Saturday, April 21, 2007

Moratorium bill must be on Gov. Perry's desk by May 16 to give House and Senate time to override his expected veto

Toll road battle draws near


Fort worth Star-Telegram (Austin Bureau)
Copyright 2007

Measures that would slam on the brakes on the construction of new private toll roads for at least two years have won overwhelming approval in both chambers of the Legislature, but insiders say it's too soon to declare one of Gov. Rick Perry's centerpiece initiatives dead.

"It's fair to say that bill is a sitting duck for a veto," said Harvey Kronberg, editor of the Quorum Report, a political newsletter, in Austin. "The moratorium has wide support in both chambers, and both chambers are keenly aware that they need to get the bill to the governor pretty fast if they have any hope of overriding a veto."

Recent history has shown that bills killed by a gubernatorial veto tend to stay dead. First, it takes two-thirds of both houses to override a veto. And second, because so much legislation remains bottled up until the final days of a legislative session, lawmakers are often long gone from Austin after the veto hammer has dropped.

Perry has not said whether he would veto either Senate Bill 1267, which passed the upper chamber Thursday, or House Bill 1892, which passed the lower chamber last week. But he has said repeatedly that he intends to push aggressively for toll roads to be built in the planned Trans Texas Corridor unless someone can show him an alternative to alleviate the state's ever-worsening traffic congestion.

"His position has been clear from the get-go: If you have a better option, bring it forward. Otherwise, let's build the toll roads," Perry's spokesman Ted Royer said. "But this state is adding 1,000 people a day. Doing nothing for two years is not an option."

Private toll roads can be built faster than the state can construct highways because revenues from the tax on gasoline and from the federal government have been insufficient in recent years to keep up with demand, the governor's office has said. Critics have said that the state should raise the gas tax, but legislation to do that is going nowhere this session.

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, whose moratorium bill won unanimous Senate approval, said his measure would not be the death knell for toll roads, which means the governor would not necessarily veto it.

Like the bill that passed in the House, the moratorium would apply only to private toll roads. Most of the projects on the drawing board for Dallas-Fort Worth would not be affected, he said. Nichols said his motivation is to give the state time to decide whether it should let a private company based in Spain operate private toll roads for 50 years and to let that company penalize the state if Texas decides to build roads that would compete with the tollways. "It's all about giving us adequate breathing time," Nichols said.

But if the Legislature wants to make sure it keeps that breathing time by avoiding a veto, it had better move fast. Both chambers must agree on a bill and have it on Perry's desk by May 16. That way, if the governor does veto it, both chambers would have time to try to override the veto before the legislative session expires May 28.

Nichols said his bill, or one of a handful of others with similar features, could easily work its way through the legislative mill before May 16. And he added that it would not be difficult to round up the two-thirds majority in both houses needed to override the veto.

If the scenario plays out, it would be the first time since 1979 for the Legislature to override a governor's veto.

Ross Ramsey, editor of the political newsletter Texas Weekly, said lawmakers have not been reluctant this year to pick a fight with Perry. The Senate unanimously passed a measure urging the abolition of the Perry-appointed board of directors of the Texas Youth Commission, and a bill that would nullify the governor's order that schoolgirls be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease has widespread legislative support.

"If ever there's been a Legislature in the mood to bust a governor, it's this one," Ramsey said.

But Nichols said he hopes that a showdown with Perry over toll roads can be avoided. He said he supports toll projects, but not necessarily under the formula laid out in the Trans Texas Corridor.

"The governor wants to fix the transportation system, and so do I," Nichols said.

John Moritz, 512-476-4294

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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Toll Moratorium Amendments: Just what the pork doctors ordered.

Toll Road Moratorium Bill...Just a Placebo?


By: Peter Stern
(statesman blogs)
Austin American Statesman
Copyright 2007

Senator Jeff Wentworth sold-out Texans

What Wentworth says and does are 2 different things

There's no nice way to put it. Senator Jeff Wentworth just sold-out Texans with the latest in toll conspiracy legislation HB 1892.

During the past decade, the Texas legislature has become adept at "end around" power-plays for their special interests. One such maneuver has been the recent legislation presented and approved for a 2-year "moratorium" on toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC). It is a placebo law that attempts to appease and quell the public's anti-toll sentiment.

In Senator Wentworth's article printed in several local newspapers, including the Waxahachie Daily Light, he presents his opinion that "democracy is alive and well in Texas and is healthy as a horse". Is that one of hundreds of healthy horses that still are being sent to two of the horse slaughterhouses in northern Texas?

Confucius many years ago told us to "Beware of the man who blows hot and cold with one breath." Apparently one such man is Senator Jeff Wentworth.

With one breath he praises the people of Texas for speaking out against toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor and yet then he supports a bill that provides the same power to local governments afforded CAMPO and Regional Mobility Authorities (RMA's) that determines road policy and development, which then will ensure the creation of approximately 24 little RMA's. Voters should ask why the legislature shifted that power to local government. The response by many legislators would be similar to what Wentworth tells the people, that it is the democratic way to delegate power to the people, while in reality, it permits an "end around" power-play for TxDOT and toll proponents to work their crusade on smaller populations so that the anti-toll groups won't be as powerful.

Also, yesterday Wentworth made it seem as though he made a 180-degree turn-around when he filed a bill attached to the "moratorium" legislation to keep two roads in San Antonio off the toll agenda. While he made a lot of people in SA happy with that modification, in truth it's an insignificant gesture, another placebo in a long list of veiling the truth.

Toll road proponents are NEVER going to stop their crusades for the Corridor, toll roads and/or "managed lanes" until voters get rid of all the special interest vermin managing Texas, from the governor on down-the-line. There is a long list of them and it includes Senators John Carona and Jeff Wentworth; and House Reps. Speaker Tom Craddick and Mike Krusee. Voters need to wise-up fast before the Texas and "free" roadways they once knew evaporate before their eyes. Vote these people out in their next reelection attempt, but for now, bombard them with communications.

In addition, HB 1892 includes a passage, Section 1 (c-3), that highlights the term "managed lanes", which is a different terminology for "toll roads". In this section the legislature excuses "managed lanes" from the legislation, which enables TxDOT or the new local entity to develop contracts for "managed lanes. "A rose is a rose is a rose..." and toll roads are toll roads!

