Friday, December 28, 2007

"We are ready to do this, we are prepared to do this, and Statute 391 gives us the ability to do this!"

Ready to act


Letters to the Editor
The Alpine Avalanche
Copyright 2008

Dear Residents of the Big Bend: The Rio Grande Council of Governments has generally been supportive of measures to designed to protect the Big Bend region, but they have yet to take a stand against La Entrada.

We can not afford to wait. Furthermore, we should not shirk the responsibility (or pass up the possibility) to organize a commission that directly represents the wishes of the citizens of this region.

Establishing a Sub-Regional Planning Commission is about representing what the residents of the Big Bend know is best for this area.

The COG (Council of Governments) has been beneficial to us in the past, and our county commissioners and judges have put forth their best efforts to represent and protect us. However, this is a huge area, and the COG must divide its attention between the many voices of our small towns and the enormous demands of El Paso.

Who can blame them for not having become more involved with La Entrada, and what kind of citizens would we be if we did not show our support for our councilors by stepping up to the plate?

By "stepping up to the plate" I mean that we must take responsibility for this area and do our part to help the COG and our various towns by committing to a Big Bend Sub-Regional Planning Commission.

This is our home, and we should do our part while working in close partnership with the COG. This will provide us the most legitimate representation while alleviating some the burden our councilors already deal with on a daily basis.

We are ready to do this, we are prepared to do this, and Statute 391 gives us the ability to do this!

It is time for the stewards, the ranchers, the youths, and all the rest to take the reins and do their part!

I am ready. ReViva [Collective] is ready. The Sierra Club is ready. Alpine City Council is ready.

It is time for us all to stand together under one label - Citizens of the Big Bend - and let the COG and the rest of the world know we are ready to take care of our community.

Jeff Milam


© 2008 The Alpine Avalanche:

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“We need help. Victoria won’t be able to do it alone.”

Victoria leaders unhappy that I-69 may run in northern part of county

December 28, 2007

The Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2007

Northern Victoria County is the state’s preferred route for a proposed super highway called Interstate 69, and local officials are not pleased.

“I just don’t like it at all,” said County Commissioner Kevin Janak, whose precinct covers northwest Victoria County. “It’s practically the largest land grab in history since Interstate 10.”

Mayor Will Armstrong said he’ll be sending letters next week to industrial plant managers and city and county officials throughout the region urging them to oppose the northern route. A route south of Victoria is preferred because it would better serve traffic and cause less disruption, he said.

“We need help,” Armstrong said. “Victoria won’t be able to do it alone.”

That’s why his letter will encourage those with an interest in the project to attend public meetings sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation.

There will be a town hall meeting Jan. 29 at 6:30 p.m. at the Victoria Community Center and a public hearing on Feb. 27 at 6:30 p.m. at The Victoria College Fine Arts Auditorium.

“It’s really important that people comment,” said District Engineer Lonnie Gregorcyk with the transportation department’s Yoakum District. “Things can change.”

The northern route is listed in the state’s environmental impact study as the preferred route because it can weave through the countryside with the least impact, Gregorcyk said.

Both routes would cross the Guadalupe River, but more floodplain would be affected on the south route. “North of town is the highest, driest piece of dirt,” he said.

The route would cross U.S. 87 roughly eight to 10 miles north of the Rio Grande-Main Street intersection in Victoria.

Armstrong said that route would be costly because of the right of way the state would have to purchase. Victoria is growing in that direction and the highway could divide the city, he said.

The south route would better serve the industrial plants and the ports in Victoria and Calhoun counties, he said. It could also use the existing U.S. 59 right of way, reducing the amount of land the state would have buy.

Janak said there’s no reason for the state to take land from the owners in north Victoria County when the U.S. 59 route is available.

“Grandparents have done without so they could pass property on to their children’s children,”he said. “Now for the state to take it away is dead wrong.”

Building a new highway north of Victoria could pull truck traffic off existing routes. That could devastate truck stop and motel owners who made investments on the current highways, Janak said.

“Instead of buying these people out, they’re going to go and take land away from other families,” he said. “So they’re going to be hurting two groups of people.”

