Saturday, September 15, 2007

"Attempts to overrun the citizens with numbers games is the oldest trick in the book."

Costs, delays with 281 argued


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

One of the biggest blame games in the muddy debate over toll roads involves jaw-dropping escalations in costs to widen U.S. 281 and years of frustrating delays to start construction.

Work actually did start in late 2005, but it was two years behind schedule, and all that crews managed to do before having to stop was snap some live oaks and scrape them into piles.

As noise continues to mount on whether to build an 8-mile tollway from Loop 1604 to Comal County or go with just three miles of freeway and a non-toll overpass at Borgfeld Road, costs soar in double digits annually and accusations fly over the holdups.

When Texas Department of Transportation officials outlined a plan in 2001 to rebuild eight miles of U.S. 281 into a freeway and add long-awaited ramps directly linking the highway to Loop 1604, they figured it would cost $263 million.

But they could only afford three miles, from Loop 1604 to Stone Oak Parkway, and the bridge at Borgfeld.

So to raise cash for all eight miles and then some, the freeway plan was converted several years later to a tollway plan — tolled express lanes with free frontage roads. Critics followed with a lawsuit to force more study of the environmental impacts, halting the work in January 2006.

Then last month, as the Federal Highway Administration announced a finding of no major impacts, allowing the project to proceed, TxDOT dropped a bombshell: The tollway will now cost $675 million.

The stunning difference is enough to strike fear in motorists weary of worsening slogs on the highway and to stoke desperation in those fighting the freeway versus tollway battle.

"Simply unbelievable," said state Rep. Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, who called for TxDOT to revert to the freeway plan. "Attempts to overrun the citizens with numbers games is the oldest trick in the book."

TxDOT explains

TxDOT officials insist that they're not playing around and can explain. The costs didn't go up as fast as critics claim, they say, but there's still cause for alarm.

Part of the problem is that the estimates for 2007 and 2001 aren't comparable. The latest number includes $85 million for studies and engineering and $120 million for land that wasn't part of the 2001 figure.

That leaves $470 million for construction, an apple-to-apple cost that's still a whopping $207 million, or 79 percent, higher than six years ago.

And that's what's scary, TxDOT officials say. Highway construction costs in Texas have shot up 73 percent in the past five years — much faster than consumer inflation — because of spiraling fuel prices and intense global competition for asphalt, concrete and steel.

"The longer we wait to build it, the more costs will go up," said David Casteel, TxDOT's lead engineer in its San Antonio office. "It is not a conspiracy, it is just inflation in the construction market."

A low bid in 2005 to start the first three miles of U.S. 281 even outstripped statewide construction inflation. The $78 million offer was $19 million more than forecast.

"The free market ruled," Casteel said of the unexpected bump in cost. "The 2, 3 and 4 bidders were much higher."

The free market is still having a say on costs for the three-mile project, which could have been 70 percent complete if Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas and People for Efficient Transportation hadn't filed a lawsuit to demand a detailed study of tolling and pollution impacts.

Estimated costs have since gone up another $20 million.

"The delay caused by the legal challenge made it tougher to provide mobility and improve safety for the public," TxDOT engineer Frank Holzmann said. "What a shame and what a waste of tax money."

Bait and switch?

Critics charge that TxDOT pulled a bait and switch years before, dangling funds and then stalling to switch to a toll plan and let burgeoning traffic bring motorists to their knees.

"They know what they're doing," Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson said. "They wanted to get it into an untenable situation where people say, 'Well, just do something.'"

As a board member of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which oversees spending of federal gas taxes in San Antonio, Larson helped line up funds in 1999 for several bridges to bypass U.S. 281 traffic lights. In 2001, money was earmarked for the three miles of freeway lanes.

TxDOT, with two engineers on the MPO board, was scheduled to start work on the bridges in 2002 and the freeway the next year. But by early 2003, the agency was studying which projects statewide could be financed with tolls, and U.S. 281 emerged as a hot prospect.

"We would have had those overpasses built by the end of 2004," Larson said. "This is long before the lawsuit."

Rising with aggravation was the price. By the time TxDOT was ready to start construction, the expressway and its interchange at Stone Oak Parkway went from $48 million in 2003 to $78 million just two years later, a jump of 63 percent.

The cost today is $100 million, up another 28 percent because of the lawsuit.

TxDOT says the financial and environmental studies needed to turn the freeway into a tollway didn't slow anything down.

"We bought the last piece of property in 2005, so we couldn't have gone to contract any sooner than that," TxDOT engineer Julie Brown said.

Freeway or tollway?

Critics are fuming and say some of the nearly $300 million in gas taxes and other public funds that the MPO has set aside through January 2011 to subsidize toll lanes on U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 should be used to refund the original U.S. 281 freeway and overpass plan.

"Why should anyone have to pay a toll when they have the plan, the clearance and the money to fix U.S. 281 as a freeway?" said Terri Hall of San Antonio Toll Party. "There is no justification other than greed and to tap the vein of 281 users to fund other road projects."

Casteel, in charge of TxDOT's San Antonio office since 2003, said money would have to be taken from other projects or raised some other way to add non-toll lanes to U.S. 281. With toll lanes, funds could be borrowed and repaid from tolls.

"I really don't know what she could be talking about as far as a funded expressway project, because there's not one," Casteel said. "If people could figure that out, that's a good thing. I don't know how to do that."

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News

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"Trust but verify!"

After getting repeatedly burned by the Texas Legislature...

Was the interstate 'toll ban' amendment a publicity stunt to distract from Hutchison, Cornyn’s controversial support for Mexican trucks?


Terri Hall
San Antonio Toll Party
Copyright 2007

We applaud Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison for attempting to begin the long process of reining-in our rogue state agency, TxDOT, with an amendment added to an appropriations bill to ban tolling existing interstates. But the news of this amendment appeared in the press the same day Hutchison and Senator John Cornyn cast a controversial vote in support of Mexican trucks beating up our State’s highway system and putting our air quality (teetering at non-attainment in all of our urban areas already) at risk.

