Saturday, August 04, 2007

"Perry might have done well to research the ways in which Mississippi appears 'enlightened' compared to Texas before he opened his mouth."

Five reasons to 'become Mississippi'

August 04, 2007

The Longview News-Journal
Copyright 2007

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, in remarks dating back to January 18, 2003, commented, "I don't want to become Mississippi." He went on to mention transportation, economic development and education — three areas in which states are struggling in tight economic times. As one might expect, the leadership of Mississippi took great exception to his remarks.

There is nothing wrong with being proud to be a Texan; however, Perry might have done well to research the ways in which Mississippi appears "enlightened" compared to Texas before he opened his mouth. A quick comparison reveals at least five ways in which Texas might do well to "become Mississippi."

In Mississippi, everyone is in someone's community college tax district. Just as the public school system is available to all citizens in Mississippi, the entire state is covered by accessible higher education. What is the result? Greater affordability and access to higher education. Furthermore, for public education, Mississippi spends $3,434 per pupil, versus $3,186 in Texas.

Texas has the highest rate of uninsured children in the nation, with 20.2 percent lacking coverage, compared to 13.2 percent for Mississippi. Texas leads the nation in total population without health insurance at 24.2 percent. Mississippi, on the other hand, has a total of 17.4 percent uninsured, ranking 13th.

Regarding state and local spending per individual, a comparison of both states for the year 2000 shows that Mississippi spent $4,897 per person. Texas spent $4,592. That might sound like something to be proud of, were it not for one little matter: The data also show the overall tax bill for Mississippians totaled $2,214 per person per year. Texans paid more — $2,504.

Texas ranks sixth in the nation for crimes per 100,000 residents, with 6,439. Mississippi ranks 36th nationally with 4,418.

Consider a few more categories. Surprised? Highways. Perhaps it might support Perry's argument for increased toll roads that Mississippi spent $433 per person on highways in 2000, while Texas spent only $345. Parks and natural resources? Mississippi spent $137 per person, while Texas only $107.

Furthermore, both states rank fairly low in the percentage of their populations over 25 holding a high school diploma, but Mississippi ranks 44th with 80.3 percent while Texas comes in 46th with 79.2 percent.

Mississippi spends like a poor state because it is a poor state. Texas spends like a poor state because state elected officials do not place a high value on health and education.

The point of this comparison is not to belittle Texas. Rather, it is to show that a state which has been blessed with so many resources, so much wealth, so large a population and such diversity has the potential to do so much better — to take better care of all Texans and provide better education, safer communities, and a better standard of living for everyone.

A government for the people will fulfill that mission. Hoping for such a government will not be enough; we have to work to make such a government a reality in Texas.

William Holda is the president of Kilgore College.

© 2007 The Longview News-Journal:

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"Money would be better spent engaging people in a meaningful dialogue as opposed to propping up a flawed project that flowed from a flawed process."

TxDOT spends $9 million on public relations effort


by Christine DeLoma

Volume 12 Issue 4
Lone Star Report
Copyright 2007

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) wants you to know that there’s no new money available to pay for non-tolled road construction. That’s why it is spending up to $9 million on a new ad campaign promoting toll roads and the unpopular Trans-Texas Corridor.

While critics call the TV, radio and web advertising campaign a waste of taxpayer dollars, the agency argues it has no other choice but to tell its side of the story.

Said TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott: “This is a direct response to one of the most frequent criticisms our agency receives, which is we are not responsive to the public, that we don’t do a good job of communicating what we’re doing and why, and we’ve taken those criticisms in stride.”

Corridor opponents are predictably criticizing TxDOT’s new touchy feely approach. David Stall of Corridor Watch, called it a “propaganda campaign to sway public opinion.”

“I think the money would be better spent in engaging people in a meaningful dialogue as opposed to propping up a flawed project that flowed from a flawed process,” Stall said.

The public relations campaign, called Keep Texas Moving, was launched in June and is expected to cost between $7 million and $9 million. It is aimed at addressing top concerns regarding the Trans-Texas Corridor and toll roads in Texas - both of which have come under criticism in mostly rural areas.

Several 30-second radio ads feature the voice of Transportation commissioner Fred Underwood. One spot called “Fair Treatment” describes what is characterized as TxDOT’s tradition of working with landowners to negotiate right-of-way purchases that are fair and equitable.

Another ad, called “Trans-Texas Corridor,” tries to assuage rural concerns that the Corridor could divide counties. The ad says TxDOT will work with county officials and landowners to provide crossovers and local road connectors.

The ads tread on touchy subjects for rural folks who believe their voices have not been heard in past. To Stall, the public relations campaign is about trying “to justify the ends that they have already concluded.”

In addition to the corridor, TxDOT’s PR campaign is pushing toll roads. “We have to use the tools the Legislature has provided us,” Lippincott said. “They provided some guidance in terms of how we should engage the private sector, but the reality is, as long as TxDOT is authorized to construct toll roads, we have little choice but to pursue that option when and where it is appropriate.

“That’s why the commission identified more than 80 projects across the state, and we’re working with our local partners to start developing those projects.”

Is TxDOT running out of money?

The Texas Transportation Commission considered Aug. 23 shifting $6 billion from its construction budget to its maintenance budget over a five-year period - a longstanding discussion topic on which the commission took no formal action.

“That’s just to maintain the system that we have, in fact it takes money away from our efforts to battle congestion,” Lippincott said.

The problem, as he points out, is that state gas tax revenues soon won’t be able to cover the maintenance of state roads and the construction of new roads. The former is costlier than the latter.

“We will reach a point this year,” said Lippincott, “[that] the money that we receive from the state gas tax will only pay for maintenance of the system that we have. It will not pay for anything, for new capacity, for new lanes on existing roads or for new roads. So we have to come up with new resources.”

TxDOT is funded primarily by Fund 6, which is dedicated for the construction, improvement, and maintenance of the state highway system.

Funds are generated by state and federal gas tax dollars, motor vehicle registration fees, and sales tax on lubricants and federal funds.

The state constitution directs 25 percent of state gas tax revenues to be redistributed to education and 75 percent to Fund 6.

However, over the years the Legislature has dipped into the fund to pay for non-transportation related programs. In the 2008-09 biennium, for example, lawmakers siphoned off nearly $1.5 billion to pay for employee pay raises, retirement benefit packages, and ambulance services to match federal Medicaid funds at the Health and Human Services Commission.

According to TxDOT, federal money is also drying up. Over the past 18 months Congress has rescinded $666 million from Texas transportation funding. With the federal Highway Trust Fund expected to see red in 2009, state transportation officials expect up to $320 million in rescissions in the future.

With the Legislature seemingly unwilling to raise the state gas tax, TxDOT has tried to find “innovative financing” methods to finance new roads. This means entering into 50-year lease agreements (comprehensive development agreements) with private companies to design, bid, build, operate and maintain toll roads. In many cases, the agency has been met with resistance by the legislature over the details of these long-term lease agreements that give the state large upfront concession payments in exchange for giving private companies the right to charge tolls for a profit.

The legislature put the brakes on TxDOT’s use of public-private partnerships to build private toll roads, which include the Trans-Texas Corridor, in most rural areas for the next two years. Yet the agency can build segments of the project without using comprehensive development agreements.

In the wake of the recent Minneapolis bridge collapse, Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) has reiterated his call earlier this month for indexing the gas tax to inflation or the consumer price index. He picked up the support of the American Automobile Association of Texas on the condition that the gas tax funds be spent on transportation-specific projects.

Nonetheless, Lippincott points out that the House voted for a temporary gas tax cut for summer travelers. Had such a measure become law, it would have cost Fund 6 at least $700 million. The House also rejected an amendment by Transportation Committee chairman Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) to index the gas tax.

