Saturday, September 01, 2007

"What’s at stake is far more than just a toll road."

Bill Molina ’84

Getting the Show on the Road

September 2007

By Donna Parker

Trinity Univiersity Alumnet

Bill Molina ’84 is an award-winning Hollywood cinematographer who toiled on film and episodic television shows such as Beverly Hills 90210, but now he is focused on ZIP codes closer to his Texas roots.

A recent winner of the Worldfest Houston Film Festival Platinum Remi Award for his feature documentary Truth be Tolled, Bill tellsthe story of foreign companies poised to make a fortune off the Trans-Texas Corridor and by charging tolls on existing Texas roadways already paid for by taxpayers.

“I never saw myself as a political activist. I just got really tired of seeing the direction our country is taking. When this issue of tolling our existing roads without a public vote came up, I got involved – not as a filmmaker – but as a concerned taxpaying citizen. There is a story to be told here not only about the double taxation of our roads but more importantly the TTC and the largest forcible eminent domain acquisition in U.S. history.”

Last year, Bill attended a public meeting on a proposed San Antonio toll road and noticed no one from the TV press was reporting on the debate or the other obvious toll issues.

“I picked up a video camera and started shooting these public meetings and became more annoyed that there was little or no press coverage. At one meeting, there were 800 people and I was the only one documenting the event with a camera. I ended up producing a documentary in order to share the truth with the public.”

Bill is currently retooling the film for a premiere in San Antonio later this month.

“My entire focus right now is this documentary. I’ve put my career on hold to produce this film. This is something for which people need to wake up and get involved. What’s at stake is far more than just a toll road.”

Always passionate about filmmaking, Bill also minored in speech and drama while at Trinity and credits several professors who served as mentors and jump started his career path.

“Steve Gilliam, department of speech and drama, was a great influence because he was very concerned about his students and gave us artistic freedom to be ourselves and accomplish what we could. Also, my advisor, David Thomas, department of communication, was instrumental in encouraging me to finish my first student film, Revelation, which was honored by the AMPAS (Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences) student competition, leading the way to University Film and Video grant for my next film project.”

Bill says the turning point in his professional life in Hollywood was directing his first feature film Where Truth Lies, starring his idol, Malcolm McDowell.

“That was a trip in itself…to have Alex sitting in my car discussing Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange.”

The other star was Kim Cattrall (of Sex and the City fame) and Bill almost blew that first meeting when he got caught in traffic, showed up late, and then couldn’t produce his wallet to pay for the dinner.

“I walked out of the restaurant thinking my career was over, but Kim called back within an hour and agreed to do the movie,” laughs Bill.

“Although I’m still star struck by Hollywood, I know that there are so many other important issues in the world and I just needed to produce a film that would actually make a difference.”

You may contact Bill at the following email address:

For more information on his documentary, Truth be Tolled:

© 2007 Trinity University Alumnet:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Friday, August 31, 2007

Sen. Hutchison: "Texans should never have to pay twice for a highway, and I will fight any such efforts."

Hutchison wants to ban tolls on Texas's interstates

Hutchison wants to block Texas from levying fees on U.S. highways

Aug. 31, 2007

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, considered a possible future contender for Texas governor, said Friday she's filing a bill to ban states from converting existing interstate highways into toll roads.

Hutchison, joining objections of bipartisan lawmakers in Austin and Washington, said she will "vigorously" block the Texas Department of Transportation from ever levying tolls on federal highways.

"I intend to immediately introduce as free-standing legislation my amendment that the Senate passed in 2005 to specifically prohibit states from tolling existing interstate highways," the Republican said in a prepared statement.

Earlier this year, Texas transportation officials sent a letter to Congress seeking a change in federal law to let states "buy back" interstate highways and levy tolls on them.

Such a tolling plan, under a state law passed in 2005, would require a vote of county commissioners and local voters.

Texas' other U.S. senator, fellow Republican John Cornyn, concurred with Hutchison.

"I think it's a bad idea, and I don't support it," he said Friday in an interview.

Gov. Rick Perry, a big proponent of toll roads, has said he opposes tolling existing roadways unless local voters want them.

Hutchison and U.S. Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, said Friday they'll oppose the state's effort to change federal law.

"Texans should never have to pay twice for a highway, and I will fight any such efforts," Hutchison said reacting to news reports detailing TxDOT's federal legislative agenda, "Forward Momentum."

Gonzalez issued a statement calling the initiative an "alarming proposal" that he said would place an "unnecessary fiscal burden" on citizens.

Agency spokesman Chris Lippincott defended the plan this week as a solution to an estimated $86 billion shortfall in needed highway funding for Texas.

Lippincott said charging tolls on interstate highways would help clear congested roadways and lead to cleaner air.

Yet, state Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas, predicted state lawmakers will never allow such a toll system.

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, also registered objections, saying the nation is in serious trouble if it has to sell off its highway infrastructure, especially to private companies which TxDOT proposes could manage resulting toll roads.

"It's crazy," she said. "It's just taxation upon taxation upon taxation."

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Death Watch

Obituary: The Trans-Texas corridor

August 31, 2007

Roy Bragg
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

The Trans-Texas Corridor, a plan so flimsy and badly conceived that it attained the believability of an urban legend, died of its own greed and hubris Thursday.

Death came quietly to the ballyhooed plan — which had proposed spending billions of tax dollars to convert existing, state-built highways to toll roads and augment them with unnecessary superhighways — with the revelation that highway officials just wanted more money.

The stated goal of the TTC was to handle imaginary gridlock 50 years in the future. The case for the TTC, however, was argued with faulty data, questionable reports, inexplicable anecdotes, and diversionary arguments.

Death not reported immediately

The boondoggle actually died in December, when the Texas Department of Transportation came up with a cockamamie plan to buy back existing federal interstate highways and turn them into toll roads. The move would require Congress' approval, and the agency was lobbying for it.

News of the plan didn't surface until recently.

The December plan didn't call for new roads. Rather, it unmasked the real goals of the TTC — squeeze money out of a citizenry whose lives revolve around highway travel. Drivers, in other words, were a captive audience. Tolls don't require voter or legislative approval, and are essentially taxes without oversight.

TTC's timely death comes after the controversy over the $9 million "Keep Texas Moving" advertising campaign. Polly Ross Hughes wrote about it today on MySA:

"It's less than 50 cents a Texan," Transportation Department spokesman Chris Lippincott said in defense of the ad campaign. "We could sit down and buy them a cup of coffee for that kind of money."

As of this writing, Lippincott hasn't bought coffee for me or anyone I know.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Report is sparking an anti TxDOT fervor across Washington D.C."