And that doesn’t even tackle the national security and jobs controversy swirling around the pilot Mexican trucking program. With Cornyn also feeling the political heat, he came out on Dallas TV Friday saying he’s against tolling I-35. Is this an attempt to shore-up the angry public with a politically popular position against DOUBLE TAXING drivers to use our existing interstates? (Read the pro-tollers’ take on it here).

Let’s look at the bill to find out. This amendment does little overall to stop any current toll projects in the works throughout Texas. The State can still bulldoze our existing interstates to their heart’s content and re-arrange the pavement to make way for toll lanes down the middle. They call them “new lanes” but they’re using our existing right of way already paid for with gas taxes. So it’s still a DOUBLE TAX. The State can also continue to toll existing STATE highways, all or in part, unabated event though they, too, were built with federal dollars.

TxDOT trickeryto maximize revenue, guarantee sluggish "free" lanes

Consider TxDOT’s tricks to replace “existing lanes” with frontage roads or to narrow the width of the existing lanes (after they destroy them, then re-build them, taking twice the construction time as a freeway at more than double the cost), it will narrow the free lanes to slow down or manipulate traffic in such a way as to maximize the number of people on the tollway. Or they’ll outright steal the entire existing freeway tolling all the expressway lanes like they plan to do on US 281, making second class citizens out of those who cannot afford tolls by relegating them to frontage roads.

So it begs the question, if politicians fell all over themselves to be the first to repudiate tolling existing interstates (like Texas State Senator John Carona, State Representative Lois Kolkhorst, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, San Antonio Councilwoman Sheila McNeil), then why won’t they stop TxDOT and the tolling entities from tolling ALL existing highways?

Tough talk, no action

The people of Texas are tired of tough talk and no action. They’re tired of politicians playing games with the plain meaning of words. TxDOT is tolling EXISTING STATE HIGHWAYS and rights of way, which is no different than tolling existing interstates, which they claim to object to. So why don’t we stop the tomfoolery and end this. If they want to build toll roads, make them completely NEW roads, but stop tolling our existing corridors (whether federal or state highways).

So this amendment is a start, but doesn’t come close to addressing the fundamental concerns of taxpayers outraged by what’s happening in this state. On the flip side, after Hutchison and Cornyn (and Congressmen Charlie Gonzalez and Ciro Rodriguez for introducing a permanent ban in the House) kicked Ric Williamson’s teeth in with a public spanking, Williamson showed his usual arrogance by thanking Hutchison for likely hastening the addition of toll lanes to our existing roads since her amendment didn’t prohibit it and took away one of their tools in the infamous “toolbox” by prohibiting buying back segments of interstates in order to toll ALL existing lanes.

Other solutions ignored

When the Texas A&M Study says we don’t need a SINGLE toll road in Texas to meet our future transportation needs, it’s confounding that some politicians either pander or press ahead over the people’s objections. In any case, if ANY of these politicians want to curry favor with an incensed public, we need to see a REAL bill become LAW and FAST that puts a PERMANENT stop to tolling existing corridors in ALL of TxDOT’s machinations of them.

Overall, the privatization of our public infrastructure is far from over. The U.S. Department of Transportation just announced it will spend $66 million in YOUR GAS TAXES to attract private partners for several tolled trade corridors, many of which happen to be existing or future interstates. Notice they’re not spending the little gas tax money they claim to not have to actually build badly needed roads, rather your hard earned cash will be used to jet set bureaucrats to Europe seeking someone to foot the bill for America’s second mortgage on its highway system. Interstate 10 from CA to FL and I-69 from TX to Michigan are eligible to become privately financed, tolled trade corridors called “corridors of the future.” Ominously resembles the NAFTA superhighways Bush and Perry are so fond of denying. If it looks like a duck…

The battle against unbridled toll taxation is not over either, and Senator Hutchison vows to continue to fight this DOUBLE TAXATION in its many forms. We surely hope so, but after getting repeatedly burned by the Texas Legislature, we’ll trust but verify!

© 2007 San Antonio Toll Party:

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Friday, September 14, 2007

"TxDOT has a history of not being entirely forthcoming about transportation plans."

Campaign for tolls a start, not the end


San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

After conducting business as though it were a private entity rather than a public trust, the Texas Department of Transportation is now trying to turn the tide of public opinion in its favor.

The Keep Texas Moving campaign is a $7 million to $9 million effort designed to promote various transportation projects in the state.

According to the campaign site,, Texans can learn more about such projects as the vast Trans-Texas Corridor and "its promise for Texas."

Unfortunately, TxDOT has a history of not being entirely forthcoming about transportation plans.

Last year, agency officials and the road-building consortium Cintra-Zachry released 1,600 pages of documents about the scope and cost of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

TxDOT officials had fought to keep that information private, claiming proprietary concerns, for more than a year before an attorney general's opinion compelled them to release it. They then sued to keep the data sealed.

Notably, it was released a month before the November election, in which Gov. Rick Perry was up for re-election.

Had officials not vigorously sought to block access to that information, they might not be facing such strident criticism.

In the meantime, the agency is asking Congress to allow the state to "buy back" federally financed highways so they can potentially be tolled — with local approval — through state partnerships with private companies.

It's clear that Texas needs more money for roads. Toll partnerships, which can provide private, upfront funding, are one way of approaching the problem.

Another is for elected officials to step up and pass a gas tax increase and use it for transportation-related needs rather than letting it be siphoned off for other purposes.

Yet another is for state and local entities to get bold about public transportation initiatives, such as light and commuter rail.

Whatever the funding mechanism, the Texas Department of Transportation needs to do a better job — all the time — of keeping taxpayers informed.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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"This is a really huge issue that could affect the lives of all Americans. "

The NAFTA Superhighway for Oklahoma?

