Saturday, September 29, 2007

“It is aimed directly at the state of Oklahoma.”

Oklahoma: Opposition mounting to international trade route

September 29, 2007

The Associated Press
Copyright 2007

OKLAHOMA CITY — A citizens group opposed to Oklahoma’s membership in an international trade route coalition urged officials Friday to withdraw its membership and avoid leasing state roads to companies, especially foreign ones.

George Wallace, president of Oklahomans for Sovereignty and Free Enterprise, said his group opposes membership in the North American SuperCorridor Coalition, which wants to use interstate highways along with other modes of transportation, such as rail and air service, to improve the flow of goods between the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Wallace said he is concerned a supercorridor would help Chinese goods move faster from Mexico to Canada while passing through Oklahoma. He is also concerned that tractor-trailers using the corridor would be driving through Oklahoma with unchecked loads.

“We would have no idea about contraband that’s being brought forward,” Wallace said. “There might be illegal aliens on board. There could be terrorists.

“We would lose the sovereignty of our borders.”

Dawn Sullivan, an engineer with the state Transportation Department who has worked with the coalition, said membership has been beneficial. The group’s work to promote the 1,500-mile stretch of Interstate 35 has resulted in additional federal funds for the roadway and generated publicity about the importance of the route.

“There are concerns in the nation about how we’re going to keep our highway system moving efficiently with all this bulk of freight on it,” she said. “They’re trying to come up with solutions to help increase efficiency in the existing transportation system.”

Sullivan said legislation would have to be passed to allow the state Transportation Department to lease any of its roads.

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, which operates the state’s 10 toll roads, has not been approached to consider leasing any of its roadways to a private company, a spokesman said.

A planned roadway, Texas Corridor 35, would run parallel to and east of Interstate 35 from the Red River south to Mexico, said David Stall, co-founder of

“It is aimed directly at the state of Oklahoma,” said Stall, who is city administrator of Shoreacres, Texas.

The 1,200-foot-wide roadway — four times the width of a 15-lane freeway — would carry truck, car, and commuter and freight train traffic, as well as provide space for pipelines and utilities. Cintra, of Madrid, Spain, would own toll rights on the superhighway for 50 years, Stall said.

It would be part of a network of Texas superhighways leased to companies in long-term deals, he said.

Stall said he found many Texas legislators and residents were unaware of the impact the corridors would have on private property rights because the corridors would require much more land than a typical highway.

The next planned project is Texas Corridor 69, which would run from Texarkana to the Mexico border, Stall said.


Information from: The Oklahoman,

© 2007 The Associated Press:

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"Anti-tollers could make passage of Proposition 12 difficult if they get engaged in the election."

16 proposals; how many voters?


Bruce Davidson
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

The small group of Texans that actually pays attention to state government is being called to duty once again.

Voters will be asked to make decisions on 16 proposed constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot.

According to the Texas Legislative Council, the state constitution has been amended 440 times since it was adopted in 1876. More than 200 amendments approved by lawmakers have been rejected by voters.

Traditionally, state constitutional amendments draw embarrassingly few voters to the polls.

A single-amendment election in May drew about 7 percent of the state's registered voters. Constitutional amendment turnout has ranged from 17.8 percent to 6.9 percent in the past decade.

That's not enough to brag about. To the contrary, the low totals represent the apathy toward state government in Texas.

In November, $9.25 billion in bonds are on the ballot in addition to numerous other issues.

Proposition 15, which would allow $3billion in bonds to be issued to establish the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, garnered the most attention during this year's legislative session.

The plan had high-profile supporters, and making Texas a leader in cancer research would be hard to oppose.

The largest single chunk of bond money on the ballot is the $5 billion that would be authorized by Proposition 12 for highway improvements.

Anyone with a car realizes that Texas needs more roadways to deal with congestion, but the Texas Department of Transportation is radioactive these days because of the push for toll roads.

Even a whiff of toll roads could stir up a storm of animosity; however, the decision on how to use the bond funds is still pending action by the Legislature.

According to Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee staff, the bonds could not be used until lawmakers pass enabling legislation. The amendment would merely make the bonds available for future use, and a legislative aide said committee Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas, who sponsored the amendment in the Legislature, opposes using the funds for toll roads.

Legislation designed to make the money available for loans to local authorities to develop toll roads was defeated, the House Research Organization noted in an analysis of the amendment.

Texas voters approved the concept of funding roads with borrowed money in 2001, the HRO stated. And the state is well below the allowed capacity for borrowing.

But anti-tollers could make passage of Proposition 12 difficult if they get engaged in the election.

Other spending measures on the ballot include Proposition 4, which would authorize $1 billion for the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Texas Historical Commission and various other state agencies.

The parks portion has a clear constituency. Parks supporters pushed hard to increase parks funding in this year's legislative session. State parks have been underfunded for years, and the bonds will finance long-delayed repairs.

And as usual, most of the amendments, while important to some or many, do not involve issues that will set the electorate on fire.

Proposition 10 would remove all references to county offices of inspector of hides and animals. The job already has been abolished in numerous counties. It is virtually defunct, and most of its powers were stripped from the Agriculture Code in 2003, the HRO noted, but it still is mentioned in the constitution. Don't expect a hot debate on that one.

Many believe the constitution should be revamped, but that isn't likely to happen anytime soon.

Instead, hard-core voters once again will accept the assignment of rewriting bits and pieces of the antiquated document and deciding whether to approve new state debt.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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E-mails show top Dallas city staff members' cozy relationships with leading advocates for the Trinity River toll road.

Trinity toll road opponents blast city's e-mails

Staffers accused of not being neutral; Suhm cautions aides

September 29, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Top Dallas city staff members appear to have a cozy relationship with leading advocates for the Trinity River toll road, a series of e-mails among them shows. The disclosure has infuriated toll road opponents and caused City Manager Mary Suhm to caution her top deputies about politicking on the job.

For instance, in a July 6 e-mail, Rebecca Dugger, director of the city office overseeing the Trinity project, encouraged toll road supporters to call a radio talk show to give a positive view of the project.

"I am not going to call. Hope you can," Ms. Dugger wrote in response to a request that she call the show.

Twenty days later, toll road backer and former City Council member Craig Holcomb asked Ms. Dugger if she could assist him in making a presentation before the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce.

"I would LOVE to partner with you. ... Do you want me to attend as a backup/visual eye candy?" Ms. Dugger responded.

And in an Aug. 15 e-mail to Ms. Suhm, Ms. Dugger and other staff members, Mr. Holcomb felt free to take a swipe at council member Angela Hunt, the toll road's chief opponent.

The e-mail was intended to arrange a meeting between city staff and the nonprofit Trinity Trust organization and asked if the group could meet at the Original House of Pancakes. Mr. Holcomb liked the location "[f]or nostalgia's sake, to remember the days before AH," he wrote in reference to Ms. Hunt.

