate:

The Texas House has given preliminary approval to a moratorium on private toll roads in the state, putting the Trans-Texas Corridor project in limbo and stirring a flurry of dire predictions from toll road supporters.

We have long questioned the state's abdication of one of its prime responsibilities: the construction and maintenance of a network of highways. Because some lawmakers have been afraid to maintain fuel taxes on par with increased road construction and maintenance costs, we have seen Texas roads go from some of the best in the nation to a state of disrepair and inadequacy.

The state's answer to that has an increased use of toll roads, even in rural areas like East Texas. And in the past few years, Gov. Rick Perry has accelerated that approach by introducing privatized toll roads.

The lure of such projects is that they can be done with private, rather than public funding. The downside is that over the long haul of the long-term contracts, hundreds of millions of dollars that should probably be spent on Texas roads will instead line the pockets of the investors and owners of the Spanish firm contracted to build the "Corridor."


The bottom line in both of these examples is that there is a price to pay when the government shirks some of its basic duties and opens the door to privatization.

The public is better served when our public leaders focus more on doing the job right rather than simply shifting it into private hands.

© 2007 The Longview News-Journal:

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

"The golden box of logistics."

Massive Dallas rail hub planned


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

DALLAS -- For almost four years, California developers have been quietly assembling 6,000 acres south of Dallas. They hope to turn the land into a warehouse and distribution center next to the Union Pacific terminal in Wilmer that they believe will rival the giant Alliance development in north Fort Worth.

"We think it will emerge as the most vibrant new logistics park in North America," said Edward Romanov Jr., president and chief operating officer of the development company, The Allen Group.

An official unveiling of the development plans is scheduled for Friday at the Lancaster Municipal Airport, next to the site, which stretches over Dallas, Wilmer, Lancaster and Hutchins.

Top Allen executives said Wednesday that their company's Dallas Logistics Hub will be the first inland port in North America to be served by terminals of two competing rail lines. The developer is still in negotiations with BNSF for that second "intermodal" terminal, designed to link truck, train and oceangoing containers.

"Which would place us as the only logistics park in North America that has two intermodals, let alone two of the largest freight carriers bringing in containers from Asia," Romanov said.

The logistics park developers plan to connect the two terminals with a rail line, providing direct rail access to more buildings in the development. But more importantly, Romanov said, having two competing rail companies at the site could mean customers would get more negotiating power on price and more service, he said.

They also plan to one day help adapt the Lancaster airport to support cargo planes. The runway would need to be lengthened and converted to concrete from asphalt to handle heavy planes. But whether that happens will not affect plans to move forward, the developers said. Air cargo is only a small piece of the projected goods that will flow through the logistics hub.

"That is going to be icing on the cake as far as what is going to drive development in this area," said Richard Allen, the chief executive. "We're not building big distribution centers to hold computer chips that are coming in on airplanes."

But they also believe that they have other advantages over Alliance because of the development's abundance of relatively inexpensive land and a large labor pool.

The project is within the bounds of four major highways: the Interstate 35E NAFTA corridor, Interstate 45's link to the Port of Houston, Interstate 20's straight shot to the Port of Long Beach in California, and the proposed Loop 9, which will encircle the Metroplex.

"This is what I call 'the golden box of logistics,'" Allen said.

Mike Berry, president of Hillwood Properties, said even with the advantages touted by the Dallas Logistics Hub, Alliance has an enormous head start.

It took Hillwood seven years to get the major components, such as highways, in place. And site selectors who need to move now look at what is currently in place, not what will be there in the future.

"What's in place today, at least the customers we talk to, is essential," Berry said.

Ross Perot Jr., founder of the Alliance development company Hillwood, called the plans for this logistics and warehouse center a "direct threat" to the 18,000-acre Alliance last October.

"I would say 'threat' is a bit of a harsh description," Romanov said. "Certainly we'll be a major competitor. I think there's still a viable marketplace for both projects."

Allen and Romanov point to the sharp growth of imports from Asia. There is more than enough room for Alliance, the Dallas Logistics hub and other D-FW distribution hubs to prosper. There's so much potential demand, Allen said, that it has to go somewhere.

They believe that their development has an enormous advantage over Alliance because of its proximity to three interstates, as well as the possibility of having two rail terminals.

"The demand is there for big-box distribution centers to off-load the goods coming from Asia," Allen said. "So, it's got to be filled. And it's going to be filled by the 50 industrial parks that exist in the Dallas-Fort Worth market.

"Yeah, we'll be competitors, but the balloon has got to bulge someplace," he said. "The demand is there for a second major logistics hub in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex."

Land purchases

The Allen Group started buying land around the Union Pacific intermodal terminal 3 1/2 years ago. After they had closed on 2,600 acres, they realized that the land could play a larger role in capturing that eastbound cargo from Asia. They bought 3,400 more acres, assembling a total of 114 parcels in a series of intricate deals.

Friday, The Allen Group will announce plans to start the development with 640,000-square-foot and 210,000-square-foot speculative industrial buildings near Interstate 20.

BNSF signed a memorandum of understanding to build a terminal at the Dallas Logistics Hub last November, Romanov said.

Now the company has about two years to decide whether it wants to build the terminal and start construction, he said. That fits with the company's projection to reach capacity at Alliance in the next three years, he said.

Berry said his company is in talks with BNSF about expanding the Alliance rail terminal's capacity. The terminal is a main stop for Asian imports from the Port of Long Beach.

Executives said the development and surrounding community will need about $350 million in infrastructure by the time the hub is fully built out. That money will come from a variety of sources as the development evolves, not all of which is in place. But Romanov said the developers have been in contact with the four cities in which their acreage is located about the infrastructure needs.

Berry said it took his company 15 years to get $350 million worth of publicly funded infrastructure built at Alliance.

Alliance is only 35 percent built out, Berry notes. And it's not finished yet. He still wants to continue the expansion of Alliance Airport and see Interstate 35W widened, he said.

"Right now, infrastructure funding is very limited, and we can't afford to slow down a project that is already in high gear," Berry said.

Cargo growth

The movement of cargo has evolved significantly in recent years, Allen points out. Asian cargo is growing by leaps and bounds, and companies are challenged to find more efficient ways to get products to stores.

Shippers are experimenting with moving their containers through other West Coast ports besides the longtime favorite, the Port of Long Beach.

Companies are delaying breaking apart the containers until trains carry them much further inland, to wide-open places like Texas. North Texas is cheaper, less congested and centrally located.

"It really isn't a Dallas situation. It really isn't a real estate equation," Romanov said. "It's really more of a globalization of the economy."

Distributors are demanding a new generation of building, Allen said. They want higher clearances, more automated finish-outs, and giant buildings that are sometimes 10 times as big as the 100,000-square-foot warehouse that was standard more than a decade ago, he said.

These efficiencies help keep the price to the consumer down.

"It's evolved as we've imported more and more goods," Allen said.
Andrea Jares, 817-548-5522

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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A 'special' deal for North Texas tollers?

Tarrant not in tollway ban

April 12, 2007

Gordon Dickson
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

Tarrant County officials said Wednesday that they're relieved that plans to build toll lanes on Interstate 35W, Loop 820 and Texas 114/121 can continue, even though lawmakers are poised to ban privately funded toll roads.

The ban would, however, be a major setback for the Trans-Texas Corridor, Gov. Rick Perry's ambitious proposal to build privately financed toll roads across the state.

By a 137-2 vote, the House passed the statewide two-year moratorium Wednesday, and the bill was sent to the Senate, where an overwhelming number of senators also favor a moratorium.

But supporters of the Tarrant County toll projects say it's important not to let down their guard. Lawmakers are still working on a broader transportation bill and may revisit the moratorium issue, which could put the Tarrant County projects at risk.

'We've got to continue attacking this on several fronts,' said Russell Laughlin, transportation committee chairman of the 35W Coalition.

The group of business and government leaders along I-35W opposes the moratorium, saying that private investment in toll roads would make up for a lack of gas tax funding. The coalition considers the current exemption of Tarrant County projects the silver lining to an otherwise bad bill.

The Regional Transportation Council spent more than a year creating ground rules for companies to follow in bidding for toll projects, including limits on toll pricing in Dallas-Fort Worth. A moratorium could unravel that work.

'It's great news that our legislators are acknowledging the hard work our region has done,' said Laughlin, a vice president for Hillwood.

Special deal for North Texas

The moratorium is the latest effort to pull back tolling powers given to the Texas Department of Transportation in previous legislative sessions. The issue has come to a head this year because the Transportation Department has aggressively courted private companies to build toll roads and collect the tolls for up to 50 years, creating a groundswell of opposition across the state.

Lawmakers who gave the Transportation Department the power to build toll roads are now reversing themselves in response to angry Texans.

The moratorium would apply only to privately funded toll roads.

The bill is worded so some projects in the Metroplex's four biggest counties -- Tarrant, Denton, Dallas and Collin -- would be exempt. That includes two projects in which private bidders are already being sought: I-35W/Loop 820/Texas 183 North Tarrant Express, and Texas 114/121 DFW Connector in Grapevine.

The planned Southwest Parkway in Fort Worth would not be affected because it is a project of the North Texas Tollway Authority, a state agency.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, author of the moratorium amendment, joked that she felt like a North Texas representative because so many people from Tarrant and Denton counties had talked to her about the issue.

She said her amendment is not a death knell for private toll roads but a 'tap on the brakes.'

Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, said: 'In North Texas, it's a different deal. ... We can't let you just put the brakes on all these projects.'

If Tarrant County projects were not exempt, Truitt said, 'Are we not changing the rules midstream after the local bodies did exactly what we told them to?'

Plans to build toll lanes on LBJ Freeway in the Dallas area would also be exempt from the moratorium.

Political hot potato

However, the hotly contested Texas 121 toll road in Collin and Denton counties would not be exempt. That project is being courted by the North Texas Tollway Authority, which runs the Dallas North Tollway and the President George Bush Turnpike.

Many area lawmakers would prefer that the tollway authority build Texas 121. They weren't happy earlier this year when the state Transportation Department instead accepted a proposal from Spanish firm Cintra to build Texas 121 and provide about $3 billion in payments to the state for other regional projects.