September 14, 2007

Charlie Meadows
The Edmond Sun
Copyright 2007

EDMOND — Last month in one of my columns I wrote about a possible plan to lease our turnpike system to a private entity in what is referred to as a “public-private partnership” often called a PPP. My contention is that by doing little more than changing the management of our turnpike system from a quasi-government authority to the private sector would result in much higher turnpike fees. This is because the private sector management team would want to reap a big ole profit for its investment and efforts.

However, there is another possible intention for those supporting the PPPs and that is to provide the financial mechanism to extend the NAFTA super highway north of the Red River, through Oklahoma, on its way toward Kansas City and eventually Canada. To be more accurate it actually will be a multi-modal transportation corridor.

The plan is for the corridor to extend from the deep water port of Lazaro Cardenas on the Pacific side of Mexico, which is hundreds of miles South of our border, all the way to Canada as one of 80 independent but interconnected corridors throughout the three nations.

In Texas it is referred to as the Trans-Texas Corridor. The project has become controversial with the Texas Legislature passing a veto-proof, two-year moratorium on the project toward the end of this year’s session. Texas Gov. Rick Perry simply waited until the Legislature adjourned and then vetoed the legislation. Therefore, the massive project is proceeding with land being acquired, much of it through eminent domain takings.

With the corridor planned to be more than two football fields wide in some places it is expected to consume more than a million acres in Texas alone as it moves North, generally parallel to Interstate 35. The route north of Dallas has not been revealed at this time so we have no idea as to where it might cross the Red River. The plan calls for six lanes for autos, three each direction, two lanes each direction for trucks, multiple rail lines, utility-lines, pipelines and infrequent cross-overs. Just imagine the costs associated with cross-overs for a corridor that wide.

I like to refer to these corridors as the “cardiovascular system” necessary to create a “North American Union.” Critics claim this is an effort to create a “Supranational” regional government, where individual member nations will begin to lose their sovereignty and national identity to an all-consuming regional government much like the European Union.

If the critics are correct, I believe such a move will have a dramatic impact on our God-given rights, our liberties and our ability to pursue happiness by being able to choose our course in life and control our own private property.

Folks in central Oklahoma as well as Tulsa soon will have an opportunity to hear top-notch speakers on these issues. Speakers who have been to many planning meetings, conferences and have researched volumes of information by the proponents of these efforts.

On Sept. 28, just two weeks from today, David Stall, city manager of Shoreacres, Texas, will be doing a Power Point presentation on this subject in the auditorium inside the Davison American Heritage Building on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University on Memorial Road. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. and there is no charge to attend.

He will talk about the NAFTA I-35 superhighway, possible loss of U.S. sovereignty to courts outside of our judicial system, international financial consortiums, toll roads operating under 50- to 99-year leases, eminent domain confiscation of farm and ranch land, how the super corridors will limit access to local businesses and the financial impact on our communities.

The next day, Stall will be one of five speakers at the Defending America’s Sovereignty seminar in Tulsa on the same issue.

This is a really huge issue that could affect the lives of all Americans. Therefore I would highly recommend making every effort to attend at least one of these two meetings.

CHARLIE MEADOWS is chairman of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee.

© 2007 The Edmond Sun:

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"Why would urban council members want to screw the center city and promote sprawl?"

Selling You Down the River

Sep 14, 2007

Jim Schutze
The Dallas Observer
Copyright 2007

In the real world, more people want the Trinity toll road referendum than they want Ron Natinsky on the city council. Check your numbers, holmes.

The Dallas Morning News today offers one of its typical Trinity River toll road stories in which the paper reports one side of the issue as gospel and makes no attempt whatsoever to consult the other side. They report on a pro-toll road propaganda session at the Regional Transportation Council, during which a well-rehearsed Greek chorus of officials said a yes vote on the Trinity toll road referendum would kill a much-needed traffic “reliever route” -- the toll road between the flood control levees along the river downtown.

One phone call to the other side by not-very-good reporter Michael A. Lindenberger would have revealed that a yes vote does not kill the reliever route. It merely obligates the city to find a better place to put it.

The story quotes city council member Ron Natinsky as saying: “This is not a city of Dallas initiative. If the city of Dallas had had its way, believe me, this would not be on the ballot.”

Ron, let’s do the math on that.

More than 91,000 people signed the petitions calling this referendum. In your most recent landslide, you were elected by 4,452 voters. So your total vote amounts to somewhat less than 5 percent of the people who said they wanted this referendum.

But let’s say you don’t trust all those signatures. We’ll just go with the ones that were checked out and fully certified by the city secretary. Now your personal mandate is nipping up toward less than nine percent of the certified signatures.

But you think you personally are the “City of Dallas initiative here” and the petition signers are not? Not quite sure we get your math.

The not-very-good News reporter might also have mentioned that the group issuing this great Doomsday forecast for the referendum, the Regional Transportation Council, happens to be a body with great investment and agenda here. The proposed reliever route is a regional road, not a city road. The RTC is the regional group that wants to put this regional road through downtown instead of out in the region where it belongs.

It’s a shame and always a puzzle to me that people like Natinsky and council member Linda Koop are so quick to want to sell the city down the river to their suburban colleagues on this particular panel. I think maybe they don’t even get what they’re doing.

I’m sure they think they’re being very regional, which they think means they are being very far-sighted. I just wonder why urban council members want to screw the center city and promote sprawl.

None of these issues ever finds its way into a Dallas Morning News story, of course. That would be telling the readers more than we want them to know. --

© 2007 The Dallas Observer:

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Concessionaires line up for toll road pork-fest

Brinker, HMSHost ink development deal


Dallas Business Journal
Copyright 2007

Brinker International Inc. said Thursday it has signed a development agreement with HMSHost Corp.

Under the deal, HMSHost Corp. has agreed to develop 26 new restaurants over the next five years in various airports and along tollroads.

The restaurants will include Brinker (NYSE: EAT) concepts Chili's Grill & Bar, Romano's Macaroni Grill and On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina.

Financial terms of its development deal with HMSHost Corp. were not disclosed.