Mr. Holcomb said Friday that he had never asked the city staff to do anything inappropriate and that the staff never had.

He acknowledged being friends with Ms. Dugger and many others at City Hall, and he made no apologies for that.

"If you work with somebody for five years on a project, you get to be friends," he said. "It's deeply troubling to me that because you share a joke with someone in an e-mail, that anyone would question your integrity."

Regarding his joke about Ms. Hunt, he said, "One council member out of 15 wants to derail the Trinity project, and I don't see anything wrong with being nostalgic for a time when that was not the case and we could all work together."

City staffers are prohibited from advocating for one side during an election, and Ms. Suhm said her staff has been careful to avoid taking a position on the Nov. 6 referendum on the toll road project.

But long-standing friendly relationships between some staff members and toll road proponents have at least led to the appearance that the city has gone out of its way to assist those who would see the referendum fail so the road can be built.

Former Dallas City Council member Donna Blumer, who opposes the toll road project, said she was shocked by the e-mails.

"They're pretty damning ... city staff is collaborating with the Vote No! campaign," she said.

Ms. Hunt said that the e-mail exchanges "undermine any argument the city has that they're being neutral on this issue." But she does not plan to pursue the matter through legal or ethical channels.

"I'm focused on November 6th, getting our referendum passed and making sure we get the park we want and not a giant toll road in a floodway. Going forward with it doesn't win this election," Ms. Hunt said.

Mayor Tom Leppert, who said he had not seen the e-mails in question, said the city staff should remain neutral and has tried to do so.

Voters will decide Nov. 6 whether a high-speed highway can be built inside the Trinity River levees. A yes vote prohibits such a highway. A no vote would allow the city's plans to go forward.

The Dallas Morning News obtained hundreds of e-mails originating at City Hall regarding the toll road project, using the state's open records law. The vast majority were between city staff and toll road proponents. Only a handful were from those who oppose the toll road and did not involve requests for information.

Defending the staff

Ms. Suhm broadly defended her staff's handling of what she said has become a delicate, even precarious, balancing act on the Trinity project.

City staffers are required to help the city realize a "Balanced Vision Plan," ordered by the City Council, that calls for the construction of a toll road between the Trinity levees downtown, Ms. Suhm said.

But they aren't permitted to advocate for or against a referendum that, if successful, would undermine that plan.

Further complicating matters is the fact that leading referendum opponents are City Hall insiders, from former council members and mayors to a former city manager.

"It's a hard line. We talk about it all the time," Ms. Suhm said.

As recently as Tuesday, Ms. Suhm cautioned her top deputies about how to handle requests for information about the Trinity project, she said.

"I have been completely wound up about this since the start. I have been a major league nag," she said.

As for Ms. Dugger's e-mails with Mr. Holcomb, Ms. Suhm acknowledged the two are personally close and said that led to an overly friendly tone in the e-mails between them.

"I talked to her. I said, 'I know y'all are friends, but you need to keep the friendship part out of the business part,' " Ms. Suhm said.

She added that while she might have handled the matter of the radio talk show differently, she believes Ms. Dugger acted appropriately when she declined to go on the show.

"I would be concerned if she had called [in]," Ms. Suhm said.

Ms. Dugger also defended her correspondence.

"My basic concern is for the facts to be told. If I feel like the facts are not being told, and if others have the facts, then they should get those facts out there," she said.

Other e-mails

Ms. Suhm also was the recipient of friendly e-mails from toll road backers seeking help or information.

On July 5, she received a request from former City Manager Jan Hart Black, now the president of the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce.

"We will need a presentation from city staff on the issues and consequences of a successful election," Ms. Hart Black wrote.

Ms. Suhm said Friday that the city regularly fulfills requests for presentations on the Trinity project. Ms. Hart Black also defended the request.

"The city has a responsibility to respond and to provide us information and answer our questions. We request information from City Hall on many issues," Ms. Hart Black said in a prepared statement. "I am sorry that Angela Hunt is attacking city staff for simply doing their job."

In a July 18 e-mail, toll road backer and former City Council member Donna Halstead asked Ms. Suhm to personally review a poll intended to gauge support for the Trinity River toll road plan.

Ms. Halstead said the request was one of many she has made of Ms. Suhm regarding a variety of topics.

"Mary and I have known each other for many years. I ask her and others at City Hall questions all the time," said Ms. Halstead, who heads the Dallas Citizens Council. "I'm very lucky that they feel comfortable giving me answers."

Ms. Suhm acknowledged receiving Ms. Halstead's e-mail regarding the poll. She said she reviewed the poll for factual errors.

"If the other side came and asked us questions or asked us to speak about [the project], we would," she said.

City staff members are permitted to answer factual questions from the public regarding city projects, but Ms. Hunt questioned Ms. Suhm's decision to review the poll.

"I find it unusual that the city manager of the ninth-largest city in America is doing fact-checking on a partisan poll. ... What's she doing? Spell-checking?" Ms. Hunt said.

Texas Ethics Commission attorney Tim Sorrells said e-mail traffic of this nature doesn't appear to fall under his office's purview.

City Attorney Tom Perkins, meanwhile, declined to comment on his office's involvement, if any, in such a matter. Mr. Perkins did note that "we have certainly discussed with staff the permissible parameters of what they should or shouldn't do in a campaign."

Mr. Leppert, meanwhile, said he wants to make sure there isn't any appearance of bias on the part of the city's staff.

"My view is everybody is doing their best to play this thing as neutral and down the middle as they can," he said.

Mr. Leppert, who has become the major voice of the toll road supporters, said that it doesn't help his cause to have the staff seen as tilting toward one side or the other.

"I don't want it to be an issue," he said.;;

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News:

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Hunt: "Our goal was never to persuade politicians or business organizations, but, rather, to represent the best interests of Dallas residents."

Architects oppose bid to kill Trinity toll road

Alternative route would hurt neighborhoods, group says

September 29, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

The Dallas chapter of the American Institute of Architects has come out against Proposition 1, the November ballot measure that would kill the Trinity toll road.

The organization said that if voters approve the measure, the road – planned inside the Trinity River levees – would have to be relocated, at an additional cost of at least $300 million.

And if it were moved to where Industrial Boulevard is today – the most likely alternative route – the toll road "would negatively impact the revitalizing neighborhoods through which it would pass," according to a resolution from the architects' group.

The local AIA office was active in efforts under Mayor Laura Miller to revisit the Trinity River project, originally approved by Dallas voters in 1998.

In 2003, the Dallas City Council passed the current version, known as the Balanced Vision Plan. It calls for better flood controls, a downtown park, other recreational amenities – and a four- to six-lane toll road designed to ease downtown traffic congestion.

A group led by City Council member Angela Hunt got Proposition 1 placed on the November ballot. She and other opponents of the toll road say it would detract from the downtown park.

