Saturday, November 03, 2007

""It appears they are trying to lobby the public to be favorable towards [the TTC and toll roads]. I'm not sure that's a good use of taxpayer money."

Agencies' spending on media, ads is examined

Nov. 3, 2007

By PEGGY FIKAC, Austin Bureau
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — A multimillion-dollar ad campaign on toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor spurred two lawmakers to call for a formal examination of how state agencies spend media and advertising dollars.

"My concern is that Texas agencies, including TxDOT (the Texas Department of Transportation), have exceeded the proper role of state government and, potentially, their legal authority provided by state law," Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said in a letter last week asking Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to assign a Senate committee to study the matter.

His request followed one by Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, to House Speaker Tom Craddick.

"We (lawmakers) are potentially curtailing (TxDOT's) ability to do tollways and maybe push forward the Trans-Texas Corridor," Paxton said. "It appears that now they are trying to lobby the public to be favorable towards these particular issues, and I'm not sure that's a really good use of taxpayer money."

Dewhurst and Craddick haven't announced what areas they'll direct committees to study before the 2009 legislative session. Interim studies can prompt calls for changes in law.

TxDOT has said the Keep Texas Moving campaign is within its legal authority and represents a response to demands from lawmakers and the public for more information.

Paxton said when he learned of the TxDOT campaign, estimated to cost $7 million to $9 million in highway funds, "I thought, 'Wow, I wonder how many other agencies are doing this, and how much of our taxpayer money is being spent on it?'"

That question can be difficult to answer because state records don't precisely track such efforts, but the tally for advertising, publications and promotional items is easily close to $100 million or more in state and federal funds just for fiscal year 2008. Some agencies with such budgets for this fiscal year include:

The tourism section of Gov. Rick Perry's office, which has a $40 million advertising budget.

The Texas Lottery Commission, which spends $31 million on advertising.

TxDOT, which has budgeted $18.4 million for advertising on programs ranging from traffic safety to promoting TxTags, which give access to toll roads. The total doesn't include Keep Texas Moving.

The secretary of state, whose office has an estimated $4 million budget.

No total for 2008 was available for the Texas Department of State Health Services, which promotes everything from disease prevention to abstinence to the fight against tobacco to disaster preparation. Agency spokesman Doug McBride said such costs aren't centrally budgeted but determined at the program level.

An idea of its spending on such items, however, can be gleaned from the state comptroller's detailed expenditure records, even though they don't specifically track promotional campaigns. Those records show the health agency spent nearly $11.5 million on advertising.

The comptroller's records showed all state agencies together spent $97.8 million in state and federal funds in fiscal year 2006 and $93.3 million in fiscal year 2007 in advertising, promotional items and publications.

Those figures aren't precise reflections of promotional efforts, however. The advertising category, for example, includes such items as job ads and legal notices. Other spending on promotional campaigns may be overlooked if agencies code it — accurately, but broadly — as "professional services" rather than ads.

The request by Patrick and Paxton is the latest show of concern stemming from TxDOT's campaign to promote toll roads, ideas championed by officials including Perry in the face of traffic congestion and tax revenues short of meeting road needs. Activists have sued over the campaign, calling it an improper use of public funds.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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"My concern is that...TxDOT [has] exceeded the proper role of state government and, potentially, their legal authority provided by state law."

Lawmakers Seek Investigation On TxDOT Advertising

Nov. 3, 2007

The Associated Press
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — Two state lawmakers are requesting formal inquiries into whether the Texas Department of Transportation is improperly spending money on advertising.

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, question whether an estimated $7 million to $9 million TxDOT is spending on its "Keep Texas Moving" campaign is a proper use of resources. The lawmakers have asked Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick look into the matter.

Paxton said he is concerned that the transportation department is spending the money to argue its case before the public in response to lawmakers' questions about projects such as tollways and the Trans-Texas Corridor.

"We are potentially curtailing their ability to do tollways and maybe push forward the Trans-Texas Corridor," Paxton said. "It appears that now they are trying to lobby the public to be favorable towards these particular issues, and I'm not sure that's a really good use of taxpayer money."

A TxDOT spokesman said the advertising campaign is legal and done in response to demands from lawmakers and the public for more information.

"We will not solve the transportation challenges facing Texas without public involvement and public input," spokesman Randall Dillard said.

Patrick said he is worried TxDOT has overstepped its role by lobbying for public support.

"My concern is that Texas agencies, including TxDOT, have exceeded the proper role of state government and, potentially, their legal authority provided by state law," Patrick wrote in a letter to Dewhurst.

For fiscal year 2008, state agencies are expected to spend about $100 million for advertising, publications and promotional items, according to the state comptroller's office. All state agencies together spent $97.8 million in 2006 and $93.3 million in 2007.

© 2007 The Associated Press:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Another diversion of tax dollars with 'bait and switch' tactics.

New financing plan stalls needed road work

Private developers haven't come through as hoped

November 03, 2007

By Marty Toohey
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

Construction of three stretches of major east-west roads approved by Travis County voters in a 2005 bond referendum has stalled, mainly because Travis County tried a complicated new way of paying for them.

The county expected developers and landowners to pay half the cost of building the roads. But the private interests never came through. As a result, plans to extend Wells Branch Parkway near Pflugerville and Howard Lane in northeastern Travis County have bogged down. Most of the $7.4 million approved for the roads has been diverted to another project.

In addition, plans to build a section of Slaughter Lane in South Austin have been held up because they hinge on money from numerous landowners.

The county's top officials say the roads are needed, particularly the sections of Howard Lane and Wells Branch Parkway. The county is going to ask for federal money to finish the projects, but most county officials say they don't expect much. That would probably leave the county with three choices:

• It could leave a decision on Howard Lane and Wells Branch Parkway until the next bond referendum, which will probably take place in 2009 or 2010.

• It could set aside millions more for the projects. That would require a type of bond sale that voters would not need to approve. Because of rising construction costs, that could cost as much as twice the amount that voters approved — and would still hinge on contributions from the private sector.

If private interests do not agree to pitch in, the county could pay their share as well — a step that could triple the price tag because of rising construction costs, but one that some county officials say they must consider.

"While it's never pretty to ask voters for more money to finish a project," said County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, whose precinct includes Wells Branch Parkway, "I think the reasons for the change in numbers are exceedingly reasonable."

Sal Costello, a critic of Central Texas road planning, disagreed. He said that the 2005 ballot language led voters to believe that those roads were going to be built with developer help and that voters will be less likely to support future bond projects "because of this kind of bait and switch."