To see a graphic/document: Map of preferred route [PDF]

David Tewes is a reporter for the Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6515 or

© 2007 The Victoria Advocate:

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Brazos Valley Council of Governments executive director Michael Parks lies to Grimes County Commissioners. Constituents aren't fooled.

I-69 Corridor is not for competitive U.S. trade


Navasota Examiner
Copyright 2007

Ladies and Gentleman, Michael Parks gave this same presentation to Judge Shifflet at commissoners court on November 14, 2007 to a room full of concerned residents including myself, most of whom, were and still are opposed to this corridor for more than one reason.
Throughout the meeting, Mr. Parks stated that Brazos County was in favor of it, and were welcoming it, while the majority of Grimes County residents were telling him Brazos County could have it. Mr. Parks and Brazos county welcomed it all right, right through the middle of our Dear and beautiful county, (nowhere near Brazos County) according to the map that was published in The Examiner November 21, 2007 on the front page, a week after the presentation.

During this meeting, Mr. Parks never once mentioned the fact that this would be a TOLL ROAD, nor did he refer to it as the Trans Texas Corridor. When questioned as to whether or not the I-69 corridor was linked to the Trans Texas Corridor, Mr. Parks stated we were confusing the two, and only when questioned did he state that it very possibly would be a TOLL ROAD, less than a week later at a similar presentation in Bryan, Mr. Parks himself linked I-69/Trans Texas Corridor as being one in the same.

Friends and Neighbors, TxDOT, Michael Parks, and Mr. 39% can sugar coat this all they want, but the fact of the matter is, they're attempting to give hundreds of thousands of acres of Rural Texas back to Foreign Interests (Spain), we might as well hang a huge WELCOME banner at all the border crossings. If we let this corridor happen that is exactly what we can expect. More ILLEGAL ALIENS, ILLEGAL DRUGS, ILLEGAL WEAPONS, and TERRORISTS.

This I-69 Corridor will in no way help U.S. trade. The only thing it will help is the transport of goods from China, India, Mexico, Canada, and other countries (where U.S. jobs have been outsourced to) across and into the United States.

Please, if you care anything about the United States of America, The Great State of Texas, and this Wonderful County, call, write, and e-mail your State Representative, your County Judge and your County Commissioners, tell them you want a Town Hall Meeting in your county, with more than a days notice, in a place larger than commissioners court, and attend that meeting. If you don't mind paying tolls for roads you've allready paid for, or flooding, or living in the suburbs of Houston, than do absolutely nothing. Thank you Mary Lois and thank you Amy Stolz for continually bringing this subject up in The Examiner.

Shawn Schneider of Shiro, Texas

Related Article: Commissioners hear Brazos Valley Council of Goverments alternate I-69 plan

© 2007 The Navasota Examiner:

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Meanwhile, in the OC: "Frequent express-lane commuters are crying foul"

Tolls to hit $1 a mile on 91 Express Lanes

Friday afternoon drivers will pay up to $10 for a quicker commute.

December 28, 2007

By David Reyes
Los Angeles Times
Copyright 2007

First came the $5 cup of coffee. Then the $10 movie ticket. Now get ready to pay $10 to drive a toll road -- about $1 a mile. And that doesn't even include the gas. Or the coffee.

Starting next week, Friday-afternoon commuters on the eastbound 91 Express Lanes will have to dip deeper into their wallets to escape endless congestion on the Riverside Freeway. The $10 toll is among the highest in the nation and comes nine months after the boost to $9.25. It will be in effect from 3 to 4 p.m.

Express lane officials argue that the toll lanes are too popular, which slows travel for paying customers.

By using so-called congestion pricing, they hope to persuade some commuters to travel during cheaper hours.

But frequent express-lane commuters are crying foul, saying that as the Inland Empire's population swells, more traffic is added to the daily commute, negating any positive effects from higher rates.

"I think it's ridiculous. I feel they haven't really validated the rate increase," said Richard Bangert, who travels the toll lanes daily from his home in Corona to his job in Orange County. "Here you have people living in the Inland Empire holding down jobs elsewhere and they can barely afford gasoline and now these increasing rates. I feel they're getting railed."

Not so, said Joel Zlotnik, a spokesman for the Orange County Transportation Authority, which owns and operates the express lanes.

"The purpose of the congestion pricing is to ensure the lanes are providing a free-flow and consistent ride for our customers," he said.

By raising the peak toll, drivers are encouraged to travel during off-peak hours, Zlotnik said.

The OCTA isn't the only agency in the state to use a sliding fee scale. Part of Interstate 15 in San Diego also uses a similar, but less expensive, pricing scheme. San Francisco has congestion pricing in place on several roads and is considering a plan similar to London's, under which motorists would be charged for entering the downtown area, or even for entering the city's limits.

And earlier this month, the Metropolitan Transportation Agency proposed converting carpool lanes on three Los Angeles County freeways into toll lanes.

The tolls would rise during rush hour to help keep the paying customers moving.

But commuters such as Bangert contend that the nearly biannual toll increases on the 91 Express Lanes are becoming painfully expensive and seem to penalize those who work in Orange County but live elsewhere.

In addition to the increase on Fridays, the eastbound toll during the same 3 to 4 p.m. hour will increase from $4.95 to $5.95 on Wednesdays and from $4.95 to $5.70 on Thursdays, Zlotnik said.

The higher toll rates indicate a demand for extra capacity, said Peter Samuel, who edits a Web-based news service specializing in toll roads.

"They need to widen the 91 Freeway and look at a whole range of alternatives, including building a tunnel through the local mountains as was talked about," Samuel said. "The new toll is one of the highest in the country. But if you're reaching the saturation point with traffic, you've got to raise the cost, or otherwise the idea for having toll roads breaks down."

The 91 Freeway is one of the most congested highways in Southern California. More than 320,000 vehicles use the freeway each day to commute between Orange and Riverside counties.

When OCTA purchased the express lanes, a ban prohibiting freeway improvements was eliminated. OCTA has plans to widen the lanes and is working with Riverside County, which wants to extend to the toll lanes into that county.

3 p.m.? A buck a mile on the 91 Express Lanes

© 2007 Los Angeles Times:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Thursday, December 27, 2007

"I do not believe a 1,200-foot-wide corridor is necessary...I know that many of my constituents agree."

TxDOT sets local TTC hearings


The Waller County News-Citizen
Copyright 2007

WALLER COUNTY - In response to calls from the public for an expanded role in the shaping of state transportation policy, the Texas Department of Transportation will hold a series of 11 town hall meetings and 46 public hearings in January, February and March.

State Sen. Glenn Hegar of Katy said the meetings will provide interested Texans with the opportunity to pose questions to a panel of TxDOT representatives on topics such as the Trans-Texas Corridor, comprehensive development agreements, I-69, and related topics.

"As Texas grows from 23 million to 40 million residents over the next several decades, large scale expansion of our highway system will be needed to ensure a healthy business climate and the continued flow of jobs to Texas," said Hegar. "With this tremendous growth we must take great care in planning to protect our natural resources and quality of life. I do not believe a 1,200-foot-wide corridor is necessary in Senate District 18, and I know that many of my constituents agree. That is why I strongly encourage attendance at these extremely important meetings."

While Senate District 18 is protected by the two-year moratorium prohibiting TxDOT from entering into new comprehensive development agreements for the construction of tolled roadway projects, much work remains.

A legislative study committee will begin meeting in January to address concerns that members of the legislature and the public have regarding the financing mechanism for I-69 and the Trans-Texas Corridor (comprehensive development agreements), according to the senator. He said TxDOT will conduct the 11 town hall meetings and 46 public hearings, members of the legislature and public interest groups will continue to study Texas' current and future transportation infrastructure needs and search for innovative ways to meet those needs, and finally, legislators will begin drafting bills for filing in January of 2009.

"In traveling throughout Senate District 18, questions about toll roads are some of the most frequent I encounter so I am extremely encouraged that concerned Texans will be able to voice their ideas and objections in a formal setting. The input of local residents is of the highest value and must be given the weight it deserves," said Hegar.

Seven meetings have been scheduled in this area. Each meeting will have an Open House from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and the meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m. The dates and locations include:
  • Feb. 25, Rosenberg Civic and Convention Center, 3825 Highway 36 South;
  • Feb. 26, Katy High School, 6331 Highway Boulevard;
  • Feb. 26, Sealy High School, 2372 Championship Drive;
  • Feb. 27, Waller High School, 20950 Fields Store Road;
  • Feb. 27, Knights of Columbus Hall, 22892 Mack Washington, Hempstead;
  • Feb. 28, Grimes County Expo Center, 5220 FM 3455, Navasota; and
  • March 3, Bryan Civic Auditorium, 800 So. Coulter Drive, Bryan.
To prepare for the upcoming meetings, interested parties can reference the recently released I-69 Draft Environmental Impact Statement by visiting:

Learn about the hearings in their area at:

Submit their written commentary (at which point it will become a part of the materials submitted to the federal government, who must ultimately approve the route for any new highway) at:

Senator Hegar is currently serving his first term in the Texas Senate after serving two terms in the House of Representatives. He is a sixth generation Texan, and earns a living farming rice and corn on land that has been in his family since the mid 1800s.

© 2007 Houston Community Newspapers Online:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Lawmakers should reconsider the diversion of gasoline tax money."

Like cars in traffic, gas tax doesn’t budge

December 26, 2007

By The Editorial Board
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

The refusal of most state political leaders to even consider raising taxes, no matter how popular the use for the revenue or how obvious the need, is costing the state dearly. There’s no better example than local highways and the testy holiday exchange between state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and the Texas Department of Transportation.

No one who travels the state’s highways, especially in and around its growing, prosperous cities, is unaware of the need for rebuilding and expanding existing roads, as well as building new ones. Central Texas is no exception.

How to pay for that, though, has been a problem.

Governors and most legislators since 1991 have refused to raise the 20-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax , even as inflation each year ate away at its value. In 2006, revenue from the state gasoline tax grew 2 percent, but highway construction costs leaped 25 percent, according to the transportation department.

To make that erosion worse, the Legislature over the years - to keep from raising other taxes - has diverted millions of dollars from the highway fund to pay for other state needs, including the Texas Department of Public Safety. This year, the Legislature got permission from the state’s voters to borrow $5 billion to fund highway construction, but that money will be paid back with general state revenue, not the gasoline tax.

Gov. Rick Perry has refused to support any increase in the gasoline tax, as has the Legislature, particularly since Republicans achieved a majority in both houses in 2003.

The governor, through the transportation department, has favored tolls to pay for new highway construction. The Legislature went along, until too many of its members got hammered by constituents angry about tolls and who would profit from building them . Lawmakers this year tapped the brakes on toll road plans but didn’t order a full stop.

The newly inaugurated Watson this year took a great deal of political heat to revise a stalled tolled highway plan and got it approved in October. But shortly thereafter, the transportation department announced a major reduction in future spending on new highways. When Watson demanded an explanation, the department cited inflation, cuts in federal highway funding, diversions of gasoline tax money to other uses ($1.5 billion in this two-year-budget cycle) - and the new limits on toll roads imposed by the Legislature.

Watson wasn’t satisfied by that answer.

But the Legislature won’t reconvene in regular session until January 2009. When it does, lawmakers should reconsider the diversion of gasoline tax money to other uses and the amount of the tax itself.

An increase of 10 cents per gallon would raise roughly $1 billion per year. Ten cents would be a notable increase but hardly shocking. Federal statistics show that the average gasoline price as of mid-December in Texas was 65 cents a gallon higher than a year ago.

No one wants to pay more, but a 10 cent tax increase would have at least one big advantage over other gas price increases: The money would be spent here on highways, not shipped to Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Russia or elsewhere.

Of course, lawmakers could accept more tolling on highways. Or continue to pretend that somehow, some way, new highways will get built without costing anybody any money.

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman:

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"The so-called response merely re-presents TxDOT talking points that have been circulating for weeks and months... "

Watson miffed at TxDOT's 'so-called response'

Senator says agency still hasn't clarified decision to stop contracts for new and expanded roads in Austin area in February.