“The reality is that we have come nowhere near meeting the demands for improved transportation across the state,” Lippincott said.

The population has grown 65 percent over the last quarter century while road usage has increased by 95 percent. During this same time period, road capacity has increased only 8 percent.

Lippincott also cited the increasing cost of highway construction. Since 2002, road construction costs have increased 73 percent, far outstripping inflation. This includes the costs of steel, concrete and asphalt, which is a petroleum based product, he said.

© 2007 The Lone Star Report:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Friday, August 03, 2007

Trinity toll road boosters want new 'art' bridges.

The Bridge to the Truth

Aug 03, 2007

Jim Schutze
The Dallas Observer
Copyright 2007

Read The Dallas Morning News' coverage of the Minnesota bridge collapse closely for the story you will not see: What is the truth behind the claim of the Trinity toll road/signature bridge boosters that all of the major freeway bridges in downtown Dallas are slated for replacement, anyway?

I’m so sick of this story I wouldn’t bring it up again if it were not for the Minnesota story and all of the resulting national spate of bad-bridge stories. I had to hammer and hammer on the people at the Texas Department of Transportation to get them to tell me the truth, but finally they admitted that none of the Trinity bridges in question is on the list of bridges slated for replacement.

Look, this is way political, so TxDOT gets way semantic about it. Like, “It depends on what you mean by 'replacement.' It depends on what you mean by 'placement.' It depends on what you mean by 're.'”

They have gone to the Texas Attorney General to get permission to refuse to give me the actual lists, the underlying criteria and the inspection results. I think their argument was that I could be a bridge salesman just trying to gin up business. Anyway, it worked.

All I could get out of them is that the bridges downtown that the Trinity boosters want to replace with fancy pretty new bridges are not slated for replacement, as the boosters keep lying.

What is that all about? I can tell you. There is, indeed, a real reason for replacing those bridges. It’s called the toll road. In order to stick a toll road down there in the middle of the flood plain, they will have to dig the river down way deeper to keep it from flooding. Otherwise the toll road will be a fat man in the bathtub. It will displace too much water, causing it to spill over the levees.

But a deeper river channel would hit those bridge piers down there like an artillery battery. It’s called “scouring.” That much water moving that fast would dig those piers out like a big wave hitting a sand castle on the beach.

They have to get new bridges in there that will stand on fewer piers -- hence the Calatrava suspension bridges. And that cost -- hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe half a billion -- should therefore be added to the cost of the toll road. Nobody wants to admit that to the voters.

So we get this big fat stupid lie that the bridges have to be replaced anyway, and we might as well use this opportunity to turn them into bridge “art.”

Bridge “art?” Is that like sanitary sewer art?

Hey, somebody go up to Minneapolis-St. Paul tomorrow and give a speech: “Why we think you should spend your little Yankee dollars turning your bridges into art instead of making them safe.” Be sure to wear a helmet.

Somebody has got to find a way to force TxDOT to pony up a prioritized list of bridges in this area that need replacement. Then we need to look at the available money. Then we need to think about spending that money on art bridges instead of safe bridges.

In the meantime, maybe we will be able to force the toll road backers to admit that their stupid idea -- putting a small city of concrete right down in the flood plain -- is driving the need for new bridges over the flood plain.

You will not see that story or that discussion in The Dallas Morning News. That is a flat promise, a dare, a challenge and a screw-you directly from me to The News.

Cain’t do it, can you people? And you still really think you’re journalists?

Keep this in mind. We obviously do have bridges at the top of the list that need attention or replacement. Spending money on signature bridges instead takes money away from the real priorities. This is why bridges like that one in St. Paul don’t get replaced.

I went to a baseball game not too long in a big stadium -- I think it's called the Hubert Humphrey Apologist for the Viet Nam War Memorial Stadium -- right by that bridge up there. What if the good people of Minneapolis-St. Paul had spent their money instead on fixing the bridge?

It’s always the same question: Fix my roof or buy a jet-ski? Tough, tough question. Safe bridges? Art bridges?

© 2007 The Dallas Observer:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Will road privatization hucksters use the Minnesota bridge collapse tragedy to push private toll roads?

Federal, State Officials Respond to Collapse

U.S. House Vows Up to $250M in Aid


By Yvette Shields, Humberto Sanchez and Bond Buyer staff
The Bond Buyer
Copyright 2007

CHICAGO — The federal government would authorize up to $250 million of aid for emergency repairs and the reconstruction of the downtown Minneapolis bridge that collapsed over the Mississippi River Wednesday under legislation unanimously approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee yesterday.

Approval of the bill by the full House was expected as soon as late yesterday, according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. James L. Oberstar, a Democrat from Minnesota who also serves as the committee’s chairman. It is not clear when or if the Senate will take up corresponding legislation before it leaves for a monthlong August recess.

The bill would authorize $250 million in emergency funding for Minnesota under the Federal Highway Administration’s emergency relief program. However, Congress must still appropriate the funds to the program. The measure would also waive an annual $100 million per state cap on aid.

Under current law, the emergency relief program is provided with $100 million a year for aid. But the amount available for 2007 was been depleted by assistance provided to California. In April, a highway link to the Oakland Bay Bridge collapsed after a gasoline tanker truck overturned and erupted into flames. The U.S. DOT yesterday pledged the remaining $5 million in the program to Minnesota.

The eight-lane, 40-year-old bridge known as the Interstate 35W bridge in downtown Minneapolis buckled and then collapsed Wednesday during the evening rush hour. Four people are confirmed dead and at least 80 were injured as of press time. The bridge handled more than 140,000 vehicles daily. The cause of the failure remains under investigation although Department of Homeland Security officials quickly ruled out terrorism as a cause.

Locally, rescuers shifted their activities Thursday from rescue to recovery. As many as 30 remain missing. Gov. Tim Pawlenty called for the immediate inspection of similar bridges with the truss design, although he said he did not know how many of the state’s nearly 13,000 bridges would be affected.

Local, state, and national authorities descended on the area yesterday. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark Rosenker said the agency had assigned 19 investigators to the probe which could take one year to complete. At a news conference in Minneapolis, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters made the announcement regarding the $5 million grant to help in recovery efforts, to reroute traffic, and for repair work.

Officials appeared perplexed by the bridge’s collapse as four reviews since 2001 raised some concerns over the structure and recommended repairs, but none found the bridge unsafe.

“There were no structural deficiencies identified in the bridge,” Pawlenty said at the news conference, noting that major repairs or a new bridge might be needed after 2020, based on the most recent state reports. Some resurfacing and other cosmetic work had been under way on the bridge at the time of the collapse, but no structural work was being done by the state.

The deck truss bridge relied on a cantilever design in which the deck rests on triangular metal girders supported by steel arches between the spans. The trusses, which support the bridge, are located below the decks. The bridge has a main truss and a floor truss below it that provides additional support. The bridge section that crosses the river includes three continuous spans.

A 2001 report conducted by the University of Minnesota Department of Civil Engineering for the state transportation department noted the “bridge’s deck truss system has not experienced fatigue cracking, but it has many poor fatigue details on the main truss and the floor truss system.”

A 2005 assessment of the bridge included in a U.S. DOT database on bridges found the bridge “structurally deficient.” The ranking does not however mean a bridge is unsafe. State inspections in 2005 and 2006 found no major problems with the bridge.

At a press conference yesterday, Oberstar acknowledged that while the cause remains unknown, more federal funding is still needed to ensure the safety of the nation’s bridges and transportation infrastructure. “This is a tragedy, in and of itself,” he said. “But to … ensure the safety and integrity of the nation’s bridges we have to make a more robust investment that we are doing now.” “This is yet another wake-up call,” Oberstar said, adding that the federal government provides $2 billion a year for the nation’s bridges.