The Wells Branch Parkway and Howard Lane extensions were among the bond package's seven "public-private partnerships," in which the cost would be split about 50-50 between the county and private interests who stood to benefit from the roads being built.

The partnerships, which are done around the country, are a mechanism intended to save taxpayer money. But they add a level of complication and uncertainty: Developers usually do not make ironclad agreements before a bond vote for fear of weighing down their projects with debt for roads that the government may not actually build.

Four of the 2005 projects were completed without serious snags. But the deadline for striking a deal for the Wells Branch Parkway and Howard Lane sections passed almost a year ago. And a piece of the Slaughter Lane project has yet to move forward.

The county anticipated that possibility and included a backup plan in the bond proposition to shunt unspent bond money into extending Braker Lane's eastern edge. The money has been diverted to that project but has not yet been spent.

While that was always the plan, neither the ballot language nor educational pamphlets made that clear to voters.

They also did not explain what would happen if expected private-sector money did not materialize.

The county wanted developer Sari Khayyal to pay for half of the Wells Branch Parkway section. Khayyal said the deal fell apart because of miscommunication from the start. The county wanted to run the four-lane road through the middle of his 922-home Fossil Creek subdivision, on which construction has not yet begun.

Khayyal said the county used a timeline that was faster than what he had agreed to. He also said the county badly underestimated the cost of expanding a portion of the road to the west as part of a separate venture. That left Khayyal worried that his property would have only a small, two-lane road to the west and a dead end to the east.

The county said the two-lane road was a short-term solution that would eventually be expanded and that the dead end will eventually be extended to the Texas 130 toll road.

Khayyal said the confusion was compounded by a downturn in the national housing market that caused Fossil Creek's home-building company to leave the project.

"We would have been sticking our neck out a bit too far" by partnering with the county, Khayyal said. "I think everybody's intentions were in the right place, but I think the economics of the situation just threw it off."

The Howard Lane plan encountered a similar problem. It relied on the cooperation of several property owners. No developments are now being built on their properties. Dallas businessman Keith Stone, who owns the largest tract, did not returns calls for comment.

The Slaughter Lane extension is more complicated.

The $5.3 million approved by voters is split between two sections. One will give access to Goodnight Ranch, and that developer agreed to split the cost, putting each side on the hook for about $3 million. A second section, further east, was funded with the idea that the county would later ask numerous property owners to participate.

The county is still negotiating with them. Because of rising construction costs, a total project cost that was once estimated at $10.6 million is now closer to $16 million.

The county is about to ask the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to funnel federal dollars to Wells Branch Parkway and Slaughter and Howard lanes, but most county officials don't expect much, especially considering that other projects will be included in the request.

The county commissioners say they would be comfortable using money the county collects through property taxes to finance half of the Howard Lane, Wells Branch Parkway and Slaughter Lane sections.

That would leave the county hoping that the property owners and developers decide to participate after all.

Some county officials say the roads may be needed badly enough to consider footing the entire bill. "If the private developers fall out, we may have to replace some of the money," said Commissioner Margaret Gómez, whose precinct includes Slaughter Lane. Eckhardt agreed.

County Judge Sam Biscoe and Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said they would not support replacing private money with taxpayer dollars. "If we did," Daugherty said, "you could have people who agreed to participate saying, 'Heck, I'll just wait you out.' "; 445-3673

Where they stand

Travis County included seven public-private partnerships in the 2005 road bond package. Developers and landowners who stood to benefit from new stretches of road were asked to pay approximately half of the construction cost.

Four projects are on schedule:

Decker Lake Road

Decker Lane

Parmer Lane

Pecan Street

One has a piece that has not moved


Slaughter Lane

Two are stalled:

Howard Lane

Wells Branch Parkway

Ballot language

For the 2005 bond proposition:

No. 1

The issuance of $65,225,000 of road bonds and the levying of the tax in payment thereof
More on

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Friday, November 02, 2007

Dallas: Vote FOR Proposition 1, Nov. 6

Why vote for Trinity River Proposition 1?


"Tolls collected on other NTTA roads and bridges would help pay for the Trinity Toll Road."

Transportation Chairman says Toll Road "Not the Most Attractive"


Shelley Kofler
Copyright 2007

DALLAS, TX--In an interview with KERA. Texas's top transportation officials says the proposed Trinity toll road is- financially - not the most attractive toll road in North Texas. On Tuesday Dallas voters will decide whether to kill or continue planning for a high-speed toll road inside the Trinity River levees. In the final part of our continuing series, The Trinity Decision, KERA's Shelley Kofler has more of her conversation with Ric Williamson, and talks about the economics of the road.


When motorists pull onto a road or bridge operated by the North Texas Tollway Authority-the NTTA-, they pay an average 11-cents a mile for their drive.

Right now the NTTA operates 4 toll projects in our region and has many more in the planning stages, including the nine- mile Trinity toll road, whose fate rests with voters on Tuesday.

Trinity toll road supporters, including Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, say the NTTA has committed to building their road.

Leppert: They feel very confident that it pencils out from an investment standpoint. They believe it is a very important project, an important project for this region in total. And they're committed."

The commitment is spelled out in a 1999 agreement between the NTTA and the City of Dallas. It says unless and until the (tollway )Authority determines the Trinity Parkway as a turnpike, a toll project, is not feasible, the City shall not advance any alternative.

So, is the Trinity Toll road economically feasible? Would the tolls collected be enough to repay the bonds, the money the NTTA would have to borrow for construction? The NTTA currently estimates that amount to be $1-billion dollars.

Ric Williamson, Chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission raised questions during a recent interview with KERA.

Williamson: "The last time I revisited this particular area my conclusion and the conclusion of my staff was it is not the most attractive toll road in North Texas."

Kofler: It doesn't have enough volume? It doesn't connect with the right roads?

Williamson: Both. The volume limitations, the connecting points and the probability you can't create a high enough rate of speed on a congested toll road all suggest the cash flow wouldn't be as healthy. I don't want to say it wouldn't cash flow. I want to put it in perspective. It is not the most attractive toll road possible in North Texas.

Sam Lopez I am not sure what information he is looking at

Sam Lopez is the spokesman for the Tollway Authority. He agreed to an interview after KERA attempted for three weeks to interview agency chairman Paul Wageman. Lopez says Wageman is declining interviews until after the Nov. 6 election.

Lopez: "There could be a scenario where our board would say we cannot build this, but at this moment no one can answer that question. We just don't know. Sure it's a possibility. We have a very strong nine-member board and believe me they will be looking at those financials."

Lopez says the most recent study detailing revenue generated by a toll road within the levees dates back to 2000. The NTTA was encouraged by that information.

Lopez: "Those 2000 numbers are enough for the NTTA to say this project, there is enough feasibility for this project. We shall proceed with the environmental process."

But that study was done three years before the city adopted the current toll road route. Before the cost of construction tripled to $1.3 billion.

Although hard numbers can't be nailed down until a road is approved at many levels, the region's chief transportation planner Michael Morris wants to leave no doubt: the financing can be worked out.

Morris: "They will bond it based on anticipated revenue from users and if they need additional money which I'm not sure if they do they'll use the rest of the money from system financing within their institution."

That means tolls collected on other NTTA roads and bridges would help pay for the Trinity Toll Road.

Morris says that's the way the George Bush Freeway and the Dallas North Tollway were financed.

But all this speculation is far in the future for toll road supporters who simply want to keep their planned toll road alive, while opponents hope to make it unfeasible by killing it at the ballot box.

Shelley Kofler, KERA News


To view video of a canoe trip on the Trinity, and to find all the stories in our series go to KERA-dot-org and click on the Trinity Decision link. Then continue listening to KERA 90.1 at 6:00 pm tonight when we'll air a half hour discussion on the toll road issue. KERA 13, will air a televised discussion at 7:30 tomorrow on Think.

© 2007 KERA:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Highway Alchemy: "Should we motorists be alarmed? In some cases, you bet."

Turning Asphalt into Gold

Selling the roads out from under us: Tapped-out Governments grab for cash.

November 2007

Patrick Bedard
Car and Driver Magazine
Copyright 2007

“Pssst. He. Buddy, I got this bridge, goes to Brooklyn, make ya a deal.”

Yeah, right –snicker—that’s the oldest con on the planet.

But maybe the joke is over. The City of Chicago, in 2004, really did sell its famed Chicago Skyway Bridge connecting the Dan Ryan Expressway to the Indiana East-West Toll Road. The price was $1.83 billion. Two years later, the state of Indiana sold the Toll Road for $3.85 billion.

To us motorists, roads are about getting where we’re going, but to the buyers and sellers in the above deals, it’s about the money. Chicago and Indiana wanted money right now, for reasons that governments always have for wanting money—passing out bennies to voters. Will they hock the furniture to do it? Just watch ‘em.

Why would somebody buy a toll road? There’s only one reason: to capture a steady stream of income. Pension funds, particularly, have to plan for 50, even 100 years into the future. With interest rates low over the past half-dozen years, they’re grabbing for better returns. They’re looking for income streams that have been poorly managed. Almost anything operated by government fits that definition.

The buyer of both the Chicago skyway and the Indiana Toll road was the Australian syndicate Macquarie Bank, as lead partner along with Spanish investment company Cintra SA. Macquarie Bank has been buying roads worldwide. It’s operating the Dulles Greenway, a toll road from Dulles airport to Leesburg, Virginia, and bidding on several more, including an 11-mile highway in Denver.

Cintra has a $1.3 billion deal with Texas to build two segments of the Trans-Texas Corridor east of Austin, after which it would collect tolls for 50 years. While interest rates stay low, expect these highway plays to continue.

We’re watching the undoing of the American way. We’ve always counted on our government to lead in building transportation networks. The Midwest was opened in the early 1800’s when New York governor De witt Clinton built the Erie Canal. The nationwide interstate highway system was a vision of the Eisenhower administration.

Should we motorists be alarmed? In some cases, you bet. For example, Texas has been scheming to convert State Highway 121 in Dallas, which was built by taxpayers as a free road, into a private toll road. Earlier this year, the Texas house put a two- year kibosh on such “public-private partnerships,” although the politics could change before this sees print. Chicago’s sale of the skyway looks like something only a politician could love.

First, a clarification. The roads mentioned above weren’t actually sold. The deals are written as long-term leases in which the buyer—technically, the lessee—pays the money up-front in exchange for the toll income over a stated period—99 years for the Chicago Skyway, 75 years for the Indiana Toll Road.

Why would Chicago pols love the skyway deal? Easy. All politicians dance to this ditty: don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the man behind the tree. The taxman’s game is to shift the burden out of his district to voters who have no say in his reelection. Skyway toll payers are almost entirely commuters from Indiana. So, in effect, the pols secured a $1.8 billion windfall, about one-third of Chicago’s operating budget, at the expense of Indiana residents.

But what’s that giant sucking sound? Chicago sold a 99-year stream of revenue for payments that will end in 10 years. What will the pols do for cash over the following 89 years? Worse, not one dollar of that income will go to Chicago-area transportation projects. Talk about a complete sellout of motorists. Skyway tolls hadn’t been raised since 1993, but the fine print of the contract allows the new owner to more than double the tolls over the next dozen years, and to continue raises for the rest of the lease.

Selling roads and bridges isn’t necessarily a bad deal. At least Indiana earmarked all the proceeds from selling the toll road for investment in transportation infrastructure. Moreover, tolls were significantly increased in advance of the sale, by 70 percent for two-axle vehicles and a multi-step 113 percent for trucks. In effect, this cranked up the income stream immediately, thereby increasing the price a buyer would be willing to pay. The bottom line is more money up front for Indiana.

But watch out for toll increases. Financial analysts calculate that a three percent annual hike will be necessary to justify the $3.85 billion purchase price. That would raise passenger-car tolls for the road’s full 157 miles from $8 initially to $71 at the end of the lease. The contract allows that much and more, based on various economic-growth scenarios.

Financial analysts say all these infrastructure sales are based on the ability to raise tolls in the future. That’s what makes toll roads attractive investments compared with fixed-rate bonds. But governments could raise tolls, too, if politicians weren’t afraid of angry calls from constituents. Macquarie charges commission and fees when it repackages these investments for resale to pension funds. Moreover, private investors must rent money to put deals like this together in the first place. Since governments can always rent money cheaper than privateers—muni bonds pay lower interest rates—the state, acting for the taxpayers, should be able to fund better roads and bridges than private companies can.

Let me propose a simple standard by which we, the people, should decide if selling roads is a good idea. What happens to the money? If it is plowed back into transportation infrastructure, mobility will be improved. But if it’s a scheme to turn asphalt into pocket money for politicos, as Chicago did, just say no.

© 2007 Car & Driver:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Note to Crony Commissioners Ted and Ned: Closed meetings on TTC-69 are not a joking matter to citizens

Inside Fort Bend

Turning U.S. 59 into I-69: controversial project is in motion

November 01, 2007

Zen T.C. Zheng
Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

A controversial state plan to turn U.S. 59 into Interstate 69, which would run from Laredo to Texarkana, is gaining momentum.

