Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Texas activist is born

Toll road foe a powerful force


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

In many ways, Terri Hall was on a collision course with Texas toll road policies long before she and her family loaded up their van and drove from California to the Hill Country three years ago.

A lifetime of volunteering, a hunger for staying on top of politics, and strong religious and moral convictions helped hone Hall's activist instincts.

Her brains, drive, superb speaking skills, engaging personality and wholesome good looks — noted by friends and enemies alike — make Hall especially effective. They help explain why this 37-year-old mother of six is a leading force in a populist assault on the Legislature.

Hall's critics say she doesn't always get her facts right and is quick to attack. But they admit that packing public meetings with angry people and blitzing officials with hundreds or thousands of e-mails and phone calls have made lawmakers pay attention.

"There's no way you can ignore that clear and loud message from folks — it sticks in your head," said Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-San Antonio.

Castro says he hasn't been soft on toll roads, but last year Hall put him on her list of politicians to kick out of office because she didn't think he'd done enough.

Legislators, responding to protests statewide, filed dozens of bills this session to slow or curtail tolling efforts.

Rising to the top was House Bill 1892, which would slap a two-year moratorium — with exceptions — and tighten restrictions on leasing toll projects to private companies.

The bill passed overwhelmingly, putting Gov. Rick Perry, the state's most powerful advocate for toll roads, against a wall. In a scramble last weekend, he and others crafted a weaker version, which added more exemptions and loosened limits on the lease contracts.

Perry vetoed the House bill Friday, an action lawmakers could easily override. But even the watered-down Senate bill would be a victory for the armies of grass-roots activists.

"They've been pretty effective," said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, who reluctantly agreed to include U.S. 281 in the moratorium. "I don't think that would have happened without an outcry from the public."

Hall's road to tolls

The Texas rush to toll its roads got a big lift in 2003.

Legislators passed a massive bill to allow widespread tolling and let corporations develop tollways in return for collecting profits for up to 70 years. Many now say they didn't fully understand what they voted on.

In December 2003, the Texas Transportation Commission passed a policy to toll new highway lanes whenever feasible. The same day, it approved formation of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority to let San Antonio join the tolling club.

At the time of the commission meeting, Hall was a month into a new blog — — and three days before had posted an entry that celebrated the capture of Saddam Hussein and the courageous, unswerving leadership of President Bush.

"It's a sad day to be a Democrat," wrote Hall, a longtime registered Republican.

Liberal Democrats later would become some of Hall's strongest allies in the toll fight.

In 2003, Hall and her husband, Roger, owned an in-home caregiver business near Sacramento, Calif. Being on call all the time was grueling and interrupted family life, which included home schooling the children.

So the Halls sold the business and in May 2004 headed to San Antonio, an area with affordable homes, room in the hills north of the city and neighbors who also home school. Terri Hall was 71/2 months pregnant during the trip.

Their fifth child was born in July 2004, almost a week before the Metropolitan Planning Organization adopted the first toll plans for San Antonio.

Many months would pass before Hall realized that toll lanes were eyed for U.S. 281, her main link to shopping and other business in San Antonio. Plans also include adding toll lanes to Loop 1604 on the North Side.

In December 2004, the transportation commission selected a consortium led by Cintra of Spain and Zachry Construction Corp. of San Antonio to plan for a 1,200-foot-wide swath of toll roads and rail lines paralleling Interstate 35.

It's billed as the first leg of Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor, a 4,000-mile network that's supposed to be financed, built and operated by private companies over the next half-century.

The next day, Hall posted her "conservative" Christmas wish list to the president. She asked for replacing income taxes with a consumption tax, immigration reform and school choice.

Soon, Hall would awaken to a new cause, thrusting her into a spotlight where her college studies in politics and media and her English degree from the University of California at Los Angeles would be of use.

An activist is born

In March 2005, the Texas Department of Transportation held public meetings to spell out how it could get money more quickly to widen U.S. 281 from North San Antonio through Comal County.

Officials told more than 200 people at Specht Elementary School that the answer is to charge tolls on the new lanes, starting at 15 cents a mile. Murmurs rippled through the crowd.

The next night in New Braunfels, Hall saw the same thing.

"It didn't smell right," she recalled. "Nobody was happy when they left that room."

Hall called her elected representatives to find out more and then met with TxDOT officials. She didn't like what she heard.

As time passed, she began to see sinister motives.

When TxDOT says tolls are fair because only users pay, Hall sees tax-funded rights of way being converted to tollways, with profits going to other uses.

When TxDOT says market forces will keep toll rates in check, Hall sees a government monopoly squeezing cash from congestion-weary drivers.

When TxDOT says private sector innovation and efficiency will save time and money, Hall sees corporate handouts and toll rates rising faster than ever.

As the gritty details emerge in public meetings, on talk radio and anywhere else there might be an audience, both sides complain facts are being twisted.

For example, Hall claims TxDOT has money to widen at least 7 miles of U.S. 281 without adding tolls. TxDOT officials and others say the agency can't do that without raiding funds from other projects.

"What has troubled me from the outset is that she and her organization don't seem to be burdened by sticking to the truth," said Joe Krier, president of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

"They've opened the door for this revolt that's going on, and for legislators to have some room to represent their constituents," said Linda Curtis of Independent Texans, a group aligned with Hall.

After talking to TxDOT, Hall decided she had better organize and started calling around.

She soon found Sal Costello, who the year before had formed Austin Toll Party. Curtis, who worked for Costello at the time, remembers Hall coming to their table at a Capitol rally in May 2005 and asking questions.

"She wasn't at the time what I would say is a leader," Curtis said. "I didn't realize what a dynamo she was. I was blown away within months.

"She's beautiful, she's smart, she's passionate and she has the drive and she knows how to juggle. And she cares deeply."

In June 2005, Costello and Curtis came to San Antonio to help Hall kick off the first meeting of what would become the San Antonio Toll Party.

"She just had that look in her eye and backed it up," said Bob Throckmorton, a retired Air Force colonel who became one of Hall's trusted lieutenants.

First big victory

Hall quickly found more help, even reaching across ideological lines to do so.

Bill Barker, a transportation planner who disparages suburban sprawl and says too many highways are being built, has fed Hall reams of data. He's a "progressive" Democrat.

Annalisa Peace, an environmentalist who's not happy with all the construction over the Edwards Aquifer recharge and drainage zones, agrees U.S. 281 shouldn't be turned into a tollway. However, she also doesn't want a full-fledged freeway.

Peace and Hall first got together in July 2005 to tell the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board why they believe proposed toll plans are bad. When Hall complained that the tolls could stifle North Side growth, a curious editor turned to Peace and asked what she thought.

I think that'd be great, Peace said with a wide grin.

Hall shifted in her seat.

Well, then we disagree, she said in a dejected voice.

But the two remained allies.