A bill that he introduced in 2003 with then committee chairman Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, would have provided $375 billion for highways and transit construction, including $3 billion for bridges, over six years. But the bill stalled, in part, because the White House opposed a gas tax increase included in the proposal. Congress ultimately approved a $287 billion transportation bill. That law expires at the end of fiscal 2009.

There are nearly 592,473 bridges throughout the nation that receive federal funding, Oberstar said. Of that total amount, 75,621 are structurally deficient, which means they have deteriorated structural components, but are not necessarily unsafe. Some 79,000 are considered functionally obsolete, which means the bridge has older design features and while it is not unsafe for all vehicles, it cannot safely accommodate current traffic volumes, and vehicle sizes and weights, according to information Oberstar released.

In Minnesota there are 12,989 bridges, of which 1,140 are considered structurally deficient and 440 are considered functionally obsolete, Oberstar said. A report from the American Society of Civic Engineers earlier in the decade found about 160,570 bridges structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

Market participants said they expected the collapse to focus the nation’s attention on the state of repair of bridges and infrastructure in general in the coming days and weeks. It remains to be seen how this tragedy will affect the recent trend of a growing number of international firms entering into public-private partnerships with states and localities to invest in infrastructure projects. This has coincided with a drop in available federal funds for such projects. Several investment banks have also diverted personnel and energy toward growing the P3 side of the infrastructure finance business.

But with the move toward more private involvement in the sector, there has been some backlash from voters and legislators, including Oberstar, who has warned that rampant construction of private toll roads operated by private companies could fragment an integrated transportation system and prove a disservice to American motorists and taxpayers.

Locally, the state has a strong record in funding infrastructure and a reputation for strong management of its infrastructure portfolio, according to Richard Ciccarone, head of Merritt Research Services LLC, which maintains a database of the average age of the nation’s infrastructure assets. The state’s assets also are not as old as in some states with large, older cities.

“Minnesota is not the place where you would expect a bridge to collapse” given its record, he said. “A tragedy like this will get people focused on infrastructure again.”

Standard & Poor’s issued a special report yesterday saying the collapse would not impact Minneapolis or the state’s triple-A credit ratings. The bridge was originally financed with state and federal funds. The state’s share came from general obligation borrowing that is repaid with the transportation-related fees and taxes in its trunk highway fund. Minnesota’s $4 billion GO portfolio includes $522 million of trunk highway GOs. The state will bear ultimate responsibility for rebuilding the bridge. The collapse, aside from emergency response efforts, should have “little financial implication” for the city, the agency said.

Minnesota includes funding for local bridge repairs and replacement on its biennial capital budgets that are primarily financed with GO borrowing. The 2006 budget included an appropriation of $52.5 million for local bridge replacement and repair. State voters last November approved a constitutional amendment dedicating additional motor fuel sales taxes to transportation projects from the general fund. Democrats also approved $1.5 billion of new transportation borrowing, but the governor vetoed it.

Fitch Ratings rates the city and state AAA and Moody’s Investors Service rates both Aa1.


Governors across the nation responded to the news of the Minneapolis collapse by ordering immediate inspections of their own bridges, especially those with similar designs; defending their records on investment and calling for additional funding.

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was expected to make an announcement yesterday that would call better coordination among state agencies involved in bridge operation and management, including the New York State Thruway Authority, Department of Transportation, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority bridges and tunnels.

New York City Department of Transportation deputy commissioner Lori Ardito said the city has spent $3 billion on maintaining its bridges over the past eight years and plans to spend $2 billion more over the next two years. Ardito sought to reassure New Yorkers on the safety of its bridges. “In New York we do not have any bridges that are structurally deficient,” she said.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey owns and operates four bridges in the metropolitan New York City area: George Washington, Bayonne, Goethals, and Outerbridge Crossing. Biannual inspections of the George Washington and Bayonne bridges are under way now and expected to be completed in the fall. The other two bridges were inspected in 2006. Inspections during the last two years necessitated 19 emergency repairs on the bridges. The Port Authority’s 2007-2016 capital plan calls for $1.7 billion of state-of-good-repair projects.

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine has asked the state’s Deptartment of Transportation to prepare a report on the state’s bridges within the next 45 days detailing the ownership, rating, and condition of all bridges — including those operated by the state, counties, municipalities, and private entities — the inspection process, and how much it would cost to repair them.

Massachusetts’ Transportation Finance Commission released a report in March indicating that the commonwealth would need to spend $2.4 billion to bring roughly 500 bridges to a state of good repair. That figure does not include an additional $700 million to upgrade 10 “high cost bridges,” or bridges that require more than $20 million each in repairs.

In Illinois, Gov. Rod Blagojevich ordered state transportation officials and the Illinois Toll Highway Authority to conduct inspections of bridges with similar designs, those under construction, or ones that carry heavy traffic.

Oklahoma Department of Transportation has an eight-year program under way to replace or improve more than 800 bridges in the state, including several spans on interstate highways. The 2006 Legislature appropriated $125 million for bridge replacement programs, with $100 million to the state highway system and $25 million allocated for bridges on county roads.

Missouri, too, announced the inspection of 11 bridges with somewhat similar truss designs among the 10,000 bridges in the state highway system. Of the state’s bridges, more than 1,600 are considered structurally deficient, another 1,200 are considered functionally obsolete because of their design.

In Arkansas, a 2006 study that was updated last February the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department said of the state’s 7,120 highway bridges in the state, a total of 1,257 were in need of repair, rehabilitation, or replacement. Of those, 297 were considered structurally deficient and 960 were functionally obsolete. Total cost of the bridge replacement work is estimated at $1.6 billion. Last March, Gov. Mike Beebe signed a bill that calls for a statewide vote in November 2008 on authorization for up to $575 million of federal highway grant anticipation and tax revenue bonds to be issued by the Arkansas Highway Commission for various transportation projects.

Rhode Island Gov. Donald L. Carcieri said the state was largely up to date with its bridge inspections. The governor had hoped to use $60 million of tobacco funds to finance road and bridge projects and leverage federal funds but the General Assembly rejected the proposal.

© 2007 The Bond Buyer:

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

The pro-toll road boys of Dallas: 'More pork-cake than beefcake.'

Screw This

Politics are boring, let's talk about sex


By Patrick Williams
The Dallas Observer
Copyright 2007

By God, when that Jacquielynn Floyd is right, she's right. Even a blind hog finds an acorn once in a while, they say, and Floyd found one with her Morning News column Tuesday: Democracy is tedious and fatiguing.

So let's leave the Trinity River toll road vote to the people who actually have the brains and energy to make cogent arguments and talk about more interesting stuff this week, like sex. See, it says right here in Buzz's inbox that a pair of psychology researchers at the University of Texas in Austin have uncovered 237 motivations for people to have sex, which is roughly 235 more than we were aware of. Our two: Because we had the chance or, when alone, because nothing good was on television.

Beyond pleasure or the desire to reproduce—mutually exclusive in our book—researchers David Buss and Cindy Meston found tons of reasons for having sex. For instance, there are spiritual reasons such as "I wanted to be closer to God," popular among altar boys and members of certain local Pentecostal denominations. And there are goal-based reasons, like revenge. ("I wanted to give someone a sexually transmitted disease.")

