Saturday, July 21, 2007

Is Cintra-Zachry a nonprofit consortium? 'SH 130 Concession Co.' claims Cintra-Zachry's lease agreement "will expire when it recoups its investment."

Smoothing out SH 130 bumps

July 21, 2007

By Anita Miller
San Marcos Daily Record
Copyright 2007

A little more than a month after getting the final environmental OK, a company hired to finesse right-of-way acquisition for SH 130 has notified the owners of approximately 300 parcels of land in Caldwell and Guadalupe counties that the roadway will impact at least part of their property.

Two representatives of the SH 130 Concession Company LLC, in a meeting on Friday, also appeared to dispute a simmering myth that the roadway, which will cross Hwy. 80 near Staples, is being designed as part of the still-looming Trans-Texas Corridor.

“We are developing this as a stand-alone project,” said Jessica Schenk of SH 130 Concession. “If they wanted to make this the Trans-Texas Corridor they would have to redo the process” of preliminary surveys and environmental assessments that preceded the beginning of right-of-way acquisition.

For one thing, SH 130’s 560-foot width would have to be expanded to the 1,200 swath the TTC is expected to take through mainly productive farmlands. For another, the SH 130 design does not include rail or utility components, something Gov. Rick Perry has said would be integral to the TTC.

SH 130 is a 91-mile tollroad that would have non-tolled access roads along parts of its path. It is divided into six portions. The northern sections are already open, and Segments 5 and 6, which impact the two counties, are the last to be built.

Actual construction is set to begin in 2009, with the roadway being open for traffic in 2012. Tolls for the two lower sections have not yet been determined; however, the plans specify that there will be no toll plazas on the two sections, meaning motorists will have to have the electronic TX Tag to be able to use the toll lanes.

According to Dennis Sedlachek of the SH 130 Concession, the process of gaining right of entry and entering into eminent domain negotiations with affected property owners could take some time. “Some property owners had sold the land or had moved or had a tenant living there, or changed their mailing address or phone number.”

And some formerly large tracts have been subdivided since preliminary assessments were done. “For example, what was one big tract a year ago is now maybe eight.” Since preliminary assessments began, Sedlachek said that “developers and others” have invested in land along the route for “economic opportunities in the future.”

While some property owners are opposing their inclusion in the route and have vowed a legal fight, others “say ‘Great! I’ve been waiting for this to happen,’” Sedlachek said.

Along with the misconception that most or all landowners are against the project, Sedlachek said many don’t understand that the project will not be owned by a foreign company. Though the Spanish company Cintra, in conjunction with San Antonio-based Zachary Construction will build and maintain the roadway, it’s lease agreement will expire when it recoups its investment.

The state of Texas will hold the title, he said.

Sedlachek said that the appraisers the company used are highly trained and familiar with the area. Those with additional questions can also visit; call the toll-free hotline at (866) 345-9187; or visit O.R. Colan Associates at its office at 1001 West San Antonio Street, Lockhart, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

The role of SH 130 Concession is “to bring the product to market faster than traditional tax-funded transportation projects,” Sedlachek said.

© 2007 San Marcos Daily Record:

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Friday, July 20, 2007

"Yet another unbridled tax and another tool to intrude on privacy by tracking the movements of vehicles."

A desire to keep the rates low could torpedo toll road goals


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

Motorists should pay higher fees on Texas toll roads, including those planned for San Antonio, but even that won't be enough to fix growing traffic problems, a new report says.

The trouble is local toll agencies don't want to set rates any higher than needed to cover financing of their own roads, says the draft audit by Dye Management Group Inc., which was presented this week to the Texas Transportation Commission.

So not enough profit is being raised to fund other projects, the executive summary says. Drivers pay about 10 to 15 cents a mile on tollways in Dallas, Houston and Austin.

"Tolls charged by local authorities are lower than studies indicate that their customers would be willing to pay," it states. "As a result, congestion goals will not be met."

The audit, commissioned by the Texas Department of Transportation, which the Transportation Commission oversees, mirrors much of what officials have been saying for years.

"It just confirms the emergency situation that we're in," said Hope Andrade, a commissioner from San Antonio. "We can no longer support toll rates that are not market value."

Keeping rates "reasonable" is one reason why the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority last month took over planned toll lanes on 47 miles of U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 on the North Side.

But forcing such local agencies to maximize profits, or at least get healthy returns, is why a provision was slipped into a law last spring that requires state and local officials to agree on toll rates for new projects.

Reasonable rates and market rates are not necessarily at odds, since some surplus is good if used on other needed projects, said Bill Thornton, chairman of the Mobility Authority.

But that still leaves room for debate on how high toll fees should be.

"I do not see conflict in the debate," he said. "I see it as a healthy discussion."

Those differing views could gel, or not, later this summer when a market valuation is finished for the U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 toll system.

Toll critics see the valuation as a way for government to use its monopoly on roads to squeeze money out of motorists trapped in congestion.

"Anybody can make money off of that," said Terri Hall of San Antonio Toll Party. "It's really for unlimited runaway taxation of the likes we've never seen before."

Nevertheless, charging at or near market rates for tolls won't be enough, the report says.

For one thing, toll roads are mainly solutions for big cities, since that's where the congestion is. And erosion of gas taxes will escalate because of rising construction inflation and more cars getting better mileage or using alternate fuels.

A long-term answer is to switch from a tax on gas to a tax on how much people drive, called a vehicle miles traveled charge or VMT charge. Oregon finished testing such a system in March and a report is due this summer.

"Texas needs to lay the groundwork to move to a VMT charge over the next 20 years," the report says.

Andrade agreed that a VMT charge should be looked at.

"We're at a point when we must explore everything," she said. "That would be difficult but not impossible."

Hall said that would hand government yet another unbridled tax as well as another tool to intrude on privacy by tracking the movements of vehicles.

"We knew that was coming all along," she said.

Texas still needs to build more toll roads and lease what they can to private operators, the report says. The Dye Management report is one of five audits that will be a starting point for a sunset review of TxDOT, which the Legislature is scheduled to wrap up in its 2009 session.


© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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U.S. Government grants Australian firm money to build connector to their tollway

Transurban granted US loan for bus road

July 20, 2007

The Age (Australia)
Copyright 2007

Tollway operator Transurban Group is continuing to develop its operations in North America, after receiving a $US150 million ($A170.77 million) loan from the United States government.

Transurban said part of the loan would be used to construct a connecting road from the Richmond International Airport in the US state of Virginia to Transurban's Pocahontas Parkway toll road, which was also in Virginia.

The loan will also be used to refinance a portion of Transurban's debt on the Pocahontas Parkway and upgrade the electronic tolling system.

Transurban had agreed to build the Richmond Airport Connector, subject to receiving the loan, under a Pocahontas Parkway concession agreement signed last year with the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Transurban will own and operate the two-lane, 1.6-mile (2.6 kilometre) Richmond Airport Connector.

Construction is expected to begin in the first half of 2008 and the road is due to open in early 2010.

"The overall uplift (in revenue) from the Airport Connector is $US500,000 per annum," a Transurban spokesman said.

He said the Pocahontas Parkway generated $US12.8 million in revenue for the year to June 30, 2007.

"When we did the financial models for the Pocahontas acquisition, we didn't allow anything for growth from the Connector," the spokesman said.

"With all the development around that area, we also expect some future upside that those (revenue) numbers don't reflect."

Of the $US150 million lent from the Federal Highways Administration, $US45.2 million will go towards the capital cost of the Richmond Airport Connector, $US95.2 will go towards refinancing the senior debt facility, and $US7 million for upgrading the electronic tolling system.

Transurban signed a 99-year concession on the Pocahontas Parkway for $US611 million ($A779 million) last year.

The Pocahontas Parkway, which was opened in 2002, is a 14-kilometre four-lane toll road south-east of the city of Richmond, linking the counties of Henrico and Chesterfield.

Transurban is looking to expand in North America, although the vast majority of its revenue from tolls and fees are still generated by toll roads in Australia.

The company is jointly investigating the feasibility of developing High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes along a 22.4-kilometre stretch of the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia.

HOT lanes are lanes set aside for vehicles with high occupancy, usually three passengers.

Cars with only one or two occupants can also use these lanes by paying a toll.

Transurban also has an interim agreement with the Virginia Department of Transportation to develop a 94-kilometre bus rapid transit and HOT-lane system along the I-95 road in Northern Virginia.

Transurban is interested in other road projects in Texas and Georgia in the US, and British Columbia in Canada.

The total estimated cost of all the potential projects in which Transurban is so far interested in the US and Canada is $11 billion.

Transurban securities were seven cents higher at $7.68 on Friday.

© 2007 AAP:

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Perry: "They may never say it, but the Legislature admitted we were on the right track."

Perry reiterates toll road support

Governor tells builders the need for road funds will overcome critics


Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry told road builders at the Texas Transportation Forum here Thursday that he stands firm in his support for toll roads and public-private partnerships despite some setbacks in the past legislative session.

"When you have big dreams," he said, people tell you, "You can't get there from here. But I assure you we can get there from here, and we're going to get there together."

Perry said traditional sources of road funding — "a trickle of federal funds and a gas tax that few legislators would even think of raising" — aren't nearly enough to meet the state's needs.

"There isn't even enough money to maintain our current system," he said.

And the fuel tax "has problems on its face," he said. Unlike toll roads, which typically have a free alternative, fuel taxes are paid by all drivers, and hit rural residents hardest.

"The boys out in Lubbock, Odessa and Marfa really don't see the benefit in it for them," he said.

"If we don't build roads with innovative financing and tolls, roads are not going to be built in our state," he said.

Driving the private sector

Perry said even the prospect of the state contracting with the private sector to build and operate toll roads is paying off.

"Projects that local toll road authorities would not have bid on a few years ago are now attracting very strong interest because private companies are now competing to build those same projects," he said.

This was an apparent reference to the North Texas Tollway Authority's offer to pay the state $3.3 billion to build and operate for profit in a 50-year lease, a segment of Texas 121 in the Dallas area. The offer topped a previous $2.8 billion bid from the Spanish firm Cintra.

"They may never say it," Perry said of lawmakers opposed to such long-term public-private toll partnerships, "but the Legislature admitted we were on the right track.

"While they were calling for a moratorium on toll roads, on one hand, they were insisting on toll road projects in their own districts because their constituents wanted to see things moving. They wanted to see those roads built."

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Goldman Sachs and ICA are high bidders on toll roads in Mexico

ICA, Goldman Sachs Bid $4.1 Billion for Mexican Road


By Valerie Rota and Adriana Arai
Copuyright 2007

Empresas ICA SAB, Mexico's largest construction company, offered 44.1 billion pesos ($4.1 billion) in a joint bid with a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. fund for the right to run four toll roads in Mexico. ICA shares had their biggest gain in more than a year.

The bid for the 30-year contracts to run 548 kilometers (340 miles) of roads was the highest of six offers, Mexico City-based ICA said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The Mexican government will announce the winning bid Aug. 6, ICA said.

ICA shares surged on anticipation the company will be declared the winner, outbidding rivals including billionaire Carlos Slim's Impulsora del Desarrollo y el Empleo en America Latina SA and Brisa-Auto Estradas de Portugal SA, Portugal's biggest highway operator.

"They won,'' said Carlos Gonzalez, an equity analyst with IXE Grupo Financiero SA in an interview from Mexico City.

Gonzalez, who has a "buy'' rating on ICA's shares, said the company is set to benefit from President Felipe Calderon's plan to boost spending on infrastructure during his administration.

Communications and Transportation Minister Luis Tellez yesterday said the government's goal is to raise 287 billion pesos to build and upgrade highways by 2012, with funds coming from the government and private companies.

Calderon's infrastructure plan is very aggressive,'' Gonzalez said. "This is excellent news for every construction company.''

Shares of Mexico City-based ICA gained 4.83 pesos, or 7.5 percent, to 69.46 pesos in Mexico City, the biggest gain since May 31, 2006.

ICA said the offer was a joint bid with Goldman Sachs Infrastructure Partners I. Goldman Sachs has a 12 percent stake in the $6.5 billion infrastructure fund, said spokesman Michael DuVally, who confirmed that the joint bid was the highest.

To contact the reporters on this story: Valerie Rota in Mexico City at ; Adriana Arai in Mexico City at

© 2007 Bloomberg:

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Maquarie, Goldman, Albertis and Brisa seek toll road concessions in Mexico

Macquarie Infrastructure bids for Mexico toll roads

Jul 19, 2007

Reporting by Victoria Thieberger, editing by Jonathan Standing
Copyright 2007

SYDNEY--Australia's Macquarie Infrastructure Group (MIG.AX: Quote, Profile, Research) said on Thursday it had teamed up with Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim for a joint bid to lease a package of four toll roads in Mexico.

The roads are to be leased from Fideicomiso de Apoyo al Rescate de Autopistas Concesionadas, a trust fund owned by the Mexican government.

Slim, the world's third richest man, told Reuters in March his infrastructure firm IDEAL, Impulsora del Desarollo de America Latina, was interested in bidding in tenders for the highway concessions.

Macquarie Infrastructure said the bid is structured as a 60:40 partnership between IDEAL and MIG, and a preferred bidder is expected to be announced in early August. Mexico's government has said it expects to receive close to $25 billion from selling highway concessions. It will hand out 30-year concessions to build and operate close to 1,500 km (900 miles) of highways.

Four concessions will be auctioned this year.

The Australian Financial Review has reported the concessions have also attracted interest from Goldman Sachs, Spanish infrastructure company Abertis (ABE.BC: Quote, Profile, Research), and Portuguese company Brisa (BRI.LS: Quote, Profile, Research).

© 2007 Reuters:

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"It's a scam." Fines force 183A drivers to get 'converted' to TxTags.

Gas Tax Doesn't Meet Road Expenses, TxDOT Says

July 19, 2007

KXAN TV (Austin)
Copyright 2007

The Texas Department of Transportation released an audit Thursday saying the 20 cent per gallon gas tax is not enough to cover the costs of new roads because of rising costs of construction and cars with better gas mileage.

TxDOT said the toll roads are keeping drivers out of gridlock traffic, which includes MoPac and State Highways 45 and 130.

The department said toll transactions have surpassed 2002 traffic projections by 63 percent, but not all toll road drivers are satisfied.

The portion of toll road Highway 183A located off Ranch Road 620 gets the most complaints from drivers, because once they pass the last exit by Lakeline Mall, there are no cash lanes available on the toll.

Drivers must have either a TxTag or they will receive a citation, and according to the latest numbers, more than 30 percent of the drivers that pass through are issued citations.

Motorist Jeff Draper drives home through that portion of 183A every day, and to his suprise, the route he drives is costing him.

"I go through it every day," said Draper. "I've never seen signs or anything like that, I never thought anything of it. Apparently, I got six weeks of these citations trickling down from corporate to me."

Draper has been taking the route up 183A and exiting at Lakeline Boulevard, and said the last warning sign by RR 620 is not enough.

"It's a scam, because they are forcing residents to take the Lakeline exit and go through all the traffic in the mall, wind around little side streets to get home," said Draper.

"The last free exit is basically after you get across RR 620," said Steve Pustelnyk, director of communications at the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.

That is where toll road 183A begins, according to the CTRMA.

Drivers without TxTags are still missing the last free exit despite warning signs placed one mile out, a half-mile out and the actual exit.

"At this location here, a portion of people don't have a tag, can't pay cash," said Pustelnyk. "Part of what we're working on right now is trying to bring down the violation rate, by getting them converted to TxTags."

Motorists who have a TxTag are charged 45 cents for each transaction, and those who pass through without a tag get a $5.50 violation each time.

The CTRMA said it is aware of the problem and monitoring the area with plans to make sign improvements.

The audit cost TxDOT $3.5 million.

© 2007 WorldNow and KXAN:

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'Independent ' audit of TxDOT by P3 boosters Deloitte and Dye says more private toll roads are needed.

Audit urges more tolls for Texas drivers


Copyright 2007

An audit for the Texas Department of Transportation finds that the state's best chance for keeping up with demand for new and improved roads is to build more toll roads with higher fees.

Dye Management Group and Deloitte Consulting performed the audit for the state. Among its other recommendations is that the state replace the existing gasoline tax with a fee based on miles traveled per vehicle.

The 20-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax has traditionally paid for roads. But the audit says it's no longer adequate to the task, partly because of high construction costs and cars with better gas mileage.

The audit cost more than three-and-a-half (M) million dollars. It was presented to the Texas Transportation Commission yesterday as part of the agency's sunset review. That's a comprehensive assessment that state agencies go through every 12 years.

Commissioner Ted Houghton of El Paso supported idea of higher toll rates. He says tolls that only cover construction and operating costs should be increased to produce funds for building other roads, he said.

© 2007 Emmis Austin Radio Broadcasting Company

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Audit urges more tolls for Texas drivers

July 19, 2007
Associated Press
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — The state's best chance for keeping up with demand for new and improved roads is to build more toll roads with higher fees, according to an external audit of the Texas Department of Transportation.

Among other recommendations, the audit by Dye Management Group and Deloitte Consulting suggests the state replace the existing gasoline tax with a fee based on miles traveled per vehicle.

The 20-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax, which has traditionally paid for roads, is no longer adequate, partly because of high construction costs and cars with better gas mileage, according to the audit.

"Right now, toll rates are set at the lowest possible level, just enough to capture the costs of the roads themselves," consultant Peter Mills said. "We believe they should be priced to reflect the value — including the time saved — they bring to the drivers who use them."

The audit, which has cost more than $3.5 million, was presented to the Texas Transportation Commission on Wednesday. It's part of the agency's sunset review — a comprehensive assessment that state agencies go through every 12 years.

The audits and recommendations will be completed by the end of July and will be used as a starting point for a Sunset Advisory Commission study of new laws for the transportation department. The Legislature will consider the resulting proposals when it reconvenes in 2009.

Commissioner Ted Houghton of El Paso supported idea of higher toll rates. Tolls that only cover construction and operating costs should be increased to produce funds for building other roads, he said.

© 2007 The Associated Press:

Texas' tolls too low, new audit says

Independent report buttresses Department of Transportation's claims about funding shortfall and the need for private tollways.

July 19, 2007

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

An independent audit released in draft form Wednesday buttressed the view of Gov. Rick Perry and his transportation lieutenant, Ric Williamson, that toll roads, including those built and operated by private companies, must be a key piece of addressing the state's highway needs.

Moreover, the audit by Dye Management Group Inc., said that, in general, toll rates on Texas turnpikes are too low, set simply to cover costs rather than generate surplus revenue, and should be raised.

"Toll facilities in Texas are generally underpriced," according to the executive summary of the Dye group's audit on transportation funding. "Local toll authorities face incentives to charge tolls that are as low as possible. . . . The tolls charged by local authorities are lower than studies indicate that their customers would be willing to pay."

The Dye audit is one of five commissioned by the Texas Department of Transportation as part of the "sunset review" of the agency scheduled over the next two years. State law requires comprehensive studies of each agency every dozen years and mandates such audits.

Response to the agency's solicitation for auditors was light. Dye, based in Bellevue, Wash., and founded in 1990, was the only company to bid on the transportation funding audit.

The agency and its leaders, particularly Williamson, the Texas Transportation Commission chairman, are coming off a rough few months during which lawmakers questioned the aggressive turn toward the private sector for tollways.

The agency, based on its 2004 estimates, had said that the state would be $86 billion short of what it needs for transportation projects between now and 2030 and that private capital is critical to closing that gap.

A private report released last fall indicated that much of the shortfall could be closed with an increase in the gasoline tax, but the Legislature did not seriously consider raising the 20-cents-a-gallon levy.

Lawmakers, particularly those from Dallas and Houston, made it clear that they — and their constituents — would prefer that government, not the private sector, run whatever tollways are deemed necessary.

Dye's report, which does not take into account legislation passed in the spring that places minor limits on private toll roads, estimated that gasoline taxes over the next generation will raise $15 billion less than the agency's 2004 estimate showed. Even with $30 billion in tollway revenue, $5 billion of that from private tollway leases, the audit put total revenue through 2030 at $117 billion.

That is $71 billion less than what the agency estimates is needed.

Williamson and his commission colleagues clearly relished what the audit had to say.

"I feel real bad about people who spoke out of ignorance over the last six months," Williamson said.

State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate transportation committee and a frequent critic of Transportation Department policies, had not read the audit and had no comment for now, a spokesman said.; 445-3698

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman

TxDOT could bump tolls to improve roads

N. Texas could feel effect if state heeds audit's call for more, higher fees

July 18, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – Texas needs more toll roads, and drivers should pay more to use them, an external audit of the Texas Department of Transportation suggested Wednesday.

Sharply increased highway construction costs and cars that use less gas are two factors among several that mean the traditional means of paying for roads – the 20-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax – is no longer sufficient, the auditors said.

Therefore, more toll roads with higher fees have become the state's best hope for keeping up with demand for new or improved roads, said consultant Peter Mills of Washington state-based Dye Management Group Inc.

"Right now, toll rates are set at the lowest possible level, just enough to capture the costs of the roads themselves," Mr. Mills said. "We believe they should be priced to reflect the value – including the time saved – they bring to the drivers who use them."

New ways for the highways
  • Replace the current 20-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax with a fee based on miles traveled per vehicle.
  • Eliminate user fees charged by county tax assessors to drivers who use the Internet to renew vehicle registration.
  • Explore ways to reduce the number of identifying tags drivers must place on their vehicles, such as the proof of registration, inspection or toll tags now displayed on windshields.
  • Consolidate TxDOT call centers to create a single number for residents to call for all inquiries about travel and tourism, driver's licensing, vehicle registration and related concerns.
  • Recruit department staff who have advanced skills in developing partnerships with private companies to increase the number of projects that feature private investment.
  • Increase the frequency with which TxDOT evaluates the quality and efficiency of its contractors.
Those recommendations and others were revealed Wednesday during a special meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission.

The comprehensive audits are required by law as a prelude to the top-to-bottom assessment of the agency, known as a sunset review. Every agency undergoes such a review every 12 years. TxDOT will be under scrutiny between now and the next regular session of the Texas Legislature in 2009.

Motorists probably will pay much more to drive in North Texas if the consultants' more aggressive pricing philosophy is adopted.

Mr. Mills told commissioners that the North Texas Tollway Authority, for instance, typically has set rates at about 10 cents a mile. The toll roads actually are worth about 16 cents a mile to motorists who use them, he said, adding that therefore the tolls should be set at that level.

The 16-cents-a-mile scenario would mean that the toll on the Bush Turnpike between U.S. Highway 75 and Interstate 35E would jump from the current $1.50 to $2.40, NTTA spokesman Sam Lopez said.

Commissioner Ted Houghton of El Paso expressed support for the higher rates, saying that tolls that cover only construction and operating costs should be increased to produce profits that could help finance other badly needed roads.

"They're basically being subsidized," especially since TxDOT often provides some funds to help bring down the cost of building the roads, Mr. Houghton said during the meeting.

Higher rates already are on the way with some new toll roads. For example, tolls on State Highway 121 in Collin and Denton counties are expected to be set at 14 cents a mile.

Mr. Mills also suggested commissioners and lawmakers explore possible compromises over whether toll roads should be built and operated by public or private entities.

Toll projects are cheaper, according to the audit, when equity is used to reduce the amount of debt used to finance the roads. But that equity can come from public sources just as easily as from private investors, he said.

Mr. Mills urged the commission to work with lawmakers to create a public corporation that could compete to invest public dollars as equity in toll projects. The public company could be funded by TxDOT itself or by other sources, such as the Texas teachers' retirement fund, he said.

Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said he and others have been lobbying for support to do just that, but have so far found few takers in the Legislature.


The TxDOT audit recommendations are very preliminary. Here's the process:
  • The audits and recommendations will be finalized by the end of July.
  • A Sunset Advisory Commission made up of state representatives, state senators and private citizens will use the audits as a starting point for recommending new laws for TxDOT.
  • The sunset commission will hold public hearings and ultimately develop a legislative bill reauthorizing TxDOT as a state agency.
  • The Legislature reconvenes in January 2009 and will consider passage of the reauthorization bill or other new laws pertaining to TxDOT.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Proposed 'I-14 Corridor' would link El Paso to the Atlantic

Hutchison, Cornyn introduce federal corridor

Strategic Highway Coalition


The Jasper Newsboy
Copyright 2007

Jasper County Commissioners Court will consider a resolution tomorrow supporting the U.S. Highway 96 Coalition to complete a four lane highway project from Beaumont to Tenaha, according to County Judge Mark Allen.

The current hurricane evacuation route planned by TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) calls for a fourlane divided highway to Jasper just north of Recreational Road 255.

TxDOT reports that some portions of this project south of Jasper are almost 90 percent complete. The widening, left turn lanes, bridges and upgrading should be complete in 2008.

Allen says, "The push will begin to start building northward to improve evacuation times and spur additional economic growth within the East Texas region."

The coalition's goal is to convince TxDOT to extend the four-lane to Tenaha to link with U.S. Highway 59.

Allen said such a move would benefit Sabine and San Augustine counties as well, and be a boon to travelers and future development in the area.

The second annual Texas Transportation Forum will meet in Austin July 18-20 to discuss other improvements to Texas' roads.

The Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition will present recommendation for an east/west route from El Paso to Leesville, La. The Texas Transportation Commissions has already approved a $2 million feasibility study that includes a 600-foot ROW (right of way) for both an interstate grade highway and possible rail component.

The state of Louisiana is taking similar measures along LA- 28 to create a four lane divided highway that will cross central Louisiana from border to border.

The coalition comittee reports, "We have made contact with representatives of the coalition in the states of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi that are proposing the east/west Interstate 14 that would link to our proposed east/west leg."

Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn have introduced legislation to make a route from El Paso to the Atlantic a priority federal corridor.

The proposed I-14 would serve Ft. Gordon, Ft. Benning, Ft. Polk, Ft. Hood and Ft. Bliss. It would also give some relief to cities like Beaumont and Houston because long-distance freight could be diverted from I-10 to the more direct I-14.

More important to Jasper County, it would provide a direct route to Austin, according to Allen, who said, "We need a direct route to our state capitol."

© 2007 The Jasper Newsboy:

For more information on the proposed Interstate 14 Corridor click HERE.

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TTC lobbyists pool war chests, plot PR offensive on Washington

Firms Forming Pro-P3 Lobbying Group


by Humberto Sanchez
The Bond Buyer
Copyright 2007

WASHINGTON — A Wall Street investment bank and two foreign firms seeking to invest in U.S. transportation infrastructure are backing an effort to form a lobbying group that will promote public-private partnerships to lawmakers in the wake of concerns raised about whether these deals are in the public interest.

The group, identified as the Coalition for Strengthening America’s Infrastructure, has been provided “seed funding” by Goldman, Sachs & Co., Macquarie Bank Ltd., Transurban Group, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials, which represents the state transportation departments in Washington, according to preliminary promotional documents obtained by The Bond Buyer. The documents did not disclose how much money was provided.

Peter Loughlin, with Loughlin Enterprises LLC, a lobbyist and attorney who is putting the coalition together, declined to comment for this article other than to say that the coalition is still in the formative stage and that the group’s membership has not been fully determined.

The firms involved in the effort also were reluctant to talk about the creation of the new lobbying group. A spokesman for Goldman declined to comment. A spokesman for Macquarie said the bank has not provided seed money, but has been involved with the group-forming effort. And a spokeswoman for Transurban said that while the company provided an unspecified amount of funding, it stipulated that the payment was for Loughlin to explore the formation of the group and not to fund the group’s operations.

AASHTO did not return a phone call seeking comment and sources said it has backed out of the coalition because not all of its members support P3s.

Group organizers hosted a “kick-off meeting,” titled “A Call To Action” on June 22 in New York City where former New York Gov. George E. Pataki, one-time U.S. House Majority leader Dick A. Gephardt, former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, and the prior acting U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Maria Cino all spoke in favor of P3s, according to sources.

They were unavailable for comment.

The coalition would broadly “focus on education and advocacy” and “pursue an agenda … that ensures public-private partnership solutions remain available as a financing and delivery tool to enhance our nation’s transportation system,” according to the promotional documents.

The group would also “work towards removing legislative and regulatory barriers that restrict the full utilization of public-private partnerships and opposing any efforts to impose additional restrictions on public-private partnerships,” the documents said.

In addition, the coalition would support increased federal transportation funding to state and local governments, but “with public-private partnerships positioned as viable, available, and sound alternatives.”

Another goal of the group is to counter criticism from Congress and Americans for a Strong National Highway Network, a group formed in February to oppose highway privatization deals. Members of the P3 opposition group include the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which represents small business truckers, and the American Trucking Association.

OOIDA executive vice president Todd Spencer, said the “motivation” of the investment and toll development firms involved in P3s “is economic” and added, “That is their job to do that, I suppose ... but our lawmakers, the people we put into positions of responsibility, they shouldn’t be buying into that nonsense.”

However, Spencer conceded that there is a place for some P3s among available financing tools. Those P3s would build new road capacity, instead of taking over existing roads, and provide assurances that road users get a reasonable return.

The formation of the new P3 coalition also comes as Congress prepares to begin drafting broad transportation legislation that expires Oct. 1, 2008. The new bill is expected to be the legislative vehicle for any federal P3 curbs that might be imposed.

Goldman Sachs, one of the backers of the new P3 coalition, has been a leading voice advocating the use of P3s by state and local governments. The firm both advises state and local governments on P3 deals and also seeks to invest in the transactions. However, Goldman has said that its advisory and investment units are separate and do not interact to prevent conflicts of interest.

The New York investment bank advised Indiana and Chicago in their P3 deals, which have been disparaged by some lawmakers.

Under the Indiana transaction, which closed last year, the state leased the Indiana Toll Road for 75 years to a private consortium in exchange for $3.8 billion. Chicago leased its 7.8-mile Chicago Skyway in a 99-year deal for $1.83 billion that closed in 2005. In both instances the private partner is responsible for operating and maintaining the roads over the life of the lease in exchange for collecting the tolls over the same period.

The creation of the P3 lobbying group comes as federal lawmakers have criticized P3s in a series of P3 hearing in recent months. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s highways and transit subcommittee, lambasted the Indiana deal for benefiting the private partner more than the state. By one estimate, the deal would bring in $11 billion over 75 years to the private partner, much more than the $3.8 billion payment received by the state. He also criticized the Chicago transaction, in part, because the city planned to use its $1.8 billion payment to cover operating expenses rather than as a reinvestment in its transportation infrastructure.

The P3 supporters “have a right to advocate for their company’s gain and I am here to advocate for the public interest, which sometimes involves [P3s] and many other times would be better done through a fully public arrangement,” DeFazio said in a brief interview yesterday.

DeFazio and full committee chairman Rep. James L. Oberstar in May wrote to all 50 governors, leading state lawmakers and state departments of transportation warning them about entering into P3 deals, particularly those that lease existing roads to a private company for a long period of time in exchange for a large cash payment.

Sydney, Australia-based Macquarie Bank, another backer of the coalition, invests in road infrastructure through its Macquarie Infrastructure Group subsidiary. MIG is part of the private consortium that won the concessions for the Indiana Toll Road and the Chicago Skyway.

Coalition supporter Transurban is a toll road developer based in Melbourne, Australia. The firm is involved in a $882 million P3 deal that would build 36 miles of high-occupancy toll lanes down Interstates-395 and 95 in Northern Virginia, which may be financed partly with bonds. The firm was also picked by Virginia in May to take over Pocahontas Parkway in Richmond for 99 years, including operations, maintenance, and collection of toll revenue, in exchange for $525 million.

Other possible members of the coalition include the departments of transportation in Indiana, Colorado, Texas, Missouri, Virginia, and Utah, as well as Chicago, the law firms of Nossaman, Guthner, Knox, Elliott LLP, and McGuireWoods LLP, and the consulting engineering firm Hatch Mott McDonald, according to the documents.

Firms that participated in the group’s June 22 meeting included Spanish infrastructure firms Abertis and Cintra; law firms Chadbourne & Park, Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw LLP, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and Hunton & Williams LLP; investment banks DEPFA Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Lehman Brothers; and the construction firm, Kiewit. Macquarie, Goldman and Transurban also participated.

© 2007 The Bond Buyer:

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Heavyweights vs Citizens on Trinity Toll Road Issue

Group spends $163,000 to save Trinity toll road

Dallas: Backers of toll road show strong business support

July 17, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Supporters of the Trinity River toll road have spent more than $163,000 to fight a proposed November referendum on whether to scrap the project.

Finance reports filed with the Dallas city secretary's office show that Save the Trinity, a group with strong business support, had raised $146,450 in contributions through Monday.

The largest contribution, $40,950, came from the Dallas Citizens Council. Other big donations came from companies with significant land or business holdings near the Trinity River.

In addition to the money raised from outside contributors, the Trinity Commons Foundation, which created Save the Trinity, has used more than $44,700 of its own funds for what executive director Craig Holcomb called educational efforts related to the toll road,

Most of the money spent by Save the Trinity has gone to political and media consultants, according to the finance reports.

Trinity Commons is a nonprofit foundation dedicated to completion of the Trinity River Corridor Project as approved by the Dallas City Council in 2003.

That project calls for a downtown river park with lakes, trails and other recreational amenities; improved flood controls; and, most controversially, a high-speed toll road inside the river levees that is intended to relieve traffic congestion downtown and on the Stemmons Freeway.

"We think it is important to go ahead and get this project under construction without further delays," said Mr. Holcomb, a former Dallas City Council member who, in addition to running Trinity Commons, is campaign treasurer for Save the Trinity.

Opponents of the tollway, led by City Council member Angela Hunt, say the road would spoil the downtown park. They want a public vote on whether to remove the toll road from the Trinity project.

At the end of June, Ms. Hunt's group, TrinityVote, turned in more than 80,000 signatures calling for a referendum. The city secretary's office is reviewing those signatures. If 48,000 are certified as belonging to registered voters who live in Dallas, the measure will be placed on the November ballot.

Ms. Hunt's group has raised more money (just over $197,700) and spent more (just over $219,000) than the pro-toll road forces, according to TrinityVote's campaign finance reports.

Both sides faced a Monday deadline for filing updated finance reports. A story about TrinityVote's filings appeared in Tuesday's Dallas Morning News. City Secretary Deborah Watkins incorrectly told The News Monday evening that Mr. Holcomb's group had not filed its updated campaign report. In fact, that report was filed June 29, according to copies provided Tuesday by Mr. Holcomb.

Ms. Watkins said she had been misinformed by her staff. "I do apologize for my statement that we had not received it," she said. "I did not know that we had it in."

Donna Halstead, president of the Dallas Citizens Council, said her group enthusiastically supported Save the Trinity's efforts against the November referendum. The nonprofit council represents many of the city's most prominent business and civic leaders. The $40,950 that it donated to Save the Trinity came from dues paid by Citizens Council members, she said.

"We have always been a strong supporter of the Trinity River project," said Ms. Halstead, who also is a former City Council member.

She said the Trinity toll road is a vital part of the overall effort to develop the river for the betterment of downtown and the region.

"We cannot address our air-quality problems or our traffic congestion problems in that [downtown corridor] without this toll road," Ms. Halstead said.

Others who made sizable donations to oppose the toll-road referendum included:

•JPI Multifamily Investments, an Irving-based company that is one of the country's largest apartment developers. It gave Save the Trinity $20,000, according to the group's finance report.

In 2006, The News reported that JPI had bought land near where a dazzling new bridge, designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, is to cross the river at Woodall Rodgers Freeway. JPI officials were quoted as saying that they planned to build apartments there.

•Crow Holdings, a privately held company that invests in real estate on behalf of the Trammell Crow family and its business partners. It, too, gave Save the Trinity $20,000. Among other holdings, Crow has invested in the Dallas Market Center and the Hilton Anatole, both in the Industrial Boulevard corridor.

Harlan Crow, the chairman and CEO of Crow Holdings, appears in a promotional video on the Save the Trinity Web site. In it, he says of the Trinity River project, "This gives Dallas the opportunity to be a city," instead of just a downtown "office park."

•CH2M Hill, a worldwide engineering and construction concern. It gave $1,500. Last November, the Dallas City Council awarded a $9.6 million contract to CH2M Hill for design of the lakes and other water elements of the Trinity park.

Ms. Hunt, contacted Tuesday, said the sources of Save the Trinity's funding "show very clearly the differences between our supporters and the people on the other side."

"We were fortunate to get some large contributions. But we also had lots of small contributions, people giving us as little as $10 from throughout the city. That's really proof of our broad-based support."

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Two PBS&J executives sentenced to prison for $35 million embezzlement scheme

Two former PBS&J execs sentenced in embezzlement

July 17, 2007

The Associated Press
Copyright 2007

MIAMI - Two former executives at the PBS&J engineering and construction firm were sentenced to prison Tuesday for their roles in a $35 million embezzlement scheme that took place over a 10-year period.

W. Scott DeLoach, PBS&J's former chief financial officer, was sentenced by Senior U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King to more than eight years. Rosario Licata, formerly an accounts payable supervisor, was sentenced to more than five years behind bars.

Those two and a third former employee, Maria Garcia, pleaded guilty last year to embezzling money from the firm and spending it on expensive cars, yachts, jewelry, lavish homes and gambling. King delayed sentencing Garcia until Thursday to consider whether she deserved less time because of extensive cooperation.

John Zumwalt, chief executive officer at Tampa-based PBS&J, said the embezzlement "rocked the industry" and that the three had "betrayed their fellow employees" through their actions.

"They flaunted their lifestyles openly in front of their fellow employees," Zumwalt said.

DeLoach also was ordered to pay more than $18 million in restitution and Licata more than $6 million. They were ordered to surrender for prison on Sept. 5.

PBS&J, formerly based in Miami, has about 4,000 employees and 75 offices around the world, according to the company's Web site.

© 2007 The Associated Press:

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Monday, July 16, 2007

"Kirk will 'fix' this."

Phase II in a fuzzy phase

Whither Phase II?

July 16, 2007

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

To remind those with a few Austin years in hand and inform newbies, Phase II was huge transportation news here in 2004 and 2005. Huge, as in a $2.2 billion plan to build or expand nine highways as toll roads.

Actually, two of those roads and about $400 million of the money had been lined up for several years (the roads are now completed or under construction) and rightfully belonged to a five-tollway Phase I. So Phase II (or was it Phase Two? Phase 2?) was really a seven-road, $1.8 billion plan to build the second wave of toll roads.

Either way, the plan was huge and conceived wholly behind closed doors, introduced in April 2004 as an all-or-nothing program, rammed through the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board three months later — and enduringly unpopular.

Almost immediately, it began to molt. Contrary to supporters' early claims, well, changes to the list were in fact permissible, and Austin could still get state funds associated with the plan.

First to go, before the plan's July 2004 approval, was an expansion of Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360). A few months later, tolling of a nearly completed overpass on MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) in South Austin was scratched.

Then, bit by bit, each of the remaining five roads generated questions and opposing constituencies. CAMPO board members who had supported it developed doubts. And a $300,000 study, promoted as the silver bullet that would allow policymakers to make an informed (and politically armor-plated) decision, began.

That completed study came and went last fall, to no effect. The new elixir became incoming state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who insiders knew would become the CAMPO board chairman.

"Kirk will fix this," the thinking went.

Watson has been engaged in that fix since then, in and around some pressing business at the Capitol this spring. Symbolically, he has let it be known that he considers the label "Phase II" inoperative. Blank sheet of paper and all that.

Substantively, he created a committee of policymakers to look afresh at the Central Texas transportation picture and birthed an official mediation process for one of the Phase II (oops) projects, changes to U.S. 290 and Texas 71 at Oak Hill.

This is Austin. Process matters.

Predicting which projects will stay and which will go from the Phase formerly known as II has become something of a parlor game among the highway crowd.

The consensus has the expansion of U.S. 290 East (from U.S. 183 to just past Texas 130) happening as a toll road, with U.S. 183 and Texas 71 in East Austin falling off the list. What will occur in Oak Hill, and when, is truly up in the air. The one totally new road, Texas 45 South from MoPac eastward, which has been targeted by environmental groups, seems unlikely to be built anytime soon.

In theory, all this should shake out by the end of the year. But I could have typed that sentence in good faith a year ago, before that study came out. So we'll see.

Getting There appears Mondays. For questions, tips or story ideas, contact Getting There at 445-3698 or

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman:

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

"Anything that puts money in the treasury, 'without raising taxes,' is on the table."

The Taxman Hits, in the Guise of a Traffic Cop

July 15, 2007

The New York Times
Copyright 2007

SHORT of cash and long of arm, the State of Virginia recently unveiled the nation’s first $1,050 speeding ticket.

You have to go 20 miles an hour over the speed limit to get that one; but under a new set of rules there are now a whole host of violations considered “reckless driving” that subject errant Virginia drivers to fines of $1,050 to $3,000 — plus court costs, if you fight and lose. The money will be spent on maintaining roads and bridges, safety improvements and closing a $500 million gap that emerged in last year’s transportation budget.

All over the country, supporting safety improvements on the wages of reckless driving has become a tradition. But in the relations between government and its citizens, the four-digit traffic ticket also seems to signal a leap in the use of fines and fees — and just about any other form of enhanced governmental income production — to avoid the dreaded thing itself, a tax increase.

The rising cost of public benefits like pensions, health care and police services, combined with the conventional wisdom that raising taxes is political poison, have led public officials to cast a wide net for this kind of public revenue.

Leasing public bridges in Kentucky. Taxing tattoo parlors in Arkansas. Selling off large chunks of the state highway system in Indiana. Selling off bundles of state student loan portfolios in Missouri. Taxing funeral processions in New Orleans. Those are just some recent measures undertaken or proposed.

“Anything that puts money in the treasury, without raising taxes, is on the table,” said Sujit CanagaRetna, chief fiscal officer for the Council of State Governments, a Washington-based research group that works with state lawmakers. “It is a trend that we see growing tremendously."

This is not new. Remember Candlestick Park and Boston Garden? A decade ago, San Francisco and Boston saved their taxpayers some dollars by peddling the naming rights to those arenas (or their successors), now known as AT&T Park and the TD Banknorth Garden, respectively. Unlovely, perhaps, but far less onerous than the label they came up with in Orange County, Calif., in the 1990s. Officials there, trying to avoid new taxes by investing heavily in the stock market, stuck the whole of Orange County with this title: bankrupt.

But perhaps of all the ways and means of raising money without raising the ire of taxpayers, special assessments on people who violate laws, smoke cigarettes, or dabble in activities formerly known as vices, seem to be as certain as the payroll tax.

It is not just that every state except Utah has a government-licensed gambling enterprise (they call it “gaming” now that it’s legal) or a state-run lottery, or both. Some big states including California, Texas and Illinois are considering measures to increase lottery revenues by leasing or selling their lottery systems to private companies.

Cigarette taxes, including a 60-cent-a-pack rise in federal taxes under consideration in Congress, have been growing steadily in every state, even tobacco states like Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee.

In Florida, proposals to tax massage parlors and lap dancers have made their way to the Legislature a number of times in recent years, so far without success; and the Texas Legislature has taken up a bill to tax strip clubs, dedicating the money to education.

Just about every state has a criminal and civil forfeiture law that allows local law enforcement to share in the proceeds of the criminal enterprises they dismantle.

And then there are the traffic laws.

According to the driver-advocacy group known as the National Motorists Association, local authorities have turned to these laws as revenue enhancers more aggressively in recent years. “We see this as an abuse of authority, and one that falls hardest on the poor,” said Aaron Quinn, a spokesman for the association.

Small municipalities like Lakewood, Wash., have created their own police departments, at least in part to boost ticket income. The city of Lakewood (population 60,000) took in $1.4 million in traffic fines in 2005 — doubling its ticket revenue in the first year of its police department, according to Andrew E. Neiditz, the city manager.

In the California town of Truckee, near Lake Tahoe, the local newspaper sizzled with letters from irate citizens ticketed last year after the new 25-member police department took to the streets. One resident, Jason Dobbs, complained, “I was pulled over for speeding by four miles per hour.”

All told, however, the issue may be larger than ticket blitzes, forfeited property or the recent leasing of the Indiana Toll Road, (which gives a group of Spanish and Australian entrepreneurs control over 157 miles of state highway in exchange for $3.85 billion cash over the next 75 years). The larger question, says Scott Bullock, chief attorney for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian group in Arlington, Va., is what American citizens really want from their government.

“If cops have to decide whether to crack open an old case file or go out and try and raise revenues, well, I don’t know if you want that,” he said.

Robert Puentes, a metropolitan policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, says the fear of raising taxes coupled with steady declines in federal highway aid have plunged many state governments into “a state of hysterics” concerning their transportation budgets, leading to many faddish solutions.

But in the end, taxes will go up anyway, he said.

“In the end, governments lose more than they gain with these short-term fixes,” he said. “People will eventually recognize that.”

© 2007 The New York Times:

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