Peace's group, Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas, joined one of Costello's statewide groups to file a lawsuit that stopped construction of U.S. 281 toll lanes in January 2006. As a result, TxDOT is redoing the environmental studies on it.

Hall celebrated, calling it Victory No. 1.

"Obviously, it's a double-edged sword," she said later. "You've got different people coming to the table for different things. But we all agree that the cause is greater than that."

Hall is far from alone. The Republican, Democratic, Libertarian and Green parties all oppose how toll roads are being developed in Texas.

Still, many local leaders insist motorists stuck in traffic lost out. Building the U.S. 281 tollway has been pushed back two to five years.

"She's doing what she thinks is right," said former San Antonio Mayor Bill Thornton, chairman of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority. "I also think she's misguided. She's been harmful to our community's transportation needs."

The Texas stage

Year after year, San Antonio business and elected leaders drove to Austin to schmooze the Texas Transportation Commission.

In February 2006, they argued for toll roads, asked for more state money and showed a video proclaiming the city's 50-year "love affair" with TxDOT. But that year, for the first time, a speaker disagreed.

Hall faced commissioners in a room packed with more than 100 highway engineers, private industry officials and toll promoters. Just a handful of her supporters were there.

Commission Chairman Ric Williamson, with a stout build, crew cut and deep voice that matches his aggressive push of Perry's tolling wishes, thanked the tall, slender woman standing before him but said they have different philosophies.

"I know well that the power of my beliefs are strengthened by the most vicious attack of those who don't share that belief," he said. "Your words and your testimony is valuable to us."

Hall stood her ground.

"I really hope that you do listen," she said.

For Hall, wresting government from special interests is bigger than toll roads.

She worries about efforts — some covert, she says — that could break down sovereign borders by expanding free trade and forging a European-style common market. The Trans-Texas Corridor, being sold as a cargo route, is just a piece.

"This is really about taking our government back."

The 2006 elections were a chance for such a cleansing. And TxDOT gave toll critics their best stage yet when it held more than 50 public hearings for the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor route.

More than 13,000 people attended, including 900 in San Antonio. Nearly every speaker railed against corridor plans.

Candidates hoping to oust Perry or win legislative seats seized on the string of hearings as a ready-made campaign trail through the heart of Texas.

In November, toll critics lost more races than they won. The most notable defeat was Carole Keeton Strayhorn's dismal showing in the governor's race.

But the message that voters were unhappy, whether with TxDOT or other agencies, sank in. Lawmakers began singing that refrain after they returned to Austin in January.

"Over the years, the Legislature has been somewhat lazy and somewhat asleep," said Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. "My last election was a wake-up call for me."

The next time Hall and Williamson talked was at a Senate transportation committee hearing, which had dragged on for hours and left toll critics with some of their biggest gains. Most of the audience had left when Williamson turned and leaned over to his adversary.

You know, you changed everything, he told her. You fight like a true Texan.

"You should be proud," he said.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


"The inconvenience of a special session is a small price to pay to preserve these critical elements of freedom."

Does the Toll Road Bill Repeat Mistakes of 2003?

May 19, 2007

by Will Lutz
Dallas Blog
Copyright 2007

Throughout this session, the legislature has tried to assert itself and reclaim powers from the executive branch that the legislature rightly believes belongs to itself.

In particular, the legislature wishes to reclaim its historic power of the purse – the powers clearly set forth in the Texas constitution regarding appropriations and financing.

Nowhere is the separation of powers issue more critical than at the Texas Department of Transportation.

In years past, the legislature was asleep at the wheel and passed a series of laws, most notably HB 3588 from 2003, that allowed the unelected Texas Transportation Commission to, in effect, raise taxes and spend public money – without approval of the legislature and with minimal public oversight.

A few days ago, the legislature passed HB 1892, which declares a moratorium on many of TxDOT’s more objectionable activities and transfers many of its powers to the local level. The bill passed with majorities well in excess of the two-thirds required to override a veto.

Gov. Rick Perry objects to the bill for a variety of reasons and has warned of a variety of measures, including a special session, if lawmakers override an expected veto of HB 1892.

To avoid a showdown, last Monday (May 14), Sens. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) and John Carona (R-Dallas) announced they have reached a compromise with Perry on transportation, which the Senate passed as SB 792 later that evening, and the House approved, with some amendments, May 17.

The deal has some admirable features — it provides more authority for local toll authorities, it puts some new restrictions and a moratorium on many Comprehensive Development Agreements that rent state right-of-way to private companies under terms that allow the companies to gouge the public, and it puts new disclosure and transparency requirements on toll road projects.

But the deal stops far short of what is necessary to protect the motoring public and ensure rational, accountable transportation policy for the people of Texas .

First and foremost is use of privatization without justifiable competition. Markets are only more efficient than the public sector when companies can compete for business.

Comprehensive development agreements, however, are the exact opposite of competition. They grant a private company an exclusive franchise to build the road, and that monopoly power is reflected in the sky-high tolls that Texans have paid lately.

Traditional competitive bidding for government-issued highway contracts appears to be better for consumers than granting one company a minimally-regulated monopoly. Recently, the wording of some CDAs were vague and unbusinesslike with respect to key issues such as tolling, rates of return and costs of buy-back. SB 792 addresses the latter issue, but ought to provide more protections for the motoring public from being fleeced by toll highwaymen.

A further flaw is it allows continuation of current policy, whereby the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) may require up-front “concession fees” in exchange for building some new toll projects. The tolls that pay these concession fees are taxes, not user fees, because concession fees result in tolls over and above the amount required to build and maintain the road. Since the fees are paid back over time from toll revenue, it increases the burden of debt on our children and grandchildren.

In short, concession fees, which are continued by the “market valuation” language in SB 792, allow the government to raise taxes and do off-budget spending in a manner concealed to the public and without proper legislative oversight and authorization.

If lawmakers believe a tax increase is necessary to build the roads we need, they can and should do it directly. Carona himself has produced a series of convincing statistics that show that indexing the gas tax to inflation is cheaper for the motorists than the current over-reliance on toll roads.

Yes, high gas prices make gas tax indexing a tough sell, and the legislature would need to lay some groundwork, so that the public understands that gas tax indexing will result in less tolling, more money for roads, and the revenue will not be diverted to other purposes. But in the end, providing money to build and maintain highways is a legislative responsibility, not one of the unelected Texas Transportation Commission.

This is not a minor dispute here. The founders of both the United States and the Republic of Texas believed strongly that the power of the purse belongs in the hands of an elected House of Representatives and an elected Senate. The inconvenience of a special session is a small price to pay to preserve these critical elements of freedom.

To put it another way, there’s no need to cut this deal. The legislature is playing a poker hand with four aces, and there’s no good reason to fold.

Supporters of the current policy have tried to scare Texans into thinking that HB 1892 could affect federal highway funding. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation did not take that position when asked by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and the Democratic congressional leadership openly opposes renting public highways to private vendors.