Now, with lawmakers' help, the authority is getting another shot at Texas 121.

On Wednesday, the authority's board directed its staff to prepare a proposal to build and operate Texas 121.

If such an offer is submitted to the Regional Transportation Council by May 25, it will be weighed against Cintra's offer.

Staff writer Aman Batheja contributed to this report.

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

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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" ['Ric'] Williamson's holdover status has stimulated the discussions... "

Holdover' appointees targeted

Legislature: Senate leaders back bid to add chamber review when tenures of governor's picks end

April 12, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – Key lawmakers, concerned that the governor is circumventing the Senate, said Wednesday that they'll join efforts to give the chamber more authority to review state board appointees.

The proposal targets "holdover" appointees, those whose terms have expired but who continue to serve until the governor reappoints them or names a replacement.

The issue has gained a higher profile because Gov. Rick Perry's friend, Ric Williamson, continues to chair the Texas Transportation Commission although his term expired in February.

The strong-willed, toll road-touting Mr. Williamson has detractors and would have a tough fight winning Senate approval if he were reappointed while the Legislature is in session.

But under current law, Mr. Perry can wait until the session adjourns May 28, then reappoint Mr. Williamson, who could continue to serve without Senate review until the next regular session, in January 2009.

Sens. Glenn Hegar, Steve Ogden and Mike Jackson have authored constitutional amendments to stop "holdovers" and make board members step down if they aren't formally reappointed. The bills differ in how long appointees can serve without being reappointed – ranging from no time to 30 days after a session begins to until the end of a regular session.

"The goal on all of these seems to be to ensure the Senate's advice and consent power is not thwarted by interim appointments," said Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, whose State Affairs Committee considered the bills.

Mr. Duncan asked the three senators to determine the best way to protect the integrity of the Senate's review and then return with one bill that can win approval.

While acknowledging that Mr. Williamson's holdover status has stimulated the discussions, Mr. Hegar, R-Katy, said the bill that emerges won't affect that appointment but will instead look toward avoiding a similar circumstance.

"I'm not just focusing on one or two commissions. I'm thinking of the state," Mr. Hegar said.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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Would the TTC be the biggest 'victim' of a private toll road moratorium in Texas?

Texas House OKs Toll Ban

Veto-Proof Majority Likely in Senate

Posted 04/12/07

by Richard Williamson
The Bond Buyer
Copyright 2007

DALLAS — A two-year moratorium on most privately financed toll roads appears to have a veto-proof majority after clearing the Texas House yesterday.

With billions of dollars in private-public financing at stake, the Senate took up its version of the House measure that won a 134-to-5 vote Tuesday, with a final reading yesterday.

The two bills, HB 2772 sponsored by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and SB 1267 by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, are identical and are likely to face a veto from Gov. Rick Perry, a strong advocate of private financing of toll roads. But with 27 of 31 senators sponsoring the SB 1267 version, an override appears certain if the bill passes with enough time in the session for another vote.

Under the Texas constitution, the Legislature has no recourse if the governor vetoes a bill after the session ends.

The House version of the moratorium exempts projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that are already in the planning stages. The exemption was written into the House bill after government officials testified last month that the moratorium would have a devastating impact on critically needed projects.

The biggest victim of the moratorium would be the Trans-Texas Corridor, a $184 billion, 4,000-mile network of toll roads, rail lines, and utilities designed to relieve congestion on Interstate 35 and expand business opportunities in the state.

The project is headed by the Texas Department of Transportation with Spanish-American consortium Cintra-Zachry in a 50-year contract.

The Spanish firm Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte has also won preliminary approval to build and operate the Highway 121 project in Collin and Denton counties north of Dallas. Cintra would provide a $2.1 billion upfront payment that could be spent on other traffic projects in the region. Under the House bill passed yesterday, that project would be spared the moratorium.

In a separate hearing, Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, told House Transportation Committee members that the state’s growth and declining funding sources are forcing the state to use creative financing schemes.

Raising gas taxes to build and maintain roads is politically difficult, but several bills seeking a higher tax are pending. The tax has been 20 cents a gallon since 1991.

As an alternative to private financing, the Senate has already passed SB 1795, sponsored by Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan. That bill doubles bond authorization for TxDOT to $6 billion.

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 from the Department of Public Safety. Ogden, a former supporter of Perry’s proposed public-private toll road financing play, has changed his mind in favor of traditional public financing.

Robert Poole, director of transportation studies at the Reason Foundation and adviser to the Bush administration and others on transportation policy, called the moratorium “a huge overreaction.”

A two-year moratorium would really be a three-year or longer delay in starting projects, Poole said. During the hiatus, construction costs would rise as congestion increased in the state.

“Meanwhile, Florida and Georgia are welcoming private toll road investment, and bills are pending in Arizona, California, and Nevada to do likewise,” Poole said. “Colorado, North Carolina, Utah, and Virginia are among other fast-growing states with such laws on their books. So it’s not as if billions of dollars in toll road capital have no place else to go.”

© 2007 The Bond Buyer :

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