1200 WOAI Interstate Toll Exclusive Prompts U.S. Senate Action

Hutchison vows to introduce a bill to prohibit tolling of Interstates, entire TexDOT tolling plan in jeopardy

August 31, 2007

By Jim Forsyth
1200 WOAI
Copyright 2007

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison today vowed to 'immediately' introduce a measure that would prohibit states from tolling existing Interstate highways under any circumstances.

It's in response to that 1200 WOAI news exclusive Thursday, which has now been copied by other media statewide, revealing a secret Texas Department of Transportation plan to 'buy back' the federal equity in Interstates to get around a federal prohibition against tolling any highway paid for by federal tax money.

"I intend to immediately introduce as free standing legislation my 2005 amendment that the Senate passed to prohibit tolling of existing Interstate highways," Hutchison said.

The 1200 WOAI news report is sparking an anti TxDOT fervor across Washington D.C.

Congressman Charlie Gonzalez called TxDOT's toll plan 'alarming.'

"The public should never be charged to use public highways which were built with their tax revenue," Gonzalez said. "Toll roads create an unnecessary fiscal burden on citizens, and I will oppose any federal plan to facilitate their construction by utilizing the federal highway system."

The 1200 WOAI news report appears to have possibly fatally damaged TxDOT's toll road initiatives, especially the already controversial Trans Texas Corridor.

Even the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the group that makes long term transportation plans, said today it has done all of it's work 'under the premise' that tolls will only be assessed on new lanes.

"The MPO has not supported the tolling of existing highways or existing lanes," MPO Policy Board Chair Sheila McNail said. "Such a measure will not be implemented in the MPO planning area."

Many citizens who have called or been interviewed by 1200 WOAI news indicated they were on the fence about the toll issue, but now feel strongly that toll road should be opposed.

© 2007 Clear Channel Communications:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"I don't think you can trust the agencies that are trying to toll our roads at this point. You can't believe a word they say."

"Outrage" is Reaction to 1200 WOAI News Toll Exclusive

Local, state officials vow never to allow TxDOT to toll existing highways

August 31, 2007

By Jim Forsyth
1200 WOAI
Copyright 2007

Reaction to the 1200 WOAI news exclusive report Thursday that the Texas Department of Transportation has a secret plan to turn all of the state's Interstate highways into toll roads has been immediate and statewide, with 'outrage' being the least impolite word that is being heard to describe the reaction of officials and lawmakers.

"I was disappointed to be once again blind sided in having to learn about this idea through the media, instead of from TxDOT," said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, one of several local officials who has been assuring citizens that existing roads would 'never' be tolled. The entire officials 1200 WOAI news spoke with said they had never heard of the TxDOT memo until 1200 WOAI's report brought it to their attention yesterday.

"Going back and trying to toll already existing highways, in this case interstates, is outrageous," Senator John Corona, (D-Dallas), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said when asked about the 1200 WOAI news report. "People have already paid for that."

The 1200 WOAI news exclusive has now been copied by newspapers across the state.

Joe Krier, President of the Greater Chamber of Commerce and a leader in the toll road battle, said he had never heard about the report until 1200 WOAI news brought it to his attention, but it doesn't change his basic support for toll roads.

"If other people have a better way to fund these roads in the short term, we'd be glad to hear it," Krier said.

But toll road opponents jumped on the 1200 WOAI news report as evidence that TxDOT 'cannot be trusted.'

"They want to shift all of our current highways into tollways, and double tax us for the rest of our lives," said Terri Hall of TexasTURF, an anti toll road group.

"You can't trust them," Hall said. "One minute they're telling you, 'no, we have no intention of tolling existing roads,' and then the next minute they're sending reports to Congress asking for that very thing. I don't think you can trust the agencies that are trying to toll our roads at this point. You can't believe a word they say."

The internal memo suggests that Texas state tax dollars could be used to 'buy back' the toll roads from the federal government, getting around a federal law that prohibits putting tolls on roads paid for with federal dollars. Not only would tolls then be collected on existing Interstates, but the companies that would collect the tolls would get tax breaks from Texas taxpayers.

"The deception of going back and trying to toll already existing, already paid for highways is wrong headed," Carona told 1200 WOAI news.

Many local officials pointed to state laws which prohibit any tolls being added to existing roads without a vote of the local county commissioners court, and the voters.

"That TxDOT would now pursue the tolling of existing interstate lanes is unwise, unreasonable, and poor public policy," Wolff said.

© 2007 Clear Channel Communications:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Expect your home values to drop as nobody will want to live in the unaffordable toll road capitol of the world."

CAMPO: tolls now likely in Oak Hill


Ann Fowler
Oak Hill Gazette
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN - After months of outwardly wavering about the Phase II toll plan for Austin --including the 'Y'--at the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) Transportation Policy Board on Monday admitted that tolls were likely after all.

Oak Hill resident Carol Cespedes said, "TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) has been notably coy about whether these roads-- which include 290/71 West-- are necessarily toll roads. But our Travis County Commissioner, Gerald Daugherty, asked TxDOT if 'the TIP is only going to be done if we toll these roads?' The answer was yes. To meet the cost of these 12-lane structures, TxDOT proposes a funding package that includes $540 million in toll bonds and $211 million in Texas Transportation Commission funds designated for toll roads."

Cespedes is a member of Fix290, a grassroots group advocating a parkway design for the Hwy. 290/71 project. That design, with its lack of frontage roads and smaller footprint is not conducive to tolling. If CAMPO says yes to tolls, they are essentially saying no to a parkway. But Cespedes and others feel that tolls would not be needed if the lower cost parkway alternative was built.

Travis County Precinct 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt told the Gazette, "The political reality, given the federal and state unwillingness to raise the gas tax or contemplate any other broad based user tax, is that some desperately needed stretches of pavement in Travis County will be constructed, maintained and operated in some measure on toll taxes."

But not everyone agrees with the inevitability of tolls for Oak Hill.

Sal Costello, founder of the Austin Toll Party, told the Gazette, "If enough people show up at the next CAMPO meeting at the Capitol on September 10 at 6 p.m. , ready to tar and feather those so called representatives that purport to represent us, I believe we can stop them from tolling our Oak Hill public highways.

"No city in the country has ever shifted a freeway to a tollway, and we need to get off the couch and show up to fight for what is already ours. Forcing drivers to pay a toll to drive a public expressway is unforgivable."

Elected officials, like [Travis County] Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, must understand that they work for us, not the special interests. Our organization will focus on removing those stubborn officials who have disregarded the overwhelming opposition to this double tax toll scheme. "

State and federal legislators have left local officials in a quandary. It could be just coincidence that the toll threat was removed, or at least delayed, at the start of the biennial legislative session, thus keeping anti-toll groups at bay until well after the session had ended. With no anti-toll turmoil to be concerned with, legislators failed to raise gasoline taxes to meet or in any way address Texas' transportation funding needs.