December 26, 2007

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

State Sen. Kirk Watson's war of printed words with the Texas Department of Transportation escalated over the long holiday weekend with a TxDOT reply to an earlier Watson missive about Austin-area toll roads and Watson's stinging evaluation of that "so-called response."

Aside from the substance of the Dec. 21 TxDOT letter — which Watson deemed "very disappointing" in an e-mail to other local transportation leaders — the Austin Democrat found the six-page letter's timing suspicious. His office received it about 5 p.m. Friday as the bulk of Texans — and media — hunkered down for five days of travel and Christmas festivities.

The TxDOT letter was shared with reporters three days later, on Christmas Eve.

"I'm concerned that the delay was intended to postpone broadcast of this letter to a time where as few people as possible would be aware of it," Watson said in his e-mail to members of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board. Watson is chairman of that board.

"The timing isn't ideal," TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott said in a call to the American-Statesman on Monday after sending out the letter. But he said the department got it done as quickly as possible and produced the letter about two weeks after Watson had sent the agency a letter with 21 questions about why Austin might lose TxDOT funding.

"We were committed to get an answer to (Watson) before the holidays," Lippincott said.

The to-and-fro between the senator and TxDOT arose from the agency's decision in late November to issue no more contracts for new and expanded road construction beginning Feb. 1, aside from projects previously committed under certain bond programs. That decision seemingly threatens $500 million to $700 million that TxDOT had promised for a five-road, $1.45 billion tollway plan approved by the CAMPO board in October.

The core of Watson's earlier letter: What did TxDOT not know about its emerging financial plight on Oct. 8, when he and his CAMPO colleagues made a difficult vote authorizing the five toll roads, that it learned in the subsequent two months? TxDOT's latest letter, by Watson's lights, ignores that and other requests for information in his earlier letter.

"The letter provides no specific clarification and fails to answer most of my questions," Watson said in his e-mail to CAMPO members. "The so-called response merely re-presents TxDOT talking points that have been circulating for weeks and months. ... "

The TxDOT letter, signed by executive director Amadeo Saenz, specifically declines to answer the Watson questions point by point, saying that "a simple question and answer format does not convey the whole story." Saenz then walks through the various financial challenges facing TxDOT: lost federal funds, maintenance needs, inflation and the Legislature's decision this year to limit the agency's ability to reach long-term toll road leases with private companies.

"We believed (and still do) that ... all Texans would benefit from such an arrangement," Saenz wrote about private tollway contracts.

So, will Austin get the promised $500 million to $700 million for the toll roads? Saenz's letter doesn't specifically answer that question. But he does say that the 11-county Austin district was to have had $720 million for new construction between 2005 and 2015, but that the figure now will be $443 million, absent further developments. About $191 million of that is already committed to ongoing projects, Saenz wrote, leaving $252 million for the next eight years., 445-3698

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman: www.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

More weapons of mass deception from TxDOT

TxDOT Recants Statement Saying Lack Of Funding Is Due To The War

Dec 24, 2007

Copyright 2007

When the Texas Department of Transportation announced funding cuts by the feds last year, they attributed the lack of money to the funding of the war in Iraq, among other things.

US Congressman John Carter (R-Round Rock) called TxDOT to the mat on that assessment this month, saying that statement was completely false.

Since Carter's accusations, TxDOT spokesperson Randall Dillard has released a statement saying, in full, "Paying for transportation is increasingly complex. Inflation, heavy traffic, the rescission of federal transportation funds and the movement of state gas tax money all contribute to a serious cash flow problem for our state's road program.

"The federal budget can be confusing, but this much is clear: federal gas tax dollars are not used to pay for the war in Iraq. If TxDOT ever gave anyone the impression that they do, we were incorrect and we apologize.

"Our state's mobility problems are growing every day, and everyone has a role in helping to meet this challenge."

As KXAN Austin News reported in November, TxDOT officials expect to lose up to $3.6 billion in federal funding by 2015.