Furthermore, even though the bill acknowledges the new powers of county commissions a "legislative study committee" must be formed to review the proposed plan. The 9 members will be selected as follows: 3 by the Governor, 3 by the Lt. Governor and 3 by the House Speaker. Obviously, much of the control remains with the state and NOT with the local government ---- Section 1 d) 1,2,3, .

It is a shameful way to do legislative business, but unfortunately for hardworking Texans such maneuvering and diversion tactics have become the way here in Texas.

People need to wake-up and see clearly the strategy being used against their wishes. Yes, the 2-year toll road / TTC moratorium is a good thing, but not at the cost of the "end around" distribution of RMA power to local county commissioners, because it is just another way for toll proponents to get the job done even during the "moratorium".

During the past several years Wentworth has become a huge disappointment to his constituency and he does NOT deserve to be reelected in 2 years --- but that doesn't help us now.

Voters need to contact Wentworth and Senator John Carona, Chair of the Committee on Transportation & Homeland Security to tell them that their "sleight of hand" on the toll road issue is NOT appreciated and that they need to vote against any bill that helps toll road special interests, such as this one.

Bottom-line is that the majority of Texans don't want the Trans-Texas Corridor or other toll roads and the legislature should heed the will of the people. Get involved now! Don't let the special interests win the Corridor, toll road and "managed lanes" battle.

Be informed and contact your elected officials.

To read HB 1892 go to:..

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman:

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Friday, April 20, 2007

"It is questionable whether, as the session winds down, lawmakers are ready to make sweeping changes in transportation policy."

Carona, Krusee take new approach to TxDOT


by Christine DeLoma
Volume 11, Issue 34
The Lone Star Report
Copyright 2007

Sen. John Carona's (R-Dallas) omnibus transportation reform bill would limit the size and scope of private toll road contracts, give greater local authority over transportation projects and prohibit diversions of highway fund money.

The legislation is a compromise package involving Carona, Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) and Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson.

The purpose: getting lawmakers to move beyond their recent vote for a two-year moratorium on private toll road contracts and to consider needed transportation policy changes.

In unveiling committee substitute SB 1929 at the April 18 Transportation & Homeland Security committee meeting, Carona said he hopes to "reform the excesses of prior legislation and to fine tune the various tools that are to be available to us in the years ahead."

It is questionable whether, as the session winds down, lawmakers are ready to make sweeping changes in transportation policy.

The Senate and House have already passed their respective versions of the private toll road moratorium. SB 1267 by Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and HB 1892 by Rep. Wayne Smith (R-Baytown) and Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) allows for a study commission to wade through the controversial issues and recommend changes to the 81st Legislature.

Many of the provisions in CSSB 1929 include legislation that has been already either heard or passed in committee. This includes a two-year moratorium on comprehensive development agreements between TxDOT and private developers for toll roads.

Twenty-five mini TxDOTs?

The bill allows TxDOT to delegate its toll road responsibilities to any of the state's 25 metropolitan planning organizations (MPO's).

"It is clear to us," said Williamson, "that House and Senate leadership are interested in changing the relationship between what's perceived as a very strong, some would say, overbearing, imperialist TxDOT to one of more collegiality and cooperation…We've made an effort to weigh an organized approach out."

Still, many senators looked skeptically at the concept.

"I'm not sure under the current scenario that what we're looking for is to devolve the responsibility of TxDOT into mini-TxDOT's around the state," said Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano). "I don't know the ramifications of what that might be in the future. That's my concern."

While MPO's are largely responsible for planning and prioritizing the transportation priorities within a region, the quasi-public organizations currently do not implement projects.

Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio), a former chairman of an MPO in Bexar County, questioned whether MPO's have the capability and resources to handle the duties proposed. "MPOs currently aren't staffed anywhere near they would have to be staffed to become implementing agencies," Wentworth said.

Williamson said TxDOT would assign some of its employees to the MPOs.

Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso) asked Williamson if he would make the same recommendation to delegate responsibility to MPOs if TxDOT had the money it says it needs to build roads.

"It seems to me like you're punting," Shapleigh said.

"My suspicion," replied Williamson, "is that had we known the 80 billion [dollars] was coming, we certainly would have brought you a different plan and a different set of strategies. So maybe the answer is yes - that this is the reason we're doing this."

The bill also gives MPO's, with help of independent financial advisors, authority to approve or reject any toll project, including the business terms of a comprehensive development agreement (CDA). CSSB 1929 also requires MPO approval for tolls to be charged when the project is fully paid off.

Williamson said TxDOT would provide MPO's assistance, analysis, oversight, and interface with the federal government, as well as make sure the laws are followed.

Reforming comprehensive development agreements

By way of restricting the terms of CDA's, the bill:

  • Prohibits non-compete clauses that penalize the state for building ancillary roads near a private toll road. The legislation, however, allows private contracts to require TxDOT to compensate developers for lost revenue if the agency builds a new limited access highway within four miles of the toll road or if construction increases traffic on the toll road.
  • Requires contract review by the Attorney General's office, the State Auditor's office, and the Legislative Budget Board. It also requires a public hearing on a CDA's terms and provisions.
  • Specifies buy-back provisions if the state wants to buyback a road from a private developer. The bill would prohibit buyback provisions based on estimated future project revenues. Provisions would have to be based on investments, expenditures, and rate of return.
  • Restricts total TxDOT CDA's to $10 billion in construction and limits the duration of each contract for 40 years.

New planning organizations created

The bill creates corridor planning organizations (CPO) before a Trans-Texas Corridor segment is designated. Members of CPO's would include appointees from MPO's and regional planning organizations.

"With regard to something as massive as the corridor," Williamson explained, "whenever we identify any piece of the corridor [we would] immediately set up a CPO of all the counties impacted by that corridor. Let them be the ones that decide the terms and conditions, the width, what goes into the corridor, who owns it, who pays for it. In other words, giving them the responsibility and until they all agree… the corridor doesn't advance."

The CPO would be responsible for recommending the segment route to TxDOT. It would have approval power over the corridor project and the method of contracting.

The bill also creates rural planning organizations (RPO) comprising and governed by locally elected officials and a TxDOT district engineer in a rural area not served by a metropolitan planning organization. The RPO may be funded by the State Highway Fund.

Financing toll roads

Since 1985, the state has diverted a portion of the state highway fund to support operations of the Department of Public Safety (DPS). CSSB 1929 would prohibit DPS use and receipt of money from the gas tax and would limit expenditures of the fund to highway improvements. The bill also directs certain fees and fines collected by DPS to be deposited into the Texas Mobility Fund instead of General Revenue.