Texas' federal legislators have not stepped up to the plate either. At the recent CAMPO community meeting held at Covington Middle School, Richard Reeves pointed out that Texans actually lose money on the federal gasoline taxes they pay. "We get back only 73 cents of every dollar we send to the federal government," he said.

At that same CAMPO meeting, some spoke in favor of tolls because they saw it as the only way the Oak Hill project could be built and paid for.

Brandon Janes, chair of the transportation committee of Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, said, "We all understand this costs money. We all understand that there's not adequate public funds available for doing it. To us, the notion of using user fees, including managed lanes and toll roads, are the only fair and equitable way of doing this. Nobody likes paying taxes. Nobody likes paying tolls but we've got to have the roads and it seems to us having the user actually pay for the cost of those roads is a fair and equitable way of financing this."

Driftwood resident Peter Stern said toll roads are indeed a good deal for the company collecting the money.

He said, "Toll roads may first appear to increase revenue for road building and maintenance, however tolls are not cost-effective when 80 percent off the top goes back to the company managing the toll projects and plazas. Also, contracts with private companies generally range from 50 to 79 years, which means that toll taxes will continue to be paid by our children's grandchildren. Toll taxations may be increased at any time by the private company and/or TxDOT without gaining prior approval by the legislature or via a public election. They become infinite taxes. "

And the likelihood of increasing tolls is significantly more likely on roads with electronic tolls, and TxDOT officials have said that if roads in Oak Hill are tolled, it would be with electronic tolling, not toll booths.

Amy Finkelstein, Associate Professor of Economics at MIT, studied the differences between the two collection methods and reported, "Unlike manual toll collection, in which the driver must hand over cash at the toll collection plaza, electronic toll collection automatically debits the toll amount as the car drives through the toll plaza, thereby plausibly decreasing the salience of the toll. I find robust evidence that toll rates increase following the adoption of electronic toll collection. My estimates suggest that, in steady state, toll rates are 20 to 40 percent higher than they would have been without electronic toll collection."

Although the Hwy. 71 segment is less than a mile, it, too, is planned as a tolled road. But Eckhardt said, "I don't think creating a minimum length for the toll roads will be of benefit. The basis of my opposition to the current toll plan is due to the tax inequity it creates. Under the gas tax system, Commuter A and Commuter B who both travel the same distance in the same car pay the same gas tax. Under the toll tax system, Commuter A may be paying gas tax only while Commuter B pays gas tax and toll tax. The length of a toll road has no bearing on that kind of inequity."

Costello also feels roadway length is not part of the equation. He said flatly, "No freeway should ever be tolled. Special interests who have pushed this scheme can go sell their swampland elsewhere. The 'Y' has already been promised and funded as a freeway."

If the road improvements in Oak Hill do, in fact, get tolled, Eckhardt has an idea. She said, "I think there's traction for the idea of dedicating any excess revenue created by a specific toll road exclusively to the commuter corridor in which the toll road is located. That dedicated revenue would be used for improved alternatives for the same commuters that are paying the tolls-- rapid bus, rail, HOV [high occupancy vehicle] lanes, improved arterial connections. Additionally, the excess would be used to benefit the communities along the toll roads-- sidewalks, trails, trees, sound walls. By dedicating the excess revenue to the corridor in which it is generated, the tax inequity of the tolling system is diminished though not eliminated."

But Costello is not prepared to concede Oak Hill to tolls. "Everyone needs to go to the CAMPO meeting at the Capitol on September 10 at 6 p.m. or pay and pay and pay," he said. "And expect your home values to drop as nobody will want to live in the unaffordable toll road capitol of the world."

The September 10 CAMPO Transportation Policy Board meeting will be held at the State Capitol in the Auditorium, E1.004, at 6 p.m.

© 2007 Oak Hill Gazette:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Easy Pickens

Pickens seeks Kaufman's help to harness Panhandle's water, power

Plan would create entity that could plant lines stretching from Panhandle to D-FW

August 31, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

T. Boone Pickens may have found a way to push forward his multibillion-dollar proposal to send Panhandle groundwater and wind-generated electricity to North Texas:

Create a special government with the power to bury more than 300 miles of 8-foot-diameter water pipe and electric transmission lines across a dozen counties – whether the counties' leaders or affected landowners like it or not.

Commissioners courts in Kaufman County and Roberts County, northeast of Amarillo, are each scheduled to vote Tuesday on a petition for an election to create such a district.

If either measure passes, the stage will be set for a handful of the businessman's supporters to vote in November to form a freshwater supply district. Under state law, such districts can fund projects at low interest rates by issuing tax-exempt bonds. They can also exercise the power of eminent domain to use private property anywhere in the state, though they must pay the owners.

Both counties' meetings are open to the public. The meeting in Kaufman will be at 9:30 a.m. in the Kaufman County Annex Building, 100 N. Washington St.

Commissioners in Kaufman and Roberts counties have no problem with Mr. Pickens' goal: providing needed water plus electricity that backers say would match the output of two coal-fired power plants, without the coal-fired pollution.

But at least two of them are uneasy about the means to the end.

"My question was, 'Do we have the authority to approve this?' " said Kaufman County Commissioner Ray Clark. "Can I say what happens up in Amarillo, and by the same token, can Amarillo tell us what to do in Kaufman County?"

Roberts County Judge Vernon Cook has "a constitutional question": whether it's right to enable the use of government powers for the benefit of business, in this case Mr. Pickens' Mesa Water and Mesa Power.

"At what point, and at what level, is a governmental entity allowed to be involved in private enterprise?" Mr. Cook said.

Mesa Water consultant Ron Harris, a former head of the Collin County Commissioners Court, says that the concerns are overblown, and that the projects would benefit everyone: Landowners along the route would be paid for the use of their property, drought-prone North Texas would get needed water, and the state would get an infusion of cleanly produced electricity.

"It's really going to do some good," he said. "This will significantly benefit landowners in all of those 12 counties. They'll be able to make significantly more from the wind and the water than they can from their livestock or crops."

How it would work

As for the worry about making a decision that could affect faraway counties, Mr. Harris noted that the tables could just as easily be turned.

"You could flip it around and have some other counties doing the same thing to Kaufman County," he said. "The main thing is, if this is what the Legislature voted could happen in Texas, that's available for anybody."

And as for the concerns about creation of a government to benefit Mr. Pickens' businesses? "I haven't read the exact wording, but as long as there is a requirement that there is a public good that comes out of it, that balances it," Mr. Harris said.

Mesa Water spokesman Jay Rosser broadens the issue further.

