Saturday, May 12, 2007

"Lawmakers say they have to vote for their constituents."

Lawmakers could be in special session over toll roads


News 8 Austin
Copyright 2007

Toll roads could be cause for lawmakers spend an extra 30 days at the Capitol.

With Governor Perry and legislators at odds over what to do about toll roads, lawmakers could end up spending extra time in session unless they find a solution.

The proposed compromise bill would put a two-year moratorium on toll roads, as well giving local governments more control over road placement.

"I think we're going to get there, but you never know we could be here this summer," Rep. Bryan Hughes of Minola, said.

In a last ditch effort to get his point across, Governor Rick Perry brought his business to the forefront Friday. Legislators heard from private business leaders who say without new toll roads area growth will be stifled.

"South Texas cannot sustain its transportation and economic needs" bill opponent Judy Holly said.

But some folks that Perry didn't invite showed up to ask for a hold on toll roads. They support a bill to block toll road construction for two years because they say lawmakers need time to sort things out.

"We have a rogue agency. TxDOT is out of control. We have a lack of leadership," Linda Stall of the group Corridor Watch said.

Lawmakers face the threat of special session if they can't reach an agreement about toll roads.

Though Perry and lawmakers are at a crossroads when it comes to transportation, they are moving in the same direction when it comes to not wanting a special session.

Lawmakers say they have to vote for their constituents.

"When the legislature has expressed its will clearly what our constituents want us to do, we have to stand by that," Hughes said.

Perry has until midnight Wednesday to decide on what to do with the bill. He has said he plans to veto it, but lawmakers are hopeful that a compromise can be reached.

© 2007 TWEAN News Channel of Austin, L.P. d.b.a. News 8 Austin:

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Rep. Nick Lampson warns political appointees at FHWA and TxDOT: 'Dont mess with Texas.'

Lampson Questions DOT Secretary over Texas Toll Road Interference

May 11, 2007


Congressman Nick Lampson
22nd District of Texas
Copyright 2007

WASHINGTON, D.C. - During a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing today, Congressman Nick Lampson (D-Stafford) strongly questioned U.S. Department of Transportation (”DOT”) Secretary Mary Peters regarding DOT’s interference with a bill passed by the Texas state legislature concerning public control of state toll roads.

The Texas Department of Transportation ('TxDOT') had recently coordinated with the DOT”s Federal Highway Administration ('FHWA'), resulting in policy letters to TxDOT that highlighted certain policy disagreements with the state legislature’s bill, H.B. 1892, as passed. The bill now awaits a publicly acknowledged, forthcoming veto by Texas Governor Rick Perry.

“The federal government should not be interfering with Texas counties’ control over their own toll roads, and more importantly, should not be interfering with any state issue, period,” said Congressman Lampson. “I am pleased to be working with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison on this issue so that we can protect matters that are rightfully within the jurisdiction of the Texas state legislature.”

H.B. 1892, as originally passed, would allow for the North Texas Tollway Authority to bid on the development of toll roads on State Highway 121, located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
This legislation, and FHWA’s subsequent letters, have major implications for several major toll roads throughout Texas, including Harris County.

At today’s Committee hearing, Congressman Lampson questioned Secretary Peters as to why the DOT issued multiple letters highlighting its views on this particular state legislature issue. These letters, in no uncertain terms, threatened to block federal highway funding for state roads if H.B. 1892 is implemented in its current form as passed.

“County officials are rightfully upset about the actions of Governor Perry, TxDOT, and the FHWA, and I will continue to work with them and my Texan colleagues in Congress to address their concerns in the future,” added Congressman Lampson.

© 2007 Congressman Nick Lampson, 22nd District fo Texas:

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Friday, May 11, 2007

The TxDOT-FHA 'Threat Down'

Will HB 1892 jeopardize federal highway funding for Texas?


by Christine DeLoma
Volume 11, Issue 37
The Lone Star Report
Copyright 2007

The recently passed HB 1892 – the private toll road moratorium – will not jeopardize the state’s ability to receive federal transportation dollars, according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.

Peters wrote May 9 to notify Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison the bill “can be implemented in a manner consistent with federal law” and “would not affect the State’s eligibility for funding under the Federal-aid highway program.”

Hutchison wrote Federal Highway Administrator Richard Capka May 1 about her concerns over the agency’s taking a position on state legislation that would affect Texas transportation policy.

FHA’s general counsel had written lawmakers the day before the vote on HB 1892, warning some of its provisions could reduce federal funding.

Gov. Rick Perry and Michael Behrens, executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, similarly warned that passage of the bill could compromise funding for transportation projects.

“I am very concerned that recent letters from the Federal Highway Administration have placed a cloud over current actions being taken in the Texas Legislature,” wrote Hutchison. “While I am sure that was not the intent, I believe it is imperative that the Federal Highway Administration takes steps to remove that impression.”

Although federal funding is no longer in question, Perry still has problems with language in the bill that, among other things, gives local tollway authorities state rights of way and primacy over road projects.

Perry confirmed rumors May 9 that he stands ready to call lawmakers into special session over the summer if “fixes” are not made to HB 1892, the private toll road moratorium bill.

“The good news is, we still have time to fix it,” Perry said. “If not, I have no other option as the leader of this state but to bring the Legislature back to address these issues and then get Texas back to where it can have a vibrant transportation infrastructure system.”

Perry said there are two options for lawmakers: recall HB 1892 (which is on his desk) and fix it or pass SB 1267 by Sen. Robert Nichols, a cleaner version of the private toll road moratorium. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Sens. John Carona (R-Dallas) and Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) have been negotiating with the governor’s office for over a week on a compromise solution.

“The governor’s going to do what the governor’s going to do,” Dewhurst said. Nonetheless, he said he believes progress is being made.

“The members of the Legislature want to see a two-year moratorium without slowing down the projects on the books right now,” Dewhurst said. Lawmakers also want to see changes in the way comprehensive development agreements (CDA) are designed. Issues giving lawmakers heartburn, he said, include: length of the contracts and unfair buyback provisions.

Perry indicated that he would sign the Nichols bill in its current form. However, SB 1267 does not include many of the CDA reforms dealing with length of contracts, non-compete clauses, buyback provisions and setting of toll rates that are in HB 1892.

© 2007 The Lone Star Report:

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"They had better make sure that the citizens are on board with it, because there's going to be a price to pay at the ballot box."

Lawmakers near deal on transportation bill


Associated Press
Copyright 2007

Lawmakers inched closer to a compromise on Friday on a sweeping transportation bill that Gov. Rick Perry has threatened to veto, with negotiators on both sides saying only a few details remained unresolved.

Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said he was optimistic that they could work out the final points Friday.

"It's the details," added Rep. Mike Krusee, a Republican from Round Rock who chairs of the House Transportation Committee. "Even after you come to an agreement in principle, you still have to put it on paper."

The bill lawmakers sent Perry earlier this week would put a two-year moratorium on most new privately financed toll road projects and give local authorities more power over toll projects in their areas. The legislation also would tighten controls on comprehensive development agreements, used in contracts for private-public road building.