Goal-oriented screwing. Huh. Sort of makes Buzz think of Mayor Tom Leppert's announcement that he was turning over the petitions gathered by the Trinity toll road opponents to District Attorney Craig Watkins. Leppert wants Watkins' office to see if it can scare up enough bad signatures to cast a bad light on the HUGELY successful grassroots petition drive that will allow voters another say in whether they want a freeway by the river. That Leppert, what a man of the people. As he prepares to comb through those petitions, Buzz hopes Watkins doesn't consider the fact that the big-biz, pro-toll road white suits no doubt backed Republican Toby Shook in last year's race for district attorney.

But we're being fatiguing again. Let's get back to sex, 'cause we don't want to bore all you newspaper readers with stuff about politics, public works or the future of the city. Let's talk about a calendar sent to us by 60-Mile Men Inc., a Michigan nonprofit set up to support Breast Cancer 3-Day Events. (It's not affiliated with the Dallas three-day walk, coming in October.) The calendar features average men, ages 24 to 73, in various states of undress. It's more pork-cake than beefcake and reminds Buzz of what must be high on the list of sexual motivations for women: "It was dark, and I was really, really, really drunk."

Yet, oddly, seeing all those pants-less, pasty, portly bodies makes us think again of how those pro-toll road boys must have felt when they heard the anti-roadies collected enough signatures.

But let's forget all that. Come back next week. We promise to write about our cats.

© 2007 The Dallas Observer:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Sour Grapes at City Hall

Inquiry appears unlikely to derail toll-road vote

August 2, 2007

From Staff Reports
2007 WFAA-TV, Inc.
Copyright 2007

Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt says City Secretary Deborah Watkins and City Attorney Tom Perkins have told her that City Hall sent 47 Trinity River toll road petition sheets to the Dallas County district attorney's office to be investigated for fraud.

"I've verified this all with the city secretary's office," Ms. Hunt said.

City officials had refused to confirm these numbers until Wednesday.

"I had that conversation with council member Hunt," Ms. Watkins said. "However, because the cases have been forwarded to the district attorney, I could not elaborate any further."

Each page of signatures contains about 10 names, so up to 470 total signatures could be found to be fraudulent. The city secretary's office reportedly verified about 52,500 signatures – well over the 48,000 signatures needed to trigger a November vote on the toll road – so it appeared Wednesday that the referendum would go forward regardless of what any investigation concludes.

Meanwhile, District Attorney Craig Watkins said he received a package Wednesday from City Hall after complaining Tuesday that Dallas officials hadn't yet sent him potentially fraudulent petition signatures.

City officials contend they sent a package to Mr. Watkins' office Tuesday afternoon.

© 2007 WFAA-TV, Inc.:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

"Watkins and Perkins ... are afraid to ruffle [The City Council's] feathers, even if they have to sacrifice a little personal integrity."

Schutze's Index

Cheat Sheet on Petition Signatures

Aug 01, 2007

Jim Schutze
Dallas Observer Blog
Copyright 2007

Total number of signatures collected by TrinityVote: 91,000

Of those, total number certified by City Secretary Deborah Watkins as valid: 52,500

Total number required by law to call a referendum on the Trinity Toll Road: 48,000

Surplus of certified signatures: 4,500

What the law cares about: How many good signatures are there

Total number of allegedly suspicious petition pages: 47

Total number of pages turned in: 10,000-plus

Maximum number of signatures that could be invalidated if all 47 pages were thrown out: 470

Total number of suspicious pages that were among the pages certified by Watkins: 0

Total good signatures if all 47 pages were thrown out: 52,500

Effect on the petition campaign and referendum if all 47 pages were thrown out: 0

Best inside political wrinkle: Watkins and City Attorney Tom Perkins both have confided to multiple council members that a claim of fraud leveled against the uncertified signatures can have no effect on the outcome because the “suspect” signatures are not among the certified signatures. But neither Watkins nor Perkins will issue a public statement conceding that the suspect signatures are not among the certified signatures.

Why? Pressure from Mayor Tom Leppert and the Dallas Citizens Council, who hope these charges will muddy up the TrinityVote campaign before it gets started.

Put another way: Watkins and Perkins serve at the pleasure of the city council. The entire city council is behind Leppert and against Angela Hunt on this deal. Watkins and Perkins are afraid to ruffle those feathers, even if they have to sacrifice a little personal integrity.

Result: Politics by criminal accusation

Most interesting little window for Jim Schutze to peek through: What this means about Leppert. Hey. Interesting, eh? Beneath those white gloves, Mr. Corporate Boardroom has some stinky pinkies, don’t he? --Jim Schutze

© 2007 The Dallas Observer:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Toll road financier Maquarie's shares buckle under risky investments

Macquarie Shares Plunge, Funds at Risk

August 01, 2007

By Chris Oliver
Dow Jones
Copyright 2007

HONG KONG-- Shares of Macquarie Bank Ltd plunged more than 10% in Sydney trading Wednesday, a day after the bank warned some of its high-yield funds could see sharp losses owing to the continuing fallout from the U.S. subprime mortgage market.

Analysts said the declines were fueled by concerns the global widening in yield spreads could spell an end to the era of cheap financing and negatively impact Macquarie's business model.

"There's investor fear that what's been happening in the debt markets means the debt taps are going to be turned off and that could impact upon deal flow and ultimately fees generated," said Mike Younger, an equities analyst with Citigroup in Melbourne.

Macquarie, which has A$36.6 billion ($31.13 billion) under management, earns about 40% of its income from packaging assets into specialty funds which it then sells to investors. It also charges annual management and advisory fees on the packaged funds. About 60% of its income comes from traditional investment banking. It was Australia's leading mergers-and-acquisition advisor last year after advising on its own deals, which include the purchase of Duquesne Light Holdings, the French toll road operator APRR and Copenhagen Airport.

Macquarie shares fell 10.7% A$73.70 ($62.47) in late Sydney trading, down $A8.80 from Tuesday's close. The declines eliminated A$2 billion in market value, according to reports.

In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange late Tuesday Macquarie said investors in two Fortress Investment Ltd. high-yield funds could face losses of up to 25% in July. The funds, which had collected A$230 from investors, operated at seven times leverage to create a fund of between A$1.2 billion and A$1.3 billion, according to a Macquarie spokesman.

The funds could lose A$300 million, the Australian newspaper reported earlier Wednesday.

Fortress said it has had to sell some of its holdings to reduce leverage so that the loan to value ratio meets covenants on the borrowings it has.

The funds were hit by sharp losses after its underlying loan portfolio declined 4% between June 29 and July 30.

"The pricing changes that have come through the U.S. market has effectively taken 4% off the investment return of those particular funds, but because Macquarie has them geared at six to seven times, it has actually seen a 25% decline in the assets under management over the last month," Younger said.

Los-Angeles-based Four Corners LLC, which is two-thirds owned by Macquarie Bank, manages the Fortress funds' portfolio. Macquarie said the funds do not have any direct exposure to the U.S. sub-prime mortgage market, but problems in the sector weighed on the prices of all credits.

Macquarie Fortress Notes, which are traded on the Australian Stock Exchange, plunged 24% to close at 18 Australian cents Wednesday.

A marketing brochure described the Macquarie Fortress Notes as investing in U.S. senior secured loans with a forecast yield of 10.1%.

"The portfolio continues to be adversely impacted by price volatility in the U.S. credit market," said Peter Lucas, director of Macquarie Fortress Investments, in the statement. "There have been no defaults in the portfolio and no reason to believe that the loans in the portfolio will not continue to pay their periodic interest and repay the principal outstanding at par."

Lucas added the fund may have to make additional assets sales to reduce leverage. Macquarie does not have any direct exposure to the funds, a spokesman said.

Fortress is the third Australian fund manager to report distress relating to the brewing turmoil in the U.S. sub-prime mortgage sector. Sydney-based fund managers Basis Capital and Absolute Capital have frozen investors money in some troubled funds which had subprime investments.

© 2007 Dow Jones Company, Inc.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

"What appeared to be a great idea withered under further public scrutiny."

U.S. Privatization Drive Slowed by Roadblocks


By Joseph A. Giannone - Analysis
Copyright 2007

NEW YORK -- What Wall Street had thought would be a flood of U.S. infrastructure deals has turned out to be a trickle.

Last year bankers predicted cash-strapped state and city governments would sell or lease airports, toll roads and other public assets to investors with billions of dollars clamoring for stable, long-term returns.

Instead, public resistance against such sales has caused government officials in many states to hesitate, slowing deal traffic to a crawl.

"There's no problem on the demand side," said Dana Levenson, head of Royal Bank of Scotland's North American infrastructure finance and advisory business. "'Robust' would be a vast understatement. It's just not being matched by supply."

The $1.8 billion lease of the Chicago Skyway toll bridge in 2005, last year's $3.8 billion Indiana Toll Road lease and a growing pipeline of proposed deals indicated the United States at last had joined the worldwide privatization wave.

The global volume of deals involving public and private infrastructure assets — from power utilities and seaports to airports and toll bridges — last year tripled to $150 billion from the year before.

By some estimates, specialist funds have earmarked more than $75 billion for infrastructure investments, which with additional borrowing represents up to $400 billion in dry powder. Some bankers say buying power exceeds $750 billion.

All across Wall Street, firms have assembled teams and raised new specialized funds to handle the expected surge of public asset deals.

Lehman Brothers earlier this month hired former U.S. Treasury Assistant Secretary Emil Henry to lead infrastructure deals. Before RBS hired him in March, Levenson helped negotiated the sale of Chicago Skyway as that city's chief financial officer.

Credit Suisse tapped senior dealmaker Adebayo Ogunlesi to help run Global Infrastructure Partners, a $1 billion venture formed last May with General Electric.


Yet U.S. deal activity has come to a halt amid unexpectedly strong public resistance to parting with taxpayer-funded assets, many of which are monopolies.

"The market has slowed because there is growing public skepticism that these deals are not in fact good for the public interest," said John Foote, a Harvard Kennedy School of Government fellow and transportation expert who has testified before Congress on privatization.

Bankers had compiled lists of assets that could pass into private hands, including Chicago's Midway Airport, the Illinois lottery and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. New Jersey, where former Goldman Sachs co-CEO Jon Corzine is governor, hired UBS AG to explore options for the New Jersey Turnpike, bridges, the lottery and more.

Texas, Virginia and other states wanted to tap private money to develop new toll roads. Yet in most cases, these deals ran into red lights.

The Illinois house earlier this month voted against the lottery lease by a margin of 78-6, making it unlikely that initiative will pass this year.

Privatization plans have run afoul of legislatures in a raft of other states in recent months, including Indiana, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In Texas, lawmakers declared a two-year moratorium on privatized highways.


Yet bankers and privatization experts said U.S. deals eventually will happen. After years of underinvestment, for example, more than $500 billion is needed to repair roads and build highways to handle growing traffic.

Lawmakers meanwhile are hard pressed to raise taxes further and may be limited in their ability to increase public debt.

"The needs are so great, this is not the end but just a delay in going to market," said Mark Florian, head of Goldman Sachs' infrastructure financing and advisory business.

Advocates say private interests like Australia's Macquarie Bank and Spain's Cintra can do a better job managing roads and other assets. Windfall payments generated by these deals can fill gaping budget gaps or fund the development of new infrastructure.

Yet credit markets have tightened up in recent weeks, which could make it more expensive to finance deals. Moreover, some observers say the public is right to be cautious.

Lawmakers across the United States have had time to review deals signed by Chicago and Indiana. Critics of these transactions say these deals are short-term budget fixes that don't do enough to protect taxpayers or expand capacity.

Trucking lobbies, motorist clubs and public interest groups, among others, oppose privatizing roads for fear private owners will raise tolls and be less accountable to the public.

"It boils down to the fact that what appeared to be a great idea," Foote said, "withered under further public scrutiny."

© 2007 Reuters

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Third PBS&J employee sentenced to prison for $36 million embezzlement scheme lasting 10 years

Third PBS&J Employee Sent to Prison


The Associated Press
Copyright 2007

MIAMI — A third former employee at engineering and construction company PBS&J was sentenced to prison Monday after pleading guilty to taking part in a $36 million embezzlement scheme.

Maria Garcia, 44, a former finance systems manager at the firm, was sentenced to more than five years in prison by Senior U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King. Garcia is also required to pay $9.5 million in restitution to the company.

Garcia's lawyers had asked King to sentence her to only home confinement because she disclosed the decade-long embezzlement to investigators and alerted them to possible campaign finance irregularities involving others at the company.

But prosecutors said Garcia's assistance fell short of the extensive cooperation necessary for such leniency and had actually sought a sentence three months longer than King imposed. Garcia attorney Benson Weintraub indicated he may appeal the sentence.

Garcia, former Chief Financial Officer W. Scott DeLoach and Rosario Licata, a former accounts payable supervisor, pleaded guilty to embezzling money from the firm and spending it on expensive cars, yachts, jewelry, lavish homes and gambling. DeLoach and Licata were also sentenced to prison by King.

© 2007 The Associated Press:

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"Goliath isn't down, and this story isn't done yet."

A force to be reckoned with

July 30, 2007

James Ragland
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

The stakes were high, so I reckon that's why City Hall took its sweet time.

Our poor city secretary, Deborah Watkins, had 30 days to certify petitions aimed at forcing a vote on the Trinity River toll road proposal, and she exhausted nearly every hour of that time.

She almost exhausted my patience, too.

C'mon, can't the city figure out a better way to deal with such politically sensitive dynamite without going down to the wire?

Maybe the last-minute wrangling will help foster public confidence in the signature-counting process.

Or it just might undermine it.

We'll come back to that issue later, when we've all had a chance to catch our breath and absorb what took place late last night.

Here's what happened: City Council member Angela Hunt shook up the establishment and proved herself a force to be reckoned with.

Thirty days after turning in more than 80,000 signatures calling for a referendum on whether to scrap a proposed billion-dollar toll road inside the Trinity levees, the city secretary said Ms. Hunt had enough valid signatures (at least 48,000) to force a November election.

Now the city is at another major fork in the road: It must wait three more months to see whether voters, who approved the Trinity River project in 1998, will stick with the original plan or side with Ms. Hunt.

Mayor Tom Leppert, who had spoken out against Ms. Hunt's petition drive, said it is now time for the plan's supporters to roll up their sleeves and save the project.

"I think people are eager to get at it," Mr. Leppert said late Sunday night.

Ms. Hunt led a small army of supporters called TrinityVote, and she went toe-to-toe with Save the Trinity, a well-heeled group that fought to keep the project intact and on track.

Pardon my cliché, but it really was akin to David using a slingshot to go after Goliath. But keep this in mind: Goliath isn't down, and this story isn't done yet.

The next three months are key for Save the Trinity, and Mr. Leppert knows that. He said supporters of the project now must get out and sell its recreational and environmental virtues to the ultimate decision-makers – the voters.

"I'm real optimistic that come November, this will be voted in, but at the same time, we've got to be ready to go out and tell the story of the Trinity River project," Mr. Leppert said.

One thing's for sure: If backers of the Trinity project underestimated Ms. Hunt the first go-round, they better not do so again.

Mr. Leppert said he's up to the challenge, and I believe him.

"Part of life is always adjusting when things don't go your way," he said.

"This won't be the first time that we've had to overcome an obstacle."

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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"Washington's radical new faith-based financing is sabotaging national security."

Goldman Sachs Guru Warns of War-Debt Failure

Is America becoming a global credit risk? How to get back on track


By Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch
Texas Insider
Copyright 2007

Will Moody's downgrade America's debt next? Actually, that's already happening; our credit rating is collapsing with the dollar.

Foreign banks are dumping dollar reserves, while we gorge on cheap toys and bad pet food. Actually, our biggest "terrorist" threat is internal: Distorted values are downgrading our nation's "creditworthiness." We're like out-of-control kids with stolen credit cards, spending our future with no plans to repay.

Recently Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International), appeared before the U.S. House Budget Committee to "discuss an issue of great economic, financial and national security importance to our country -- the growing dependence of the United States on foreign capital." Currently we import $1 trillion new debt annually, with no repayment plans. That's a historic break from over two centuries of American policy.

Hormats was in Washington with warnings from his brilliant new book, "The Price of Liberty: Paying for America's Wars." He traces the history of American wartime financing from the Revolution through the War of 1812, the Civil War, the two World Wars and the Cold War to the present.

Conclusion: "One central, constant theme emerges: sound national finances have proved to be indispensable to the country's military strength" and long-term national security.

1776 to Iraq, national security demands fiscal responsibility

America's long tradition of war financing began with Alexander Hamilton: "In January 1790, Hamilton, by then the country's Treasury secretary, confronted the American people with a stark fact: the nation had run up a huge debt fighting the Revolutionary War. This debt, he wrote, was the 'price of liberty,' and the new government had to repay it.

The future creditworthiness of the United States, and ultimately the security and ability to finance future wars, would depend on how successfully and faithfully this was done."

Hamilton's principles have kept America's credit strong through every war since the Revolution ... until the Iraq War. Since then, "although U.S. leaders have warned that the war against terrorism could last for decades, the country lacks a multidecade financial strategy to address the challenge."

Iraq tossed the lessons of history out the window. Hormats says that despite the oft-repeated remark that 9/11 "changed everything, in the area of fiscal policy, however, it changed nothing. The country is pursuing a pre-9/11 fiscal policy in a post-9/11 world." That assessment comes from someone who worked inside Washington for over a decade before joining Goldman Sachs in the 1980s.

Unsustainable debt is weakening national security

America's new faith-based guns-and-butter policy is hurting both guns and butter. The war is costing us $12 billion a month. Hormats examined the Congressional Budget Office's projections for domestic costs: "In 2006, spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on the federal debt amounted to just under 60% of government revenues" and "if they continue on their current path, they will account for two-thirds by 2015."

• Social security from $550 billion to $960 billion
• Medicare from $372 billion to over $900 billion
• Medicaid from $181 billion to $390 billion

Worse yet, these commitments will continue skyrocketing in later decades. The CBO projects the federal debt rising from 40% of GDP to 100% in the next 25 years: "Continuing on this unsustainable path will gradually erode, if not suddenly damage, our economy, our standard of living, and ultimately our national security."

Hormats warns of the risks of this gross departure from Hamilton's principles: "Of late, the precedents and experiences of past generations have been cast aside. The 9/11 attacks were seen by many legislators as a license to spend more money on non-security programs, and Americans have not been called to make sacrifices. Tax cuts and spending increased on politically popular security-irrelevant domestic programs have been enacted as if there were no expensive defense programs to be funded."

Turning point in Iraq, where 'deficits don't matter'

In my opinion, the turning point occurred in late 2002. Remember, the Afghan War was hot. America was in recession and a bear market. The surpluses of the 1990s rapidly disappeared. Corporate scandals were damaging our global standing. Washington was pushing a second round of tax cuts. And the Iraq invasion was imminent.

Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, true to Hamiltonian principles, warned the White House of a coming fiscal crisis. The vice president retorted: "Reagan proved deficits don't matter." (Hormats tells me Reagan never said that.) Soon after, Cheney "fired" O'Neill ... and Hamilton's principles of sound war financing were dead.

Unfortunately, Washington's radical new faith-based financing is sabotaging national security. America's unsustainable deficits are making us extremely vulnerable to terrorists whose goal is to "attack the United States, perhaps with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons capable of killing enormous numbers of people and seriously disrupting the American economy," targeting a "major port or transportation center."

Hormats says America is now "relying on faith over experience, hoping that sustained growth will erase deficits and that the ballooning costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will be manageable in the coming decades without difficult reforms."

Yet economists now estimate these entitlements can only be "reformed" by either a cut in benefits or an increase in taxes greater that 40%. In short, today's faith-based economics is failing us.

The current Treasury secretary also appears to be supporting this new approach: Henry Paulson, former Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, recently told Fortune that "this is far and away the strongest global economy I've seen in my business lifetime."

Well, that sure sounds to me like yet another rejection of Hamiltonian principles in favor of the new faith-based policy, which assumes that global economies will always be strong and, therefore, foreign capital will indefinitely bankroll America's war machine at a low cost.

The danger is, it also assumes that American taxpayers will be able to indefinitely pay the interest costs of our burgeoning foreign debt ... on top of exploding unfunded domestic entitlements in Social Security and Medicare.

Time to rediscover 'Hamilton's gift' of war financing

Hormats was being much too diplomatic in summing up his warning to the House Budget Committee: "If government debt continues to pile up, deficits rise to stratospheric levels and heavy dependence on foreign capital grows, borrowing the money will be very costly. If America remains on its dangerous financial course Hamilton's gift to the nation -- the blessing of sound financing -- will be squandered."

The truth is, America's leaders have already squandered "Hamilton's gift," and along with it, more than two centuries of experience, replacing it with a new "faith-based" policy: "Deficits don't matter."

No wonder Main Street Americans have a "gut instinct" that we're a disaster waiting to happen. Not only are we "transferring an inordinate burden to future generations," says Hormats, Washington's undisciplined spending and total lack of a financial repayment plan is undercutting our national security and exposing America to the worst-case scenario: Another domestic terrorist attack that would trigger a "massive disruption of our economy" and a meltdown of America's credit rating throughout the world.

The truth is, America desperately needs a new "Hamilton" who understands that in calculating "the price of liberty," not only do deficits matter, Americans must have a plan to repay our debts ... if we want a strong credit rating that insures our national security for future generations.

© 2007 Texas Insider:

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Hunt: "This, to me, has just become a bloated project, a dangerous project."

Trinity road going to voters

Barring legal challenges, voters will decide in November whether to keep highway in Trinity corridor project plans

July 30, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Opponents of a toll road inside the Trinity River levees collected enough signatures to force a November vote on the project, the Dallas city secretary said Sunday night.

That means that barring a legal challenge (which is unlikely), Dallas voters will decide whether to kill the highway, a key component of the Trinity River Corridor Project.

The Trinity project, a massive public-works undertaking, also includes a downtown river park, wetlands, improved flood control and other recreational amenities.

"It's a new day in Dallas," City Council member Angela Hunt, who led the effort to get the toll-road question on the ballot, said late Sunday night.

"We will now begin educating voters about the importance of removing this toll road from our park."

Craig Holcomb, a former Dallas City Council member who heads Save the Trinity, a group that opposed Ms. Hunt's petition drive, said he, too, will turn his attention to educating voters.

"I look forward to going all over Dallas talking about what a good project this is and how hundreds of people have worked for over a decade to make all of the disparate parts fit together," he said.

"We will convince the public that this project will make a difference for Dallas, in terms of flood control, recreation, transportation and economic development."

Mayor Tom Leppert opposes the referendum. In the past, a majority of City Council members said they did, too.

The mayor said Sunday night that he had spoken "with all the council over the last day, and there was a hope to not go through with this.

"But I can also tell you people are really excited to go out and tell the story of the Trinity River project."

Ms. Hunt's group, TrinityVote, contends that many Dallas voters didn't realize that a highway was part of the deal when a $246 million city bond issue was approved for the Trinity project nine years ago. She said the highway will spoil what could be a world-class urban park.

What's next?

Now that the petitions for a vote on the Trinity toll road have been certified, the Dallas City Council has 20 days to act.

It must either A) pass the provisions of the ballot language as a city ordinance, killing the toll road outright; or B) call a Nov. 6 election for Dallas residents to vote.

The former is exceedingly unlikely, as a majority of the council and Mayor Tom Leppert support the road.

The City Council will vote on Aug. 8 or Aug. 15.

If passed in November, the measure would prohibit any road from being built within the Trinity River levees that has more than four lanes and a speed limit of more than 35 mph, and that doesn’t provide direct access to the river park.

The Web site for the toll road opponents, TrinityVote, is

The Web site for the road’s backers, Save the Trinity, is

Supporters of the toll road say it's needed to alleviate downtown traffic congestion. They say it's been approved already not just by those 1998 bond voters, but also by the City Council in 2003. And they say that scrapping the road would further delay other aspects of the Trinity project.

Ms. Hunt's group had 60 days to collect about 48,000 valid signatures from registered voters who live in Dallas. TrinityVote turned in more than 80,000 signatures on June 29. By law, City Secretary Deborah Watkins had until Sunday to certify whether a sufficient number of those were valid.

Mr. Holcomb said his group "will take a little bit of time to look the petitions over," but suggested that a legal challenge to Ms. Watkins' certification was unlikely. "Our focus will be on November," he said.

If approved by voters, the referendum would ban construction inside the levees of any road that's more than two lanes in each direction and has a speed limit of more than 35 mph.

The practical effect would be to kill the currently conceived Trinity toll road, which is envisioned as a high-speed, multi-lane highway. The road would run about nine miles, from U.S. Highway 175 south of downtown to the confluence of Interstate 35E and State Highway 183 to the north.

Seeking a new alignment for such a highway outside the levees would be prohibitively expensive, and acquiring the land to build it would take years, according to Mr. Holcomb and several downtown business groups.

A roadway inside the levees has been a part of the Trinity River project from Day One. But the size, configuration, cost and purpose of that road have long been matters of deep dispute.

In the Trinity plan first approved by the City Council shortly after the 1998 bond vote, the highway would have been divided with four southbound lanes on the Oak Cliff side of the river and four northbound lanes on the downtown side.

In 2003, at the urging of then-Mayor Laura Miller, the City Council revised the plan, coming up with a new version that council members said was much more environmentally friendly: All lanes were moved to the downtown side, providing unrestricted access to the downtown park from the Oak Cliff side. The road was reduced from eight lanes overall to six north of Continental Avenue and four south of there (with room to expand to six later.)

But the kinder, gentler version would still provide limited access to the riverside park; its chief function would be to whisk cars past downtown, alleviating congestion on Stemmons Freeway and other existing roads.

Ms. Hunt was elected to the City Council in 2005 from District 14, which includes parts of downtown, Uptown, East Dallas and Oak Lawn. She was appointed by Ms. Miller to the council's Trinity River committee and eventually came to question the cost of the road, which has escalated considerably, to almost $1 billion.

She said she reached her breaking point on the subject of the toll road early this year, when city staff informed the Trinity River committee that the road would have to be moved closer to the river — farther in from the levees — because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in the post-Katrina era, was concerned about protecting the integrity of those levees.

This would mean less park. It would also mean that those enjoying the park by the river's edge would be closer to the traffic noise from the tollway.

"This, to me, has just become a bloated project, a dangerous project," she said at the time. "Costs keep going up. Green space shrinks."

She announced plans to launch the petition drive shortly thereafter.

In talking with constituents, she said, she learned that many of them didn't know that when they voted for the bonds, they were voting for a toll road in their downtown park. The 1998 ballot measure, in describing the road, mentioned only "the Trinity Parkway and related street improvements."

However, news stories around the time of the 1998 bond vote clearly described the proposed road as a toll road. An advertisement taken out by environmental groups and others in The Dallas Morning News in April 1998 urged people to vote against the bonds, in part because the project included a "proposed eight-lane tollway inside the levee."

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

"The idea that there's this clique that knows best for the city – I find that very patronizing and arrogant."

Hunt not backing down in Trinity toll road fight

Council member barrels past city officials, business elite with toll road fight

July 29, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Editor's note: The Dallas city secretary is expected to announce Sunday whether a petition drive for a referendum on the Trinity toll road was successful. Check throughout the day for up-to-date coverage.

Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt walks along a Trinity River levee in the area slated for development as part of the Trinity River Corridor Project. Hunt led a petition drive in hopes of forcing a vote this November that could kill the Trinity toll road, a billion-dollar highway that would run between the levees.

It was early 2001. The young lawyer and her husband loved their small 1926 Tudor cottage, one of hundreds of vintage homes in the shady East Dallas enclave.

But all around them, change was afoot, and to Ms. Hunt, it stunk. Developers were swooping in, buying up quaint old houses, knocking them down and putting up big, garish ones.

"There was something special about this neighborhood. It was unlike any other area of Dallas we'd seen," the Dallas City Council member recalled last week. "That character was being eroded by the bulldozing of these 80-year-old homes."

Calling City Hall, she learned that she and her neighbors could organize a conservation district to protect the M Streets' architectural integrity. But to get the process rolling, they would need signatures on petitions – a lot of them.

"People who had lived there a long time told us they'd tried that before, and they could never get the petitions off the ground," she said. "They told us that even if we could do it, it would take five years.

"I looked at what was happening and said, 'In five years, this neighborhood is going to look like Plano.' "

So she and her supporters – much as they have this year in challenging the proposed Trinity toll road – started going door to door. Within months, they'd collected the signatures of 75 percent of M Street homeowners. The conservation district, established by the City Council in November 2002, became a model for other neighborhood preservation efforts.

Friends say Ms. Hunt's "Save the M Streets" campaign revealed much in her character: She is determined, quick, persuasive, inexhaustibly energetic, at times impatient and never one to back away from a fight – especially if it's a fight that people tell her she can't win.

Said Philip Kingston, a friend and fellow East Dallas resident who served as Ms. Hunt's campaign treasurer in this spring's City Council election:

"She doesn't have any fear of upsetting an apple cart."

Where will road lead?

The M Streets initiative did more than preserve a bunch of gingerbread cottages. It launched the political career of Angela Annette Hunt, a career that some predict will lead to a race for the mayor's office one day.

Over the last few months, the 35-year-old City Council member has emerged as the head of a movement that could reshape one of the most ambitious public works projects in Dallas history.

Applying many of the lessons learned on the M Streets, Ms. Hunt is leading the fight to kill the Trinity toll road, a billion-dollar highway planned inside the Trinity River levees.

Transportation officials say the highway is needed to alleviate downtown congestion. But a group headed by Ms. Hunt has gathered more than 80,000 signatures calling for a November vote on whether to scrap the toll road.

The city secretary's office is expected to announce today whether the petitions are valid; about 48,000 signatures of registered Dallas voters are required to place the measure before voters.

Ms. Hunt contends that a big, honking toll road will spoil the downtown riverside park that is also planned as part of the Trinity River Corridor Project. That project, which Dallas voters endorsed in a bond election nine years ago, also includes improved flood-control measures, wetlands, new hiking trails and other improvements.

In opposing the toll road, Ms. Hunt has put herself at odds with most of the city's political leaders and business elite. They argue that the toll road is an integral part of the overall Trinity project and that halting or delaying its construction could cause the rest of the project to unravel – a contention that Ms. Hunt emphatically disputes.

Those who have spoken out against her petition drive include the last two Dallas mayors, Laura Miller and Ron Kirk; the new mayor, Tom Leppert; and most of the City Council.

Also arrayed against her are the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce, the Dallas American Indian Chamber of Commerce, the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce, the Dallas Asian Chamber of Commerce, the West Dallas Chamber of Commerce and the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce.

The Dallas Citizens Council, representing top executives of the city's largest businesses, gave $40,950 to Save the Trinity, a group fighting the referendum. Other large contributors to Save the Trinity include big corporations and real estate partnerships, and wealthy, well-connected Dallas philanthropists that most young and ambitious politicians would just as soon not antagonize.

Ron Steinhart, a longtime Dallas banker and former chairman of the Citizens Council, is one of many business leaders who gave money to Ms. Hunt's campaign when she first ran for the City Council in 2005. Today, he's supporting Save the Trinity in its efforts to thwart her toll-road referendum.

Her stance on the Trinity project "does make me question my support of her," Mr. Steinhart said. "I thought she would make a good council person. But on this issue, which is important to the city, we just completely disagree. I'm disappointed."

Veletta Forsythe Lill is another who has parted ways with Ms. Hunt. She was Ms. Hunt's predecessor in representing District 14, which includes parts of downtown, Uptown, the Dallas Arts District, Oak Lawn and East Dallas.

Ms. Lill, a noted Dallas preservationist, got to know Ms. Hunt through the latter's work on Save the M Streets. As a council member, she appointed Ms. Hunt to a couple of city boards.

When term limits ended Ms. Lill's tenure on the council in 2005, and Ms. Hunt decided to run, Ms. Lill not only gave her money, she publicly endorsed her.

Today, there's a plain chill when Ms. Lill is asked about her former protégé.

"Angela and I have not communicated in some time," she said.

Like Mr. Steinhart, Ms. Lill supports the Trinity project – she voted for it as a member of the City Council.

She said she is "saddened" that Ms. Hunt "has not been able to develop good working relationships with her colleagues, the staff and portions of the community."

If such reactions bother Angela Hunt in the slightest, she doesn't admit it. In defending her position, and criticizing that of her opponents, she strikes a populist tone that may reflect her blue-collar roots.

"The idea that there's this clique that knows best for the city – I find that very patronizing and arrogant," she said.

"The powers that be, the political elite, the wealthy landowners, the Citizens Council, those with vested interests – we knew going in that they were going to oppose us. This was never about persuading them. It was about giving the people of this city an opportunity to have their voices heard at the ballot box."

Mitchell Rasansky, who has served alongside Ms. Hunt on the City Council, said her stance as a foe of the downtown establishment could serve her well in city politics.

Mr. Rasansky, who represents a North Dallas district, is arguably the most fiscally conservative member of the City Council. Yet he supports the huge Trinity project, including the toll road, and calls Ms. Hunt's campaign to scuttle the road "a tragic mistake."

Still, he said, "Dallas seems to go for mavericks. Max Goldblatt, Laura Miller, Wes Wise ... Angela's a nice maverick. I've always gotten along with her. And she's a smart maverick."

Determined path

On the campaign trail, Angela Hunt likes to tell people that she was born in the district she represents.

Until she was a toddler, her parents lived on Chadbourne Road in the Devonshire neighborhood north of Lovers Lane. For a while after that, the family tried the rural life, moving to Bangs, Texas, near Brownwood. Eventually, they settled in Pasadena, an industrial town near the Houston Ship Channel.

Her dad repaired lawnmowers and small engines as his trade. Her mother was a teacher's aide who went back to school later in life, earning a master's degree and serving for years as a caseworker for the state's Child Protective Services office.

Ms. Hunt has one brother, but he's 16 years older, so both of them, she said, more or less grew up as only children.

At Pasadena High School, she was third in a graduating class of 400 and voted "most likely to succeed" by classmates. It was in high school that she met her future husband, Paul Sims, a Web design consultant. Both of them played violin in the orchestra.

She won a scholarship to Rice University. "Our family did not have a lot of resources," she said, "and it was important to get that financial aid. I always tell young people when I speak to them, if you work hard in school, colleges will help you financially if you need it."

At Rice, she earned a degree in what was, in the early 1990s, a new program of women and gender studies.

"I already knew I wanted to go to law school," she said, "so I decided to study something as an undergrad that I just found interesting."

In 1998, she earned a law degree from the University of Texas. A summer clerkship with the law firm of McKool Smith, headed by Mike McKool Jr., a longtime Democratic Party operative, brought her and Mr. Sims to Dallas. She was hired by the firm as a commercial litigator, but left when she assumed her council duties.

Ms. Hunt was one of four freshmen elected to the City Council in 2005. Ms. Miller, then mayor, appointed all four to the council's Trinity River committee. Ms. Hunt thinks that was so the newcomers could get up to speed on the complicated Trinity project. (Ms. Miller declined to be interviewed for this story.)

On the Trinity committee, Ms. Hunt said, she started asking questions – and she didn't like the answers. The project was growing ever more expensive. The downtown park portion was, to her, grossly underfunded. Meanwhile, money was being poured into the transportation portion. And most of that transportation money was going to the toll road.

"I was really shocked and disappointed to see what was going on," she said.

"I talked with people all through the city who voted for the bond issue in 1998. They thought they were voting for a world-class park. When I'd tell them, 'Do you know there's going to be a toll road inside the levees,' they'd look at me in disbelief. They'd say, 'What are you talking about?'

"Have you ever had a picnic next to a tollway? I haven't. I don't want to."

Ms. Hunt demurs when asked about her political plans. She won't say she wants to run for mayor. Neither will she rule it out.

"The truth is, I don't know," she said. "If other opportunities present themselves where I think I could be of further service to the community, then I would certainly consider that.

"But there's no calendar on my wall with my plan for how I'm going to take over the city or the state."

She is highly conscious of her public image. She declined to answer several personal questions for this story, about things like her favorite TV show, what books she's reading, her dream vacation, what her friends say about her. She frets about how she'll be photographed. She still bristles at a story that ran in The Dallas Morning News months ago, pointing out that she'd spent campaign funds to have her hair done for campaign photos and for a news conference.

On a recent steamy afternoon, Ms. Hunt took a photographer and a reporter on a tour of the river bottoms, climbing over the levees near Industrial Boulevard north of Commerce Street.

It was just after heavy rains had swelled the Trinity well beyond its banks. The ground inside the levees was still a bog. Her black boots sunk past the ankles as she fought her way through gooey mud and waist-high weeds. She seemed unbothered.

"It's so peaceful, so quiet out here," she said. "You'd never know that you were right in the heart of a city.

"The idea that they want to put a toll road down here, with cars roaring by – it's just going to ruin what could be a gem of a park."

Angela Hunt

Lawyer; Dallas City Council member since 2005

Age: 35

Born: Dec. 11, 1971, Dallas

Career and civic highlights: Commercial litigator, McKool Smith, 1998-2005; Dallas Cultural Affairs Commission, 2003-04; Dallas Permit and License Appeal Board, 2003; Dallas Homeowners League board member, 2003-04; Preservation Dallas executive board member, 2003-06; Dallas Black Dance Theatre board member, 2003-04; Save the M Streets, founder and chairwoman, 2001-02

Family: Husband, Paul Sims

Education: University of Texas School of Law, 1998; Thomas J. Watson Fellow, 1994-95; Rice University, bachelor's degree, 1994

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