The legislation creates the Toll Project Equity Fund in General Revenue to provide loans to local toll road entities for toll projects. It would be funded by general obligation or revenue bonds issued by the Texas Public Finance Authority.

Shapleigh asked why the bill didn't contain a provision to index the gasoline tax to inflation. Carona said the measure must originate in the House.

A Krusee bill to do that hasn't gotten any traction in the Ways & Means Committee. "The House doesn't wish to pass a stand-alone increase in the gas tax of any kind," said Krusee, who sat in on the Senate meeting. "If you put some sugar on with it in a bill like Mr. Carona's that provides some oversight for CDAs and other things that TxDOT's doing, then that might help it go down… I think House members would really like to see more oversight of TxDOT, and if you gave that to them they might stomach an index. That's my hope."

Committee passes its version of HB 1892

Meanwhile the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security committee took up HB 1892, the two-year moratorium on CDA's by Kolkhorst and Smith. Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands), who carried the bill in the Senate, introduced committee substitute HB 1892. Despite minor differences between the two measures, the intent of the bill remains generally the same. Provisions include:
  • Freezing private toll road contracts for two years.
  • Exempting certain projects in the North Texas area and El Paso County from the moratorium.
  • Allowing regional mobility authorities and local tollway authorities to enter into CDA's to develop toll road projects. This includes the North Texas Tollway Authority and the Harris County Toll Road Authority.
  • Giving local tollway authorities primacy or first option in building toll projects within a region. If a tollway invokes the primacy rule, it would have to decide within 90 days whether to go forward with a project.
  • Clarifying that county toll authorities must pledge a portion of their surplus revenues to pay for non-tolled projects.
  • Creating a study commission on the use of comprehensive development agreements.
  • Exempting managed lane projects in which a portion of an existing controlled-access highway is converted into a toll lane.

CSHB 1892 unanimously passed the committee.

Nichols' moratorium bill passes Senate

SB 1267 by Nichols unanimously passed the Senate April 19. The bill puts a 2-year freeze on comprehensive development agreements for private toll road projects.

"We are now one step closer to protecting Texans from private toll deals that would cripple our transportation system for the next half century," Nichols said after the bill's passage.

The bill as amended excludes the North Texas State Highway 121 and 161 project as well as Loop 9 in the Dallas Metroplex. It also excludes managed toll lane projects. However, Sen. Jeff Wenthworth (R-San Antonio) amended the bill to keep San Antonio in the moratorium.

© 2007 The Lone Star Report:

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'Truth Be Tolled' screens at Houston’s 40th Annual WorldFest Houston International Film Festival

Press Advisory

Toll road documentary nominated for top award at International Film Festival

April 20, 2007

Truth Be Tolled
Copyright 2007


The documentary film, “Truth Be Tolled,” which chronicles Texans’ strong opposition to state plans for a new network of privatized toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), is an official screening selection at Houston’s 40th Annual WorldFest Houston International Film Festival and has been nominated to receive a top award in its competition category.

The film had been credited with fueling the grassroots backlash against the private toll road contracts and TTC which has resulted in a veto-proof majority of legislators signing onto a two-year moratorium that's making its way to the Governor's desk.

Following the screening, the leaders of the grassroots movement against the privatization of our highways and the Trans Texas Corridor who are featured in the film, David and Linda Stall, Founders of Corridor Watch, and Terri Hall, Founder and Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) and the San Antonio Toll Party, will be on hand for a Q & A with the audience and the press.

“Truth Be Tolled”
Documentary Screening
WorldFest Houston Film Festival
April 22, 2007 at 5:00 pm
Q&A with David & Linda Stall & Terri Hall to follow film
AMC 30 at Dunvale
2949 Dunvale in Houston

View trailers here:

The film provides a narrative of the laws that opened the doors for a state-wide shift in public infrastructure financing methods, and interviews some of the lawmakers who have witnessed those changes. Using a cross-section of politicians, candidates, grass-roots organizers and average citizens, the film emphasizes the importance of the constitutional right to freedom of speech.

The Texas Toll Party recently distributed a copy of the film to every member of the Texas legislature and the Governor’s office before the controversial and monumental Senate hearing, March 1, on toll roads and the TTC. Over 800 citizens testified at that hearing and voiced their concern over the conversion of highways into tollways by foreign corporations and the construction of the TTC, a 4,000-mile network of privatized road, rail and utility lines.

Director and cinematographer William H. Molina began filming “Truth Be Tolled” after attending some of the public hearings held for the new highway projects. “I began to do some research, and I was outraged when I found out they were forcing toll roads on already existing roadways without a public vote,” he said. “Someday, we will look back on this film and realize that history was being made in the midst of a time of tremendous change in our public policies. These are real people dealing with real issues, and the film just carries out their voices.”

Mr. Molina resides in San Antonio. In addition to his work in Hollywood feature films, he was nominated for an Emmy for his camera work on the Discovery Channel’s documentary, “Oceans of Air.” He recently completed an episode of “Decoding the Past: Mayan Doomsday Prophecy” for the History Channel. His short film, “Chichen Itza,” has also been nominated for an award for Best Cinematography at WorldFest 2007.

WorldFest, one of the oldest and largest film and video competitions in the world, received more than 4,500 category entries from 37 countries in 2006. The festival will screen just 55-60 feature film premieres, with an emphasis on American and International Independent feature films. WorldFest Artistic and Program Director Kathleen Haney stated, “We will concentrate on only the very best, selecting new American & Foreign Independent films that truly deserve a premiere at WorldFest. By doing so, we can concentrate on the films and their filmmakers and enable our faithful audience the opportunity to see each and every film!”

“Truth Be Tolled” will screen on April 22, 2007 at 5:00 pm at AMC 30 at Dunvale, 2949 Dunvale in Houston. The screening will also host the world premiere of the trailer for Mr. Molina’s upcoming sequel to “Truth Be Tolled.” Festival admission is required to attend. For more information on the film, visit For more information on the WorldFest-Houston film festival, visit

Storm Pictures, LLC, Post Office Box 1544, Helotes, Texas 78023

Source: Storm Pictures

© 2007 Truth Be Tolled:

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"A two-year delay is nothing compared to being stuck for a 50-year commitment to pay tolls, so other localities can build their roads at our expense."

Letters from Plano, Frisco

Delay 121 also

April 20, 2007

Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Re: "Transportation bill curbs agency's powers – Legislature: Senate plan would increase regional bodies' voice on projects," Thursday news story.

