Saturday, November 10, 2007

''Tolling I-80 is akin to a 'Closed for Business' sign in Pennsylvania.''

Roadblock to I-80 tolls in U.S. bill is lifted

November 10, 2007

By John L. Micek, Harrisburg Bureau
The Morning Call (Pennsylvania)
Copyright 2007

Removing a major legislative road block, a joint U.S. House and Senate conference committee has stricken language from a massive transportation funding bill that would have forbidden the use of federal money to turn Interstate 80 into a toll road.

The conference committee removed the language late Thursday night, said Reps. Phil English, R-3rd, and John Peterson, R-5th, who had it successfully inserted into the bill earlier this year.

Chuck Ardo, a spokesman for Gov. Ed Rendell, said the action by the conference committee eliminates ''one of the bumps in the road toward a long-term transportation funding plan.''

In a statement, Peterson accused majority House Democrats and U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., of marching in ''lockstep'' at the behest of Gov. Ed Rendell to remove the language from the appropriations bill, one of 12 that funds the federal government.

The two legislators have claimed for months that converting I-80 into a toll road will harm local businesses and scare away the tourists and truckers who make up the bulk of the highway's users.

''Tolling I-80 is akin to a 'Closed for Business' sign in Pennsylvania,'' Peterson said in a statement.

English, meanwhile, said he hopes officials at the Federal Highway Administration will deny the state's application to turn I-80 into a toll road. State officials must secure Washington's blessing before they can move ahead to do so.

The application is still pending, Ardo said Friday. (717)783-7305

© 2007 The Morning Call:

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TxDOT's 'Forward Momentum' generated a firestorm of controversy and was picked up by media outlets worldwide.

1200 WOAI News Investigation Leads to Federal Law

Language in transportation bill will prohibit existing Interstate hgihways from being converted into toll roads

November 9, 2007

By Jim Forsyth
Copyright 2007

An investigation by 1200 WOAI news in September which revealed the existence of a secret Texas Department of Transportation plan to 'buy back' existing Interstate highways so tolls could be collected on them has resulted in language being inserted into the federal transportation funding bill which would permanently forbid the practice, 1200 WOAI news reports today.

"Using toll roads to double tax Texans is just plain wrong," said Congressman Ciro D. Rodriguez, who is a member of the Transportation Appropriations Conference Committee. "The people of Texas have spoken and they do not want the federal highways they have already paid for to be converted into toll roads."

The 1200 WOAI news investigation revealed a memo to Congress in which TxDOT suggested that it could use tax money to 'buy back' Interstate highways to get around a provision that tolls not be collected on existing federally-owned highways. The report generated a firestorm of controversy and was picked up by media outlets worldwide.

"Converting existing Interstate highways, paid for by taxpayers hard earned dollars, into toll roads represents double taxation," Congressman Charlie Gonzalez said. "By inserting this language into this bill, we have taken just and appropriate steps to prevent this unfair practice."

© 2007

Related posts: Forward Momentum: A report to the 110 th Congress, 1st Session

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Friday, November 09, 2007

"We are one step closer to protecting Texas taxpayers from paying twice for a highway."

Texas lawmakers thwart bid to strip tolling ban from bill


Gary Martin
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers were instrumental in an effort to keep an amendment in the transportation bill that bans tolling existing federal highways, officials said Friday.

"We are one step closer to protecting Texas taxpayers from paying twice for a highway," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

Hutchison and House members, including Reps. Ciro Rodriguez and Charlie Gonzalez, both San Antonio Democrats, have sponsored legislation to prohibit the tolling of existing federal highways.

Opponents of the ban sought to strip the language out of a House-Senate conference spending bill for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

Texas lawmakers, including Reps. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, Nick Lampson, D-Stafford and Chet Edwards, D-Waco, helped muster the votes to keep the ban.

The legislation now goes to full the House and Senate for a vote.

"We put progress over politics for the benefit of Texas," said Rodriguez, a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation and a member of the conference committee that put together the final bill.

Rodriguez said "using toll roads to double-tax Texans is just plain wrong."

State officials are lobbying Congress to relax current laws that prohibit tolls on U.S. highways.

Ric Williamson, the Texas transportation commissioner, met with Texas lawmakers earlier this year to drum up support for the state's position.

He told lawmakers the state is seeking to make up an $86 billion shortfall preventing Texas from improving highways.

Williamson and Gov. Rick Perry, both Republicans, have proposed buying back federal highways and turning them over to private entities to levy a toll that would produce money to improve and expand infrastructure.

Hutchison and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, as well as South Texas lawmakers, have bucked the governor and Williamson on the proposal.

Earlier this year, Hutchison and Cornyn were instrumental in passing an amendment to legislation that would call for a one-year moratorium on tolling existing federal highways in Texas.

And Rodriguez and Gonzalez joined with two Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers in filing a bill that would prohibit tolling of existing highways in their respective states.

Hutchison said the biggest victory to date came this week when a bipartisan delegation of Texas members on the conference committee fought behind closed doors to keep a ban on tolling in the spending bill.

"We could not have emerged victorious tonight if all six of us had not banded together," Hutchison said.

"Our Texas delegation was united on this issue, and everyone pitched in to achieve this victory for Texas taxpayers," Hutchison said.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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"Efforts to toll newly constructed lanes would not be prohibited in Hutchison’s amendment."

Toll ban remains in place

November 9, 2007

Staff Reports
Waxahachie Daily Light
Copyright 2007

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, a member of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations subcommittee, joined Thursday with five members of the Texas Congress-ional delegation, Democrat Reps. Chet Edwards, Ciro Rodriguez, Charlie Gonzalez and Nick Lampson and Republican Rep. Kay Granger to overcome opposition which threatened an amendment to ban the tolling of interstate highways in Texas.

Their collective efforts resulted in the amendment remaining part of the fiscal year 2008 THUD Appropriations bill, which was reported out of conference Thursday night.

The conference report is expected to pass both houses of Congress.

“Today, we are one step closer to protecting Texas taxpayers from paying twice for a federal highway,” Hutchison said. “I will continue working with my colleagues to push for a permanent prohibition of tolling existing federal highways.”

“Using toll roads to double-tax Texans is just plain wrong,” Rodriguez said. “I am very pleased that the final Transportation conference agreement contains an anti-tolling provision for federal highways in Texas.

“The citizens of Texas have spoken and they do not want the federal highways they have already paid for to be converted into toll roads,” he said. “Working with Sen. Hutchison, we put progress over politics for the benefit of Texas.”

On Sept. 12, the Senate passed the Hutchison amendment that protects Texas taxpayers by placing a one-year moratorium on tolling existing federal highways in Texas. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, cosponsored Hutchison’s stand-alone bill.