Bethesda, Md.-based HMSHost operates quick-service restaurants at more than 70 airports and more than 100 rest areas along major turnpikes and highways in the United States and Canada.

Brinker, which is based in Dallas, owns or franchises more than 1,800 restaurants in 24 countries and has more than 120,000 employees.

Web site:

© 2007 American City Business Journals, Inc:

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ric Williamson: "We see what Senator Hutchison has done as a great step forward."

Hutchison adds toll ban to Senate bill

1-year freeze on old Texas interstates may speed fee on new lanes

September 13, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed an amendment that imposes a one-year ban on adding tolls to existing lanes of interstate highways in Texas.

But state and local highway officials say the amendment, sponsored by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, could make it easier to impose tolls on new lanes added to highways in Texas.

The amendment would affect only Texas and would expire in one year unless Congress reauthorizes it.

By exempting tolls on new interstate lanes, the moratorium could lead to new federal rules making it easier to impose tolls on new lanes – even those added to existing highways.

"We see what Senator Hutchison has done as a great step forward," said Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission.

Ms. Hutchison added the amendment to the Senate version of the housing, urban development and transportation 2008 appropriations bill – which is expected to pass later this week.

She said she opposes putting tolls on existing lanes of interstate highways because taxpayers already pay to build and maintain them.

"Today we protected Texas taxpayers from paying twice for a highway," Ms. Hutchison said in a statement. "I will continue pushing for a permanent prohibition of tolling existing highways."

Despite Mr. Williamson's praise for the amendment, Ms. Hutchison has said she filed it to defeat his department's long-standing efforts to persuade Congress to give states more latitude in imposing tolls, including tolls on existing interstate lanes.

Mr. Williamson said Wednesday that as the cost to maintain the interstate network continues to rise, the notion that the nation's highways have already been paid for has become outdated.

Still, he said he welcomes the Hutchison amendment because it helps clarify which tools his department can use to pay for badly needed new roads – and which have been taken off the table.

"I am not the elected senator from Texas, and I am not the elected governor of Texas," said Mr. Williamson, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry.

"My guy, who appointed me, has asked me to present a series of solutions for dealing with the $86 billion gap" between available funds and Texas' road needs. "So that's what I am doing, presenting options," he said.

It's up to Congress, and Texas elected officials, to decide which solutions to adopt, he said.

Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said the ban on adding tolls to existing lanes won't have much effect in North Texas. He said current policy has for a decade been to reject such tolls locally.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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Take our 39% Governor .... Please!

Perry goes on attack against Democrats

Sept. 12, 2007

Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — He skipped Texas' GOP straw poll, but Gov. Rick Perry delivered a red-meat speech at the California Republican Party convention scoffing at Al Gore over global warming and taking on Nancy Pelosi and the Clintons.

"I've heard Al Gore talk about man-made global warming so much that I'm starting to think that his mouth is the leading source of all that supposedly deadly carbon dioxide," Perry said in last Friday's prepared speech, a week after the presidential straw poll in Fort Worth.


"Let's make sure the Nancy Pelosi speakership is just an asterisk in the history of our country."

Hillary Clinton's effort to follow her husband as president?

"We must move heaven and earth to make sure we never see another Clinton in the White House."

California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urged a centrist approach?

"California is too important ... to allow a bankrupt, liberal political philosophy to dominate the direction of this state."

Perry promised more of the same in 2008.

"I may not be on the ballot, but I will campaign next year like I am, in Texas, in California, and anywhere else I can spread the word," he said in his speech.

If that holds true, it will be an unusually active national schedule for the GOP governor, said Ray Sullivan, who once worked for him and is close to the Perry camp.

"If he does indeed fan out across the country giving similar speeches, I believe that will be a bigger, newer role for him nationally," said Sullivan, a lobbyist.

Perry spokesman Robert Black said more national travel is expected, but presidential campaigning will depend on what Perry is asked to do by the nominee.

Black noted this will be a presidential election without a Bush on the GOP presidential ballot, and that Texas being "a bit more in play than in previous elections" makes a difference in Perry's plans.

Perry also has a prominent role in the Republican Governors Association and will work to help elect other GOP governors, Black added. Perry is the RGA's chief fundraiser and is rumored to be in line to be chairman. He was raising money in California for the group last week.

As for the Texas straw poll, Black said Perry had a scheduling conflict and sent a video. (High-profile presidential candidates also missed the event.)

Ron Nehring, California Republican Party chairman, said Perry was invited to the convention with several other governors and got a "tremendous" reception, an opinion echoed in news accounts that said Perry's conservative message got a far more enthusiastic response than Schwarzenegger's speech.

Some have suggested Perry might be a possible vice presidential contender. Others call that an impossibility, partly because of the unpopularity of President Bush, who preceded Perry as governor, and because Perry was most recently re-elected with less than a majority vote in a crowded field.

Political science professor Samuel Popkin of the University of California at San Diego, who has advised Democratic campaigns, including Gore's in 2000, said the GOP nominee may be more likely to choose a running mate from a more worrisome state like Florida or Ohio.

"Being cheered by the faithful doesn't mean they think you're electable," Popkin said.

Political scientist Bruce Buchanan of the University of Texas at Austin said he thinks Perry is working to build his national profile.

"I think he does want to have a profile that could lead him to some higher office at some point," Buchanan said. But he added, "Right at the moment, Texas is kind of radioactive."

© 2007 The Houston Chronicle:

Related link: Rick Perry snipes at ugly Americans while campaigning in Mexico

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Smoke and mirrors in Washington

Texas toll ban added to transportation bill

Sept. 12, 2007

The Associated Press
Copyright 2007

WASHINGTON — The transportation spending bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday includes a ban on tolls for existing Texas roadways.

The Texas toll ban is attached to the $106 billion spending bill approved by the Senate 88-7. The bill also includes an amendment banning Mexican trucks from U.S. roadways, which was passed late Tuesday.

The toll ban amendment authored by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is in addition to a two-year moratorium imposed on most new privately financed toll road projects by the Legislature during this year's session. The state legislation includes some exemptions.

Building new toll roads or lanes in Texas would not be prohibited by the amendment. In fact, the Texas Department of Transporation is going forward with several toll road projects, said TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott.

Building new toll roads or lanes in Texas would not be prohibited by the amendment.

The Senate bill now heads to conference committee to be reconciled with the House version.

President Bush has threatened to veto the final bill because of its cost.

© 2007 The Associated Press:

Related link: Sen Hutchison fails to protect Texas taxpayers from double taxation

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"Speakers criticized TxDOT for keeping the formal public comment period at 10 days, rather than the 60 days usually given for projects."

Grand Parkway extension foes address court

September 12, 2007

By Stephen Palkot
Fort Bend Herald
Copyright 2007

Southern Fort Bend County residents angry over the possibility of a toll road in their suburban backyards let their frustrations be known to County Commissioners Court on Tuesday.

Six people used the public comments portion of the regular weekly meeting to voice their opposition to a plan calling for Grand Parkway Segment C to be constructed as a toll road winding from Crabb River Road at U.S. 59 to Highway 288 in Brazoria County.

County Judge Bob Hebert noted at the start of the meeting that Grand Parkway is a state project, giving the Commissioners Court no power to decide on its alignment or funding structure.

Hebert, who in the past has cut off a speaker for discussing non-county matters, said by law the county would have to pay for a portion of the project's right-of-way, and thus he allowed the speakers to proceed.

Commenters identified themselves as residents of Canyon Gate, Bridlewood and Brazos Lakes Estates, and they raised issues including environmental concerns, noise and the loss of the "rural" atmosphere of their neighborhoods.

More than one speaker criticized the Texas Department of Transportation for keeping the formal public comment period at 10 days, rather than the 60 days usually given for projects.

Whether the Commissioners Court truly has no say in the road was debated by one speaker, who criticized what she saw as a 'hands-off' approach to the controversy by the court.

Hebert said he personally opposes the current proposal to construct the segment as a toll road, since the area surrounding the alignment contains little development.

The area will not produce enough traffic to generate revenue to pay for the highway as a toll road in the near future, contends Hebert.

Comments on the project must be made to TxDOT by 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13. Comments may be sent to Grand Parkway Association, Attn: Segment C Comments, 4544 Post Oak Place, #222, Houston TX 77027, or by e-mail to

At an Aug. 30 public hearing some 250 people turned out, and the vast majority of speakers voiced opposition to the idea.

© 2007 Fort Bend Herald:

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"Tolling existing freeways is bad public policy, and states like...Texas would incur irrevocable economic damage."

House bill would block highway tolls


Gary Martin
San Antonio Express-News Washington Bureau
Copyright 2007

WASHINGTON — House lawmakers from Texas and Pennsylvania filed a bill to block proposals in their respective states to toll federal highways to provide revenue for repair and construction, officials said Tuesday.

The House bill is a companion to legislation filed in the Senate by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who has vowed to stop efforts in Austin to "buy back" federal highways and levying tolls on state taxpayers.

"Tolling existing freeways — the lifeblood of moving goods and services — is bad public policy, and states like Pennsylvania and Texas would incur irrevocable economic damage," said Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa.

Rep. Ciro Rodriguez and Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, both San Antonio Democrats, joined Peterson and Rep. Phil English, R-Pa., in co-sponsoring the House bill.

Rodriguez signed on one week after meeting with Ric Williamson, the Texas transportation commissioner, in Washington.

Williamson met with federal lawmakers, urging them to relax current laws that prohibit tolls on U.S. highways.

The state is seeking revenue to make up an $86 billion shortfall preventing Texas from improving highways.

Williamson, a Republican, has proposed buying back federal highways and turning them over to private entities to levy a toll that would produce money to improve and expand infrastructure.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Williamson say a decision to toll an existing highway or road should rest with the local taxpayer, not federal officials.

Decisions on how to use existing highways "would be better made in San Antonio and San Angelo than in Washington," said Chris Lippincott, a Texas Department of Transportation spokesman.

Pennsylvania also is eyeing plans to toll Interstate 80, as well as other revenue enhancing measures being studied by Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat.

"The real problem is, we don't have sufficient resources and our infrastructure is falling apart across the country," Rodriguez said.

But Rodriguez said the state should not penalize Texas taxpayers and make them pay twice for federal roads that were built with public funds.

"Those roads have already been paid for," Rodriguez said.

Hutchison and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, are opposed to the state's tolling existing federal highways. Hutchison vowed to block any effort to lift current prohibitions to the practice.

The entire South Texas congressional delegation opposes the state plan.

Rodriguez said he asked Williamson to list the state's most dire transportation needs.

If those issues cannot be addressed in supplemental spending bill, the state could be forced to wait until Congress takes up the reauthorization of the transportation bill next year, Rodriguez said.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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Sen. Hutchison hypes toll amendment that is riddled with loopholes


Sen. Hutchison Protects Texas Taxpayers From Double Taxation on Existing Highways

Senate Passes Hutchison Amendment to Ban Tolling Existing Highways in Texas for One Year

September 11, 2007

Contact: Geoff Embler or Matt Mackowiak
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison
United States Senate
Copyright 2007

WASHINGTON -- Texas’ senior Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R–TX) today passed an amendment to H. R. 3074, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill, that protects Texas taxpayers by placing a one-year moratorium on tolling existing highways in Texas. The FY 2008 THUD bill, which passed the Senate today by a vote of 88-7, would be effective through September 30, 2008. The Senate version will now need to be reconciled with the House-passed bill in a conference.

“Today we protected Texas taxpayers from paying twice for a highway,” Sen. Hutchison said. “I will continue pushing for a permanent prohibition of tolling existing highways.”

If enacted, Sen. Hutchison will have protected Texas for one year, but she is committed to addressing this issue on a more comprehensive basis in the 2009 Highway Reauthorization bill. Sen. Hutchison’s amendment preserves the Texas State Legislature’s authority over this issue in Texas.

During the 80th session of the Texas Legislature the state House and Senate approved a measure that would place a two-year moratorium on building toll roads in Texas.

“Sen. Hutchison is a hero to every Texas driver,” State Sen. and former Texas Transportation Commissioner Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) said. “Her amendment is the right thing to do and I strongly support her position.”

Last week Sen. Hutchison filed S. 2019, a bill to prohibit the tolling of interstate highways that have used federal funds in their construction, and the next day four Members of Congress filed companion legislation, H.R. 3510. The House bill was filed by Reps. John Peterson (R–PA), Phil English (R–PA), Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX) and Ciro Rodriguez (D–TX). Sen. John Cornyn (R–TX) cosponsored Sen. Hutchison’s bill.

Efforts to toll newly constructed lanes or new highways would not be prohibited in Sen. Hutchison’s amendment that passed the Senate, or in S. 2019 or H.R. 3510.

“I’ve long believed that if local communities and the state want to come together and build a toll road, they should be able to do it,” Sen. Hutchison said.

Earlier this year the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) declared they will lobby Congress to allow for the “buy back” of existing federal highways in Texas for the purpose of tolling. In February TxDOT released their legislative agenda in a report called “Forward Momentum,” which seeks changes in federal law that would allow such buybacks for the purpose of tolling interstate highways, pending approval by local governments.

“I deeply thank Sen. Hutchison for being a voice of reason on this issue,” State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R–Brenham) said. “Asking Texans to pay twice for the same road violates the trust that should exist between people and government.”

Sen. Hutchison passed a similar amendment as part of the 2005 Highway Bill, which passed the Senate but was stripped in conference by the House of Representatives.

“The purpose of having an interstate system is so that we could have seamless and free transportation into every State of our Union,” Sen. Hutchison said.

Sen. Hutchison is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which has jurisdiction over all of the Appropriations bills, including THUD.

© 2007 Kay Bailey Hutchison, United States Senator Sentor:

Related link: Sen Hutchison fails to protect Texas taxpayers from double taxation

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"TxDOT and Gov. Rick Perry have reached new lows in ignoring the will of Texans and selling out to special-interest groups."

TxDOT, Gov. Perry selling out


Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

News reports have recently stated that the Texas Department of Transportation has proposed purchasing already existing Texas interstate highways from the federal government so that it can then convert them to toll roads.

TxDOT and Gov. Rick Perry have reached new lows in ignoring the will of Texans and selling out to special-interest groups. This proposal would be bad for Texans on many levels. Our interstate highways have already been paid for by federal tax dollars.

It is imperative that residents have the use of a free interstate system for ease of mobility and travel. Many cannot afford to tie up money in toll fees.

And in these days of record high gas prices, the last thing this troubled economy needs is more burden placed on the average person trying to make ends meet.

One of the biggest reasons that this is bad for Texans is that this TxDOT end run picks the public's pocket while distracting us from other boondoggle projects (such as the Grand Parkway and the Trans-Texas Corridor) that also cannot be paid for. There are too many needs competing for too few dollars in the state budget. With shrinking economies, we should fund projects that serve the greater needs of a greater number of people.

It should be an embarrassment to us that Texas ranks lower than most states and some Third World countries when it comes to medical services and the number of children covered by health insurance.

Taking free travel from the citizens and charging them to build unnecessary roads is bad politics and a fiscally unsound idea.

Is this from a lack of vision or is it just corruption?


© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"I'd much rather have part of my toll go to other streets I will drive than to wealthy Spaniards, or to wealthy Texans, for that matter."

For whom the toll bills

Sept. 11, 2007

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

With all the madness in the world, I meditated Tuesday on two matters of great gratitude.

One is that through vigilance and good fortune we have, so far, gone six years without another major attack on U.S. soil.

The other is that I wasn't one of the Texas officials who was forced to attend a workshop in Austin in which PR flacks would try (under a $20,000 contract) to teach me techniques for selling Gov. Perry's massive toll road boondoggle.

It was a small part of a $7 million to $9 million campaign that will include feel-good ads pushing Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor.

Magic word didn't work

Given the growing uprising in both the Legislature and the public, that may not be enough.

It would have been much wiser for Perry just to consult Harris County officials on how to do toll roads right.

It looks like Perry was caught by surprise by the hostility to his plan. He seems to have thought that by invoking the magic word "privatization" he could lull Texans into thinking we were getting something for nothing.

Under Perry's plan, private corporations, including at least one from Europe, will build the roads at little or no cost to Texas taxpayers.

It's a politically powerful idea, playing on the popular notion that the private sector is always more efficient than the public sector.

Harris County's better way

That's such a tantalizing tenet of current political theology that Harris County last year paid for a set of studies that looked at whether it should sell its toll roads.

Based on the results of the studies, commissioners voted unanimously not to sell.

The two Democrats and three Republicans agreed that privatization isn't always better. And this is one of those cases.

The Houston approach is superior to Perry's in at least three ways:
  • Despite recent hikes in tolls, drivers will pay considerably less per mile than they would on a privatized road. The reason is simple. The private sector can't build or maintain the roads appreciably more cheaply, and their operating costs are higher. For one thing, corporations must pay federal taxes. For another, they must pay their shareholders. What's more, their job is to maximize their profits. Unlike the Harris Toll Road Authority, they will make substantial political contributions and hire the best lobbyists to persuade state officials to let them charge whatever the traffic will bear. TxDOT's Web site promoting the governor's plan offers this as reassurance: "If it is too expensive, motorists will not use the road."
  • Private sector profits go to shareholders and highly paid executives. Harris County toll road profits are used to pay for nontoll streets and roads. Currently, $40 million a year in tolls go to non-toll road projects. In effect, those who are able and willing to pay for the speed and convenience of toll roads are subsidizing the "free" streets. I'd much rather have part of my toll go to other streets I will drive than to wealthy Spaniards, or to wealthy Texans, for that matter.
  • Before they will invest hundreds of millions in building roads, private companies want and get noncompete provisions. You would, too. By contrast, Harris County has consistently built free access roads parallel to its toll roads. If you don't have an EZ Tag to get on the Westpark Tollway, you can do pretty well traveling Westpark Drive. "That's the way we've made toll roads politically acceptable here," said Art Storey, Harris County infrastructure director.

Elected officials have to worry about such things.

You can write to Rick Casey at P.O. Box 4260, Houston, TX 77210, or e-mail him at .

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

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"Opponent groups united to ask the organization not to approve the toll roads."

Residents meet to debate proposed toll roads


By Mike Jeffers
The Daily Texan
Copyright 2007

Central Texas residents disagreed Monday night about whether or not tolling more highways will alleviate traffic congestion concerns and who should pay for the improvements.

About 120 residents flooded an auditorium in the basement of the Capitol to air their opinions on proposed tolls to five area highways at the Transportation Policy Board Meeting held by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. The five affected roads are U.S. 290 in Northeast Austin, Research Boulevard in East Austin, Texas 71 in Southeast Austin, U.S. 290 and Texas 71 in Oak Hill, and the proposed Texas 45 Southwest.

Opponent groups united to ask the organization not to approve the toll roads. These groups are combatting the proposal for different reasons: the environmental effects of building new roads and whether the local and state government already has sufficient funds to pocket the costs themselves.

Nancy Fly of Fix 290 is against the proposed toll road in Oak Hill because she is concerned about the effects a major highway would have in her town. The coalition wants a parkway as an alternative to the toll road.

"I'm not philosophically opposed to toll roads. I just think that Oak Hill is an inappropriate place for a toll road, but a toll at the Y is just silly. I think the environmental imprint on that area is too severe," Fly said, referring to the fork at highways 290 and 71 in Oak Hill.

The Save Our Springs Alliance is also opposed to the highway in the Barton Springs Watershed because regulations require toll roads to automatically be much bigger than other types of roads. The alliance proposes building a parkway through Oak Hill because it would spare Williamson Creek and be less detrimental to the watershed.

Members of Texas Toll Party believe that local, state and federal governments have the funding to build non-toll roads.

"I don't believe that TxDOT is telling the truth when the tell us they don't have money," Austin resident Don Young said. "I can't believe that TxDOT is spending tax dollars on an advertising campaign for toll roads."

The audience was also filled with members of Take On Traffic, a local organization that advocates building toll roads to solve traffic problems.

Gary Farmer, a small business owner and an Oak Hill resident, said roads are not free, whether they are taxed or tolled.

Members of Take on Traffic cited the growing population of Austin as another reason that the toll roads need to built soon and that they would be "user-funded."

Williamson County resident Randy Marshall interrupted mid-meeting and said the entire hearing was a sham, accusing the board of holding it in an undersized room. He alleged the board had already made up its mind.

Many members of the Texas Toll Party continually hoisted yellow "No Toll" signs at the meeting.

Citizens can still submit amendment comments to CAMPO through Sept. 26. More information on the CAMPO Mobility and Transportation plans can be found at

© 2007 The Daily Texan:

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Five of the six proposed NAFTA highways connect to or run near the Mexican or Canadian borders

Bush administration allocates $66M to 'NAFTA highways'

September 10, 2007

by Mike Sunnucks
The Business Journal of Phoenix
Copyright 2007

The Bush administration announced Monday it is granting $66.2 million to reduce congestion and improve freight flow on several so-called NAFTA highways.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is allocating the money so it can work with state and local governments and the private sector on six interstate highways, with projects including the addition of bypasses and trucks-only lanes. Five of those highways connect to or run near the Mexican or Canadian borders:

  • Interstate 15, which runs from San Diego through part of northwest Arizona all the way to the Canadian border.
  • Interstate 10, which runs near the Mexican border from California through Arizona to Florida.
  • Intestates 95, which runs from Florida through the northeastern U.S. to Canada.
  • Interstate 5, which runs from the California-Mexico border through Oregon to the Washington-Canada border.
  • Interstate 69, which free-trade backers hope to turn into a NAFTA superhighway, connecting an existing freeway between Indianapolis and Canada to a proposed highway running south into Texas and splitting to connect with Mexican border crossings at Laredo, Brownsville and McAllen.

The only nonborder highway getting grant money from the Bush administration is Interstate 70, which runs mostly through the Midwest.

The USDOT said Monday the money will be used to study transport options, such as bypasses of major cities and trucks-only lanes.

Supporters say improving such routes will enhance North American trade and commerce. Critics worry that such border-to-border corridors will make it easier for foreign goods to get into the U.S. unchecked and that increased truck traffic will damage animal habitats and air quality.

"These routes are unlikely to alleviate congestion for the long term and will result in further habitat fragmentation and degradation, as well as increased air pollution in areas in or near the proposed expansions and especially where they propose new roads," said Sandy Bahr, state coordinator for the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group.

© 2007 American City Business Journals, Inc.:

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"What they're talking about is driving the frontage road with stoplights."

Will More Toll Lanes Help Or Hurt Austin Traffic?

Residents Speak For, Against Toll Road Construction

Sep 10, 2007

KXAN-TV NBC (Austin)
Copyright 2007

More than 120 people turned out to speak about toll road construction.

Sitting in traffic can make people see red, and finding a solution to the problem is no different.

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, or CAMPO, has a plan that could call for toll lanes on U.S. Highway 290 West and East, State Highways 71 East and 183 South, and Interstate 45 South.

"This is a big fat boondoggle," said Sal Costello of the Texas Toll Party.

Costello wants the brakes put on the plan.

"They are taking the right of way from us," Costello said. "These are freeways always intended to be freeways. It's right of way we paid for."

CAMPO chairman Sen. Kirk Watson said the toll is only for new or improved lanes.