I would like to ask our local state legislators why they allowed the toll road moratorium to exempt State Highway 121.

It is utterly preposterous to stop all toll roads in the state except one.

Is the Frisco/Plano area of Collin County the cash cow for the rest of the metroplex? What happens if alternative highway funding becomes available during the two-year period? Does Cintra give back Highway 121? Yes, we need the highway to be built, but a two-year delay is nothing compared to being stuck for a 50-year commitment to pay tolls, so other localities can build their roads at our expense.

The "outcry" by state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth; state Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller; and others is self-serving. Try to toll Highway 114 through Southlake and see the reaction. Locally, Collin County Commissioner Joe Jaynes and McKinney Mayor Pro Tem Brian Loughmiller applaud the exemption, because they daydream that tolls will pay for North Central Expressway improvements, again at our expense.

Plano already has two toll roads. One letter writer pointed out that all citizens will pay more for purchased goods, as businesses that are forced to use toll roads pass along their costs. Part of Highway 121 from the Dallas North Tollway to Hillcrest was already funded by the Texas Department of Transportation, yet it's part of the "sale."

Someone has to step forward and put a stop to this inequity. Perhaps a lawsuit is the only option – or the next election. In any event, the local taxpayers should not have to pay the brunt of fixing what the Legislature failed to address for years.

Joe Schumacher, Plano

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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Sen. Ogden: "I believe that privatizing our highways and selling them to the highest bidder is bad public policy."

Senate approves freeze on private toll-road deals

Moratorium would exempt major projects in North Texas

April 20, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – The movement to halt the privatizing of Texas toll roads gained more momentum Thursday when the Senate unanimously passed a two-year moratorium on private toll-road contracts.

But the Senate, much like the House last week, exempted most of North Texas' most prominent toll projects from the ban.

Most lawmakers consider a freeze on private pay roads to be a foregone conclusion now that both chambers have overwhelmingly passed separate moratorium measures. The key question now is which projects will be spared as the moratorium legislation moves through the session's final stages.

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, persuaded his colleagues Thursday to add Loop 9 in southern Dallas County to a list of exempted projects that now includes State Highway 121 in Collin and Denton counties, State Highway 161 in western Dallas County, the planned Trinity Parkway near downtown Dallas, and toll-lane projects on LBJ Freeway and two roads in Tarrant County. Mr. West said the long-planned Loop 9 is an important commercial engine that should not be stalled for another two years.

"The only thing I'm trying to do is keep the issue alive," he said.

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, told Mr. West he opposed "carving out exceptions on the grounds that 'No, it's in my district.' "

"This moratorium is far more important than a local concern," Mr. Ogden said. "What we're doing is we're asking ourselves here in the state of Texas, is the only way and the best way to build highways privatizing them?

Mr. West said he offered his amendment Thursday because with so many other exceptions already added to the moratorium, he wants to make sure Loop 9 stays on the table as well.

But Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, said what makes Loop 9 different is that it's the only exempted project that could eventually be part of the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor, a statewide highway that would roughly parallel Interstate 35.

"A vote for this amendment is a vote for privatizing the Trans-Texas Corridor," Ms. Nelson said.

Other North Texas senators argued that Loop 9 should be considered independently of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

After endorsing Mr. West's Loop 9 amendment by a 19-11 vote, the full Senate passed the moratorium bill 30-0.

The moratorium author, Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, said the objective of his two-year freeze is to reconsider the consequences of privatizing state highways before locking into long-term deals. Support for a moratorium has been building since the state announced a 50-year deal with Madrid-based Cintra to build and oversee the Highway 121 project.

The moratorium would not apply to regional toll agencies such as the North Texas Tollway Authority, which last week decided to begin preparing a belated bid for Highway 121.

As North Texas lawmakers approved the exemption-laden moratorium Thursday, they once again argued that their traffic-choked region cannot afford delay in relieving congestion.

"A moratorium fixes nothing," Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, told Mr. Ogden. "There's not a thing in this bill that will fix the very ills that you and I have talked about."

Mr. Ogden sponsored the Senate version of the 2003 bill that hatched the state's recent multibillion-dollar private toll deals. But he is now pushing for what he calls a "midcourse correction" in the state's toll-road policies.

Mr. Ogden said he supports private contracts to design, build and maintain toll roads. But he said signing away the rights to state highways and their revenues for 50 years is far beyond the scope of what the Legislature intended in 2003.

"I believe that privatizing our highways and selling them to the highest bidder is bad public policy," he said.

Mr. Nichols' moratorium bill now moves to the House, which approved a separate moratorium bill last week. The House bill was amended and approved Wednesday by Senate transportation committee members.

Once both chambers approve a unified moratorium bill, it would go to Gov. Rick Perry, who has championed the state's efforts to privatize toll roads. If the governor vetoes it, the Legislature can override a veto with a two-thirds vote.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sen. Carona on moratorium: “It fixes nothing.”

Senate votes for moratorium on private toll roads


Gary Scharrer Austin Bureau
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — The Texas Senate voted unanimously Thursday for a two-year moratorium on private company toll roads — although stopping those controversial projects won't solve the state's bulging highway needs, a leading lawmaker warned.

The state House has already supported a similar measure in a nearly unanimous vote, reflecting considerable public angst over the possibility of transferring public assets to private companies.

A moratorium on private toll roads passing in both chambers means it's “more likely to stick,” said Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, author of the Senate's moratorium and a former member of the Texas Transportation Commission.

“You have House clarity. You have Senate clarity,” Nichols said. “There's an obvious will by this body to take the time to study private equity contracts before we lock up many (road) contracts of our transportation system that cannot be corrected until our children and grandchildren are past retirement.”

Gov. Rick Perry, however, opposes the moratorium, and Nichols conceded that a veto could kill the bill should the measure reach Perry's desk.

The bill, which exempts several highway projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, would create a citizen's committee to study private equity toll roads and issue a report before the 2009 legislative session.

“It fixes nothing,” Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Chair John Carona, R-Dallas, said before voting for the moratorium.

Carona and others have warned that the state doesn't have the money to build the $80 billion worth of highways it will need during the next 20 years.

Texas has not increased its 20 cent per gallon gasoline tax since 1991. The tax revenue falls far short of meeting the state's road-building agenda.

Nichols also noted that lawmakers have siphoned off up to $15 billion from the state's highway fund over the past 20 years to pay for other state needs.