"We believe the state, and the D-FW metroplex area in particular, faces some critical water supply and power supply issues," he said. "We think we have a solution to both of those."

And, he said, the power would come from sources that would help North Texas in its struggle to comply with federal clean-air rules

Mr. Rosser said that by pursuing petitions in two counties, Mesa was trying to leave nothing to chance in its bid to create a district: "We don't want to leave any stone unturned and delay it any more than we have to."

Wednesday is the deadline for commissioners to put an issue on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Although the new freshwater supply district would own the water pipeline, pumps and other infrastructure, Mesa Water would benefit from water sales. Eventually, some of that revenue would pay off the money borrowed, through the tax-exempt bonds, to build the $1.5 billion pipeline, Mr. Rosser said.

Mesa Power expects to make money by selling its wind-generated electricity, but it needs the transmission lines to hook into Texas' power grid near Dallas. Those transmission lines, which probably would be buried in the same 200-foot-wide right of way as the waterline, also would cost about $1.5 billion, Mr. Harris said. The wind farm in the Panhandle – which, with 2,700 turbines, would be the world's largest, according to news reports – would cost an estimated $9 billion.

Because there is not yet a buyer for the groundwater, the water district could enable the electric project to happen first, Mr. Harris said. In fact, Mr. Rosser said revenue from electricity sales probably would be used to make payments on the debt for the waterline until water sales revenue was available.

Potential stumbling blocks

If a freshwater supply district is created, the broader venture will still face other obstacles. Among the biggest is that Mesa has no buyer for its water. The company has begun new talks with the North Texas Municipal Water District and the Tarrant Regional Water District, but in the past both have characterized the company's water as more costly than that from other potential sources.

"As you might suspect, a water proposal of this complexity is pretty difficult to understand," said Jim Parks, North Texas Municipal's executive director. "To evaluate it, we're having some discussions with them to determine whether that project is more viable now than it has been in the past."

Another potential stumbling block could be concern about drawing down the Ogallala Aquifer in the Panhandle. Opponents note that the aquifer recharges very slowly.

Mr. Rosser, however, said Mesa Water has agreed that through 2048, it won't take the aquifer more than 50 percent below its 1998 volume. Company officials have said they can do that and still supply water for a century at a rate of 150,000 to 200,000 acre-feet a year. That amount is roughly half to two-thirds as much water as North Texas Municipal supplied to 1.6 million residents last year.

Another obstacle could be opposition from counties through which the project might pass. Collin County Judge Keith Self, for example, wrote this week to Mr. Clark, the Kaufman County commissioner:

"I have no issue with an entrepreneur using innovative ways to supply water to North Texas. I have a huge issue with developing a FWSD [fresh water supply district] that will have legal authority to condemn land over a 320-mile stretch of Texas land, the vast majority of which is not in Kaufman County. This is abuse of legal authority and must be an unintended consequence of an old law, a law that was never intended to give such broad authority to a local FWSD."

If a district is created in Roberts County, Mr. Cook said, it will consist of 8 acres deeded to five of Mr. Pickens' employees or supporters. The Kaufman County district would encompass a planned 69-home subdivision and lake on 319 acres owned by Mike Boswell, a Pickens employee. Mr. Boswell said he had plans to develop his land even before the idea came up of tying it to the Mesa projects.

Kaufman County Judge Wayne Gent said he doubts commissioners can legally turn down the request for an election.

"They have far-reaching authority, this is true," he said of freshwater supply districts, "but unless the petition is basically flawed, I don't think Kaufman County has the right to deny the petition."

And in Roberts County, Mr. Cook said that "as bad as it sticks in my craw and as nasty a taste as it leaves in my mouth," he would probably support the petition. Although he has concerns about draining the part of the Ogallala Aquifer that lies under the area, he said, they are offset by the promise of jobs, income for ranchers and other economic benefits that Mr. Pickens' projects could bring to a county with fewer than 900 residents.

"I feel it's my responsibility to do what's right for the landowners and residents of the county," Mr. Cook said. "And as one of my commissioners says, 'He owns that water, so he can do with it what he wants to.' "


Freshwater supply districts are a type of local government. Under Texas law, they:
  • Can be created to conserve, transport and distribute fresh water from any sources for domestic and commercial purposes.
  • Have authority to execute contracts, hire employees, acquire water rights, construct improvements and use eminent domain – either within or outside their boundaries – to acquire land.
  • Can borrow money at favorable interest rates by issuing tax-exempt bonds.
  • Are created after either 50 residents of a proposed district or a majority of voters within its boundaries petition county commissioners to order an election. Typically, such elections involve only a few voters who favor creating the district. The petition must include the district's boundaries, the general nature of the projects proposed and why the district is needed. The commissioners can consider, and hear testimony on, information in the petition and whether the proposed projects would "benefit the land" within the proposed district.
  • Are run by five supervisors. Under legislation that takes effect today, the only qualifications for a supervisor are that he or she be a Texas resident, own property within the district and be at least 18. Previously, a supervisor had to be a registered voter living within the district.

SOURCES: Chapter 53, Texas Water Code; Texas Senate Research Center; Texas Practice Series volume on county and special district law, by Austin lawyer David B. Brooks; Dallas Morning News research

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"This is not only double taxation, it is a violation of the trust that should exist between citizens and government."

TxDOT plan would convert some interstates to toll roads

Plan includes buying interstates and charging drivers a toll

Aug. 31, 2007

San Antonio Express-News/Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — The Texas Department of Transportation is pushing Congress to pass a federal law allowing the state to "buy back" parts of existing interstate highways and turn them into toll roads.

The 24-page plan, outlined in a "Forward Momentum" report that escaped widespread attention when published in February, drew prompt objections Thursday from state lawmakers and activists fighting the spread of privately run toll roads.

"I think it's a dreadful recommendation on the part of the transportation commissioners here in Texas," said Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas.

"I feel confident that legislators in Austin would overwhelmingly be opposed to such an idea," he said. "The simple fact is that taxpayers have already paid for those roadways. To ask taxpayers to pay for them twice is untenable."

$86 million shortfall

The agency's attempt to influence Congress comes on the heels of its multimillion-dollar advertising campaign touting the lightning-rod Trans-Texas Corridor plan and other toll roads.

With an estimated price tag of $7 million to $9 million, the "Keep Texas Moving" campaign comes even as transportation officials warn of an $86 billion shortfall for needed highway construction.

"It's less than 50 cents a Texan," Transportation Department spokesman Chris Lippincott said in defense of the ad campaign. "We could sit down and buy them a cup of coffee for that kind of money."

The report not only advocates turning stretches of interstate highways into toll roads, but it also suggests tax breaks for private company "investment" in such enterprises.