Paula Clements, executive director of the Dallas AIA chapter, said Friday: "We remain strong supporters of the Balanced Vision Plan. If Proposition 1 is approved, it puts that Balanced Vision Plan in jeopardy."

In opposing Proposition 1, the architects' group joins a long list of civic and business groups.

Ms. Hunt, interviewed Friday, said she was unfazed.

"Our goal was never to persuade politicians or business organizations," she said, "but, rather, to represent the best interests of Dallas residents."

Staff writer Dave Levinthal contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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Showdown over private toll road 'moratorium'

TxDOT Funding Gripes Get Cool Reception

September 28, 2007

by Christine DeLoma
Volume 12, Issue 8
The Lone Star Report
Copyright 2007

As lawmakers take a deeper look at the implications of leasing state roads to private contractors, state transportation officials are fighting back – warning lawmakers there will soon be a shortage of funds for transportation projects.

It’s a showdown over the private toll road moratorium.

No more money?

Transportation Commission chairman Ric Williamson sounded the alarm at the Sept. 27 commission meeting, saying the private toll road moratorium, along with rising highway costs and federal grant cuts, may cause the agency to scale back its plan to build new roads throughout the state.

The warning is nothing new. Williamson has talked in the same vein for several months. Now, deep-seated mistrust between many lawmakers and the agency is causing the alarm to fall on deaf ears.

Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso), for example, who attended the meeting, was quoted in the Austin American-Statesman as saying, “[I]t’s always gloom-and-doom” with the Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

Williamson has repeatedly criticized the Legislature for taking away the agency’s primary tool in raising funds to build new roads, the use of comprehensive development agreements (CDA’s) with private developers.

Lawmakers had a variety of concerns over the length of contract agreements, the setting of toll rates, the inclusion of non-compete clauses, and the buy-back provisions. Accordingly, legislators voted for a two-year moratorium (with several exceptions for urban areas) on CDA’s.

Study committee excludes Krusee.

During the private toll road moratorium, lawmakers will study the use of CDA’s in building private toll roads. Speaker Tom Craddick on Sept. 27 named three members to the Legislative Study Committee on Private Participation in Toll Projects.

“This session, the issue of toll roads built with private equity became a matter of much concern among the Legislature and the general public,” Craddick said. “It is my hope that this committee will come up with substantive recommendations so that we can resolve conflicts on this issue.”

Craddick named the following members: Reps. Aaron Peña (D-Edinburg), Larry Phillips (R-Sherman) and Wayne Smith (R-Baytown). Missing from the committee is the primary defender of CDA’s, Transportation chairman Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock). Lt. Gov. David Dewhust and Gov. Rick Perry have yet to make their appointments.

Court says TxDOT advertising OK.

Toll road opponents were rebuffed this week in their efforts to stop TxDOT’s campaign extolling the virtues of toll roads in Texas.

State Dist. Judge Orlinda Naranjo denied San Antonio Toll Party Terri Hall’s request for a temporary injunction on TxDOT’s $9 million “Keep Texas Moving” advertising campaign. Naranjo said the Legislature gave TxDOT the legal authority to promote its activities throughout the state.

TxDOT is using taxpayer funds to promote the use of toll roads and the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor through a multi-media campaign using radio, TV, print, and Internet to solve the state’s traffic congestion problems.

At an expected second hearing next week the state Attorney General’s office is predicted to move for dismissal. Hall and her lawyers will allege that TxDOT, contrary to state law, advanced a political rather than an educational campaign.

Paxton asks for interim charge. Meanwhile, Rep. Ken Paxton (R-McKinney) has requested that the Speaker issue an interim charge for the Legislature to study taxpayer lobbying.

“The Texas Department of Transportation has recently been called into question for spending taxpayer money promoting the Trans Texas Corridor and other projects,” Paxton said. “While I appreciate the Department’s efforts to share with the public information regarding its initiatives, I believe the Legislature has a responsibility to ensure that state resources are spent efficiently. For this reason, I have requested an interim charge to research the use of public money for advertising government programs, as I believe the government should not spend the money raised from taxpayers to lobby the public.”

Tolling existing interstates?

When lawmakers learned TxDOT was lobbying Congress for the authority to buy a portion of our federal highways in order to put toll plazas on them, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison quickly crafted an amendment to ban the idea outright.

However, as with most legislative wrangling, the content of the legislation has changed. Hutchison has teamed up with Pennsylvania Rep. John E. Peterson to help secure the provision to the Fiscal Year 2008 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill. The most recent iteration of the ban now would allow states to opt-in to a one-year ban on tolling existing interstate highways.

The other major change to her proposal: Individual states would be allowed to toll newly constructed roads or lanes.

Hutchison said she will work for a national prohibition on tolling existing federal highways in 2009.

© 2007 The Lone Star Report:

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Friday, September 28, 2007

"The turf battle over who should manage San Antonio toll roads is getting shriller by the day."

Local control best for S.A. toll projects


San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 007

As if the concept of toll roads isn't controversial enough on its own, the turf battle over who should manage them is getting shriller by the day.

The latest twist in the thorny struggle between state and local officials is a proposal by the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority to add toll lanes to a swath of Loop 1604 from Braun Road to FM 78.

There still would be separate free lanes and frontage lanes.

The RMA asserts it has the authority to take control of the project through Senate Bill 792, which grants local agencies greater control over transportation projects, including the tolling of highways.

Enter the Texas Department of Transportation, which claims that portion of Loop 1604 is exempt from a two-year moratorium on private concession contracts. TxDOT officials are evaluating whether to let a consortium develop and operate tolls, but they are not ruling out RMA control of the project.

There are arguments in favor of private consortiums, such as the Cintra-Zachry partnership, which can provide much-needed capital and complete projects quickly.

But there are also compelling reasons to allow the RMA to run the project. RMA officials have indicated they want to keep toll rates as low as possible, and money raised through tolls would be reinvested in other local projects rather than profit private firms.

Legislation in 2001 authorized the creation of regional mobility authorities for the express purpose of building, operating and maintaining toll roads and other transportation projects.

They should be allowed to fulfill their mission.

In the end, the Alamo RMA is better positioned to acknowledge and respond to community concerns about Bexar County projects. TxDOT ought to defer to that expertise and work with local officials, not against them.

"Why are they resisting us? I simply don't get it," RMA Chairman Bill Thornton recently told the Express-News.

That's a good question, and one that TxDOT officials should answer clearly and publicly.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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"Another session, another dedicated fee raided into general revenue."

Red Light Camera Money Raided By Legislature to General Revenue


by Will Lutz
Vol. 12, Issue 8
The Lone Star Report
Copyright 2007

Another session, another dedicated fee raided into general revenue.

During the 2007 legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill which directs cities to surrender half their revenue from red light cameras (less administrative expenses) to the state. The statute that ordered cities to turn over their money from red light citations states that it would be dedicated to improving trauma care facilities at Texas hospitals.