Carona is working on a comprehensive transportation bill that attempts to address the major objections in proposed 50-year contracts with private toll road companies. They include expensive buy-back provisions and costly penalties for building new roads near the toll projects.

A recent study showed private toll roads could net investors nearly $300 billion over the next 50 years for portions of one project.

The moratorium also is a reaction to a 156-page transportation bill that rushed through the Legislature four years ago in less than 20 days. Lawmakers didn't fully understand the legislation that resulted in the controversial contracts.

“I believe that privatizing our highways and selling them to the highest bidder is bad public policy,” Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, who sponsored the transportation bill four years ago.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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Preview of a bigger agenda coming down the pike...

Oberstar, DeFazio remain skeptical of highway privatization


David Tanner
Land Line Magazine
Copyright 2007

Pilot programs can provide a look into the crystal ball for a preview of a bigger agenda coming down the pike, even when the pike itself is the subject of those programs.

A U.S. Department of Transportation pilot program calling for private-sector financing of transportation projects is coming down the pike as part of SAFETEA-LU – the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users – signed into law by President Bush in 2005.

The program, Special Experimental Project 15 – dubbed SEP-15 for short – aims to provide federal assistance to expedite public-private partnerships, according to government statements.

Examples of those kinds of projects include the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, several toll roads in Oregon, a tolled airport connector associated with the Pocahontas Parkway in Richmond, VA, a series of toll roads to extend state Highway 121 in Texas and an extension of Interstate 290 in Texas and a four-lane tollway in Travis County, TX.

Some key lawmakers are watching this crystal ball closely, namely House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN, and the Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-OR.

DeFazio chaired a subcommittee hearing Tuesday, April 17 on Capitol Hill on the subject of private funding mechanisms, and issued the following statement:

“SEP-15 was created by the Federal Highway Administration with the goal of finding innovative ways to improve project development and delivery,” DeFazio said. “This may sound good, but the devil is always in the details.”

SEP-15 would assist speedy project delivery through contracting, environmental compliance procedures, project finance and acquisition of right of way, according to a Federal Highway Administration document.

Oberstar told the assembled panel of transportation administrators and private-sector officials he is skeptical of public-private partnerships being used for highway finance.

“It is often asserted that the private sector can provide goods and services faster, cheaper, and of better quality than can government agencies,” Oberstar said. “But I have yet to see conclusive evidence of that.”

DeFazio said the subcommittee will be watching closely and conducting future hearings to ensure private financing methods do not undermine existing laws to protect the environment and public accountability.

Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association are leading the charge to let lawmakers know where truckers stand on the privatization of highways.

“Let’s not lose all that expertise that the government has and hope and think that the private sector is going to do it the best way,” OOIDA Government Affairs Representative Mike Joyce told Land Line. “Let’s be cautious here,”

A list of proposed projects being considered for the SEP-15 pilot program can be found by clicking here.

© 2007 OOIDA:

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"SB 1267 includes several exemptions for projects in Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and El Paso. "

Senate approves moratorium on private toll roads


News 8 Austin
The Associated Press
Copyright 2007

The Texas Senate has approved a bill placing a two-year moratorium on private toll road contracts and creating a panel to review the terms of such agreements.

Gov. Rick Perry had urged the Legislature not to act on the bill. The state's current transportation system involves public-private partnerships to build toll roads. He says that's needed if Texas is to keep attracting big companies and jobs.

Critics of Perry's proposed Trans-Texas Corridor and the state's contract with Spanish-American consortium Cintra-Zachry have made some lawmakers nervous about the project.

Sen. Robert Nichols supported the corridor as a commissioner. Now Nichols said he's concerned private toll road contracts hurt the state with penalties for building or improving publicly owned roads.

Nichols' concerns with the toll road contracts:
  • Competition penalties that cripple the state when building new roads or improving current roads for 50-plus years
  • A private tolling authority's ability to significantly increase toll rates
  • The lack of local input into the process
  • The lack of a clear formula to determine cost should the state need to terminate the contract early and "buy back" the road
The bill, SB1 267, includes several exemptions for projects in Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and El Paso. But Nichols and other senators said it still sends a strong message.

The bill prohibits only private toll roads. Public entities may still pursue projects.

© 2007 The Associated Press:

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"Growing opposition to Perry's proposed Trans-Texas Corridor...has made some lawmakers nervous"

Senate approves moratorium on private toll roads

April 19, 2007

The Associated Press
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — The Texas Senate on Thursday approved a bill placing a two-year moratorium on private toll road contracts and creating a panel to review the terms of those agreements.

Gov. Rick Perry had urged the Legislature to reject the freeze. He 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.

But growing opposition to Perry's proposed Trans-Texas Corridor — a combined toll road and rail system that would whisk traffic from the Oklahoma line to Mexico — have made some lawmakers nervous about the project. Cintra-Zachry, a Spanish-American consortium, plans to build the corridor in exchange for getting to operate the road and collect tolls.

Sen. Robert Nichols, the moratorium's sponsor, supported the corridor when he was a member of the Texas Transportation Commission. He even testified before lawmakers in 2005 that it is the best way to solve the problems of increasingly congested highways.

But Nichols said he did not anticipate that the state would sign decades-long contracts handing over toll road operations to private companies. The Jacksonville Republican particularly opposes provisions of the contracts that restrict competition and make it hard for the state to end the deals early and "buy back" the toll road.

"It never occurred to this legislative body or to the communities or, at the time, to the transportation commission, that they would be used to do more than just to build and accelerate these projects," Nichols said.

The bill includes several exemptions for projects in Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and El Paso. But senators said it still sends a strong message.

"I believe that privatizing our highways and selling them to the highest bidder is bad public policy," said Sen. Steve Ogden, a Republican from Bryan.

The bill now heads to the House, where it faces an uncertain future. An identical House bill by Republican Rep. Lois Kolkhorst has not gotten a public hearing in the transportation committee, which is chaired by a major supporter of privatized toll roads.

But Kolkhorst was able to attach the language to another bill that was overwhelmingly approved by the House last week. That bill also was approved by the Senate transportation committee and could be debated by the full Senate soon.

Nichols spokeswoman Alicia Phillips said he plans to move forward with his moratorium while trying to get the other bill through the Senate.

Perry spokesman Ted Royer said the governor is open to ideas on how to improve transportation in Texas without private financing.

"But doing nothing for the next two years won't do anything except make existing traffic problems much worse," he said.


The private toll road moratorium bill is SB1267

© 2007 The Associated Press:

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Sen. Shapiro: "I'm not sure that what we're looking for is to devolve the responsibility of TxDOT into mini-TxDOTs around the state."

Transportation bill curbs agency's powers

Legislature: Senate plan would increase regional bodies' voice on projects

April 19, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – A far-reaching transportation bill unveiled in a Senate hearing Wednesday would tighten private toll-road contracts and give regional authorities more say over projects in their back yard.

The comprehensive bill – the product of weeks of negotiations among lawmakers and state transportation officials – would curb the powers of the Texas Department of Transportation, which has come under fire for the way it has been awarding toll contracts to private companies.

"Its purpose is to reform the excesses of prior legislation and to fine-tune the various tools available to us in the years ahead," said Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the bill's author and chair of the Senate transportation committee.

The bill also calls for a two-year moratorium on private tollways, with several North Texas exemptions. The committee unanimously passed a separate moratorium bill Wednesday that already had received House approval.

But perhaps the most attention-grabbing provision in Mr. Carona's bill would allow the Texas Department of Transportation to transfer road-developing powers to the state's 24 metropolitan planning organizations – regional bodies that set priorities for road projects in their region.

State transportation commissioners told lawmakers they would welcome delegating more power to local authorities if it speeds up road projects in a fast-growing state that is running tens of billions of dollars behind with its transportation funding needs.

"The state faces challenges that central government is not prepared to move fast enough to solve," said Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission.

Critics have accused the Transportation Department of using bully tactics in its pursuit of private toll-road projects, particularly the Trans-Texas Corridor and State Highway 121 in Denton and Collin counties.

Mr. Williamson said commissioners have heard the growing outcry, and that he hopes elements of the comprehensive bill will help mollify those concerns.

"You're changing the relationship between what's perceived as a very strong, some would say overbearing, imperious TxDOT to one of more collegiality and cooperation," he said.

Still, several senators were wary of granting road-implementing powers to planning organizations that lack the Transportation Department's technical and engineering expertise.

"I'm not sure that what we're looking for is to devolve the responsibility of TxDOT into mini-TxDOTs around the state," said Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. "I don't know what the ramifications of that might be."

Mr. Carona's bill, which will likely face a committee vote next week, attempts to rectify some of the most controversial provisions in recent private toll-road contracts. The bill establishes procedures for the state to buy back roads after entering into private toll deals and narrows clauses that place limits on competing roads.

But the bill also concedes that toll roads are a key component of the state's future transportation strategy and gives local toll agencies such as the North Texas Tollway Authority more power to bid for toll-road contracts.

"This bill does not significantly alter the path that we're on, which is toll proliferation," said Terri Hall, director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, a grassroots San Antonio group that opposes toll roads.

Several North Texas leaders stressed that toll roads – public or private – are needed to relieve the region's congestion.

"Little Elm and its citizens need help today – not two years from now," said Little Elm Mayor Frank Kastner. "It shouldn't take one hour to drive seven miles in our community."

Last week, the House approved a two-year moratorium on private toll-road contracts but exempted North Texas from the ban. On Wednesday, transportation committee members unanimously voted to pass that bill along to the full Senate, but with different moratorium language.

The Senate committee's version of the moratorium exempts a number of individual projects, including State Highways 121 and 161, a tolled-lane project on the LBJ Freeway, the planned Trinity Parkway in Dallas, and two projects in Tarrant County.

Mr. Carona collaborated on the comprehensive bill with Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, who chairs the House transportation committee. Mr. Krusee said Wednesday that the bill could provide a chance to secure more road funding by raising the state's gas tax, which has been stuck at 20 cents a gallon since 1991.

All tax bills originate in the House, where members are reluctant to raise the gas tax. But Mr. Krusee said Wednesday that measures to raise the gas tax according to an index that mirrors inflation may be more palatable if wrapped into the comprehensive bill.

"I think House members really would like to see more oversight of TxDOT, and if you gave that to them, they might stomach an index," Mr. Krusee said. "And that's my intention to try to do that."

House Speaker Tom Craddick said that while he supports the notion of a gas-tax indexing bill, his office hasn't polled members about the issue.

"Two years ago I came out in favor of gas indexing because I think we have a huge need for additional dollars for highways and construction," Mr. Craddick said. "We've got to find some way to do it."

Staff Writer Karen Brooks contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"It's goal and only inches to go..."

Special Report

Moratorium Bill (HB1892) Passes Out of Senate Committee Unanimously

April 18, 2007
Copyright 2007

HB1892 is on the way to a vote by the full Senate with a committee recommendation that it be passed.

Arnold Romberg represented CorridorWatch today giving testimony before the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee in support of a moratorium on Comprehensive Development Agreements.

The bill passed with seven amendments.

A series of amendments were offered and attached to protect and/or allow a number of regional and local projects to continue. However, none of the amendments to HB1892 made by the House or by the Senate keep it from putting TTC-35 and TTC-69 on hold for the next two years.

It was well into the evening before the bill was brought up again, given its last three of seven amendments, and put to a vote. All nine Senators on the committee were present and voted for their HB1892 substitution. And, they certified it for the local and uncontested calendar.

First a vote by the full Senate, then back to the House.

HB1892 should move quickly now. First stop will be a vote on the floor of the Senate where it is unlikely to see any additional amendment. Then back to the House where it will either be concurred with or sent to conference committee. Given the tremendous support shown so far we fully expect that the Senate substitution will be accepted by the House.

Then what? It gets sent to the Governor, that's what.

Before you know it HB1892 could be on the Governor's desk. Will he sign it? Not likely. No really, that's not very likely.

Will he veto it? Maybe. But if he does it looks like there will be enough time and support to overturn a veto. We're told that it has been more than 30 years since a Texas Governor had a veto overturned. Does Governor Perry want to add his name to that column in the record book?

Well done ya'll! It's goal and only inches to go.

This has been a tremendous effort and you all are to be congratulated on what you have accomplished so far. Yes, it is to soon to count our chickens, but we sure are sitting on a lot of nice looking eggs.

When we have that two-year moratorium as law we will certainly celebrate and name names. But until then we will keep our heads in the game, not lose sight of the finish line, and be vigilant for any threat to our pending success.

Congratulations Texas!

We are one more giant leap closer to stopping the Trans Texas Corridor.

Thank You!

David & Linda Stall

© 2007

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"We don't want to get sandbagged again."