Along with that, it calls for altering the tax code to exempt toll road owners from paying income taxes.

It seeks changes in federal law to allow the use of equity capital as a source of transportation funding. Along with that, it calls for altering the tax code to "exempt partnership distributions or corporate dividends related to ownership of (a) toll road from income taxation."

State law prevention

Lippincott said he's surprised by the surprised reactions, noting the agency discussed the issue at four public meetings and sent a link to the draft report last December to all members of the Texas Legislature.

Besides, he said, state law would prevent the conversion of interstate highways into toll roads unless such a plan gained votes of county commissioners and taxpayers in a referendum.

Anti-toll road activist Sal Castello, the Austin-based founder of the, said he's frustrated by the "schemers and the scammers" who "never stop" divisive toll road proposals despite widespread opposition and fretted that a required referendum could be creatively worded to disguise the conversions.

Carona said he objects to the agency's attempts to persuade Congress to allow federal highways to turn into toll roads because the interstate system was built as part of the national defense.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said the report appears to recycle ideas that led the Legislature this spring to pass a moratorium on construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor, a mammoth toll plan that's the cornerstone of Gov. Rick Perry's highways building proposal.

"This is not only double taxation, it is a violation of the trust that should exist between citizens and government," she said. "Existing Texas highway lanes built with our tax dollars should not be converted to toll roads and taxed again."

Perry spokesman Robert Black said the report in no way contradicts Perry's repeated promise on highways that "if it's free today, it will be free tomorrow."

That holds true, he said, unless local voters say otherwise.

Meanwhile, "Texas will work to educate Congress of the importance of including reasonable and efficient funding solutions, such as tolling, in the next (highway funding) reauthorization bill," the department's report promises.

Next week Democratic state Reps. Joe Farias and David Leibowitz of San Antonio will join Rep. Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, at a condemned gas station in San Antonio to air objections to the Transportation Department's toll ideas and ad campaign.

"TxDOT has crossed the line on a number of fronts in recent weeks, and elected representatives are prepared to fight," said Terri Hall, founder of Texans United for Reform and Freedom, a grass-roots group to promote nontoll solutions to Texas' transportation needs.

© 2007 The San Antonio Express-News:

© 2007 The Houston Chronicle:

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"Capka needs to start by looking at those federal rules that he accuses Texas of violating. They need updating."


Everybody back to work

Aug. 31, 2007

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

Federal Highway Administrator J. Richard Capka , is steaming mad about the way that Texas officials have handled the contract to build a toll road on Texas 121 in Denton and Collin counties. He has fired off a letter to the Texas Department of Transportation stating just how angry he is.

OK. Capka can get mad if he wants.

The North Texas Tollway Authority was allowed, under a new state law, to enter the Texas 121 bidding process late and was selected as the winning bidder over the Spanish company Cintra. A final contract is still in the works.

Capka said in his letter that federal officials will "closely monitor and evaluate" the bidding process for similar Texas projects in the future. And if they find anything wrong, they're going to impose "far-reaching compliance measures." Again, OK.

Capka did not say that federal authorities would block construction of the 121 toll road or even require that the project be re-bid. In fact, he said that federal funds already committed to other projects on the same highway are not in jeopardy.

Even better. Now let's all get back to work.

Capka needs to start by looking at those federal rules that he accuses Texas of violating. They need updating.

First, he cites federal law requiring "a fair and open competitive process" in project bidding. He's got a good point there, because the details of Cintra's bid were known when state legislators stepped in and re-opened the bid process for NTTA.

But the key to that is in Capka's second complaint: He noted that "federal regulations specifically prohibit a public entity [like NTTA] from bidding directly against a private entity [like Cintra]."

Highways get built in two ways: with tax money or with toll money. Top officials in Austin and Washington seem dead set against raising gasoline taxes so that more roads can be built with that money. That only leaves toll money.

Where public toll authorities like NTTA exist, it does not make sense to shut them out and only let private companies like Cintra bid on plum projects. That would saddle the NTTAs of this world with only those contracts that don't yield enough profit for the Cintras.

Capka should turn his attention to rewriting that rule.

"The road will not help residents. Only developers would be the winners. That being the case...developers should pay for the project."

Thumbs down to Parkway

August 31, 2007

By Don Munsch
Fort Bend Herald
Copyright 2007

A sign on the wall at the Guy Lodge and Dance Hall at George Ranch Historical Park prohibits "profane or abusive language."

People attending a public hearing for the Grand Parkway Segment C project Thursday didn't use such language while addressing the Texas Department of Transportation and the Grand Parkway Association - but the message, while not off-color, was strong and direct: "no toll, no road."

More than 250 people attended the public hearing to discuss the Grand Parkway project that would be built between a starting point at the intersection of Texas 99 and U.S. Highway 59 and travel to Texas 288, through Fort Bend and Brazoria counties, according to the Grand Parkway Association. The association is a non-profit state transportation corporation authorized by TxDOT to "facilitate the efficient development of Houston's third outer highway loop that serves the regional mobility needs of metropolitan Houston area," according to its Web site.

Construction on the project would begin in 2010 - depending on funding, right-of-way acquisition, preparation and detail plans and completion of the environmental study - said David Gornet, executive director of the association. Traffic flow could start in 2013.

But the vast majority of residents and others who attended Thursday's meeting said they never want to see the 26-mile, four-lane, controlled-access highway built. Many who spoke during the public hearing were critical of the project, with some using the "no toll, no road" slogan in opposition to the highway, which would be a toll road.

Some of the main reasons cited for the opposition:
  • The highway is being expanded for traffic that does not exist.
  • The project is too costly, and money used for the highway could be better spent elsewhere.
  • The highway could damage quality of life for people who live near construction sites.
  • Noise will increase and air quality will decline.
  • The project is essentially a way for developers to make money and for politicians to profit.
  • Plus numerous environment issues.

Patrons were each given three minutes to talk, and more than a dozen people spoke while others had a chance to give written comments. Only two people spoke in direct support of the project.

The formal study of the extension began in 1998, according to Gornet, who said before the hearing that the highway would be a benefit to the area, improving emergency evacuations and helping relieve highway congestions.

He said just three residences will be displaced and that noise, drainage and environmental issues will be addressed. Gornet and Gabe Johnson, director of transportation, planning and development with TxDOT, said the entire project's cost will be close to $450 million. Some people attending the hearing gave a higher cost estimate.

Toll charges and toll booths would be established later, Gornet said. The road would be a toll road because TxDOT does not have enough money from gasoline taxes - state or federal - to fund all the needs of the state highways, he said.

Grand Parkway is well-suited to being a toll road, he said. "We need it because the city is growing. And although people say this is farm land, so were many of the areas of Houston 10 years or 20 years ago, and TxDOT is trying to be proactive in planning for the future needs of the area. As we have existing congestion today, we have existing evacuation problems today."

Few if any in the audience agreed with Gornet's assessment. Jesse Cuellar of Richmond won the loudest cheers after he spoke. He was concerned about - among other things - environmental issues, water runoff, property values and quality of life. Cuellar said he thinks the reasons given for the project amount to a lie - and that it is being built for entities with commercial interests.

Jerry Carpenter of Greatwood said before the meeting that he was against the project because he didn't think it would alleviate traffic problems and that the project is being done to benefit developers - and he's upset that the project would be so close to Brazos Bend State Park.

People from special interest groups were there, including Brandt Mannchen, chairman of the air quality committee for the Sierra Club's Houston region, who shared his environmental concerns. Robin Holzer, chairwoman of the board of the Houston-based Citizens' Transportation Coalition, said the project is a bad use of transportation money.

Paul Davis, who also received ample applause among the many people who spoke against the project, said the road would not help residents, that only developers would be the winners. That being the case, he said, the developers should pay for the project.

Mike Ogden, representing the Bay Area Transportation Partnership, spoke in favor of the project.

Another public hearing will be held after a final environmental impact statement is completed, Gornet said.

"Then we will go ask the federal highways to issue a record of decision," Gornet said, describing a document that allows TxDOT to do such tasks as buying rights-of-way and giving a detailed design.

People can still comment about the project by writing to Grand Parkway Association, Attn: Segment C Comments, 4544 Post Oak Place, #222, Houston TX 77027, or e-mailing their remarks to Comments must be e-mailed or post-marked by Sept. 13.

© 2007 Fort Bend Herald:

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

“I don't see any reason why they can’t pay like the rest of us.”

Some Wealthy & Powerful Drive On Tollway For Free

Aug 30, 2007

Bennett Cunningham Reporting
CBS 11 News (Dallas/Fort Worth)
Copyright 207

DALLAS-- Some very rich and powerful people are getting free TollTags – for life -- with virtually no limits on how many times they can ride for free.

A CBS 11 investigation found Dallas resident Jere Thompson with a free TollTag. He lives in a $1.4 million house, is CEO of a local electric company, and years ago served on the board of the North Texas Tollway Authority [N.T.T.A.]. According to records obtained by CBS 11, Thompson had more than 1200 transactions on the Dallas North Tollway in a recent 12 month period.

All of them were free.

Mr. Thompson told us he believes he's entitled to it for his years of service as a former NTTA board member.

The NTTA is a quasi-governmental agency and is funded with money from bonds and tollway revenue. But ask some people who don't get a free TollTag, like Dallas grandmother Margaret Diehl, and they’ll say, “I don't see any reason why they can’t pay like the rest of us.”

According to Clayton Howell of the NTTA, the reason Thompson doesn’t pay is because it's board policy that every former and current NTTA board member gets a free TollTag for life.

In addition, elected officials such as Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and State Representatives Burt Solomons and Jim Jackson each get one too - but only until their terms are up.

The NTTA also issues a free TollTag to all of its roughly 800 employees.

Certain NTTA retirees also get a free TollTag for life.

If you have a free TollTag, there appears to be no set limit on the number of times you can use it. The NTTA says it monitors each tag to ensure there is no abuse, but would not define what constitutes abuse. Also, the NTTA does not audit the free TollTags to ensure each tag is being used only by the authorized user.

To get a free TollTag, you only need to fill out a form. One person makes the decision based on board policy.

In a recent 12 month period, the NTTA allowed one million free transactions. About 350,000 of those were for emergency vehicles. The rest were not.

Randy Johnson, who fought the tollway expansion, believes free TollTags for former board members and public officials is a “courtesy… you give them a free pass and they might help you out down the road.”

When CBS 11 analyzed tollway records, we found the three public officials who received toll tags--Congresswoman Johnson and State Representatives Solomons and Jackson--all worked on matters involving the tollway. Only Congresswoman Johnson called us back, saying, “I don’t have to tell you my business.”

We also found Dallas resident David Laney with a free TollTag. He has a home and rental property in Dallas worth more than $3 million. Laney is a former NTTA board member, former chair of the Texas Transportation Commission, and is currently the Chairman of the Board of Amtrak. Laney had 856 Tollway transactions in a recent 12 month period. When we asked if he deserves a free TollTag, he said “Yes.”

After persistent questions from CBS 11, the NTTA revoked former State Senator Robert Cain’s free TollTag. CBS 11 discovered the NTTA was violating its own policy by allowing Cain to have one. Cain left office in 2003, but remained on the list of people with free TollTags.

The NTTA also announced it is raising tolls, so those of us who do pay for tolls will soon pay more.

In June, the Harris County Toll Road Authority in Houston area took away the free TollTags it provided for employees, saying the policy no longer made sense.

Want to see the list of people who have a free TollTag? Click here to see it in .pdf format.

We asked the NTTA for a copy of its policy that governs free TollTags. Click here to download it for yourself as a .pdf file.

© 2007 CBS Stations Group of Texas:

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P3 Pimp Robert Poole says 'Cintra got screwed.'

TxDOT Severs Ties With Cintra On SH121 Project

Agency Feared a Loss of Federal Aid


by Richard Williamson and Humberto Sanchez
The Bond Buyer
Copyright 2007

WASHINGTON — The Texas Department of Transportation severed its ties with Spanish toll road operator Cintra over a controversial $5 billion toll road project both to avoid violating federal laws and to ensure that it would remain eligible for federal funds and tax-exempt bond financing assistance on the project.

The Texas Transportation Commission, which supervises the state agency, took the action last week after the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration charged that TxDOT’s bidding process for the project — in which it awarded a contract to Cintra and then later decided to instead give the contract to the North Texas Tollway Authority — resulted in “substantial” violations of federal laws and ran “counter to the fundamental requirement for a fair and open competition.”

The FHWA made the charges in an Aug. 16 letter to TxDOT, saying it was withdrawing the state agency’s applications for aid under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, also known as TIFIA, and for authorization to issue private-activity bonds for highways under a recently enacted transportation law.

Alarmed by the letter, TxDOT officials scrambled to take steps to bring itself into compliance with federal laws over the project. In an Aug. 23 letter, TxDOT asked the FHWA if it could rectify its concerns by essentially scrapping its prior bidding process, severing Cintra’s connections to the project, and entering into a simple agreement with the NTTA to develop the toll road.

The FHWA told the state agency in a return letter on the same day that it would support these actions and reinstate the state agency’s eligibility for federal funds and tax-exempt financing assistance.

However, the U.S. DOT made clear that it plans to review TxDOT’s procurement procedures and increase its scrutiny of assistance for such projects.