Problem was, lawmakers never appropriated the money, so the Comptroller cannot cut the check, and the money is available to be certified for other general revenue spending.

In response to a direct question from Lone Star Report, Steve Janda, director of EMS and Trauma care at the Department of State Health Services, confirmed that no appropriation of red light camera money had been received.

Gov. Rick Perry has called on lawmakers to either spend dedicated fees on their dedicated purpose or quit collecting the fees from the public. It was part of Perry’s recommendations to reform the state budget process. But like many other Perry ideas last session, this one fell on deaf ears.

Despite the lack of an appropriation, Janda said the agency will prepare rules on how to distribute trauma care funding in the event the Legislature later decides to make an appropriation. The red light camera monies have to be kept in a separate account from other fees dedicated to trauma care.

Unlike the portion of traffic fines going to trauma care, state law requires that red light camera money remain in the region where it is generated. Therefore, the state has to keep red light camera monies separate and adopt separate rules.

Meanwhile, hospitals are still bracing from the raid on driver responsibility surcharges. In 2003, the Legislature passed a law placing surcharges on the driver licenses of Texans who commit multiple traffic infractions or commit a serious traffic violation, such as drunk driving.

In the deal that led to the creation of those fees, half were supposed to go to roads and half to trauma care. But the appropriations bill has spent significantly less than half on trauma care.

In the current biennium, lawmakers appropriated $51.7 million to trauma care, Janda said. They also appropriated to the trauma care fund any extra revenue during the biennium that is above the Comptroller’s revenue estimate.

The appropriation for trauma care in 2008-09 is about half what lawmakers put into it in the 2006-07 biennium. It is about a quarter of what the biennial revenue estimate suggests should enter the fund from driver responsibility charges during the current biennium.

“Nationally, motor vehicle traffic accidents account for about 41 percent of all emergency room patients, many of whom lack health insurance,” said Dinah Welsh, senior director of advocacy and policy for the Texas Hospital Association.

“Since 1999, the Texas Legislature has provided funds to help offset hospitals’ uncompensated trauma care costs. The Driver Responsibility Program established in 2003 has helped strengthen the state’s trauma system, with the number of trauma designated hospitals growing from 188 in 2003 to 242 in 2007. Despite recent criticism, this program of penalizing bad driving is helping preserve access to trauma care for all Texans across the entire state.”

Complicating matters further is a surprisingly low collection rate on the driver responsibility surcharges. Technically, most of the revenue attributed to the driver responsibility program comes from surcharges on driver licenses (basically a renewal fee) rather than fines.

Therefore, it is not technically a debt. If people don’t want to pay the fines, they can avoid them by not driving. Or they can also drive without a license and hope they don’t get caught. In fact, the number of Texans driving without a license recently has skyrocketed – so much so that the Legislature downgraded driving without a license from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor so that it can be prosecuted in Justice of the Peace courts.

A Sept. 3 story by the San Antonio Express-News’s Gary Scharrer estimated that seven out of 10 driver responsibility surcharges go unpaid. The story also noted that the Legislature passed SB 1723, which allows the Department of Public Safety to offer amnesty and make payment terms more flexible in hopes that collection of driver responsibility charges will increase.

Part of the purpose of the driver responsibility fund is to reimburse hospitals for their uncompensated care.

Federal law requires hospitals to treat emergency patients regardless of legal status or ability to pay. The Texas Hospital Association estimates that Texas hospitals incur more than $200 million in uncompensated care costs annually.

© 2007 The Lone Star Report:

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"The Transportation Commission's history indicates it will build toll roads with or without the planning organization's approval."

City to get $330,000 to study use of toll roads


By Brandi Grissom / Austin Bureau
El Paso Times
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN -- El Paso's new mobility authority will get $330,000 to study the viability of toll roads in the city after heated exchanges Thursday between state transportation commissioners and state Rep. Joe Pickett of El Paso.

The loan the commission approved will allow the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority to hire consultants to examine possible toll projects, including the Northeast Parkway, the Montana corridor and the so-called Southern Relief Route, which would add express toll lanes to Loop 375.

In all, 12 areas are being considered for possible toll lanes at a cost of $2.1 billion. The toll lanes will have to be built where motorists can choose to take roads that are free.

East Side resident Bruce Speer, a pastor at Cielo Vista Church, drives every day along Montana on his commute from home to work. Without question, he said, congestion and traffic have become a problem where he lives, and something should be done to remedy infrastructure problems in the area.

The only caveat, he said, is that tolls should be used to pay for the construction of specific new roads, then once a road is paid for, any fees drivers pay for using that road should be eliminated.

"The question is, how are we going to solve the problem, and it's not going to go away," he said. "If you don't do something about the infrastructure, then every politician is going to lose their position."

Less supportive of toll roads is Orlando Muñoz, a North Hills resident in Northeast El Paso, who said that the current amount of traffic in his area doesn't appear to warrant additional roadway infrastructure, especially because of the recent expansion of U.S. 54.

Even so, Muñoz said he'd probably use a toll road connecting U.S. 54 to Loop 375 on the far East Side, especially if the price is right -- between 25 cents and 40 cents.

"I don't see a problem with it, but I don't see a need for it right now," said Muñoz, a federal government employee. "With the increase of troops at Fort Bliss, if the case was the buildup would cause the traffic to increase that much and warrant a toll road, I'd probably be for it."

The amount motorists will have to pay for each toll section will be part of the study.

During the hearing, Pickett and the commissioners, who have long been at odds over transportation policies, argued over the mobility authority. Pickett said it does not legally exist and should not get money to study toll projects the El Paso Municipal Planning Organization has not approved.

Pickett said the commission should pay only to study the Northeast Parkway.

Mayor John Cook said the money simply allows the local authority to determine whether it should build the toll projects. Later, the authority could seek the planning organization's approval if the projects are workable.

"Other RMAs in the state are doing the same thing," Cook said.

If the authority decides not to build those toll projects, the Transportation Department would have the option to do so.

Pickett said the Transportation Commission's history indicates it will build toll roads with or without the planning organization's approval.

"They'll find a way to do whatever they want," he said.

Both Pickett and Cook asked the commission to officially clarify the matter.

"Otherwise, I see this argument going on and on and on like a little Eveready rabbit," Cook told the commission.

Brandi Grissom may be reached at;(512) 479-6606.

El Paso Times reporter Darren Meritz contributed to this story.

© 2007 El Paso Times:

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"We don't want our top elected officials using taxpayer dollars to work on a political campaign."

Dallas City Leaders Accused Of Ethical Misconduct

September 27, 2007

Brooke Richie Reporting
CBS 11 News (Dallas-Fort Worth)
Copyright 2007

There are allegations of ethical misconduct by the Dallas mayor and city manager.

On November 6, voters will decide on the Trinity River Project. The plan calls for a 4-or-6 lane toll way in the river bottoms west of Downtown Dallas.