Anticipating those losses, and the fact they won't have enough money to complete road projects from beginning to end, the agency announced it would slash its consultant engineering budget by $250 million and $225 million from right-of-way acquisition.

Agency officials said that with no money, there's no reasons to build the roads.

TxDOT also will implement a hiring freeze, tighten purchasing guidelines and reduce its research budget.

What does that mean to Central Texas? In the next couple of months, the Texas Transportation Commission is expected to pass along those cuts to regional metropolitan planning organizations.

Spokesman Randall Dillard said it could be up to $1 billion. That means that the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, in turn, will be faced with a cut in its own funding dollars. It also means fewer roads could be built.

© 2007 WorldNow and KXAN:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Monday, December 24, 2007

"While advisory committees may provide input regarding location, TxDOT has made it clear there is no question TTC-69 is moving forward."

TxDOT Seeks 'Productive Conversation' On I-69, Trans-Texas Corridor

Dec 24, 2007

by Staff
Copyright 2007

Seeking “a more productive and informative conversation about transportation,” Texas Department of Transportation officials have scheduled a series of town hall meetings along the Interstate 69/Trans Texas Corridor, including in Rosenberg.

Also this month, the department issued a formal request for proposals from potential “private sector partner,” for “detailed plans on how to finance, design, construct, operate and maintain I-69/TTC.”

A panel of TxDOT officials will answer questions from the public about the massive highway project, starting at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 24, at the Rosenberg Civic Center, at 3825 State Highway 36.

A portion of the controversial project is is being proposed in part in the “footprint” of U.S. 59, although an exact route has yet to be revealed. TxDOT said earlier this month it will name an advisory committee to provide public input “on where the Trans Texas Corridor should be located and what it should look like.

The committee “may include” property and business owners, local government representatives and “technical experts,” according to a statement by TxDOT.

But while the committee may provide input regarding the I-69 location, TxDOT has made it clear it believes there is no question the project is moving forward.

“This corridor is a top priority not only for TxDOT but for Gov. Perry as well. We’ve met with leaders along the corridor in recent weeks explaining the work we have under way to accelerate this long overdue project,” Texas Transportation Commission member Ned Holmes said in a statement. “The I-69 corridor has been a work in progress for the past 16 years and it is high time we pour some concrete. In fact we are ready to proceed to the next step.”

TxDOT noted in a statement that recent legislation “imposes a broad moratorium on certain financing tools needed for a project” of the scale of the Trans-Texas Corridor, but added “the bill made exceptions allowing development to continue.”

There are only two private-sector teams being considered for the I-69 portion of the proposed project, which would include a 650-mile “interstate-quality” highway from the Texarkana area to South Texas.

One includes San Antonio construction company Zachry American Infrastructure and ACS Infrastructure Development Inc., part of a Spanish engineering and construction company. The other is led by Cintra S.A., a Spanish-based operator of toll roads in Spain, the U.S. and Canada.

TxDOT said in a statement that the teams must submit their proposals for the I-69 portion of the TTC by March 5, 2008.

“TxDOT officials stress selection of the final alignment for TTC-69 will be driven by public comments, local officials and the environmental process,” the department said in a statement. “The role for private developers will be to expedite delivery of this critical public asset by making it more financially feasible.”

© 2007 Fort Bend Now:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Perry-backed legislation in the 2003 and 2005 sessions that essentially created the Texas toll road revolution...created a lot of enemies."

2007: Toll devolution, rising transit costs and broken Krusee control

December 24, 2007

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

There could be a tendency to think of 2007 as an interregnum in Central Texas transportation, a comparative lull between 2006, when toll roads first opened here, and 2008, when the area will see it first commuter train service.

But that would be wrong. The year just ending was rich with compelling and telling transportation news: a legislative revolution against the Perry Way; final resolution (uh, maybe) of debate over a second wave of toll roads; a tumultuous year at Capital Metro, with falling bus ridership, rising rail costs and fares that (surprisingly) did not rise; a Minnesota bridge that stunned the nation by collapsing and then was largely forgotten outside that state within weeks; and the announced departure of a legislator who had dominated road-and-rail debate.

And then there's the news we all see just beyond our bumper every day, a metro area that seems finally to have become truly and frustratingly metropolitan out on the streets. With traffic seemingly spinning out of control — despite the addition of four new toll roads in the past 14 months — the Texas Department of Transportation's late-breaking cash crunch couldn't come at a worse point.

Here's a quick look back at 2007, sort of a second rough draft of Austin-area transportation history.

Ric knocks back a Carona. This was supposed to be a nothing legislative session for transportation. Then state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the new chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said in January that Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson really ought to be replaced. Soon after, he confronted Williamson at a legislative committee hearing, demanding a private meeting and calling Williamson arrogant. It looked like Carona was set to lead a jihad against Williamson, TxDOT and the onslaught of toll roads growing from Gov. Rick Perry's policies.

That jihad in fact happened. But others ended up leading it, and by the end of the session, Carona was speaking kind words about Williamson and brokering peace between the Perry/Williamson/TxDOT faction and legislators who wanted their hides nailed up in the Capital rotunda. That one of those bristling legislators was Jacksonville's Robert Nichols, a former colleague of Williamson's on the Transportation Commission, was truly stunning.

Actually, the energy for change mostly came from Dallas and Houston legislators, who were fronting for their areas' toll agencies that were threatened by TxDOT hegemony. The big transportation bill that finally emerged and got Perry's signature carried a ban on private toll road leases that was rife with exceptions and gave local toll agencies license to do such contracts. But mainly the new law gave those local toll agencies more control of highway building in their areas.

No, really, we're strapped. Yes, TxDOT has more than $16 billion to spend in this two-year budget cycle. Yes, it has $6.4 billion of Texas Mobility Fund money to spend. Yes, the North Texas Tollway Authority just cut a $3.2 billion check to the agency for the right to build one toll road in Collin County. Yes, voters in November authorized backing up to $5 billion in transportation bonds with general state revenue.

But that $3.2 billion check can be spent only on Dallas-Fort Worth roads, the mobility fund money is already committed to a set of road projects and that $5 billion can't be borrowed until the Legislature comes back in 2009 and allows it. TxDOT officials — looking at cutbacks in federal funds, rising maintenance needs and stagnant gas tax receipts (which are likely to get worse with stubbornly high gas prices and better fuel economy in cars) — say their other road-building plans have been gutted by the loss of fat upfront payments for those private toll road leases the Legislature stopped.

Helping make TxDOT's point: The Legislature overwhelmingly knocked down an attempt to raise the state gas tax, frozen since 1991. Carona held a news conference during the session to push for raising the gas tax. He was alone at the lectern.

TxDOT announced in late November that after Jan. 31 there would be no new construction contracts (that is, for projects not previously begun or paid for with mobility fund money).

Which led to ...

Kirk's commitment issues. Austin political leaders on the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board in October, relying on a promise of $500 million to $700 million from TxDOT, had approved a $1.45 billion program for five more toll roads. The first four to open are drawing far more cars than originally projected. A fifth Austin toll road is under construction.

That October vote was engineered by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, chairman of the CAMPO board, and he took a triple ration of abuse from toll road opponents for doing so.

So Watson was understandably miffed when TxDOT said a few weeks later that, well, maybe the Austin area is going to have to come up with that scratch on its own. This one is evolving as you read this, but one suspects that TxDOT will find a way to find the money, or at least most of it.

Tracking Capital Metro.On the one hand, Capital Metro made steady progress this year toward opening its first (and maybe last) passenger rail line, the 32-mile route from Leander to downtown Austin. Four of the six cars arrived in town this year, and (noisy) late-night testing has begun; work is well along on most of the nine stations, a rail overpass over a crossing Union Pacific line, sidings and a computerized signaling system. And the company hired an experienced contractor to operate the line when it opens next fall.

On the other hand, all this is costing considerably more than initial projections. Annual operating costs at the start will be at least double the $5 million estimate shared with voters when rail came up for a public vote in 2004. And the cost of building the line — although Capital Metro disputes this and doesn't count a number of directly related expenditures — will be at least $30 million more than the $90 million estimate.

On yet another hand, the agency remains in a labor-management quagmire, bus ridership is falling, an attempt to raise fares was shot down by community opposition, and Cap Metro says it will go into the red in the next four years. Agency leaders say flatly they can't afford to build more rail after the Leander line.

Given all that, Austin Mayor Will Wynn in late October stepped in and suggested that a downtown rail system could be partially funded by Austin. He called for a hyperspeed analysis of what to do and how to pay for it, and a rail referendum in November 2008. With Watson's help, a blue-ribbon committee of politicos, chaired by Wynn, quickly materialized and began holding weekly meetings on rail this month.

Can they meet Wynn's deadline? We'll see.

Broken Krusee control. State Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, after a relatively quiet first decade in the Legislature, made a lot of noise starting in 2003 as chairman of the House Transportation Committee. He ramrodded through Perry-backed legislation in the 2003 and 2005 sessions that essentially created the Texas toll road revolution. Krusee, along with Watson, became about the most powerful politician on the Austin scene.

But those transportation laws — and TxDOT's full-frontal application of them — likewise created a lot of enemies, and those enemies found a lot of friends in the Legislature. The result was that Krusee's control of the transportation agenda collapsed, and the Perry agenda suffered a reversal.

Meanwhile, Krusee, saddled with a reputation as Mr. Toll Central Texas and serving a district increasingly infested with Democrats, barely topped 50 percent in the 2006 election. In December, Krusee announced that he will not seek re-election next year.

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© 2007 Austin American-Statesman: www.

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"We just licked our pencils and predicted traffic volumes we knew were false.”

Japan’s costly ‘roads to nowhere’ built on government deception

December 24, 2007

Leo Lewis, Asia Business Correspondent
The London Times
Copyright 2007

Japan’s most spectacular building projects, including possibly the world’s most expensive road, resulted from deception and falsified data, the former president of the state highways agency has told The Times.

Kuniichiro Takahashi’s admission comes as the hugely indebted Government has rediscovered its addiction to public works and has earmarked nearly 70 trillion yen (£311 billion) in its budget for road and rail building projects over the next decade.

Ridiculing these new “roads to nowhere”, Mr Takahashi said they were almost certainly unnecessary in a country whose population is ageing, shrinking and buying fewer cars every year. However, major road and rail construction continues to be the favourite tool of pork-barrel politics in Japan.

On Saturday a short strip of motorway opened in central Tokyo, joining two parts of the city already saturated with road and underground rail infrastructure. The section of road forms a fraction of three gigantic ring-roads that will circle the capital by 2012 and which, a Tokyo court recently acknowledged, were approved on a faulty premise.

One big rail project - a bullet train linking the cities of Fukuoka and Nagasaki - is expected to cost about £1.5 billion, or £100 million for every minute cut from the journey time between the two cities.

Mr Takahashi’s statement falls on the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Tokyo Bay Aqualine – a 15-kilometre tunnels and bridges project that cost Y113.4 million a metre to build and attracts about a third of the traffic for which it was designed. Mr Takahashi’s traffic projections justified construction of the Aqualine, but he now admits that he “licked his pencil” before submitting them to his political masters – bureaucratic slang for creating false figures. The project was also heavily backed by 33 important construction and steel firms that continue to wield huge political muscle.

Mr Takahashi said: “The idea was to build toll roads, and the Prime Minister or other top politicians would order them built even if they knew they were not profitable. As bureaucrats, we had no choice, even though we studied the situation at length. When we wrote a proposal, we had to cook up figures even when we knew the project would be unprofitable . . . we just licked our pencils and predicted traffic volumes we knew were false.”

He listed other projects, including three toll bridges linking the island of Shikoku to the mainland, which do not stand up to serious consideration, given the falling population.

Mega-projects under way include Tomei 2, a motorway between Tokyo and Nagoya that will take 38 years to build and will, for much of its length, run alongside an existing motorway.

Mr Takahashi indicated that road-building is more about providing jobs and prosperity for economically failing regions outside the big cities than a need for highways.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is fighting for survival and can ill afford to give up the trump card of lucrative building projects.

© 2007 The London Times:

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