HB1892 Senate Hearing: 7:30am Wednesday, April 18th
Copyright 2007

HB1892, the bill that now includes the moratorium language from HB2772, is a late addition to the Senate Transportation & Homeland Security Committee Hearing Notice for Wednesday.

Just as we have all asked for, Senator Carona's Committee will consider HB1892.

We didn't get much notice, but it is what we wanted, and we certainly do want HB1892 to move quickly out of committee.

Can You Come To Austin Today?

Hearing Room E1.016

You may recall the sandbagging we got when SB1267 came up in committee. A large number of officials showed up from the DFW area to oppose and ask for exceptions to the moratorium. Those same pro-CDA folks are very likely to show up again Wednesday.

We don't want to get sandbagged again. will have a representative there but we would like to have as many additional supporters in the room as possible. Filling out a testimony card "For" the bill and leaving it with the clear would be appreciated even if you couldn't stay or didn't want to address the committee.

If you haven't already called, or if you called someone else, it would help to contact these offices before 10:00 a.m. Wednesday morning in support of HB1892.

Senator Ellis - 512.463.0113

Senator Shapiro - 512.463.0108

Senator Shapleigh - 512.463.0129

Senator Wentworth - 512.463.0125

Your investment of a couple minutes today can stop excessive payments to private toll road operators for at least the next two years.

© 2007

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Texas developers can have their infrastructure funded by your property taxes


The Politics Of Tax Breaks And Land Development


Bob Dunn
Fort Bend Now
Copyright 2007

When Kevin Tunstall approached the microphone at Monday night’s Missouri City Council meeting, the District C council candidate hadn’t completed two full sentences before Mayor Allen Owen stopped him.

“Let me caution you,” the mayor said, “I will not allow a political speech” during a council session. It was as if everything that happens before a city council or county commission doesn’t carry political overtones, especially less than a month away from an election.

The subject of Tunstall’s comments, for instance.

He was there to talk about this arcane economic development tool called a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. And it turns out that the theory and practice of creating such TIRZs is fraught with political implications, since TIRZs go hand-in-hand with land developers. And in Fort Bend County, as everywhere else, it seems land developers go hand-in-hand with politicians.

Tunstall said he’d been prompted to study up on the concept of a TIRZ, after two other Missouri City residents – one a past political candidate and the other a current council candidate – had approached council at consecutive recent meetings to suggest a TIRZ should be used to attract business and development along Texas Parkway and Cartwright Road. Council members suggested the two citizens were short on facts about TIRZs and how they operate.

Just The Facts, Ma’m

All of which apparently prompted Tunstall to take a peek at Chapter 311 of the Texas Tax Code, which governs TIRZs.

Basically, a TIRZ is meant as a vehicle for financing structural improvements and infrastructure within a certain geographic area. Taxes paid by the property owners within that area are used to pay for those improvements. The theory is that by adding infrastructure and/or structural improvements, the value of the land in the zone will increase, benefiting both the landowners and the city.

The theory also is that a TIRZ is to be used to jump-start areas where growth and development is “impaired or arrested,” but more on that later.

Tunstall said he wanted to make sure he understood the laws governing TIRZs, so he sought out and spoke with one Patricia Bailey at the Texas Comptroller’s office, identified as a TIRZ expert. Among other things, Bailey told Tunstall her office is required by law to maintain a registry of all the TIRZs in Texas, and her office is required by law to obtain an annual report on the activities of each of the state’s TIRZs.

“A shocking fact,” Tunstall told the council, “is that this young lady had no record of the two TIRZs” Missouri City says it operates.

“I’m sure it’s just an oversight,” Tunstall told council members. “For your convenience, I’ve attached Ms. Bailey’s phone number…and she will be expecting your call.”

“I cannot say tonight that we do or do not” have any TIRZ reports filed with the state comptroller, Missouri City Manager Frank Simpson said as Tunstall walked away from the microphone. “But I’ll look at it first thing in the morning.”

Bailey was out of the office on Wednesday and couldn’t be reached. But you might find a peek at the Tax Increment Financing Registry, maintained by the state comptroller’s office for all TIRZs in Fort Bend County, somewhat revealing.

While I think compliance with the law is of rather major importance, what strikes me about the TIRZ is the reason it was invented in the first place.

According to the tax code, in order for a geographic area to qualify for TIRZ designation, that area is supposed to either:
  • Be someplace that has “substantially arrest(ed) or impair(ed) the sound growth of the municipality or county creating the zone…or constitute an economic or social liability and be a menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare in its present condition and use…” or;
  • “Be predominantly open and, because of obsolete platting, deterioration of structures or site improvements, orother factors, substantially impair or arrest the sound growth of the municipality or county.”
In Missouri City, they’ve designated an area including Houston developer Newquest Properties’ Fort Bend Town Center as a TIRZ. This is a planned retail development at State Highway 6 and the Fort Bend Parkway that likely will include a big Kroger store in its first phase, and the smaller retailers that typically follow a big grocery store into a strip center.

A report published by Missouri City in 2003 called this intersection the eventual center of the city, once its extrajudicial territory all is annexed. Expectations are that it will become one of the heaviest traveled intersections in the city once the parkway is completed – and it’s pretty heavily traveled already.

Meanwhile, the city is in the process of creating a third TIRZ, near Sienna Parkway and State Highway 6, only with a twist. In this case, the city has also approved creation of a municipal management district. The TIRZ would contract with the management district to build everything developers want within the district, and the TIRZ tax money would, according to a representative of Allen Boon Humphries Robinson, be “funneled” to the management district.

Obviously the above two geographic areas are not blighted and are not in any way arresting or impairing growth and development in Missouri City, Texas. These are probably two of the most desirable tracts of commercial land available in the area.

But they still can be considered for TIRZ designation because the Texas Legislature in its wisdom included a paragraph that gives just about any developer a shot at having his or her infrastructure paid for by property taxes.

You can be eligible for a TIRZ if your land is in “an area described in a petition requesting that the area be designated as a reinvestment zone” as long as 50% of the property owners sign the petition.

Does that still make it the right thing to do? Does anyone think the intersections of Sienna Parkway and State Highway 6, and the Fort Bend Parkway and State Highway 6 wouldn’t turn into big commercial developments all on their own without benefit of tax breaks that developers of other properties aren’t able to obtain?

To me, those questions are what makes the arcane TIRZ a political issue.

Toothless Tigers

It’s unclear what, if any penalties are incurred in the event a municipality forgets to file its annual TIRZ reports with the state comptroller.

So in that respect, the comptroller’s office may share something in common with the Texas Ethics Commission – which operates under the auspices of numerous regulations, but doesn’t penalize anyone who violates those rules.

For instance, candidates for public office, such as school board candidates, are required to file reports with the TEC showing how much money they took in as campaign contributions, and how much money they spent running their campaigns. And also who gave them contributions and where any money was spent.

This is presumably so that the Texas public may inform itself as to who is financing these candidates and campaigns.

The last of these required reports was due April 12, covering the period from Feb. 26 through April 2 of this year, as the candidates prepared for the May 12 election.

So I visited the Fort Bend Independent School District, mostly to see how much money it takes to conduct a campaign for an FBISD board slot.

I didn’t find much. As of April 16, four days past the deadline set by the law, only board Position 7 candidate David Reitz and Position 3 candidate Bob Broxson had filed their campaign contribution reports.

Incumbents Ken Bryant and Lisa Rickert, and challengers Noel Pinnock and Ann Hopkins, hadn’t turned anything in, according to FBISD officials.

As for how much it takes to run such a campaign – I guess not that much in the grand scheme of things.

Broxson took in $2,150 during the period, which is pretty much the month of March. The biggest contribution was from Mourhaf Sabouni of Sugar Land, who gave $500. Broxson’s largest expenditure was for $337.79 to “Mprinting Graphics” for printing and mailing costs.

Reitz took in $1,300, and listed himself as his biggest contributor, at $750. He reported not spending any campaign money during the month.

Now you know more about Broxson and Reitz’s campaigns than any of the others running.

So does that mean the smart thing politically is to keep your cards hidden, since the Texas Ethics Commission doesn’t really penalize candidates who file late?

© 2007 FortBendNow Inc. :

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"Texas is really a major battleground for a new technique of financing public infrastructure."

Tollway bill will affect nation, pair says

Dallas County: Critics of private roads praise proposed halt of deals

April 18, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

The debate at the state Capitol over whether to privatize Texas toll roads will reverberate nationally for years to come, a pair of private toll-road critics told Dallas County commissioners Tuesday.

"Texas is really a major battleground for a new technique of financing public infrastructure," said economist Pat Choate, Ross Perot's vice presidential running mate on the 1996 Reform Party ticket.

Last week, state House members handily approved a bill that would halt controversial private toll-road contracts for two years, although North Texas would be spared from the ban. That bill is scheduled for a Senate committee hearing today.

Dr. Choate and Corridor founder David Stall said state legislators are wise to reconsider the state's 50-year deals with private companies to build toll projects such as the Trans-Texas Corridor and State Highway 121 in Collin and Denton counties.

"We're locking into a long-term agreement where we can't possibly anticipate all the ramifications," Mr. Stall said.

Dr. Choate and Mr. Stall were received warmly by Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield, who invited them to Tuesday's meeting. But other commissioners said the presentation broke little new ground.

Commissioner John Wiley Price told the two men they were "preaching to the choir" and stressed that state transportation policy is largely controlled by the Legislature and the governor.

"I can appreciate all this, but at the end of the day, you're telling us stories that probably this choir already knows," Mr. Price said.

Mr. Mayfield said North Texas should not be exempted from a two-year moratorium on private toll roads because the state-chartered North Texas Tollway Authority can ably handle the region's needs.

The tollway authority said last week that it intends to submit a late bid for Highway 121 and also hopes to land contracts for five more future road projects.

But Commissioner Mike Cantrell, who sits on the 40-member Regional Transportation Council, said it's critical that North Texas keep the option of private toll-road contracts, which include upfront payments that can be spent immediately on other transportation projects in the region.

"This region is keyed in on that upfront money," he said.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"All the carpetbaggers will find their way into El Paso, pushing (private toll) projects, because the rest of the state has said, "No, thank you.' "

Some want El Paso exempt from toll road moratorium


By Brandi Grissom
El Paso Times
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN -- El Paso's fight over toll roads has made its way into the Capitol, where local lawmakers and officials disagree over whether the city should be excluded from a two-year statewide ban on private toll projects.

"Communities that have toll roads have decided to push for a moratorium," said El Paso County Judge Anthony Cobos, who was in Austin today. "There's no reason for El Paso to be excluded."

Reacting to public outcry over toll roads, legislators are considering two separate bills that would put a two-year stop on government contracts for private toll-road operations.

The House bill would prevent El Paso's new Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority from entering into such contracts for toll roads. The Senate bill, though, would exempt El Paso from the ban.

Cobos and state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, both members of the El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the city should be included in the private toll moratorium.

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, though, said the ban could slow development of
much needed roads in the rapidly growing city.

The House last week overwhelmingly approved a measure that would implement a statewide moratorium and calls for a study of private toll road deals.

"I'm very concerned about us entering into bad contracts," said state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who sponsored the measure.

Legislators have expressed concern over contracts that allow private companies to profit from toll roads for up to 50 years.

The agreements have also included stiff penalties for state and local governments that build free roads that compete for traffic with the toll roads.

Legislators were worried, too, that toll rates on privately run roads would skyrocket in the future.

"Citizens of state of Texas deserve that we take a very close look at these contract terms," Kolkhorst said. "That's a half a century we have to deal with."

A Senate committee has approved a similar measure, but that bill would exclude El Paso County from the moratorium. It would also exempt Houston and North Texas.

Shapleigh said he made sure that El Paso would not be included in the Senate's ban proposal. With the coming of 23,000 new troops to Fort Bliss and their families, he said El Paso needs as much flexibility as possible to negotiate contracts to build critical new roads.

"We need to fund our projects," Shapleigh said. "We have too much growth to slow down."

Rep. Pickett, though, said the moratorium would not hamper local projects.

He said the regional mobility authority could even build toll roads under the ban. The only restriction, he said, would be that private companies could not contract with the authority to build the toll roads.

Exclusion from the moratorium, he said, would be worse for El Paso.

"All the carpetbaggers will find their way into El Paso, pushing (private toll) projects, because the rest of the state of Texas has said, "No, thank you,' " Pickett said.

Cobos said El Paso should take a signal from other areas of the state experiencing a backlash over toll road proposals.

"We probably need to learn from mistakes that other counties have made," he said.

The Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee will consider the House moratorium bill today.

Shapleigh, who is on the committee, said he would try to add the El Paso exemption to the House measure.

© 2007 El Paso Times:

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