Perry says parts of the bill could delay or derail highway projects and jeopardize federal transportation funding. He said Wednesday that he is willing to call a special session if he vetoes the legislation and lawmakers override him.

Lawmakers hope to push the compromise bill through both the House and Senate first thing next week so it can be on the governor's desk before Wednesday. That would mean the Legislature would still have the ability to override a veto if the governor took that route.

Local leaders from North and South Texas complained Friday that many of the provisions in the bill would jeopardize road building projects in their areas.

Grady Smithey, secretary and co-founder of the Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition, criticized a provision in the bill that would reduce the maximum length of comprehensive development agreements from 70 to 40 years.

Comprehensive development agreements, or CDAs, are a relatively new tool meant to let the Texas Department of Transportation complete road-building projects more quickly and cheaply by using a single contract for both the design and construction tasks.

Those agreements have attracted the attention of multinational consortiums willing to pay large sums up front for the right to operate roads and pocket the tolls for decades to come.

That has outraged residents and lawmakers who say drivers will become hostages to the private companies, forced to pay increasingly hefty tolls.

But Smithey said the many projects couldn't go forward without private support. He fears restrictions in the bill would scare investors away from all but the "slam dunk" projects, dooming efforts to build a highway on the southern fringes of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

"It's just not feasible if you cut the terms of the lease," he said.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Smithey and the other leaders are overreacting.

"We just want to put safeguards in place so that we know at the end of the day that we get roads built but the people who use those roads are going to be paying fair tolls," said Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate.

Voters are paying close attention and will hold lawmakers accountable if they accept a watered-down measure, said Terri Hall, founder of a group that opposes the use of CDAs.

"No matter what bill they touch they had better make sure that the citizens are on board with it, because there's going to be a price to pay at the ballot box if they turn on this grass-roots issue," Hall said.


The transportation bill is HB1892.

© 2007 The Associated Press:

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'The whole process of adopting toll roads in Texas has been at odds with citizens’ rights to know and be properly represented."

Impasse On The Toll Roads

May 11, 2007

by David A. Hartman
Copyright 2007

Once again Gov. Perry and the 2007-2008 Legislature have come to an impasse, this time on the question of who has the authority to create toll roads, how, when, and where.

The governor has been skating upon thin ice until now, in effect replacing the Legislature’s approval of the location and financing of state highways, and county highways as well, by privatized toll roads negotiated through his Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

HB 1892 by Wayne Smith, backed by veto-proof majorities of the House and Senate, now confronts TxDOT with the counties’ claim to state right of way; a two-year moratorium on new comprehensive development agreements (CDA’s) with private corporations for construction, operation, and tolling of new highways; plus limits on length of CDA contracts, non-compete constraints, and terms of state buybacks.

Toll roads have been vigorously prescribed by libertarians and neoconservatives as prime potential for privatization.

Privately owned and managed roads, bridges, and ferries were common at the outset of the Republic, but the “Post Roads” established under the functions decreed by the U.S. Constitution have prevailed as the basis for interstate highways.

While privatization sounds very conservative and efficient, as long as government has the “apron strings,” the resultant “crony capitalism” is seldom an improvement over government-run alternatives.

Proponents claim tolls are a better “price” for charging usage. But taxation by fuel taxes and registration fees as charged at the state and federal level were “user fees” that formerly provided properly for state and interstate highways until these revenues were purloined for other government appetites such that tolling highways in effect is double taxation.

Allowing fuel taxes to dwindle without offset for inflation and improved fuel efficiency has joined misassignment of road taxes to result in under-funding state highways.

Toll roads were adopted by Dallas and Houston to provide relief from congestion as an alternative to “free” roadways. The current projects targeted for toll roads by TxDOT range from the justifiable SH130, a possible segment of a proposed Trans-Texas Corridor to relieve NAFTA interstate traffic North-South, to new county roads and even existing highways in the Greater Austin Area.

The selective double taxation of such toll roads is not justifiable. A moratorium on toll roads is clearly appropriate until a rational policy for roads financing can be agreed.

Another basis for questioning toll roads is the claim to “efficiency of pricing.” The Reason Institute, an early supporter of toll roads, has long proposed variable tolls for “rush hour” versus lower-usage-hours. This strange picture of libertarians proposing to use government to change users’ behavior ignores the fact that people who can, do avoid driving during rush hour. Should people who have to drive to work be triple- taxed?

The identity toll tags on the cars have already been proposed as ideal means of monitoring cars for traffic violation ticketing (in belated “1984” style).

The whole process of adopting toll roads in Texas has been at odds with citizens’ rights to know and be properly represented. The CDA’s have been under clandestine negotiation not visible to the public, or even the state auditor. The expenditures are “off budget,” contrary to the objective of balanced budgets where current spending should equal current assessment of taxation.

A recent article in Business Week (May 2, 2007, “Roads to Riches”) describes the prospective feast state and local officials are anticipating from selling public property and leasing it back via usage tolls, bridges, roads, airports, ports –and even parking garages are ripe candidates.

Estimated revenue within two years could total $100 billion for transportation assets under negotiation. (The Pennsylvania Turnpike alone could sell for $30 billion.) The total could add up to trillions for government to secure as “concession” now, with citizens in the future indentured to toil for tolls indefinitely. And most of theses tolls are scheduled to rise substantially under the terms of these concessions.

According to Business Week, investment bankers and institutional investors are seeking 11 percent to 12 percent returns at limited risk compared to high yield bonds and real estate.

The real return on all U.S. capital after taxes, inflation, and depreciation has varied from 3.3 percent to 5 percent over decades. At these target rates on toll assets, pension funds would have a windfall. Is this why CDA’s are so secretive about terms of concession and tolls until contracts are signed? Why should not these contracts require ratification by the Legislature?

The most objectionable characteristic of toll roads is the intergenerational irresponsibility of the toll burdens left to our children and grandchildren.

Governments do not set aside sinking funds to provide for wear and obsolescence of infrastructure. Traditionally, U.S. citizens were provided the legacy of government infrastructure unencumbered with debt and free of use fees.

Today the average family has personal debts totaling 135 percent of disposable personal annual income. The national debt, and the actuarial obligations to Social Security and Medicare total tens of trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of dollars per family. Do we really want to in effect mortgage our transportation infrastructure as the last opportunity to add to this shameful burden to be shouldered by our children and grandchildren?

It would appear that the Texas Legislature has firmly said, “No, not here in Texas.” Let us let them know that they are speaking for the majority of Texans who urge them not to waver.

© 2007

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Dewhurst : Officials 'are overreacting' in their opposition to HB 1882.

Perry urged to veto toll road moratorium bill


Gary Scharrer, Austin bureau
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — Several county judges expressed support Friday for Gov. Rick Perry's plan to veto a controversial transportation bill, although everyone agrees that ongoing negotiations remain on track to avoid a confrontation with the Legislature.

Community leaders in Denton and Polk counties contend that House Bill 1892 could jeopardize Texas 121 and the Interstate 69 project.