“In light of the violations … and the apparent uncertainty the private sector may face when exploring whether to bid on transportation projects in Texas, the FHWA, through its Texas Division Office, will carefully review TxDOT’s procurement procedures and impose additional oversight and approval requirements before awarding any future loans under the TIFIA program or approving the issuance of PABs,” the FHWA administrator J. Richard Capka told the state agency in the Aug 16 letter.

TxDOT triggered FHWA concerns when it awarded the State Highway 121 toll-road project in Denton and Collin Counties to NTTA in June after public outcry that the deal with Cintra was too generous.

Under its contract, Cintra would have operated a toll section of the highway in return for providing the state with an up-front payment of $2.1 billion and an additional $700 million over a 50-year lease. The NTTA proposal for the project included $3.3 million in up-front payments that would come from new debt issuance.

In its Aug. 16 letter to TxDOT, FHWA stipulated that it would withdraw approval for a $700 million TIFIA loan and authority to issue up to $1.6 billion of PABs for the highway project, as well federal assistance for two other pending highway projects, unless the agency came into compliance with the laws.

TxDOT had sought the aide for the winner of its bidding process. However, NTTA is not expected to seek federal funds under its plan for the project.

NTTA spokesman Sam Lopez said he could not comment on the dealings between TxDOT and the FHWA, including whether the state agency’s actions are sufficient.

“The NTTA is awaiting the TxDOT executive director’s signature of the agreement,” Lopez said. “We’re just standing by and waiting for that process to occur.”

In the meantime, the NTTA is working with the rating agencies and its underwriters on completing its $3.3 billion up-front financing package for the highway project. Those funds are expected to be distributed to the North Texas Regional Transportation Council, which will give hand them out to local governments for a variety of transportation projects, some of which will involve federal funding.

Robert Poole, director of transportation studies for the Reason Foundation that supports public-private partnerships [P3's], called the settlement of the FHWA’s complaints “a very bizarre outcome.” “The result was basically to finalize the screwing of Cintra,” Poole said. “It wasn’t like they made anyone whole.”

Poole said Cintra, a Spanish company with U.S. headquarters in Austin, is unlikely to sue because of other projects, such as the Trans Texas Corridor that is expected to parallel Interstate 35 and ultimately be worth $150 billion. Indeed, Cintra Director Jose Lopez took a conciliatory approach in a prepared comment on the decision. “While we believe our proposal — with its guarantee of $7.3 billion in new and additional revenue to the Metroplex for SH 121 and other transportation projects — was the better option for the state and Dallas-Fort Worth, we respect the commission’s decision,” he said.

Poole said the fair outcome would have been to undo the awarding of the contract to the NTTA, but “politically, that was unlikely to happen.”
Aides to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Tex., a supporter of the highway project, said yesterday, “Sen. Hutchison is pleased this matter is now settled and that the project can move forward.” She “will continue to represent the interests of the state of Texas on this issue wherever necessary,” they added.
Earlier this month, Hutchison told local officials that U.S. DOT Secretary Mary Peters pro­mised her that Texas “would not lose a dime” of federal funding over its decision to go with the NTTA. The federal transportation officials “know they’re governed by Congress, and they’re not likely to take on a powerful senator,” Poole said.

In taking on the SH 121 project, the NTTA is more than tripling its debt with a ratings downgrade likely once the financing is in place, according to the ratings agencies.

With an A-plus rating from Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s, as well as an A1 rating from Moody’s Investors Service, the NTTA is on the watch list for all three agencies. Moody’s said in June that even if the authority’s rating is downgraded, it will probably remain in the A category after the debt is issued.

© 2007 The Bond Buyer:

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"Perry's lagging appointments are no accident."

Senators: Perry evading law with expired appointments

Aug. 29, 2007

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry's campaign Web site touts public education as a long-standing "top priority" of his, but the school year began this week with teachers and administrators still wondering who will be the next commissioner of education.

That question mark is one among many with nearly 400 expired gubernatorial appointments this year alone to state boards, commissions and universities.

Senators — worried that Perry is dodging their constitutional role of confirming most gubernatorial appointments — are crying foul.

By Friday, 388 of Perry's appointments will have already expired so far this year, but only one in eight have resulted in new appointees or reappointments. Most of the expired terms this year are filled with holdovers from six months ago, two years ago or — at last public count of the governor's office — as long as eight years ago.

Senators also complain that Perry waited until the Legislature left town before filling key posts overseeing the rebuilding of Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, the gambling activities of the Texas Racing Commission and the tuition-setting boards of regents for such universities as Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Stephen F. Austin.

The bottom line is that senators won't be able to vet the delayed appointments until the Legislature reconvenes in January 2009.

And, to the extent holdovers stay in office indefinitely, senatorial confirmation power simply disappears.

Noting that controversial Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson, whose term expired in February, stands out among the holdovers, senators of both parties say they'll support new laws when they next meet to prevent future gubernatorial appointments from evading timely Senate approval.

Last spring efforts to force the governor's hand by ending appointments as soon as they expire or within 30 days died.

'It smacks of arrogance'

Among Perry's top critics is Dallas Republican Sen. John Carona, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, who said he believes Perry's lagging appointments are no accident.

He's especially angry that senators weren't allowed to vote on Williamson's continued service at a time when the transportation commissioner supported unpopular toll roads and private concessions to a Spanish company for Perry's planned Trans Texas Corridor.

"I think it's a deliberate effort to expand the powers of the governor," he said. "I think it smacks of arrogance. In my 19 years in the Legislature, I've never seen such obstinacy and abuse with regard to such critical appointments."

The nine-member board of regents at Texas Southern University in Houston, which Perry disbanded last spring amid a financial scandal, still lacks four new members.

By this Friday, the board of regents for the University of Houston will have four expired terms, including Morgan Dunn O'Connor of Victoria, whose term expired Aug. 31, 2005.

And the University of Texas Board of Regents continues meeting with three regents whose terms expired last February and one whose term expired in February 2005.

"It matters because regents at our universities in Texas now have more power than they've ever had in the history of the state over setting tuition," complained Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. "It is totally at their discretion."

Ellis urged Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Tom Craddick to appoint committees to take up the issue before the next session.

Perry's aides had no immediate responses to criticism of holdover appointments and Perry's apparent effort to evade Senate oversight.

And they have not provided up-to-date numbers, as requested last Friday, detailing how many total nonjudicial appointments Perry makes, how many are currently holdovers versus vacancies or how long ago appointments expired.

They did confirm on Wednesday, however, that as of last April, holdovers made up 750 of 2,200 nonjudicial appointees Perry has made. Of those, 175 of the terms had expired in 2005 or earlier. One dated back eight years.

Perry's holdover practice for key appointments, which some compare to the tactical advantages of President Bush's recess appointments while Congress is off duty, is not a tradition in Texas, say former staffers of past governors.

Different circumstances

The most generous explanation offered is that Perry, unlike his predecessors, has served so long he's no longer replacing appointments from previous administrations.

"It may be the times and circumstances were different than they are today," said James Huffines, chairman of the UT Board of Regents and former appointments secretary for former Republican Gov. Bill Clements.

"We were trying to replace appointments from another governor and usually it was from a different party," said Huffines, who also chaired Perry's transition team in 2000 and his re-election in 2002.

Dwayne Holman, former appointments secretary for Democratic Gov. Mark White, said holdover controversies weren't an issue for his boss, either.

"Several of the people whose appointments came due had been appointed by Gov. Clements, and we didn't approve of anything Clements did," he joked.

During Gov. Ann Richards' administration, the biggest problems arose from troubles besetting appointees, not from holdovers, said her former press secretary, Bill Cryer.

He remembers a media flap over an appointee to the Parks and Wildlife Department who spoke out against hunting, but said it could have been worse.

"We appointed someone who committed murder and put the body in a barrel and refused to resign," Cryer said.

Chronicle researcher Amy Raskin contributed to this report.

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Your state tax money would 'buy back' highways your federal tax money already paid for, so the state could charge you tolls to drive on that highway"


Secret TxDOT Plan to Toll Existing Interstates

Internal report to Congress, obtained by 1200 WOAI news, urges Congress to 'repeal' laws prohibiting tolling Interstates

August 29, 2007

By Jim Forsyth
KQXT FM (San Antonio)
The New Q101.9
Clear Channel Communications, Inc.
Copyright 2007

At the same time local officials assure us that tolls will 'never' be charged for traveling on existing highway lanes, 1200 WOAI news has obtained a Texas Transportation Commission report in which TxDOT officials discuss ways to impose tolls on existing interstate highways.

The report, entitled 'Forward Momentum, a Report to the 110th Congress,' makes several recommendations to Congress on how best to upgrade the state's highway system.

One section, entitled "Tolling Authority EXPANSION" (the capital letters are included in the report), discusses strategies Congress could use to allow Texas to charge tolls on existing Interstate highways, including Interstates 10, 35, and 27.

"Federal law generally prohibits imposing tolls on interstate highways for which federal funds have been used," the report reads on page 11. "In several situations, however, Congress has enacted specific legislation to allow states to 'buy back,' or re-imburse the federal government, for federal funds applies to a highway segment, thereby relieving it of the prohibition against tolls."

That's right. Your state tax money would be used to 'buy back' highways your federal tax money has already paid for, so the state could charge you tolls to drive on that highway.

Chris Lippencott of TxDOT confirms the language in the report, but stresses that any tolling would not be done without the consent of local officials and the public.

"Even if the Congress allowed states to purchase back parts of the interstate, state law would still be in effect, and it would require TxDOT to seek the approval of not only a county's Commissioners Court, but also the voters in that county, before we tolled existing lanes," Lippencott said.

So we've gone from 'existing lanes will never be tolled,' to 'existing lanes might be tolled with your consent.'

The TxDOT report proposes that 'restrictions on tolling programs' be removed, to 'give states such as Texas, as many opportunities as possible for new funding alternatives.'

The report suggests that if Congress 'authorizes states to implement interstate tolling options beyond current pilot programs' it would 'allow revenues from toll-financed facilities to be used for other critical system needs.'

"I'm not a political guru, but I would suggest to you that the likelihood of an existing lane being turned into a toll lane is pretty slim," Lippencott said.

The TxDOT also brags that the Government Accountability Office has 'cited Texas (and Governor Perry specifically) as a leader in using tolls to "reduce congestion")' Texans are being told that tolls would be collected to build badly needed highways, not to 'reduce congestion.'

© 2007 Clear Channel Communications, Inc. :

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Rick Perry snipes at ugly Americans while campaigning in Mexico

In Mexico for trade talks, Perry blasts immigration policies


Houston Chronicle Mexico City Bureau
Copyright 2007

MEXICO CITY — Leading a large delegation of Texas executives trying to drum up business in Mexico, Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday criticized the U.S. Congress for failing to pass an immigration bill that would legalize millions of workers.

"I don't think this is that difficult an issue if Congress would have the maturity to sit down and really discuss it and cut out all the mean rhetoric," Perry said during a break in the third day of meetings with Mexican officials and business executives.

"We need those individuals to continue to grow our economy," he said of Texas' undocumented workers, most of whom hail from Mexico. "The vast, vast majority of those individuals want to come and work and take care of their families."

Perry made the remarks in Mexico City, where immigration is nearly as big a hot-button issue as it is in Washington. He spoke at a press conference shortly before meeting with President Felipe Calderon who, like past Mexican presidents, has lobbied for changes in U.S.immigration law that would include a guest-worker program.

Perry's statements seemed to put him at odds with many in the Republican Party's base who regarded the immigration overhaul bill that collapsed in the Senate in June as nothing more than an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Perry said he supports a system that would temporarily legalize foreign workers, while making sure they pay taxes and obey the law.

Such a system, Perry said, would allow for a "free flow of individuals between these countries who want to work, who want to be an asset to our country and to Mexico."

Echoing a growing number of other Republican politicians, Perry attributed the "mean" tone of the immigration debate to the media.

"There have always been — whether you were African-American, or Hispanic, or for that matter some other ethnic group —people who are mean and will make mean statements. That's nothing new in the world we live in."

Perry tried to distinguish between overhauling the nation's immigration laws and enforcing security on the state's border with Mexico.

Earlier this year, he signed into law a $100 million spending bill designed to enhance border security. And last year he launched an effort to place cameras at remote border crossings. That effort has not succeeded.

"Border security and immigration are two different things," Perry said Tuesday. "We know how to deal with border security. You don't deal with it by building a fence, You do it by putting boots on the ground ... using the technology available ... and by coordinating with state, local and federal officials."

Perry and other state officials brought to Mexico City about 150 Texas business executives — including many from Houston — who were looking for new deals south of the Rio Grande in energy and other industries.

"It's a little early, frankly, to say we have any contracts signed," Perry said.

For years, Texas companies have provided drilling, pipeline installation and other services for Mexico's petroleum and electricity industries, which are controlled by government monopolies.

Though Mexico's Congress is debating energy reforms, the sort of sweeping privatization favored by many foreign investors is unlikely.

Given those limitations, Texas executives on this trip focused on the possibilities for developing wind power and other alternative energy sources in Mexico, Perry said.
"We will work within any of the parameters we are given," he said.

© 2007 The Houston Chronicle:

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