Saturday, July 28, 2007

Texas Senate Transportation & Homeland Security Hearing scheduled August 7th in Irving


Transportation & Homeland Security

TIME & DATE: 8:00 AM, Tuesday, August 07, 2007

PLACE: Irving Lecture Hall, Westin DFW Airport

CHAIR: Senator John Carona

The Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security will meet on August 7, 2007, in Irving. The hearing will be held at the Westin DFW Airport hotel on 4545 W. John Carpenter Freeway, Irving, Texas.

The Committee will begin at 8:00 a.m. and hear invited and public testimony on the implementation of legislation and related issues.

Agenda (subject to change)


Panel 1: Texas Transportation Commission/Texas Department of Transportation

Panel 2: Regional Transportation Council and North Texas Turnpike Authority

Panel 3: TEX-21

Panel 4: Infrastructure Issues

A. Trends in Infrastructure (Bob Cuellar, URS Corporation)

B. Infrastructure Protection (Albert Samano, TRC Corporation)

C. Managed Lanes (Dr. Chris Poe, Texas Transportation Institute)

D. Continuing Concerns (David Stall, CorridorWatch)


Panel 1: Steve McCraw, Dir. of Homeland Security, Office of the Governor

Panel 2: Thomas Davis, Executive Director, Department of Public Safety

Panel 3: Gangs

A. Fred Burton, Stratfor

B. John Chakwin, Special Agent in Charge, Immigration and

Customs Enforcement, Dallas

C. David Erinakes, Homeland Security Policy Advisor to the Chairman


© 2007 Texas Legislature Online:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Political donations fund Perry's international trips. Taxpayers pay for his security detail.

Critics see excess in Gov. Perry's foreign travel

Aides defend frequent trips in name of trade

July 28, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry has crossed the deserts bare, man; breathed the mountain air, man; he's been everywhere – visiting at least 11 foreign countries in the past three years as an emissary for Texas.

Thus far this year, he has spent 18 days in five countries – Qatar, Israel, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Jordan. The plane fare for him and an aide to Istanbul cost $13,586, a tab picked up by political donors. But taxpayers pay the bills for his Department of Public Safety security detail, which always travels with him. DPS declined to say what that costs, citing security concerns.

Mr. Perry's aides argue that with so many foreign companies doing business in Texas, the governor needs to promote the state for it to stay competitive in a global economy. But his penchant for international travel is unique among Texas governors, and Democrats have criticized the practice as special interest-financed vacations.

And whether on a trade mission or policy retreat or delivering speeches in foreign lands, Mr. Perry has traveled well, generally staying in five-star hotels, flying in private jets or being pampered in business class seats.

For instance, for a 2004 trip to the Bahamas to discuss public education funding with staff, supporters and conservative thinkers such as anti-tax guru Grover Norquist, three of Mr. Perry's political supporters donated the $40,400 in travel costs.

Mr. Perry's 12 international visits have included two to Mexico. A trip to Iraq and Afghanistan was financed largely through the Department of Defense. The rest have been paid for with political contributions and the Texas Economic Development Corp. – a nonprofit organization spearheaded by the governor that solicits and uses corporate donations to promote business in Texas.

International travel is new for Texas governors – Ann Richards went to Mexico for a presidential inauguration, as did George W. Bush. Late in his state term, Mr. Bush traveled to Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but many saw it as a political gambit to improve the governor's foreign relations résumé before his first presidential campaign. Last month, in his trip to Israel, Mr. Perry met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

When the opportunities arose for Ms. Richards to take official trips out of the country, she turned them down, said former press secretary Bill Cryer.

"It came up once or twice for her to go to one or two exotic places, but she decided to turn it down as too politically unsavory and she knew that people would criticize her for it," Mr. Cryer said.

Former LBJ School of Public Affairs dean Max Sherman, who also served as a state senator and gubernatorial adviser, said international travel could be a pitfall for many politicians.

"My guess is that it is a new day, and you'll probably see governors and mayors doing more things from an international perspective, mainly because of business," he said.

"But politically, many people will not look favorably on it," he added. "They probably feel that there are enough problems here in the state that need to be dealt with, and the governor needs to be here."

Mr. Sherman also said it is often difficult to connect an international trip to real results in-state. And many voters will see it as a steppingstone to either another political office or a lucrative job afterward. Mr. Perry, who has not ruled out running for another term for governor in 2010, has been mentioned as a possible Republican vice presidential candidate or Cabinet secretary or ambassador in a GOP administration.

"Maybe it would lay a foundation for something on a national or global scale, either publicly or privately," Mr. Sherman said. "Showing you've been to hot spots around the world that are going to be major players with the U.S. and Texas would enhance the résumé."

Krista Moody, a spokeswoman for Mr. Perry, said the trips have brought real results for Texas. She pointed to the Toyota plant in San Antonio, a Samsung plant in Austin and the Nokia Corp. headquarters in Irving that are creating high-paying jobs.

"Governor Perry has been unabashedly pursuing economic opportunities throughout the state, throughout the country and over oceans," Ms. Moody said.

"By personally going, he puts a shine on deals by showing that the state's leaders would make a trip to meet with business leaders in different countries to personally make the case for why Texas is one of the best places in the world for them to do business," she said.

Mr. Perry has not been to South Korea, headquarters for Samsung, nor Finland, home to Nokia. He had planned an August 2005 trade trip to Japan, where Toyota is based, but he had to cancel because of a special session on school finance that he called. He instead sent his wife, Anita.

Mr. Perry has touted a weeklong trip to Italy in March 2004 to bring jobs to Texas by meeting with officials from Alenia Aeronautica, which is Vought Aircraft Industries' partner in the development of a new Boeing jet. He also met with oil and gas executives on the trip.

On the Italy trip, the Perrys stayed at the Grand Hotel Parco Dei Principi in Rome and at the Westin Excelsior in Florence, where currently, rooms cost no less than about $500 a night.

Ms. Moody said the governor has been conscientious and saved taxpayers "a tremendous amount of money" by paying for the trips either with political donations from his campaign account or through the Texas Economic Development Corp. A check of other states showed that Mr. Perry has set an aggressive pace for foreign travel. For instance, former New York Gov. George Pataki, over his 12 years in office, went to about 15 countries. And Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who has been in office five years, made his first trade mission last month, visiting Spain and England.

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has recently been taking heat for allowing a similar foundation to pay for his international forays.

"Our guy gets criticized," said Schwarzenegger press secretary Aaron McLear.

Over the past three years, Mr. Schwarzenegger has been on 14 international trips – including four to Mexico and one in July 2004 to his home country of Austria, when he was part of the official U.S. delegation to attend the funeral of the Austrian president.

Mr. McLear said the California governor pays for most of his travel out of his personal bank account, while the rest comes from the California State Protocol Foundation, which is closely associated with the California Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Schwarzenegger has donated $8 million of his own money to the foundation.

And one country among the 14 that the former movie star has visited was not on Mr. Schwarzenegger's original itinerary. The governor was in Israel and the king of Jordan, having arranged transportation, asked him to pay a quick visit.

Said Mr. McLear: "His celebrity certainly helps him sell California."

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Friday, July 27, 2007

Orphan exits: "Another way E-ZPass is ripping off consumers."

On e-toll roads, beware 'orphan exit' fee


Bob Sullivan
Red Tape Chronicles
Copyright 2007

Millions of drivers around the country use E-ZPass and other electronic toll collection systems to speed them on their daily drives, but consumers are discovering that there is a price to be paid for the convenience: loss of privacy, haggling between state systems, accidental fines. Now, add to that list the “orphan exit.”

You probably know you should read your bills carefully every month looking for signs of fraud or overcharging by retailers. But if you're like most people, you probably don't do it anyway. Fortunately, Pennsylvania driver Kathy Suntato is that special consumer who keeps her magnifying glass nearby when scanning her bills.

Once each week, Suntato gets on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Philadelphia and gets off at Willow Grove, about 20 miles up the road. Under the turnpike’s toll scheme, that should cost her 75 cents. But seven times in recent weeks, Suntato was charged $5 instead. The reason: "orphan exits." Never heard of them? If you drive on a highway that collects tolls electronically, you'd better get to know the term.

Suntato, like millions of drivers around the country, keeps her E-ZPass box with the radio-enabled computer chip attached to her windshield. Every time she enters or exits the highway, a Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority computer makes note of it, and deducts the toll from a prepaid account that's replenished regularly by charges against Suntato's credit card.

Privacy advocates have long warned of the dangers of a system that knows where drivers are coming and going, but consumers have embraced the E-ZPass system because it lets them speed past traffic jams at toll plazas. In some states, including New Jersey, E-ZPass users even get a discount.

Extra charge

But Suntato isn't getting a discount; in fact, she's paying extra. Toll fees on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are based on distance -- the farther you drive, the more you pay. But what happens when the system doesn't know how far you drove because the computers don’t know where you entered the highway?

In Pennsylvania, you pay a $5 “orphan exit” charge.

"We modeled it after the ticket system, where if you lose a ticket, you pay the full fare," said Tom Cohick, a customer service representative with the turnpike authority. Full fare on the nearly 500-mile highway is more than $20, so the agency figures it's being fair by charging only $5.

Suntato isn't so sure about that. Seven times in recent weeks her car was not registered entering the highway, but was recorded as it left. The mistake has occurred at the same highway entrance every time, with both her cars and two different E-ZPass gadgets.

"(This is) another way E-ZPass is ripping off consumers," she said. "They make more money when they don’t read the tag. ... It seems clear to me they have equipment problems and are not correcting them, because hey, it’s easier and more profitable to just charge five dollars."

Orphan entrants, too

What really steams the 52-year-old from Yardley, Penn., is that most consumers never receive paper statements from the E-ZPass system because they cost extra. Drivers must look online to see the tolls they are paying. As we've already said, few consumers are likely to take the time to study every toll charge and spot the problem.

"What about all the people who are trusting them to do their job correctly and are being ripped off?” Suntato said.

Cohick and turnpike authority spokesman Bill Capone say orphan exiting is not a revenue-producing trick. In fact, they note, the computers also register “orphan entrants” -- the system knows when the car got on, but not when it got off. Those people drive for free.

There are plenty of possible reasons for the errors, Capone said. Among them: low batteries in the E-ZPass car gadget; drivers who wave the device in front of their windshield rather than leave them on the windshield in the car; and, of course, the occasional system glitch.

Orphans are rare, but perhaps not as rare as you'd think. Cohick said about 1 percent of total transactions are orphans, but systemwide they tend to balance each other out.

That's no help if you are on the wrong side of the equation, like Suntato -- who might now be the state's biggest advocate of watching E-ZPass tolls carefully. But are the problems enough to make her revert to the old cash system? That's just not practical, she said, because there are now so few human cash toll takers on the job that toll-booth traffic jams are even worse.

"It would cost me at least a half-hour every time," she said.

Ultimately, Suntato was out only about $35, which the state is now refunding, but not before she was told to fill out a state form seven times -- once for each overcharge. To get help finding the form, she had to call the state’s customer service agency during regular business hours, since the office is closed on nights and weekends. Those hassles make it likely most drivers end up just paying the full amount, Suntato figures -- leading to a phantom toll increase.

Easier to raise taxes

The problem of E-ZPass toll creep isn't isolated to Pennsylvania, or to orphans, however.

A recent study published by Amy Finkelstein (PDF), an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that states with implement electronic toll collection ultimately raise tolls more than states where drivers pay cash.

Finkelstein studied toll taking in all 31 states that make drivers pay. About two-thirds of those states have at least some electronic toll booths. In her paper, she provides evidence that e-toll states raise their prices 20 to 40 percent higher than they would have without electronic toll collection. And remember, E-tolls are supposed to reduce labor costs, as fewer toll-takers must be hired.

The conclusion makes sense, because consumers are always willing to pay more for things when they don't pay right away. Credit card companies figured this out long ago. And automated deductions make overcharging much easier. It's easy to see what a great tax-collecting tool that could be!

The E-ZPass system also has had other shortcomings.

No judge, no jury

In Baltimore, NBC affiliate WBAL-TV recently reported that drivers who appeal E-ZPass violations must fight a steep uphill battle. A former E-ZPass worker told the station that customer service workers are trained to reject appeals, and do so 90 percent of the time. Many drivers don’t even receive a letter of explanation, the station said.

State officials told WBAL there are 1,000 E-ZPass appeals each month 70 percent of them are denied. The state collects $6 million in revenue for violations each year. A judge and jury are nowhere to be found.

Increased private operation of toll roads also looms as another source of potential problems. A cross-border skirmish broke out early this year between Indiana and Illinois, with the international consortium Cintra-Macquarie, headquartered in Spain, at the center of the controversy. Cintra-Macquarie runs Indiana's new toll road near the northern border. Indiana drivers in Illinois currently get a discount for using electronic toll booths; but the Spanish company did not plan to extend a similar discount for Illinois drivers on its road in Indiana. In retribution, Illinois considered raising the price of driving on Illinois roads....but only for Indiana drivers. Cooler heads eventually prevailed. For now.

All this means that drivers shouldn’t assume anyone with direct access to their bank account or credit card – a company or a government agency -- won’t make mistakes or intentionally inflate charges. Electronic toll collection users should examine their accounts for orphans and other overcharges with the same verve as they hit the gas pedal while flying by those lines at the cash tool booths.

© 2007 :

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Infrared imaging could become taxing to British drivers

New technology could end misery of flat congestion charges


Copyright 2007

A new infrared imaging system that automatically counts the number of people in moving road vehicles could offer a simple and cost effective solution to help lower carbon emissions and congestion.

Demand for innovative ways to encourage vehicle sharing is particularly acute in major cities as only 20% of the road capacity is used by multiple occupancy vehicles. With 80% of vehicles occupied only by the driver, congestion charge zones and toll gates are an increasingly common feature on Britain’s traffic black spots. But unless vehicle occupants can be easily counted, it is impossible to implement variable charging to encourage more journeys to be shared.

Dtect, the new technology developed by optical engineering experts at Loughborough University, can be used for a variety of scenarios where multiple occupancy could attract lower fees, such as congestion zones; toll roads, bridges and tunnels; high occupancy vehicle lanes and car parks. It illuminates the moving vehicle’s windscreen without distracting the occupants and then processes images using a patented formula to detect the number of occupants. Occupant identity and vehicle registration can be stored in case penalties need enforcing, otherwise this information is data protected. The process takes a fraction of a second and results can either be integrated into a larger automated traffic management system or transmitted to a remote terminal.

Avingtrans Plc, who own Crown UK Ltd, the leading UK supplier of roadside camera housings, has recently made a major investment into the Loughborough technology. For John Tyrer, Loughborough inventor and director of Vehicle Occupancy Ltd, the company formed to commercialise the technology, this partnership is ideal: “Flat rate charges are not the answer to congestion and the resultant pollution. Getting more people to share their journeys can only happen with incentives like variable charging. We have developed the step change technology to make this happen and Avingtrans / Crown have the credibility to incorporate it into the market.”

© 2007 innovations-report:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Sen. Kevin Eltife calls Trans-Texas Corridor concept "insanity."

Blunt words: Eltife shows little patience for misguided leaders

July 26, 2007

The Longview News Journal
Copyright 2007

State Sen. Kevin Eltife pulled no punches Tuesday when discussing Gov. Rick Perry's Trans Texas Corridor initiative — he called the concept "insanity."

Why is our region's senator so acerbic when it comes to the idea of allowing private development of toll roads to replace the state's road-building responsibilities?

That's easy: He's right and officials like him need to stir the public to stand with them in their efforts to slow down the governor's privatized steam roller.

The math is simple, Eltife told people attending the Longview Partnership Govermental Affairs luncheon Tuesday: A big Spanish company is only interested in building mega-toll roads in Texas because it sees a pot of gold at the end of the highway.

Texas lawmakers almost closed the door on Perry's toll road plans, but in the end had to leave some room for the prospect of the Trans Texas project that has been attacked from many quarters, most vociferously by people concerned about the wide swaths of private land that would be needed to see the project through to fruition.

As Eltife said, Texas is a wealthy state with many resources. If it needs a project of the magnitude that Perry has been pushing, the state can afford to issue the bonds and build the project itself. By doing so, the state could retain the revenues from the tolls to help complete other highway projects or it could simply levy lower tolls because it does not need to make a profit like a private operator would.

On a related matter, Eltife said it also is time for state officials to take a serious look at the gas tax, saying the fear of raising it has left the state's leaders short on the funds to meet our growing state's highway needs.

The Tyler Republican said that people on both sides of the political aisle are simply too afraid of the phrase "tax increase" to seriously consider what needs to be done for Texas roads.

Eltife's speech on Tuesday and his responses to audience questions continued to reflect the fact that his approach to government is one that puts pragmatism way ahead of ideology.

Talk like that isn't likely to win him any friends in Austin, but that's just fine with him and with us as long as he puts the interests of his district ahead of politics, much as he's done during his first few years in the Senate.

© 2007 The Longview News-Journal:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Thursday, July 26, 2007

NTTA hires new executive director from scandal-plagued PBS&J

NTTA names new executive director

July 26, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

The North Texas Tollway Authority named a new executive director today, choosing a candidate with long experience in public tolling agencies in Florida and as an executive at a private engineering company heavily involved in road construction in Central Texas.

Jorge Figueredo takes over management of the NTTA Aug. 6, ending nearly a year of temporary leadership that began with the departure of Allan Rutter in February. Former executive director Jerry Hiebert has served as acting director since then.

Mr. Figueredo currently oversees tollway projects in Central Texas for the engineering and architecture services firm PBS&J, a 4,000-employee firm with more than 75 offices throughout the United States.

“I am very excited about the chance to help take this agency to a new place,” Mr. Figueredo said this morning. “There are massive needs for new transportation facilities in this area.”

NTTA had named five finalists for its top job earlier this month, including its then-acting deputy executive director, Rick Herrington. The Plano-based agency also named Mr. Herrington as permanent deputy executive director today.

NTTA chairman Paul Wageman said the agency had conducted a national search for the new director, and noted Mr. Figueredo’s 16 years of experience in the toll business. It was critical, he said, to find the right candidate as the agency moves to finalize its deal to build and operate the State Hwy. 121 project in Collin and Denton counties.

Mr. Figueredo “emerged as the candidate uniquely qualified to lead the NTTA into its second decade as an organization and as we begin to implement the history SH 121 project,” Mr. Wageman said.

Mr. Figueredo said he expects to aggressively push NTTA to build as many of the proposed North Texas toll roads as it can handle.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

To search TTC News Archives click HERE


"I think if legislators were educated in 2003 on what the corridor was...they would not have voted to authorize its creation."

Hold Those Tolls!

Lege leaves question: How will we pay for roads?

Austin Chronicle
Copyright 2007

It was Dec. 16, 2004, and Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, was sitting pretty. He was virtually a guest of honor at a meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission, across the street from his Capitol office. A little more than a year before, as chairman of the House Trans­port­ation Committee, Krusee had successfully carried the behemoth House Bill 3588.
Among its many and complex provisions, the bill helped smooth the way for Gov. Rick Perry to get the Texas Transportation Commission to approve early plans for the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Stretching from Mexico to Oklahoma, the corridor would be a mammoth transportation project running parallel to I-35. As conceived, it would include free and tolled highway lanes, as well as rail and utility lines, and would be built and maintained by the privately held Spanish company Cintra (an international operator of toll roads and car parks) and the San Antonio-based Zachry Construction Corp.

At the Texas Transportation Commission meeting, attended by the governor himself, Krusee didn't say much. Actions spoke louder than words -- and on this day, the commission was acting on a project he had fought long and hard to convince legislators to support. By way of acknowledgment, commission Chairman Ric Williamson duly praised Krusee for his work at the Capitol. Krusee had a flight to catch, but first he took the floor for a brief stroll down memory lane.

"I started thinking about the first time that I met Ric Williamson," Krusee recalled, according to a meeting transcript. It was 1992, and Krusee had just been elected to the House; then-Rep. Williamson invited the 32-year-old Krusee to his apartment. "So I went over there, and Ric had one of his good friends over there, and that was the night I met Rick Perry, who was the ag commissioner, and we talked long into the night about accomplishing great things for Texas, about how to be a great leader for Texas. And we weren't thinking about how to be on Texas Monthly's 10 best [list] -- but you know, Ric, I think we were talking about days like this.

"And you know, governor," Krusee continued, "A little over two years ago when you made that presentation [about the Trans-Texas Corridor] in the auditorium at the Capitol, and I was in the audience, and like everybody else out there, I didn't really fully grasp what the hell you were talking about." The audience laughed.

"You do now, don't you?" asked Perry.

"I do now," Krusee replied. "And I want to congratulate you on your vision and your leadership, and the commission and your staff on your hard work, because you have made this, I think sincerely, the most historic day in transportation, not just for Texas, but for the United States since Eisenhower." With that, Krusee left the meeting.

Flash forward nearly 21/2 years -- to May 2, 2007. Chairman Krusee stood on the House floor, without a single transportation ally. Every House member present, except Krusee alone, voted in favor of HB 1892, which included a two-year moratorium on many of the public-private partnerships such as the one the Texas Department of Transportation had developed with Cintra-Zachry to build the Trans-Texas Corridor. "Who knew that trying to reduce congestion could be such a lonely fight?" wondered Coby Chase, who monitors the Legislature for TxDOT.

Perry eventually vetoed HB 1892, but a nearly identical Senate substitute, Senate Bill 792, later handily passed both the House and Senate, and Perry signed it into law. The massive bill forbids TxDOT from negotiating a tolling agreement with a private company until Sept. 1, 2009, exempting some projects already under­ way. Even among those exempted projects, some got swept up in the post-session, anti-privatization maelstrom. For instance, at its June meeting, the Texas Transportation Com­mission awarded a contract for the State High­way 121 project (in the Dallas/Fort Worth Met­ro­plex) to the North Texas Tollway Authority -- after initially awarding the contract to Cintra.

SB 792 also states that if a company paid TxDOT money up front for the rights to build a toll road in a particular region, TxDOT must use that money on other projects in that region. It requires TxDOT to give local tolling agencies preferential treatment over private companies by giving them free right-of-way and the right of first refusal on building toll roads. In essence, the Legislature left private companies interested in transportation on the bench for the next two years.

Politics or Policy?

So what happened? How could Rep. Krusee, four years earlier, convince all but three members of the House to approve legislation that enabled private companies to build highways, only to find that entire concept rejected out of hand this year? Not surprisingly, it depends on whom you ask.

"What happened was," Krusee said after the session, "TxDOT was going not just against the traditional rural opposition to road building but against Dallas and Houston in a turf battle over who would build the roads." In Dallas, Houston, Austin, and elsewhere, public toll-road authorities were getting outgunned by private companies like Cintra, and they weren't happy, Krusee says, so they asked their legislators to give tolling authorities right of first refusal. Krusee didn't take it personally that he seemed to be the only member of the House who wanted private companies to continue building roads. "I think it was a political vote," he said. "Members thought it was necessary to vote that way to get votes back home; they felt like they'd be criticized for voting against it."

Chase agrees with Krusee and points to the larger political context. "During this last election cycle, we had a candidate for governor; she liked to campaign against foreigners and against toll roads," Chase explained, in reference to gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who ran against Perry as an independent. "And then we had the [federal] Dubai Ports issue, and this was such a misleading discussion in the public. ... This Dubai company wouldn't own any port; they were just going to run them, and the government would lease it to them. Then Cintra becomes the successful proposer on the corridor and ... it kind of kick-started the 'no foreigners doing business in Texas' discussion."

But David Stall, of the anti-Trans-Texas Corridor group CorridorWatch, has a less benign explanation. Stall says legislators belatedly did their homework on public-private partnerships. "The Legislature did not recognize the shift in transportation policy that they were creating" in 2003, Stall said. "We started to see some handwriting on the wall in 2005, with some moratorium bills that didn't go anywhere. The reason they didn't go anywhere was we were still educating people. I think if legislators were educated in 2003 on what the corridor was, if they had understood it, they would not have voted to authorize its creation."

Looking for Consensus

Enter former Austin mayor and freshman Sen. Kirk Watson. Watson wasn't around in 2003 for the original vote on the corridor and agreements with private companies to build toll roads. But he came to the Lege with voices ringing loudly in his ear -- those of his new constituents. "Part of the reason there is this vitriolic, partisan [no-toll or toll] debate is that we haven't had a thoughtful, systematic, transparent means of analyzing what we want to do," he says. "There are clearly two agreements in this community -- one, we are too badly congested, and two, we want it fixed. When we get to three -- how to do it -- now it's not as unanimous."

Watson is unconvinced that letting a private company pay for, build, and make a profit on a new road is the best way to go. "I was skeptical of these comprehensive development agreements -- how long they were, their noncompete clauses. ... I happen to be a believer that if you're going to privatize, it should be for the stuff the public can't get done. I wasn't convinced -- at beginning or end of session -- that we weren't going to just have privatization on stuff that we couldn't get done in the public sector."

In other words, Watson didn't want profit-minded private companies building roads that could be built by government -- especially if, under noncompete clauses, the state has to pay the companies back for highways that take traffic (and potential income) away from the private toll roads. "I wanted to allow local communities to have more say," Watson explained. "It struck me that one of the things that was missing in the process was we needed more accountability in the system, and that probably meant elected officials having a role." That potentially means fewer deals with private companies and more for state tolling authorities or transportation commissions.

Watson had more than just his own rookie legislative voice to add to the discussion -- in January, he became chairman of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (the group in charge of the region's transportation projects) and vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. At his suggestion, CAMPO indefinitely postponed any talk of a second phase of toll roads until it can take more time to sort out how best to finance transportation projects.

But the Legislature's decision to halt most road-building agreements with private companies leaves Central Texas in a bind, as Krusee sees it, when it comes to decongesting traffic. "To my mind, the bad thing about what the Legislature did this session was it took that option away" -- the option to have a private company get started now on building a given road. The Legislature's action doesn't mean that Austin or the surrounding jurisdictions can't build any more toll roads, but it means they can't call on a private company to do so. So as Krusee sees it, we're back at ground zero: Lacking sufficient up-front public funding, the state, via TxDOT, had been looking toward private companies as ideally positioned to help build roads quickly and efficiently, based on the promise of future toll revenue. Now that option is off the table, at least temporarily.

With toll roads built by private companies, says TxDOT's Chase, "You [the state] give up some future revenue to get a project now. You get a guaranteed price on the project, you are guaranteed the project will be returned to you in a certain condition, and the price you pay is you say the company can realize a profit on this over a certain amount of time. Some people had concerns of unlimited company profits without ever reading what the contracts were -- the companies can't raise tolls any time they want. If the profits get to a certain point, it goes back to the region to build more roads."

Often, as was the case with Cintra and the Trans-Texas Corridor, the company pays a large sum -- generally billions of dollars -- to buy the rights to build a road, which could mean the state could get other projects started more quickly using those advance funds.

Even Watson, skeptical as he is that a private company can handle transportation any better than the state, admits that a moratorium on deals with private companies could make it harder to do anything significant about area congestion for the next couple of years. "We're going to need to be honest about limitations of financing tools," he says. "In the state appropriations bill, there was an effective decrease in transportation money, when you consider inflation. There has been more moving of funds from transportation. Many people say they want an increase in gas tax; the House approved a gas tax holiday that would have taken away gas tax money for three months out of the year [that measure died in the Senate]. The money offered to states from federal government is being decreased; we just got notice that federal money rescinded $72 million more. We're going to have to start being honest about the limitations we have on being able to meet the need to fix the problem."

Stranded on the Highway

To that end, Watson has been meeting every two weeks with a CAMPO's Mobility Finance Task Force, which includes elected officials, outside transportation experts, even the executive director of the Community Part­ner­ship for the Homeless. Meanwhile, TxDOT has given preliminary approval to a set of toll projects in the Austin area, including some "managed lanes" (for use, say, by carpoolers or during rush hour) as well as the second phase of toll roads Watson doesn't want to talk about for now. TxDOT is also holding a series of public meetings later this year to explain the ramifications of what the Legislature did in suspending many of the proposed deals with private companies.

"We're doing things that no other department of transportation is doing," says Chase. "We're learning it as we go, and we have never ever had to engage the public on this large a scale in our 90-plus years of existence. And in many cases, we underestimated that challenge."

That last sentiment could also apply to those who want to do something about Austin's traffic congestion. If the Lege managed to placate the anti-toll crowd, at least for the time being, it didn't do much to make it any easier to travel on Central Texas highways, nor to address long-term projections that show regional traffic only getting worse. More broadly, the moratorium doesn't begin to address larger questions raised by traditional highway approaches to transportation: land use, mass transit options, pollution and global warming issues, or even integrated urban planning that might make transportation issues less intractable and expensive.

Those are the kind of issues that Sally Camp­bell hoped the Legislature would consider. Campbell is the executive director of Envision Central Texas, a 6-year-old nonprofit coalition aimed at addressing regional growth. Campbell wanted to hear more discussion and action on giving counties more control over land uses around future highways and relocating Union Pacific away from rail lines that commuters could use. "When we truly want to see this multimodal transportation system develop, the next step is to look at the transit options. And right now, we're trying to figure out what will work and what's the logical system. If you can think about commuter rail from San Antonio to Georgetown by relocating Union Pacific, that makes a whole other mode within the realm of possibility."

But rail relocation, and most other proposals for broadening the state's transportation options, remained stuck at the station during the 80th Legislature. What most legislators wanted to discuss was how to pay for new roads and where to put them. Whether Krusee's interest in more privatization or Watson's desire for greater accountability in transportation policy ultimately win the day in the current discussions, it could be two years -- or more -- before getting around seems much easier, even though commuter rail could start running through the region by the end of 2008.

That will be just in time for the 81st Legis­lat­ure -- and a whole new set of political detours during the next round of transportation debates.

© 2007 Austin Chronicle:

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“Much like NAFTA, the super highway is designed to serve the interests of our trading partners and will lead to neither security nor prosperity."

For Immediate Release

Hunter NAFTA Super Highway Amendment Passes House

July 25, 2007

Press Release
Congressman Duncan Hunter
52nd District of California
United States House of Representatives
Copyright 2007

Washington, D.C. – Late last evening, Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) successfully offered an amendment to H.R. 3074, the FY2008 Transportation Appropriations Act, prohibiting the use of federal funds for participation in working groups under the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), including the creation of the NAFTA Super Highway. The Hunter amendment gained strong bipartisan support, passing the House by a vote of 362 – 63.

“The proposed NAFTA Super Highway presents significant challenges to our nation’s security, the safety of vehicle motorists, and will likely drive down wages for American workers,” said Congressman Hunter. “Much like NAFTA, the super highway is designed to serve the interests of our trading partners and will lead to neither security nor prosperity.

“This 12 lane highway, which is already under construction in Texas, will fast-track thousands of cargo containers across the U.S. without adequate security. These containers will move from Mexico, a country with a record of corruption and involvement in the drug trade, across a border that is already porous and insufficiently protected.

“Unfortunately, very little is known about the NAFTA Super Highway. This amendment will provide Congress the opportunity to exercise oversight of the highway, which remains a subject of question and uncertainty, and ensure that our safety and security will not be comprised in order to promote the business interests of our neighbors.”

NOTE: SPP working groups are advancing a plan to build the NAFTA Super Highway – an international corridor extending between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

CONTACT: Joe Kasper (202) 225-5672

© 2007 United States House of Representatives :

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Dallas Logistics Hub: "A key component of NAFTA Infrastructure."

Logistics Hub: The Allen Group Retains Two Dallas Area Contractors For Initial Building Construction At The Dallas Logistics Hub


Logistics Online
Copyright 2007

The Allen Group, developer of the Dallas Logistics Hub (The Hub), a 6,000 acre logistics park in Southern Dallas County, recently announced it has selected two Dallas area contractors for the construction of its first two spec warehouse/distribution buildings, 3i Construction, LLC and MYCON General Contractors, Inc.

3i Construction, LLC, a Dallas based minority owned general contractor has been retained for the construction of DLH Building 2, a 192,850 square foot warehouse building. In addition to being selected as the lead on DLH Building 2, 3i Construction has also been selected to provide additional construction services for The Hub’s DLH Building 1.

MYCON General Contractors, Inc., of McKinney, Texas has been retained for the construction of DLH Building 1, a 635,000 square foot cross-dock distribution facility.

“Both MYCON and 3i Construction are pleased to join the Dallas Logistic Hub team and bring vertical life to this important project,” said Micheal Williams, CEO & President of 3i Construction. “Our companies look forward to delivering high quality environmentally sensitive buildings that compliment the unmatched logistical infrastructure at The Hub.”

Construction of Buildings 1 and 2 will commence in late July 2007 and be completed by February 2008.

“We are pleased to announce the addition of 3i Construction and MYCON General Contractors, Inc. to the team at the Dallas Logistics Hub,” said Daniel J. McAuliffe, President of Allen Development of Texas. “It was imperative that we find qualified and experienced partners, such as the two selected firms, to help us start building one of the most sophisticated logistics parks in the country.”

The Allen Group continues to demonstrate its commitment to the community and minority participation. The Company is the only commercial developer in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex with a publicly stated minimum minority participation goal of 25 percent on private projects and a minimum 25 percent on public projects.

3i Construction LLC, the first African-American construction management firm to construct a $10 M facility for the Dallas Independent School District, has expanded its business to include the construction of stadiums, educational facilities, financial institutions, as well as religious buildings, restaurants, airports and fire stations.

MYCON General Contractors, Inc<. specializes in integrating construction management services, including pre-construction planning, conceptual estimating, tenant interior coordination, value engineering, permitting assistance, design/build, and post-construction needs. MYCON's construction portfolio consists of industrial, office, retail, golf clubhouse and church facilities.

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

The Hub master-plan will include warehouse and distribution facilities, light manufacturing, and retail support services, business-class hotels, restaurants, as well as single- and multi-family housing.

The Hub is located adjacent to Union Pacific’s Southern Dallas Intermodal Terminal, a proposed BNSF intermodal facility, four major highway connectors (I-20, I-45, I-35 and the future Loop 9/Trans-Texas Corridor) and Lancaster Airport, which is in the master-planning stage to facilitate air-cargo distribution.

The Hub is also a key component of the NAFTA infrastructure and will serve as a major “inland port” bringing products for regional and national distribution from the Ports of L.A./Long Beach, Houston, and the new deep-water ports in western Mexico.

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

The Allen Group

The Allen Group, one the nation’s fastest growing privately held commercial development firms, specializes in the development of high-end industrial, office, retail and mixed-use properties throughout the United States. The Company’s major focus is the development of logistics parks — “inland ports” — that are situated adjacent to some of the most sophisticated rail, intermodal and highway infrastructure in the country. The Allen Group has developed over one billion dollars in projects ranging in size up to 1.7M square feet and currently has more than 8,000 acres under development across the United States. The Allen Group is based in San Diego with regional offices in Visalia, Bakersfield (Calif.), Dallas and Kansas City. For more information about the Company, please visit

SOURCE: The Allen Group

© 2007 Logistics Online (VertMarkets, Inc.):

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Burned by HOT lanes

Driving solo? Don't rule out HOV lanes

Metro proposal would let motorists pay to share lanes with buses, carpools

July 25, 2007

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

The Metropolitan Transit Authority is proposing to convert its High Occupancy Vehicle lanes to High Occupancy-Toll lanes, where buses and carpools ride for free alongside toll-paying solo drivers.

Under a proposal from Metro to the Texas Department of Transportation, tolls would be collected electronically and increase with congestion to keep traffic moving, said Carlos Lopez, TxDOT director of traffic operations.

Metro spokesman George Smalley said agency officials were not available for comment Tuesday.

"The premise is to try to get every bit of capacity out of the HOV lanes," Lopez said. He said Metro proposed the idea to TxDOT several months ago "because they wanted to make sure that the HOV lanes kept their good travel time.

"When the two-plus lanes become crowded, you go to three-plus, and then you have this huge drop in volume, and the lane's capacity is not being used," he said.

Lopez said the proposal does not appear to be based on revenue expectations, since Metro estimates a net return of between $95,000 and $2.3 million a year from all the lanes.

Lopez and local TxDOT spokeswoman Janelle Gbur said Tuesday that the proposal is only a draft and has a long way to go before being adopted.

Lopez said it would require public input, as well as approval by the Metro board, the Texas Transportation Commission, the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration, which helped fund the HOV system.

Should those approvals be granted, a changeover could come in 2009 or 2010, he said.

The item is on the agenda — for discussion only — of the transportation commission, which meets at 9 a.m. Thursday at Sugar Land City Council chambers, 2700 Town Center Blvd. North.

Metro's board meets at

1 p.m. Thursday at 1900 Main, but the item is not on the published agenda.

The idea has been raised before. In 2003, then-Houston City Councilman Carroll Robinson said Metro could raise about $200 million a year for its rail and bus expansion plans by converting HOVs to HOT lanes.

Metro said at the time that FTA rules would not allow single-occupant vehicles to use the lanes paid for with federal funds.

Gbur said the version of the proposal sent to TxDOT's district office says tolls would be charged in segments of freeway now separated from the main lanes by concrete barriers, but not in diamond lanes.

The proposed toll segments run to downtown from FM 1960 on the North Freeway, from Kingwood on the Eastex Freeway, from Dixie Farm Road on the Gulf Freeway and from West Bellfort on the Southwest Freeway. Another runs on the Northwest Freeway from Texas 6 to the West Loop, she said.

The Katy Freeway is not included because it already is being rebuilt with four "managed lanes," which current plans call for operation as HOT lanes, down the center.

Since 2000, Metro has had a program called Quick Ride on the Katy and Northwest freeways that allows two-occupant vehicles to use the HOVs for $2 during hours when the three-plus requirement is in effect. A windshield tag is read electronically when a participating vehicle enters the HOV.

Under legislation enacted this year, the Harris County Toll Road Authority gets the right of first refusal to operate any toll projects in Harris County, but county infrastructure director Art Storey said he would be wary of seeking to run the proposed HOT lanes.

"I have considerable scars on my back regarding variable pricing," Storey said, referring to an unpopular — and short-lived — proposal to reduce congestion on the Westpark Tollway through a sharp rush-hour toll increase.

Lopez said the ramps from Park & Ride lots could have separate lanes for toll-paying and HOV customers "and a booth in the middle" where someone could verify occupancy.

He said he did not know how Metro's slip ramps, where traffic enters the HOV lanes directly from the freeway, would be monitored.

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

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Trinity Toll Road backers include "well-heeled North Texas philanthropists, business leaders and corporations."

Toll road backers failed to itemize $52,000

Amended disclosure by Save the Trinity details individual donors

July 25, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

A group opposing a proposed referendum on the Trinity toll road amended its campaign finance report Tuesday because it neglected to itemize $52,000 in individual contributions.

"It was my fault. I simply failed to complete the forms correctly," said Craig Holcomb, treasurer of Save the Trinity.

With the amended filing, the total amount in contributions collected by Save the Trinity did not change, remaining $146,450.

But the new disclosure gives more detail about where that money came from. It shows individual contributions, ranging from $1,000 to $20,000, from a few well-heeled North Texas philanthropists and business leaders.

In filings made public last week, Mr. Holcomb had listed $94,450 in contributions from corporations and other organizations.

He said he didn't file a separate itemized list of individual contributions because he misread the forms. He amended the group's report, on file with the Dallas city secretary's office, after the omission was brought to his attention by The Dallas Morning News.

The largest individual contribution to Save the Trinity, $20,000, came from oilman Louis A. Beecherl.

Dallas investor Peter O'Donnell Jr. and his wife, Edith, together gave $10,000. J. Ralph Ellis Jr. of Irving, an oil executive active in many civic organizations, also gave $10,000.

Frances Walne of Richardson, widow of the founder of Herb's Paint & Body Shops and the mother of former Dallas City Council member Alan Walne, gave $5,000. So did Deedie Rose, an arts patron and wife of Rusty Rose, former co-owner of the Texas Rangers.

In a videotaped endorsement for Save the Trinity, Ms. Rose said the Trinity River Corridor Project, of which the toll road is one component, has the power to transform Dallas.

"Great urban plans or the lack thereof make enormous impacts on the way we live and work in the city," she said, "and this ... was an attempt to get a great urban plan for this enormous asset that we have."

Mr. Holcomb's group has emerged as the organized opposition to an effort by City Council member Angela Hunt to force a public vote on the toll road.

Ms. Hunt's group, TrinityVote, has gathered more than 80,000 signatures for a November referendum. The city secretary is expected to announce by the end of the week whether a sufficient number – about 48,000 – are valid.

According to its finance report, TrinityVote raised more money (about $197,000) and spent more (about $219,000) than Save the Trinity.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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"This is a bad idea, a bad concept. It is insanity, and it should be stopped."

Private toll roads 'insanity,' Eltife says

State senator also says he's 'embarrassed' by cut in community college funds

July 25, 2007

The Longview News-Journal
Copyright 2007

Texas toll roads, teacher accountability and water conservation plans were among a laundry list of issues that state Sen. Kevin Eltife brought Tuesday to Longview's Summit Club as guest speaker of the Governmental Affairs Luncheon.

Sponsored by the Longview Partnership, the luncheon event was well-attended and informative, said President Kelly Hall.

Eltife, R-Tyler, recapped the just completed 80th legislative session while providing a preview of the next session in 2009.

Hall said about 150 people packed the Summit Club to hear the senator on a day when it is usually hard to draw a crowd because of competing civic club meetings.

"I think I want to move to Longview. I never get this big of crowd in Tyler," Eltife said.

Eltife said he served on four "of the hottest" committees during 2007: the Senate Business and Commerce, Finance, Natural Resources and Nominations.

He said there were many issues that came before the committees that affected East Texans. Among those was Senate Bill 3, which deals with the management and development of the state's water resources. The bill, which the Texas Legislature passed into law this year, takes a comprehensive approach to the state's water policy, which includes stressing conservation, providing for future sources of water, and maintaining the ecological balances in our state's current natural water resources. Ninteen sites across the state have been designated as reservoir sites, though reservoirs might not be built at any specific site.

The big issue in the water bill is the Marvin Nichols Reservoir in Bowie County, which would address the long-term needs of the Dallas area.

If built, Eltife said, the Dallas area would benefit from the reservoir more than rural areas such as Longview.

Eltife crafted an amendment to the bill stipulating that Region D, which includes rural areas such as Longview, had the right to 20 percent of the water from the proposed Marvin Nichols. Region C, which encompasses the Dallas area, would pay all cost of construction, operation and maintenance of the site.

"If the Marvin Nichols is built, then we will be guaranteed some of that water and will not have to pay," Eltife said.

The senator said he had, and would continue to vote for, what he believed was best for his constituents — even if that put him in a negative light.

Eltife said he could not support Senate Bill 1643, which called for teachers to be held accountable based on some yet-to-be-determined benchmark.

Because the bill did not specify what the benchmark would be, Eltife said he could not support it.

Under the bill, a state agency such as the Texas Education Agency would determine the benchmark in the future.

"They would not tell us the benchmark for what they would hold the (teachers) accountable. As far as I am concerned, you can blow the TEA up and I will be happy with that," Eltife said.

Eltife said he wanted to see local school districts determine what their teachers would be accountable for.

For his stance on the issue, Eltife said a series of negative ads were ran, but the intent backfired.

"If anybody thinks they are going to change my vote by negative ads, they've got a screw loose," Eltife said. "The lesson is I'm going to do what I think is best for us. I can't be bought, and you cannot steal my soul."

The senator said he is opposed to building toll roads and turning them over to private contractors because the state would not have control over toll amounts, or the roads.

"This is a bad idea, a bad concept," he said. "It is insanity, and it should be stopped."

Instead, the gas tax should be increased to keep up with inflation to allow the state to build bridges, intersections, expanded roadways and outer loops.

"If you go to the pump, you fill up, you use the road, you need to be willing to pay," he said.

Eltife said the state should increase its contribution to the teacher retirement system, and that Gov. Rick Perry's veto on community college funding was a disaster.

"I am embarrassed by it. He cut $150 million to $160 million in funding," Eltife said.

In June, Perry line-item vetoed $154 million that had been budgeted to fund community college employees' health insurance benefits.

"If you are a community college board, you are looking at having to raise tuition or property taxes to make up for the funding cuts," Eltife said.

Keith Honey, chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, said it was refreshing to have the senator as the group's guest speaker.

"If there is anyone here who does not know where he stands on issues, it's your fault," he said.

© 2007 The Longview News-Journal:

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry organizes trade mission to Mexico

Texas Trade Mission to Mexico 2007

8th Annual Texas Trade & Investment Mission to Mexico --Energy Sector from August 27-29, 2007


Victor G. Carrillo, Commissioner
Texas Railroad Commission
Copyright 2007

This is an invitation for you to participate in the 8th Annual Texas Trade & Investment Mission to Mexico — Energy Sector, an event organized by Governor Rick Perry’s Office.

Our event will be held from August 27-29, 2007, at the Maria Isabel Sheraton Hotel in Mexico City. This year, we are extremely honored that Governor Perry will be leading our delegation. Joining us will be Secretary of State Phil Wilson; Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson; PUC Commissioner Julie Parsley; TCEQ Commissioner Buddy Garcia, and yours truly.

Last year, over 125 Texas energy sector business leaders participated. As in past years, we will have excellent speakers, including top PEMEX officials, high-level Mexican government officials, and Texas elected and appointed officials. Confirmed speakers include Dr. Georgina Kessel, Secretary of Energy, Dr. Jesús Reyes-Heroles, PEMEX Director General and Francisco Salazar, Chairman of Mexico's Energy Regulatory Commission. U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza has again graciously agreed to host an evening reception at his residence – a great opportunity to network with energy sector participants and elected and appointed Texas and Mexican officials.

With the newly elected administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderón there is much news and many developments to discuss on the Mexican political front and its potential impact on the energy sector and oil and gas imports and exports. We hope to discuss many energy-related issues of importance to you.

Specific information regarding the trade mission (registration fees/form, hotel reservation, preliminary agenda) and questions may be directed to my office at (512) 463-7131 or Roberto De Hoyos, Office of the Governor, at or (512) 936-0250. I encourage you to register soon, as this has become an increasingly popular trade mission. Hotel reservations must be made directly with the Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel & Towers.

Texas and Mexico have an inextricably intertwined past, present and future. While Texas exported to 220 foreign destinations in 2006, Mexico was again our greatest trading partner with Texas exports to Mexico totaling $54.9 billion in 2006. Come join us as we work to forge relationships to encourage energy-related trade with our friends and neighbors to the south in Mexico.

© 2007 Texas Insider:

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Eminent Domain uses "government force to transfer property from the politically powerless to the wealthy and connected."

Two years after Kelo decision, justices’ warnings coming true

July 24, 2007

By Dick Carpenter and John Ross
Worcester Telegram
Copyright 2007

The fact remains that the awesome power of eminent domain is disproportionately trained on residents who are lower-income, minority or less-educated.

It has been two years since the now-infamous Kelo decision, in which five Supreme Court justices ruled that the Constitution permits the use of eminent domain to seize well-maintained private property for economic development — that is, a real estate developer’s promise that his or her project will produce more tax revenue than someone’s existing home or small business.

Although such projects relying on the use of government force to remove property owners have been all too common in recent history, the June 23, 2005, decision marked the first time the Supreme Court allowed condemnation for a purely private purpose masquerading as a “public use.”

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor noted in her vigorous dissent that although virtually any property can be seized under such rationale, “the fallout from this decision will not be random. … [T]he government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more.” In a concurring dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas said that the ruling “guarantees that these losses will fall disproportionately on poor communities.”

Both of these predictions provide a testable hypothesis in the bounds of social science that we put to the test using U.S. Census Bureau data to develop a demographic profile of residents of neighborhoods where eminent domain is authorized (or being used) for private redevelopment projects. This demographic profile was then compared to that of residents in surrounding communities who were not subject to the loss of their property.

According to the data, those who live under the threat of eminent domain consistently live on significantly fewer earnings, with a median income of less than $19,000 compared to more than $23,000 in nearby neighborhoods. Twenty-five percent live at or below poverty, compared to only 16 percent in surrounding communities.

Those under eminent domain’s threat have completed less education and are more likely to be racial or ethnic minorities — some 58 percent of the population in threatened areas compared to only 45 percent outside of project areas. All of these results were “statistically significant,” meaning the outcomes weren’t merely the result of chance; they can be considered representative of the overall population studied; that is, residents targeted by eminent domain.

This analysis — of 184 neighborhoods ranging from small towns to large cities across the nation — vindicates O’Connor’s and Thomas’ dire warnings. Although the data do not show that local officials and developers target specific areas because residents are lower-income, minority or less-educated, the fact remains that the awesome power of eminent domain is disproportionately trained on them. As O’Connor wrote, “The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.”

The revitalization of America’s communities does not and should not rely on “Robin Hood in reverse” — the use of government force to transfer property from the politically powerless to the wealthy and connected. This amounts to nothing less than the abuse of eminent domain power and requires the restoration of the constitutional right for all Americans to be secure in their homes or businesses regardless of their income, race or education.

Dick Carpenter is director of Strategic Research, and John Ross a research assistant at the Institute for Justice, which argued the Kelo eminent domain case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

© 2007 Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.:

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Monday, July 23, 2007

"The highway lobby is in full bloom, and they have managed to captivate some very green elected officials."

Toll critic Adkisson ousted as MPO chairman


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

City and county officials battled Monday over who should control the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The battle pitted city and county officials against each other, and they couldn't even agree on whether controversial plans for 70 miles of toll roads had anything to do with it.

The city, which has more seats on the board, won 10-7, making Councilwoman Sheila McNeil the new chairwoman.

McNeil, who just got re-elected to City Council, was appointed to the MPO board last month along with three rookie council members. She said the city just wanted to keep the chairmanship another two years, and that she doesn't have an opinion yet on toll plans.

"The city is just trying to maintain its leadership on the board," McNeil said. "This was not a toll-road vote."

The board has swung the chairmanship back and forth between the city and county, with no set times, but former Councilman Richard Perez had to step down after two years because of council term limits. Since 1988, the city had the chairmanship 12 years and the county 10.

County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, who has been on the board nine years and lost the chair to McNeil, said the vote had to do with pressure from highway officials to lock him out of the job because he often criticizes toll plans.

"The issue here is that the highway lobby is in full bloom, and they have managed to captivate some very green elected officials," he said.

Windcrest Mayor Jack Leonhardt, who presided Monday, said the vote was to keep a toll critic from sullying the image of the MPO, which oversees how more than $200 million a year in gasoline tax revenue is spent.

"It is wrong for this board to be labeled as an anti-toll board," he said.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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