The legislation imposes a two-year moratorium on building more private toll roads. It also places restrictions on contracts with private toll road companies, in addition to giving more power to local transportation authorities over toll projects. Perry objects strongly to decentralizing transportation matters and diluting the power of the Texas Department of Transportation.

Polk County Judge John Thompson, chairman of the 34-county I-69 Alliance Texas, said the bill "won't be built with traditional funding sources. Without private investment, I-69 will not become a reality."

Perry has until Wednesday to veto the bill, which he has promised to do unless lawmakers negotiate a compromise.

An agreement, expected by early next week, must include a moratorium on private toll roads, said Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, author of HB 1892.

"And there has to be a situation in which the Harris County Toll Road Authority can proceed immediately to build new projects," Smith said about some stalled Houston highway projects. "We just can't wait any longer in Harris County for our mobility issues."

The moratorium calls for a nine-member committee to study transportation issues and private toll roads. Most lawmakers object to lucrative contracts with foreign-owned toll road companies, Smith said.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said local officials "are overreacting" in their opposition to the bill.

"We're not against public-private partnerships. We just want to put safeguards in place so that we know at the end of the day that we get roads built — but that the people who use those roads are going to pay fair tolls," Dewhurst said.

Legislative leaders said they are close in reaching an agreement.

Without an agreement, a Perry veto could trigger the Legislature to override the governor in a power clash that has not happened since lawmakers voted to override a veto by Gov. Bill Clements in 1979.

Perry has warned lawmakers that he would call them back into a special session this summer if there is no agreement.

"He can call us, but we don't have to come," said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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Sen. Nichols: "If it takes a special session to get this right, I'm all for it."

Governor, lawmakers try to work out agreeable toll road legislation

Meanwhile, the threat of a special session looms.

May 11, 2007

By Mark Lisheron
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

At the same time both sides in a state transportation fight were expressing optimism Thursday that a compromise could be reached, each was assessing differently the risks of losing billions of dollars in federal funding for Texas highways.

The main point of contention between lawmakers and Gov. Rick Perry is a bill passed by the House and Senate that would limit toll road contracts with private companies.

A day after Perry threatened to call for a special session on the question of private toll roads, his spokesman Robert Black said lawmakers and the governor are "very enthusiastic" about making a deal.

"We don't have a lot of time, but we have enough time," he said.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate's Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, said Thursday that he and other negotiators might reach an agreement as soon as early next week.

"We're working in good faith with the governor's office to reach a consensus," Carona said, adding that he hoped to avoid the embarrassment of a veto of the legislation.

But in spite of all the good feeling, there continued to be different interpretations of House Bill 1892, a bill that sailed through the House and Senate and that Perry promised to veto.

The Legislature has until Wednesday to get a transportation bill acceptable to the governor on his desk before Perry is required to decide what to do with HB 1892, or face the possibility of a veto and special session.

The bill calls for a two-year moratorium on private toll road deals. The bill also makes a concession to allow Harris County to proceed with toll road projects independent of the state Department of Transportation.

Sidestepping the state Department of Transportation for any highway project could threaten all federal funding for state highways, according to a letter dated May 10 to the department from James D. Ray, chief counsel for the Federal Highway Administration.

Ray said the bill seems to allow local entities to award toll road contracts to private companies without a competitive bidding process. It also seems to pit public and private road building concerns against one another, he said.

Ray's letter came a day after a letter from Mary E. Peters, the U.S. secretary of transportation, to U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. That letter said HB 1892 would not affect the state's eligibility for federal dollars if the state carried out the bill's provisions without violating federal law. Ray's letter made almost identical assertions but then followed with five pages of specific concerns.

Rep. Mike Krusee, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, who has been in negotiations to come up with a more palatable transportation bill, said legislators were so eager to slap a moratorium on toll roads that they ignored problems with the bill.

Krusee, R-Williamson County, a proponent of privately funded toll roads, is less optimistic than either Perry or Carona.

"I think it's 50-50 that we can work something out," Krusee said.

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, a member of the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, said Texans should not be hurried into a world of private toll roads.

A former member of the Texas Transportation Commission, Nichols called the correspondence from the Federal Highway Administration a scare tactic for concessions the Legislature should not be willing to accept.

"If it takes a special session to get this right," Nichols said, "I'm all for it."

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman: www.

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Cintra to meet with Regional Transportation Council before a vote is taken to decide the fate of SH 121

Compromise would slow private toll roads


By John Moritz and Gordon Dickson
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN -- Gov. Rick Perry's camp on Thursday ratcheted up the rhetoric in a looming showdown with lawmakers over a sweeping transportation initiative that would put the brakes on several new toll roads even as legislative leaders said they are eager to find a compromise.

And a compromise that would avoid delaying several long-planned projects in the Metroplex is exactly what a delegation of North Texas officials said they want.

"We are the largest economy in Texas, and if this economy is going to sustain itself we very much need mobility," said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

State Sen. John Carona, the Dallas Republican who is chairman of the Senate transportation committee, said lawmakers have been working most of the week to send Perry a new version of the bill that will address his concerns. And Carona made clear that any updated initiative will not compromise the Legislature's desire to slow down the drive toward private toll roads.

"I think we're close. I think we're very close," said Carona, expressing hope that they can avoid a special session. "I can't guarantee a settlement. I can't predict what the governor's staff will do. I can't predict what the governor himself will do."

But the governor's office made clear that Perry won't accept the measure on his desk, even if it means bringing lawmakers back to Austin after the regular session ends May 28.


U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters sent U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison a letter on Wednesday suggesting that Texas House Bill 1892 would not endanger federal highway funds earmarked for Texas.

But Perry's office on Thursday released a letter from the U.S. Transportation Department's top lawyer saying that a careful reading of the far-reaching legislation indicated that tens of millions of dollars that would pay for such projects as the North Tarrant Express and an improved Texas 121 connecting Fort Worth to D/FW Airport might no longer be available.

The governor's office also released letters from several local leaders around the state urging that HB 1892 be vetoed because other key transportation initiatives could be at risk.

And today, several other local leaders are scheduled to attend a news conference at the governor's office in the Capitol to call for a veto of the bill.

Metroplex concerns

Morris said several key points must be changed in the bill to prevent serious delays in Metroplex road work. Among them:

Development agreements with private companies that are in the planning stages should be allowed to continue.

A 40-year maximum length of contracts with private companies should be extended to 50 years. Otherwise, Morris said, improvements to the Tower 55 rail intersection in central Fort Worth and the Loop 9 road project in south Dallas will be delayed. Private companies generally don't make much, if any, profit in the first 40 years of a deal, industry experts say.

Money generated by a toll project should stay within the region but should be used across county lines as necessary. For example, proceeds from a Texas 121 toll road in Denton and Collin counties are earmarked for projects in other counties, including the Grapevine funnel and North Tarrant Express toll lane projects.

Carona said that any bill to emerge from his committee would ensure that projects in Tarrant County would not be shortchanged, he said.

"What's good for Dallas has to be good for Fort Worth, and vice versa," Carona said.

The private sector

Private toll road builder Cintra isn't going to lose the Texas 121 project without a fight.

The Spanish company has asked to meet in person with the Metroplex's Regional Transportation Council before a vote is taken on the fate of the road.

Morris said Thursday he has received the request and will honor it.

Earlier this year, with the RTC's blessing, Cintra won a Texas Department of Transportation bid to build and manage Texas 121 as a toll road for 50 years.

But that was before an anti-toll-road sentiment in Austin started growing.

Lawmakers upset by Cintra's bid and the Transportation Department's aggressive courting of privately funded toll roads demanded that the North Texas Tollway Authority be given another chance to win the project.

What's next?

Carona said he hopes that lawmakers can send Perry the compromise legislation by the middle of next week. The legislative session ends May 28.

John Moritz, 512-476-4294 Gordon Dickson, 817-685-3816

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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"Look for significant wind shifts and high damage potential in the final two weeks of the 80th session."

Walking the Lege

With two weeks left, the 80th runs into foul weather


The Austin Chronicle
Copyright 2007

If Monday night's hailstorm in the House can serve as a long-range forecast, look for significant wind shifts and high damage potential in the final two weeks of the 80th session. Although nearly every session enters a period of freak weather in the waning days, even jaded Capitol observers acknowledge that the 2007 session is not your garden-variety get-together. On top of that, there's no telling what the $150 billion state budget will look like in its final form, particularly given the unusual political challenges in play for the commanders in both chambers.

In the Senate, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is eyeing a run for governor in 2010 and as a consequence has taken to calculating his every move, while drawing heat from those who just want to get their dang bills passed. "See Dewhurst Run," is how some folks have titled the session.

The House, meanwhile, is in a state of barely controlled chaos. The chamber reached a boiling point late Monday night as Speaker Tom Craddick was dealt a withering blow by his own members, who voted 87-50 to rein in his heavy-handedness. Specifically, they voted dramatically to override Craddick's rejection of a procedural motion; longtime Lege observers said they hadn't seen a similar override in a generation. The mutiny, which had been building over the past two weeks, cast doubt on Craddick's ability to lead the House henceforward. But the rebelliousness actually dates from the beginning of the session, when Craddick survived a GOP challenge to his leadership but vowed not to retaliate against the 68 members who effectively voted against his re-election by voting (and failing) to choose a new speaker by secret ballot.

But Craddick's old habits are apparently hard to break, and there's been much grumbling from Craddick opponents that their bills have been subject to various forms of procedural sabotage. In response, House members – particularly those who voted for Craddick – are starting to exert some independence.

It flowered Monday night. The breaking point came when Craddick summarily dismissed a point of order raised by Houston Democrat Senfronia Thompson. The question concerned a local bill carried by Valley Democrat Ryan Guillen that mysteriously turned up on the major state calendar – a move not normally permitted under House rules, especially in a session when other members' local bills (the meat and potatoes of constituent service) have languished unheard for weeks. As the members saw it, the calendar switch clearly violated procedural bounds to help Guillen (a Craddick D) secure passage of his very important bill – to Zapata County exclusively. After Thompson was overruled on her objection, Republicans Robert Talton and Charlie Geren rose to challenge Craddick and urged all members to vote to uphold the House rules. Talton, an arch- but unpredictably maverick conservative from Pasadena, is enjoying his new prominence as the House point man on points of order – using the House rules to derail controversial bills. In addition to his inveterate contrariness, it's also his way of showing his displeasure with the speaker, the man he tried to oust at the beginning of the session.

Before casting his vote against the speaker, Georgetown rep and Craddick loyalist Dan Gattis bemoaned the political tension between members. "I think what got us here tonight is not a speaker not willing to follow the rules but how to deal with members who are at one another's throats. We're worn out. This has not been a fun session for me," he said, "and as I talk to other members, they say the same thing."

Earlier Monday, House Democratic leader Garnet Coleman said that while the House lacks leadership – "I don't call coercion leadership" – more Craddick soldiers are starting to emerge from the trenches. "Members who have not had the courage to vote their districts are now starting to do so," he said. On the downside, Craddick is still exercising pressure behind the scenes. "He's taken it underground," Coleman said. "His tone is better, but that doesn't change the process."

In previous sessions, when Craddick's authority (and large GOP majority) was unquestioned, complaints went not only unheard but unspoken – on penalty of political exile. This year's free-range squabbling is a double-edged sword. Quipped one longtime lobbyist (anonymous for obvious reasons): "When Saddam was head of Iraq, there was no freedom, but the government worked. When Craddick ruled with an iron hand, it was not democratic, but things got done."

And Mussolini made the trains run on time.

The Ledger

Setting aside the Dewhurst-Craddick dynamics (or under their imposing shadow) – what has the 80th managed to accomplish thus far?

Both chambers cheerfully passed two major rebukes of Gov. Rick Perry. They first overturned his mandate to vaccinate sixth-grade girls against human papillomavirus (a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer). Perry could have vetoed the bill but instead let it become law without his signature. In announcing his decision Tuesday, he acknowledged defeat and claimed victory. Perry lambasted legislators for caring more about asserting their power than about women's health care. "Banning widespread access to a vaccine that can prevent cancer is shortsighted policy," the guv declared.

The second impertinent bill, which arrived on Perry's desk this week, seeks to hobble his prized Trans-Texas Corridor initiative with a two-year moratorium on toll-road construction by private contractors. Perry has until May 18 to veto the bill – but the votes in both houses are apparently available to override him.

Toll-Road Turmoil: Of all of the policy proposals that Gov. Rick Perry has secured from the Legislature, none has been more aggressive, far-reaching, and controversial than his transportation policy. And private companies, particularly a megacontractor based in Spain (Cintra), are turning a tidy profit as a result.

Lawmakers looking down that long, winding road, however, decided to slam the brakes on selling off the state's assets to the highest foreign bidder. Seventy bills were filed this session to address the toll-road issue. At the end of the day, tweaking transportation policy proved to be too daunting, and nothing less than a moratorium would satisfy lawmakers.

Legislation passed in both the House and Senate (and certain to draw the governor's veto) would place a moratorium on concession contract agreements with private equity companies, deals that promise upfront payments to the state, measured against long-term profits on toll roads. In its final version, the bill ended up tagged on to another bill concerning Harris County's toll authority, which passed through the House County Affairs Committee, rather than the more logical House Transportation – chaired by Round Rock Rep. Mike Krusee, the House author of the original toll-road bill. Legislators figure they'll have enough time to override Perry's veto – something that hasn't happened since 1979 under then-Gov. Bill Clements.

TxDOT Flunking : At almost every turn on transportation, legislators requested a report.
  • First came a report in December from the Texas Transportation Institute, concluding that Texas could fund its road needs without toll roads.
  • Next came a 73-page audit of the Trans-Texas Corridor, which sparked a number of stormy meetings between committees in both chambers and Texas Department of Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson.
  • More recently, another auditor's report dramatically questioned TxDOT's calculations of its estimated $86 billion funding gap.
Overall, just as legislators anticipated, TxDOT made a poor showing in each of the reports – although the question remains whether the subsequent headlines will significantly affect policy.

Close to Home: Austin Sen. Kirk Watson carried three bills that dealt with how local municipalities along the State Highway 130 corridor will manage development. Senate Bill 1688, creating an infrastructure district for Austin to pay for utilities, passed the Senate and sits in House Transportation. The others were still sitting in the Senate Transportation & Homeland Security Committee as of Wednesday. --Kimberly Reeves

© 2007 The Austin Chronicle:

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

"The bad effects may not be evident for a few years, but the public will suffer for decades."

Report Outlines Dangers of Private Toll Roads

TexPIRG and Texas Eagle Forum Call On Gov. To Sign HB 1892


Texas Public Interest Research Group
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN—Concession deals for privately operated toll roads present a number of potential problems, according to a new report by TexPIRG. The report examines deals to grant long-term control of roads to private operators who seek to profit off toll revenue. TexPIRG analyzed tollway deals in other states and independent investment bank research on concession bids for a Texas’ State Highway 121.

“The public would give away future toll revenue and flexibility in managing future transportation policy,” noted TexPIRG’s Colin McKellips. “We need to approach proposed deals with great caution. The bad effects may not be evident for a few years, but the public will suffer for decades,” he added.

The report concludes that no toll-road deal should be signed that does not satisfy six basic conditions:

  • Public control retained over decisions about planning and management
  • Fair value guaranteed so future toll revenues won’t be sold off at a discount
  • No deal longer than 30 years because of uncertainty over future conditions and because the risks of a bad deal grow exponentially over time
  • State-of-the-art maintenance and safety standards instead of statewide minimums
  • Complete transparency and accountability to ensure proper process
  • No budget gimmicks because a deal must make long-term sense

“We call on the Governor to steer clear of any toll road deal that doesn’t satisfy these basic safeguards for the public,” said Cathie Adams, President of the Texas Eagle Forum. “He should sign HB 1892 and take the next two years to re-think Texas’ transportation future.”

The report notes that these same principles must be met if a public toll road authority constructs a roadway using funds borrowed from private investors in return for a share of future toll revenues. In that case, the danger of losing public control is far less than with a private deal.

The North Texas Tollway Authority was initially excluded from placing its own bid for State Highway 121. After public hearings, the public authority was allowed to enter its own bid which, according to independent research, would save the public over $3 billion dollars.

(See Report Below)

Six Public Interest Principles for Considering Private Toll Roads

Plans for the state of Texas to sign concession deals for privately operated toll roads present a number of dangers for the public interest. Giving long-term control of our roads to a private operator and granting them future toll revenues is a huge commitment that should not be taken lightly. There has been major controversy over this road deal, and over the initial exclusion of the public tollway authority from submitting its own competing bid.

Regardless of whether a deal is with a public or private operator, no concession should be approved that fails to uphold any of six basic principles:

1. Public control
2. Fair value
3. No deal longer than 30 years
4. State-of-the-art safety and maintenance standards
5. Complete transparency and accountability
6. No budget gimmicks

The Governor’s proposal for private toll roads violates these principles. For that reason, TexPIRG supports the two-year moratorium on private deals. It may be important for these roads to be built, but that question should be separated from whether the public should rush into a long-term risky deal.

In the future there will likely be discussion of other possible deals with private or public entities. These six principles should guide consideration of any future concessions.

1. Public Control

Transportation policy has tremendous impacts on Texans’ quality of life, health, and cost of living. It determines the level of traffic congestion and air pollution, the safety and quality of the roads, the many costs of driving and car ownership, and the availability of high-quality and affordable mass transit alternatives. Whether the state or a private operator controls the management of roads has a powerful impact on transportation policy.

Any driver knows how events that take place on one road affect other connecting and alternative routes. Thus, toll levels, maintenance and safety standards, and congestion on a toll road have a substantial impact on the number of cars using alternative routes, including local roads and mass transit. Decisions about how to operate and manage these roadways have the effect of creating traffic policy for the state. For instance, a hike in toll rates can divert large numbers of trucks onto local roads, creating congestion and air pollution in nearby communities. What may seem beneficial from a narrow profit perspective does not necessarily benefit transportation networks in Texas more generally. Public control of key toll roads is necessary to ensure a coherent statewide transportation planning and policy making.

Road privatization elsewhere shows that private operators’ profit motive produces very different management decisions than government would. Three examples illustrate these potential dangers:

Non-Compete Clauses—Deals in California, Colorado, and to a lesser extent, Indiana, limited the state’s ability to improve or expand “competing” roads. The proposed Trans-Texas Corridor deal would place restrictions on what kinds of improvements the state could make on nearby roads. It also mandates that the state must build specific feeder roads and entry ramps onto the new private road. These are projects that might tie up scarce resources that the public might other otherwise use for other projects.

Private Toll Decisions = Broad Private Control of Traffic Management—It’s well understood that drivers avoid high tolls. That’s the principle underlying congestion-pricing policies that increase tolls during peak traffic hours to shift drivers toward mass transit and less crowded times. The principle also creates the appeal for California’s so-called “Lexus lanes,” on which tolls adjust throughout the day to ensure light enough traffic for speedy travel, at least for those who can afford it.

Concession agreements lay out schedules for toll increases that can sound reasonable, but compound over time to very high rates. For example Chicago’s 99-year toll deal lays out a schedule of permissible rate hikes. If these same increases had applied to New York’s Holland Tunnel since its inception, that roadway could presently charge a one-way toll of more than $180. As a practical matter, a toll operator would be unlikely to charge such a high price because drivers would instead take alternate routes. The proposed concession here in Texas would have allowed tolls as high as $14.92 by the 48th year of the deal. The point is that granting toll-setting power to a private entity enables the private operator to largely dictate who drives on the toll roads.

Creates “Tax” on Normal Policy Making—Private concession deals also require the state to pay investors compensation for reduced toll revenue when the state performs construction such as when it might add an exit, build a mass transit line down the median, or bring the road up to state-of-the-art safety standards. This compensation would add significant costs, and potentially state could not afford to do the work it would otherwise perform. As added complication, the exact level of these future payments might be subject to dispute and lawsuits.

Transportation policy should be made according to what’s best for the public, not limited by what kinds of extra payments may have to be made to a private operator.

2. Fair Value

The danger that our roads could be sold off at fire-sale prices is very real, but we might not even know it for decades. The people of Texas need to be sure that the government would receive fair value for the future toll revenue it would promise a road operator. But obtaining this long-term value is highly uncertain, especially for a private deal.

Figuring out the fair price for a toll road is a high-stakes guessing game. Expected revenues are based on uncertain predictions about factors such as what future toll rates will be, how many cars and trucks will use the road, what rents can be obtained from service-area vendors and development of future advertising and amenities. The operator’s costs similarly depend on a dizzying array of factors such as: what future construction will be done, who will pay for it, how many workers will be employed, and what will be future maintenance and safety standards. All of these factors will themselves be influenced by future trends in transportation and demographics. And any guess about the long-term value of the upfront payment itself depends on correctly predicting the extent to which inflation will erode the value of those dollars and what rate of return investors could have otherwise garnered with the money.

The Indiana and Chicago deals are not encouraging. A financial analysis by NW Financial investment bank found that the private investors in those deals would likely recoup their investment in less than 20 years. That analysis is confirmed in at least Indiana’s case by the company that won the bid. Macquarie sent investors a presentation asserting an “Anticipated 15 year payback to equity.” Given that Indiana’s deal is 75 years long, and Chicago’s is 99 years, the analysis suggests that governments in these states received far less for their assets than they are worth. In fact, analysis by economist and long-term valuation expert Roger Skurski at Notre Dame University finds that the Indiana Toll Road lease, which sold for $3.85 billion, should have more reasonably been valued at $11.38 billion.

In Texas, the process so far as been equally discouraging. The Texas Department of Transportation initially excluded the toll authority from bidding to build and run a new toll road they planned near Dallas. The winning private bid would have generated an estimated 12.5 percent rate of profit on its equity investment and would have required the public to compensate Cintra, the private company, if a “competing roadway” was built within 20 miles. After public pressure and hearings, the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) was allowed to offer its own bid. Public entities can generally borrow money at a lower rate than private entities, and thus – all things equal – can offer higher payments to the state budget based on the same future toll collections.

Independent Analysis by the investment banking firm NW Financial Group confirms this analysis about Texas. Unpacking the public and private bids, they find that both the NTTA and Cintra anticipate collecting $50 billion in tolls over the life of the deal. But whereas the Cintra deal would provide $3.1 billion in payments to the state over this time, the public authority’s deal would yield $5.68 billion. Thus, the public authority’s bid offered an estimated $2.5 billion in additional present-value funds over the life of the deal on top of the $3.1 billion offer from Cintra. In plain terms, Texas would lose over $3 billion by pursuing the private deal. This comes despite the public authority’s plans to invest more money than the private group to actually construct the road.

A private toll road deal would also come with a number of other hidden costs. For instance, not included in the price-tag are large concession payments that have already been paid out to losing bidders for toll road construction. According to papers obtained from the Texas Department of Transportation, two bidders who lost out on constructing a new planned State Highway 130 have already been paid $1.4 million each for submitting bids. Also not appearing in the ledger for the private deal are the public costs of monitoring and enforcing its terms. The state of Texas would need to be sure that an operator held firm to the terms of a deal, for instance resurfacing the road as often as promised and with high-quality materials. Doing so will require its own bureaucracy and an assortment of lawyers to pour over the fine print and sue the operator if necessary.

3. No Deal Longer Than 30 Years

The Chicago and Indiana lease deals will stretch for multiple generations: 99 years and 75 years respectively. The Governor’s proposed deal with Cintra would have stretched for 50 years.

To appreciate how profound future changes will be over these time frames, they must be put in perspective. Consider these epoch-changing milestones: 49 years ago in Dallas, the integrated circuit was first tested, ushering in the semiconductor and the electronic age; and Congress created the interstate highway system in 1956, 51 years ago. Similarly, consider population the massive population changes: in 2006, Texas’ population was 23.5 million people, nearly three times the 8.8 million here back in 1956. It’s hard to imagine how different our transportation needs would be with three times as many people as today.

From these markers, it’s clear that massive, unforeseeable changes will likely take place for transportation technology, networks, demographics, and the distribution of population over time frames like those in Chicago and Indiana and being considered here. In the face of such uncertainties, Texas cannot predict its transportation needs, nor the revenue potential of the its toll roads, well enough to negotiate a deal that fairly allocates risks, dictates policy, or sets a fair price.

Beyond the uncertainties inherent in a multi-generational time frame, an additional issue of good-government arises: disenfranchisement of future generations of voters. Toll roads are vital infrastructure, integral to the daily lives of Texans. So long as the State, directly or through turnpike authorities or other public entities, retains control over these roads, voters have the ability to hold decision-makers accountable. Turning over control of the roads to private investors eliminates that accountability and binds future voters to present-day decisions. Doing so for several generations of voters is simply anti-democratic.

4. State-of-the-art maintenance and safety standards

Any deal that would grant control of our roads to a private operator would have to ensure continuation of the highest available standards. Indiana’s deal, for example, would not guarantee this performance. Under that deal, the state of Indiana can require the operator to meet generally applicable safety standards, but must pay a hefty premium to implement higher quality. In other words, if Indiana intends to bring its Toll Road up to state-of-the-art standards, it must pay dearly. In addition to the cost of construction or performing the maintenance, Indiana would be required to pay compensation to the private operator for any loss of revenues caused by the construction or imposition of new standards.

No deal for the Texas roadways should be approved that did not guarantee that state-of-the-art innovations would continue to be introduced.

5. Complete Transparency and Accountability

Texas’ public roadways properly belong to the people of Texas. No deal should happen if Texans have not had the opportunity to review, question and comment upon it. That requires full disclosure of the deal’s terms, and any related contracts and subcontracts, at least six months before a deal is done, plus public hearings. This commitment to transparency is doubly important given Texass past struggles with corruption and pay-to-play contracts. The public must have full confidence in the process for considering a potential deal.

Likewise, Texans need to be able to hold their representatives accountable for their decision to approve (or not approve) a deal. The Legislature must vote on the final terms of any potential deal. True accountability requires that both the Legislative and Executive Branches answer to Texans for a deal.

6. No Budget Gimmicks

If Texas’ future toll-road revenues are to be used as collateral for a private or public deal, the proceeds must be used to fund transportation, including mass transit, for at least as long as the deal lasts, and to reduce the state’s structural deficit by paying down debt. If proceeds remain after those needs are met, only then would investing in long-term capital projects be appropriate.

For More Information:
Colin McKellips
(512) 479-7287

Phineas Baxandall
(857) 234-1328

Cathie Adams
(972) 523-8551

© 2007 Texas Public Interest Research Group:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"More cars, more trucks, more revenue. Just what you want in a park, eh?"

Road Rage

Who's telling the truth about the Trinity toll road? You decide.


By Jim Schutze
The Dallas Observer
Copyright 2007

Dallas Mayor Laura Miller has conceded to me that the toll road under design for the Trinity River project is a bad road.

"The city manager and I have complained to the North Texas Tollway Authority and told them to fix it," she said in an exchange of e-mails. "We fully expect they will. Otherwise they won't have a road project on city-owned land."

But the same Laura Miller remains so dead set against allowing taxpayers to vote on the road that she and her supporters are using paid "blockers" at the polling places to keep people from signing petitions for a referendum.

This is about a plan to put a high-speed six-lane toll road through the brand-new park we're trying to build along the Trinity River downtown. Angela Hunt, a city council member, says the road is out of control. Hunt is gathering signatures on petitions for a vote next November.

We would vote yes or no: Do we want to pass a law saying the road through the park has to be what we voted for in 1998 when we approved the whole project—a four-lane low-speed access road to the park?

Miller says an election would be a big mistake. But she admits the road now being designed is a mistake.

Well, this week she admits it. Last week, not so much. Since Hunt announced her referendum campaign, Miller has insisted in speeches and a radio debate that the current design is perfect, created and endorsed by experts "from Harvard" and from Seattle, whom she hired under a private, undisclosed contract to design the biggest public amenity in the city's history.

