Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sen. Hegar: "If you want to make changes in TxDOT, now is the time."

Visiting State Senator addresses Corridor concerns, college funds


El Campo Leader-News
Copyright 2007

While still staunch in his opposition to the Trans Texas Corridor, District 18 State Senator Glenn Hegar said the proposal has started a dialogue important to the state's transportation future.

Hegar offered his opinions on transportation, junior college funding and a variety of other topics as the featured speaker at Wednesday's El Campo Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture Legislative Luncheon, held at the El Campo Country Club.

In his presentation, Hegar described the efforts taken by the legislature to pass the public/private moratorium on toll road construction for the next two years. After Gov. Rick Perry initially vetoed the measure, he said, the legislature still had enough time to pass the bill to stop such development for the next two years.

He added the Texas Department of Transportation is currently going through a sunset review, which the senator said happens every 12 years.
"The review is used to decide if an agency should continue, needs to be abolished or combined with another agency. If you want to make changes in TxDOT, now is the time."

Among the discussions is if public/ private toll road projects should come under the jurisdiction of TxDOT or local transportation authorities. Hegar said the question impacts his district indirectly since two of his counties border Travis County and another three touch Harris County.

Following the luncheon, Hegar explained more of the state's transportation needs.

The biggest challenge facing TxDOT is funding issues, he said, particularly relating to the continued growth in the state's population, which is expected to increase from the current 24 million to 40 million by 2040.

"We have a funding problem in that we have money to maintain the state's current road system, but we don't have the funds to add capacity," he said.

"And we're looking at a real funding problem in the future. While people don't like the idea of the Corridor, I think it has been beneficial in that it has state officials talking about future needs. Personally, I think most people want to see additional lanes of traffic added where needed; just not to the extent proposed by the Corridor project."

During the presentation, Hegar linked the transportation issue to eminent domain reform.

One reform package was vetoed by Perry in part because of a rider he added to a House Bill that would have required property owners receive more notice and fair value for condemned land, he said.

The rider he attached to the bill would have restored access rights that have been "eroded by the legislature and the courts" since 1995, Hegar said.

Under the proposal, the state would have to guarantee the same access to a property after condemnation as before.
"I equate it to the state using eminent domain to take control of your front door and denying us the use of it," he said. "They can say you get in and out through the window with no problem, but I see that as being diminished access."
In generally outlining the responsibilities of the Texas House and Senate, Hegar said the main accomplishment of each legislative session is approving the state budget.

"The number one job we do is to determine where your money - your tax dollars - go," he said.

Breaking it down, he said 47 percent goes to education, 26 percent to Medicaid, another 6 percent to other health care issues, 13 percent to transportation and economic development and 6 percent to criminal justice.

Of the funds themselves, he said the first third comes from the federal government with the remainder generated by the state.

Of those funds going to education, Wharton County Junior College will receive its share despite the Governor's funding veto of employee insurance, Hegar said.

"We're very close to getting it fixed for next year and not creating needless staff cuts, tuition increases or college district tax increases," he said.

"Taking any action that would negatively impact any of those would be directly opposed of the goals of the legislature to increase higher education in the state and hurt our efforts," he added. "We still have some problems to solve during the next legislative session, but my goal is to see the junior colleges in my district to get adequate funding so they don't have to struggle to maintain their operations."

He added if a resident of his district is having a problem, they should contact his office for assistance.

© 2007 El Campo Leader-News:

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Trinity Toll Road Backers: "Prisoners of their own peculiar worldview."

Don't let toll road ruin our defining parkland

Vote yes so that the Trinity parkland can be ours

October 26, 2007

Victoria Loe Hicks
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Which is more integral to New York City's greatness: Central Park or TriBeCa? Which does more to shape the character of Washington: the National Mall or Adams Morgan? When the fires die down and tourists return to San Diego, what will draw them: the beach or the Gaslamp Quarter?

Proven fact: Great public spaces define great cities. Corollary: The world's hippest, slickest, coolest, made-over neighborhood will never do what Central Park does for New York, the Mall does for Washington or the beach does for San Diego.

That's why, if we need another highway downtown, it should be built along Industrial Boulevard in the Trinity Industrial District rather than inside the Trinity River levees – the one space that has the potential to lift Dallas' public realm from mediocrity to greatness.

To understand why almost everybody who is anybody in this town wants to put the toll road right beside the river, it is necessary to know a little history. A century ago, the Trinity was prone to occasional but devastating floods. So some folks, including Leslie Stemmons and G.B. Dealey, founder of The Dallas Morning News, came up with a plan to move the river about a quarter-mile to the west, straighten it and hem it in with levees.

The plan, which was accomplished in the 1930s, was a boon to the public. It had the side benefit of making the Stemmons crowd – which had bought lots of land in the one-time floodplain that became the Trinity Industrial District – oodles of money.

The people who are pushing for a toll road inside the levees are the blood and corporate heirs of those original visionaries. It is in their cultural DNA to believe that the highest and best use for the river is to manipulate it to pave the way – in this case, literally – for private development.

In fact, they envision it happening in the very same spot as before: the Trinity Industrial District – which, despite its current junky appearance, is ideally positioned to become Dallas' next TriBeCa. If only the rest of us will cooperate by giving away part of our river park for free to build the toll road, the people who own land in the industrial district will redevelop it with swanky lofts and eateries and such.

Even if the toll road gets built along Industrial Boulevard, most of that redevelopment will occur, and many of them will make big bucks. But some will have to sell their land to make way for the road, and that does not make them happy. Hence, their generous donations to our City Council members and the "Vote No" campaign.

They are good people. Many of them have done good things for this city. On this issue, though, they are prisoners of their own peculiar worldview.

The road-beside-the-river gang insists that building along Industrial would be far more costly than in the riverbed. That's because they're counting on us to give up a big swath of parkland for free. But the cost of building beside the river has skyrocketed and will continue to – precisely because building a highway in an area designed to carry floodwaters is, to put it mildly, very, very tricky.

The road-beside-the-river folks also warn that if we vote against them, we will lose $1 billion in funding for the road. First of all, there's no reason that should actually happen. And second, nobody's giving us that money. It's from taxes on gasoline and tolls on local highways – money we pay.

Even if it came from the Tooth Fairy, $1 billion, used wrongly, just does $1 billion worth of damage. If the Tooth Fairy offered New Yorkers $1 billion on the condition that they build a big, honking toll road right through Central Park, would they be wise to accept it?

Would the San Diego-based Allen Group, which owns the site of Dallas' new inland port and which is bankrolling the road-beside-the-river campaign, be so quick to support putting a toll road on the beach?

There are two kinds of green: money and the other kind, the kind you can vote for by voting yes on Proposition 1.

Victoria Loe Hicks lives in Oak Cliff. She covered the Trinity River project for The Dallas Morning News from 2000 to 2003. Her e-mail address is

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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"Do we really want foreign business using our eminent domain powers for their profit?"

Toll roads? Maybe, but public ones.

October 26, 2007

The Huntsville Times (Alabama)
Copyright 2007

Giving the money away is just plain dumb

I'm against the public-private toll road ventures suggested by Gov. Bob Riley, as the public is always the one to suffer in these deals.

Businessmen always want to privatize the profits and socialize the risks. We have local proof of that in the abuse of our Big Spring Park. As usual the public was ill-served by business interest and public officials.

For some reason the Bush Administration has been pushing these public-private partnerships (PPPs) on the states. Maybe as a prelude to the North American Union? Do we really want foreign business using our eminent domain powers for their profit?

There should be the same outcry about these foreign road deals as there was over the purchase of our ports by Dubai.

In July 2005 President Bush signed a bill allowing tolls to be charged on existing and planned interstates, bridges and tunnels. What is the gas tax supposed to be used for? If it's not enough, raise it, or have publicly owned toll roads.

Toll road owners such as Spain's Cintra and Australia's Macquarie Infrastructure Group and Sweden-based Skanska tend to benefit from the move to private infrastructure bonds because their tax-exempt status would keep interest rates and funding costs low. But not profits, the Indiana Toll Road is expected to bring in $100 billion in profits.

It's bad enough that business will outsource our jobs, but do they have to outsource the profits also? The move would also bring lucrative fees to Wall Street banks and others for underwriting and trading tax-exempt debt. Apparently the only ones to truly benefit financially is the private non-American companies.

Ellen Dannin, a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit who has written on privatization, said private companies are not necessarily more efficient at running roads and their tolls amount to a regressive tax on highway building. She also said this transfer of important functions from public to private control should be at the center of a national debate.

It is about money and quality of service, but it involves much more. It affects our national security, our personal security and our finances. Despite this, there has been silence - except from privatization ideologues who cheerlead every movement from public to private control.

Spain's Cintra is already a major player in the U.S. toll-road business in Texas and Chicago, but Texas Gov. Rick Perry will not even release the details of the agreement with Cintra. That alone should show the Alabama public how corrupting these public-private deals are.

I have hopes that The Huntsville Times and other newspapers will do some investigative reporting on how poorly this road system is done in other states.

If necessary, Alabama should raise taxes and/or operate any toll roads themselves. Why give control of our roads to overseas businessmen? And at a financial loss to ourselves? Are we that dumb?

Guy Thompson lives in Huntsville. Reader submissions to Community Focus should be about 500 words. E-mail to

© 2007 The Huntsville Times:

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Government taking private property for speculation "is contrary to what most people understand the power of eminent domain to be for."

Texas voters to decide eminent domain issue November 6


By Sam Baker,
Copyright 2007

DALLAS, TX-Voters across Texas will decide 16 proposed constitutional amendments on November 6. One of them, Proposition 7, would require local and state government to sell back property acquired through eminent domain to the former owner at the original price. Houston state Senator Kyle Janek said he first wants to make sure city, county and state government acquire property for the right reasons.

JANEK: "Before government comes in and takes your land, they should have a defined use for that land and it should meet a public purpose: you're gonna build a freeway, build a road, you're gonna build a fire station. And if you find that need is not there, that land should revert to the property owner."

Critics contend selling back at the original price means government loses out on any increased value of the property or accrued property taxes and maintenance costs - not to mention money spent on bonds and property enhancement. Janek understands all that, but he says government should not be in the land speculation business.

JANEK: "To take it through the force of law and the special powers given to government authority, only to use it as speculation in the hopes that the values go up and they can appreciate the returns on that, is contrary to what most people understand the power of eminent domain to be for.

Passage of Proposition 7 won't end Janek's efforts to refine eminent domain laws. The senator said he still wants to address related issues such as just compensation and acquiring property designated as "blighted" through eminent domain. Janek believes the issue of eminent domain will grow in importance, especially as the state proceeds with acquiring land for the planned Trans Texas Corridor.

© 2007 KERA:

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

“I’m just worried about the charge, but then again I’m not a big, big company.”

County loop project $160 million short

October 25, 2007

James Osborne
The Monitor
Copyright 2007

McALLEN — A $160 million funding shortfall in the Hidalgo County loop project will almost certainly require local transportation officials to seek investment from the private sector, the project chief said Thursday.

Within the next two years, the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority plans to sell an estimated $456 million in bonds. The bonds would be paid back by future transportation funding from the state and revenues generated by the 82-mile-long roadway, portions of which will require motorists to pay a toll.

But that still leaves the project well short of the projected $643 million it will cost to build the first half of the loop, a toll road that runs northwest from the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge past Expressway 83 and eventually connecting with U.S. Highway 281 north of Edinburg.

“It’s going to be a couple years. We’re not going to get a commitment (from investment banks) until we firm up some things,” said Gerry Pate, managing partner of Pate Transportation Partners in Houston.

“But we’re already getting good interest.”

Texas Department of Transportation District Engineer Mario Jorge said it is increasingly common for mobility projects statewide to be at least partially funded by the private sector, largely because of declining state and federal funding.

“We have a transportation fund in crisis. We’re going to have to delay a lot of projects this year,” he said.

“One of the main solutions is going to be the public and private partnerships. That’s the way of the future, especially on the large projects like the loop.”

The privatization of state highways became a contentious issue last legislative session when state lawmakers voted to place a moratorium on new toll road projects. Exemptions were made for projects in Hidalgo and Cameron counties and those already under way, including the segment of the planned Trans-Texas Corridor running along Interstate 35, on which Spanish infrastructure giant Cintra is setting up financing, Jorge said.

Billed as the solution to increasing traffic on Hidalgo County roadways, the loop is designed to move vehicles, specifically tractor-trailers, away from the more congested metropolitan area in and around McAllen.

Original plans had called for the completion of a southern loop first running east and west from the Pharr bridge and connecting to Expressway 83 at either end, with the northern half to be completed at a later date.

But now, at the suggestion of their engineers, local transportation officials have decided to build the loop in eastern and western halves, with construction on the western half starting first in 18 to 24 months.

“The loop is of little value until you have a whole facility,” said Dennis Burleson, chairman of the RMA.

If you just go from the free-trade zone to the Expressway, it’s not going to do much to relieve congestion around the Pharr bridge and the interchange at (U.S. Highway) 281 and (Expressway) 83.”

The first phase of the loop will be marketed mainly to trucking companies, which presently run their fleets from the Pharr bridge up the relatively slow-going portion of 281 south of the Expressway. But the prospect of a toll road, which would likely charge a single truck between $22 and $28 per trip, has met with mixed reviews from owners.

“It’s a controversial deal. Some guys say it’s going to help, some not,” said Horacio Vargas, the owner of Pronto Trucking in Edinburg.

“I’m just worried about the charge, but then again I’m not a big, big company.”

Construction on the first half of the loop is scheduled to begin in 2009 and take three years to complete.

James Osborne covers McAllen and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4428.

© 2007 The Monitor:

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"Doing so much of this in secret and treating our farmers and ranchers as just so much road kill ... bothers members on both sides of the aisle here."

U. S. House Budget Committee Holds Hearing on Surface Transportation Investment

Congressman Doggett in a smackdown with Secretary of Transportation over tolls and the Trans-Texas Corridor

October 25, 2007

Transcript courtesy Terri Hall
Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (T.U.R.F.)

DOGGETT: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Madam Secretary, for your testimony and your service. I must say that I'm a bit surprised by your use of the term "tax and spend," because, of course, as you know from your long career, the tax-and-spend approach had its origin under Dwight David Eisenhower, who felt that the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act should be paid for as you go, and that the pay-as-you-go approach was the appropriate one as the Highway Revenue Act was enacted at the same time in 1956.

It is true that in the last seven years on everything this administration has preferred a borrow-and-spend approach for all of our national needs. But it would seem to me that the more fiscally responsible one is to pay for our highways as we determine we need them.

Now, there is an alternative model that Texas has really been pioneering with. And as you know, we have a governor in Texas who seems to have never met a highway that he didn't think he could toll. If he had his way, we would have toll roads blossoming in Texas like the wild flowers in the spring.

I have some concerns about the fact that the administration in its budget proposal really seems to want to incentivize more toll roads such as by its proposal to tax and spend for grants for high- tech electronic toll booths that would encourage states to use that means of finance.
Let me ask you if you support the requirement that no tolling occur on federal highways in the state of Texas or anywhere else.

PETERS: Congressman, I'd be happy to answer your question. The answer is no, the administration does not support that provision, and let me explain why.

DOGGETT: Well, because my time is short, and I'll give you an opportunity to elaborate at the end -- but do you support prohibiting states from buying back federal highways that the taxpayers have already paid for in order to toll those highways?

PETERS: Congressman, we prefer to let states make those decisions, and I think one of the fundamental problems that we have today is that decision-making in too many cases has been moved away from state and local government and decisions are being made at the federal level.

DOGGETT: Well, I guess the concern is that these highways were paid for with federal tax dollars. You're proposing in your budget to encourage the states to toll more highways, and you've just indicated by your answers that you do not support restricting tolls on federal taxpayer-financed highways, and that approve of the practice of the states coming and buying back highways taxpayers have already paid for and tolling them.

And I find that to be very problematic and something that I'm hearing from many people in Texas is not the way to go. And the partner to the tollway on every highway that the taxpayers have already paid for in Texas is, of course, the very controversial Trans-Texas Corridor, where the same governor is proposing to take swaths of land as wide as 10 miles that would separate someone's century-owned farm or ranch home from their pastures and their field.
This has been a very secretive process. As you know, the House has also passed bipartisan language concerning the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Is there any federal money of any type going into the planning of the Trans-Texas Corridor at present?

PETERS: Congressman, I will have to check on that. I know at one time there was, but let me check on that and get back to you.

DOGGETT: All right. The approach of doing so much of this in secret and treating our farmers and ranchers as just so much road kill when it comes to participation in the process is one that I know bothered not only me -- bothers not only me but bothers members on both sides of the aisle here.

That's why the House overwhelmingly approved legislation directed to the so-called NAFTA superhighway. I know the administration doesn't concede there is such a highway.

But as relates to participation in working groups concerning the Trans-Texas Corridor and the NAFTA superhighway, if it's to extend beyond Texas, does the administration support the amendment that the House overwhelmingly approved in that regard?

PETERS: Congressman, I would say that we have not taken a position on that issue yet, but let me explain...

DOGGETT: Well, we passed it a long time ago. Do you plan to take a position as this measure moves through conference one way or the other? Do you object to the restrictions that the House approved by a vote of 362-63 in July concerning this matter?

PETERS: Congressman, we believe that state governments should have much more latitude than they have today to make decisions.

DOGGETT: So it sounds to me like you want to give them the authority to have a secretive process, to build a 10-mile-wide highway, tearing up farms and ranches and rural communities where these people will not even be able to access the tollway, perhaps built by a foreign firm -- that as long as that's the state decision, you're content to let them do whatever they want to do?

I think we have some responsibility with federal tax dollars to try to safeguard property rights and involve the public in participation in these decisions.

Let me just close, because I can see my time is up, and I know the vote is under way, by also commenting about what you call your dirty little secret on earmarks.

It is not a dirty little secret that both of the federal transportation authorization acts were approved by Republican Congresses with Republican chairs, that the so-called Bridge to Nowhere was the project -- a totally Republican project.
There is not one earmark in either of these transportation acts that would be there if this administration and the Republican leadership had wanted to cut them out.

Why is it that the administration has been so quiet for so long and has not done anything about these earmarks until the fact that we now finally have a Democratic Congress?

PETERS: Well, Congressman, let me take two answers. First of all, with all respect, you misinterpreted my comments about the Trans- Texas Corridor.

Second, there is no NAFTA superhighway. There is no NAFTA superhighway at all. And we certainly believe in public disclosure as projects are developed.

This administration also has a long record, a long, long record, in speaking out against earmarks, speaking out against using the public's money in a way that is not publicly disclosed. And we will continue to stand behind that opposition.

DOGGETT: Just specifically on the NAFTA superhighway, then, is there anything, since you believe in letting the states do essentially whatever they want in this area, to prevent the Trans-Texas Corridor, when it goes from Mexico to the Oklahoma border, from being connected to an Oklahoma Trans-Oklahoma Corridor, and then a Kansas Trans-Kansas Corridor, all the way up to the Canadian border?

PETERS: Congressman, there are restrictions about connecting to interstate highways, access points to interstate highways. Any time that a road accesses or intersects with an interstate highway, that does have to be approved.

DOGGETT: But you are putting money into -- you have put money in the past into the Trans-Texas Corridor.

PETERS: As I said sir, I will research that and get back to you.

DOGGETT: I think you said you had done it in the past. You weren't sure if you were doing it now.

PETERS: I said I thought we had, sir.

DOGGETT: And you said that I have not correctly interpreted your comments about the Trans-Texas Corridor. Would you just elaborate on what your position is on the Trans-Texas Corridor?

PETERS: I would be happy to, sir. We believe that there should be a full disclosure process, a process that involves not only the potential users of a highway but those who are affected by the highway. This is required by the National Environmental Protection Act.

And those types of processes, those open public processes, where the public has an opportunity to participate in decision-making, is absolutely something that we do support.

DOGGETT: Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Madam Secretary.

© 2007 Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (T.U.R.F.) :

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Wolff in sheep's clothing

Wolff: Toll Opponents "Crazy," "Dangerous"

Judge rips into toll critics in 'State of the County' speech

October 25, 2007

By Jim Forsyth
WOAI 1200 News Radio
Copyright 2007

Bexar County Judge Nelson W. Wolff used his State of the County address today to tear into opponents of toll roads in Bexar County, saying they are 'crazy' and 'dangerous' and suggesting once that if he 'named the other members of Commissioner's Court who support toll roads it might endanger their lives.'

Wolff said toll roads are 'the right way,' and he urged the Chamber of Commerce audience to cheer Metropolitan Planning Organization Chair Sheila McNeil, who was sued along with the MPO this week by toll road opponents who claim that the organization is illegally pushing for toll roads.

"We have some people who have had to take a lot of heat," Wolff said. "One of them is Sheila McNeil who is the head of the MPO. Sheila, stand up. We owe you a round of applause for taking the heat from these crazy people who are jamming it down your throat every day!"

Wolff has been a long time supporter of toll roads, and he has mentioned the importance of building toll roads in his previous two State of the County speeches. But the vehemence of his denunciation of toll road opponents surprised some in his generally pro toll audience. Wolff didn't mention by name which toll road opponents he thinks are 'crazy' or 'dangerous' but he did cite an incident following a meeting to discuss toll roads.

"We had an incident not too long ago, where the anti toll road people were here and sort of jumped (Regional Mobility Authority Chairman) Bill Thornton and I in the parking lot. I tried to get away from him and he kept following me. I finally turned around and asked him to get away from me, and he said 'give me your best shot.' I called the deputy across the street, and he came over and kept him away from me. Let me tell you, they are dangerous people."

"We're barely holding on with a three two vote on Commissioners Court supporting this project," Wolff said. "I won't tell you who the other two commissioners are, I don't want to endanger their lives."

Lyle Larson and Tommy Adkisson are toll road opponents on Bexar County Commissioner's Court.

Then, Wolff suggested that Bexar County residents should be grateful that toll roads are being built.

"The roads on the side will be free, the toll lanes will be in the middle, you don't have to get onto the toll lane, you should be happy we're building it, because there will be less traffic on the free lanes."

Wolff said he opposes any concessions agreement which would allow "a company from Spain" to build the toll roads, a reference to the Cintra-Zachry partnership which has the contract to build 40 miles of the State Highway 130 toll road.

"TxDOT wants to give it (the US 281 toll lane construction contract) to a company from Spain," Wolff said. "We prefer that the public be involved. We need to stick with the public sector, we need to keep the tolls as low as possible, and allow that money to stay right here and not go someplace else, whether it be Spain or someplace else in Texas."

Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, the leading anti toll group, agrees there is a lot that is crazy about toll roads, but toll road opponents aren't among them.

"What's crazy is charging us over and over again for what's already paid for," Hall said. "What's crazy is claiming that they're not tolling existing roads, when that's exactly what they're doing. And what's dangerous is TxDOT failing to construct overpasses on 281 where deaths have occurred, so they can build 'cash cow' toll roads."

Hall says she's 'amazed' that a Chamber of Commerce audience cheered Wolff's pro toll remarks, when toll roads will hurt local businesses and harm the county's tax base.

"People are not going to go to the store, or buy that pair of shoes, when they have to pay all that money on tolls. That is going to hurt the tax base of Bexar County, and that's the bottom line."

Elsewhere in his State of the County speech, Wolff said he anticipates suggestions on an estimated $300 million dollar venue tax renewal proposal to be submitted to Commissioners Court by December, and a vote could be called on the issue next spring. He says officials are considering four potential uses for the venue tax money. Sports complexes, including facilities at UTSA, a Performing Arts Center, which could be built inside the existing Municipal Auditorium, expansion of the Riverwalk south and north, and improvements to the AT&T Center.

© 2007 WOAI

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"This vote is all about the road – not the park."

Vote yes to save money and don't worry about imprecise scare tactics from the other side

October 25, 2007

Donna Blumer
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

It's Halloween season, and we expect some scary things to come our way. But who was expecting the downright spooky numbers the Trinity "Vote No" campaign has been tossing at us in literature and debates?

The scariest number, of course, is the "$1 billion in funding" that campaign's mailer claims the city will lose if we vote to place restrictions on the proposed Trinity toll road. The restrictions would limit the road to 35 mph and four lanes and require that it provide direct park access.

My question to referendum opponents: "What $1 billion are you talking about?" They fail to answer with any specificity.

Could they be talking about $1 billion in federal money? No. Federal money for the Trinity River Project is for flood control, which in no way would be affected by the Proposition 1 vote. As a matter of fact, U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who heads the subcommittee responsible for such funding, has said specifically that this money will be available whichever way the vote goes.

Perhaps they're referring to the money to pay for the toll road itself? No. Most of the toll road's cost – no matter where it's built, inside or outside the levees – will be paid by the North Texas Tollway Authority.

Well, maybe the opposition is referring, in part, to the $6 million the Dallas County Commissioners Court has threatened to withhold from funding the Calatrava bridges if the yes side prevails. Wrong again. Once it was pointed out that the $6 million is contingent only on the building of a reliever road, regardless of its location relative to the levees, there has been no more heard about that.

Let's look at another scary claim by the pro-toll-road crowd, which threatens that a yes vote will result in unnecessary new taxes. Why? How? The fact is, putting this road within our levees is a frightening proposition for Dallas taxpayers. Eighty percent of the traffic on the toll road will be non-Dallas drivers cutting through our city. Yet Dallas taxpayers are being asked to sacrifice parkland and subsidize construction of this route; the city of Dallas is giving the NTTA $84 million in taxpayer funds to help build the toll road, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars worth of free parkland, without compensation.

And to top it off, Dallas drivers then must pay to use the road.

What about the private money that referendum opponents claim will be lost? The bulk of the money from private sources has been designated for park amenities, which will not be affected by the Nov. 6 vote. To my knowledge, no philanthropist has said publicly that his or her money will be withheld because of the outcome of the vote. Park attractions like the new Equestrian Center, Elm Fork Soccer Complex and Audubon Center will continue to be funded through bond money already approved. They will not be affected if the reliever road is moved outside the levees.

This vote is all about the road – not the park.

But let's look at some genuinely scary numbers that can be verified.

The projected cost of building the toll road within the levees is $1.3 billion. That number has more than tripled from its original price tag of $394 million in 1998. Why? Could it be because of the extraordinary engineering difficulties of designing and building a six-lane, high-speed highway at the bottom of a conduit for all the water run-off in the region?

The opposition claims the cost escalation is the result of "inflation." However, the just-completed Dallas North Tollway extension in Frisco, comparable in length and width to the proposed Trinity toll road, cost only $264 million. Both numbers are in today's dollars.

One wonders how much more the cost of the Trinity toll road will increase before its design and environmental impact studies are completed.

Now that's downright frightening.

Donna Blumer is a former Dallas City Council member. Her e-mail address is

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Proposition 12: "If you think the old Proposition 15 was a disaster, just try voting for this one."

Vote carefully on amendments ... results may come back to haunt you


Elaine Kolodziej
Wilson County News
Copyright 2007

As a rule, I tend to vote against amendments to the Texas Constitution; unfortunately, most voters do the opposite.

Something seems inherently wrong when we must continually vote on amendments so convoluted that even the most astute cannot understand what they mean. Even if we take the time to read the amendments, it’s often impossible to make sense out of the legalese as written on the ballot.

Take Amendment No. 1 in the Nov. 6 election, for instance: (H.J.R. No. 103): Providing for the continuation of the constitutional appropriation for facilities and other capital items at Angelo State University on a change in the governance of the university.

OK. Get me a map. Where is Angelo State University and why would I be qualified to make such a decision?

It should be no surprise that fewer than 10 percent of registered voters even bother to vote in these elections. Of those who do vote, many don’t even attempt to seriously study the issues. That means Texas law is made by default or the figurative toss of a coin.

The situation with the Texas Constitution is serious.

Historically, almost all amendments on the ballot end up passing. My theory is this: People figure that if officials in Austin think the amendments are important enough to appear on the ballot, they must be important enough to support. That is dangerous, and that is how we find ourselves facing the prospect of toll roads.

Remember Proposition 15 creating the "Texas Mobility Fund?" That sounded good enough that voters approved it by 67 percent, only to discover too late that it authorized the massive implementation of toll roads in Texas.

Many are wondering how this happened. Well, using my rule of thumb, I voted against it.

I have adopted another rule of thumb as recommended by Peter Stern, former information services director, university professor, public school administrator, and political writer. Vote against anything that says “bond” because that means more taxes.

This would include Proposition 12 on the Nov. 6 ballot:

Providing for the issuance of general obligation bonds by the Texas Transportation Commission in an amount not to exceed $5 billion to provide funding for highway improvement projects.

If you think the old Proposition 15 was a disaster, just try voting for this one. Instead of borrowing more money, how about monitoring how TxDOT spends its — correction — how it spends our tax money?

Another billion-dollar biggie in this election is Proposition 15: Requiring the creation of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and authorizing the issuance of up to $3 billion in bonds payable from the general revenues of the state for research …

That one pulls at the heartstrings, but before you decide to fall for that, consider how much interest will be paid on $3 billion. What, specifically is the plan and where is the oversight?

Again, I agree with Stern. We first would need an unbiased board with nonpolitical oversight. We should not borrow money when the state has it in the bank, so to speak. Consider that billions and billions now are spent on cancer research, so how much difference would another $3 billion make? This sounds like another case of throwing money at the problem and hoping it will go away.

I will agree with Stern and vote for Proposition 9: Authorizing the legislature to exempt all or part of the residence homesteads of certain totally disabled veterans from ad valorem taxation…

Personally, I can’t think of a better way to spend our taxes than to help a disabled veteran.

To make sense of most of these issues, however, one would have to make a full-time career of research and study. This, of course, is what our elected officials in Austin are tasked with, but depending on them would mean we trust them to do the job they were elected to do and that would be a stretch for most of us.

Be careful how you vote; it may come back to haunt you. - One Opinion

© 2007 Wilson County News:

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"We are very suspicious. The state has its mind made up, and has their studies point in their favor. We don't see it as an independent study."

New study on Trans-Texas Corridor is complete

Look at highway's environmental impact will be made public by December

October 24, 2007

The Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2007

An environmental impact study on the Interstate 69 portion of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor is complete, but it may be December before the public knows what it contains.

The Federal Highway Administration is reviewing the study that should be made public "within the next couple of months," Doug Booher, Texas Department of Transportation environmental manager overseeing the project said during a teleconference Tuesday.

The project, a new "super highway" between Mexico and East Texas, has raised Texans' concerns about property rights, private foreign ownership of the roadway, and financing the $10-15 billion dollar endeavor.

Although no exact route has been selected, affected highways in the Victoria area could include U.S. 59 and U.S. 77. A series of public meetings on the study, 46 statewide, will be held during the first part of 2008. Then a final environmental impact report could be completed within a year.

The environmental study is a "30,000-foot view with most data collected from remote resources," said Booher. That data includes endangered species, wetlands, important streams, as well as cultural resources such as historic districts and cemeteries, a community's industrial and commercial areas, and existing rail lines.

Even without knowing the contents of the study, opponents of the corridor are wary.

"We are very suspicious. The state has its mind made up, and has their studies point in their favor. We don't see it as an independent study," said Russell Pruitt of the Victoria-based Citizens for Responsible Government.

David Stall of the group Corridor Watch, said he has seen the same process with other portions of the proposed corridor.

"They use it (the 30,000-foot view) as an excuse to gloss over a significant impact that will be there no matter the exact location," said Stall. "It's a shame the public is only involved after the environmental study, and not in the decision making process. We hope their study includes community impact and economic issues."

Interstate Highway 69 was named a national highway system priority corridor in 1994, explained Gabby Garcia, highway department spokesperson. The corridor concept was announced in January 2002 and studies of the project could take as long as 2013. The construction of the highway system itself would take "decades" to complete and be done in phases.

Environmental studies on the corridor project began in January 2004 and have two distinct phases or tiers. Tier II will look at a specific route and consist of on-the-ground research. That study could also take three to five years. After the second phase environmental study is approved right of way acquisition can begin.

Booher cited a growing population, an aging transportation infrastructure, and an increase in freight traffic as the reasons for constructing the new transportation system that could include a system of toll roads and rail lines.

Sonny Long is a reporter for the Advocate. Contact him at 361-275-6319 or

© 2007 The Victoria Advocate:

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"They don't have all of the answers that we thought they should at this point before they considered doing this."

Local Communities Demand Answers Concerning Trans-Texas Corridor

Related Link: Texas 391 Commission Alliance


by Sara Talbert
KXXV-TV News (Waco-Temple-Killeen)
Copyright 2007

HOLLAND- Big concerns for many officials at some small Central Texas cities. They demanded answers on Tuesday and about the Trans-Texas Corridor.

TxDOT officials were in Holland to meet with a group of concerned mayors, school board members and citizens who call themselves the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission. The ECTSRPC was formed specifically to fight the TTC.

Three TxDOT officials answered what they could to the group who made it very clear they do not want the Trans-Texas Corridor coming through their towns or even the.

The group expressed their concerns about the economic impact the TTC would have on the farmlands, school districts, development and economies in Holland, Rogers and Little river. But when asked about the economic impact, officials did not have a direct answer, simply saying they don't know just yet.

"They don't have all of the answers that we thought they should at this point before they considered doing this," said Mae Smith, Mayor of Holland.

Currently, the estimated amount of land to be used for the proposed TTC in the Rogers/Holland area is 3500 acres and that includes a lot of farmland.

The next meeting for the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission is set for November 13.

© 2007 WorldNow and KXXV:

Group opposing Trans Texas Corridor holds a meeting with TxDOT

Oct 23, 2007

NBC KCEN-TV (Waco-Temple Killeen)
Copyright 2007

Some local city leaders sat down with TxDOT Tuesday to get some answers about the proposed Trans Texas Corridor.

The group from Bell County formed the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission, and they spent about three hours voicing their concerns Tuesday. Since there is no definite location for the corridor, there were a lot of unanswered questions.

However, one point was made clear: the commission does not want the corridor built through their towns.

The group is made up of mayors and school board officials from Bartlett, Holland, Little River-Academy and Rogers who are concerned about the economic impact and size of the corridor.

They fear it will alter their quality of life and TxDOT is unable to address those issues because they said it's too early in the planning stages.

"There [are] a lot of questions that have not been answered. There’s a lot of impact that has not been studied. And they have agreed to come back with us and to keep working forward with us which we have not heard before now," Holland Mayor Mae Smith said.

"We want to try to impact the fewest number of people possible and we want to try to minimize the impacts to people. At the same time, we want to minimize the impact to the natural environment," Director of Corridor Development Edward Pensock said.

The proposed corridor will cost $25 billion.

The commission said it does recognize the congestion problem, and propose the expansion of I-35 opposed to the construction of the corridor.

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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"We're getting in the way of their dream to sell off America and sell out America and so we're pigs."


OCTOBER 23, 2007

Premiere Radio Networks
Copyright 2007


GLENN: Last night on the television show I was talking to a guy named Dan Patrick. He's a state senator in Texas, and he offhandedly mentioned something that I wanted to get Pat Gray on the phone from KSEV in Houston. Hello, Pat.

GRAY: Hello, Glenn.

GLENN: So Dan Patrick said to me last night on the TV show as we were talking about Rush Limbaugh and disenfranchisement and how the media took completely disregard to Rush Limbaugh's audience even though Rush Limbaugh's audience is the size of the "New York Times," USA Today and Newsweek magazine combined and how those magazines, or that in particular the New York Times sets the agenda and it has one quarter of the readers that Rush Limbaugh has listeners. And yet it sets the agenda. And Rush's audience is deemed as marginal. It's a band of kooks.

Talk radio is the same: It's a band of kooks. We probably represent 55, 60, maybe 70 million people in America if you combine the talk radio -- the conservative talk radio hosts altogether and yet we're not mainstream enough. A bigger audience than American Idol and we see how American Idol affects our culture and what an industry it is and yet we're dismissed. And it's a dis -- it's an effort to disenfranchise 50 million people, or 70 million people. And Dan Patrick said to me that in Texas, the state where you live, the DOT, the Department of Transportation has actually hired a consultant to figure out how to get around talk radio and how to handle talk radio. Do you know anything about this story?

GRAY: Yeah. Yeah, not only did they have his seminar with his consultant and not only did we pay $24,500 for it out of our tax paying dollars but they wrote it down for all to see. I mean, it's one thing to have a seminar, you know, talk amongst yourself, give some advice, they actually wrote it down.

GLENN: Good.

GRAY: So we have documentation of it.

GLENN: Can you send that documentation to me?

GRAY: Yeah.

GLENN: Okay. What did it say?

GRAY: Well, they were trying to teach their employees how to deal with talk radio and our callers. So our listeners, yours and mine. And how to avoid questions, how not to answer direct questions they didn't want to answer. It was a whole seminar on that.

GLENN: Oh, my gosh.

GRAY: And then one piece of timeless advice during the seminar was keep calm, leave wrestling to the pigs. They, meaning us, you know, talk radio hosts and our listeners, always end up looking like pigs. So it was kind of a slap in the face to the people who pay for TxDOT.

GLENN: Can I tell you something? Some talk radio show hosts do end up looking like pigs. Some talk show radio listeners do end up looking like pigs, but I'll tell you that's not talk radio. The people who are fans of Ellen Degeneres and decide I'm going to take this dog issue into my own hands and they call threats in to the adopt a dog place here in New York. But those are the ones that, those are the crazies and everybody --

GRAY: You and I have talked about this many times, Glenn. The vast majority of our listeners are incredibly bright, intelligent. They are good, decent, and if I may coin a phrase from the illegals, hard working people. And they -- but they're just more knowledgeable than your average guy on the street because these issues all matter to them and they study up on them and they read. You've got to be really informed. And so these are the people that they're talking about calling pigs. It's unbelievable.

GLENN: So this is actually an advisor. The guy they hired to advise Texas Department of Transportation, this was actually a rove Confederate, right?

GRAY: Yeah, yeah. Well, yeah. And see, they're upset with talk radio because we've gotten in the way of their agenda. TxDOT actually went to, I think it was New York State to teach other Department of Transportation directors how to sell off their lands to foreign entities like we have done here to this Cintra consortium who is building the Trans-Texas Corridor which as most people know is the first major link in the NAFTA superhighway that --

GLENN: Okay, crazy man. Okay, crazy man.

GRAY: Conspiracy, isn't it? Look out the window. They're building it today.

GLENN: Yeah, they're building the conspiracy right there.

GRAY: Yeah, the conspiracy is under construction.

GLENN: It's well hidden conspiracy.

GRAY: Yeah.

GLENN: No one will ever think to look for this conspiracy right here on the 1400-lane highway.

GRAY: Nobody would. Nobody -- right in plain sight. That's where they're hiding it. So we're getting in the way of their dream to sell off America and to sell out America and so we're pigs and they don't like it and so they're having to do seminars on how to get around the questions and avoid the questions and not answer things and it just showed total lack of respect they have for the people paying the bills.


© 2007 Premiere Radio Networks,

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"The people of Texas are fed up with out-of-control, abusive government. This is taxation without representation."

Tollway foes suing again


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

With a U.S. 281 tollway plan racing toward the finish line, critics Monday filed yet another lawsuit they hope will slam on the brakes.

This time, they went to a federal court in San Antonio and reached back to the First and 14th amendments of the Constitution, which protect freedom of speech and provide equal protection under the law.

The lawsuit seeks to remove non-elected officials from the Metropolitan Planning Organization board and to ban Sheila McNeil, a city councilwoman who serves as chairwoman, from squelching some discussions on toll issues.

"The people of Texas are fed up with out-of-control, abusive government," said Terri Hall of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. "This is taxation without representation."

Planning organization Director Isidro Martinez said federal law dealing with local oversight of transportation funds calls for staff officials from major agencies as well as elected leaders to serve on such boards.

Eleven of the 19 members of the planning board have been elected to city councils, the Bexar County Commissioners Court and the Legislature.

"It's just the way we've always done it," he said. "I guess we'll just have to wait and see."

McNeil said it's disappointing that no one first tried to resolve differences with her.

"Whoever's filing a lawsuit has not come to me and asked me to reconsider or do anything," she said. "It's a waste of court time."

Board member David Leibowitz, a state representative, said McNeil has repeatedly blocked consideration of a resolution that would advise the Texas Department of Transportation to stop spending up to $9 million to promote toll roads.

McNeil put the resolution on last month's agenda but, she said, pulled it after reading it. She said an unwritten policy lets the chairwoman set the agendas.

"It got inadvertently put on the agenda," she told the board last month. "It is not a matter for this MPO. We're a planning organization. We don't tell other organizations or entities how to spend their money."

The maneuver was just the latest to spark the lawsuit, Hall said. Others include a split vote in July to push aside a toll critic and install McNeil as chairwoman, and a sudden policy change in May to try to keep a toll advocate on the board despite leaving elected office.

San Antonio has four council members on the board, more than any other entity. The city also has two staff officials who serve, and they typically vote with their bosses.

"We've done everything in our power to exert the political pressure to change this unconstitutional board," Hall said. "But when a powerful unelected voting bloc is allowed to persist unchecked, we have no choice but go to court."

The lawsuit's lead attorney, David Van Os, who last year ran as the Democratic candidate for state attorney general, said he'll ask for a hearing before the planning board meets Dec. 3.

In December, the board plans to set U.S. 281 toll rates and shift more public money to subsidize the toll road, from $69 million allocated now to $112 million. With the extra funds, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority could build 8 miles of tollway instead of 4.

The mobility authority hopes to start construction next summer and open the toll road in 2012, with express lanes running from Loop 1604 to either Marshall Road or Comal County. Toll rates might start at 17 cents a mile for cars and rise 2.75 percent a year through 2017 and then 3 percent annually.

But that's if the project doesn't get shoved into a legal ditch. A 2005 lawsuit filed in a state district court forced more environmental study, which stopped work for more than two years. Construction costs have since gone up by a third.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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“When the deck is stacked and a powerful unelected voting block is allowed to persist unchecked, we have no choice..."


TURF to sue transportation board for equal protection

MPO Board composition violates First and 14th Amendments to U.S. Constitution


Contact: David Van Os
Attorney at Law representing TURF, (210) 821-1700
Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom
Copyright 2007

San Antonio, TX, Monday, October 22, 2007 – In what could change the way toll roads are decided and approved in Bexar County, TURF filed a NEW lawsuit in FEDERAL COURT to put the power over transportation decisions back in the hands of the PEOPLE. TURF recently scored a victory in STATE COURT in a different lawsuit (read it here) against members of the Texas Transportation Department and Transportation Commission.

A lawsuit has been brought against the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization (SAMPO) Transportation Policy Board that allocates tax dollars to transportation projects and approves toll rates and toll projects and San Antonio Councilwoman and MPO Chair Sheila McNeil. The lawsuit alleges that the composition of the SAMPO Board is unconstitutional and Chairwoman McNeil has been a party to denying the First Amendment right of free speech to the constituents of elected MPO Board members like State Representative David Leibowitz by blocking an agenda item and any debate on an issue brought up at his request. This novel lawsuit cuts to the heart of how toll roads are approved.

It’s based upon the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, 28 U.S.C. §1331, and 28 U.S.C. §§1343(3) and (4). The section of the post-Civil War civil rights enactments codified as 42 U.S.C. §1983 provides the Plaintiff’s enabling cause of action. A faction of governmental officials with the help of unelected board members have shut citizens and voters who oppose toll roads out of equal participation in the political process. The case will also argue that actions like Chairwoman McNeil’s removal of an agenda item asking for the funds TxDOT is spending on the Keep Texas Moving ad campaign be returned to building roads.

By way of recent example, in a SAMPO Transportation Policy Board meeting of September 24, 2007, Defendant McNeil, using the badge of authority of Chairmanship of the Board, arbitrarily removed from the meeting agenda a motion by State Representative and MPO Board member David Leibowitz calling for SAMPO to object to certain expenditures of public money by TXDOT promoting toll roads, which expenditures Representative Leibowitz believed to be inappropriate.

Defendant McNeil, acting under color of law, removed Representative Leibowitz’s motion from the meeting agenda even though Representative Leibowitz had properly and legitimately placed it on the meeting agenda and SAMPO had included it in the public posting of the agenda pursuant to the Texas Open Meetings Act. Defendant McNeil, acting under color of law, refused to permit Representative Leibowitz to present his motion because of her disfavor of his attempt to provide a voice for his constituents who oppose turning free public highways into toll roads.

TURF will be asking for both a temporary and permanent injunction to suspend ALL activities of the MPO until the case is decided and the Board’s composition is changed to reflect proper Constitutional representation allowing equal protection under the law per the 14th Amendment.

The unconstitutional MPO has blocked agenda items, voted against an independent review of toll plans that would bring accountability to the gross misuse of taxpayer money in these toll plans, voted against restoring the gas tax funded overpasses on 281 (281 in particular DOES NOT NEED TO BE TOLLED, what’s needed are overpasses and they’ve been paid for since 2003, the money is STILL there, they could do it tomorrow, but this un-Constitutional Board persists in preventing the simple solution that’s already paid for!

The MPO Board has also delayed votes, blocked the succession of the next Chair, and changed the bylaws to allow yet more illegal representation on the Board.

“The people of Texas are FED-UP with out-of-control abusive government. We’ve done everything in our power to exert the political pressure to change this unconstitutional Board, but when the deck is stacked and a powerful unelected voting block is allowed to persist unchecked, we have no choice but go to court to address our grievances. This is taxation without representation and we cannot and will not allow it to continue,” says Terri Hall, Founder and Director of TURF.

For a history of the efforts of the pro-toll faction blocking citizens from equal representation:
Click here and scroll to bottom for links to each action.

Chairwoman McNeil strips agenda item requested by State Representative David Leibowitz on expenditures for toll roads (click here.)

© 2007 T.U.R.F:

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Monday, October 22, 2007

"A controversy over toll lanes and toll roads in Bexar County has now become a Federal fight."

Toll Road Fight Goes to Federal Court


Reported by: Ryan O'Donnell (NBC)
Copyright 2007

On Monday afternoon, TURF attorneys filed another one with the Federal Government, hoping the courts make changes in how toll roads are decided.

On Monday afternoon, TURF attorneys filed another one with the Federal Government, hoping the courts make changes in how toll roads are decided.

A controversy over toll lanes and toll roads in Bexar County has now become a Federal fight.

Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, also known as 'TURF,' has filed a second lawsuit. They're trying to stop construction on anything you'd have to pay to drive on.

One lawsuit against the state is already pending. On Monday afternoon, TURF attorneys filed another one with the Federal Government, hoping the courts make changes in how toll roads are decided.

They want to put the power back in the hands of the people.

"We believe that it violates the fundamental rights of citizens and voters to equal protection of the law and freedom of speech," said TURF Attorney David Van Os.

David Van Os and the Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom are outraged the group of non-elected board members for San Antonio and Bexar County are able to make million dollar transportation decisions using taxpayer money without the consent of the taxpayer.

"The people are fed up with our out of control abusive government," said TURF Director Terri Hall.

The issue is toll roads, and the idea is to give drivers an option: wait in traffic or pay 17 cents per mile to avoid it. But it would turn public highway lanes into toll roads.

"We're going to see less and less people at the restaurants because people are going to say, 'No, let's go bar-be-cue today because we're not going to pay five or six dollars in order to get to the restaurant,'" said MPO Board Member David Leibowitz.

TURF filed a lawsuit on Monday with the Federal Courts demanding a policy change forcing the board to listen, seek, and respond to what's in the best interest of the public.

"It needs to be cured," said County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson. "It would have been cured short of a lawsuit because there is not the willpower on the board, the willpower to do that, it doesn't exist on this current board."

Members of the MPO Board met on Monday to discuss toll rates for the first time. They plan to meet again December 4th.

According to TURF, the entire toll road project can't move forward without the MPO Board's approval.

© 2007 Clear Channel Broadcasting, Inc:

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