Legislators shouldn’t yield to pressure from Perry, the toll road lobby, or any other source. In watching the compromise in SB 792 come together, it’s almost as if the legislature forgot how this mess got started in the first place.

In the waning days of the 2003 session, Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) unveiled HB 3588 — a big, omnibus transportation bill written with assistance from the governor’s office that few understood. What is the legislature about to do — pass a big omnibus transportation bill written with Perry’s assistance that few understand.

In last week’s Lone Star Report, David A. Hartman reminded the legislature that “they are speaking for the majority of Texans who urge them not to waver.” To back down now merely invites other agencies to emulate the Texas Transportation Commission, which would be a victory of bureaucracy over public representation vested in the legislature.

In other words, lawmakers should think long and hard about whether they want to send SB 792 to the governor’s desk or whether – in the long term – this state is better off if they override a veto of HB 1892

© 2007

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Amendment 13 is 'Do or Die' for TTC-35."

Have We Been Sold Out? Afraid So!


Copyright 2007

By the time you read this the Governor's office may have already out maneuvered us all by effectively removing Trans Texas Corridor TTC-35 from any moratorium limitations in the pending bill, SB792.

The Governor's office has targeted seven House amendments for removal.

Things are moving so fast there may be no time for anyone outside a small circle of key legislators to impact the outcome. By Monday it is likely that Governor Perry will have his way and the citizens of Texas will have been sold out at the highest levels of it's State Government.

The Governor's representatives Kris Heckmann and former Senator Kenneth Armbrister arrived to visit Texas senators shortly after 11:00am Friday morning. About that same time a three page analysis/summary of SB792 amendments, reportedly prepared by Kris Heckman, was circulating among Senators.

CorridorWatch has been told that seven amendments have been targeted by the Governor's office for removal. Among those are one by Pickett [6] effecting the El Paso RMA; one by Callegari [12] they believe was misdrafted; three by Kolkhorst [13, 15, & 16] effecting TTC35, CDA penalty payment funds, and a prohibition of investment firms being on both sides of a CDA; one by Quintanilla [22] a county contract provision; and, one by Y. Davis [27] requiring land taken by condemnation be offered back to the owner if unused.

Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst met on the floor of the Senate Friday morning with Senators Williams, Carona, and Nichols in an apparent attempt to convince Nichols to agree with removal of the offending amendments (Nichols has since been named to the Conference Committee). It is widely believed that Nichols is unlikely to agree with efforts to weaken the bill.

It was Dewhurst who forced SB792 in to play in the first place thereby making his intent to yield to the Governor's wishes very clear. As expected the Senate members named to the conference committee are stacked in favor of producing the Governor's desired outcome. With only three votes out of five required it is unlikely that Nichols will find enough support among the other conferees to preserve the moratorium or other amendments.

You may recall Austin political insiders predicted that the legislature would fold under the Governors' pressure. We had given them more credit, but that may prove to be sorely undeserved.

Conference Committee Members.

  • Senator Tommy Williams, Chair 512.463.0104
  • Senator John Carona 512.463.0116
  • Senator Eliot Shapleigh 512.463.012
  • Senator Kim Brimer 512.463.0110
  • Senator Robert Nichols 512.463.0103
  • Representative Wayne Smith 512.463.0733
  • Representative (to be announced)
  • Representative (to be announced)
  • Representative (to be announced)
  • Representative (to be announced)
House Conference Committee members will not be formally named until Monday. But that doesn't mean that Rep. Smith hasn't got them picked and begun the process of looking at the bill language the Governor expects them to agree on.

CorridorWatch has been told that Senate conferees will start meeting today, Saturday. And word has it that Senator Carona will start 'visiting with likely House conferees' this weekend as well.

Anything can happen in conference, but this time the sheet music has been supplied by the Lt. Governor and the Governor is calling the tune.

CorridorWatch was wrong!

Have you heard that HB1892 won't effect TTC-35? We had, and we thought that it was a load of baloney. Unfortunately, we were wrong. Now we know it and they know we know it.

There is no question that it was always the clear legislative intent of HB1892 and SB792 to stop TxDOT from proceeding with any TTC facility construction during the two-year moratorium. Everyone knew that including the Governor and TxDOT and yet they let the legislature believe that these bills would do that. In fact the Governor went on record saying that he would sign the moratorium.

Amendment 13 to SB792 offered by Kolkhorst closes a moratorium loophole in HB1892 by including TTC-35 CDA facility agreements. The only exception would be Loop 9. Representatives Anderson, Bohac, Darby, Miles, Miller and Zerwas joined Kolkhorst as coauthors of this amendment.

If only one amendment survives the Conference Committee it needs to be Amendment 13.

Amendment 13 is "Do or Die" for TTC-35.

It is no surprise that Kolkhorst amendment 13 is on the Governor's hit list. If we are to have an enforceable moratorium on the TTC, we must have amendment 13 remain on SB792.

Amendment 16 is just good business practice.

Rep. Kolkhorst also doesn't think that the financial advisor who develops the market valuation for a project (for the toll authority or TxDOT) should also advise the company that will finance, build, develop or operated a TxDOT toll project. This is another amendment that is targeted for removal.

This and other amendments also have merit, but we can't save the world, and were not too sure we can save ourselves from the Trans Texas Corridor.

Once again we ask,

Will Our Senators and Representatives Continue Standing-Up For the People of Texas?

© 2007 CorridorWatch:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


State Senators and Rick Perry keep chipping away at private toll road 'moratorium.'


With replacement in limbo, Perry vetoes toll bill

Senate rebuffs House changes to SB 792, pushing final action on the tollway overhaul into the session's last week.

May 19, 2007

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

The Texas Senate declined to accept House changes in a key toll road bill Friday, thus requiring a House and Senate conference committee to craft a compromise version and triggering a gubernatorial veto of another bill.

When the House decided to knock off work for the weekend early Friday afternoon, Senate Bill 792 was put on ice until Monday. That led Gov. Rick Perry to follow through on his pledge to veto the legislation that SB 792 is meant to replace, House Bill 1892. The governor said that legislation "jeopardizes billions of dollars of infrastructure investment and invites a potentially significant reduction in federal transportation funding."

Perry vetoed the bill just before 5 p.m.

"I am grateful that legislators are working with me in subsequent legislation to address these concerns I have expressed," Perry said in his veto message.

That combination of events leaves open for a few more days the exact shape of the Legislature's overhaul of Texas toll road policy.

Lawmakers, responding to intense voter reaction to private toll road leases and Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor plan, have been sifting and debating options all session.

Legislators thought they had completed the job about two weeks ago when they passed HB 1892 almost unanimously. That bill included a partial freeze of private toll road contracts for two years, new limits on contract provisions for such long-term leases, and measures giving local toll road agencies the first shot at turnpike construction in their areas.

But Perry hinted that he would veto and threatened to call a special session if the Legislature didn't bring him a new bill addressing his concerns. SB 792 was that bill, and sponsors had hoped to get it to him before 11:59 p.m. Friday, the deadline for Perry to veto HB 1892.

They didn't make it.

The House added 18 amendments Thursday to the version passed by the Senate on Monday, and some of those changes were unacceptable to at least some senators. Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, for instance, did not like several amendments by his fellow El Paso Democrat, Rep. Joe Pickett.

And Perry was said to be unhappy with an amendment by state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, meant to address a potential conflict of interest for investment banks participating in private toll road deals.

The Senate named its conference committee members Friday afternoon, but the House left town before approving its list.

Nonetheless, key House and Senate members began to negotiate Friday. Senate Bill 792 sponsor Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said quick action next week is possible.

"This is not a days-long process," Williams said. "This is a few hours."

The Legislature still has the option, should SB 792 run aground, of voting to override Perry's veto of HB 1892. That would require approval of at least two-thirds of the members in both the Senate and House.; 445-3698

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman: www.

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


"It's a win-win deal for everyone – except the people who pay taxes and use the highways."


The 99-year taxpayer boondoggle

May 19, 2007

Henry Lamb
Copyright 2007

American roads are the hottest commodity in the international marketplace. State and local governments are falling all over themselves to sell off highways, bridges and all sorts of other revenue-producing infrastructure to international financiers who are eager to snap up structures Americans have already paid for – and for which they continue to pay maintenance costs through endless taxes.

The Chicago Skyway, for example, brought $1.83 billion from a Spanish-Australian partnership. The 157-mile Indiana Tollway brought $3.85 billion from the same partnership. And the state of Texas has recently concluded a deal to sell a Trans-Texas Corridor for $7.2 billion to the same Spanish company that partnered with a Texas construction company.

What's going on here? Why are government officials so eager to sell off our infrastructure? Because it's a win-win deal for everyone – except the people who pay taxes and use the highways. Governments get a pot full of cash up front, and the "public-private" partnerships get a long-term cash cow. The taxpayers and highway users get ______ – well, you fill in the blank.

Actually, these "sales" are long-term leases, which is much worse than an outright sale. The Chicago Skyway deal is for 99 years. The Indiana Tollway is for 75 years. In what condition will these important roads be when they are returned to government? The folks who celebrate the deals today – and spend the billions – will be pushing up daisies by the time a new crop of government officials will have to explain why the roads have crumbled.

The roads that exist today were bought with taxes and tolls. They are maintained with taxes and tolls. Neither taxes nor tolls will be reduced when these roads are sold to public-private partnerships. In fact, taxes are likely to increase, and the tolls are certain to increase. Tolls for commercial use on the Indiana Tollway were scheduled to double during the first three years of the deal. Auto tolls would remain flat for the first three years, and then "catch up" with the commercial rate.

When the taxpayers and highway users get slapped in the budget by these increases and complain to their elected officials, the elected officials can do nothing but say "We're sorry; it's out of our hands for the next 99 years." When the roads begin to crumble and potholes begin to appear, elected officials can do nothing but say, "We're sorry; it's out of our hands for the next 99 years."

When the people of Texas learned about the $7.2 billion deal the state was constructing, they overwhelmed the Legislature and demanded a two-year moratorium during which the consequences of the deal could be studied. The moratorium legislation passed the state House and Senate by a combined vote of 165 to 5 – more than enough to override the governor's threatened veto. But legislators are trying to take the teeth out of the legislation by exempting half the roads in Texas.

The chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee says the public-private partnership project must go forward because the state has not raised gasoline taxes in 16 years, and there's not enough money to build the roads that are desperately needed.

Well, now, he didn't say what portion of the state and federal gasoline taxes were spent on non-highway projects. He didn't say why the gasoline taxes were not increased if a valid need existed. He didn't say why the state could not raise the necessary construction funds the same way the public-private partnership will raise it – by pledging future revenues to pay for the funds borrowed. He didn't say why he is eager to turn public transportation over to a public-private partnership that is not accountable to the voters.

There is another reason for the media hype and popularity of public-private partnership funding. To meet the anticipated construction costs of the NAFTA Super-corridor network, incredible sums of capital must be amassed – rather quickly. Not all cities or states have the expertise or the credit worthiness to structure a multi-billion-dollar financing package. It's much easier to turn to an outfit that has done it before – and damn the consequences that will fall on another generation.

The sale, or long-term lease, of the nation's infrastructure is not just a fix for immediate congestion problems; it is a method of financing a whole new infrastructure designed to allow goods to flow from Chinese-controlled ports in Mexico, throughout the United States, and into Canada. Proponents of the project know that it will be much easier to get financing from public-private partnerships than from taxpayers who are already over-taxed. Left up to the taxpayers in each state, the international NAFTA Super-corridor network would be in great jeopardy if even one state refused to cooperate.

That's why it is necessary to take the matter out of the hands of taxpayers and let the professional bureaucrats do what they know is best for the poor, uneducated taxpayers, who, in the end, must still pay the bill. The sale of the nation's infrastructure is nothing less than a national tragedy.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization and chairman of Sovereignty International.

© 2007 WorldNetDaily:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"We're not too sure we can save ourselves from the Trans-Texas Corridor."

Toll road bill stalls

Legislature: Lawmakers, Perry hope for deal as session winds down

May 19, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – Can lawmakers forge a compromise to a compromise?

They'll have to if they want Gov. Rick Perry to sign a bill that revamps the state's toll-road policies and places a partial two-year ban on private toll contracts.

A day after the House added 20 amendments to a transportation bill that senators had hailed as a grand compromise, the Senate declined to accept the changes. And as expected, Gov. Rick Perry vetoed an earlier bill that he insisted would jeopardize Texas' entire transportation system.

The developments set the stage for a flurry of bargaining in the session's final week on how the state builds highways, a fight that has been brewing since Mr. Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor plan became a major issue in last year's political campaigns.

"I am grateful that legislators are working with me in subsequent legislation to address these concerns I have expressed," Mr. Perry said in a prepared statement.

Under any final deal, North Texas stands to escape from a toll road freeze unscathed. But the fight will frame a crucial policy issue: how a booming state that's averse to new taxes can pay for the roads it needs.

Lawmakers had hoped to send Mr. Perry the newer bill by Friday to avoid the confrontation of a veto.

But Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, announced that he could not immediately agree with the House's changes to the new bill.

That means a conference committee will try to hash out the differences.

The House adjourned early for the weekend before naming its committee members, so any resolution to this legislative session's transportation saga will come Monday at the earliest.

Both the Legislature and the governor enter the final full week of the session with potential trump cards in hand.

Enough votes to veto

Lawmakers passed the first transportation bill by staggering margins in both the House and Senate, riding a wave of popular sentiment against private toll roads. In theory, they have enough votes to override Mr. Perry's veto.

But if that happens, the governor has threatened to call a special session to force lawmakers to produce a bill he will sign.