Miller's mantra has been that the voters must not meddle with the "Balanced Vision Plan" designed by Alex Krieger of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and William Eager of Seattle, Washington.

But last week Hunt came up with an e-mail from Krieger to Miller telling Miller the toll road in the park is not what he designed. Krieger tells Miller he sees "absolutely no evidence of concern for the 'context sensitive design' that was promised as part of the balanced plan."

"What concerned me most," Krieger writes, "was that the engineering of the road was proceeding as if it were a great big interstate highway instead of a parkway."

Eager, the transportation expert, suggests a breach of faith. "We had a deal to make this parkway of a design appropriate to a park setting," he tells Miller in an e-mail. He warns her that the toll road along the river, on which trucks are supposed to be banned, is being designed to accommodate trucks:

"The only reason for 12-foot lanes would be if there is not really a commitment to 'no trucks,'" Eager warns.

I tried to reach these gentlemen for this story, as I always do, and as always they did not respond.

Last week when our blog, Unfair Park, broke this story ("Angela Hunt Proves It: the Mayor's Been Lying About the Trinity River Toll Road," May 1), Miller replied ("Mayor to Schutze, You Are Wrong," May 1) by blaming the engineering company, Halff & Associates, designing the toll road for the North Texas Tollway Authority.

"But with Halff still working for the NTTA, some of that big-road-itis continues to exist," she said.

In fact the size and design of the road have nothing to do with mental illness at Halff & Associates. More like money.

Several years ago somebody—we have never been told who or why or when or how—decided he or she didn't want the road we voted for in 1998, the soft meandering little park road.

Somebody—our own municipal Boo Radley—asked the NTTA if they couldn't build a bigger, fatter road and do it faster with toll money. The NTTA said maybe. They hired a company called Wilbur Smith & Associates in Connecticut. Wilbur Smith came back with harsh news.

Wilbur Smith found that if the city kept the toll road at what the public had voted for—45 miles an hour with generous access to the park—the toll money from the road would produce only $70 million toward cost of construction.

But if the city lopped off all the access to the park, limited the access to downtown, provided no access at all to southern Dallas and jacked the speed limit up to 55 miles per hour, it could raise $150 million for the project. The Wilbur Smith study also suggested strongly that the city would need to allow trucks.

Why? Faster road, more customers. More cars, more trucks, more revenue. Just what you want in a park, eh? But that's exactly what this is about.

Miller insists the road will be only four lanes through the park and no trucks will be allowed. Last Sunday Angela Hunt showed me the official renderings of the road supplied to her in response to an open records demand: The renderings show six lanes right through the park.

Supposedly there won't be trucks. But Eager points out in his e-mail that they are designing it for trucks.

I think my e-mail exchange with Mayor Miller about all this is pretty extraordinary for what it reveals. I don't want to be accused of stacking the deck. So here it is, complete and unvarnished. (The reference to "blockers" at the end is to the hired guns being sent to polling places to talk people out of signing the petitions for a referendum on the road.)

Read it and draw your own conclusions. I know what I want. I want an election just so we can finally get Boo Radley to come out and play:

Schutze: I am writing a column saying the explanation you offered for the Krieger and Eager e-mails doesn't wash. They told you the road they had designed had morphed into an expressway. In claiming the road under design was still the road they had signed off on, you misled the public. They never approved or signed off on the road that is now under design. Their e-mails prove that.

Miller: I've never misled the public. When exactly do you think I misled them?

Schutze: Do you feel you have ever publicly given the impression the toll road in the current plan has the blessing of Krieger and Eager?

Miller: It is THEIR road design so of course they bless the one in the Balanced Vision Plan. Which is why I asked them to alert us if they ever see any designs from NTTA that even look slightly different than what they designed and the City Council voted to build. They alerted me in the e-mails you have in hand. Because of their concerns about what they saw in preliminary designs, the city manager and I have complained to NTTA and told them to fix it. We fully expect that they will. Otherwise they won't have a road project on city-owned land since ALL parties agreed on the road just as Krieger and Eager designed it—NTTA, COG, City of Dallas, TxDOT, Dallas County.

Schutze: So the road design that is now in place is now in question. You and the city manager agree, I take it, that it must be changed. It's not a good design. Tell me again why the taxpayers should not be allowed to vote on it.

Miller: The so-called design is a preliminary drawing of it—not a final design, or a near-final design. The reason we ask to see preliminary designs is to make sure we get what we asked for. In this case, the road doesn't have curves in it—we want curves. It had break-down lanes—we don't want break-down lanes that could be turned into six lanes, which is two too many. What we want is the road that's in the Balanced Vision Plan—Eager and Krieger's road.

What Angela is asking the voters to do is DELETE the road in the Balanced Vision Plan. And there's no alternative road route given—she says they can figure that out later.

But we know from Eager and Krieger that there is no better place to put this four-lane, 55-mile-an-hour parkway. So a vote with no solution is not a good idea.

Schutze: Her proposed ordinance does have a road in it. A four-lane road. What's wrong with that?

Miller: The ordinance precludes the road as designed by Eager and Krieger, which we believe is a good road.

Schutze: But you can offer not one word of guarantee it will be built. Why not let the voters get a guarantee of their own if they want one?

Miller: If the referendum was to build the road as proposed by Eager and Krieger in the Balanced Vision Plan—or not do it at all—I would support it. Because I want the road built as they designed it—and I'd LOVE a guarantee on that. Which is why I've always asked Eager and Krieger to tell me if the road didn't look exactly right. Because [former city council member] Sandy [Greyson] and I were the strongest proponents—and she's gone now.

Schutze: So who's paying the blockers?

Miller: Donors for the campaign are Citizens Council, Harlan Crow, and I don't know who else has given. I suggested we use people involved in the project, like members and Trinity Trust/Commons to man the polls and ask people not to sign the petition for all the reasons I gave above. Apparently, with all the great number of polling places, we need more manpower. They are not supposed to "block" people. Just give them the reasons we don't want a vote—primarily because what we have now works and there is no parkway solution available other than the BVP.

Schutze: Thank you.

Miller: You can't say I skirt the questions, or that I'm not forthcoming. I care a lot about this issue. I truly believe in the BVP. As designed.

© 2007 The Dallas Observer:

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TFB President Kenneth Dierschke: "The amount of land that will eventually be taken for this project is staggering."

Farm organizations voice opposition to TTC


The Waller County News-Citizen
Copyright 2007

WALLER COUNTY - The Waller County Farm Bureau is applauding efforts in the Texas Legislature to kill the Trans Texas Corridor, the mammoth highway project slated for parts of Texas that would take huge tracts of Texas farm and ranch land.

"We are encouraged that many legislators have concluded that the TTC is a bad idea," said David Groschke, president of the Waller County Farm Bureau.

"We believe the cost of the project is too high and the sacrifice will fall mainly on rural Texas."

Various bills introduced this year in the Legislature would either kill the TTC outright or place a moratorium on funding it.

"Either way, we are for those bills," Groschke said. "The TTC is too big, too expensive and hits rural Texas very hard. We've been worried that not enough thought has been given to the Corridor and a moratorium would allow everyone to take a careful look at it."

As proposed, the TransTexas Corridor is a massive highway project to be built in several phases. The first is already under construction east of Interstate 35 and another phase of the TTC would cut through Waller County.

The Texas Farm Bureau, headquartered in Waco, is also urging the governor to support a TTC funding moratorium.

Governor Rick Perry should sign a bill that would establish a two-year moratorium on the controversial Trans Texas Corridor (TTC), according to the board of directors of the state's largest farm organization.

A letter requesting the governor's approval of House Bill 1892, signed by the 14 members of the Texas Farm Bureau board, including TFB President Kenneth Dierschke, urges a moratorium on the use of private equity comprehensive development agreements, including the TTC. The letter was delivered to Governor Perry last week.

It said in part, "We believe the moratorium envisioned in HB 1892 will give all Texans the opportunity to evaluate future transportation needs and determine if the corridor concept can be modified to reduce its impact on farm and ranch land."

The bill by Rep. Wayne Smith of Baytown prevents outside entities from buying the rights to build and operate toll roads in Texas and keep the resulting revenues.

Following approval of the letter, Dierschke said, "We remain opposed to the Trans Texas Corridor, but the moratorium will give all of us the chance to take a hard look at the issue. The amount of land that will eventually be taken for this project is staggering."

Some estimates place the amount of land needed for the TTC at more than half a million acres, including some of the best farmland in the state.

© 2007 Houston Community Newspapers Online:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Gas tax 'holiday': "It's cheap political gimmickry. It's also bad government."

No jolly holiday here

May. 10, 2007

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

It's cheap political gimmickry. It's also bad government.

That pretty well sums up a proposal by state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, to suspend the state gasoline tax of 20 cents a gallon for three months.

Fischer's proposal, an amendment to a bill given preliminary approval by the Texas House on Tuesday, could face much tougher sledding as legislative budget writers move toward final adoption of a biennial state budget. The gas tax holiday should be deep-sixed faster than you can say "political grandstanding."

The tax suspension would, by Fischer's own admission, cost the state an estimated $500 million to $700 million in revenues.

The gas tax, which hasn't been increased since 1991, has been eroded by 16 years of inflation in costs for building new roads and acquiring right of way for them. The tax should be increased, rather than suspended, to provide more funding for the new and expanded roads needed to curtail growing traffic congestion caused by population growth and an enormous jump in vehicle miles traveled.

If the state doesn't boost the gas tax, there are two alternatives, neither of which is pleasant.

We can build more and more toll roads. Do you want to pay tolls on every new road you drive?

We can do nothing and let gridlock continue to lengthen the time of our work commutes and worsen our air quality.

That gas tax holiday doesn't sound quite so appealing anymore, does it?

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


"Legislators are responding to their constituents. And I think they are firmly fixed in concrete on this issue."

Perry threatens special session on toll roads

Governor says fixes still possible for bill limiting state powers on toll roads, private toll road contracts

May 10, 2007

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

Gov. Rick Perry is threatening to call a special session on transportation issues this summer if the Legislature doesn't address problems he sees in the 58-page toll road bill resting on his desk.

"The good news is we still have time to fix it, and we are working toward that," Perry said Wednesday. "If not, I have no other option as the leader of this state than to bring the Legislature back until we address these issues."

A two-year ban on most private toll road contracts, added to the bill in its later stages, is not the main problem. Perry said, in fact, that he would "sign the moratorium bill tomorrow" if the Legislature would bring him a bill with only that in it.

Rather, Perry is troubled by provisions in House Bill 1892 that would give local toll agencies such as the Harris County Toll Road Authority priority in building tollways in pockets of the state and put new constraints on toll road contracts between the state and private companies.

Taken together, those provisions could limit the number of such agreements, knocking out a prime leg of Perry's transportation policy.

"This bill has huge problems," said Perry, who is poised to veto the bill.

Filed by state Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown at the behest of Harris County, the bill stipulates that the state could not charge the county for highway rights of way the state owns. Harris County and the state have been at odds over the past year after the Texas Department of Transportation said the county would have to pay more than $1 billion for rights of way along three highways it wants to widen and convert into toll roads.

Smith said legislators "are responding to their constituents. And I think they are firmly fixed in concrete on this issue."

But state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, said House and Senate members are negotiating on ways to address concerns about HB 1892, including Perry's. He predicted a solution within a few days.

"I'm not canceling my vacation plans just yet," Carona said.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, would not say whether he thought a compromise could be reached.

"The governor's going to do what the governor's going to do," he told reporters.

The legislation, aside from the moratorium and the provisions for local toll road agencies, also imposes limitations on any long-term toll road leases the state might sign with private companies in the future. It would reduce from 70 years to 40 years the maximum length of such arrangements, limit so-called noncompete constraints on building nearby free roads, and require terms for the state to buy back such roads that would probably lower the price.

The bill has at least one problem specific to the Dallas-Fort Worth area that even supporters acknowledge is a mistake, and efforts are under way to attach repair language to other legislation.

Perry has until May 18 to sign or veto HB 1892 or let it become law without his signature. The bill passed in the Senate 27-4 and 139-1 in the House, vote counts that — if they held — would be well above the two-thirds needed to override a veto.

The Federal Highway Administration, in two letters to state officials over the past month, has said the state could lose federal highway money because of provisions in HB 1892.

Perry, asked about how the bill specifically might hurt the state, deferred to his staff for details. But Michael Behrens, executive director with the Texas Department of Transportation, exhaustively addressed what he sees as the bill's flaws in a four-page, single-spaced letter May 4 to state Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson.

"Allowing subdivisions of local government to take over the state highway system challenges the framework of federal statute and puts the state in violation of federal laws," Behrens wrote of the provisions for local toll agencies. Of the buyback provisions, which would base the price on what companies spent on a project rather than on what they might see as profit in the future, Behrens wrote that a company would probably pay the state a lower upfront concession payment than under current law or perhaps drop its bid for the road completely.

That in turn might threaten projects such as TTC-69, Perry spokesman Robert Black said, referring to a section of the Trans-Texas Corridor still in the early planning stages that would run from the Rio Grande Valley to Northeast Texas.

So, will a weary Legislature be moved by the threat of a lost summer and Perry's dark predictions about the bill's consequences? State Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, the only House member to vote against HB 1892, said the prospect was the subject of much discussion Wednesday.

"They'd rather not have to come back in the summer in order to address a Houston problem," Krusee said.

The Legislature has already stood up to the governor on a number of issues this session, pressuring him to appoint a conservator to oversee the scandal-plagued Texas Youth Commission and overturning his order requiring immunizations for teenage girls for the human papillomavirus. But with hundreds of pieces of legislation headed his way over the next month, Perry is not without options.

"The governor has a number of tools at his disposal to get the Legislature's attention," Krusee said.; 445-3698

Additional material from staff writer Mark Lisheron.

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman: www.

To search TTC News Archives click HERE