"No road that is currently open to the motoring public and was built with non-toll revenue will be tolled," Watson said. "Even after these improvements would be done and you didn't want to pay a toll, you would have essentially the exact same driving experience."

"What they're talking about is driving the frontage road with stoplights," Costello said.

"Now all of a sudden they want to put a toll on it; that's not fair," said resident Nancy Cobb.

Cobb has lived in the U.S. 290 West area for more than 20 years. She said she thinks the plan is a dead end for drivers.

"At this point I don't want a toll road; 1826 is where I live, and a lot of people don't have any other route but to come through the 'Y,'" Cobb said.

"It's unacceptable," Costello said.

"I've recommended it, and I believe the CAMPO board will follow," Watson said.

Watson said CAMPO will vote on the issue on Oct. 8.

© 2007 WorldNow and KXAN.:

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

"Really the way to stop this project is by letting people know what it is."

Updated Special Edition of 'Truth be Tolled' Now Available


First Texas, then the nation.

Government has found a new way to make money on public infrastructure.

The plan is not only to convert existing roadways into toll ways without a public vote, but to seize over half a million acres of Texas soil and replace it with a 4,000 mile road, rail and utility network.

Many citizens are crying highway robbery. Corporations stand to profit as lobbyists and lawmakers pave the way for private foreign interests.

The political establishment is not listening to the people--but their voices will be heard.

This award-winning* documentary follows the process as citizens exercise their most important power as members of a democracy: freedom of speech.

Grassroots organizers to working-class Texans, all unite to state their loud opposition. The strongest voices rise from small rural communities whose farms, homes, schools, businesses and churches face the largest forcible eminent domain acquisition in U.S. history.

The Trans-Texas Corridor, the first leg of the proposed NAFTA superhighway, will not only rip the heart out of Texas-- it will kill a way of life that has been in the Lone Star State forever.

© 2007 Truth Be Tolled

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"Senate Bill 792 left exemptions for nearly every toll road project that had already contracted with private developers"

Toll lanes in county? "Not on our watch"

September 9, 2007

By David Saleh Rauf
The Herald-Zeitung (New Braunfels and Comal County)
Copyright 2007

State transportation officials moving forward with toll road projects in San Antonio have no plans to build toll lanes on U.S. 281 in Comal County.

The Texas Department of Transportation was recently given the green light by Federal Highway Administration officials to continue with an ambitious U.S. 281 toll road project that stretches from Loop 1604 to Comal County. But the U.S. 281/1604 toll project--which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars--and TxDOT's push to convert existing highways into tolled lanes, will not cross into Comal County, officials said.

“Not going to happen,” said Pct. 2 Commissioner Jay Milikin. “Not on our watch.”

State transportation officials announced their plans to move forward with toll lanes on U.S. 281 in San Antonio just five days before local TxDOT representatives held a public hearing on a project slated to improve 6.8 miles of U.S. 281 in Comal County.

Less than two weeks later, reports surfaced that TxDOT had been pushing Congress to pass a federal law allowing them to purchase portions of existing interstate highways and turn them into toll roads, which has put a spotlight on the U.S. 281 issue in Comal County. Since then, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, has filed legislation that would block TxDOT's move to acquire existing roads and convert them into tolled lanes.

The possibility of tolled lanes to fund construction of new roads, such as the proposed outer loop around the city, still is a possibility in Comal County, said TxDOT area engineer Greg Malatek. But local TxDOT officials said they will not turn existing highways into tolled lanes in the County.

“Right now, commissioner's court has made it loud and clear … they don't want to see toll roads on any existing roadway,” Malatek said.

Milikin said the county has reached an agreement with local TxDOT officials that will prevent them from pursuing toll road projects on existing highways in Comal without Commissioners' Court approval.

Commissioners have rejected prior attempts by TxDOT to toll existing highways to help fund road improvement projects within the county, Milikin said.

In turn, Commissioners' Court reached an agreement with TxDOT to front a portion of constructions costs to help improve U.S. 281 and a segment of Texas 46. As part of the pass-through agreement, the county has agreed to loan the state $16 million for each respective project. Milikin said the state will pay back the principle of the loan over a four-to-five-year period, but the county will “eat the interest.”

“I don't like using county tax payer money to subsidize the state, but that's exactly what we're doing,” Milikin said. “Without the pass-through agreement, we were looking at 15 to 20 years before those improvements would be made on 46 and 281.”

While commissioners in Comal have guaranteed that no toll roads will pop up on existing highways within the county anytime soon, in San Antonio and other portions of the state toll road projects are moving forward, despite a so-called two-year moratorium on private toll road contracts.

Senate Bill 792, over which Gov. Rick Perry threatened to call a special session at one point, left exemptions for nearly every toll road project that had already contracted with private developers, including the U.S. 281/1604 project in San Antonio.

Several state lawmakers who voted against the measure, including Rep. Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, have since banded together to oppose TxDOT's latest $7 to 9 million public relations campaign aimed at promoting toll roads. The “Keep Texas Moving: Tolling and Trans-Texas Corridor Outreach,” which began in June, has drawn criticism from some state lawmakers and anti-toll road activists for wasting valuable gas tax dollars to promote toll roads.

“They're trying to use a $9 million blitz campaign to sell toll roads,” said Rep. Joe Farias, D-San Antonio, who along with Macias and Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, held a press conference last week calling for an end to TxDOT's press campaign.

“If anything, the biggest thing is that as far toll roads go, the folks oppose who toll roads we're really not hearing any other options to stop congestion in San Antonio,” Malatek said.

U.S. 281 Expansion in Comal County

• What: Upgrading 6.8 miles of U.S. 281 in Comal County from 2-lane, undivided sections to 4-lane divided roadway.

• Where: Between FM 311 and FM 306 on U.S. 281.

• When: Construction to begin in 2010; could take up to 3 years.

• How Much: $55.4 million

© 2007 The Herald-Zeitung:

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