Key senators expressed optimism Friday that the lingering issues can be resolved quickly next week.

"I don't think this is a days-long process," Mr. Williams said. "This is a few hours to get this worked out."

Friday's veto had "no practical effect, because all of us, including the governor, are intent on reaching a solution to this," said Sen. John Carona, the Dallas Republican who chairs the Senate transportation committee.

"None of us want to be here in special session, and all of us want the ability to build roads," Mr. Carona said.

Most North Texas toll projects would be exempted from the two-year moratorium on private toll-road deals.

But critics of other Texas toll projects raised fears Friday that their hard-fought efforts to halt toll roads could evaporate in the conference committee's closed negotiations.

"Have we been sold out? Afraid so!" screamed a headline in a bulletin distributed by CorridorWatch, a grass-roots group that opposes the Trans-Texas Corridor initiative, which includes a toll road that would roughly parallel Interstate 35.

"We're not too sure we can save ourselves from the Trans-Texas Corridor," the bulletin said.

'Facility agreements'

CorridorWatch raised concerns that lawmakers may jettison an amendment that would prohibit the state from using semantic gymnastics to develop toll roads in separate projects called "facility agreements."

Such agreements are essentially subcontracts for larger projects, and critics fear that if they are allowed, the state could use them to get around the moratorium and move forward with the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Other sticking points could include a number of amendments involving El Paso County, as well as a provision that would prevent a company from financing a toll-road project if it also helped determine the project's original value.

The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, said lawmakers were still sorting through the amendments Friday.

"We're beginning to get some consensus of which ones we need to keep and which ones we need to keep out," Mr. Smith said.

As a last resort, the Legislature can wield the prospect of overriding Mr. Perry's veto to enact its original bill. No governor has had a veto overturned since 1979.

"I'm not spoiling for a veto override fight," Mr. Williams said.

"It's still a possibility. The votes are still there. But if we can get it worked out without doing that, that'll save a lot of needless bloodshed – some of which might be mine."

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


"It's almost a underhanded tactic to force the RMA into existence."

Bills reflect El Paso's battle over toll roads


By Brandi Grissom, Austin Bureau
El Paso Times
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN -- El Paso's internal battle over creating a local transportation authority spilled onto the Capitol again this week.

State legislators are working on a major transportation bill they hope to send Gov. Rick Perry by Monday, and the measure has become a weapon in the fight between critics and proponents of the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority.

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, a proponent of the local authority, passed a measure that he said would ensure the authority's ability to create international toll rail bridges. The bill would prohibit El Paso County from signing contracts to build such bridges.

"I know of no person in El Paso that wants to see El Paso County have the authority to run rails," Shapleigh said.

Shapleigh said his measure, which is included in a bill that gives all other border counties the ability to enter into rail contracts, would centralize mobility decisions in the new agency and prevent future conflicts.

El Paso County, which the FBI raided this week in connection with a public corruption investigation, has its "hands full" and has never had any plans to build rail bridges into Mexico, Shapleigh said.

State Reps. Joe Pickett and Chente Quintanilla added measures to the transportation bill the House approved Thursday that would undo Shapleigh's efforts and give rail authority to the county. Pickett also attached other measures that would specifically affect El Paso's mobility authority, including requiring voter approval for toll projects that cost more than $200 million.

El Paso County Judge Anthony Cobos, who has come to Austin during the legislative session to urge legislators to support measures that would abolish the mobility authority, said Shapleigh should have consulted him.

"It's almost a underhanded tactic to force the RMA [Regional Mobility Authority] into existence," he said.

Quintanilla, Pickett and Cobos accuse Shapleigh of trying to divert rail traffic to New Mexico to benefit developers there, including a wealthy El Pasoan, Bill Sanders.

"He doesn't represent El Paso, it's obvious," Pickett said.

Shapleigh hotly disputed the allegations, citing a 2005 letter he sent to U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, opposing a proposal to move rail to Santa Teresa without a connection in Texas.

In addition, Texas Ethics Commission records show Sanders and his employees gave Shapleigh's Republican opponent nearly $5,000 last year. They gave Shapleigh no money.

Shapleigh said he would attempt to strip out of the transportation bill nearly all the changes Quintanilla and Pickett made, including the vote on toll projects.

"I think we need some safeguards because there isn't any vote of the public," Pickett said.

Shapleigh said that measure would create a "$200 million impediment to getting highways built."

Pickett said he was prepared to fight to make sure the El Paso measures stay put.

There won't be much time to duke it out, though. The bill that contains the El Paso transportation measures also would implement a two-year moratorium on private toll road agreements and is on a fast track for Gov. Rick Perry's desk.

Perry on Friday vetoed a similar transportation proposal, and he has threatened to call a special session if he and lawmakers don't reach a deal, which is outlined in the bill that also contains the El Paso measures.

Brandi Grissom may be reached at; (512) 479-6606.

© 2007 El Paso Times:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"None of us want to be here in special session."

Perry vetoes bill with toll road curbs


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

AUSTIN — As expected, Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a transportation bill Friday, but the likely impact will be negligible as lawmakers continue to work on alternative legislation, including a moratorium on most private toll roads.

"House Bill No. 1892 jeopardizes billions of dollars of infrastructure investment and invites a potentially significant reduction in federal transportation funding," Perry said in his veto message. "Projects important to fast-growth communities would be placed on hold without alternative financing mechanisms to get them constructed. Even more egregiously, the bill serves to break up the state highway system by permitting local control over state assets."

The veto "really has no practical effect because all of us, including the governor, are intent in reaching a solution to this. None of us want to be here in special session," said Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas.

Talk of overriding the veto all but vanished this week when lawmakers crafted another transportation bill with the help of Perry's staff and state transportation officials.

"I do not believe that you'll see an effort to override the veto," Carona said. "I believe we'll see a good faith effort made on the part of both houses of the Legislature (to pass Senate Bill 792)."

Perry expressed gratitude that legislators are working with him and said he's looking forward to the new bill "without delay."

The Senate approved the legislation Monday and the House voted 143-2 for the measure Thursday, but added 20 amendments, which Senate leaders want to discuss with the House as part of a final bill.

"We need to understand what the House was trying to accomplish," said Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, author of SB 792. "This has been an issue that both chambers have been very passionate about."

Senate and House leaders expect to have a final transportation bill early next week.

Anti-toll road groups described themselves as lukewarm to the legislation.

"We will have achieved a private toll moratorium on (U.S.)281/(Loop)1604 and the Trans-Texas Corridor that no one thought possible only five months ago," said Terri Hall, of the San Antonio Toll Party. "We killed $106 billion total in private toll deals currently on the table that would have given a foreign company access to our wallets for 50-plus years."

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


Friday, May 18, 2007

"Lawmakers are trying to produce a bill Gov. Rick Perry can live with."