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

“We could not have emerged victorious tonight if all six of us had not banded together and fought for this amendment together,” Hutchison said in a statement Thursday evening. “I sincerely thank Congresswoman Granger and Congressmen Edwards, Rodriguez, Gonzalez and Lampson for their hard work on this issue.

“Our Texas delegation was united on this issue and everyone pitched in to achieve this victory for Texas taxpayers,” Hutchison said. “We are moving forward with legislation that will ban the tolling of interstate highways in Texas until at least Sept. 30, 2008, and we will continue pushing for a permanent ban.”

In February, the Texas Department of Transportation released its legislative agenda in a report called “Forward Momentum,” which seeks changes in federal law that would allow such buybacks for the purpose of tolling interstate highways.

© 2007 Waxahachie Daily Light:

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"It's just a slap to us and what America stands for."

[TxDOT] Landscapers mow right over signs honoring local veterans


By Kevin Quinn
Copyright 2007

- Just a few days before Veterans Day, some local vets are steaming. That's because signs in their honor were mowed to shreds.

As many as 80 signs bearing the names of those who served in the U.S. military had been shredded, torn into countless pieces by a landscaping crew and left on the side of FM 2100 from the Highlands to Huffman.

"I wanted to grab the guy off the tractor and pinch his head off, is the way I felt," said veteran Joe Anselmo. "I was that angry."

Past American Legion Commander Anselmo saw the crew mowing right over the signs Friday morning. He says he tried to stop them, but the crew didn't speak English.

Anselmo, who served two tours in Vietnam, ran up ahead to grab his sign and those of his five family members. He saved those, but says he couldn't save many others or the respect that each soldier or Marine is due.

Anselmo laments that he now once again has that empty feeling that he felt upon returning from Vietnam.

"Whenever I got off the plane and they were spitting on me, I felt like I was being spit on again," he said.

The signs are part of the Highway of Honor. They're put up there before every Veterans' or Memorial Day by the American Legion and a local church. This year, nearly 600 signs dot the roadway.

The Son Harvest Church obtained a permit from the state Department of Transportation to place the signs on the side of the road. Its pastor doesn't understand why that didn't keep this from happening.

"It's just a slap to us and what America stands for," said Son Harvest Church Pastor Richard Amador.

TxDOT has now apologizes to all those involved, claiming there was a lack of communication between the landscaper paid to work there and their office.

Stuart Corder with TxDOT told us, "If you're out there doing the work and see those signs, you don't run them over, permit or no permit."

The landscaping company has also apologized.

© 2007 KTRK-TV:

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

8.5% voter turnout in Texas approves $10 billion in debt for taxpayers

Bonds Get Thumbs Up Across U.S.

Voters Approve 84% Of Debt Questions


by Jason Philyaw
The Bond Buyer
Copyright 2007

DALLAS — Voters approved 84% of the roughly $29 billion of bond questions that appeared on ballots across the country Tuesday. Texas alone accounted for about two-thirds of the total, and voters there approved 141 of 174 bond referendums, or 94%.

All of the statewide propositions in Texas passed, allowing the state to issue up to nearly $10 billion of debt for highway improvements, cancer research, and the state’s student loan program.

Voters in New Jersey rejected $450 million of new general obligation debt for stem cell research while voters in the Seattle area said no to sales tax and auto registration fee increases that would have backed billions of dollars of bonds to finance mass transit and highway projects.

Only three governors were up for election this year, all in the Southeast.

Kentucky voters ousted Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher and with 59% of the votes selected Democrat Steve Beshear as their new governor. In Mississippi, 58% of voters kept incumbent Republican Gov. Haley Barbour in office. The third race for governor, in Louisiana, was decided without a runoff on Oct. 20 when voters elected Republican U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal.

Last week, Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson predicted an overall statewide voter turnout of 9.5%, based on early voting returns. A representative from Wilson’s office said it appears Tuesday’s turnout in the Lone Star state was closer to 8.5%.

Slightly more than 58% of voters approved issuing up to $1 billion for construction projects, while almost 63% gave the green light for up to $5 billion for highway improvements and about 61.5% of voters agreed to issue $3 billion of GOs to establish a Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Another $250 million of GOs for water and wastewater infrastructure upgrades in various “economically distressed” parts of the state also passed.

In Dallas, 53% of voters rejected a proposition to prohibit construction of a toll road within the levee walls of the Trinity River. The city can now move forward with plans to build the highly contested, $1.3 billion project, which is expected to be financed in part with bond proceeds.

In Harris County, voters barely approved five of six bond propositions, rejecting $195 million for an adult detention center 51% to 49%. Voters in the nation’s third-largest county, which includes Houston, approved bond packages of $190 million for roads, $95 million for parks, $80 million for a forensic center, $70 million for a family law center, and $250 million for improvements to the Port of Houston.

Voters in a few of the county’s school districts also approved large bond packages.

The Houston Independent School District, the largest in the state with 210,000 students, saw its $805 million bond package narrowly approved by a vote of 51.2% to 48.8% .

The suburban Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District received approval of its $807 million referendum with 55% voting for the bonds.

“The Cy-Fair community continues to overwhelm us with their support for the district’s students and schools,” said superintendent David Anthony.

The growing district’s current enrollment of nearly 97,000 is up from 55,800 a decade ago. Officials expect a student population of 116,500 by 2011.

The Spring Branch Independent School District had its $596 million bond referendum approved. The district is just west of downtown Houston.

Back in North Texas, voters approved numerous school bond packages, as well.

With a population of about 5,250 but a student enrollment that is projected to rise fivefold over the next 10 years, voters in Prosper approved a $710 million bond package for the school district.

School bond packages approved in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex included $250 million for the Irving Independent School District, $282 million for the Denton Independent School District, $78.7 million for the Lovejoy Independent School District, and nearly $600 million for the Fort Worth Independent School District.


In the Northeast, only New Jersey and Maine had statewide bond issues on the ballot. New Jersey’s two bond questions totaled $650 million, and included one of the most controversial referendums in the region, which did not pass.

New Jersey voters did not approve a $450 million GO deal for stem cell research by a vote of 53% to 47%.

This defeat was a “real slap in the face to the political leadership,” said Michael Riccards, executive director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy. “We haven’t had a referendum defeat in 17 years.”

A number of political leaders in the state had rallied for the stem cell research bond, including Gov. Jon Corzine, Senate President Richard J. Codey, and Deputy Speaker of the Assembly Neil M. Cohen.

“It was a shocker,” said Wise Young, a neuroscience professor at Rutgers who helped spearhead the stem cell initiative in New Jersey. Young noted that there had been tremendous support by all three of the political leaders.

“We just didn’t get our vote out,” Young said. Opposition included the Catholic Church, Right to Life, and Americans for Prosperity.

New Jersey voters are “fed up with the financial condition of the state,” Riccards said. Voters were hesitant to vote yes on such a large bond amount when the state is already heavily in debt, he said. New Jersey has about $31 billion of outstanding GO debt.

Voters who said no to the stem cell research bond effectively told New Jersey leaders to “resolve our alarming and pressing financial problems,” Corzine said yesterday at a press conference.

Additionally, Riccards pointed out that New Jersey has a 40% Catholic population, and with the Catholic Church having been so outspoken on the stem cell topic, it likely influenced the polls.

New Jersey’s ballot also included $200 million of bonds to be used to acquire and develop land for recreation and conservation. Voters passed this referendum 54% to 46%.

Also, all 120 seats were up for re-election in New Jersey’s Legislature. Democrats gained one seat in the Senate, with a 23-to-17 majority starting in January. In the Assembly, Democrats lost two seats and will have a 48-to-32 majority.

Maine’s statewide ballot included $134 million of bonds in three separate questions, all of which passed. The most popular — $35.5 million for land conservation — passed with 63% of the vote. The other two measures call for $50 million for research and economic development and $43.5 million for college campus improvements. Both passed with just a 51%-to-49% margin.

“Building our education and research and development capacity, and preserving Maine’s special places, have been cornerstones of my economic plan to grow good-paying jobs in Maine and move our economy into the 21st century,” Gov. John E. Baldacci said in a press release.

The close results for the second two questions showed that “Mainers want government to be careful with their money. We have to show people the results of this investment and make the process as transparent as possible,” Baldacci said.


In the Southeast, Mecklenburg County, N.C., voters resoundingly rejected an attempt to repeal a half-cent sales tax subsidy for their 30-year transit plan. About 70% voted against the repeal.

And in Sarasota, one of Florida’s wealthiest cities, 51.3% of voters said no to $16 million of GOs to help finance a $53 million spring training facility makeover for Major League Baseball’s Cincinnati Reds. After a decade in Sarasota, the Reds immediately announced they would play their exhibition games elsewhere.

In Virginia, Fairfax County received approval for $110 million to help finance transportation projects and another $365 million for schools.

Loudoun County voters signed off on nearly $70 million of debt spread over seven projects, including schools, libraries, and fire and police stations.

Waynesboro County voters rejected referendums of $2.6 million to develop a baseball complex, and $1.2 million for sidewalk improvements. Three proposals on the ballot were approved, allowing about $10 million of bonds to be issued to finance improvements to the county’s library, fire stations, and storm water system.

In Pittsylvania County, voters approved $70 million of debt to renovate four high schools.

In Washington State, voters in the three-county region around Seattle rejected Proposition 1, a set of sales tax and auto registration tax increases that would have financed regional mass transit and highway projects. The taxes would have backed billions of dollars in bond issuance.

Washington voters passed a state ballot measure requiring the state government to set aside at least 1% of general state revenues for a rainy-day fund until it reaches 10% of revenues.

In preliminary tallies, the state’s voters appeared to be passing Initiative 960, requiring either a two-thirds legislative vote or a vote of the people to pass tax increases. The initiative, placed on the ballot through a petition campaign organized by professional activist Tim Eyman, appears to restate the terms of another Eyman initiative from 1993.

Voters also appeared to be turning down a ballot measure to permit school districts to secure temporary overrides to property tax levy limits by a majority vote, rather than the 60% vote presently required.


In Wisconsin, voters in the Sun Prairie School District outside Madison approved a $96 million referendum to finance new school construction, while voters in the West Bend School District outside Milwaukee rejected a $119 million bond authorization. Had it been approved, it would have been the largest ever in the state.

In Kansas City, voters approved the 10-year extension of a 1-cent sales tax to raise funds for various infrastructure projects. Voters also approved the transfer of seven schools run by the Kansas City school district but located in Independence and Sugar Creek to the Independence School District.

In Minnesota, voters rejected bonding requests totaling about $475 million from about 18 school districts while approving new debt of about $215 million for another 15 districts.

In Indianapolis, incumbent Mayor Bart Peterson suffered a surprise defeat by political newcomer and Marine Corps Lieut. Colonel Greg Ballard. Peterson had enacted several politically unpopular measures, including an income tax amid a state-wide property tax crisis. Ballard has said he favors the total elimination of property taxes.

Detroit voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that would require the state to repay some or all of the $210 million of debt accrued by the school board during the 1999 to 2005 state takeover. The state is not required to repay the debt, but some school board members have said they might sue for it.

Voters in Hamilton County, Ohio, turned down a controversial request for a half-cent increase in the sales tax to fund a new county jail and other safety programs.

In Cincinnati, 58% of the voters rejected Cincinnati Public School’s proposed five-year, $326.5 million property tax levy increase.

Of the 460 referendums before voters nationwide, 302 worth $23.92 billion passed, and 158 worth about $4.7 billion failed. Results of 13 propositions valued at roughly $86 million weren’t available at press time.

Shelly Sigo, Peter Schroeder, Yvette Shields, Caitlin Devitt, Jonna Stark, Jim Watts, Richard Williamson, and Rich Saskal contributed to this story.

© 2007 The Bond Buyer:

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"Dallas' power elite lined up against Hunt, and she nearly beat them."

In loss, Hunt's road uncertain

November 8, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

People were still lining up to shake Angela Hunt's hand when the staff at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary started to turn out the lights.

With the fight to stop the Trinity toll road project behind her, Angela Hunt, near where the project will go forward, promises she will continue to keep an eye on the plan. 'We're going to hold them accountable,' she said.

Exhausted, and defeated in her effort to stop the construction of a toll road inside the Trinity River levees, the youngest member of the Dallas City Council slumped into a chair at the back of a dark and emptying room where moments before she had conceded Dallas' wildest election in years.

It was her election, fostered in a petition drive she conceived and defined in a campaign she led. Its outcome, for more than anyone else in Dallas, belongs to her.

Defeat is rarely empowering, and Ms. Hunt, 35, is a damaged politician today who staked a great deal on a ragtag, against-all-odds campaign.

But there is a consolation. On Wednesday morning, she awoke not as the leader of an anti-toll road movement – but as the face and voice of the city's loyal opposition.

Dallas' power elite lined up against her, and she nearly beat them.

"I didn't get into politics to make friends or to toe the line or to take the easy route," she said Wednesday afternoon. "Being a City Council member is such a low-paying job. ... Why make those types of sacrifices if you are just going to sit on the sidelines and not take a stand on issues that you think are important for the future of our city?"

Cloudy future

It's Ms. Hunt's own future that is now in question.

Had she won Tuesday, she would surely have sealed a place as one of the city's most important political players.

Her narrow defeat clouds that picture.

She remains marginalized at City Hall, where none of her council colleagues supported her campaign. Some harbor resentment about the bruising nature of the campaign. Much of Dallas' business community sees her as a spoiler. And even city staff have treated her at arm's length.

At the same time, Ms. Hunt has developed a base of thousands of supporters who view her as one person in Dallas with the platform and will to speak truth to power.

"I think she could win as a state representative. She would have a lot of people behind her. She's a powerhouse. She's a force," said Joe Madden, an East Dallas bookseller who supported the anti-toll road campaign.

Ms. Hunt has earned similar admiration from a number of former elected officials and even a handful of deep-pocketed business people.

"People will look to her as that voice who will tell us what we need to hear," said former council member Sandy Greyson, who supported the anti-toll road side.

Still the outsider

If Ms. Hunt's opponents were looking for an olive branch when she conceded defeat Tuesday, they didn't get it.

Instead, she sounded ready to embrace the role of outsider and let the political chips fall where they may.

"We were battling the political establishment. We were battling the business elite. We were battling the wealthy property owners who had a lot to gain," she said Tuesday night.

And as the road project goes forward, she promised "we're going to hold them accountable."

Now, after months of campaigning that caused her to duck out of City Council meetings early and skip committee briefings altogether, Ms. Hunt must go back to the routine work of being a council member.

It will be an awkward return. Some of her fellow council members, including Mayor Tom Leppert, were stung by her campaign's tactics.

There were charges from her most ardent supporters that the mayor lied about toll road facts and figures. Council members were called dupes and worse for backing Mr. Leppert.

"She called us a lot of things that were not justified," said council member Mitchell Rasansky, adding that he has thick skin and wants to move on.

At one point, Ms. Hunt also culled council members' e-mails for evidence they were colluding with city staff in the pro-toll road campaign.

Some of those e-mails showed a cozy friendship that at least suggested coordination between top city staff members and leading toll road backers. In one e-mail, former council member Craig Holcomb waxed nostalgic with a city department director about "the days before AH."

Some of Ms. Hunt's council colleagues saw the e-mail examination as an affront, something they expected from the media but not from one of their own.

"I can't say that some of her colleagues have not felt wounded by the campaign name-calling and the seizure of their e-mail," said Veletta Lill, Ms. Hunt's predecessor on the council and a key Vote No proponent. "By all appearances, the rest of the council seems to be working very well together and hopefully she can work to rejoin the group."

Whether that will happen remains to be seen.

In Mr. Leppert's victory speech Tuesday, he didn't mention Ms. Hunt at all.

And earlier this year, the mayor failed to name the second-term representative as chairman of any City Council committee and left her off the Trinity River Corridor Committee, on which she had previously served and had a clear expertise.

But on Wednesday morning, he dismissed notions that he'll seek to marginalize Ms. Hunt.

"We need to be a team, and I want Angela to be part of that team," Mr. Leppert said.

Council member Pauline Medrano, who works closely with Ms. Hunt on issues that affect their abutting districts, said that with the election over, the council must move on.

"People have differences. We're all grown-ups, and we keep on going," she said.

Looking ahead

Ms. Hunt said she too is ready to move on.

On Wednesday morning, a number of council members whom she wouldn't name called her to wish her well and say they hope to work with her. She said Mr. Leppert had not called her.

As for her political future, she wouldn't say whether she maintains ambitions for higher office. For now, she said she wants to focus on representing her district.

She knows her opponents are murmuring about defeating her in 2009.

Ms. Lill, a longtime popular council member from Ms. Hunt's district, is often mentioned as one of the few people, if not the only person, who could unseat her.

Ms. Lill said Wednesday that she does not foresee running again.

"I feel I've served," she said.

After catching up on rest Wednesday and spending some time with her family, Ms. Hunt said she is unconcerned with whatever plans the powerful people in Dallas have for her.

"The people who claim to be the powerbrokers in this town don't elect me. They don't decide when it's time for me to go," she said.

She promised to continue to bird-dog the Trinity toll road plan. And her next project is to learn more about southern-sector development, she said.

She sounded like someone nowhere close to backing down, like someone with an eye on bigger things.

"I think when you start questioning whether something is possible and do we have the political capital and can we raise the money, you start seeing a mountain of reasons why you can't get it done. I just don't worry about that stuff," she said.

Staff writer Dave Levinthal contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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"What a historic day!"

Financing details for 121 toll road disclosed

November 8, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Ushering in a new era for Dallas-area drivers, the North Texas Tollway Authority disclosed today for the first time the details of how it will raise the $3.3 billion it has promised to pay in return for completing and operating the State Highway 121 toll road.

Acting just ahead of a state-imposed deadline, the NTTA board of directors today authorized its staff to borrow up to $3.75 billion in high-interest, short-term notes. NTTA will use the money from the notes to pay the $3.3 billion -- or about $24,038 per foot of the new 26-mile road -- that the NTTA has promised to the state transportation department. The balance of the borrowed money -- more than $450 million -- will be used to pay legal and financing costs, and to pay about $275 million toward remaining construction work on Highway 121.

NTTA will refinance that debt within 12 months, when it sells bonds backed by the future tolls on State Highway 121, and on its network of other toll roads.

“We are one step closer to improving mobility, the economy and quality of life in North Texas by building this essential transportation link for the Metroplex," said Paul Wageman, chairman of the NTTA board of directors.

The board also approved a toll rate schedule for Highway 121, as required by the lenders.

"What a historic day!" said board member James Base. "I really appreciate all the faith everyone has placed in us."

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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Toll road to Dallas Super Bowl triggers bureaucratic version of hurry-up offense

Officials want toll road on the fast track


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

Regional planners are desperately looking for ways to get the Texas 161 toll road open before the 2011 Super Bowl.

The long-planned toll road, which would run parallel to Texas 360 in Arlington, would provide relief on one of North Texas' most congested north-south corridors.

And on game days, the road in Grand Prairie and Irving would be a major route to the new Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington, particularly for people coming into Tarrant County from north Dallas.

But, officials say, it's now doubtful that the road will be ready for the stadium's 2009 debut -- and the push is on to get it built by 2011.

"We're losing time," said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. He said the Regional Transportation Council will discuss getting the project on track during a meeting today.

One idea would be at least to get the frontage road lanes and key bridges built from Texas 183 in Irving to Division Street in Arlington.

The RTC, North Texas' official planning body, could pool state and federal highway funds from other projects to fast-track Texas 161 -- but that money would need to be repaid.

Why the delay?

The Texas Department of Transportation originally planned to hire a private company to build the road and was soliciting bids when the Legislature passed a law this year giving the Plano-based North Texas Tollway Authority the right of first refusal to build it.

Now the tollway authority must decide whether it's worthwhile to build the project. Part of that process includes establishing a long-term value for the road -- a market valuation -- and determining how much money can be generated from the road to build other Metroplex projects.

If the tollway authority decides not to build Texas 161, the Transportation Department could resume seeking private bids.

Nothing personal

Clayton Howe, tollway authority assistant executive director, and Maribel Chavez, Fort Worth district engineer for the state Transportation Department, said their agencies are committed to getting the road built quickly.

They briefed area officials on the project Wednesday during a meeting of the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition in Fort Worth (

Sounds like the bureaucratic version of a hurry-up offense.

Project details

Texas 161 would be a 12-mile toll road, with six lanes from Texas 183 to Interstate 30 and four lanes from I-30 to Interstate 20.

Estimated cost: $525 million for construction. The state already owns the right of way.

Original completion date: August 2009 north of I-30, December 2011 south of I-30.

More: The project will be discussed during a Regional Transportation Council meeting today at 1:30 p.m., 616 Six Flags Drive, Arlington.

GORDON DICKSON, 817-685-3816

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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"It all boils down to a matter of credibility and whether our governor and his Commissioner of Transportation, Ric Williamson, can be trusted. "

Trnas-Texas Corridor Update for Waller county

November 7th, 2007

By: Don Garrett & Trey Duhon
Citizens for a Better Waller County
Copyright 2007

On Friday, October 19th, the Alliance for I-69 Texas and Texas Transportation Commission hosted a meeting of regional community leaders in Huntsville.

In attendance were TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz, Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton, Gary K. Trietsch (Houston District Engineer for TxDOT) and representatives, county judges and commissioners from Walker, Houston, Trinity, Madison, Grimes, Brazos, Washington, Austin, and Waller counties, including Grimes County Judge Betty Shiflett and Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski, in addition to numerous TxDot officials. Trey Duhon, a director with the Waller County Toll Road Authority and Citizens for a Better Waller County was present, and I attended as a representative of the Waller County Economic Development Partnership.

There were many familiar faces recognized as both proponents and opponents of TTC-69 that day. After brief introductions of all in attendance, Commissioner Houghton stated that TXDOT had made a major public relations blunder from the onset and that with the passage of HB 792, they were going to take a more open and receptive approach to the transportation needs of Texas and the Trans Texas Corridor, utilizing local input to develop these projects and their eventual routes.

Commissioner Houghton mentioned that he had conveyed this message on a personal level to Waller county officials, having met previously with Waller County Judge Ralston and Commissioner Beckendorff about partnering with Waller County in joining the TTC and the proposed Prairie Parkway (which was rejected by both Ralston and Beckendorff).

Mr. Saenz stated that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for TTC-69 was currently being reviewed by the Federal Highway Administration, and that he felt very good that the DEIS would be released by the end of 2007. Upon the release of the DEIS, dozens of public hearings will be held to gather public input on the proposed route of TTC-69. TxDOT is planning on also holding a series of town hall meetings, in which participants can ask and answer questions and have conversations and exchange ideas and dialogue about the project.

There was considerable discussion at the meeting about the fact that Bryan/College Station and the Brazos Valley have been vocal that they would like for the I-69 route to come to the Bryan/College Station area. The Brazos Valley COG has proposed an alternative route for the I-69 project that would bring it to the Brazos Valley, then southward along Highway 6.

Houghton cautioned us that the DEIS would be out soon and as it currently stood, that we will probably not be happy with the proposed route. He added, however, that the final route was not yet final, and that routing I-69 towards Bryan/College Station was a “realistic option”, and that with Highway 6 already there and substantial right of way along portions of Highway 6, there is a chance that Highway 6 “could become 69”. Duhon asked Houghton what would be the non-toll alternative to Highway 6, since Highway 6 is the primary state highway that runs north out of Waller County. Houghton responded that Highway 6 would continue to be a non-tolled highway for passenger cars, but that elements of the TTC or I-69 could be added adjacent to it.

This began a spirited discussion as Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski expressed her concerns that Grimes, Austin, and Waller counties could bear the brunt of I-69 simply because Bryan/College Station, Texas A&M University, and the Brazos Valley have enough political clout to bring I-69 to their area.

Judge Bilski also asked pointed questions about what kind of substantive changes have been made by TxDOT as a result of the passage of SB 792 (the toll road moratorium bill). She commented that she was with Rep. Lois Kohlkorst at her office when the bill was passed and that it did not seem that the spirit of the law was being complied with. Commissioner Houghton replied that he felt that Rep. Kohlkorst was incorrect in her interpretation of 792.

Commissioner Houghton emphasized that the original concept of the TTC was not realistic and that in some areas the TTC would be scaled down, or only have some elements (such as rail or truck lanes), but not others.. He also stated that there would be plans for access to 69 at every major county artery as not to disrupt major traffic patterns.

Houghton also spoke about new rules which TxDOT proposed in September which will establish a TTC-69 Corridor Advisory Committees and local segment committees. These committees will assist TxDOT in transportation planning and development for I-69/TTC-69. The committees will seek support and consensus from affected communities, governmental entities, and other interested parties, then the committees will provide advice and recommendations to TxDOT in regards to the project and the public, business, and private concerns in that regards.

Members of each Segment Committee will be appointed by local and regional entities from areas included in some portion of the proposed segment. County judges from each county in the proposed segment will appoint a member, as well as metropolitan planning organizations (MPO’s) in the affected area.

Additional members may be appointed by other entities designated by the commission, such as cities, ports, chambers of commerce, and economic development entities. A segment committee will provide input and recommendations regarding route designations, whether to construct a proposed segment, and other planning, development, and financing matters requested by TxDOT.

According to materials provided at the meeting, the Transportation Commission will consider and “weigh heavily” the recommendations of the Corridor Segment Committee before it designates or decides to construct the route of a proposed segment of the TTC. However, TxDOT “may require committee members to sign confidentiality agreements and to not disclose confidential information provided to the committee.”

Comments on these proposed rules are now being accepted until 5 p.m., November 12. For more information about the rules, go to The Commission may consider final adoption of these rules during its January 2008 meeting.

The Brazos Valley “segment”, which includes the counties which were invited to the meeting, will constitute a Segment Committee. As such, Waller County Judge Owen Ralston will have the ability to designate at least one member to the Brazos Valley segment committee.

Judge Bilski explained to Commissioner Houghton and the other TxDOT officials that because of such actions in the recent past and the current actions of other government officials that it was going to be very difficult for her constituents to believe anything that TXDOT or other government officials had to say in regard to the TTC. Commissioner Houghton and TxDOT officials expressed a willingness to meet with local officials and their constituents in order to reduce the level of tension and distrust at commissioners and/or town hall meetings.

It all boils down to a matter of credibility and whether our governor and his Commissioner of Transportation, Ric Williamson, can be trusted.

The picture looks bleak until things change at the top as it is difficult to ascertain true intentions when each side is looking at SB 792 from different perspectives and we are a long way from détente with such attitudes.

It is imperative that our legislators close the gap during the next legislative session. Each side continues to march in its own direction thus leaving the elected local and county officials to face the brunt of the reaction from their constituents.

Additionally impacted will be the relationships of local TxDOT officials with local and county officials. It seems that this is yet another instance of high level government officials dictating policy and leaving the lower level subordinates and the people to work things out. This is not right, and this is not what Texans expect from their elected officials.

Is this a new kindler, gentler TxDOT? Is TxDOT serious when they say they will work with local authorities and communities in regards to the scope and route of this project? Or is this all smoke and mirrors so that TxDOT can get through the remainder of the moratorium, so that they can go back to business as usual in 14 months? Or more realistically, is this just a component of TxDOT’s $9 million public relations campaign to convince us the TTC is a good thing? Time will tell.

Waller County needs to proceed with its own plans for meeting its mobility needs in the future and not wait nor anticipate friendly cooperation under the current atmosphere, lest we allow our determination and plans to be undermined by a breach of good faith by those who we choose to believe. Caution and prudence should be our resolve and we need the assistance of our legislators to insure that we stay the course. And if not, our future transportation needs will suffer greatly with or without the Trans Texas Corridor.

© 2007 Citizens for a Better Waller County:

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"Toll road funds likely will be a major tool for general road building for the foreseeable future."

Toll road profits used on streets

$120 million to be spent on 'connectivity' projects next year


Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

Harris County will spend an unprecedented amount of its toll road profits next year to build and upgrade roads and streets, some of them miles from any toll booth.

Call it the third stage of evolution for the Harris County Toll Road Authority, an evolution driven by the struggle to survive.

When voters and County Judge Jon Lindsay began the toll road system in 1983, the idea was simple: We'll build this road, and when it has paid for itself, we'll make it a freeway.

As other toll roads followed, the tempting revenue stream begat another idea: When these are paid off, we'll keep on tolling them and pool the money to build more toll roads.

Starting in 2001, Commissioners Court set aside $20 million paid by toll road users each year to build and improve roads and streets that connect to the tollway system. These annual allocations have helped build more than 80 such "connectivity" projects.

On Sept. 20, the court quietly boosted the annual connectivity allotment to $120 million — double the previous high of $60 million in 2004, and one-fourth of the tollway system's net revenue.

The increase signals that toll road funds likely will be a major tool for general road building for the foreseeable future.

Despite their name, the funds increasingly have been spent on projects with no connections to toll roads and even on roads that provide an alternative to congested tollways.

A map of connectivity projects to date includes, for instance, improvements to a trucking route between Texas 146 and the Port of Houston docks at Barbour's Cut, about seven miles from the East Sam Houston Tollway.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said the work will help get people from fast-growing Katy prairie subdivisions to north-south arteries such as Fry Road. These connect to the Katy Freeway, and from there one can reach the tollways.

The county road system as a whole "feeds the toll roads," Emmett said. "This will help complete the grid."

As county Infrastructure Director Art Storey put it, "Today's remote project is right in the middle of things tomorrow."

Architect Christof Spieler of the grass-roots Citizens Transportation Coalition said he has no problem with using money paid by toll road users to build free roads.

But if government is providing new roads to access new subdivisions in the Katy Prairie, he said, it is making that housing artificially cheap.

Seed money

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said the money is greatly needed, as is more road capacity near fast-growing subdivisions on the prairie. Clay Road is one of the most congested in his precinct, he said.

Radack noted that connectivity funds also can be used as seed money to attract private investment, as other county dollars were used in an $8 million project to extend Kingsland from the Grand Parkway (Texas 99) to Katy-Fort Bend Road at Katy Mills Mall.

The county is contributing $1.3 million of the Kingsland funding, Radack said. "The rest is private sector."

Spieler said that, although he opposes suburban sprawl, he likes Radack's idea of having developers — and ultimately the homebuyers — take on that cost.

Still, he said he would like to see more of the connectivity money used for "infill" projects in Houston and other municipalities. These retard sprawl, and often are more cost-efficient, he said, since the street, drainage and utility infrastructure already may be in place.

"The county spends hardly any of its road budget inside the city limit, although we in Houston pay the same county taxes," Spieler said.

Emmett and Storey said the big increase in the connectivity budget stems in part from the county's wrangling earlier in the year with the Texas Department of Transportation.

For the first time, TxDOT sought payment from the county for use of state rights of way for toll roads. TxDOT also put the entire state on notice that it lacks money to expand local roads — a situation unlikely to change soon.

"Some of these road projects would have been funded through the state in the past, but the state has told us they're not going to spend any money," Emmett said. "So, rather than us wait around and wring our hands, we said 'nope, we're going to get started.' "

Another reason for the increase, Storey said, was the decision county officials faced in 2005 over whether to sell, lease or hang onto the toll road system. Financial consultants had said it might bring $20 billion if sold.

Fateful decision

Commissioners decided to keep the asset and ensure that its revenues continue to be spent in Harris County. Even with the connectivity budget increase, Storey said, there will be enough revenue left to maintain the existing tollways and fund at least some of the six projects authorized by the Legislature this summer.

These include extending the Sam Houston Tollway from the Eastex Freeway to U.S. 90, extending the Hardy Toll Road from Loop 610 to downtown, building high-occupancy toll lanes along Hempstead Highway and adding toll lanes to Texas 288.

A list of connectivity projects proposed for FY 2008-09, which begins March 1, was not available as Commissioners Court has not decided which will be built or how much each precinct will get.

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Trinity Toll Road: "We haven't approved anything."

Trinity toll road completion faces long, winding road

November 7, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

The battle over whether the Trinity Parkway belongs inside the Trinity River park may be over, but construction of the toll road is still years away.

Plus, there are still obstacles to the high-speed highway's ultimate approval. Two levels of federal approval are needed; transportation officials expect no difficulty obtaining either, but neither is expected until at least 2009 and maybe later. They must also decide whether the road is financially realistic.

And while city leaders pledge to move quickly on development of the park itself, residents who have been waiting nearly a decade since first approving the massive project won't see any dramatic changes right away in the downtown area.

Despite the continued waiting, however, Dallas officials said Tuesday's vote in favor of the toll road's placement inside the park was a huge win. "Now is the time to get it done," Mayor Tom Leppert told supporters after the election.

But Gene Rice, the engineer leading the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' flood control project within the Trinity River Corridor, said his agency has yet to issue any final OK for the road, which is designed to relieve traffic by connecting U.S. Highway 175 southeast of downtown Dallas to roads south of Texas Stadium. "We haven't approved anything," he said.

The North Texas Tollway Authority, which has ultimate responsibility for developing the road, expects the Corps to issue the required permits sometime in 2009, about the time that NTTA is expected to submit its final environmental impact analysis to the Federal Highway Administration. NTTA spokeswoman Kimberly Jackson said that agency's approval could take another six months to a year.

"We're committed to working with our partners and shepherding this project through the federal environmental process," Ms. Jackson said Tuesday.
But even then, the waiting won't be over. Once the federal approvals are in hand, the NTTA will begin a detailed analysis of the potential to draw tolls from drivers using the road, which is expected to carry 110,000 cars a day and relieve congestion on Interstates 35E and 30. Based on that, the agency will decide whether it can afford to build the road.

Viability required

NTTA Chairman Paul Wageman said last month that the agency would build the road only if it is viable – meaning it produces enough in tolls to pay for construction. He said if the costs continue to rise above the current estimate of $1.29 billion, the agency may ask its partners – including the city and the Regional Transportation Council, which sets priorities for the entire North Texas area, to increase their investments in the road.
But Ms. Jackson stressed Tuesday that any decision about cost-sharing will have to wait on the revenue study, likely to be completed in 2009 or 2010.

Timothy Nesbitt, the Trinity Parkway project manager for the state Department of Transportation, said the parkway is the key to nearly $5 billion in other badly needed highway improvements in downtown Dallas. "Without the Trinity, the other projects go away," he said.

Meanwhile, work on the larger Trinity River project will continue unfazed by Tuesday's vote.

On Monday, the Dallas City Council is expected to approve a number of items related to the park's development, including a planned transfer of right of way to the state for the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and a rainwater collection system for the planned Trinity River Audubon Center.

Most of the park's elements were fixed and unaffected by Tuesday's vote, said Rebecca Dugger, the city's Trinity River project manager. The Corps' levees project, she said, will continue on schedule and also was unaffected.
Funding concerns

As Election Day drew to a close, Mr. Leppert said he worried that a vote against the toll road would have had dire consequences for the Trinity River park. Private fundraising, he said, had all but stopped in the past few months as the debate over the road raged.

"There is about $100 million in outside funding that is required to do everything we want to do in the park," Mr. Leppert said. "That's all but dried up."

He said the NTTA's involvement inside the levees had other benefits as well – including providing millions of dollars worth of excavation work, landscaping and access to the park.

Staff writer Dave Levinthal contributed to this report.


The North Texas Tollway Authority says construction of the Trinity Parkway is still years away. Here's an estimated timetable:

Early 2008: NTTA will hold a final public hearing to gather input as it completes its environmental impact analysis of the toll road.

Early 2009: NTTA completes its environmental impact statement of the project, identifying the locally preferred route, which will likely be the inside-the-levee route endorsed by voters Tuesday.

Late 2009/early 2010: The Federal Highway Administration is expected to approve the report.

Once federal approval is in hand: The NTTA will analyze the toll road's revenue potential and decide whether it will be viable.

If the NTTA proceeds: Contracts for design and construction could be issued in late 2009 or early 2010.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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"Never before in the history of this city have we seen a grassroots effort like this."

Dallas voters endorse Trinity toll road

November 7, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Dallas voters on Tuesday rejected a plan to kill the highway, a key element of the city's ambitious effort to transform the Trinity River corridor.

The vote means the city's massive Trinity River project can proceed as planned. In addition to the highway, which is intended to help relieve downtown traffic congestion, the project calls for enhanced flood controls; a downtown riverside park with lakes, trails, promenades and green spaces; preservation of the Great Trinity Forest south of downtown; an equestrian center; and other recreational amenities.

"There's one winner, and it's Dallas," an exuberant Mayor Tom Leppert, flanked by other members of the Dallas City Council, told supporters Tuesday night. "We have the opportunity to realize our dream. … Now it's time to get to work and make it happen."

The vote was a victory for Mr. Leppert, who — almost from the day he took office in late June — campaigned energetically to defeat Proposition 1, the referendum that would have halted the planned toll road.

And it was a blow to the political fortunes of Angela Hunt, the second-term Dallas City Council member who — alone among the city's elected officials — crusaded to remove the $1.3 billion highway from the river channel.

It was Ms. Hunt, a 35-year-old lawyer from the M Streets, who organized the petition drive to place Proposition 1 on the ballot. And it was Ms. Hunt who emerged as the leading voice for the proposition, which she characterized as the citizenry's last best hope to build a world-class downtown park along the banks of the Trinity.

"Never before in the history of this city have we seen a grassroots effort like this," she said Tuesday, in conceding that the effort had fallen short.

Even in defeat, she maintained that the highway project — and, with it, the whole Trinity River redevelopment effort — had gotten "off track." And she said her supporters would now hold the city's political and business elite to their promises that the toll road would bring thousands of new jobs and allow construction of a world-class park with no new taxes.

The election turnout in Dallas was 15.3 percent, higher than what Dallas County Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet had forecast.

Proposition 1 would have forbidden construction of any road inside the river levees unless that road were four or fewer lanes, had a speed limit of 35 mph or less, and provided direct access to the riverside park.

The language was written expressly to kill plans by the city and the North Texas Tollway Authority to build the toll road — officially known, much to the chagrin of its opponents, as the Trinity Parkway.

The highway is to run from U.S. 175 southeast of downtown Dallas to where State Highway 183 branches off from the Stemmons Freeway south of Texas Stadium.

It's envisioned as a reliever route to help ease congestion along Stemmons Freeway and in the freeways that meet in the Canyon and Mixmaster along the southern edge of downtown. State highway planners have said construction of a reliever route is necessary if work is to proceed on a $1 billion project to untangle the Canyon and Mixmaster.

Ms. Hunt and her allies said repeatedly that they were not against building a toll road; they just didn't want it next to the Trinity park.

She framed the fight over the road in us-versus-them, David-versus-Goliath terms. The slogan on the yard signs of TrinityVote, the group she organized to fight the highway, was: "Keep their toll road out of our park."

Supporters of the highway agreed that putting it next to a park wasn't ideal. But they argued that there were no good alternative routes.

The best of a bad lot, they said, would have been to run the highway along Industrial Boulevard and Irving Boulevard. That would have required the displacement of more than 230 existing businesses. The NTTA estimated that such an alignment would cost at least $300 million more than building the highway inside the levees, where the city already owns unobstructed right-of-way.

Supporters of the road also said that trying to move it now would unnecessarily cause further delays in a project that, to many, already seems to be moving too slowly. It's been almost 10 years since Dallas voters approved $246 million in bonds for the Trinity project.

"For us to lose this would have been a devastating blow to the long-term economic and social well-being of our city," said Ron Kirk, who was mayor when that bond vote took place.

"It's evident of our maturation as a city that we know how to make decisions … and not tolerate delays. It's a very positive step."

The pragmatic arguments against Proposition 1 — we need to fight traffic, there's nowhere else to put the road, we've already done all this planning — were not persuasive to those who simply thought it foolish to build a toll road next to a park.

Ms. Hunt often joked in debates that she didn't know of anyone who wanted to have a picnic next to the Dallas North Tollway.

Until a year ago, the Trinity toll road hadn't figured in a public conversation, and certainly not a heated one, in a long time. After voters approved the 1998 bond issue, the Trinity plan withstood several lawsuits by environmentalists. In 2003, the City Council unanimously adopted what became the working design for the toll road — four lanes through the central city, six lanes elsewhere, all of them on the downtown side of the river corridor.

Planning along those lines was proceeding.

Then along came Ms. Hunt, a practiced trial attorney with a knack for asking questions and little patience for equivocal answers.

After her election in 2005, Ms. Hunt was appointed by Mayor Laura Miller to the City Council's Trinity River Project Committee. As Ms. Hunt tells it, as she continued to attend committee meetings, she grew increasingly frustrated at the lack of precise information from the city staff on the costs and timetable for completion of the Trinity project.

In particular, she said, she grew concerned that the cost of the toll road was spiraling out of control, while the downtown park remained woefully underfinanced.

The final straw, for her, came last November. That was when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers informed the city that the toll road would have to be moved farther into the park. In the wake of the Katrina disaster, the Corps' engineers had grown leery of the city's plans to build the road into the side of the levee — they wanted it moved so it didn't touch the levee at all.

That realignment would reduce the size of the downtown park by more than 40 acres.

Ms. Hunt said enough.

In March, she announced that she would lead a campaign to let voters decide whether to scrap the toll road. In June, she and volunteers from TrinityVote turned in referendum petitions bearing more than 52,000 valid signatures. On Aug. 15, the City Council reluctantly approved placing Proposition 1 on the ballot.

The election pitted Ms. Hunt against the mayor, the rest of the City Council and the downtown business establishment. All 14 of her fellow council members opposed her referendum. So did the entire county Commissioners Court, the North Texas congressional delegation and every chamber of commerce in the city.

Her opponents raised far more money than her group, they spent more and they nailed down far more big contributions. The Dallas Citizens Council, representing the leaders of the city's most prominent businesses, gave $200,000 to the Vote No campaign, by far the largest single donation to either side.

When making his first council committee appointments as the new mayor, Mr. Leppert made a point to exclude Ms. Hunt from the committee with oversight over what had become her most passionate cause — the Trinity River committee. , or

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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Proposition 12 allows state road debt to be repaid with state general revenue

Measures to fund highways, student loans OK'd

November 06, 2007

Peggy Fikac, Austin Bureau
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN -- Billions of dollars in bonds for highways, student loans, parks, lockups and other projects, more light on lawmakers' votes and new protection for family-violence survivors were approved by voters in Tuesday's election.

Backers celebrated passage of the constitutional amendments as step forward for Texas, although Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, House Appropriations Committee chairman, kept a certain perspective.

"Each one of them has importance of its own," he said, but added, "There's nothing on there that the government would up and quit running over."

Some supporters and opponents of the ballot proposals, however, waged their arguments as furiously as if the very existence of government depended upon their passage.

The money

The bond proposals pitted advocates of state projects against fiscal conservative groups wary of the debt that must be repaid with interest.

The biggest bond proposal, Proposition 12, authorized up to $5 billion for highways and for the first time will allow state road debt to be repaid with state general revenue. Supporters called it crucial to help meet state road needs because gas tax revenue falls short and there's a hot dispute over how much toll roads should be used. Critics of the Texas Department of Transportation's toll plans said the agency wasn't to be trusted with the additional money.

Proposition 4, with a majority of the vote in early returns, would authorize up to $1 billion for a range of government projects. Among them are a new Texas Youth Commission lockup, potential new prisons if state leaders give the OK, repairs to state parks and the Battleship Texas, renovation of facilities for people with mental retardation or mental illness, and new Department of Public Safety regional offices in Rio Grande City, McAllen and Lubbock.

The prison portion of the proposal drew opposition to the entire package from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, which said new prisons are unnecessary. Supporters said it's important to have the option to build if more prison space is needed and that the other projects are important.

Two proposals would drive more money to programs that help students and people who live in poor areas of the state.

Proposition 2, which was approved, would allow up to $500 million in bonds for student loans in a program that depends on students' loan repayment to support itself. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, vice chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, said, "I think it will open doors for low-income college students."

Proposition 16, with a lead in early returns, would authorize an additional $250 million to build water and wastewater infrastructure for economically distressed areas.

The victims

Supporters of Proposition 13, which passed, aimed at providing better protection to family violence victims, citing the San Antonio shooting death of Evairene O'Connor by her ex-husband.

Matthew O'Connor, who was due in court for violating a protective order, posted bond and got out of jail, then headed to his former wife's apartment, killing her and fatally shooting himself, said proposition supporters Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, and Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed.

The proposition will allow judges to deny bail to someone accused of a family violence offense if the person had previously been out on bail but had bond revoked for posing a threat. Or judges could deny bail to someone accused of violating a protective order.

The lawmakers

To shine more light on legislative action, Proposition 11 will require lawmakers to record their votes on final passage of all legislation except some local bills. The lawmakers' votes will be placed in House or Senate journals for public review and be available on the Internet for at least two years.

House and Senates rules already require record votes on final passage, but backers said the constitutional amendment will prevent the requirement from being lifted in the future.

The proposal won't require record votes in other key areas, such as when preliminary approval is given to legislation. Open-government groups supported it as an important step forward.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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