A group of Trinity River activists wants to block the planned toll road for the Trinity River Corridor. Others are ready to see the project move forward.

Dallas City Councilwoman Angela Hunt said the battle over the Trinity River Project is inside city hall. She claims tax dollars are going to one side of the campaign.

The allegations are based on e-mails sent to City of Dallas employees from the activists fighting against the plan.

"I was very disappointed to see some of these e-mails between city staffers, including our city manager and our mayor, seeming to indicate that they're working very closely with the other side on developing the message for the vote no campaign," said Hunt.

The e-mails include a draft of a phone poll on the referendum, and they ask Suhm for her "comments on the content."

"That seems to indicate an active participation in a political campaign and actively assisting the other side," said Hunt.

The subject line of another e-mail from Mayor Tom Leppert to Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm reads, "as discussed."

While the mayor is allowed to take a stance on a topic like this, he cannot work with city staff on a political campaign. Hunt, who supports the referendum, says the paper trail is troubling.

"Certainly we don't want taxpayer dollars being spent on a political campaign," said Hunt. "We don't want our top elected officials using taxpayer dollars to work on a political campaign."

Mayor Leppert said he supports the "Vote No" effort, but has never crossed the line.

"We've been very careful to make a distinction of my role leading in the effort as opposed to working with city staff," he said.

Suhm says she was simply asked to check the poll for accuracy. She also says that is what she and Leppert discussed.

"The discussion was two sentences or three sentences. These people would like for you to look at this and be sure that the facts are right in their poll. Be sure you do that," said Suhm.

She says she has never been involved in the referendum campaign.

"We're not allowed to do that," she said. "It's a really critical line to walk."

Hunt said she will not initiate any legal recourse over the documents.

She says she's too busy worrying about the campaign.

© 2007 CBS Stations Group of Texas :

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

After getting busted, TxDOT goes for 'broke.'

TxDOT going broke, officials say

September 27, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – TxDOT is fast going broke.

State transportation officials announced today that rising costs, dwindling federal funds, and lawmakers' opposition to private-sector investment in toll projects have combined to force it to sharply scale back construction plans.

"The people of Texas need to understand that within a very short period of time, there will be no money for mobility projects," said Texas Transportation Commission member Ned Holmes of Houston.

The affected projects will be those designed to build new roads, or add lanes to existing roads. Projects already under contract and those designed to maintain or rehabilitate existing roads won't be affected.

The reductions will begin later this fiscal year, and by 2010 the state will essentially have no money for new roads, said Commission Chairman Ric Williamson.

The department is reducing its construction projects even as experts are warning that Texas needs to spend more to fight a worsening traffic and air quality.

A national study by the Texas Transportation Institute released last week revealed that rush-hour congestion in the Dallas and Houston areas are each among the worst in the nation – and not likely to improve.

But Mr. Williamson said the money is simply not there.

The federal government – whose highway trust fund is expected to begin running a deficit by 2009 – continues to reduce its funding for new construction, he said. In addition, Texas lawmakers have steadily increased the amount of state gas tax revenues that are diverted to pay for other expenses – totaling more than $1 billion in the current budget.

But the commissioners saved their strongest criticism for moratorium imposed on private financing for toll projects throughout most of Texas. Mr. Williamson said the decision will cost the state billions of dollars in annual construction money beginning almost immediately.

© 2007 Dallas Morning News:

New road projects could stop, officials say

Transportation officials cite private toll road ban, loss of federal money and flat gas tax.

September 27, 2007

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

Texas, absent meaningful policy changes, will see no new road projects begin after this coming year, Texas Department of Transportation officials said today.

The message was a rhetorical shiver delivered to a Legislature that last spring moved to cut off most private toll road contracts with the agency while declining to raise the state's stagnant gas tax.

"We'll have to stop added-capacity projects in 2008," Steve Simmons, the Transportation Department's interim executive director, said during a somber two-hour discussion on the agency's finances with the Texas Transportation Commission. Aside from the ban on most private toll road deals, officials cited continuing cutbacks in federal transportation funding and "diversions" of state transportation funds to other state needs.

By the 2011 fiscal year, which would start three years from now, the agency will have only enough money to maintain roads and pay debt service on bonds sold in the past couple of years that are backed by gas tax money, said James Bass, the Transportation Department's chief financial officer. Given that most projects take three years or more to complete, officials said that the fiscal year that began Sept. 1 is the last in which new projects are initiated. Presumably that would include state-operated tollways.

Projects already in progress or already given the official go-ahead would proceed, however.

Amadeo Saenz, the department's engineering director, followed Bass and delivered more bad news. Most of the state's 25 Transportation Department districts do not meet the agency's goal of having 90 percent or more of their road pavement in acceptable condition. He proposes to move about $225 million of maintenance money from nine districts in West Texas to the other 16 districts — which includes the 11-county Austin district — along with about $800 million that would have gone to build new or expanded roads.

"You might say we're taking from Peter to pay Paul," Saenz told the commission. "I would hope at best to keep my pavement scores where they are."

Commission chairman Ric Williamson, a frequent target of legislative criticism, asked the staff to produce a plan within a week to communicate to local officials and legislators the severity of the agency's money crunch.

"I'm convinced that most members (of the Legislature) don't understand the long-term impacts of their tapping on the brakes," Williamson said.

State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, on hand at the meeting for another matter, was skeptical of what he had just seen.

"It's always gloom-and-doom," Pickett said. "There's a move in Congress to look at other sources of funding.", 445-3698

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman:

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"This Governor and those he has in charge of policy and spending are 'doing it to the people of Texas!' "


Sept. 27, 2007

By Faith Chatham
DFW Regional Concerned Citizens
Copyright 2007

TxDOT and Rick Perry say there's no way to build and maintain roads and bridges in Texas without tolls yet TxDOT is spending billions of dollars on lobbying and ad campaigns. TxDOT "mislabeled" millions of dollars of PR spending as engineering.

The Governor's manion needs renovating. The State is spending $9,900.00 a month to rent Rick Perry a mansion. Taxpayers are footing the $1000.00 pet deposit for Perry's dog.

The real danger isn't the probablity of the dog damaging the mansion. It's the reality that this Governor and those he has in charge of policy and spending are "doing it to the people of Texas!"

Conservative? Definitely not.

Prudent? Absolutely not.

Legal? Probaby since the Governor's veto and threat of veto helps determine what remains legal or becomes legal!

Moral? That's for you to determine.
Personally, I see it as absolutely obscene that it was proposed, let alone approved to spend nearly $120,000 a year rent for a residence for ANY ELECTED official.

Who's the landlord? Perhaps we should follow the money and examine the relationships between those who located and approved this property and those who contributed to the decision makers. There may be no conflict of interest. Again there may be.

Money to assist Texans on the Gulf Coast whose homes and businesses were damaged by Hurricane Rita remains undisbursed. It is taking YEARS for Gov. Perry's administration and FEMA to distribute the money in Texas! (The excuse cited is they were trying to be sure that there was not graft and corruption and fraud! Perhaps we should put the people who have been so careful to insure that there is no "fraud" in the Rita distributions in charge of spending in the Governor's office and for administration costs by TxDOT.
Ironically, as time for TxDOT to be reviewed by the Sunset Review Committee nears, some rumblings are circulating about whether Texas should retire the Sunset Review committee!

The real question is whether the Sunset Review Committee will have the integrity to honestly assess corruption, mismanagement, and misappropriation of taxpayers funds and TxDOT's failure to deliver necessary services.

© 2007 DFW Regional Concerned Citizens:

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Mike Krusee gets kicked to the curb

Postcards from the Trail

Committee missing a notable name

September 27, 2007

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

House Speaker Tom Craddick today named his three members to a study committee that will look at the volatile issue of private toll roads, and who’s not on it is as interesting as who is.

Absent from the trio: state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, who since 2003 has been chairman of the House Transportation Committee. That would seem to make him more than a bystander on this issue, which roiled the Legislature this spring and is at the core of the evolving transportation funding debate.

Instead, Craddick appointed state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, Krusee’s vice chairman on Transportation the past two sessions; state Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Houston, who carried what turned out to be the centerpiece transportation bill of last session; and state Rep. Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg, who was not on the transportation committee and up to now has not been a legislative player on the issue.

A schism opened between Krusee and Craddick this session after the speaker routed Smith’s transportation bill to the County Affairs Committee rather than Krusee’s committee. Smith had a particularly close relationship with the County Affair chairman — Wayne Smith — and the bill flew through the committee and thus to the House floor. Where Krusee opposed it. The Senate version of that bill eventually became the vehicle for a number of policy changes that Krusee — and the Texas Department of Transportation — disliked.

But Krusee said today he understands the logic of why Craddick named others, and that his feelings aren’t hurt.

“Not at all,” Krusee said. “For the obectives we’re trying to reach, for the public to perceive the process as far and open, I think these are good appointees… . Many people do not regard me as objective because I’ve been at it for so long.”

The study committee will look at long-term lease contracts between the state and private tollway operators. Gov. Rick Perry, Krusee and Perry’s appointees to the Texas Transportation Commission have pushed for such contracts as a way to get roads built quickly with no up-front cost to taxpayers. But opponents, who ultimately make headway with their legislative colleagues, said the first contract signed in the state (for a segment of Texas 130 near Austin) weighed too much in the concessionaire’s favor.

The Legislature passed SB 792, which put a moratorium on such contracts (with some exceptions) for the next two years, and outlaws them entirely after that.

Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst each will have three appointees to the committee as well. Craddick is the first to name his choices.

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman:

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"This is not a partisan issue. It is a Texan issue."

Proposed Trans-Texas Corridor draws criticism

Tyler rancher, Hank Gilbert, to talk about project Saturday

Sept. 26, 2007

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

Hank Gilbert, a Tyler rancher who lost his race for Texas commissioner of agriculture last year, will be in Sugar Land Saturday to gather support for his crusade against a controversial state Trans-Texas Corridor plan and associated proposal to create toll roads.

The Fort Bend County Democratic Party is sponsoring the meeting set for 9:45-11:30 a.m. at First Colony Library, 2121 Austin Parkway.

'Texan issue'

"This is not a partisan issue. It is a Texan issue," said Jenny Hurley, a party officer who invited Gilbert, who ran as a Democrat. "Hank has support from both Democrats and Republicans. This is an issue concerning everybody. So this event is absolutely a nonpartisan event."

The Trans-Texas Corridor project, planned by the Texas Department of Transportation and trumpeted by Gov. Rick Perry, would create a cross-state road system of new and existing highways, railroads and utility rights of way. It would have separate lanes for passenger and truck traffic, freight and high-speed commuter rails, as well as infrastructure for utilities including water, oil and gas pipelines, electricity and telecommunications services. Toll fees are being mulled as an option to support the network.

Major corridors under consideration include one, dubbed TTC-35, along Interstate 35 from Denison to the Rio Grande Valley. Another, known as TTC-69, would extend Interstate 69 from Texarkana through Houston to either Laredo.Two other possible routes would run along Interstate 45 from Dallas to Houston and Interstate 10 from El Paso to Orange.

Opposition to the project was Gilbert's main platform when he ran against Republican Todd Staples for commissioner of agriculture.

Critics describe the project as a 4,000-mile network, estimated to cost between $145.2 billion and $183.5 billion to be completed in 50 years and would take up to 584,000 acres. Gilbert said about 100,000 acres of prime farmland would be lost to the TTC-35 plan. He and other critics said the undertaking would force many farmers out of business, ruin communities and have a detrimental effect on the environment. Gilbert also said with land taken off the tax roll, the state's taxpayers would have to shoulder a heftier tax burden.

Gaby Garcia, a spokeswoman for the state transportation agency, said each of the two proposed major corridors would stretch about 600 miles and cost $12 billion only for the road portion, excluding rails and utility infrastructure. She said there is no determination on the exact routes of the network, but one principle would be to minimize land to be acquired by using existing roadways.

Environmental study

"We're in the middle of an environmental study that began in 2004 and it's a long process. We don't have an answer to where the road is gonna go. That's a frustration for property owners," Garcia said. " But we have to go through the environmental study to be able to tell accurately. It's hard for anybody to tell the amount of land we need. The land is not gonna be taken. It will be purchased. We will make sure that property owners are paid at a fair market price"

She said the construction of the network would be based on needs. The project addresses mobility needs based on the projection of population growth and the corresponding transportation demands, she said.

Hurley said critics and skeptics of the official version of the story are seeking facts. Bringing Gilbert to Fort Bend aims to arouse local awareness on the issue, she said.

Issue awareness

"People in Fort Bend need to know what's going on. If you ask 100 people what this corridor is, 99 of them don't know," she said. "But when they wake up, they'll find all our roads will have become toll roads although they have already been paid for by our tax dollars."

Fort Bend would be affected by the Trans-Texas Corridor project, according to local critics, including the Sierra Club.

During a recent public hearing held by the state transportation agency and the Grand Parkway Association, opponents said the state's idea to extend Grand Parkway as a toll road from U.S. 59 south through the county and east to Texas 288 would pave the way for the construction of I-69.

I-69 is a proposed North American Free Trade Agreement Highway, which would link Mexico to the Northeast and Canada. The proposed Grand Parkway toll road has been considered by the state as part of the route.

"There will be foreign trucks coming this way to take jobs away from Americans. I hope the politicians know what they are doing," Hurley said. "We don't want to lose our standard of living. But all this is going to ruin the lives of a lot of people, especially the people of tomorrow."

For information, call 281-240-6361 or visit the Web site at

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

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"The city should listen to what its general public wants; and, not 'dictate' to the city what it should want."

Dallas Voters know difference between a Trinity Parkway & a Trinity Toll Road

Re: Leppert, Hunt debate merits of Trinity plan by Bruce Tomaso, (, Wed.,

Rafael Rodriguez
Dallas Arena
Copyright 2007

There are wrong and right ways to open opportunity in this city, and last night was no different. I attended the debate at Rosemont Primary School.

Dallas City Council woman Angela Hunt pulled those who venerate her and others toward agreeing with her that the City of Dallas officials are once again trying to hoodwink Dallas citizenry on the Trinity River Project. The audience at Rosemont Elementary was ecstatic about her remarks. It seemed like every time she spoke, the audience found reason to applaud and shout in her support. Angela Hunt appeared to be the real Mayor of Dallas.

Dallas Mayor Leppert, who was recently elected, just didn't seem to get it. Even though he comes from the corporate competitive side, he scarcely found good reasons to convince those in the audience that the city had even the slightest idea of what needs to be done to align itself with society or ensure the participation and input of its citizenry to such a tremendous project as the Trinity River Project. The mayor, who obviously had the audience against him, showed us that his current administration is not willing to pay attention to the citizens of Dallas, learn from the citizens of Dallas, nor work with the citizens of Dallas by allowing citizen participation in the River project.

Ms. Hunt projected herself as knowledgeable, confident, and exemplary. While using 'canned statements' to answer questions, Mayor Leppert was baffled time and time again when asked questions from the audience or the opposition panelists' Ms. Hunt and Sandy Greyson. The mayor seems to follow the belief emanating from Austin that our state highways should be privatized at all cost regardless of even taking the smallest concerns about what the Dallas citizens really value from this project. The mayor should seek solidarity in a more democratic way with the Dallas citizens. The city should listen to what its general public wants; and, not 'dictate' to the city what it should want. The city must convince the public that its infrastructure planning is inclusive of its citizens input and marks a competitive and growing economic potential for both the local and regional growth.

The irony of this coming election referendum in November is that those voting 'yes' will be voting with Angela Hunt who recognizes that Dallas voters want a park and not a toll way. She repeated explained to the audience that time and time again she would attend meetings in the Dallas Council Trinity River Project Committee that kept discussing one thing--a toll road. Those that vote 'no' will be voting for a toll way and not for the 'Parkway' as the bond program passed by the voters stated. From all appearances those elected officials that side with the mayor in opposition to the Parkway need to learn more about participatory democracy. Angela Hunt is a model of what a public leader should be in a democratic society.

This is not to minimize the qualities or the importance of the office of the Mayor of Dallas, but the mayor needs to enable the citizens to control the government and not the other way around. It seems clear at this time that the hoodwinking should stop.

More than 50,000 Dallas citizens signed the petition to hold a referendum to put this project back on the ballot. Federal, State, local elected officials, and the many local chamber of commerce entities should take heed of the growing repugnance of those citizens who signed the petition. They know there is a big difference in a Trinity Parkway and a Trinity Toll Road. I believe the Vote No-Save The Trinity supporters are missing a very important factor in this upcoming referendum. That fact is the growing disgust Dallas' voters have towards official attempts to move forward with a project that is different from what Dallas citizens voted for in 1998.

© 2007, Your alternative to 'The Dallas Managed News' :

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“There are lots of places to put this road, but there’s only one place to put the park. So where’s your alternative for the park?”

Trinity Debate in Oak Cliff Draws Crowd


by Sam Merten
Dallas Blog
Copyright 2007

Approximately 300 supporters, citizens and city leaders packed Rosemont Primary School in Oak Cliff Tuesday night to see the first debate matching TrinityVote Yes! against Vote No! Save the Trinity. Councilmember Angela Hunt and former Councilmember Sandy Greyson represented TrinityVote Yes! and Mayor Tom Leppert and former Councilmember Veletta Forsythe Lill represented the Vote No! campaign.

Hunt was introduced first and received an ovation from the crowd prompting Victoria Loe Hicks, who was co-moderating with State Rep. Rafael Anchia, to tell the audience to hold their enthusiasm and not waste time with applause. However, Hunt supporters remained vocal during the debate, cheering on Hunt and Greyson and even laughing at questions and comments directed at Leppert and Lill.

Hunt made an early mistake in her opening statement when she claimed the NTTA is seeking a waiver from the Corps to use pre-Katrina safety standards. She also included this information in a packet handed out at the debate, which showed a copy of a PowerPoint slide from a Feb. 20 presentation to the Trinity River Committee.

As Lill later pointed out in her opening statement, a letter from the Corps to the city said the Corps is not developing new standards for the levees. I covered this letter in-depth and noted the same thing in May.

The one key fact that contradicts previous statements by Hunt is the statement that the Corps is not developing new standards for the levees as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

Surprisingly, the most explosive part of the packet wasn’t even mentioned by Hunt in the debate. An email from Rebecca Dugger, Director of the Trinity River Project, said the city is “still discussing the issues of auxiliary lanes.”

“If we don’t show them and then later determine they are necessary for safety purposes, we will be seen as misrepresenting the design,” Dugger wrote.

The rest of Hunt’s opening statements were on point. She called the toll road a “financial disaster” since it has gone from a $400 million project to $1.3 billion and talked about how the project went from a low-speed parkway with direct access to a high-speed toll road.

Hunt brought up the NTTA’s new addition to the North Dallas Tollway, which is a 9.6-mile extension from just north of S.H. 121 to U.S. 380. She asked why a road of nearly the exact same length and width of the Trinity toll road cost just $263 million, approximately one-fifth of the cost of the Trinity toll road.

“It’s simple. No one has ever built a road like this in a floodway,” Hunt said. “Why? Because it’s in a floodway.” [audience laughed, then applauded]

Hunt said moving the toll road off the levee resulted in a loss of one-third of the park acreage. She also said the road will narrow the channel in the floodway, reducing the area where the water can travel. Hunt compared it to “when you squish on a water hose and the water comes out harder and faster.”

Hunt mentioned Central Park in New York, Town Lake in Austin and the River Walk in San Antonio as places people would never dream of building a toll road. She said it’s hard for Dallasites to imagine because the park isn’t built yet.

“I guarantee you if that park were there today, if you took your kids to picnics there, if you took your sailboat out on that lake, we would never dream of putting a toll road there,” Hunt said. “And I guarantee you we wouldn’t be sitting here today having a debate about it.”

In his opening statement, Mayor Leppert said this issue is not about a road or a park, it’s about a commitment. He said a ‘yes’ vote would be saying no to $1 billion in funding for the road from the NTTA, $25 million in funding from the NTTA for the lakes and $5 million from the NTTA for access roads. Leppert challenged the lack of an alternative by the opposition, saying they haven’t provided one because there isn’t one.

“The alternative is a road to nowhere,” Leppert said. “It’s a black hole where we dump a billion dollars.”

Leppert said the only other alternative being mentioned is the Industrial alignment, which he said would add $300-500 million to the cost of the project to buy the 800 pieces of land, 200-300 businesses and pay for the litigation dealing with eminent domain. He also said this would delay the road an additional 5-10 years.

Leppert said with the fifth worst traffic congestion in the nation, Dallas needs this road. He added that roadwork won’t be able to be done on I-35 and U.S. 67 without a reliever route. Leppert said the road will be a magnet to pull people together and urged citizens to seize the funding available.

With 10 minutes allotted for opening remarks, Leppert gave some time to Lill. As I said before, she seized it to address Hunt’s statement about pre-Katrina safety standards.

Lill said the city has spent a decade looking at this issue and this is the only option. She said voting yes “will basically foreclose all of your options.”

Lill said the Industrial alignment would cut off Oak Cliff, taking away access to I-35. She also stressed the importance of the flood control element of the project.

Once the opening statements were out of the way, each side was able to ask the other side three questions, alternating each time.

Hunt and Greyson asked about project cost, the number of roads like this in other places and why the city is seeking waivers and exceptions from the Corps which could weaken the levee.

Greyson made the point that had the city originally gone with the Industrial alignment, it would have been cheaper than the price of the current plan. She also said they cannot claim Industrial is more costly than the current plan because the cost continues to rise.

Leppert called the question “wrong” and said Industrial has always cost more and the only reason for the additional cost of the current plan is inflation related to delays.

Hunt and Greyson failed to press Leppert to explain the reasons behind the delays so far. Greyson said she believes it is because of problems associated with putting the road in a floodway, but again, Leppert was never pressed to explain why there has been a nine-year delay.

Hunt’s second question asked Leppert to name five roads like this in the nation to illustrate that this will be the first of its kind. With only three questions to ask, I wasn’t so sure one needed to be burned on this one, but it got a noteworthy response from Leppert.

“It’s interesting because they actually said the same thing about the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal. They said that’s never been built there, so why should we ever do it? They said it about the Eiffel Tower and they also said it about DFW Airport,” Leppert said. “If we take the premise that it’s never been done before, then all of the sudden, think of the opportunities that would be missed.”

As for seeking waivers and exceptions from the Corps which could weaken the levee, Leppert said it would not weaken the levee, according to the Corps.

Lill’s questions focused the problems with the Industrial alignment and the lack of an alternative.

Lill spoke of a 10-lane toll road along Industrial that would restrict Oak Cliff access to I-35 and make economic development difficult. Greyson said it was interesting that their toll road is a 4-6 lane road and Industrial road is described as having 10 lanes. She also said economic development can be compatible with a potential Industrial toll road.

Lill kept pressing for Hunt to give an alternative and that move backfired, providing the most crowd-pleasing moment of the night.

“There are lots of places to put this road, but there’s only one place to put the park,” Hunt said. “So where’s your alternative for the park?”

Each side was given three minutes to close before questions from the moderators and the audience. Leppert said too much is riding on this project and many people have worked too hard on it. He also listed the broad support behind the Vote No! campaign.

Greyson addressed the broad support in her closing remarks.

“We feel somewhat like this is a David and Goliath battle and you have that whole roster of organizations and people that our mayor just talked about,” Greyson said. “But what we have is petitions from 52,000 people.”

Moderators State Rep. Rafael Anchia and Victoria Loe Hicks each had one question for each side and both of their questions for the Vote No! side put them on their heels.

Anchia asked if building a road to alleviate traffic congestion and improving air quality were important parts of the project, then why did they include sailboats on a lake showing no road instead of saying, “Let’s fund a toll road.” Lill danced around the issue and talked about how the project is also about flood control and the park.

Hicks asked why Dallas would be want to give away its parkland for a regional transportation problem. Leppert said the key is that it secures funding for other amenities to make the project go forward.

The night was capped off by questions from the audience. Here are the highlights:

*The best audience question was, “Given the Army Corps of Engineers spectacular record with levees across the U.S., why should we trust anything the Corps tells us?” Leppert smiled, the audience laughed and he assured everyone that the Corps are experts and are very conservative.

* Hunt attacked the $5 million in funding for access roads by the NTTA, saying the roads are not fully funded and are only “half ramps.” She said citizens will be “jumping off the end of the ramp with parachutes” because the roads that touch the ground are unfunded and are the responsibility of the City of Dallas.

* Leppert said private funding for the project has “dried up” since the referendum was put on the ballot.

* Lill said $150 million in private funding for amenities in the park is needed and the city lost $60 million in potential gifts to this project once the referendum was put on the ballot.

* Hunt said she doesn’t believe the private funding will go away. “I’m sorry,” Hunt said. “I do not buy the idea that someone who loves lakes, who loves nature, is going to say ‘I’m going to take my money back because my beautiful lake isn’t going to be next to this wonderful tollway.’”

* Greyson said the first thing Alex Krieger, who helped design the Balanced Vision Plan, said when he came to speak with city officials was, “You’re surely not going to be putting a toll road between these levees in this park.” She said he was then told, “You’re here to show us how we can put a toll road between the levees in the best way possible.”

* Leppert said you have to go back to 1908 to find a flood that would have touched the proposed road.

* Hunt said the current alignment was studied closely because the city is giving away “$500 million of land for free with a bow on top.”

* Lill said the Trinity Parkway has been a general concept since 1974.

* Greyson said the only language the city is legally bound to is the language on the ballot. Leppert disagreed. “I’ve become an expert on this because there was an old lawsuit that had to do with a referendum having to do with police pay,” Leppert said. “I can assure you that every court in the state of Texas looks back and says, 'What is all of the information and what is the intent?' because it gets to legislative intent and all of the information and everything that is printed becomes a part of it.”

* Hunt said, “If the words ‘toll road’ would have been on the ballot, the bond proposal wouldn’t have passed.”

* Greyson mentioned how U.S. 75 was going to be double-decked and how LBJ was going to be 24 lanes in 1991, but because of concerns by citizens, those projects were redone and better solutions were found even though they took longer and were more expensive options.

* Leppert said environmental issues are more significant along Industrial as opposed to within the levees because of “the nature of the businesses there.”

* Hunt said Hurricane Katrina showed how political pressure affects decisions by the Corps.

* Greyson read from a story written by Hicks when she was with the DMN, which quotes a consultant looking into the economic impact of the project as saying Dallas would be better off sticking with the original low-speed plan. “We never heard from that consultant again,” Greyson said.

* Hunt asked why a road is being built in the most congested part of the city and said it could be built around the city instead.

* Greyson said, “You can’t pave your way out of congestion.”

* Responding to a question about why she’s the only one who is against the keeping the road in the park, Hunt called on former council members Donna Blumer and John Loza to stand up and show that she has their support in her effort.

* Trinity River Project Committee Chair Dave Neumann was in attendance as was former DART board member Joyce Foreman, who asked one of the audience questions.


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