Legislature sends Perry another moratorium bill


by Christine DeLoma
Volume 11, Issue 38
The Lone Star Report
Copyright 2007

Under threat of gubernatorial veto, the Senate and the House this week went back to drawing board and passed another private toll road moratorium bill.

Lawmakers are trying to produce a bill Gov. Rick Perry can live with.

SB 792 by Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) is the product of a compromise between Williams, Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas), Perry, and TxDOT officials. It is intended to replace HB 1892 by Rep. Wayne Smith (R-Baytown), which Perry had threatened to veto.

HB 1892, Williams said, “has been the subject of some disagreement between the Legislature and the governor’s office about whether that bill really accomplishes what everyone thinks is best for the state…SB 792… hopefully avoids the necessity of a veto override fight.”

Perry told reporters last week he would be forced to veto HB 1892 unless certain “fixes” were made to it. He vowed to call lawmakers into special session if the issues were not resolved.

Perry’s main problems with the legislation are that it allows counties the use of state rights of way without compensating the state and that it gives local toll authorities the right of first refusal in building road projects.

In the compromise bill, there’s a little something for everyone.

First and foremost, the bill keeps the two-year moratorium on comprehensive development agreements for private toll road contracts – but it does add to list of exempted road projects.

The moratorium is an issue that, despite Perry’s public misgivings, many lawmakers deemed non-negotiable.

The compromise bill, however, gave TxDOT and the governor’s office a few concessions. While the bill makes it more difficult for TxDOT to extract large upfront fees from private vendors, it can negotiate with local tollway authorities to extract the maximum amount of revenue out of a toll project.

The two primary test cases for the market valuation process will be SH 161 in the Dallas area and the Grand Parkway in the Houston area.

First, local tollway authorities would have to work with TxDOT in setting the terms and conditions of a particular road project including development, construction, operation and the setting of toll rates. Both have to agree for the project to proceed (either one has a veto).

Local tollway authorities would also be required to work with TxDOT to determine the “value” of each road project by conducting a market valuation study.

The study, which can be conducted by an independent third party, determines how much the local tolling authority must either pay in an upfront concession fee to TxDOT or invest those dollars in building additional roads.

Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) expressed concern that the concept had never been given a public hearing. “For the first time you’re having a county toll authority or a regional mobility authority that is going to have to come up with a front end concession, kind of like a private entity…” Nichols said. “They’re going to have to commit to spend those funds… either to TxDOT or to other projects in that area.”

To Carona, however, the market valuation ensures competitive bidding for each road project. “It’s important,” Carona said, “that transportation projects be looked at regionally and that we offer a system that per project maximizes the revenue enabling us to build other projects…

“It’s not a process that any of us like. I prefer the days when toll rates are kept as low as possible, but because we don’t have sufficient motor fuels tax revenue, we have to move toward a market rate model…”

To help each region pay its share of the concession, the bill gives counties the ability to issue bonds.

A local tollway authority that disagreed with the market valuation could negotiate with TxDOT on a different number. If no agreement was reached, the project would die.

Another major concession is the creation of a two-year Houston area demonstration project in which the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is granted the power to develop and set the terms and conditions of the Grand Parkway project (SH 99), including the setting of toll rates for the local tollway authority.

“This is something that frankly, I’m not in love with,” Williams said. “I don’t want to sit here and pretend that I am and defend it, but this is something that the governor’s office feels very strongly about.

“They think it’s the right way to do regional mobility planning, and so what we agreed is that we’ve got a multi-county project, that being the Grand Parkway project, which eventually, I think, would go through about six counties… so what we’ve done is set up a process where we can try that out for a couple of years and see how that works.”

Other provisions include:
  • Rights-of-way. SB 792 establishes a statewide method of determining how local tollway authorities can use and acquire state rights-of-way. Under the bill, counties can purchase the right-of-way at actual or historical cost from TxDOT.
  • Exemptions. SB 792, like HB 1892, exempts from the moratorium certain urban area projects already in the planning stages. These include: State Highways 161 and 121, Trinity Parkway in Dallas, and Loop 9. SB 792 adds two more exemptions: the Grand Parkway in the Houston area and I-69 in South Texas.
  • Some managed lane projects are also exempt from the moratorium. A managed lane is a single tolled lane on an existing controlled access highway.
  • Sunset of CDAs. The CDA process will sunset Sept. 1, 2009 except for certain projects like managed lanes which sunset in 2011. At which time the Legislature can decide if it wishes to let TxDOT continue using CDAs to build private toll roads.
  • Oversight and legislative review. SB 792 sets up a legislative study committee to look at the public policy implications of selling a toll road project to a private vendor. The committee will hold quarterly public meetings and recommend their findings to the legislature by Dec. 1, 2008.
  • The bill also requires the attorney general, the Legislative Budget Board, and the state auditor to review certain provisions in a comprehensive development agreement before the contract is signed.
  • Public disclosure required. When a CDA can be entered into, TxDOT must make public the terms and conditions of the contract, including how toll rates will be set and the amount of the concession payment. A public hearing must be held after the contract is signed.
  • Local primacy. Local tollway authorities are given the first option to build a toll road project. But TxDOT can proceed with a project if a local tollway authority declines to bid.O

© 2007 The Lone Star Report:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE



Perry vetoes HB 1882, as expected.

Perry vetoes one road bill, another still in works

May 18, 2007

The Associated Press
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a toll-road moratorium bill Friday that he insisted would jeopardize Texas' entire transportation system, but a key senator said another plan more suitable to the governor will be ready soon.

"I am grateful that legislators are working with me in subsequent legislation to address these concerns I have expressed," Perry said in his veto message. He said he hopes to receive the updated legislation "without delay."

The veto was no surprise. Friday was the legal deadline for Perry's decision on what to do about the legislation he found objectionable.

The roads bill must be addressed before the Legislature adjourns May 28 or lawmakers will be called back to a special session, Perry has said.

The new transportation bill also contains a toll-road moratorium, with some exemptions. But it was crafted to satisfy other concerns of Perry's. That bill is in for some more tweaking now that the Senate has disagreed with House changes to the measure. It is moving to a House-Senate committee that will attempt to negotiate a compromise.

"I don't think this is going to be something that takes a long time. I think it's a couple of hours to get these issues resolved between the two chambers," said Republican Sen. Tommy Williams of The Woodlands.

Williams said a number of changes were made in the House on Thursday that need to be gone over carefully.

A formal agreement on the new bill cannot be reached until Monday, once the House is back in session and names its conference committee members. But Williams, the lead Senate negotiator, said informal talks could take place before then.

Though Perry spoke out weeks ago against a moratorium on private toll projects — and toll roads are a cornerstone of his Trans-Texas Corridor superhighway — he said that wasn't his main objection to the first bill.

Perry opposed parts of the first proposal he said would allow local communities to place liens on Texas rights of way and hinder road financing. He said the measure also put regional projects in jeopardy and cut some local governments out of funding.

"While I support greater local decision-making authority over transportation planning, I do not support turning over state assets to local entities," Perry said in his veto message to the Texas House of Representatives.

Among the toll-road moratorium exemptions in the new legislation is the Interstate 69 corridor in the Rio Grande Valley.

Both the initial bill and the new incarnation tighten controls on comprehensive development agreements, used in contracts for private-public road-building.

The first bill reduced their maximum duration from 70 years to 40 years. The later bill would allow the agreements to last up to 50 years.

Perry, a Republican, has made transportation a top issue during his more than six years as governor.

"As a state that grows by 1,200 people each and every day, we must consider every viable option that will allow Texas to build a strong transportation infrastructure to support present and future growth," he said in the statement issued Friday.

But many legislators of both political parties have said it's time to pause and take a look at the route Texas is traveling with the building of toll roads. The state is becoming a "test tube" for private equity road building, said Rep. Lois Kohlhorst, a Brenham Republican who has promoted the toll-road moratorium.

"We want to make sure we just stop and slow down," she said.

© 2007 The Associated Press:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"The citizens want to take a look at how we're building private entity toll roads and ... make sure it's the right way to go."

Toll-road ban includes exemptions


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN -- Maybe the second time's the charm.

After three hours of tweaking, the Texas House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a second bill calling for a two-year moratorium on most new privately built and operated toll roads after Gov. Rick Perry threatened to veto a similar measure sitting on his desk.

"The citizens want to take a look at how we're building private entity toll roads and ... make sure it's the right way to go," said Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, the bill's sponsor in the House.

What happened?

After considering a flurry of amendments, the bill passed 145-2. Reps. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, and Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, voted against it.

The bill had passed the Senate on Monday. The measure retains the moratorium on private toll roads but carves out more exemptions in parts of the state.

Several North Texas lawmakers strongly lobbied to make sure no amendments would jeopardize projects already under way in the region.

At one point, Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, told Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, that the wording in her amendment could be misinterpreted to include North Texas projects that were already in the works. Kolkhorst insisted those projects were exempt from her amendment, but Truitt wasn't buying that explanation.

"Unless you can stand there and tell me unequivocally that these changes don't affect projects in our area ... I'm going to ask you why you can't keep your nose out of our business," Truitt said.

Kolkhorst later revised the amendment and it was adopted.

Several lawmakers relayed serious concerns from constituents with Perry's proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, especially the specter of having major roads around the state privately owned for decades.

"This is a tip of the hat to the grassroots," Kolkhorst said. "The populists said, 'We don't like what you're doing.'"

The problem

Perry said he wouldn't sign the original version of the bill because it contained language that would hamper North Texas officials trying to go forward with much-needed projects such as the North Tarrant Express and improvements to Texas 121 between downtown Fort Worth and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

Vic Suhm, director of the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition, said the House version of Senate Bill 792 accomplishes everything the North Texas delegation had hoped for and will endanger no ongoing Tarrant County toll projects.

"It has a lot of amendments in it, but nothing deadly for us," Suhm said.

What's next?

Lawmakers are rushing to ensure that Perry receives the bill today, when he is expected to veto the original toll road bill. Lawmakers hope to send him this revised bill and formally recall the original bill.

Suhm predicted that the bill would pass the Senate today in time for Perry to avoid vetoing the first bill.

Staff writer Gordon Dickson contributed to this report.
Aman Batheja, 817-390-7695

"Things can happen very fast here at the end of the session."

Road bill gets the green light in House

Legislature: Lawmakers reach compromise in bid to avoid Perry veto

May 18, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – A compromise transportation bill that lawmakers hope will avert a showdown with the governor took on more baggage in the House on Thursday, but members overwhelmingly approved it.

Under pressure to act quickly, House members instead tweaked and fiddled with the bill that overhauls the state's toll road policies and places a limited two-year freeze on private toll deals.

Gov. Rick Perry, who has touted private toll roads as a solution to the state's traffic congestion, has hinted he would veto an earlier, more stringent version of the transportation bill. He also has threatened to call a special session if lawmakers don't produce a bill he can live with.

Earlier this week, after several rounds of negotiations with the governor's office and lawmakers from both chambers, senators unanimously passed a compromise bill.

The bill creates a new process for developing toll roads by which regional transportation authorities would work with the state to determine a market value for a proposed toll road and then give local agencies the first shot at the project.

It also puts a 50-year limit on private toll contracts, up from a 40-year cap in the previous bill, and allows future toll revenues to be factored into a formula if the state wants to buy back road projects.

House members ultimately approved the compromise bill Thursday in two overwhelming votes, the last by a 143-2 count. But members also added 20 amendments ranging from local exemptions to ethics policies for regional transportation officials.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, conceded that the compromise bill is full of "carve-outs." But she said she's still confident that the bill will slow down the Texas Department of Transportation's aggressive push to privatize toll roads, particularly the Trans-Texas Corridor.

"They were like a rocket, and I think they're crawling a little more like a turtle now," she said.

Thursday's changes now must pass muster with the Senate. If senators quickly approve the House provisions, they could recall the first transportation bill from the governor's desk before tonight's veto deadline.

"Things can happen very fast here at the end of the session," the bill's sponsor, Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said Thursday after the House approved the bill. "I don't know yet how tough it's going to be. It sounds like it might be a challenge."

But if senators take their time to mull over the changes, the governor is likely to veto the earlier bill, which automatically becomes law if he does not act by tonight.

In both bills, North Texas is largely exempted from the two-year ban on private toll road contracts. Area lawmakers repeatedly have argued that the fast-growing region cannot afford any delay in relieving traffic congestion.

Most North Texas toll projects already in the works would not be subject to the market-value process created in the new bill. But State Highway 161 in Grand Prairie would be a "test case" to try out the new system.

Several North Texas legislators said determining a market value for Highway 161 could delay the road, which will bring traffic to and from the new Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington. But House members rejected an amendment to change the provision.

"That road looks like war-torn Bosnia from one end of Grand Prairie to the other," said Rep. Kirk England, R-Grand Prairie.

Staff writer Emily Ramshaw contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co. Co

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


Rep. Kolkhorst: "This is a tip of the hat to the grassroots."

Substitute transportation bill glides on in Legislature

Compromise would nix most privately built tollway plans, but not the one in the Houston area


Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — State lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Thursday for a transportation bill that includes a moratorium on most new private toll roads as part of a compromise supporters hope will satisfy Gov. Rick Perry.

The House voted 143-2 for the legislation designed to replace another transportation bill sitting on the governor's desk, which he plans to reject with a veto today, the deadline for doing so.

Demanding a role

Lawmakers have gotten the message after being besieged by constituents angry over private toll roads and proposals to swallow large swaths of private land for the Trans-Texas Corridor.

"The legislators listened to those citizens at home. They were unsure, uncertain, uncomfortable with the way TxDOT was doing the highway projects," Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, said of the Texas Department of Transportation. "Today, the Legislature is saying, 'State agency, we're going to have a part in Texas' future transportation.' "

Smith maneuvered Senate Bill 792 through the House without major changes. The bill must go back to the Senate for agreement before it moves to Perry's desk.

A spokesman for Perry did not return a phone call Thursday night.

The moratorium does not include major highway projects planned for the Dallas-Fort Worth area and also for Harris County, including the Grand Parkway, and the Interstate 69 project in South Texas.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, was a principal player in the push for the moratorium

"We're not comfortable with big, grandiose plans of transportation. We're not comfortable with private equity projects. We're not comfortable with the Trans-Texas Corridor right now," she said. "We want to make sure that we just stop and slow down."

A number of anti-toll road groups formed across the state helped fan the opposition.

"This is a tip of the hat to the grassroots," Kolkhorst said.

Perry's staff and highway department officials helped shape the compromise bill designed to satisfy his objections with the transportation bill on his desk. He said that bill transfers too much road-building authority to local communities.

The new legislation would create a "market valuation" approach for planning and building roads. That concept would determine a benchmark for the toll project's worth and whether it could support free roads in the region.

Most of the complaints about private toll roads and the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor project came after state lawmakers approved a complicated transportation bill late in a legislative session four years ago when many members did not fully comprehend their action.

Rep. Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, voted against the new bill, he said, "because it was brought so quickly to us. We didn't have enough time to digest this whole new way of doing business."

Grand Parkway exempted

Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, opposed the bill after colleagues rejected her amendment to make the Houston-area Grand Parkway part of the moratorium.

"If it comes to me getting in front of the bulldozers, I'm going to do it," she said, adding that she was serious.

Her constituents need more time to contemplate the impact of the parkway, she said while pleading for help in "a David-and-Goliath battle."

"It's important for us to remember the people that it affects. This affects real people in real homes, in real neighborhoods," Riddle said.

But exempting the Grand Parkway from the moratorium was part of an agreement with TxDOT and the governor's office, Smith said.

Riddle lost her case, 118-22.

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bill would narrow options for TTC-69

Highway bill says interstate to Valley must be built on existing road

Senate Bill 792 passed the House 143-2; All Rio Grande Valley representatives voted for the bill

May 17, 2007

Elizabeth Hernandez
The Monitor
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — If an interstate runs to the Rio Grande Valley it would have to do so along U.S. Highway 281 or U.S. Highway 77 rather than cut through untouched ranchland, according to a bill that passed the Texas House on Thursday.

Senate Bill 792 puts a two-year moratorium on most privately funded toll-road projects not already under way. It reflects a compromise made in recent days with Gov. Rick Perry, who threatened to veto another moratorium bill and send lawmakers back to work in a special legislative session this summer.

All eight Rio Grande Valley representatives voted for the bill.

The area south of the San Antonio River is exempt from the moratorium, giving the Texas Department of Transportation authority to move forward with studies to determine whether and where to build Interstate 69 to the Valley as part of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

All or parts of the proposed I-69 Trans-Texas Corridor to the Valley could become a toll road someday, but no such plans are in place now. TxDOT is still years away from choosing a route for the road, said Gaby Garcia, spokeswoman for TxDOT, in an e-mail response to questions.

TxDOT is studying possible routes for the highway, including upgrading U.S. Highway 77, upgrading U.S. Highway 281 or building a new road west of U.S. Highway 281.

The Corpus Christi district of TxDOT is also studying a possible trucking route connecting the Valley, Corpus Christi and Laredo, Garcia said.

They are trying to narrow the possible study areas by late summer. After a route is chosen, TxDOT officials will have another round of public hearings, she said.

“We are several years away from that decision,” she said of deciding on a route.

But if an amendment by state Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, sticks, TxDOT will have fewer options for an I-69 Trans-Texas Corridor route.

Ranchers in Hidalgo County and others along U.S. Highway 281 have complained that a new highway would unnecessarily impact ranchers and wildlife and would cost more than expanding an existing highway.

“We’re very proud of our large and historic ranches and we want to keep those intact,” Peña said.

Plans to build the Trans-Texas Corridor along Interstate 35 have drawn sharp criticism in Central Texas. Lawmakers have tried to pass the moratorium in response to anger over TxDOT’s transportation plan that encourages the state to enlist private companies to operate toll roads.

If Peña's amendment is to become law, the Senate must agree to the changes made in the House before the bill is sent to Perry for approval.

The legislative session ends May 28.

Elizabeth Hernandez covers the state capital for Valley Freedom Newspapers. She is based in Austin and can be reached at (512) 323-0622.

© 2007 The Monitor:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Representatives report 'less than zero' support for the Trans-Texas Corridor


SB792 is Now Our New and Improved TTC CDA Moratorium Bill.

Today's House vote 145 to 2. The next stop is the Senate.

Copyright 2007

Representative Lois Kolkhorst came through with a couple great amendments that will ensure the moratorium really stops the Trans Texas Corridor for two years.

SB792 is a virtual bullet-bill, but not bullet-proof.

The vote to pass SB792 as amended was an incredible 145 to 2. Then, only minutes later the House did something rarely seen, they suspended the Constitutional Rules and moved to take a third and final vote immediately without waiting until Friday.

Now the bill will be shot over to the Senate where they had hoped to get it on the Governor's desk by Friday morning. The big question is will they accept it as amended by the House, or complicate the process by going to a conference committee.

Almost three hours of TTC bashing.

The vast majority of discussion and debate that took place on the House floor today was contempt for the Trans Texas Corridor. Most other toll and highway projects where left alone, except SH281 and Loop 1604 in San Antonio. That wasn't the case with the Trans Texas Corridor.

Representative after Representative told the assembled body how much their constituents dislike the TTC. Representative Harvey Hilderbran said that in his district there was, "zero support for the TTC." That caused someone on the floor to yell out, "less than zero."

It was very clear that the members of the House have been hearing us and our concerns about the Trans Texas Corridor. It was especially gratifying to hear Representatives say that the TTC comes nowhere near their district and yet their

If you can stand to make another phone call . . .

This would be a good time for those with a concern about the Trans Texas Corridor to share that thought with their Senator, again. Leave a message on their machine tonight or call before the Senate session starts at 10am Friday morning.

Given the roller coaster ride so far this session, it's hard to get too excited.

We are another step closer to a moratorium, but it seems that the finish line is always a day away. What will the Governor do when the bill lands on his desk? Will he veto HB1892? Will he sign SB792 upon arrival, or will he make us wait another week to find out its fate?

None of the uncertainty however, should lessen the sweet taste of victory achieved today. Together we have kept a moratorium bill alive and managed to strengthened it in the process.

Thank you everyone. Again.

Members of CorridorWatch and our numerous friends and allies in the fight have won another tremendous victory for the state of Texas and its citizens.

CorridorWatch especially applauds the Representatives who listened to our concerns and led the charge on the House floor. Without their efforts we would have been lost.

© 2007 CorridorWatch:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE