Saturday, October 13, 2007

Talking in Pig Latin

Lies My Mayor Told Me

Oct 13, 2007

Jim Schutze
The Dallas Observer
Copyright 2007

The Vote No! Save the Trinity campaign sent a mailer to my house -- so I assume it went everywhere else, including your house -- with a picture of Tom Leppert on the front and a headline that read, “Don’t let Angela Hunt send a billion dollars down the river.” That’s not a precise quote, because I don’t have it in front of me and can’t find a copy. I already took out the trash.

The claim -- and it’s one Leppert has repeated in debates -- is that voting yes in the November 6 referendum on the Trinity River toll road will cost taxpayers a billion dollars. Leppert has been decidedly vague about where and why we would lose a billion -- for the road or for the park? But he has been emphatic about saying we will lose the billion.

So for the last week, Dallas Morning News transportation writer Michael Lindenberger has been calling people for a story about the billion dollars we will lose if we vote for Proposition 1. And on Page One of The News yesterday, we saw the product of his labors.

Let me just take this down for you. Jump along -- it's the weekend, what else do you have to do?

The news in the story, if you can untangle it from paragraphs two and three, is that we will not lose a billion dollars. The headline of the story, then, should be, “Leppert Found Big Fat Liar with Pants on Fire,” right?

But, no. The headline in the print edition was, “Millions tied to tollway,” with a deck of, “Dallas would likely have to spend more than planned for Trinity project if road voted down.”

Oh, man, why do I even read this stuff? It just makes my head hurt.

Here is one of the logic keys that you have to keep in mind in order to keep Leppert and The News from twisting your brain into a pretzel (so your brain won’t look like mine): We are only on the line for the toll road to the tune of the $86 million in city bond funds authorized by the 1998 election.

That’s all we pay. If the road costs more, other people gotta pay. We already put our money in. Deal’s a deal. We paid at the office.

The total cost of the road keeps flying all over the place. First it was $600 million. Then it went to a billion. A month ago the city said it was $1.2 billion. Later they said $1.3 billion. In a more recent debate Leppert said $1.4 billion. In Lindenberger’s story, the cost was back down to $1.2 billion.

Um, how much should we trust somebody who can only hit the target within $200 million? Seems like a thousand chimpanzees with a thousand calculators could do better than that.

But look: When the Vote No! people talk about what a good deal the road is, they are the ones who point out that we’re only in it for $86 million. The rest is gravy to us. They suggest the rest will have to be paid by the North Texas Tollway Authority.

So if we’re only in it for $86 million when the road goes in the park inside the levees, we’re only in it for $86 million outside the levees. Right? Deal’s a deal.

But Leppert keeps trying to suggest we will lose all of the funding for the toll road and then have to build it ourselves if we don’t put it inside the levees.

We’re never going to pay for the whole toll road. City Manager Mary Suhm has said that to my face. What, are we crazy? If it came to the city having to pay this gargantuan amount, the road just wouldn’t be built.

Angela Hunt makes the point that the tollway authority wants to build this road inside the levees no matter what it costs -- $600 million or $1.4 billion. So why wouldn’t they want to build it outside the levees no matter what it costs?

Lindenberger doesn’t pin any of this down. He lets the tollway authority get away with saying the cost inside the levees is $1.2 billion even though Leppert just said it was $1.4 billion. He lets the tollway authority get away with saying the cost outside the levees is $1.6 billion without an ounce of data or analysis to prove it. But then he says the additional cost, if the road goes outside the levees, will be $500 million.

Hey, now we have a real arithmetic problem. Let’s say we let them get away with the low cost inside the levees -- $1.2 billion. And then we add $500 million. Mr. Lindenberger, I keep getting $1.7 billion as the cost outside the levees. Not $1.6. Oh, well. It’s only addition.

Lindenberger throws in $12 million that he says we will lose for ramps off the toll road into the park. But, wait a minute here, Hieronymus. Why do we need ramps off the toll road if we don’t have a toll road? If we have a parkway and not a toll road, then we can have crosswalks.

He quotes Craig Holcomb as saying we will lose the million dollars a mile that the toll authority has promised to spend on landscaping. But last time this came up, Holcomb and company had to admit that permanent landscaping won’t be possible in the flood way where they want to build this thing, so we’ll have to have trees in pots.

Know what? I don’t want to see a million dollars worth of shriveled trees in pots out there turning to charcoal in the Texas heat. It’s a hideous idea. Poor trees! I for one will be thrilled to see the trees in pots idea go away totally and forever. I suggest the toll road backers put themselves in pots out along the levees and see how they like it.

Lindenberger quotes Trinity Project Director Rebecca Dugger as saying if the road goes away, the tollway authority won’t contribute $25 million in excavation work to digging our lakes. But Dugger must also have said to him, as she says to all reporters, that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will dig those lakes, so we probably won’t lose any or most of that money. But he doesn’t mention that.

The two biggest twisteroonies of fact in this story are these: Linenbarger reports as accepted fact that putting the road outside the levees will cost more than inside, because the city will have to buy land to put it on. But city staff are on record saying the outside-the-levees alignment is no longer more expensive than inside.

There are many reasons for that, especially the enormously expensive work that must be done to flood-protect the road inside the levees and to protect the park and river from pollution from the road.

I happen to know that some of the people he interviewed told him this and dared him to check it out. He didn’t do it.

The second thing is something some of his interview subjects also challenged him on: if this road really only costs us $86 million, no matter where it goes, and if it now costs the tollway authority way more than a billion, how is the tollway authority going to pay for it?

They just completed the same length of toll road up in Collin Country for a fifth the cost. How do they make this dog pay out if it’s going to cost this enormous amount more?

All he had to do was ask them. He didn’t.

It’s not easy. I have been waiting quite some time for my answer to the same question, which I had to make in the form of a legal demand after the tollway folks declined to take my phone calls. But at least he could have tried.

So he winds up with a front-page story in which he stands on his head and talks pig Latin in order to suggest that the mayor’s telling the truth and Angela Hunt is going to cost us tons of money.

What can I even say about that? What can anybody say? It just gets more and more absurd, and some day it will finally be funny. But not yet. Not today.

© 2007 The Dallas Observer Co

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Friday, October 12, 2007

"While they line their pockets we'll be the ones to pay..."

"The Trans-Texas Corridor Blues"

Music by Rita W. Jones
Performed by Johnny Tex and the Texicans

© 2007 Truth Be Tolled:


"A Love Fest"

Carona, Krusee and Williamson hash out transportation funding options

Conciliatory tone on funding options, but what to do if the public does not want to pay?

October 12, 2007

by Harvey Kronberg
Quorum Report
Copyright 2007

Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said today that he and his fellow commissioners would work with Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Carona(R-Dallas) on indexing the gas tax as a way to deal with the state’s looming transportation funding gap.

Williamson made the remarks during a roundtable discussion this morning on transportation with Carona and House Transportation Committee Chairman Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) at the annual meeting of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. And with Carona warmly accepting Williamson’s commitment to work on gas tax reform as a roads funding solution, it certainly appeared that the two men have decided to take a step back from their often fractious dialogue on public-private toll road partnerships.

Indeed, this morning’s talk on the future of transportation funding in Texas found the men sharing much more common ground than bones of contention, leading Carona at one point to describe the talk as "a love fest."

Moderator Bill Allaway of TTARA summed up their point of agreement, saying that all three men believed that the root of the current transportation funding dilemma stems from the state’s unwillingness to properly price the cost of transportation.

Williamson quantified the problem in a number of ways. He first said that the gas tax has not come close to keeping up with the costs of building and maintaining roads. If the motor fuels tax had been indexed to keep up with inflation as well as the growing demand for highways, it would be at 96 cents per gallon today. The combined state and federal gas taxes are currently at 38.4 cents per gallon.

He added that the taxes collected for the state’s transportation system currently pay for about a third of the system’s costs of construction and maintenance. "Not one strip of road in Texas pays for itself," he said. Meanwhile, if one looks at the cost per gallon that commuters are paying to use the public toll road systems in Dallas and Houston, it comes out to between $1.25 and $1.50 a gallon.

Williamson said the gap between funding sources and future needs has grown so great that the public is paralyzed by the choices it faces. "We’re not prepared to talk about 95 cents per gallon (in gas taxes) or going to all toll roads or a consumption driven model to pay for roads," he said.

He added that he does not favor a toll road at every street corner approach to growing the state’s road system. He said that the state needs to get a better sense as to which roads are most necessary and which roads could be considered conveniences.

The "roads of necessity," as Williamson called them, should remain either free or operated by public toll road authorities, leaving those "roads of convenience," defined by Williamson as highways where the driver would be willing to pay market price for the convenience, to the purview of private operators.

Carona offered an olive branch to Williamson, saying he respected TxDOT for offering public-private partnerships as a possible solution at a time that the Legislature was offering no solutions. However, Carona said that he continued to see public-private partnerships as the most expensive approach to building new roads in Texas.

The Senator said that Proposition 12, the November ballot proposal that would authorize $5 billion in general obligation bonds for transportation projects, was necessary to keep going the flow of new transportation projects. Bonds, though, are not a long-term solution to a funding gap, Carona said. He promised not to propose another round of bonds next legislative cycle.

Instead, Carona said he believed that reform of the gas tax was a better long-term fix. The Governor would presumably need to be on board should the Legislature move toward indexing the gas tax. Rick Perry spokesman Robert Black told QRthat Perry might be willing to support such a move. "The Governor has always said (an indexed gas tax) is an option the Legislature should look at," Black said. "The problem is that the Legislature has never wanted to look at it."

Krusee, though, pointed out that his amendment last session to index the gas tax went down in flames. The problem is that the public just doesn’t want to pay for roads, he said. They shot down reform of the gas tax as well as public-private toll partnerships. That leaves bonding as the only way to finance roads, but that method also has problems as it pushes the costs to future generations, he said.

The state must start looking at alternatives to the gas tax as the way to fund road construction and maintenance, Krusee said. He pointed to the voluntary pilot program in Oregon where motorists are charged per vehicle miles rather than gasoline usage. The growing use of alternative fuels and highly fuel-efficient cars will soon render the current model of paying per the gallon obsolete, he said.

Carona said that he agreed with the over the horizon ideas presented by his counterparts but that to convince lawmakers to change course on transportation should be done in baby steps – and on a biennial basis. He added that the Big Three – Perry, Dewhurst and Craddick– must push transportation funding in a more prominent manner. Big changes in public policy only happen when the state’s leadership support them, Carona said. "It’s important for them to make public statements on this," he said. "We need their help."

© 2007 Quorum Report:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


“This new toll road will have a negative impact on all of our communities.”

Hundreds marshal forces against Grand Parkway

October 12, 2007

By Don Munsch
Fort Bend Herald
Copyright 2007

Concerned citizens who attended a public meeting to hear about the Grand Parkway Project at Williams Elementary School were greeted by children holding signs in the school's front yard protesting the idea.

As they entered the school, audience members were given coupons for a free Chick-fil-A sandwich.

Inside the packed cafetorium, organizers were not necessarily in a “fowl” mood, so to speak, but their messages were as clear as those on the children's signs outside: No new toll road near their homes and businesses.

The public meeting was a way for organizers and residents to have a dialogue with elected leaders and proponents, particularly David Gornet, executive director of the Grand Parkway Project.

Gornet, who was occasionally heckled by a few audience members but mostly treated in a civil manner, stood on the stage and answered several inquiries, including many pointed questions from organizers, all of whom are affected by the four-lane concept. Organizers of the meeting, like the overwhelming majority of the folks who showed up, are opposed to the project on a variety of fronts, including the effect a new toll road would have on the environment, residential areas and businesses. Around 400 people attended the meeting, according to organizer Jesse Cuellar, who said the venue had seating for 300 but ended up being a standing-room-only event.

Among the elected officials there was Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert, who answered a few questions from audience members, including one man who stood on a chair in the back of the room and repeatedly demanded to know whether Hebert supported the proposal. Hebert said he didn't see the urgent need for the Segment C project, which will connect U.S. 59 to Texas 288.

“I don't have a clue why we're out here this far in advance of this project, going through this drill, but I think it's good,” Hebert said after the meeting. “But I think it's good the earlier they find out about it. But normally, you pick your fights when you're ready to do something.

“Here's the problem: The whole plan may change in the next 10 to 15 years, and they may have to go through this whole drill again,” Hebert explained. “So there's a tremendous amount of energy being expended here, when probably we should wait until we all agree that it's three to five years out and then hold those hearings and figure what we're going to do. But it's not my call - this is a state highway.”

Cuellar complained about numerous aspects of the toll road, from deviation from its original conception to traffic it would cause to the amount of time that residents and others had to register their comments about the project. Cuellar said people should have been given 60 days to offer their feedback after a public meeting about the project in August at George Ranch, but Gornet said after the meeting that 10 working days is a standard period allowed by the Texas Department of Transportation to give input on a project.

“This new toll road will have a negative impact on all of our communities,” Cuellar said at the beginning of the meeting.

The meeting included a PowerPoint presentation of the road's location and a testimony from a local business owner whose business would be affected. Quart Graves, operator of two local Chick-fil-A restaurants, said that the new road project would force the closure of his store at the Riverpark Center because TxDOT would need to acquire territory that currently includes his store. A 17-year resident, Graves said he has never seen people so angry about an issue in the community, pointing out that all but a few people are against the road and some are “violently opposed” to the project. He said not only would his business be lost, but others would evaporate, as well, and disappearing with those businesses would be 140 jobs.

“A lot of tax revenue would go away overnight,” he said.

Gornet said that TxDOT would not be able to acquire rights of way in advance, that the agency would have to wait until its ready to build the roadway. Other people were upset about the specifics of the construction project itself, and others sounded off about the possible foreign ownership of the roadway. One patron, a World War II veteran, stood up during the brief public comment portion and said that he didn't fight for his country so that foreign interests could take control of public projects.

© 2007 Fort Bend Herald:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


“There have been two roads: one that has been presented to the public, and one that the Grand Parkway intends to build.”

Residents challenge future plans for Grand Parkway

October 12, 2007

By Don Munsch
Fort Bend herald
Copyright 2007

Williams Elementary School lies near a busy road and railroad track that produce their share of noise.

Quite a racket emanated from the school itself Wednesday, but the din didn't come from boisterous children.

Residents and business leaders appeared at a public meeting at the school to unite against the Grand Parkway project (on Texas 99, called Segment C), a potential toll road between U.S. 59 and Texas 288. The event attracted around 400 people, including elected officials and representatives from the Texas Department of Transportation and the Grand Parkway Association.

Most of those attending the meeting were opposed to the concept. The meeting included a PowerPoint presentation and a brief question and answer period from the audience, in addition to exchanges between opponents and David Gornet, executive director of the Grand Parkway Association.

Many residents are opposed to the toll road because of how it would affect residential areas, businesses and the environment. They have also questioned the need for the toll road, as they said the traffic doesn't merit the need for it. Supporters counter that argument by pointing out the road is needed to accommodate future growth, among other reasons.

Greatwood resident Paul Turner was one of many attendees who had many questions about the project, reading his inquiries from a prepared list. Gornet answered most of the queries, including specifics about its construction and layout.

Gornet said the toll issue for the road isn't new. The Texas Transportation Commission in April 2003 decided that Grand Parkway would be investigated for development as a toll road.

“State Bill 792 was passed this past session,” Gornet said. “It was a compromised bill between the executive branch and legislative branch that outlines the process where again local counties have first right of refusal on deciding whether or not to pursue a project as a toll facility. If the county - and it could be Harris County; very likely it would be Fort Bend County because we're in Fort Bend, but it could be Harris County - can negotiate with TxDOT, and if they come to an impasse, then TxDOT has opportunity to move forward and offer this out to private developers.”

Gornet conceded the private developers could be a foreign toll company. “That process is ongoing right now,” he said, “and the ultimate decision is going to end up whether or not they can enter into an agreement.”

He said the decision to build the Grand Parkway as a toll road was made by the Texas Transportation Commission. Gornet was asked why there was a “rush” to get the project started when TxDOT stated the need does not exist and the project would not be otherwise funded for at least 10 years.

He said the process for the project actually began nine years ago, as scoping sessions were held, routes were developed, public meetings were conducted and analyzed and then recommended alternative and preferred alternative routes were created. After the Federal Environment Impact Statement is released, another public meeting will be held, he said.

“It will show the Grand Parkway as a toll road in this Environmental Impact Statement because that is the way it was described in the current regional transportation plan (set forth by the Houston-Galveston Area Council), and for federal highways to approve the Environmental Impact Statement it must conform with that regional transportation plan,” Gornet said.

When the Environmental Impact Statement is completed, he said, TxDOT will ask for a record of decision to be issued that will then allow the agency to begin acquiring rights of way. But whether the project is built immediately is subject to funding or identification of a toll partner, whether it's a Fort Bend County toll authority, TxDOT or a private entity. But the construction might not occur for another five years. The earliest it would occur is 2010, Gornet said.

Gornet said people who want to voice opposition to the plan can contact the Texas Transportation Commission or TxDOT.

Brazos Lakes Estates resident Anne Franson wanted to know who selected the path for Segment C. Gornet said the path was picked cooperatively between the Grand Parkway Association, TxDOT, Fort Bend County, residents and people who work in the area.

“The road was in place; we didn't get to pick the path, we just got to negotiate a few feet,” Franson said. She complained that the path was too invasive and destructive.

Gornet said the path was selected before the majority of those area subdivisions had started.

“Bridlewood was started,” Gornet said. “Greatwood existed on the east side of Crabb River Road.”

Gornet said the Canyon Gate at the Brazos developer set aside land for future right of way of Grand Parkway.

“That's not true,” a man shouted, and a few others joined him in grumbling.

Gornet explained the development of subdivisions and the toll road path.

“I believe, though, that there have been two roads,” Franson said. “One that has been presented to the public, and one that the Grand Parkway intends to build.” The audience applauded.

She said she others thought the roadway was to be a four-lane, scenic divided highway.

“Again, she just said it - a divided rural highway. It will still be a divided rural highway,” Gornet said, receiving many jeers from the audience. He said the design features and dimensions will remain the same.

© 2007 Fort Bend Herald:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Thursday, October 11, 2007

''You all that proposed this plan, you have awakened a sleeping giant."

Hundreds turn out to hear Grand Parkway plans

Oct. 11, 2007

The Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

More than 250 residents spilled into Manford Williams Elementary on Wednesday night to voice their concerns about plans to develop Segment C of the Grand Parkway into a four-lane tollway.

Hosted by the coalition STOP, or Stop Tolls on Parkway, the meeting drew a standing-room only crowd with representatives from eight communities near the proposed highway, which will run from U.S. Hwy. 59 to U.S. Hwy. 288.

''This road is obviously built to accommodate the future residents in Fort Bend County. We are not being accommodated," said Ann Franson, a Brazos Lakes representative from STOP. ''We are just like the people that will come later and yet we have not been invited into the dialogue of this road.''

Current plans for Segment C show it to be a four-lane road with grassy medians and access ramps that begins with an overpass over U.S. Hwy. 59 connecting Segment D. It will continue along Crabb River Road until curving to the west at Rabbs Bayou before hugging the north and east edges of Bridlewood before traveling past the George Ranch and eventually connecting with U.S. Hwy. 288.

STOP is asking for a 60-day comment period and the elimination of tolls on Segment C. The group also seeks the removal of the planned overpass on U.S. Hwy. 59 and access ramps near Bridlewood and Brazos Lakes subdivisions.

Grand Parkway Association executive director David Gornet said he does not have the authority to extend the comment period and that the Texas Department of Transportation's Houston-area district engineer, Gary Trietsch, will make the final decision on the segment's route.

Gorent said after a study team completes the final environmental impact statement, which is due before the end of the year, TxDOT will hold another public meeting. Construction on the segment will not start until at least 2010, he said.

Need for road discussed

Community representatives took turns grilling Gornet about how the segment's route was planned and the need for a tollway through a scarcely-populated area with little traffic.

''Prior to reaching Brazos Lake, there is farmland, people — open land,'' said Lynn Franklin, representing Canyon Gate at the Brazos. ''I guess were trying to operate on the 'Build it and they will come' theory.''

Franklin said she is concerned how much impact taxpayers have on a ''road that goes to nowhere'' and that the tollway will produce more traffic around their communities.

Other residents openly complained about the view of a tollway outside their community and the potential increase in air and noise pollution in a rural area.

''If you look at the (proposed) fly-by (connecting U.S. Hwy. 59 to the Grand Parkway), its like a roller coaster - but its a roller coaster ride you dont want to get on,'' said Cheryl Rambaud, a five-year resident of Canyon Gate at the Brazos. ''From my vantage point instead of looking at the trees and the sky and my neighbors' two-story homes, I will be looking at the Jetsons' version of the roller coaster.''

Gornet later [responded on]explained why he believed elected officials favor Segment C and included it in the Houston-Galveston Area Council's 2025 transportation plan.

''The Grand Parkway possibly provides continued growth of our county. (Elected officials) have seen that it has been a benefit as you go south from (Interstate 10),'' he said.

County judge opposes tollway

Franklin wasn't the only audience member who questioned the need for the tollway. Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert said the county is against constructing the segment now, but added the county can't stop TxDOT from building a state highway.

Hebert, though, wouldn't rule out the need for Segment C in the future.

''One of the principles of doing tollroads is that tollroads are devices of last resort,'' he said. ''You have to have cars to pay for it. Fort Bend County has no plans to make Segment C a tollroad. Theres no traffic out in Segment C.

''I agree with you folks, now is not the time to even be considering the subject. I'm not opposed to tollways. (But) Segment C is not needed at this time.''

Impact on businesses

Quart Graves, the owner/operator of Chick-Fil-A Greatwood, represented various businesses in the River Park Shopping Center on the northeast corner of the Grand Parkway.

He called the tollway's potential construction horrific and compared the tollways impact on businesses inside the center to Town and Country Mall, which eventually closed after construction to the Sam Houston Tollway limited access to the shopping center.

Tentative plans call for the construction of direct connectors with U.S. Hwy. 59 directly over the edge of the shopping center. If construction proceeds, Graves said Chick-Fil-A, Mattress Firm, Bank of America and Whataburger would be forced to close.

Other businesses on Crabb Road that lie in the segment's proposed right-of-way include Exxon, Burger King, The Z Icehouse and Greatwood Automotive. However, Gornet said, TxDOT will not take any action on businesses that sit in the right-of-way until it issues a record of decision to purchase the right-of-way.

Regardless of the timetable, Graves said he will fight the proposal.

''The cement has barely dried on my business,'' Graves said. ''You all that proposed this plan, you have awakened a sleeping giant.''

For information on Segment C, visit

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"As mayor of New York, Giuliani tried to privatize everything he could..."

Rudy's Dirty Money


Ari Berman
The Nation
Copyright 2007

In March 2001, as Dick Cheney assembled his secret energy task force, Haley Barbour, one of the most powerful Republican lobbyists in Washington and a former chair of the Republican National Committee, fired off a memo to the Vice President. "A moment of truth is arriving," Barbour wrote, "in the form of a decision whether this Administration's policy will be to regulate and/or tax CO2 as a pollutant." Barbour pointedly asked, "Do environmental initiatives, which would greatly exacerbate the energy problems, trump good energy policy, which the country has lacked for eight years?"

The memo bore the imprimatur of Barbour's lobbying firm, but the real work was being done by Bracewell & Patterson, a midsize Texas law firm with a client list as long as the plume from a smokestack. Bracewell would go on to become one of the key lobbying outfits on energy policy in the Bush II era. Its clients have included massive coal-burning power plants like the Atlanta-based Southern Company; more than 450 oil companies represented by the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association; and Texas heavy hitters like Enron, ChevronTexaco and Valero Energy. All these interests had a major stake in persuading George W. Bush to abandon his campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide, the leading source of greenhouse-gas emissions. Two weeks after receiving Barbour's memo, Bush reversed his position and decided against naming CO2 as a pollutant, leading to more than six years of inaction in combating global warming.

It was the first of many victories for Bracewell & Patterson. In the coming years the firm would persuade the Administration to exempt coal-burning power plants from new pollution controls, forestall plans to reduce mercury emissions and shield the makers of MTBE, a toxic gasoline additive that contaminates drinking water, from costly lawsuits.

In March 2005 Bracewell got its biggest boost yet. At a press conference at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, the firm unveiled a new partner: former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. It also unveiled a new name: Bracewell & Giuliani. It was a huge coup for the firm. "He's going to help expand Bracewell's reputation nationally and internationally," Bracewell lobbyist Scott Segal said at the time.

It was also a shrewd move for "America's mayor." Giuliani had already enjoyed a string of business successes following his term as mayor. He had launched the consulting firm Giuliani Partners shortly after 9/11, and he'd partnered with Ernst & Young to launch an investment bank, Giuliani Capital Advisors, which was sold in March to an Australian company for an undisclosed sum. Giuliani jet-setted around the globe in a Gulfstream, giving speeches at $100,000 a pop. His 2002 book Leadership sold more than a million copies.

A law firm would solidify Rudy's financial empire--but not just any firm would do. Partner Giuliani wanted to become President Giuliani. He needed money and, more important, political connections. Bracewell offered a gateway into the lavish world of Texas Republican fundraising and easy access to the same titans of industry who had helped make the Bush family rich and propelled W. into the White House. The former mayor of one of the bluest cities in the country had just inked a whole lot of red.

Strike Force for Industry

The arrival of the second Bush Administration and the ascent of Bracewell went hand in hand. After persuading the Administration to abandon its CO2 pledge, Bracewell launched a full-court press on behalf of another industry priority: relaxing restrictions on coal-fired power plants. In 1999 the Clinton Administration had sued nine companies for failing to add new pollution controls when updating or expanding more than fifty of their plants. The companies wanted the EPA rule, known as "new source review," changed and the lawsuits dismissed. Enlisted in the cause were key GOP lobbyists, including Barbour; C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel for Bush Sr.; and Marc Racicot, former governor of Montana, a Bracewell partner who was a top lobbyist for Enron and head of the Republican National Committee.

In May 2001, two weeks before the Administration unveiled its energy plan, Barbour and Racicot met with Cheney and urged him to abandon the Clinton-era rules. Over the intense objections of career EPA attorneys, the Administration decided to torpedo the Clinton lawsuits and granted the power plants the huge loopholes they sought. Senior EPA officials resigned in protest, and fourteen states sued to block the rules changes. Eliot Spitzer, New York Attorney General at the time, accused the Administration of "gutting" the Clean Air Act and "putting the financial interests of the oil, gas and coal companies above the public's right to breathe clean air."

Days after the changes were announced, Ed Krenik, the EPA's chief liaison to Capitol Hill, took a job in Bracewell's Washington office. It was the beginning of an EPA exodus--especially to Bracewell. The EPA's acting general counsel, Lisa Jaeger, joined Bracewell in March 2004, and the agency's top political appointee for clean air, Jeffrey Holmstead, was hired last October. These hires solidified Bracewell's reputation as a "strike force for industry," says Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

By the time Giuliani joined Bracewell in 2005, the firm was regarded as "the most well-known face of aggressive energy-industry lobbying in DC," says John Walke, head of the clean air division at the Natural Resources Defense Council. The DC contingent has done little to tone down its advocacy since Rudy's arrival. In the wake of record oil industry profits, they lobbied against a tax on windfall revenue. At a recent EPA hearing in Philadelphia, physicians, state officials, environmentalists and even an asthmatic family testified about the need to reduce smog levels. But Holmstead, now Bracewell's star expert, brushed aside such concerns. "If you change the standard, it's not going to have any impact whatsoever," he said.

Rudy didn't come cheap. Bracewell paid Giuliani Partners $10 million for his services and Giuliani a base salary of $1 million a year, plus 7.5 percent of the firm's New York revenues. (Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch once said, "You can get rich, or you can get elected." Giuliani is trying to do both.) In return, Rudy performed a variety of tasks. He spearheaded the opening of the New York office, bringing over talent like Michael Hess, New York City's chief lawyer under Giuliani, and Marc Mukasey, the son of US Attorney General-designate Michael Mukasey, to head the firm's white-collar defense practice. In more than two years, the firm has grown to roughly forty lawyers, with annual revenues estimated at $27 million.

Giuliani says he's never lobbied in Washington. But he has helped in other ways. He traveled to London to meet with executives from Shell Oil. He recruits new associates. As of last year he worked on "three or four cases" a year, he told Bloomberg News.

Rudy was once widely considered one of the premier lawyers in the country. He was the youngest associate attorney general ever, under Ronald Reagan, and as district attorney in Manhattan he made a name for himself by prosecuting crooked congressmen, Wall Street schemers and mob leaders. Yet he's always had trouble balancing his law career with his politics. In 1989 Giuliani joined the New York firm of White & Case. The firm had a list of controversial clients, including the government of Panama, home to drug-dealing dictator Manuel Noriega; foreign banks that gave large loans to the apartheid regime in South Africa; and an Italian construction firm that helped build a chemical weapons plant in Libya.

When Giuliani launched a run for mayor that same year, he was blindsided by bad press. "White & Case represented all sorts of dictators and scumbags," says veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. "Rudy could never understand why that would be a problem." Politicians of both parties called on Giuliani to release his client list. Billionaire businessman Ronald Lauder, who ran against Giuliani in the Republican primary, aired a television ad featuring side-by-side pictures of Giuliani and Noriega. Nelson Warfield, Lauder's spokesman at the time and a current adviser to presidential candidate Fred Thompson, sees parallels between then and now. "It was an issue for him in '89, and it's an issue for him in '07," Warfield says of Rudy's clients. (Thompson, it should be noted, has his own questions to answer about his lengthy career as a Washington lobbyist.)

The Giuliani campaign is anticipating such scrutiny. In a leaked campaign dossier obtained by the New York Daily News in January, the word "business" appeared at the top of a list of potential vulnerabilities, ahead of his ex-wife Donna Hanover. The concern was justified. After the 2004 election Giuliani saw the nomination for Homeland Security czar of a protégé, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, crash and burn when the press uncovered Kerik's affairs, unpaid back taxes and ties to the mob. "Rudy will be held to a higher standard," predicts GOP strategist Tony Fabrizio. "This is stuff he did after becoming America's mayor."

Bracewell & Giuliani presents a host of potential sore spots, on the left and the right. Operatives from rival GOP campaigns were quick to exploit the fact that the firm represented Citgo, the state oil company of Venezuela, one of the current bêtes noires of the right wing. Bracewell helped Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. block "indecency" laws on television, thwarting a pet issue of Christian conservatives. The firm provided counsel to the defense fund of disgraced former House majority leader Tom DeLay--at the same time that it was lobbying DeLay and Congress to grant immunity to the makers of the toxic gasoline additive MTBE, which faces hundreds of lawsuits for contaminating drinking water. Clients abroad have included repressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan (Bracewell has two offices representing American oil companies in Kazakhstan; Rudy's Bracewell supporters recently held a campaign fundraiser there). A few years ago its biggest client was Enron.

Giuliani has accepted more money from the energy industry--$477,208 through the first half of 2007--than any other presidential candidate. These ties likely won't hurt him with GOP primary voters, who welcomed Bush and Cheney with open arms. But it could arouse the suspicions of moderate and independent voters in a general election, many of whom don't look forward to the idea of Halliburton clones dictating policy in the next White House.

Texas Loves Rudy

After joining Bracewell, Giuliani became a frequent visitor to Texas. He's raised nearly $4 million in the state, more than any other Republican, and as of August recruited thirty-seven of George W. Bush's Pioneers and Rangers (those who raised at least $100,000 and $200,000, respectively, for the Bush campaigns), second only to John McCain. Rudy became acquainted with Texas politics when he launched his aborted senatorial run against Hillary Clinton in 2000. Roy Bailey, a Dallas insurance mogul and former finance chair of the Texas Republican Party, helped him raise money for that race. They struck up a close friendship, and after 9/11 Giuliani told The American Lawyer magazine he "turned over" his postmayoral planning to Bailey, who became managing director of Giuliani Partners. At the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, where Rudy's invocation of 9/11 took center stage, Bailey met Pat Oxford, managing partner of Bracewell & Patterson. Over coffee the next day, Bailey floated the idea of Giuliani joining Bracewell. They clicked, and soon the deal was done.

Oxford himself is a player in Texas Republican politics. He met George W. Bush in the 1970s, worked on his campaigns and became a Pioneer in 2000 for Bush/Cheney. Through Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a law school classmate, Oxford met Karl Rove; they became "fast friends," Oxford told The American Lawyer. In 2000 Oxford formed the Mighty Texas Strike Force, dispatching volunteers from Texas to battleground states. During the 2000 recount in Florida, Oxford said he "ran Broward County" and managed the Bush/Cheney legal defense team, talking with Bush frequently in Texas. In 2004 his twenty-five-person "strike force" in Ohio became a source of contention when hotel workers in Columbus, according to a report compiled by the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee, claimed that the strike team used "payphones to make intimidating calls to likely voters, targeting people recently in the prison system" and alleging that the FBI would send them back to jail if they voted.

Giuliani's business partners and Texas allies have come to play a prominent role in his presidential campaign. Oxford is the campaign's national chairman, marshaling operations and squiring Giuliani throughout the state. A fellow Houstonian, Jim Lee, a close ally of Governor Rick Perry and a Pioneer for Bush/Cheney in '04, is the campaign's new finance chief. The day-trading company Lee co-founded, Momentum Securities, was censured and fined $75,000 by the National Association of Security Dealers in 2001 for producing misleading advertising material, downplaying financial risks to investors and overstating its capital. After Lee raised $200,000 for Perry's re-election campaign, the governor appointed him last year to the board overseeing Texas's $96 billion public school employee pension fund.

Giuliani Partners's Roy Bailey introduced the candidate to GOP billionaires and major Bush supporters like T. Boone Pickens and Tom Hicks. Pickens got to know Rudy after dinner one night at Bailey's house. Hicks had committed to McCain's campaign, but after Bailey "went to see him and rib him about it," he changed his mind and became Giuliani's Texas chairman. The three hosted a fundraiser for Rudy last March in Dallas.

Pickens is a legendary corporate raider from West Texas who terrorized Wall Street by threatening to take over oil companies and grew filthy rich in the process. Since launching a hedge fund specializing in energy investments in 1996, Pickens has become even richer, making more than $1.5 billion in 2005. That same year he gave $165 million to Cowboy Golf, a small charity connected to his alma mater, Oklahoma State, and on whose board Pickens sits. Within an hour, the tax-deductible donation was invested back into the Pickens hedge fund, BP Capital. Critics who objected to the transaction, and Pickens's influence at OSU, began calling the school "Boone State."

More recently, Pickens has been prospecting in Texas's new oil: water. His company, Mesa Water, owns groundwater rights to 200,000 acres of land north of Amarillo (in Texas, unlike other Western states, groundwater is considered private by virtue of a "right to capture" law), which he's said he plans to sell to cities like El Paso, San Antonio and Dallas, potentially netting him $1 billion over the next thirty years. Pickens claims to be the "number-one steward of the land," but locals are wary of what Fortune magazine dubbed a Chinatown-esque scheme to divert water from the Panhandle, earning Pickens the status of "regional reprobate," as Salon put it. For a born-and-bred Texan, Pickens is more like Giuliani than you'd think, especially when it comes to his personal life: four wives, semi-estranged from his children, reviled in his hometown. His political profile is no less turbulent. When the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth needed seed money for an ad campaign smearing John Kerry's service record in Vietnam, Pickens ponied up an initial $500,000. He eventually gave $3 million to the group. Pickens has raised more than $500,000 for Giuliani, including $50,000 from employees of his hedge fund.

Tom Hicks isn't far behind Pickens financially, and his ties to the Bush family go even deeper. In 1994 under then-Governor Bush Hicks joined the University of Texas Board of Regents, one of the plushest appointments in the state, and was put in charge of investing the university's multibillion-dollar endowment. Hicks formed a private entity using UT money, called the University of Texas Investment Management Company, which invested millions with Bush family supporters and Hicks allies like The Carlyle Group, Bass Brothers of Fort Worth--who bailed out Bush's previous company, Harken Energy--and Dallas's Wyly family, all major patrons of the Bushes. News reports detailing the close family connections led to a major public controversy. Hicks stepped down at the end of his term, but the ties to Bush didn't end there. In 1998 Hicks bought the Texas Rangers for $250 million, three times what Bush and his partners paid for the team in 1989, and granted Bush six times his original share, making the failed businessman an overnight multimillionaire.

Hicks, who became vice chairman of the radio behemoth Clear Channel in 2000, helped Bush in whatever way he could. According to Salon, "Hicks announced on a conference call among Clear Channel's senior radio executives that the company was supporting Bush's presidential run, that everyone was encouraged to make donations, and that the legal department would be in contact with donors in order to maintain a proper roster." After 9/11 Clear Channel banned "potentially offensive" songs from its stations, and in the run-up to the war in Iraq, bankrolled supposedly grassroots pro-war "Rallies for America" across the country. The company gave nearly $470,000 to Republican candidates in 2006, roughly the same as in '04. Ironically, Hicks's investment fund sold its stake in Clear Channel last year to the private equity firm Bain Capital Partners--the longtime employer of Mitt Romney. Today, though, Hicks says, "I'm more closely aligned to Rudy than I am to Bush." As state chair for Giuliani, Hicks was given the task last January, according to the leaked strategy memo, of raising $30 million for the campaign in Texas, a figure that has thus far proven wildly optimistic.

The benefits of Giuliani's association with Bracewell are evident when it comes to hauling in money and supporters. "If people in Texas want a presidential candidate with Texas connections, I think I have the strongest one," he told donors at a private golf club in Dallas in March. "I'm here a lot on business. I've got to know Texas really well." Bracewell gave Giuliani a foothold in Texas that other candidates don't have. "It helped considerably," says Robert Stein, a professor of political science at Rice University in Houston whose daughter recently accepted a job with the firm.

In between stops on the campaign trail, Giuliani always found time to swing by the Houston office. "This summer, it was quite a thing to watch," Stein says. "He was there a lot, to be seen and to create press." At gatherings of prospects whom Bracewell wanted to lure to the firm, Giuliani was a star attraction. "It was as much a fundraising attempt as an attempt to get people to sign with Bracewell," Stein says. (The Giuliani campaign never responded to repeated requests for interviews with the candidate's business partners and key fundraisers.)

Giuliani was back in Houston in early September, enjoying a Houston Texans football game with Oxford and Texans owner Bob McNair, who in 2004 had given more than $500,000 to the Swift Boat Veterans and another right-wing 527, Progress for America. Rudy had been in Arlington the day before taking batting practice with the Texas Rangers, courtesy of owner Tom Hicks, who was hosting a fundraiser at the park. That night, Hizzoner threw out the first pitch.

On the surface, it's surprising that a thrice-married, pro-gay rights, pro-gun control mayor of New York City could do so well in the Lone Star State. But when you examine Giuliani's record as mayor and his positions on the campaign trail, it begins to make sense. As mayor of New York, Giuliani tried to privatize everything he could, including hospitals, schools and the management of Central Park, while vetoing a living-wage ordinance for city employees.

On the campaign trail in Texas, like everywhere else, he talks largely about 9/11 and "the terrorists' war against us." (His foreign policy advisers include neocon war cheerleaders like Norman Podhoretz and Daniel Pipes.) He has taken a newfound hard line on illegal immigration and the border and frequently professes his love for Ronald Reagan. He talks about the need to further reduce taxes and shrink the government. In an essay on National Review Online, Pickens explained his support for Giuliani in part by noting that "Rudy will demand that each Cabinet member submit budget cuts of between 5 and 20 percent annually." When asked at a cocktail party in the Woodlands, a chic suburb of Houston, how he could win the South, Giuliani mentioned his "strong conservative credentials" and his competitiveness in a general election, according to Jim Granato, a professor at the University of Houston who attended the event. "He's the one they think can defeat Hillary," says Stein.

In a state where Republicans remain doggedly fond of their native son, Giuliani rarely, if ever, criticizes President Bush. "Rudy's been alone, among all the candidates, in treating Bush with kid gloves," says Giuliani's former deputy mayor, Fran Reiter. "So gathering Bush's supporters to his campaign makes sense to me."

When it comes to energy policy, Giuliani's record as mayor won't present a roadblock to his industry supporters. He put ten new power plants in New York neighborhoods over the objection of community groups and allowed utility giant Consolidated Edison to expand along the East River. Unlike other New York Republicans, such as former Governor George Pataki, "environmental issues were not a big category for Giuliani," says Reiter.

At a speech last year at the Manhattan Institute, the conservative think tank that generated many of Rudy's mayoral policies, Giuliani called the idea of energy independence "the wrong paradigm." He dismissed energy conservation as "helpful but not really very, very effective." He was most animated, according to press reports, about the need to build new nuclear power plants and expand oil drilling. "We haven't drilled in Alaska," he said. "We haven't built oil refineries. We haven't ordered a nuclear power plant since 1978." He also plugged ethanol, a favorite in Midwest corn states like Iowa, and so-called clean coal technologies.

On the campaign trail, Rudy now includes the requisite language about curbing global warming and weaning America from its dependence on foreign oil. One of his campaign's "twelve commitments" is to "lead America towards energy independence." At a diner in Waterloo, Iowa, this past summer, he was asked how he'd accomplish that goal, given his clients in the oil, gas, coal and nuclear energy industries. "Law firms aren't political," Giuliani responded, "so this is kind of a silly way in which people attack each other on politics. It has no relationships to your political position. As a lawyer, or a law don't make determinations of who you represent on your political philosophy."

That answer was less than convincing in light of Bracewell's political activism and Giuliani's newfound friends. These days, Rudy's "political philosophy" seems to mirror that of his energy clients and Bush Pioneers. There's synergy between the old Bracewell & Patterson and the new Bracewell & Giuliani. On a recent trip to Mississippi, Giuliani even floated the name of Haley Barbour, now governor of the state, as his potential VP.

Research support was provided by the Puffin Foundation Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.

© 2007 The Nation

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"They're building that new road right through my home..."

"That New Road"


Music by John E. Motley
Performed by Jack Motley

© 2008, Truth Be Tolled:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE

"A pass-through deal."

Comal acts fast, snags funds for wider 281


Roger Croteau
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

NEW BRAUNFELS — Comal County officials approved a contract with the state Thursday to widen U.S. 281 from the Guadalupe River north to the Blanco County line.

And the 5.6-mile, $35 million project won't include any tolls.

The Texas Department of Transportation will foot $19 million of the bill. In a "pass-through" financing agreement, Comal County will issue certificates of obligation for $16 million to pay the rest of the project cost, and TxDOT will pay the county back most of the money.

The county will be responsible for the interest payments on the $16 million, as well as 10 percent of the cost of right of way and relocating utilities.

The state will pay the county back somewhere between $2.6 million and $4 million a year, based on the number of cars that travel the road.

County officials initially considered toll projects to move the Texas 46 and U.S. 281 projects along quickly, but traffic count projections showed tolls wouldn't have raised enough money to make that option feasible.

"I believe TxDOT is about financially incapable of doing this kind of deal any more, so we are striking while the iron is hot," Comal County Commissioner Jay Millikin said.

TxDOT District Engineer David Casteel said the department recently gave a presentation showing the shortfall in available funding for road construction in Texas.

"If you were not real aggressive, like Comal County, the opportunity to do a pass-through deal is probably gone," Casteel said. "Comal County was very wise to move so quickly."

Comal and New Braunfels officials also agreed last year to a separate $16 million in pass-through financing for the Texas 46 widening project from the Bulverde city limits to Landa Street in New Braunfels. That project will cost $61 million and is under way.

The U.S. 281 project is moving quickly toward construction as well, Casteel said. The environmental studies and public comment period are almost done and right of way acquisition could start within a year.

The 5.6-mile stretch now is two lanes. It will become a four-lane, divided highway.

County Commissioner Jan Kennady noted two recent collisions on that stretch of U.S. 281, one of which killed three people.

"There's not doubt about it, if you widen it and add medians, it's going to be safer," she said.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Defense contractor Raytheon double bills drivers in Tyler with TaxTag

Tollway 'Double Billing" Said Minor


From Staff and Wire Reports
Tyler Morning Telegraph
Copyright 2007

Since tolls began on Loop 49 last Thanksgiving, Texas Department of Transportation Spokesman Larry Krantz says 16 of about 40,000 tollway patrons have been "doubled billed" for its use.

Krantz said the number of problems motorists are experiencing are statistically insignificant, but that even those few are too many in the wake of a much larger billing dilemma in the Austin area.

TxDOT has recently received reports that about 50,000 motorists were recently billed twice due to an equipment malfunction.

"We do not have a problem like they have in Austin, but we are working to solve our problem quickly," Krantz said.

Krantz said TxDOT is working closely with Raytheon, its contractor for operating the toll gantries on Loop 49 as well as with the Texas Turnpike Authority to make sure the problem is solved in a timely manner.

In the meantime Krantz said anyone who receives an incorrect tolling bill from Loop 49 or any other toll road should call the TxTAG Customer Service Center in Austin by calling 1-888-GO-TxTAG.

Krantz said about 1,400 cars and trucks travel the completed first leg of Loop 49 between Broadway Avenue and US Highway 155.

Segment 2, which will connect US 69 and FM 756, or Paluxy Drive, is scheduled to open this fall.

© 2007 Tyler Morning Telegraph:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"State lawmakers don't seem to have a clue"

Senator urging funding for roads


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

State lawmakers don't seem to have a clue when it comes to gauging public tolerance for higher gasoline taxes or hearing demands to scale back toll-road plans, a ranking Texas Senate member said Thursday.

"We need leadership on these issues," said John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security. "I'm very frustrated from the governor of Texas on down."

He made the remarks to the Express-News Editorial Board while stumping for Proposition 12 on the November ballot, which would allow $5 billion in bonds backed by general revenue to be spent on roadways, although he concedes that's just a quick fix.

Texas Department of Transportation officials said two weeks ago they face a funding meltdown because federal and state lawmakers refused for more than a decade to raise gas taxes and state legislators this year began curbing the agency's ability to privatize tollways.

TxDOT will slash $1.8 billion in road construction over the next three years, including at least $57 million to widen several San Antonio highways.

Carona didn't dispute the crisis, but said TxDOT should pull back some on using toll roads and privatization — the most hated and costly solutions — to fill the funding hole.

"I'm not opposed to all the toll roads," he said. "I just think they need to be part of the mix, not all of the solution."

But that means other options are needed, he said. Between now and the 2009 legislative session, the senator will rally support for three initiatives:

Raising the state's 20-cent-a-gallon gas tax by a nickel or a dime.

Indexing the gas tax to construction costs but capping increases to 3 percent a year.

Asking voters to consider a constitutional amendment to ban diversions of highway funds for other uses — including a fourth of the gas-tax pie going to schools, but only if all of that funding can be replaced from other sources.

Carona believes he can push some version of all three measures through the Senate.

"It'll depend wholly on what's going on in the House," he said. "The time to go after this is right now, while there's heightened legislative awareness."

House Transportation Committee Chairman Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, said he'll stick with Carona all the way, but there should be a backup plan because similar bills have failed over the years.

"The backup plan has got to be bringing private investment," he said. "The Legislature pretty emphatically said no to indexing, to increasing the rate."

Gov. Rick Perry, a staunch advocate for privatization and tolling, has long opposed proposals to increase the gas tax but would be open to allowing indexing, spokeswoman Allison Castle said. He also wants to stop gas-tax diversions.

"The governor believes toll roads are the fairest form of taxation, you only pay if you use them, but he's willing to consider a number of options, including indexing the gas tax," she said.

Toll critic Terri Hall of San Antonio Toll Party said she can't support a higher gas tax until TxDOT's finances are probed and the agency chucks a policy to toll new highway lanes whenever feasible.

"However, we appreciate a lawmaker courageously stepping forward to start the discussion of real solutions other than tolls," she said.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Trinity Toll Road: "I keep trying to imagine my picnic in the park next to the NAFTA truck route."

Truckin' Up the Trinity River

Oct 10, 2007

Jim Schutze
The Dallas Observer
Copyright 2007

The Dallas Morning News story about the Trinity toll road referendum campaign finance reports, which was buried yesterday inside the Metro section, did a fine job of not telling anybody anything.

Anybody grateful?

Late in the day Tuesday, long after The News had published its story, the City Secretary finally put the list of contributors for Vote No! Save the Trinity (the people in favor of a toll road between the flood-control levees inside the planned river park downtown) up on the city Web site. (TrinityVote's latest finance report is available here.) The big red flag for me on the Vote No! report was $50,000 from Allen Development of Texas.

Think trucks! Lots and lots of trucks. A major truck route through the park.

Allen, with regional offices on Ross Avenue, is the San Diego-based company at the center of plans for the so-called “inland port” in Southern Dallas -- a huge rail yard and truck depot I’ve written about before. The inland port is a huge opportunity for southern Dallas. And I don’t blame Allen for wanting every way it can find to get its trucks across the DFW and on to Canada.

But sending a solid stream of NAFTA trucks out of the inland port and right through the park downtown would be disastrous for the park.

It’s something I have worried about for more than five years, ever since I had lunch with David Dean, the lobbyist and person most responsible for the inland port plan. Dean took a paper napkin and sketched for me a wonderful truck route from southeast Dallas County up to Alliance Airport, owned by the Perots. Right along the river.

I thought, “Yikes. That’s that damned toll road.”

I can’t claim now, this many years later, that Dean’s daydream was directly tied to the toll road today. But the appearance of the Allen group as major funders of the pro-toll road campaign does scare the socks off me.

For years the backers of the toll road promised that no truck traffic would be allowed. Then one of the e-mails Angela Hunt dug up between Laura Miller and her vaunted “Balanced Vision Plan” consultants revealed that they were extremely suspicious. They thought they saw extra pavement being designed into the thing that could only mean it was being built for trucks.

Now in debates the pro-toll-roaders are admitting openly that there will be trucks. Sort of like, “Sure, trucks. Of course there will be trucks. Why wouldn’t there be trucks?”

Uh, why wouldn’t there be? Because you promised for seven years there would be no trucks.

Now here comes Allen group with its 18-wheeler checkbook. If that’s what’s going on, all of the stories about reducing pollution and providing traffic relief are one big, fat lie. It means they plan to do the exact contrary with this sucker. Load it up with trucks, smoke the lungs off downtown.

The other really slimy thing in the Vote N0! report is the $200,000 in contributions from the Dallas Citizens Council. The Dallas Citizens Council meets in secret. It’s a money funnel for big-bucks players who want to operate behind drawn window shades. Sort of like a Sicilian “athletic club” in the Bronx.

I keep trying to imagine my picnic in the park next to the NAFTA truck route.







At that point I think I’ll just stand there like a man and let it hit me.

© 2007 The Dallas Observer:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


“The public really feels that it’s been ignored.”

Texas Toll Bond Plan

Austin Agency’s Vote Met With Opposition


by Richard Williamson
The Bond Buyer
Copyright 2007

DALLAS — Despite vocal opposition, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization in Texas approved plans to use toll bonds to help finance $1.5 billion worth of highway projects in the rapidly growing Austin area.

By a 15-4 vote, the CAMPO board concluded a three-year debate over how to finance highway expansion in the region that includes Travis, Hays and Williamson counties.

“One of the things the board took note of was the fact that all of the opposition was very passionate and very angry,” said Michael Aulick, executive director of CAMPO.

“My board would much rather build the roads without tolls, but that’s not the fiscal reality.”

The board is made up of representatives of regional governments and led by former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, currently a Democratic state senator. To accommodate the crowd of sign-carrying opponents, the meeting was held in the auditorium of a local high school.

“There was a lot of hooting and hollering and cat calls,” said Sal Costello, founder of the Texas Toll Party that opposes tolls on existing tax-financed roads. “The public really feels that it’s been ignored.”

Some of the signs protesters brought to the meeting read: “No tolls on existing roads,” and “Watson won’t listen.”

Watson voted for tolling on four of the five highway projects, but recused himself on a proposal for U.S. 290 East because he is a director of a bank that owns land along the route.

While the vote Monday night was intended to be conclusive, Costello said that his organization is not ending the fight. Texas Toll Party will target six CAMPO board members who face re-election next spring, including state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Austin, who sponsored House Bill 3588 in the 2003 session of the Legislature that promoted tolling.

Costello said that he formed his organization in 2004 in opposition to the tolling that was allowed by that bill. At that time, CAMPO was seeking to turn eight highways into toll projects. Through political pressure, the regional governments reconsidered its plan. In the intervening three years, the number of toll projects was reduced from eight to five.

“I think there’s been a real thorough vetting of this whole process,” Aulick said. “The plan includes a caveat that should another funding source become available, the board can decide that the new funding can phase out the tolls.

The tolling issue has grown in intensity as the Texas Department of Transportation warns that it is virtually out of money for new projects and will be forced to shift about $6 billion from new construction to maintenance of existing roads.

For the $1.5 billion of road projects approved by CAMPO, $323 million will come from federal funds, $81 million will come from state matching funds, $1.02 billion will come from toll bonds, Texas Mobility Fund debt and other state funds. About $23 million will come from local governments associated with the projects, Aulick said.

Construction of the first projects, State Highway 45 and U.S. 290, will begin about a year from now, Aulick said. The other projects will begin in the two years after that.

TxDOT must still complete environmental impact studies as the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority develops plans for financing. The RMA is authorized by the recently passed legislation to manage all toll projects in the region.

© 2007 The Bond Buyer:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"This is more than Orwell ever imagined."

TxDOT knows where you went

It hired a firm to film plates, send surveys — a move some call sneaky


Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — Did you drive on Interstate 35 in early September? Where were you going, and why? How many people were in the car with you? And by the way, how many people live in your house?

The Texas Department of Transportation wants to know, and a company it hired may have videotaped your license plate, then sent you a survey to find out.

The survey is being done in the name of sound transportation planning. Officials say the method has been used before in Texas and elsewhere. But it has some feeling uncomfortable, and others crying, "Big Brother."

Alliance Transportation Group Inc., under a $781,588.53 contract with the state, mailed about 150,000 surveys to homes containing an explanation startling to some: "You are being asked to participate in these efforts because the license plate of a vehicle registered in (your) name was randomly recorded" during a highway trip.

"It almost feels sneaky," said Alison Unger, an Austin communications professional who got the survey after traveling to San Antonio for Rosh Hashana.

Unger has no ill will toward TxDOT but is concerned about whether her personal information will be protected. She said she likely wouldn't answer the survey.

Some were outraged about the survey after being videotaped by cameras tucked into orange barrels at 21 locations outside metro areas on I-35 and nearby highways from north of Laredo, through the San Antonio area to north of Dallas, some 450 miles.

Similar surveys are expected next year in the Houston, Galveston, Beaumont and Port Arthur areas, although with changes incorporated to reflect concerns expressed by drivers.

"This is Big Brother-ish," said Sal Costello, a fierce critic of TxDOT who founded a Web site — — to fight the way toll roads were planned by the agency. "It is an invasion of privacy."

Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said, "It's one thing to study traffic patterns, but to ask all this personal information of people makes you wonder why they are doing it. ... This is more than Orwell ever imagined."

TxDOT spokeswoman Gaby Garcia said the information won't be shared or sold and will be disposed of in a secure fashion. This is the first time the state has conducted a comprehensive transportation survey on the entire I-35 corridor, and the information is vital to planning, she said.

"With the heavy traffic demand already on I-35, one of the state's busiest interstate corridors, this survey will help us better forecast future demand and needed improvements," Garcia said.

She said the survey is voluntary and that people don't have to participate or answer all the questions. Since the survey was mailed about three weeks ago after the Sept. 12-13 license-plate videotaping, about 3,000 people have responded, she said.

About 200 have called a toll-free number included with the survey, with most asking about its purpose and "a few callers unhappy that they received a survey," she said.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, a Brenham Republican who has worked to stem TxDOT's drive toward privately run toll roads, said something else caught her eye.

"With TxDOT continuing to spill forth that they have no money to build highways, I find it very interesting they have a lot of money to do mailings to 150,000 people and ad campaigns of $8 (million) and $9 million," she said.

Civil engineering professor Chandra Bhat, of the University of Texas at Austin's Center for Transportation Research, said such surveys have been used in many states.

The downside with a survey based on videotaping license plates, Bhat said, is that the data quality may not be as good and there can be a negative public perception: "Uncle Sam sneaking up, essentially."

Garcia said the agency plans to let drivers know of the survey beforehand the next time: "It was by no means meant to be sneaky," Garcia said. "Lesson learned."

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE