Saturday, November 17, 2007

"You can't be a 'nothing' in Texas and give money to a candidate."

$1 million donation dogs Perry to national stage

Travis County attorney is reviewing 2006 donation from GOP group

November 17, 2007

By Laylan Copelin
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

As Gov. Rick Perry ascends the leadership ranks of the Republican Governors Association, jetting to the group's California meeting later this month, he and the association are dogged by questions about $1 million the group gave Perry last year.

Did Perry and the governors association, as alleged in a lawsuit by former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, intentionally conceal the sources of the association's money? Or was it just a clerical error, as Perry says, that prevented Texas voters from knowing who was sending money through the association to the Perry campaign?

On Friday, Travis County Attorney David Escamilla said he was reviewing the circumstances surrounding the two $500,000 donations given in the final 12 days of the 2006 gubernatorial campaign. Robert Black, Perry's press secretary, said Friday that he was checking with the campaign's lawyers to see if they would file the list of donors.

Meanwhile, although Perry has promised to fix the mistake, Black said that would not include returning the money.

"We did nothing wrong," Black said. "It was a clerical error."

State law requires out-of-state political committees — and the candidates who take their money — to disclose a committee's donors to the Texas Ethics Commission.

The Republican Governors Association provided a list of its individual donors to the Perry campaign, which then failed to file it.

The campaign also filed an inaccurate federal identifying number leading Texas voters electronically to the association's defunct federal political committee.

During the final days of the 2006 campaign, the sources of candidates' money became an issue when Bell took $2.5 million from one Texas lawyer.

With no public disclosure of who had donated to the Republican Governors Association, voters did not know that Houston home builder Bob Perry, who is not related to the governor, was the association's biggest individual donor. Bob Perry became a controversial figure, at least among Democrats, in 2004 when he underwrote Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which broadcast a series of ads questioning Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's military record.

Republican Governors Association officials say they didn't file their own report with the Texas Ethics Commission — as required of out-of-state committees — because they say they are not an out-of-state committee and therefore the state disclosure laws don't apply to them.

If the governors association is not a political committee under Texas law, what is it?

"The fact of the matter is, the law is not precise in pigeon-holing or defining what a group like the RGA is," said Ben Ginsberg, the association's lawyer, who helped lead the Bush-Cheney 2000 Florida recount. "The laws aren't always perfectly crafted to put everyone in."

It's an argument that, if correct, could open up the floodgates of anonymous money flowing through groups such as the Republican Governors Association into Texas campaigns.

Bell's lawyer, Buck Wood, said Texas law defines a political committee as a group with "a primary purpose" of raising and spending campaign money.

Calling the association's argument absurd, Wood said only individuals or political committees can give money to Texas candidates.

"You can't be a 'nothing' in Texas," Wood said, "and give money to a candidate."

In Texas, the law allows candidates to, in effect, enforce campaign finance laws by filing lawsuits. Civil penalties can be double the amount of an illegal donation and, for a candidate who acted with criminal intent, a violation is a misdemeanor.

By filing the lawsuit, Bell has become a stone in Perry's black boots (emblazoned with the Texas flag) as he is stepping onto the national stage for the pivotal 2008 elections.

On Nov. 29 and 30, at the association's annual conference in Dana Point, Calif., Perry is playing a prominent role at all of its events and, according to some, could be selected as the group's chairman.

Coming on top of his endorsement of GOP presidential candidate Rudy Guiliani, Perry's election as the leader of the Republican governors could add to his national exposure and clout.

The chairman's job is primarily about raising money. The association is a major political player on the national scene. In 2006, it raised more than $28 million, much of it targeted to gubernatorial campaigns, and is on a record fund-raising pace this year.

When then-Massachuetts Gov. Mitt Romney led the group in 2006, some news reports questioned whether he was directing the association's money into states that could help his 2008 presidential bid.;445-3617

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"It is interesting when editors 'spike' [suppress] stories like KGB assets in an old cold war novel."


‘Spiked’ in the exchange of free speech

November 17, 2007

Paul D. Perry
Waxahachie Daily Light
Copyright 2007

In the 1980 fictional spy thriller “The Spike” by Arnaud de Borchgrave and Robert Moss, news reports are suppressed. In journalistic nomenclature they are “spiked.” In this particular story, left-wing ideologues, a few who are Soviet(KGB) agents, and some who are merely naive conspire. The KGB agents are, of course, the key manipulators. Most happen to be working for newspapers and magazines in the United States. In several cases in the novel, national security is undermined by their activities. The novel is reported to be loosely based upon selected real events.

As a writer I have never experienced anything quite as melodramatic. However, even as one who has some conservative credentials, I have had several articles “spiked,” ironically by conservatives, when I have dared to point out how some Republicans have fallen off the wagon, as it were. Gov. Perry, for instance, has his censors among some in the blogsphere, as well as a few periodicals.

I have had a few articles declined or “spiked” by conservative publications because I was willing to take the Guv to task for his bulldog support of the property-rights-usurping Trans-Texas Landeater — oops, make that the Trans-Texas Corridor — as well as his desire to unconstitutionally mandate the vaccination of the pre-pubescent against a form of venereal disease. That particular vaccine was new on the market. Never mind that some of his buddies seem to be in on the effort for benefits of their own.

Censorship has yet to raise its ugly head, in my experience, on the opinion page of the Daily Light. Natalie Guyol and I do not agree on very much except perhaps certain negative aspects of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, a thing or two — well heck — a lot of things about Rudy Giuliani and free expression, yet we both have our opinions published in the Waxahachie Daily Light. Your local daily supports freedom of speech and has a good record for allowing a great diversity of opinions to appear within its pages. Score several for the home team.

However, I have been asked to tone down my opinions for other publications, sometimes quite pointedly. Weakly, almost apologetically, one editor informed me that while the Governor had his problems, he didn’t want to be too hard on him. Undoubtedly that particular editor feared losing access to our Texas head of state. While I have written more than several pieces for that publication, I am through, for now, unless there is a change of policy. It is interesting when editors “spike” stories like KGB assets in an old cold war novel.

The last straw had nothing to do with the Governor. It had to do with protecting a political consultant. A little background is probably in order. With some caveats, I am a free trader, although I believe we need some protection for key strategic industries. I also think we need penalties for countries who are caught cheating, but I think active world trade has worked to increase prosperity for most people, generally.

Conversely, perhaps, I believe in regulated immigration. Some immigration is probably desirable, but I do not believe in the type of unregulated mess we have in regard to immigration in the United States. As a sovereign nation, we have the right to limit immigration to whatever level can be haggled out in our political system. Mexico, for instance, limits immigration from her own southern neighbors and even regulates the amount of time that citizens of the United States can spend in their country. That being said, I believe that we in the United States should first and foremost be loyal to and respectful of our home country, even if one of us happens to be a political consultant who in this case “consults” and co-authors with a former President of Mexico. Color me red, white and blue.

I am a Texan and a citizen of the United States so ostensibly is Rob Allyn the political consultant who was the co-author of Vicente Fox’s — the former President of Mexico — book a Revolution of Hope. I have already reviewed the book for this column, but let’s visit some things that really stick in my craw. Fox and Allyn’s book criticizes U.S. politicians by name for wanting to restrict illegal immigration from Mexico. They also criticize U.S. politicians, by name, for not wanting to make more immigration legal than is now allowed by law. Congressman Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter receive special ridicule from Fox and Allyn. While the Congressmen’s positions on these issues are not the same as mine, I find myself much closer to their position than Allyn’s.

To me there is a propriety issue here as well. I do not think it is appropriate for a U.S. citizen to join a former foreign head of state in criticizing U.S. office holders. Let Rob Allyn issue his own independent statement criticizing U.S. politicians if he wishes. That is his right as a citizen of the United States. However, it is at the very least bad form to assist a foreigner in quasi-diplomatic wrangling and positioning.

As co-author Allyn is responsible for his statements. He allowed his name to be attached to the book as an author. The cover of the book says, “and Rob Allyn.” To me Rob Allyn’s opinions are a threat to me, my family and the Republic that is the United States in the long run. I think that is a defensible comment, and I believe Mr. Allyn’s seeming lack of concern for what is a majority view in his own party ( Republican) is also fodder for a reasonable discussion.

Yet Mr Allyn has his protectors in the press. I was told “he is a friend of mine and can’t we reword that” by one editor of a widely read blog. Initially I was going to go along, but in the final analysis I said no. Someone has to draw the line.

Paul D. Perry is a contributing Sunday columnist for the Daily Light. He is a local businessman and mediator.

© 2007 Waxahachie Daily Light :

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"You wonder if TxDOT hasn't got so big, they're another branch of government we're not aware of."

TxDOT aims to tighten purse strings

Deficit may top $1.8 billion by fiscal 2012 with current slate of road projects

Nov. 17, 2007

By PEGGY FIKAC Austin Bureau
Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — The Texas Department of Transportation, working to fend off a funding shortfall, intends to cut hundreds of millions of dollars budgeted for everything from consulting engineers to right-of-way purchases.

The plan wouldn't affect existing road projects, and it's "difficult to say" what future projects would be delayed as a result, agency spokesman Randall Dillard said Friday.

Projections show that if existing plans on awarding contracts and expenditures were to go forward, the department would have at least a $1.8 billion deficit by fiscal year 2012 and at least $3.6 billion by fiscal year 2015, agency deputy executive director Steve Simmons said in remarks prepared for Thursday's commission meeting.

"We in the transportation world cannot wait until then to address the problem," Simmons said.

The move comes as TxDOT staff is poised to recommend to the Texas Transportation Commission, the department's oversight board, a separate $1 billion cut this fiscal year for new roads and expansion projects. Officials say funds aren't keeping pace with needs and must be focused on key areas like maintenance.

The chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee said a call from a reporter was his first notice of the agency's move.

"I'm kind of surprised they didn't talk to us about that," said Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa. "You'd think ... before they announced it they'd talk to the appropriators.

"It's almost to the point you wonder if the agency hasn't got so big, they're another branch of government we're not aware of," said Chisum, who previously has taken issue with such agency decisions as its projected expenditure of $7 million to $9 million to promote the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor plan and toll roads.

The Keep Texas Moving campaign, while not cited by Simmons in his prepared remarks, is on the table for reductions along with other agency programs, Dillard said, noting, "Everything's on the table."

Dillard said agency officials had sought to stir a public discussion on the funding issue and had called some lawmakers Thursday.

The chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee was aware of the agency's general direction regarding cuts and supports it in light of the funding situation, said Steven Polunsky, committee director.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, is "in complete agreement about prioritizing maintenance. He believes there is no project in Texas that is worth risking a Minneapolis bridge incident," Polunsky said. "When you're in a budget crunch, you've got to buy fewer things and scrub your internal budget. That's what TxDOT is doing."

The agency has an $8.3 billion budget this fiscal year, including $3.3 billion in federal money. Texas is getting less federal transportation money than previously expected, Simmons said. Another funding source that transportation officials had turned to was affected when lawmakers this year sought to rein in state partnerships with private entities on toll roads.

Carona worked for $5 billion in additional authority for road bonds approved Nov. 6, and he has talked up the need to raise the state's gasoline tax and for a constitutional amendment to prohibit highway funds from being diverted to other sources.

Planned agency cuts include a 57 percent reduction in this fiscal year's consultant engineering budget, to $250 million, and a cut in this year's right-of-way acquisition budget from $500 million to $275 million. Simmons said there is less need to spend money on such items if projects aren't being built.

The agency also is looking to cut its $22.4 million research budget in fiscal year 2009 by up to 50 percent, and it plans a hiring freeze to which only its executive director, Amadeo Saenz Jr., can make an exception.

Simmons said in his remarks, "Our districts and divisions will be notified that the administration in Austin will have to approve all purchases from bulldozers to paper clips."

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

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Big wigs are immune from congestion tax in New York City

Tens Of Thousands Of Bureaucrats Get Free Rides And Agency Wants To Raise Fares


Marcia Kramer
WCBS-TV (New York)
Copyright 2007

NEW YORK (CBS) ― While the Metropolitan Transportation Authority pleads poverty and says it has to raise your fares and tolls, a CBS 2 HD investigation uncovered tens of thousands of chosen bureaucrats who are getting a free ride.

It's an appalling investigation that led David Moretti, the head of the MTA's Bridge and Tunnel division to avoid being questioned by CBS 2 HD. Moretti was so anxious to get away from CBS 2 HD cameras, in fact, that he hid in a classroom for 45 minutes before a scheduled MTA fare hike hearing.

What was he hiding from? He's running from questions about free rides.

At a time when the agency wants to raise fares, it's giving free orange EZ passes to nearly 24,000 people to get across the MTA's nine bridges and tunnels. That's 3.3 million trips.

"It's outrageous. It makes me completely angry," says Jana Glowatz of East Meadow.

Councilman Michael McMahon, D-Staten Island, testified passionately against the fare hike. He was stunned to learn of the free pass scheme.

"That's the most outrageous thing I've ever heard, and if it's true, whoever's doing it should go to jail," he said.

After four months of CBS 2 HD demanding information and answers, the MTA said they couldn't or wouldn't identify most of the people who have the freebies.

But in CBS 2 HD's investigation, it was discovered that nearly 1,000 retired bridge and tunnel workers have lifetime free passes instituted when the spans were first built. Former board members 52, and present board members have 34.

The big wigs can have as many as they want. Former MTA chair Peter Kalikow has eight, former member Richard Nasti has four, and six former board members each have three.

"That makes it even more clear they're not entitled to a fare hike, they're mismanaging and obviously stealing from taxpayers," says McMahon.

Kalikow tells CBS 2 HD he has eight passes because he's a car collector, while Nasti, despite MTA records, says he really only has two.

Both men claim they are the sole users.

And just for the record, MTA executive director Elliot Sander doesn't have a free pass and newly installed MTA chairman Dale Hemmer Ginger has two.

When Moretti finally came out of hiding, CBS 2 HD asked him how he thought the public would react to the freebies.

"That's really up to the public to decide, I wouldn't speculate on it," he said.

New Yorkers left no need to speculate.

"If they're actually giving their own employees free rides then why can't we have them?" asks Brooklyn resident William Peace.

Adds Queens resident Gene Martial: "Give the commuters back the money."

Transit advocates say the MTA should conduct a full-scale investigation to find out who has the free passes and if they're being absued.

CBS 2 HD intends to continue asking questions about it as well.

Stay with for the latest.

© 2007 CBS Broadcasting Inc. :

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Friday, November 16, 2007

“It was a clerical error.”

Prosecutor reviewing governors’ group donations to Perry

November 16, 2007

By Laylan Copelin
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

Travis County Attorney David Escamilla is reviewing the circumstances behind $1 million in donations from the Republican Governors Association to Gov. Rick Perry last fall.

In the final days of his re-election battle, Perry disclosed two $500,000 donations from the association. He failed, however, to publicly disclose who gave the money to the association even though Perry spokesman Robert Black said the campaign had a list of donors.

“We did nothing wrong,” Black said. “It was a clerical error.”

State law requires out-of-state political committees — and the candidates who take their money — to disclose the committee’s donors to the Texas Ethics Commission. The Republican Governors Association says it is not a committee under Texas law, which defines a political committee as a group that has “a principal purpose” of raising or spending campaign donations.

“We’ve been notified,” Escamilla said Friday morning, “and we’re reviewing it.”

The intent of Texas campaign finance laws is full disclosure, including money from out-of-state groups. A violation by a candidate is a misdemeanor.

During the final days of the 2006 campaign, the sources of candidates’ money became an issue. With no public disclosure of who had donated to the Republican Governors Association, voters did not know that Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, who is not related to the governor, was the association’s biggest individual donor.

In 2006, Bob Perry was the nation’s biggest individual donor, giving $16 million primarily to Republican causes. He raised his national profile in 2004 when he underwrote Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that broadcast a series of attack ads questioning the military record of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman: www.

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'The Republican Party in Texas will become known as 'the tolling party,' and that image will damage the party's ability to win future elections. "

Tolls Called "The Largest Tax Increase in Texas History"

Larson blasts MPO for 'secrecy,' says battle to stop toll roads in Bexar County is 'probably over.'


By Jim Forsyth
1200 News Radio
Copyright 2007

Long time toll road opponent Lyle Larson says the proposal that the Metropolitan Planning Organization will vote on next month, to begin the process of building new toll lanes on US Highway 281 north of Loop 1604, amounts to the 'largest tax increase in the history of Texas,' and unlike other tax increases which are approved by elected representatives, because the MPO is unelected, there is nothing Texans can do to stop it, 1200 WOAI news reports.

The Bexar County Commissioner made his comments to the Bexar County Republican Men's Club, and later, to 1200 WOAI news.

"If the vote is successful to use toll equity to build the 281 project, I'm afraid there's nothing we're going to be able to do to stop it," he said.

And if the vote is to give the go-ahead to the 281 tolls, as Larson expects will happen, he warns that is just the beginning.

"Then, God knows what else they're going to toll. There's a lot of projects they're looking at."

Larson expressed a concern that the Republican Party in Texas will become known as 'the tolling party,' and that image will damage the party's ability to win future elections. He says the vast majority of Texans disapprove of the aggressive toll road building policy promoted by Governor Perry and Texas Department of Transportation Chairman Ric Williamson.

He also blasted the MPO for its 'secrecy' and said the unelected agency has a responsibility to lay out for the public the details of the contract agreement on the 281 tolls it will vote on December 3. TxDOT is using a legal ruse to avoid revealing the contents of the contract. It refers to the proposal as a 'draft,' while local officials have said the plan up for a vote next month as 'the final agreement.'

"There's a lot of things that are built into the contracts that we are unaware of, especially when it comes to building other roads that would potentially compete with the toll lanes for capacity," he said.

Larson said if that language is in the 281 toll contract, it could prohibit the state from funding any improvements on Blanco Road, Stone Oak Parkway, of Bulverde Road, allowing those routes to deteriorate to make the toll lanes look more attractive to motorists.

1200 WOAI news revealed exclusively more than a month ago that the contract to build State Highway 130 from Marion to Georgetown allows the state to 'consider' lowing the speed limit on Interstate 35, to encourage more drivers to take the toll road, and fill the pockets of toll road contractor Cintra Zachry.

Larson warns that next month's vote of the unelected MPO is probably the last time toll roads can be avoided.

"The only people then that could stop this would be people at the upper level of state government," Larson said. "I don't see them doing that in the future."

Larson also revealed that in addition to the 17 cent a mile toll on the roughly four mile stretch, it will also cost you 50 cents to drive though the new Loop 1604/US 281 cloverleaf which is part of the project.

© 2007

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"Congressman services his big donor pals by earmarking a million tax dollars to pave one mile of a remote, desert playground for the rich."

TxDOT sitting on money for Lajitas resort road

Nov. 16, 2007

Associated Press
Copyright 2007

LAJITAS — The Texas Department of Transportation is sitting on nearly $1.2 million in federal funds the state agency may never be able to spend, thanks to an earmark from a congressman who wanted to help a contributor move a road through a golf resort he belonged to.

Former U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla steered the money from Washington to Austin in 2005 to move a 1.2-mile stretch of highway that cuts directly through a privately owned border town-turned-exclusive resort.

But the resort went bankrupt and the "Lajitas Relief Route" earmark, buried in a massive highway spending bill, can't be used for anything else.

So, the road sits, still separating pricey hotel rooms from the resort's lush golf course, its two restaurants and most other amenities offered at Lajitas, The Ultimate Hideout. The resort sits on the western edge of Brewster County, a desolate part of West Texas that includes Big Bend National Park and has 1.4 people for each of its 6,130 square miles.

The owner of the resort, Stephen Smith, donated $2,500 to Bonilla's campaigns, and Bonilla owned a membership in the resort — valued as high as $75,000 — that its Web site says is available only to property owners. Bonilla, who was voted out of office in 2006, owns no property in Lajitas.

"The money could be returned to the federal pot ... or the new owners (of the resort) might want to push for that (project)," said Mark Crews, a TxDOT official in El Paso.

The federal earmark doesn't have an expiration date and so far TxDOT officials have not announced plans to return the money.

A call to Smith's cell phone couldn't go through. A call to his bankruptcy attorney, Mark Petrocchi, was not immediately returned.

Several attempts to reach Bonilla through his campaign treasurer were unsuccessful.

The bypass plan, proposed by Smith's resort company, was initially part of a $7 million project to rebuild 13 miles of aging highway. The extra cost to move the roadway from the center of the resort, according to TxDOT, was supposed to be footed by the resort.

"They (Lajitas) were going to pay for it. Bonilla's earmark was not even discussed," Crews said.

But then Bonilla worked the money for the resort's road project into the federal highway spending bill.

When the deal fell apart on the resort's way to bankruptcy, the money "that Bonilla was so generous in giving us" went into limbo, Crews said.

Crews said the bypass project, which would now cost several million dollars to complete, could be revived if a new owner at Lajitas or even the county decided to fund it.

"We don't have the means or the inclination," said Val Beard, the county's top elected official for the last 15 years. "It's something between TxDOT and the resort."

Andrew Wheat, a research director for the nonpartisan watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, said that Bonilla distilled "all that's wrong with American politics into a simple anecdote."

"Every civics textbook in Texas should tell the story of the congressman who services his big donor pals by earmarking a million tax dollars to pave one mile of a remote, desert playground for the rich," Wheat said.

Bonilla has had ties to Smith and his resort since at least 2003. Smith has also been a generous donor to Republican candidates and committees for several years.

Since 1999, Smith has donated more than $300,000 to Republicans, according to Federal Election Commission records.

In 2005, Bonilla's American Dream PAC spent more than $17,000 at the resort for a fundraiser, records show.

Smith bought the resort at auction in 2000 for about $4 million. At the time, the property had a small hotel and a nine-hole golf course. He spent several years and tens of millions of dollars to morph the arid patch of desert into a luxury resort with 92 hotel rooms, 10 condominiums and plans for a master-planned community of vacation homes.

In July, the company filed for bankruptcy in federal court.


Associated Press Writer Suzanne Gamboa in Washington, DC contributed to this report.

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

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"I feel it's a way for the city to make money because it's kind of a trap."

Lufkin Drivers Still Getting Adjusted To Red Light Cameras


by Tashun Chism
KTRE-TV (Lufkin, TX)
Copyright 2007

Despite a 30 day warning period, some East Texans don't think the red light cameras are something drivers will ever get used to.

They believe they have proof that the cameras will do more harm than good.

"I've seen some near accidents already where people almost got rear ended. I personally almost rear ended someone this morning," said Lufkin driver Nathaniel Shaw.

"The light turned yellow and I had just a few feet to go to it. So I went ahead and stopped because of the fear of getting my ticket and there was a car behind me that wasn't stopping and they just came within inches of hitting me," Lufkin resident Jeannie Nash said.

Officials researched the progress of red light cameras in other cities and states before installing them in Lufkin.

"Their accidents would peak until people got used to this. But what it did, all of them have shown, is that the red light accidents went down," said Sgt. David Walker of the Lufkin Police Department.

But the cameras aren't stopping everyone from running red lights at Lufkin's major intersections. Especially the intersection of Copeland and Loop 287. Fatal accidents caused by those types of drivers are the ones officials hope to prevent, even it causes some fenders benders early on.

But some East Texans still aren't convinced, especially about the intersection of Chestnut and Timberland.

"I can guarantee you it does not stay on green when you cross over Timberland it does not stay on green more than three seconds. More than five seconds at the most. Maybe three cars get through then all of a sudden you have to stop," said Shaw.

"I feel it's a way for the city to make money because it's kind of a trap," East Texas driver Bettie Session told us.

"I think they've got it set to trap people. It just goes from green to yellow to red too quick. As a general rule, if you've got people following you, you can't stop on a dime," Nash added.

But the cameras are calibrated according to the stop lights, and TxDOT officials tell us each light typically stays green for at least 8 to 10 seconds.

We staked out the intersection of Chestnut and Timberland and it seemed more like 3 to 5 seconds.

TxDOT officials say that's because the lights all have detectors to improve the flow of traffic.

"What happens is those peak times like when school lets out in the afternoon or in the mornings every approach is loaded so it's real hard to give enough time to each approach. So what you have to do is optimize and try to give enough to each one of them so it at least clears the majority of the traffic out of them," said Herbert Bickley of the Texas Department of Transportation.

Lufkin city officials want drivers to know that the goal of the red light cameras is to increase safety and not revenue.

Each ticket costs $75.

The money from tickets is split three ways: between the city of Lufkin, the state of Texas, and Traffipax.

That leaves the city of Lufkin about $22.50 per ticket.

Lufkin city officials say that money is put back is put right back into funding traffic enforcement.

© 2007 WorldNow and KTRE:

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"As Austin's transit-world turns, the free roads continue to fall like dominoes."

TxDOT Plans Toll Roads In Manor

Nov 16, 2007

KXANTV (Austin)
Copyright 2007

More toll roads are being planned for Central Texas, this time heading out towards Manor. Toll roads between 183 and new State Highway 130 are already in the works.

Now, the Texas Department of Transportation is proposing a new, three-mile stretch of tolls from State Highway 130 East to Manor.

Some residents welcome any effort to relieve the growing congestion out there.

Others find the idea of more tolls like fingernails scratching a blackboard. As Austin's transit-world turns, the free roads continue to fall like dominoes.

TxDOT and toll road proponents argue that congestion, accidents and population projections along 290, east of Austin, are skyrocketing and that tolls are the quickest and cheapest solution.

The plan involves free access roads, three lanes each way, and three toll lanes each way, elevated over crossing intersections.

People realize something must be done.

"I don't want Manor to turn into another ‘Y' at Oak Hill, because every once in a while, I have to drive through that, and it's atrocious, and I feel like that's what's happening in Manor right now," said Manor resident Alex Carrillo.

TxDOT is used to catching flak, but they said this case is different.

"They really want this project to be done to help with the congestion here locally in Manor, so we've received a lot of positive feedback from the local public," said TxDOT Project Director Joe Seago.

There are three proposed routes, and the middle alternative would run straight down the present 290, where some businesses might get displaced. The biggest beef is a dirty little four letter word: toll.

"It just rubs me the wrong way," said Carrillo.

"It doesn't make any difference to me whether we have a toll or not. The essence of having a quick commute from a place like Elgin into Austin is absolutely essential," said Manor resident Gerald Aalbers.

"You take my tax dollars, you build a road, then you make me pay to use it. I ain't too crazy about that," said area resident Brenner Donohue.

The first shovels could hit the ground in three or four years.

One resident had an alternative plan. She said anyone moving east towards Manor has to leave their cars behind, so people would have to use only bicycles or mass transit trains. That's not likely to happen.

© 2007 WorldNow and KXAN:

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"Raise taxes? That's crazy. But that's exactly what toll roads are all about – consumption taxes. "

Community Opinions

Time for a TollTag revolt

'Maybe we'll have a colonial tea party at Lake Lewisville'

November 16, 2007

DUANE GREEN of Little Elm
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

After living in and driving around Little Elm for the last five years, I have recently assigned a pejorative meaning to a couple of four-letter words in my vocabulary: toll road.

Little Elm and Frisco are among the fastest growing communities in North Texas. Little Elm has grown from a population of 3,600 in 2000 to almost 23,000 today. That's almost 20,000 new residents over the last seven years and hardly a square inch of new roadways.

As a result, if I want to leave the cozy confines of the 75068 zip code, I can count on two things: traffic jams and toll roads – and frequently both at once. Why haven't the roadways kept up with the growth?

I read recently that during a recent Little Elm Town Hall meeting, state Rep. Myra Crownover told residents that Austin is aware of our traffic problems but can't provide immediate relief. Duh. Nearly every news story about the roadways in North Texas includes some mention of how the state gasoline tax, a primary source for highway construction funding, does not generate enough revenue to fund the necessary road improvements in Texas.

So, absent any other transportation strategy, the answer has increasingly been to build toll roads. And more toll roads.

Since our community is at the northern edge of the metroplex, if I want to visit the big city, it's almost mandatory to drive the Dallas North Tollway, President George Bush Turnpike or the State Highway 121 toll road. There is some good news: In 2009, we'll get some relief in the form of the Lewisville Lake Bridge. Oops, make that the Lewisville Lake toll bridge.

I guess my MasterCard isn't the only piece of plastic I can't leave home without these days.

So when is enough enough? If the state cannot generate enough highway funds from the current gasoline tax, maybe it's time to raise the tax to a level that supports our transportation needs.

Raise taxes? That's crazy. But that's exactly what toll roads are all about – consumption taxes. And I am tired of being taxed twice – once at the pump, the second time at the toll plaza. I rarely even see, let alone drive on Interstate 30, Interstate 20, Central Expressway, State Highway 114 or State Highway 183. But I'm sure as heck being taxed for those roads.

The current state gasoline tax of 20 cents per gallon hasn't increased in nearly two decades. Anybody wanna guess what a first-class postage stamp cost in 1991? Answer: 29 cents. A stamp costs 41 cents today, an increase of 41 percent.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, inflation rates over the same period mean that what you could buy for $100 in 1991 costs $153 today. So that 20-cent tax is actually worth less than a dime in today's dollars.

I think the Legislature should raise the tax to at least 25 cents per gallon. That's an extra dollar on a 20-gallon fillup. Fill up four times a month, and it will cost you $4 more. I paid $4 just to get to downtown Dallas the other day.

I don't know if a 25 percent increase would actually meet our current highway construction needs (probably not even close), but it's a start.

But I have not heard a single elected official mention this as a viable option. Why? Our elected officials have no problem asking us to pay more for education, corrections, public safety or sports stadiums. Likewise, many towns issue bonds to pay for surface street repairs and new construction. But there is no mention anywhere about finding a better, more equitable way to fund our highways.

I recall some boring history lesson during elementary school about a bunch of colonists rallying around what they considered to be an unfair tax policy in the late 1700s. These folks dumped some 45 tons of tea into Boston harbor to protest.

Perhaps if a few like-minded colonists in Little Elm, Frisco and surrounding communities would engage in a similar protest – this time casting our TollTags into Lake Lewisville – we might catch the attention of the biennial residents down in the 78701 zip code.

If there isn't some relief in sight soon, I may start focusing on two different four-letter words: Move away.

Duane Green of Little Elm is an account manager for a translation services company and a Community Voices volunteer columnist. His e-mail address is dua

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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"A vipers' nest of competing interests makes Highway 161 toll road negotiations especially sensitive."

State threatens to cancel Highway 161 toll project

TxDOT, NTTA must reach deal in 5 weeks or region could face bill

November 16, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – Plans to expand State Highway 161 into Tarrant County as a toll road could collapse over the next five weeks, taking with them hundreds of millions of dollars for Dallas County highways.

The highly anticipated highway – running 11.5 miles through Irving, Arlington and Grand Prairie – has been touted for years as probably the second-richest toll project in North Texas, after the controversial State Highway 121 toll project.

But on Thursday, Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said if the Texas Department of Transportation's local engineers and the North Texas Tollway Authority can't reach an agreement on basic terms for the toll project by Dec. 21, the state will cancel it.

"If you can reach agreement by Dec. 21, and bring us a Christmas present, then great," Mr. Williamson said Thursday during the commission's monthly meeting in Austin. "If not, then Highway 161 won't be a toll road, and we'll move on to other projects."

NTTA executive director Jorge Figueredo said reaching agreement with TxDOT over how to proceed on Highway 161 by Dec. 21 may not be possible.

"I am going to do everything possible to make this work," Mr. Figueredo said. "But I don't know if it is possible to finish by the end of the year. We have some serious matters to negotiate."

If the two sides fail to reach an agreement, North Texas – and especially Dallas County – would lose hundreds of millions of dollars in cash payments expected to be generated by the Highway 161 project. That could delay work on other needed roads for years, area planners said Thursday.

Drivers, on the other hand, would probably still get a new Highway 161 – and would be spared paying tolls on the road.

Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said Highway 161 is too important not to build.

But building it as a free road would be costly for the region – both in terms of dollars and congestion, Mr. Morris and others said.

Mr. Williamson said the state has no money to spend on the project. Instead, the region would have to spend $600 million of the money it expects to receive from NTTA as part of the Highway 121 contract.

Mr. Morris said the region had hoped to use that money on other projects.

All told, he said, losing Highway 161 as a toll project could cost $1 billion or more in highway funds. TxDOT's lead Dallas engineer, Bill Hale, said the figure could be much higher than that.

At loggerheads

The actual disagreement between NTTA and Mr. Hale is relatively simple.

State laws passed this year require NTTA and TxDOT to negotiate the basic business terms of all toll road projects proposed for North Texas. The two sides have to agree, lawyers for both sides said this week, or the road can't move forward as a toll project.

Those talks on Highway 161 began in the summer and broke down in the past two weeks, according to a series of letters from the parties that were reviewed by The Dallas Morning News.

The two sides disagree over how much access the other should have to the financial modeling software used to project the value of the road. The complex forecasting software takes into account hundreds of variables over the life of the proposed project – some 50 years in the case of Highway 161 – and makes assumptions about traffic, inflation and a litany of other details that help establish how much the toll contract is worth.

NTTA wants access to the software so it can better understand how TxDOT is modeling its expectations for what the project is worth. Mr. Hale said the software is proprietary and should not be shared.

Larger interests

But while the dispute over the modeling software is at the core of the immediate delay, a vipers' nest of other, often-competing, interests makes the negotiations over Highway 161 especially sensitive.

The negotiations are seen in some corners as a proxy fight between Gov. Rick Perry's transportation department and the state Legislature over how Texas will build its badly needed roads in a time of increasingly scarce highway funds.

The negotiations over Highway 161 are required by laws passed last session by a Legislature alarmed over Mr. Perry's plans to increasingly rely on private firms to build Texas highways.

NTTA was given the right of first refusal on any toll road proposed within its jurisdiction. The law also states that if the road is to proceed as a toll road, both sides have to agree on the essential terms – things such as traffic projections, toll rates and the like.

Those terms could prove extremely difficult to agree on, given that TxDOT and NTTA look at the potential value of the road from very different starting points.

Mr. Hale, the lead Dallas engineer, said using private-sector assumptions as the basic business terms of the deal, TxDOT believes the value of the toll contract could be high enough to warrant a private investor paying $1.2 billion – on top of construction costs.

But those figures are based on riskier traffic projections than would be easily accepted by the municipal bond market – and it is those lenders whom NTTA would have to rely on to build the road. As a result, what the road is worth to NTTA may be less than what it is worth to the private sector.

Legislators were aware of the potential conflict when they passed the rule, said Steven Polunsky, director of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

"The Legislature clearly envisioned a negotiation process in which NTTA and TxDOT would work out their differences," Mr. Polunsky said.

He said that by giving NTTA a seat at the table, the Legislature ensured that the toll roads wouldn't simply go, as a matter of course, to the private sector.

"They also believed that the parties would be motivated to reach an agreement by, as much as anything else, the extremely high visibility of these projects," he said. "Whatever the numbers that are put forward by either side, they are going to have to be seen as reasonable."

Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, said the Legislature should have stipulated the starting points for negotiations between NTTA and TxDOT.

"There is no question we should have defined those terms better," said Mr. Harris, who said he has been in discussions with Tarrant County local leaders and TxDOT in the past few days. But he said the project is too important to lose over the "severe battle lines" he sees developing between NTTA and TxDOT.

"If NTTA see things in a way that makes this project not work for them, then they need to step aside and let another bidder come to the table," he said. "The gamesmanship has to end."

Pressure is on

In rebuffing Mr. Morris' proposal to give NTTA and TxDOT's local staff more time to negotiate over Highway 161, the commissioners were probably betting that the pressure of which Mr. Polunsky spoke would work in favor of reaching an agreement.

The stakes are particularly high in Dallas County. Most of the cars that would use Highway 161 are registered in Dallas, Mr. Morris and others said Thursday. That means as much as two-thirds of the money it generates as a toll road would be earmarked for Dallas County road projects.

Because of that, the Highway 161 project could be two to three times as significant for Dallas County as the Highway 121 project has been.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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"TxDOT still uses weasel words in their documents."

TxDOT to consider existing roads first for TTC


By TRACY DANG, Managing Editor
The Sealy News
Copyright 2007

The proposed Trans-Texas Corridor 69 has caused many concerns for urban and rural communities all over Texas. But the Texas Department of Transportation is letting the public know it is paying attention to the concerns.

With the help of the Federal Highway Administration, TxDOT released the Trans-Texas Corridor I-69 Draft Environment Impact Statement this week.

According to the report, TxDOT will need to do more studies on the project and ask for additional public comment regarding a narrower study area. The current study area is currently a 50-mile-wide path, and TxDOT wants to narrow it down to a 1/2- to four-mile-wide path.

The report suggested looking at the possibility of using existing highways first.

"This is a result of public comment we received up to this point - this is what they prefer we do instead of trying to build a totally new roadway," TxDOT spokesperson Mark Cross said.

Further study would confirm whether or not the idea is possible, but TxDOT said the option appears favorable.

"There are facilities out there that will allow us to utilize them as far as the corridor, and there are areas that it is safer and easier," he said.

Although there have been concerns about the proposed corridor, TxDOT said future transportation is something the state needs to address.

"In TxDOT's eyes, we're looking at the projections in future population," Cross said. "Those projections tell us we're going to be impacted greatly by an increase of vehicles on the highways of Texas in the future. We are preparing for that.

"One of those issues right now is all of the metro areas have a problem with congestion. A lot of it is through-traffic. The TTC would help divert that traffic around the metro areas and help ease the congestion through the metro areas. It also provides us another hurricane evacuation route out of the state or to the eastern part of the state."

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst said TxDOT's report is "a step in the right direction" but believes it still needs work.

"Their proposed map for Austin County still appears to demand an enormous amount of private property," she said. "Last session, I led the fight to stop the sale of highways to foreign private companies. However, TxDOT can continue to propose the idea for a Trans-Texas Corridor but that doesn't mean they have the financial methods to build it."

But a step in the right direction is better than no improvements at all.

"I'm glad that TxDOT commissioners are reaching out to local people to hear their concerns," Kolkhorst said. "If a community doesn't want or benefit from the Trans-Texas Corridor I-69 project, then they need to let TxDOT know."

Many anti-TTC groups feel the same way.

"Overall, I think this reflects a shift with TxDOT," said David Stall, co-owner of "It's a scaled back approach to the TTC, aligning closer with existing highways as opposed to a completely new and independent route. It's moving toward more community input, and we're seeing greater communication with county and city officials. These are all positive shifts."

Still Stall said he is not completely satisfied with the project or how TxDOT is handling it.

"I'm still disappointed TxDOT is working hard to manipulate the outcome of the meetings. They're spending $9 million on a campaign to sell the corridor and allowing the community to reach their own conclusions.

"We have a great concern that they're continuing to have secrecy with the decisions being made. You may know they have an interest in setting up new committees along the route, but it's already been asked that members of the committees with have to sign a disclosure.

"And we've always had a concern with the size. TxDOT still uses weasel words in their documents, addressing rural concerns such as the 1,200-foot width. They say it may not be 1,200 feet wide, but the document still says it's 1,200 feet wide."

Nevertheless, Stall said the community still has an opportunity to voice its concerns.

"Everyone needs to stay engaged and involved so they can have an impact on what comes out the other end. This a project that's not going to happen in any particular way. We all have the opportunity to share the future of transportation."

TxDOT will begin holding town hall meetings along the TTC to answer questions about the corridor in January and public meetings for public comment starting in February.

In the meantime, the public can stay updated on the corridor's progress at

© 2007 The Sealy News:

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"Proposed corridor includes converting portions of non-toll roads."

TxDOT reviews initial Trans-Texas Corridor study

November 16, 2007

By Robbie Byrd, News Editor
The Huntsville Item
Copyright 2007

The much touted — and disputed — Trans-Texas Corridor may be one step away from a pipe dream and one step closer to a reality.

The group this week released its Tier 1 Environmental Impact study, a look at how building the highway, dubbed I-69, running from Texarkana to Laredo, would affect the 50 or so counties it would run through.

Bryan Wood, district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation in Bryan, said the first study only looks at how the many initially proposed component of the highway would impact the surrounding areas.

“We’re still a long ways away from putting anything on the ground,” Wood said.

The impact study looks for already identified impact sites — such as churches, cemeteries, homes and businesses — that would either have to be diverted around or moved along the proposed route.

“We really are just taking a look at the location information of these areas and other environmental issues (and) we’re trying to do that from existing data,” Wood said.

The data has been collected over the years by federal agencies using GIS data, or geographical information systems, that pinpoint locations along the proposed route.

The problem is, Wood said, some of the data they are using is already outdated, as new buildings spring up along the route.

After it irons out plans for the corridor, TxDOT will spend several years revising that data and surveying the proposed route on their own.

“We’ll begin an approximately four year process of more detailed environmental impact,” Wood said. “(Environmental sites) are obviously something we want to avoid or mitigate for. Those type things are a significant concern.”

As well, TxDOT will hold public hearings throughout the entire Tier 2 design process, seeking public input about the many proposed features of the corridor.

Currently, the plan outlines high-speed passenger rail lines, urban commuter rails, freight rails, 18-wheeler only lanes and infrastructure transmission lines, all packed between an expanded interstate highway.

But those are just options, Wood said, and it will be up to Texas residents to decide what services they’d like to see along the “highway of the future.”

“Does it have to be all these things?” Wood said. “It actually doesn’t. That’s part of what we’ve been saying to the public. We need the input to see what they need, and to see if they want train tracks running through the road or if they want to see those rails along existing facilities.”

The current proposal does not specify where the rail lines would stop, nor where exactly the new interstate road will run. Only a vague, orange line on the latest proposed map offers indications about where the road will run: just north of Huntsville, passing over into Grimes county, while a split in the road near Trinity takes the highway straight into Houston.

But Wood said the project would cut down congestion along busy Interstate 45 through Walker County, which sees anywhere from 23,000 to 36,000 vehicles per day pass through the area.

How? By providing commercial trucks dedicated lanes that would help pay for the toll highway.

“The idea that we could do an Interstate with truck-only toll lanes has become very popular,” Wood said. “There have been segments of Texas already that have said they would like to see ... only toll lanes for trucks around their community. I think that speaks volumes for what the public wants and we’re listening.”

Wood said that the only way to pay for the new highway system would be tolls. But the group is not limiting their options just to tolls on commercial drivers.

“Our grandfathers and parents put a larger portion of their income towards transportation because it was important to them,” Wood said, saying the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System was paid for exclusively with gas taxes.

“If you look at the percentage of the state budget that was gas taxes in the ’60s it was 20 or 30 percent of the state budget for transportation. It’s at about 6 percent right now,” he said.

Though the proposed corridor includes converting portions of non-toll roads U.S. Highway 59, US 281 and US 77 as part of the new highway, the free portions of those roads would continue to be free.

“The only way to pay for it unless something different happens is polls,” Wood said. “We’ll see what options we have available when we get closer to building it.”

Wood said some people have expressed concern over the route the highway will take in Walker County and that TxDOT is listening, providing alternate plans that could bypass Walker County altogether.

“That question has been asked: can that be changed now or in tier 2 studies,” Wood said. “And the answer is yes. If anyone wants to make suggestions about where that corridor goes they can.”

Wood said the corridor is a necessity, as the population of east and southeast Texas continues to boom.

“We’re seeing somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200 new people in Texas each day,” Wood said. “That’s a city the size of Austin added to the map every 2 years. And it’s not stopping.”

For more information on the project, visit TxDOT’s special projects Web site at or the Trans-Texas Corridor Web site at

© 2007 The Huntsville Item :

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'Gag me with a toll road'

Dallas conference focuses on Trinity park

November 15, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Enough with the toll road already.

The Trinity Trust wants to talk about the park.

It’s invited planners, architects and others from around the country to do just that Friday, in a daylong conference at City Hall.

“What we want to do is have a discussion about how we build a beautiful park for the citizens of Dallas,” said Gail Thomas, president of the trust.

“We’re bringing in top minds to talk about how the people of Dallas will experience the Trinity park — what it’s going to look like, how it’s going to feel when you’re down there, when you walk along the edges of the water.”

The Trinity Trust is a nonprofit group that was created to raise private donations to augment public financing for the Trinity project, the city’s $1.7 billion plan to transform the Trinity River Corridor into a showcase park with lakes, trails, promenades, greenbelts and other recreational attractions.

The trust is closely affiliated with another nonprofit group, the Trinity Commons Foundation.

While neither the Trinity Trust nor the Trinity Commons Foundation officially took a public position on the Nov. 6 citywide referendum on the Trinity toll road, the boards of both organizations include many prominent individuals who supported the highway. Some of them campaigned against Proposition 1, the ballot measure that would have killed the toll road, to be built inside the river levees.

Proposition 1 lost at the polls, with 53 percent of voters opposed. Its supporters, led by Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt, wanted the road moved out of the river corridor because they feared it would spoil the downtown park.

Dr. Thomas said she hoped there would be little talk of toll roads at today’s conference, in the City Council Chamber on the sixth floor at City Hall.

“People could just gag on the road, they’re so tired of hearing about it,” she said. “They need to know other things about the Trinity project.

“Let’s think about the park instead — let’s build a beautiful park and make the road fit into it. The toll road will be a guest in our park.”

She said the conference was planned a year ago, long before anyone knew there would be a referendum on the toll road.

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert will address the conference at 1:30 p.m., speaking on “The Role of the Trinity in the Region and in the World.”

Others on the program include:

Ignacio Bunster-Ossa, a landscape architect and urban designer with Wallace, Roberts and Todd of Philadelphia, a consultant for the Trinity project. He will present an overview called “Designing the Trinity for 21st Century Dallas.”

Leni Schwendinger of Leni Schwendinger Light Projects Limited of New York City. Ms. Schwendinger, also a consultant for the Trinity project, specializes in lighting installations in public spaces. Her projects include works at Kingston Bridge in Glasgow, Scotland, and Coney Island in Brooklyn. Her talk is titled “Lighting the Riverfront: Magic and Mystery.”

John Todd, a biologist and co-founder of Ocean Arks International in Falmouth, Mass. Dr. Todd is a globally recognized expert in ecologically sensitive water treatment methods. He’ll speak about “Cleaning the River Environmentally: A Model for 21st Century Cities.”

Enrique Norten, founder of TEN Arquitectos, an architectural firm with offices in Mexico City and New York. Mr. Norten, who has taught at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Texas, the University of Michigan and Harvard University, among others, is working on potential designs for a pedestrian walkway and overlook that would provide access to the Trinity park from downtown via an extended Reunion Boulevard.

About 200 people are expected to attend the Trinity conference, Dr. Thomas said. It begins at 9 a.m. and adjourns at 4 p.m. A panel discussion featuring the day’s speakers will take place at 5:30 p.m. at the offices of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, 2719 Routh St.

The cost for the daylong session is $60, including a continental breakfast and lunch. People may register at the door this morning in the Flag Room outside the Council Chamber.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

"Decision to build close to U.S. 59 or on it is a partial victory."

Planners narrow proposed I-69 corridor

New road would largely follow the U.S. 59 footprint across the state

Nov. 15, 2007

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

State highway officials have sharply narrowed the possible route of the Interstate 69/Trans-Texas Corridor, saying they plan to keep it close to U.S. 59 and other existing roads.

The news comes after months of criticism that the planned corridor and its sister project, TTC-35 in Central Texas, could divide farms and ranches and suck motorists' dollars from nearby towns to the projects' developers.

It also comes after the Texas Legislature restricted the Texas Department of Transportation's ability to expand the use of tolls and privatization to pay for new roads.

The revised study area is shown in the federally required Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the I-69/TTC project, a hefty document made public earlier this week.

Through most of its 650 miles from Texarkana to the Mexico border, the corridor under study initially ranged from 20 to 80 miles wide. It has been reduced in the DEIS to between a quarter mile and four miles wide.

The proposed route follows U.S. 59 from Texarkana to Victoria, except through Houston, then splits off to Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley on U.S. 77, U.S. 281 and Texas 44.

A bypass — TxDOT uses the term "relief route" — would skirt west of the Houston area.

Because the corridor's role is to connect urban areas rather than go through their hearts, the identified route generally avoids areas that are built up or expected to grow rapidly.

However, spurs would extend to the Port of Houston from the north and west. Bypasses also are likely around several smaller cities.

Another spur is shown branching off from north of Nacogdoches to the Louisiana state line. Although the Trans-Texas Corridor would stop there, the envisioned Interstate 69 would continue northeast to Detroit and Canada, for a total length of 2,700 miles border to border.

An east-west connection between the Gulf port of Corpus Christi and the inland port of Laredo also is planned, said project spokeswoman Gabriela Garcia of TxDOT.

"One thing we have heard from everybody over several years is to focus on existing corridors and see how we can incorporate them into the project," Garcia said.

Room for toll lanes

Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton described U.S. 59 as a four-lane divided highway with "a beautiful nice, wide median" where toll lanes dedicated to trucks or cars could be built. In some places, he said, the footprint might need to be widened.

Garcia said the corridor would be "demand-driven" and built in pieces as needed. A TxDOT official also said toll rates and the roadway could vary between segments depending on traffic load and local preferences.

In spring 2008, Houghton said, TxDOT will set up working groups for specific segments of the route "to advise us on what they would like to have."

A separate group would represent ports and another working group for the overall project.

"Each region has its own significant issues," Houghton said.

For instance, he said, "Victoria County has said they want dedicated truck lanes and they are going out to buy right of way."

Residents of the Brazos Valley want an interstate highway to Bryan-College Station, Houghton said. The proposed route west of Houston would pass through Grimes and Walker counties nearby.

For years, towns and cities along U.S. 59 in East and South Texas have sought to have the busy highway upgraded to I-69. After 2002, when Gov. Rick Perry announced his goal of building the Trans-Texas Corridor — a statewide network of roads and rails, pipelines and power lines — the I-69 idea was folded into corridor plans.

But there were changes that troubled longtime supporters: The road would be tolled, probably built and managed privately, and may end up too far from towns for local businesses to attract motorists.

David Stall of Corridor Watch, a citizens group opposed to the corridor concept, said the decision to build close to U.S. 59 or on it is a partial victory.

"I think the state is learning very slowly," Stall said. "Those are huge shifts in direction."

Also pleased was Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation, which advocates tolls and other means of stretching tax dollars for needed highways.

"Using existing right-of-ways means highways can potentially be built faster, more cost effectively and with less impact on property owners," said spokesman Bill Noble in a statement.

Uncontrolled access

It was not clear how the broad corridors that Perry envisioned could be built alongside U.S. 59 in East Texas, where numerous small towns line the highway and there is uncontrolled access from dozens of streets, parking lots and driveways.

In those places, said TxDOT deputy executive director Steve Simmons, "We might have to rebuild the facility so that the existing lanes become more like frontage roads."

Stall said adding lanes to U.S. 59 would be easier in the less populous stretch from the Houston area to Mexico.

"We are talking about something along the model of the interstate system, and the Rio Grande Valley and Polk County have been clamoring for that for years," he said.

Work on the DEIS began in 2004, and it could take at least as long to complete the second phase of environmental studies to determine a detailed route, Garcia said.

She said the process will begin in January with 10 town hall meetings, dates and places to be announced, followed by 46 public hearings in February throughout the corridor.

The draft environmental impact statement can be accessed here
See a map of the narrowed-down route here

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

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