On Oct. 26, I attended a workshop at Sugar Land City Hall held by the I-69 Alliance featuring Texas Transportation Commissioners Ted Houghton and Ned Holmes. [LINK]

The meeting gathered engineers and planners from Texas Department of Transportation, county judges, county commissioners, municipal officials, economic development council and chamber of commerce heads from communities along the proposed I-69 corridor, as well as a few local residents concerned about the project.

Houghton on Oct. 3 told me that the meeting was closed to the public without giving me an explanation. I decided to go anyway. And it turned out that I had a free pass that day. Jenny Hurley, an officer of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party, said she called the state after reading my article asking why the meeting would be closed to the public. One resident at the workshop also posed the question to Houghton. Houghton said:

"I joked with Zen when I told him he couldn't come."

Well, I need to begin cultivating my sense of humor.

Fort Bend County Commissioners Tom Stavinoha and Andy Meyers were among the local officials at the workshop. County Judge Bob Hebert sent his executive assistant D'Neal Krisch instead of making his personal presence.

Hebert on Oct. 3 said "we need the road" but later through Krisch clarified with me that he doesn't have a formal stance on the issue or support the project. Krisch said the county chief welcomes the state effort in seeking local input on the project.

Houghton and Holmes urged local support to the project that they said would bring economic prosperity to the region through speedier cargo delivery to create more robust trade and thousands of new jobs along the route.

But the few residents at the meeting expressed skepticism and concerns about the impact on their quality of life with the creation of a gigantic network of highways, freight and high-speed commuter rails and infrastructure for water, electricity, oil and gas pipelines.

I-69 is part of the Trans-Texas Corridor plan that would eventually link Mexico with Canada through the U.S. heartland.

U.S. 59 is one of the two corridors picked by the state to form the I-69 network. The other corridor extends from Michigan and Illinois south through Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and ends at the terminus of U.S. 77 and U.S. 281 in the Rio Grande Valley.

An environmental impact study for the project is being completed by the state before a series of town hall meetings and public hearings will be scheduled next year.

Houghton said his commission will form advisory committees to assist with the project's planning and development. Each committee would have a maximum 24 members comprising the state transportation agency's staff, local government leaders, port heads, economic development and chamber of commerce officials, and representatives of metropolitan planning organizations.

According to guidelines being considered, committees will be required to mobilize support from the community for the project and to sign agreements to not disclose confidential information furnished them.

Houghton said the goal is to begin I-69 construction within two to three years.

Tell us what you think about this project.

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Thursday, November 01, 2007

"It’s time to pull the plug on toll roads."


Oil price hits 1980 high, toll roads no longer financially viable

TURF will work to NIX toll roads from State’s plans


Terri Hall
Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF)
Copyright 2007

San Antonio, TX– Oil prices have soared to new highs closing at $96 a barrel yesterday, which will not only wreak havoc on the global economy, but also could signal the end to the push for toll roads. According to Vollmer Associates in a toll feasibility study for two tollways in Austin (read about it here), once oil hits the price equivalent to the crisis of 1980, the toll roads studied are no longer financially viable. The Associated Press article says $96 a barrel is on par with the oil crisis of 1980. TOLL ROADS ARE NO LONGER FINANCIALLY DO-ABLE! Not enough motorists will be able to afford to use toll roads with gas prices at or over $3 a gallon with no end in sight.

“We’ve been sounding this alarm for years, and now the reality of ghastly expensive oil is setting in for the long haul. It’s time to pull the plug on toll roads. Motorists are feeling the squeeze at the pump and there won’t be enough extra in the family budget to pay for tolls all over Texas freeways,” notes Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (or TURF).

“Continuing the push for new toll taxes is not only foolish but certain to bring financial disaster to the State and hence the taxpayers who will have to bail out these failed toll roads which will likely bankrupt the next generation. There won’t be enough political cover if politicians allow this to happen,” Hall warns.

“Politicians have tried their best to create a congestion crisis, but the Federal Highway Administration’s statistics show that traffic has not grown since 2005 despite increases in population. Driving stats have been flat since the steady rise in the price of gasoline started in 2005. So once again, taxpayers have been misled, but the jig is up and it’s time for real leadership in order to bring other transportation solutions to the table. Simply continuing down the path of "maxing out" the proverbial bond debt credit card with taxpayers as collateral is dangerous. Toll roads are both a political and financial LOSER,” comments Hall.

Link to AP story on oil prices topping $96 a barrel here .

© 2007 TURF:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"We are stepping into an unknown area."

Oil Above $96 on Drop in US Supplies


Associated Press
Copyright 2007

SINGAPORE- The price of oil rose to a new record above $96 a barrel Thursday after a surprise drop in U.S. crude stockpiles raised concerns about supplies for coming winter demand. Other energy futures also gained.

The U.S. Federal Reserve's move to cut interest rates by a quarter percentage point also supported prices.

It was the second week in a row the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported a sharp and unexpected drop in oil inventories.

"The decline in U.S. crude oil inventories has been a key driver of oil prices," said David Moore, commodity strategist at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Sydney.

Light, sweet crude for December delivery rose as high as $96.24 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange by late morning in Singapore. Prices later receded to $96.05 a barrel.

Crude prices have reached inflation-adjusted highs set in early 1980. Depending on the how the adjustment is calculated, $38 a barrel then would be worth $96 to more than $101 today.

"We are stepping into an unknown area. Nobody wants to sell (given the fear of a) further rise," broker Ken Hasegawa of Fimat Japan told Dow Jones Newswires.

The December Nymex crude contract rose $4.15 Wednesday to a record settlement price of $94.53 a barrel.

December Brent crude futures also surged to a new trading record of $91.63 a barrel Thursday on the ICE futures exchange in London, up $1 from the previous session.

In its weekly inventory report, the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said oil supplies fell by 3.9 million barrels last week. Analysts surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires, on average, had expected an increase of 100,000 barrels.

"The report acted to solidify concerns about the possibility of tightening market conditions ahead of the northern winter," Moore said.

Much of that decline was due to a big drop in crude supplies at a closely watched oil terminal in Cushing, Okla.

Cushing supplies have been under pressure in recent months due to differences in the price between front-month oil contracts and those for delivery in future months. This price difference, or spread, has given storage tank owners a financial incentive to sell their oil, rather than hold it in inventory. Analysts have also blamed falling Cushing supplies, in part, for the rally in which oil prices have jumped 35 percent since August.

The EIA also reported that refinery activity fell by 0.9 percentage point last week to 86.2 percent of capacity. Analysts had expected an increase of 0.5 percentage point.

Supplies of gasoline rose last week by 1.3 million barrels. Analysts expected a 400,000-barrel decrease.

And inventories of distillates, which include heating oil and diesel fuel, rose by 800,000 barrels. Analysts had expected a 1 million barrel decrease.

Also supporting oil futures was the U.S. central bank's move to cut interest rates.

Interest rate cuts generally support oil prices because they tend to send the U.S. dollar downward; the dollar is already at multiple- decade lows against major currencies.

Oil futures have been driven to record levels in recent months partly because they offer a hedge against a weak dollar.

Other energy futures followed oil's lead. Nymex December heating oil rose 2.65 cents to $2.558 a gallon, while December gasoline futures added 2.64 cents to $2.5697 a gallon.

Natural gas futures advanced 7.6 cents to $8.406 per 1,000 cubic feet.

© 2007 The Associated Press:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Texas faces the biggest bond questions by far, with about $10 billion of state issues alone..."

Texas Dominates Nation's Bond Ballots


by Jason Philyaw
The Bond Buyer
Copyright 2007

Voters nationwide on Tuesday will decide the fate of more than $29 billion of bond referendums.

Texas faces the biggest bond questions by far, with about $10 billion of state issues alone, and another nearly $10 billion of local referendums, including major debt requests from several fast-growing school districts.

New Jersey voters will see propositions for $200 million of general obligation debt to acquire and develop land for recreation and conservation, and $450 million for stem-cell research.
Denver will present voters with eight bond questions amounting to nearly $550 million, while Maine's electorate will decide on $135 million of state-level bonds after lawmakers there passed their largest bond package ever earlier this year.

Last November, a record $78.4 billion of debt was voted on nationwide and nearly 89% was approved, according to figures from Ipreo and The Bond Buyer. That month, voters in November saw $43 billion in state propositions in California alone.

While the amount is smaller than 2006, this year's total is a record for an off-year election. Historically, odd-numbered year elections have fewer bond questions because they are non-presidential and non-congressional elections.
Next week, Lone Star state voters will consider $5 billion of GOs for highway improvements and $1 billion of GO debt for three prisons, maintenance to courthouses and historical sites, and a new facility for the Texas Youth Commission. They also will asked to vote on $3 billion of GO bonds to establish a Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, $500 million for student loan programs, and $250 million for water and wastewater infrastructure upgrades in various "economically distressed" parts of the state.

Harris County, including Houston,has gained nearly 500,000 new residents this decade. Voters there face six different propositions totaling $880 million, including $630 million for parks, roads, a jail, and a family courthouse, and $250 million for the Port of Houston.

The Houston Independent School District seeks passage of a $805 million bond package, while suburban Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District wants approval for $806 million.
HISD is the largest in Texas with about 210,000 students. The district has built 41 schools and renovated more than 100 schools with proceeds from two prior authorizations. The final installment of its building plan calls for construction of 24 more schools and renovations to 134 others.

Cy-Fair ISD is third largest and one of the fastest-growing districts in the state. The student population of the suburban system just northwest of downtown Houston has swollen to nearly 97,000 from 55,800 a decade ago. Officials project the enrollment to reach 112,500 in 2010.
Cy-Fair wants to build 14 new schools, acquire property for 10 more, and purchase 275 buses among other projects.

Denverhas almost $550 million on the ballot in eight propositions, and a mill levy question that would establish a new dedicated property tax increase of 2.5 mills to create "a new dedicated funding stream for the repair, rehabilitation, and replacement of existing city infrastructure."

The largest proposition - nearly $150 million - is for upgrades to streets, transportation, and public works systems. Other bond questions include $70 million to expand a symphony center and build a storage facility for the museum of nature and science, and $93.4 million for improvements to parks and recreation centers.

New Jersey's $450 million of bonds for stem-cell research would raise the state's stem cell bonding capacity to $720 million. Proceeds from the debt would fund grants to higher educational institutions and biomedical laboratories across the state through the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology.

Bonding for stem cell research remains contentious.

Earlier this month, California held the first ever stem cell bond sale, roughly three years after voters in the state authorized up to $3 billion of GOs to fund the research. Lawsuits by anti-abortion activists and a taxpayers group stalled the issuance, but the opposition was defeated in trial court and on appeal. The state Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Opposition in New Jersey was dealt a blow late in September when a court upheld the decision to put the $450 million question on the ballot. Appeals are likely, but with election on Tuesday, it appears voters will get to decide the divisive issue.

Some of the fastest-growing communities in the country and their school districts continue to tap the debt market.

In rapidly growing area of Charlotte and Mecklenberg County, N.C., voters are considering three propositions: $516 million for schools, $30 million for Piedmont Community College, and $35.6 million for parks and a library.

In 2005, $427 million for schools was rejected, as was $66 million for land acquisition to expand county parks.

Sarah Heasley, deputy finance director, said the county already has a bond sale scheduled for January that would be expanded to include some of the new authorization, if approved.
Officials estimate they're adding more than 4,000 students a year in the public schools of North Carolina's largest county, which runs the school system and carries underlying triple-A ratings from Fitch Ratings, Standard & Poor's, and Moody's Investors Service.

Bond proceeds would fund 12 new schools, renovation or expansion of 14 others, and land acquisition for future campuses. The student population of nearly 138,000 is projected to climb to nearly 200,000 in the next 10 years.

Mecklenberg also hopes to replace a 40-year-old building and upgrade a citizens center on the main campus of the community college, which is experiencing about 4% annual growth and serves roughly 70,000 students at six campuses.

The third tranche of debt would be used to establish a nature preserve and expand greenways across the state's most densely populated county.

Charlotte is now the 20th largest city in the country with a population of about 630,500. The county's population of 850,000 is expected to top one million by 2010.

Just north of Austin, voters in one of the nation's fastest-growing school districts are heading to the polls to consider a $558 million bond package seven months sooner than expected. The Leander Independent School District had been using a three-year election cycle, which would have meant a May 2008 vote, but officials moved it up to Nov. 6 as the central Texas district needs to build 22 new campuses to keep pace with double-digit enrollment growth.

A recent study commissioned by the district projects enrollment at nearly 60,000 for the 2017 school year. The district began the current school year with an enrollment of more than 25,000.

The Fort Worth Independent School District has $593.6 million on the ballot for six new schools, improvements to existing facilities, and much-needed technology upgrades across the district.

Earlier this year, officials hired an educational consultant, Magellan K12, to help address the needs of the district, which has at least 75 buildings that are more than 50 years old and more than 900 classrooms in portable buildings.

"This is very different from how we've approached facilities planning in the past," superintendent Melody Johnson said. "We've thought district-wide and used a model more frequently seen in the business community rather than in the public sector."

The district, which serves more than 80,000 students in 144 schools, carries underlying ratings of Aa2 from Moody's and AA from Standard & Poor's.

In Salt Lake City, voters face a bond package of $192 million to replace an aging building with an emergency operations center, construct a police and fire precinct on the east side of town, and purchase new fire trucks, among other projects.

"The proposed structures will replace buildings that no longer meet the minimum requirements of the city," according to the city's police and fire departments.

Police officer Jacob Hatch, who works on the Salt Lake department's "bond squad," said the current downtown facility is nearly 50 years old and falling apart.

Hatch said the department has been trying for years to get the bond package before voters, but was consistently snubbed by City Council "as something else always seemed to take precedent."

"Our proposal from last year was for $170 million, now it's $192 million, and each time we've had to come back it's been more expensive," Hatch said. "We moved into the downtown facility in 1988 and its was only supposed to be for a few years and here we are 20 years later and we're still there."

He said the department especially needs to build a climate-controlled facility to store evidence in a centralized place, as it's now scattered across the city in a few different locations.
Just south of the state capital, voters in the suburban Jordan School District, which is the largest in Utah and bisected by the Jordan River, face a referendum to split the district. Residents on the east side want to secede but don't want residents of the west side - which accounts for just 18% of the taxable value and roughly a quarter of the 80,000 student population - to have a vote.

Earlier this month, opponents of the split lost a bid to halt the vote when the U.S. District Court ruled in favor of keeping the question on the ballot.

In September ahead of a $196 million sale of GO bonds, Fitch placed the school district on negative watch due to uncertainty caused by the proposition.

The agency also affirmed the district's triple-A underlying rating, citing gains in assessed valuation with projected growth, manageable debt with rapid amortization, strong finances with high reserves, and prudent financial management.

Moody's rates the credit at Aa1.

Another statewide referendum on the ballot in Utah seeks to allow tax-financed vouchers for students to attend private schools.

In Minnesota, voters in about 25 school districts are heading to the polls to decide on bond packages ranging from $133 million by the Elk River Independent School District to $1.8 million by the Alder-Conger Independent School District.

In Maine, voters face four state propositions: $50 million for technology research and development, $43.5 million for upgrades to colleges and universities, $35.5 million for land conservation, and $5 million for loans and grants to stimulate economic development.

© 2007 The Bond Buyer:

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"We should be understanding of what we have here before we try to change it. The Trinity is not a problem to be fixed."

Army Corp Has Not "Signed Off" On Trinity Toll Road


Shelley Kofler
Copyright 2007

DALLAS, TX-Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, a supporter of the planned Dallas toll road, said in a debate the Army Corp of Engineers has signed off on the plan to build the road in the Trinity floodway. But the Army Corp tells KERA it's way too early for that. As part of our continuing series, The Trinity Decision, KERA's Shelley Kofler takes a look at the toll road and flood control, as she travels down the river.


Allen: "I love the river"

Charles Allen has been canoeing the Trinity River in Dallas for 30 years, guiding groups through a vast urban wilderness rarely found in large cities.

Allen: "We are in the middle of the Dallas floodway. It's about 2000 acres of grassland, wetlands, riparian habitat. Great birdlife out here."

Reporter/Allen: "Is this a beaver dam? A beaver den. There they go!"

We're paddling about five miles from Sylvan Avenue to Illinois, to get a feel for how the proposed toll road inside the levee might affect the river's primary function, as Dallas' floodway. It's a waterway that swells during downpours, rising above its dry weather banks to submerge the grassy fields and forest around it.

Allen: "The floodway is our flood protection. It holds waters when they come through from upstream and moves them out of the central core of Dallas. There is a huge watershed upstream, over six-thousand square miles. The Upper Trinity Basin is shaped like a big funnel from Gainsville to Witchita Falls and it all drains through the Dallas floodway."

Allen takes seriously the vital role the Trinity plays in protecting downtown Dallas from flooding, which is why he opposes putting massive structures like a toll road in the path of swift moving water.

Allen: "Our floodway is kinda like a big bucket. It holds only so much water. And if you put a brick in that bucket it's not going to hold as much water. The brick in our bucket would be the toll road. We need every bit of room out in the floodway to hold the waters that come from upstream."

Supporters of putting a toll road inside the levee say they understand the science involved, and they have a plan for building the road without creating a flood hazard. They'll dig a lake in the floodway - and use the scooped out dirt as a base for the road. Nothing new added to the floodway.

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, leading the toll road effort, has said the agency in charge of protecting the waterway, the US Army Corp of Engineers, has signed off on the plan.

Leppert: "The Corps has signed off on the safety issues. They signed off on the
environmental issues. They feel very comfortable with it."

But the Corps' Trinity Corridor Project Manager Gene Rice says the road is yet to be approved. There's no final design.

Rice: " We've made no determination at this time on whether the project will be acceptable or not. We are still working with the transportation interests to make sure it could go in safely if it goes in. But no determination has been made or will be made for several years."

Mayor Leppert later told us he didn't mean a final sign off , but a sign off of the direction the city's going in.

The mayor and Rice both know it's a direction that will require time.

Rice: This is a very complex project. We have never dealt with people putting facilities in the floodway itself. We've never had anybody in this district want to put a major road in a floodway. A lot of recreation features. You have to remember how big of a plan the city has. How many amenities they want to put in to the floodway. Whether it's the park roads, whether it's the ball fields whether it's the whitewater courses. We take it step by step.

Rice says the Army Corps judges each feature's effect on the waterway separately, in the order the city presents them.

Rice: The water cannot go up and it can't go faster. It can't raise the water downstream or upstream. It has to keep it as it functions today.

City toll road supporters say they're up to the engineering challenge.

But on the river, as great blue heron glide by and Charles Allen steers the canoe past stands of black willow and green ash he worries about what may be lost.

Allen: "We've just entered the Great Trinity Forest past the Old Sante Fe Trestle from 1895. We should be understanding of what we have here before we try to change it. The Trinity is not a problem to be fixed."

To view video of a canoe trip on the Trinity, and to find all the stories in our series go to KERA-dot-org and click on the Trinity Decision link. Tomorrow we conclude our series with a report on the economics of building the toll road.

© 2007 KERA:

Related post from TrinityVote: "Again with the 'L' Word"

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Scare Tactics

Happy Halloween! Vote YES!


"Do we want a world-class park in the heart of Dallas or do we want a high-speed tollway to ruin that?"

Down by the Riverside, Development Spurs Debate

October 31, 2007

Wall Street Journal
Copyright 2007

DALLAS -- This city for decades has haggled over how to develop the banks of its Trinity River, a 20-mile long swath of water and grassland slicing right by downtown.

Now, an ambitious, $1.7 billion plan to develop the flood channel as a park, lakes and a six-lane tollway could be derailed amid a battle between a lone Dallas councilwoman and much of the rest of the city's political and business establishment.

Voters in this city of 1.2 million will decide Tuesday whether to scrap the tollway. At stake, supporters say, are billions of dollars in related highway improvements to ease traffic congestion and a boon to downtown property values and recreation. Those against the tollway say it has wrongly taken precedence over the project's public park. They also say the road will mainly benefit wealthy property owners angling to develop condos and office towers near the river.

"Do we want a world-class park in the heart of Dallas or do we want a high-speed tollway to ruin that?" said Angela Hunt, a 35-year-old commercial lawyer elected to Dallas' council in 2005 who is leading the opposition.

Cities across the country are trying to turn rivers and lakefronts into assets, but those efforts often spark big debates over whether transportation should supersede recreation. Buffalo, N.Y., residents are asking Gov. Eliot Spitzer to block an impending revamp of an elevated three-mile section of Route 5, which blocks recreational access to Lake Erie, and instead scale it back to a smaller boulevard. In 2002, Milwaukee tore down the one-mile Park East Freeway spur along the Milwaukee River to give residents and developers better access to the riverfront.

Cities such as Grand Forks, N.D., and some suburbs of Chicago have installed parks within flood plains as Dallas intends to do. But Dallas' plan to build a nine-mile road along a river's flood-prone banks is unusual. Establishing a major thoroughfare on the water side of a levee is rare, if not unprecedented, and could complicate flood-control. That said, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hasn't blocked the idea outright, and instead has set high standards for the project's engineering specifications, such as the strength of its base and its drainage system for keeping runoff from the road, including oil and antifreeze, from seeping into the river.

Dallas' stretch of the Trinity River is bracketed by 29-foot-high levees. Most of the time, the river is little more than a large stream, leaving a massive, half-mile-wide ribbon of undeveloped green space bisecting the city's core. Occasionally, heavy rains swell the Trinity into a leviathan that laps against both levees. It usually recedes within days, and it hasn't topped its levees in the more than 50 years the Army Corps of Engineers has managed the flood plain. As planned, the road will be built 19 feet above the flood corridor's floor atop an earthen base. That would put it two feet higher than the anticipated water line in a 100-year flood.

In typical Texas style, Dallas' plans to develop the swath are ambitious. They call for digging lakes, building parks and erecting bridges for cars and pedestrians. Planners envision creating bends in some stretches of the river to foster different water habitats, as well as a kayak run with man-made rapids in one section. A 120-acre tract in the corridor's forested, southern end will host the $10 million Trinity River Audubon Center, which will have exhibits promoting river-habitat conservation and discussing the river's place in Dallas history.

At the center of the campaign to block the tollway is Ms. Hunt. As a freshman councilmember, she studied the Trinity River project and saw that the tollway, which is projected to have a speed limit of 55-mph, had morphed into a much larger entity than the four-lane, 35-mph road initially envisioned a decade ago. The road's expansion had come at the expense of the project's park, the very amenity that carried the vote in 1998 when Dallas approved $246 million in bonds for the project, she says.

Ms. Hunt found allies in a band of environmentalists and conservationists who long opposed the tollway. Among them is Jim Schutze, a prominent city-hall columnist for the Dallas Observer newspaper who frequently needles city officials for alleged favoritism and short-sightedness.

Mr. Schutze and others point to a 2005 city-funded, economic-impact report that predicts the Trinity River project will produce "a positive effect on the value of real estate throughout the corridor" and estimates a 3% to 5% rise in property values for the area. Thus, Mr. Schutze and other opponents conclude, landowners with significant holdings downtown stand to reap the most benefit from the access the road brings to their properties. "They see this road as crucial to redevelop their land," says Mr. Schutze, who has relentlessly attacked the tollway in his column.

Earlier this year, Ms. Hunt and her supporters gathered more than 90,000 signatures from Dallas voters to put the issue on the city's November ballot. "Do we want to create beautiful places and attract the creative class to Dallas?" Ms. Hunt says. "Or will the city sacrifice its only natural asset in order to shave a few minutes off of a suburban commuter's trip?"

The coalition opposing Ms. Hunt is vast. Joining Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and Ms. Hunt's 13 council colleagues to fight the referendum are most of the area's local, state and federal politicians, chambers of commerce and business leaders. Even maverick former mayor Laura Miller, who rarely missed an opportunity to challenge developers seeking city subsidies, considers the six-lane tollway acceptable in light of the recreational and scenic uses that will come with it, including an estimated 30 miles of trails, and 22 soccer fields.

Among those who have donated to a political action committee opposing the referendum are apartment developer JPI Multifamily Investments LP; Harlan Crow, son of Dallas real-estate magnate Trammell Crow; and Margot Perot, wife of Electronic Data Systems Corp. founder H. Ross Perot. The Dallas Citizens Council, a group of roughly 100 of the city's business elite, provided $297,000 of the protollway committee's $1.2 million in funds raised.

Mr. Crow waves off the allegation that he and other downtown property owners are maneuvering to benefit their own properties. He characterized his downtown holdings, which include the 1,600-room Hilton Anatole hotel and the Dallas Market Center wholesale complex, as a fraction of his family's real-estate portfolio. "In terms of my personal financial benefit, it doesn't make any difference at all," he says. "If you make Dallas a better place, it will be a better place for everybody."

Some environmentalists argue that installing a tollway downtown will attract more cars and thus release more emissions in the area. But proponents, including Mayor Leppert, counter that the tollway will relieve traffic jams downtown by providing a "reliever route," and actually reduce emissions because there will be fewer cars idling in traffic.

Mayor Leppert, the chairman and chief executive of construction firm Turner Corp. prior to his election in June, describes the tollway as the linchpin of the entire Trinity River project. The mayor says that restricting or eliminating the tollway will make it challenging to gain federal money for planned expansions of highways feeding into downtown, because federal authorities won't widen roads with the result of funneling traffic into a bottleneck. Routing traffic elsewhere in lieu of building the tollway will cost an estimated $500 million more for buying properties along the alternate route, he says.

If voters reject the tollway, Mayor Leppert says, "then we are going to lose the opportunity to do the Trinity project for your generation and mine."

Write to Kris Hudson at

© 2007 Wall Street Journal:

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"Are crazy and dangerous people plotting the demise of elected officials supporting toll roads?"

Officials' statements hurt S.A.


Cary Clack
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

Having taken leave for a while, it was with great and trembling hesitation that I returned, frightened and ashamed at what might have become of my beloved city. Inexplicably, San Antonio had become the most lawless and violence-plagued city in the land. Somehow, the city always in search of a party had become Dodge City of the 1870s, Beirut of the 1980s and Baghdad of today, all rolled into one.

I was led to this assumption by comments made last month by two prominent public figures: San Antonio Police Officers Association President Teddy Stewart and County Judge Nelson Wolff. They made harrowing comments that suggested we had descended into Dante's violent seventh circle of hell.

In early October, in response to Chief Bill McManus ordering a review of SAPD training and procedures, Stewart said, "Chief, you want to find out where the training is lacking? Train your citizens to quit killing us."

Nowhere in McManus' job description is there the responsibility to train any citizens about anything. Nor should any free people submit to being trained by a police chief or any other government representative.

"Train your citizens to quit killing us."

Considering that Detective Mario Moreno had been killed in the line of duty three weeks earlier, it's understandable that Stewart would be emotional. But to cast an accusatory blanket over the entire community is unconscionable.

Moreno was the 48th San Antonio policeman killed in the line of duty. If it seems like there have been more, it's because each time an officer dies in the line of duty the pain cuts a little deeper and the grief hangs a little longer because of the job the police do, a job most of us wouldn't want. The largest funeral procession I've ever seen in this city, including the number of people lining the streets in respect, was in February 2001 for Officer John "Rocky" Riojas.

No, Detective Stewart, the "citizens" of San Antonio don't need to be trained to stop killing police officers because the "citizens" of San Antonio don't kill police officers. Legitimate questions and concerns from residents and the chief about the behavior of a very few officers does not translate into murderous intent toward the entire department. To suggest otherwise is offensive.

Then there was Wolff's State of the County speech last week. Wolff is among the most respected local politicians of the past 50 years. One of the reasons is that he's a wise man not given to intemperate comments.

In last week's speech, Wolff referred to toll road opponents as "crazy" and "dangerous."

He said, "We're barely holding on with a 3-to-2 vote on Commissioners Court supporting the project. I won't tell you who the other two commissioners are; I don't want to endanger their lives."

Hmmm, let's see. Tommy Adkisson and Lyle Larson are opposed to toll roads and Wolfe supports them. That leaves Paul Elizondo and Sergio "Chico" Rodriguez, so I'm guessing that they're the two commissioners supporting toll roads whom Wolff didn't want to name. I hope that by printing their names I'm not endangering them, but I think their covers are going to be blown in a few months when their names appear on the ballot.

Are crazy and dangerous people plotting the demise of elected officials supporting toll roads?

That the blood sport of San Antonio politics has devolved from the metaphorical to the literal is stunning.

That County Commissioners are now inspiring passion among citizens is startling.

That more than one dozen people can name all five members of commissioners court is incredulous.

Piqued by criticism and dissent from members of the community they serve, Stewart and Wolff resorted to hyperbole, painting a picture of San Antonio as a city of anarchic assassins. Thankfully, mercifully, the true portrait of this city is less disturbing.

Cary Clack's column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. To leave him a message, call (210) 250-3546 or e-mail

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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The verdict? "Truthful!"

Ad airs from group against the Trinity Toll Road

October 31, 2007

WFAA-TV (Dallas/ Fort Worth)
Copyright 2007

You know it's almost election time, when every time you change the channel, you come across yet another political ad.

Yesterday, there was a new Trinity Toll Road ad airing.

It was the first TV ad from the group that is against the toll road.

It attacks the other side's claims that voting against the road will result in higher taxes in Dallas.

"The lobbyist and politicians are not telling the truth about their toll road Trinity Toll Road," we are told.

"According to The Dallas Morning News, they've used suspect statistics as truth to scare us of new taxes and lost funding," the ad continues.

That's unknown.

There are no firm figures on "new taxes" and "lost funding".

Building a toll road in another location, other than the Trinity, would require the city to buy and demolish properties.

That will certainly cost more, but there is no definitive answer on how much.

As for lost funding - TxDOT says the toll road is the centerpiece to redoing the Mixmaster.

Without it, they say, the federal government will not pay for an estimate $1.5 billion in downtown road improvements.

But, it's unknown how that will actually play out.

"Their claims make several leaps and aren't backed up by proof," the ad says.

That's true but again, the cost of building the road in an alternate location is uncertain.

Toll road supporters say it will cost $500 million but they have not been able to itemize that number.

The truth is it could cost more, or less and ultimately it would have to approved by Dallas voters.

"As for those illustrations of the toll road, we've all seen the Dallas Morning News called them 'figments,'" the ad says.

That's true.

The images of a lush and pleasing tollway were produced by the NTTA, which would own and operate the road.

But the NTTA says the images are only an approximation of what the toll road would look like and is subject to change.

That's your reality check.

© 2007 WFAA-TV, Inc. :

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

TxDOT spends $3 billion in 2007 on office maintenance, salaries, and 'professional services.'

How is Texas Spending Your Tax Dollars?


News 4 WOAI
Copyright 2007

You pay thousands of dollars in taxes every year. So where does your money go? The News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooters are showing you how the state of Texas is spending your tax dollars.

The toll road debate rages on. The Texas Department of Transportation, TxDOT, says the money has run out to pay for new highways here. The agency says toll roads are the future. But how much does TxDOT spend its money now?

For 2007, TxDoT had a budget of nearly $8.7 billion. The agency spent the bulk of the money, $5.6 billion, on highway construction.

The rest of the money, $3 billion was spent on other items, like office maintenance, salaries, and professional services.

When it comes to your child's education, the state spends much more money in the classroom. The Texas Education Agency's (TEA) budget was a grand total of almost $19.5 billion this year. Almost all of it, $18.8 billion, was spent on school districts. That includes public schools, state colleges, and textbooks.

You can also track the governor's finances. The governor's executive office spent $12 million this year, a smaller budget when compared to other state agencies. The bulk of that money, nearly $9 million, went to salaries and wages of office employees.

So how can you find out how the state is spending your money. The Texas State Comptroller has put it all online. You can search by agency, category, even by item... So you see exactly where your money is going.

© 2007 Clear Channel Broadcasting, Inc.:

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