Friday, January 25, 2008

“No good argument has been made for the TTC that would allow farmers to be willing to give up their land."

No public support for corridor

January 25, 2008

By Stephen Palkot
Fort Bend Herald
Copyright 2008

Leaders with the Texas Department of Transportation sought to allay fears about the Trans-Texas Corridor Thursday night in Rosenberg with a “town hall” meeting. The meeting proceeded fairly smoothly, but hardly seemed to put a dent in the large crowd's seemingly uniform opposition to the proposal of a massive transportation corridor.

Hank Gilbert, a regular speaker at TTC events and leader of an anti-TTC non-profit group, drew cheers for suggesting TxDOT officials have failed to make the case for a large, privately owned transportation cluster.

“No good argument has been made for the TTC that would allow farmers to be willing to give up their land,” he said.

About 500 people filled the main hall of the Rosenberg Civic and Convention Center, many wearing anti-TTC stickers and buttons distributed that night. Not one member of the public expressed any support for the corridor, which has been heavily pushed by Gov. Rick Perry.

An artist's rendering of the corridor, displayed widely by TxDOT in 2005, showed dedicated car and truck lanes running side-by-side with rail tracks and utility lines, in what transportation planners said could be a 1,200-foot wide corridor. Steve Simmons, deputy executive director of TxDOT, said Thursday night that image was misleading, and said displaying it was a mistake.

Simmons said rather than the TTC being a “megahighway,” it is really a “delivery method” for resources to fund the various modes of transportation that could be implemented along the corridor's route.

The TTC proposal centers around the idea that private companies would fund and build transportation corridors at their own cost, rather than through taxpayer money. Those companies, in turn, would recoup their investment through tolls and other charges related to the corridor.

Ned Holmes, a member of TxDOT's commission, said he would prefer to see the road owned by the state through traditional funding means, but argued the state does not have the money.

Simmons said federal funding for highways is being cut drastically, TxDOT cannot take out bonds for large-scale transportation upgrades and has no ability to fund rail expansion, so the TTC is a “tool” for getting the infrastructure built.

“We can only work with the tools the Legislature gives us, and they gave us the tools to look at these public/private partnerships,” said Simmons.

Motives questioned

Speakers, some of whom were traveling the state to attend the town hall meetings, several times questioned TxDOT on the motivation behind TTC, arguing it stems purely from international trade agreements like NAFTA.

Simmons said Texas now has 24 million residents, and currently experiences the most growth of any state in the U.S.

“We're going to have to start looking at how we're going to address it,” he said.

As for freight, Simmons said 80 percent of Mexico's exported goods enter the U.S. through Texas, and an upcoming expansion of the Panama Canal along with the growth of several Texas ports creates a need for greater transportation infrastructure.

“The first port of call after the Panama Canal is Texas, and the studies are showing that the population is growing at a rate of 1,000 new people every day,” he said.

These town hall meetings are being held in response to wide-spread criticism of the TTC, conceded TxDOT officials. A round of formal public hearings is set to take place next month, with one in Rosenberg on Feb. 25, but transportation officials by law will not be allowed to answer questions or respond to comments at those meetings.

Fort Bend County is most likely to be affected by what is being called the TTC/69 route, which is a merger of the proposed I-69 route with the TTC concept. Study maps indicate that could run about 650 miles from the Mexican border to Louisiana and Arkansas, mostly replacing U.S. 59. TxDOT plans to include a path from the main route of the corridor to Houston area ports, and that could run through the southern half of Fort Bend County, according to TxDOT maps.

The public hearing on Feb. 25 will consist of an open house session from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., followed by a chance to speak about the TTC/69 proposal from 6:30 p.m. That meeting will also take place at the Rosenberg Civic and Convention Center.

© 2008 Fort Bend Herald:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Many saw a lack of benefits in the TTC for their communities."

Houston-Galveston Area Council officials discuss TTC concerns

By TRACY DANG, Managing Editor
The Sealy News
Copyright 2008

The proposed Trans-Texas Corridor 69 has raised many concerns for urban and rural communities all over Texas.

As the Texas Department of Transportation conducts town hall meetings and public hearings to gather public input, county and city officials are making sure they are looking out for their communities' best interest.

The Houston-Galveston Area Council held a meeting Jan. 15 with public officials from its 13-county region to meet with Texas Department of Transportation representatives and discuss an overview and concerns of the Tier One Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC).

Many saw a lack of benefits in the TTC for their communities.

"I'm very concerned about the historical sites in San Felipe and how close it will come to them and will it bring positive or negative consequences," Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski said.

"It's going to conflict with our existing infrastructure," Wharton County Commissioner Chris King said. "This is going to inhibit further planning for future growth. It offers our county little to nothing in terms of mobility support."

Corridor Path

Local leaders suggested TxDOT consider using existing roads first whenever possible.

"I know you mentioned briefly using Hwy 59 as a possibility, and I want to emphasize that in our county," King said. "Our plan all along was to get interstate status on 59 and develop the footprints of 59 because the traffic flow in our county is totally manageable and has room for expansion. I do not see the corridor as being a method to improve or enhance our flow of nature."

"We're concerned with where it's going to cut across," Walker County Judge Danny Pierce said. "There are a number of large families that have been there for years. We hope to use the footprints of Hwy 30. Another proposal is going east-west crossing Hwy 6."

Some brought up the issue of Brazos Valley wanting the corridor to come through the Bryan-College Station area.

Whether the corridor uses existing roads or creates a new path, many were concerned the corridor's unknown alignment is prohibiting or delaying future improvements.

"If you look at the map in general, history tells you (transportation routes) basically loops around Houston," Waller County Commissioner Glenn Beckendorff said. "What the 2035 projection shows is the center of Houston is going to be Hwy 6 and I-10. This is going to mess up our plans that we're growing on the west side of Houston."

"The City of Sealy is going to be pulling a good amount of infrastructure into the area," Sealy Councilman Steve Wilson said. "How firm can we hold this segment through here as far as planning around it?"

Houston-Galveston Area Council Program Manager for Transportation Planning and Programming Pat Waskowiak explained the corridor moving west of the preferred study area near Sealy was probably unlikely.

"The recommended corridor does go east of Sealy," she said. "One of the things it does acknowledge is there are infrastructure improvements, and that was one rationale for moving it and the other was impact. Unless the City of Sealy says 'we want it to come here or on the west side,' then that's the corridor at that you see right there."

Others were concerned whose decision it was going to be when it comes to deciding whether an existing road should be used or if a new road should be built.

"I've been in the construction business all my life," King said. "Is TxDOT giving it to the developers as their discretion to work on existing footprints or build something new. If given the choice, they're going to build something new. It's cheaper."

Public Access

But whether the environmental impact statement suggested the corridor cut through the communities or bypass them, many did not like the concept of it being a limited access road.

"It makes a lot of difference since you cross a major interstate or major highway," Wilson said. "All of us need to know what you're thinking the next access point is. It's important to us because we don't know what we're dealing with, whether it's a block over our county or not."

Waskowiak confirmed the corridor is going to be a "limited-access toll facility" but said identifying those access points is part of another phase of the project.

"They are not defined yet in the study at this point," Waskowiak said. "(TxDOT) is going to look at local government plans and how access points will relate to those."

Another concern was a story the corridor would have no feeder roads.

"There was a question that was asked what facilities are going to be provided for stores and development, and the answer was there wasn't going to be any development in the right of way," Wilson said. "From the EDC standpoint for everyone in here is for us to have some say in that so it's a win-win for the community."

Project Merits

Others were just opposed to the whole concept of a massive corridor.

"1,200 feet will be devastating to the lost of acreage and everything else it does," Bilski said.

Her other concern was the future of the communities' quality of life.

"The goal is to push this to the counties that don't have the air quality problems that Houston does, but doesn't that bring the air quality problems to the areas that are clean?" Bilski asked. "Let me tell you, people come to Austin County to enjoy the fresh air, and I can't believe we can't think of that. If we stink and are polluted, who's going to want to come here."

TxDOT district engineer Bryan Woods of Bryan said the corridor is something that will meet the increasing transportation need for the future.

"You can't plan for 50 years and say you need 300 feet of right of way," he said. "Think about your county and city and what you want for your grandchildren. Everything comes with a cost, and we have to pay for that cost."

"I think the citizens of Austin County want their land," Sealy Councilman Nick Tirey said. "It's bad because it's taking family lands and family farms that have been there for generations. Sure they'll be compensated, but they don't want to give up their land."

However, not every county is against the corridor project.

"We want something that would relieve us from the congestion, and of course, Houston will get its break," Liberty County Commissioner Norman Brown said. "We do have the Grand Parkway, and one of the things I have been very supportive of is there any way this parallel comes together?"

Waskowiak said TxDOT is willing to work with the communities to make sure the corridor best fit what they need.

"Whenever possible, you would want the recommended corridor to have some connection to what you're already doing in your county, not replace it," she said.

Future Concerns

Still, many fear there are too many unknown aspects for a project that would create such a big impact on their communities.

"In the past, it hasn't always been 'we want to hear your comments,'" King said. "We've kind of evolved now that it's taken place. There's a certain amount of suspicion so we're a little wary of something that's going to go our way."

"There are people making indications that there are litigation projects that are going to be available to the city to help us cope with the improvements to the roadway," Wilson said. "However, I'm unsure whether or not they can fulfill their promises.

"There's two parts to this that I don't like," he said. "One was they're going to move the route on us. If this project is being backtracked, it's going to take all of the resources we can gather, and I hope that we can. The second thing is we have no idea what this thing is. I'm not as interested in fighting this thing as I am to figuring out what it is. If you have to put a pipeline somewhere behind your house and you don't know what it's going to be carrying, then you're going to want it as far away from your house as possible, even if it's still on your property.

"In a lot of ways, I'm very fearful we're powerless to control this at all," he said. "I hope we have a system that is set up that won't allow a drastic change to be made in the 11th hour that adversely affects us without allowing us to be heard."


Right now, TxDOT does not have any means of funding the project. However, many are convinced it is just a matter of time before construction begins.

"Overall, I think that if you read between the lines, the project is going to happen," Tirey said after the meeting. "Stopping it is not going to happen. What we need to concentrate on is where it's going to come so we can deal with it. The county and city have said they are against it. If it's going to come anyway, tell us where it's going to be and how big so we can address railroads and drainage and things. It's hard to say what you want from them if we don't know what it really is."

Still, there is the slightest hope there will not be a 1,200-foot I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor.

"We've all heard of the saying: 'if you build it, they will come,'" King said. "Maybe if we don't build it, they won't come."

© 2008 The Sealey News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Thursday, January 24, 2008

"This will wipe me out. How is this in my best interest?”

Fort Bend folks don't care for Trans-Texas Corridor either

January 24, 2008

By Vicente Arenas
11 News KHOU-TV
Copyright 2008

If Texas Department of Transportation officials were looking to gain support for the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor Thursday night, Fort Bend County wasn’t the place to be.

The folks who packed the Rosenberg Civic Center Thursday night were angry.

“This will wipe me out. How is this in my best interest?,” East Bernard resident Dee Bond asked of state transportation officials.

“Why can’t you work with what ya’ll got? Instead of going off in a different direction,” asked Houston resident Doug Bilbrey.

Most of the 600 people who crowded Rosenberg’s Civic Center Thursday are landowners who are afraid the proposed highway will swallow up their homes and prime farmland that’s been in families for generations.

“If this is gaining so much opposition, do we want this road or do we not want this road?” said Wharton resident Dianne Coan.

The response to the state’s plan was just as hostile in Fort Bend County Thursday as residents in Waller County where the night before.

“I don’t know why they are blowing smoke and tell us what they want this road,” El Campo resident David Coan complained.

The Trans-Texas Corridor, also known as I-69, would have lanes for 18-wheelers as well as space for trains – it would stretch from the border to near Houston and on to Arkansas.

It would eventually criss-cross the state. But no one at the meeting Thursday wants it.

TxDOT says the highways are needed to help keep up with the state’s booming population and make it easier to transport goods between the U.S., Mexico and South America.

TxDOT told the crowd the highway is still years from being built, but that was little comfort when it’s your land in the crosshairs.

© 2008 KHOU-TV, Inc.:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"TxDOT is stuffing this down our throats and I don’t like it."

Over 400 attend TxDOT town hall meeting


By Kristin Edwards and Maegan McGowen
The Huntsville Item
Copyright 2008

More than 400 people from Walker County and surrounding counties attended the Texas Department of Transportation town hall meeting Wednesday night at the Walker Education Center.

According to Bob Colwell, TxDOT public information officer for the Bryan District, the Huntsville meeting was one of 11 town hall meetings scheduled throughout the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor study area.

Colwell said 25 TxDOT representatives attended to answer questions.

“Tonight is the opportunity for people to ask any questions that they want,” Colwell said. “In the past, TxDOT has gotten knocked for not having open discussions, so that’s what we’re here for.”

After the town hall meeting started, TxDOT representatives announced that the meeting room had been filled to maximum capacity and a number of those left in the center’s atrium would not be able to participate.

For those who could not be seated in the main meeting, TxDOT representatives answered questions in the atrium.

Due to the overcrowding, Colwell said an additional town hall meeting will be planned for the Huntsville area.

“We really got kicked around, and I feel like they should have just canceled this one when they realized there were too many people,” said Rose Mathis, whose family was unable to attend the meeting. “Even if you got up to the door of the meeting, you couldn’t hear anything and you definitely couldn’t get in.”

Mathis said she and her family were neutral about the construction of the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor and wanted to attend the meeting to gain more information.

“They should have had a bigger facility lined up, because we wanted to be able to hear about these developments and find out what’s going on so we can decide how we feel about it,” she said. “I feel like there’s a lot of work that needs to be done on the roads we already have that TxDOT isn’t doing, but what we’re really opposed to is that they’re not letting everyone hear this meeting tonight.”

Dee Patterson, who was also kept out of the meeting, said the entire meeting and its results were unfavorable.

“I think the meeting should be canceled and rescheduled,” Patterson said. “I’m definitely against the corridor because of higher taxes and because it affects everyone in Walker County and Texas.”

Several people in attendance at the meeting were opposed to the construction of the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor.

Mark Holmes, a landowner from Grimes County, was distributing anti-TTC stickers at the entrance of the meeting.

“I found out they could take my 10 acres of land in 2004, and I’ve been in this fight ever since,” Holmes said. “This Trans-Texas Corridor is taking so much property, and if they would put it to a vote, it would be silently defeated.”

Inside the meeting, a petition against the construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor was available for people to sign.

“I’m a state property owner, and I’m here because TxDOT is stuffing this down our throats and I don’t like it,” said Pat Muse, one of the attendants who signed the petition. “This construction is not in the best interest of our state, and the people organizing it don’t seem to care.

“I wish we could put this to a vote in the state of Texas, because it would be a big time shut-down in any state.”

© 2008 The Huntsville Item:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


“We don’t have anybody out there defending us.”

North vs. South

Victoria County property owners upset over possible I-69 southern route

January 23, 2008

The Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2008

Lee and Ellen Buchanan were looking forward to spending the rest of their retirement years in their new home near the scenic Guadalupe River bottom.

Now they’re wondering whether that dream will become a nightmare.

Their $290,000 house in southern Victoria County and 266 acres that have been in Ellen’s family since 1883 could be in the path of the Trans-Texas Corridor/Interstate 69.

“We’d just be devastated,” said Lee, 69. “This is a very serious subject.”

An environmental impact study done for the Texas Department of Transportation shows the preferred route for the super highway would be north of Victoria. State transportation officials have said that’s based strictly on environmental issues and could change.

Local officials know that and are pushing for a route south of Victoria that uses as much existing U.S. 59 right of way as possible.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization, the county’s transportation coordinating body, is drafting a letter calling for the state to take the highway south. The county commissioners court and the city council have passed resolutions requesting the state use as much existing right of way as possible in developing the highway.

“I feel like the county commissioners and city folks aren’t really looking at the situation,”Buchanan said. “It doesn’t make logical sense to go south of town.”

That would involve building more and larger bridges, which would add tremendously to the cost, he said. The highway would also act as a dam and cause the Guadalupe’s floodwaters to back up into downtown Victoria, he said.

Charlie Baros, 75, owns three tracts of land that total 400 acres. Each could be in the south path of the highway.

“Our property wouldn’t be worth anything,” he said. “It would totally destroy it.”

But the landowners south of Victoria aren’t speaking up and they aren’t being represented by their elected officials, Baros said.

“We don’t have anybody out there defending us,” he said. “That’s why I’m a little concerned about it.”

County Commissioner Wayne Dierlam, who is also chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, said either route would come through his precinct.

“I don’t know how you’re going to win in this situation,” he said. “Nobody wants it to go over their property. There’s no easy answer.”

While Dierlam said he needs more time to study the issue, the south route seems to make more sense.

It would be closer to the industrial plants and the ports in Victoria and Calhoun counties. It could also use some of the U.S. 59 right of way, which means less private property would be needed.

“I don’t want to take anybody’s land,” he said. “I feel sorry for anybody that’s going to get it.”

County Commissioner Gary Burns’ precinct in the southwest part of the county would also be affected by either route. But he prefers the south.

“I really don’t think they’ll choose the northern route when they get all of the facts,” he said. “Preferably it will be the southern route using existing right of way.”

But Burns said that’s why he’s urging everyone with an interest to attend a town hall meeting Tuesday on the project. It will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Victoria Community Center.

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

© 2008 The Victoria Advocate:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"TxDOT has a lot of explaining to do."

TxDOT toll efforts rapped


Peggy Fikac, Austin Bureau
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2008

AUSTIN — A state Senate committee chairman said Wednesday the Texas Department of Transportation may have stepped over a legal line as it pushes the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor and toll roads.

"There is a possibility they may well have crossed a legal threshold because of the restrictions that exist in lobbying by state agencies," said Sen. John Carona, Transportation and Homeland Security Committee chairman.

"The even greater issue is just why they would continue with an agenda that is so unpopular with the public. That is the most distressing thing of all," Carona, R-Dallas, said after an anti-toll activist group released documents obtained from TxDOT in an ongoing lawsuit against agency officials.

The TxDOT documents include invoices from a firm that the agency contracts with totaling $63,450 including lobbyists and a poll, and an e-mail on "draft quotes" sent to local officials for their approval or edits.

The poll was conducted by Baselice & Associates. Mike Baselice also is Gov. Rick Perry's pollster.

Noting a Feb. 5 joint hearing on TxDOT by his committee and the Senate Finance Committee, Carona said, "TxDOT has a lot of explaining to do.

"In this next legislative session, I look to see even tighter reins placed upon TxDOT and the commission by both the House and the Senate, and I think that's regrettable" because it shows a loss of trust, he said.

Ted Houghton of the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees TxDOT, said he's confident the agency hasn't violated the law as it works to secure resources and inform the public.

"We rely on outside expertise to guide us and help us," said Houghton, of El Paso.

Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, or TURF, contends in its lawsuit that TxDOT officials violated a ban on lobbying and on using their authority for political purposes.

The lawsuit was sparked by the agency's estimated $7 million to $9 million Keep Texas Moving campaign to promote toll roads and the proposed highway network, both championed by Perry, who appoints the Transportation Commission. The lawsuit also was fueled by agency efforts to get more state tolling authority from the federal government.

Backers of the corridor and tolls say they're necessary in the face of congestion and insufficient gas-tax revenues. Critics have blasted the potential corridor route and the state's partnering with private firms to run toll roads, which lawmakers sought to rein in last year.

The state agency is holding a series of public meetings on the corridor, and TURF used one as a forum to release the documents.

The documents "show a concerted, premeditated effort on the part of our highway department to directly lobby elected officials, which is against the law. They are pushing a political agenda and legislation that would give them the Trans-Texas Corridor and privatized toll roads and an open door to an endless revenue stream from Texas taxpayers and motorists," said TURF's Terri Hall of San Antonio.

© 2008 San Antonio Express-News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

“The citizens here are not going to bear the burden so Wal-Mart can get their cargo into the U.S. cheaper and faster.”

Opposition to Trans-Texas Corridor growing

January 23, 2008

By Rosa Flores and Shern-Min Chow
11 News KHOU-TV (Houston)
Copyright 208

More than 800 people packed a meeting hall in Hempstead for a public meeting on the Trans-Texas Corridor. Seven more public sessions are scheduled.

Residents are speaking out about a controversial highway that would cut right through the state.

The state plans to build a 4,000-mile network of super-highway toll roads. In Hempstead on Tuesday, many residents said that road could cost them their property.

Odis Styers owns hundreds of acres north, east and west of town. But the traffic that now travels through on State Highway 290 could interrupt his peace.

A TxDOT super highway could soon plow through the middle of his property.

“They are talking about going through prime ranch country, prime farm country and that's limited,” said Styers. "I'm in the cattle business and that would put me out of business."

The I-69 Trans Texas Corridor would run from Mexico to Texarkana. Exactly how it will get from Point A to Point B is still up in the air. But a proposed map shows the area the state is now studying.

It’s wide swath of Texas land cutting through Waller County.

“We are looking at a new system to provide us for the next generation of jobs and congestion,” said TxDOT spokesman Norm Wigington. “If we do not do anything that means that there will be congestion. We know that people are coming here in great numbers.”

But business owners already here, don't want to see their town split down the middle.

“It’s going to be like a huge river that's only going to have a bridge every now and then,” said property owner Matthew Menke. “And it's going to isolate certain areas. And where they decide to lay it. We are going to be at their mercy.”

TxDOT officials said the highway won't be different from any other roadway that would be built through a community.

“State law requires TxDOT to build crossings for all state and federal highways and to maintain as many local road crossings as possible,” said spokesman Chris Lippincott. “We are required to work with local officials to identify all roads of significance and create crossings for them.”

Property owners have been asking questions, but, “It doesn't seem like you can find answers from the state reps or the senate,” said Styers.

And so a lot of people who live in this quiet country are starting to make some noise.

Tuesday night, they packed in for a public hearing on the Trans-Texas Corridor. Most gave state officials more than just an earful.

Property owners worry the state will shortchange them on any land it buys, even as TxDOT insists fair market value will be observed.

The Trans-Texas Corridor would eventually include rail lines, toll ways for vehicles, utility lines for water, power and even data transfer.

Opponents, including the Waller County Commissioners Court, say that is a mistake.

Opponents have spent years protesting the proposed network of roads between Mexico and Texas.

They argue the total cost of $125 billion is really to help big business and not the small towns where they live.

“The citizens here are not going to bear the burden so Wal-Mart can get their cargo into the U.S. cheaper and faster,” said Trey Duhon, one of the estimated 800 who packed into the meeting Tuesday night in Hempstead.

© 2008 KHOU-TV:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


“It’s a no-win situation because most people are against this toll road on I-35.”

Proposal to build new I-35 bridge becomes entangled in toll road debate

January 23, 2008

By David Doerr
Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2008

Real-estate developer Rick Sheldon wowed Waco residents in November when he unveiled drawings of an iconic version of the Interstate 35 Brazos River bridge designed to look like the city’s landmark Suspension Bridge.

The new I-35 bridge would serve as a gateway for visitors passing through town and a point of pride for area residents. But after consulting Texas Department of Transportation officials on financing such a project in these lean times for highway expansion, it turns out there is only one way to do it: tolls.

The tolls, which proved to be a point of contention at Tuesday’s Waco City Council meeting, would be used to expand the highway from six to eight lanes between South Loop 340 and Elm Mott. The tolls would be charged only on the added two lanes.

Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization staff proposed the toll lanes in December to address area transportation needs while dealing with significant cuts in state and federal funding. Now it appears the toll lanes will be the linchpin in Sheldon’s effort to update the look of the I-35 bridge over the Brazos.

“There is still a chance that we could do it without the tolls, but it is going to take forever, and I don’t know if I will be real interested in working on it then,” he said. “I’m not going to do it in 10 years.”

Sheldon, a San Antonio native now living in Waco, has proposed developments totaling nearly $1 billion along Lake Brazos, including restaurants, housing, a new near-campus football stadium for Baylor University and a 250- to 300-room hotel. He doesn’t control all of the projects, but he is working to form a partnership to make them happen.

His bridge proposal garnered praise such as “breathtaking” from various civic leaders when it was unveiled. The toll lane proposal initially was met mostly with criticism and derision when it was announced.

But now the two projects are linked together and that could change people’s ideas about both. There won’t be a lot of time to debate their merits if the MPO’s policy board votes Tuesday to remove the toll provision from planning documents it must submit to the federal government in February.

So Sheldon is calling to extend the debate by keeping the toll proposal in the MPO’s plans. The decision whether to go ahead with the projects would be made at a later time.

“I think (the bridge proposal) starts the debate, and that is all I am asking for,” Sheldon said. “Let’s not have the debate for a week, let’s have it for a year. You can always vote to change it (later). All we’re saying is, let’s please don’t preclude this as an option because it really hurts our chances of getting this thing built.”

The rebuilt bridge would not actually be a suspension bridge, but would have beams and cables to suggest the same look, Sheldon said. The aesthetic enhancements would probably cost between $5 million and $10 million, he said.

Richard Skopik, the transportation department’s Waco region engineer, said the only way to finance reconstructing the bridge in the current transportation funding climate would be to add toll lanes. He said the transportation department isn’t planning to replace the nearly 50-year-old bridge unless the toll lane expansion project is approved.

“To add an aesthetic structure, as has been suggested, you could modify the existing bridge, but I think the intent and the vision was to have a brand new bridge that could encompass these concepts,” Skopik said.

However, he emphasized that bridge enhancements would not automatically come with the construction of toll lanes. Funding from other public or private sources would be needed to pay for the features that would make it look like a suspension bridge, he said.

Sheldon suggested that a private company might have been found to operate the toll lanes and pay to make the enhancements. However, the Texas Legislature passed a moratorium on such public-private toll projects last year.

Skopik said the proposal is designed for the transportation department to manage tolling operations.

MPO director Chris Evilia has had to cut 13 out of 23 highway projects in McLennan County since transportation officials announced in late September there would be no money to add capacity to the state’s road system after this year.

State transportation officials have blamed the funding crisis on rising construction costs, federal cutbacks and state diversions of declining gas tax revenues.

Even with the deep cuts in the number of local transportation projects, Evilia still is about $11 million short to fund the remaining 10 projects on his list. The projects are designed to expand highway capacity to meet the state’s growing population.

MPO staff estimates tolls would provide up to 40 percent of the funding to expand the highway to eight lanes. Transportation officials indicate state coffers could pay the remaining 60 percent.

Tolls could also generate an additional $5.7 million to $10.9 million that could be used for other transportation projects in McLennan County, according to MPO planning documents.

Sheldon said the paradigm for funding roads in Texas is shifting whether people like it or not.

“For a lot of folks it is wishful thinking,” he said, referring to their aversion to toll projects. “They want things back to how it was in ‘Leave it to Beaver’ time. It ain’t that way anymore. Go look at the Legislature. They haven’t raised gasoline taxes since 1991. Every time it comes up, it’s a nonstarter.”

Frustration with the current transportation funding picture was evident during Tuesday’s Waco City Council meeting in which members were briefed on the issue and the toll road proposal.

Councilman Randy Riggs said it was “almost extortion” to have to choose between adding toll lanes to I-35 and losing funds for other projects in the Waco area. He blamed federal and state lawmakers for not taking action.

“(Expanding I-35) is something that our citizens need and deserve and it should be a state or a federal issue as opposed to a local issue,” Riggs said. “This is just wrong in my mind to say we will help you with your transportation issues if you do what your citizens don’t want done.”

Although most council members expressed frustration about being forced to consider the toll lanes, a majority appeared willing to recommend to the MPO’s policy board to keep the proposal in their planning documents.

City Manager Larry Groth suggested that keeping the toll proposal in the MPO’s plans would allow the transportation department to move ahead with surveying and preparation to expand the highway even if local officials decide against the toll lanes at a later time.

“If we approve this with the tolls in it, we can keep I-35 in the plan,” he said. “That means that the state can continue working on the design, layout and all that other stuff so there is not a delay, and in my mind that means we stay on this track we need to be on.”

Before Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Joe Mashek, MPO policy board chairman and a McLennan County commissioner, said he opposes the toll lanes even though Sheldon’s bridge enhancement project is linked to it.

“They are kind of holding a gun to our head saying ‘If you don’t do this, you aren’t going to get this,’ ” he said. “It’s a no-win situation because most people are against this toll road on I-35.”


© 2008 Waco Tribune-Herald:

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"What good are public forums with TxDOT if you can't trust them to give honest answers?"

Commissioner Houghton Declares TTC-69 Has Nothing to Do With NAFTA

Copyright 2008

HEMPSTEAD — Some attendees at Tuesday night's town hall meeting in Hempstead were forced to park a quarter-mile from the meeting and walk while countless others were turned away. Before the first question was asked the narrow dead end road leading to the hall was choked with vehicles that had no place to go and could only see the flashing emergency lights of a police vehicle ahead.

Citizens like Sara Barnett who arrived in Hempstead with her 88 year old mother found they could not get to the meeting hall. They and others lost their opportunity to attend, ask their questions, or hear the discussion.

Those 800 or more who did make it into the hall heard largely defensive and argumentative 'answers' to their questions, particularly from Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton of El Paso. Reinforcing the concern of many that these town hall meetings would be nothing more than a sales pitch, Houghton called it a return to "Marketing 101." "We did a pretty horrible job with public relations," admitted Houghton.

David Stall of says, "Houghton completely misses the concept of involving the public in the decision making process." "He came to Hempstead to defend the Commission's decisions and not to discuss the issues," Stall said.

Often talking over citizens at the microphone Houghton appeared driven and at times agitated by the questions being asked.

When asked about NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the need for TTC-69 to move containers from Mexico Houghton answered, "[it's] not about cargo and containers" then summarily cut the citizen off by abruptly saying, "next question."

Houghton took and defended the position that TTC-69 is not and would not be a NAFTA highway.

Later in the evening another citizen asked Houghton "why is it not part of NAFTA?" Houghton's answer, "It doesn't connect to Mexico," caused the room to erupt with astonished laughter.

The man at the microphone told Houghton that the map that he had shows TTC-69 going to Brownsville. Houghton quickly responded that it stops in the city of Brownsville or stops in the city of McAllen which prompted the citizen speaker to retort, "that's pretty close to Mexico." A chastising Houghton replied, "Well it's close, but it doesn't, so lets get the facts right." [VIDEO]

Stall called the NAFTA exchange a classic example of how the Commission and TxDOT are intentionally distorting information to mislead the public and their elected officials. "They are playing word games that come dangerously close to outright lies," said Stall.

He says that more important than whether TTC-69 will be a NAFTA highway or not, is that the discussion be honest. "Apparently they are willing to tell us anything to keep the public from being involved and raising their concerns," said Stall.

He points out that numerous TxDOT documents, including materials handed out by TxDOT in Hempstead during the meeting, make open reference to TTC-69 moving goods from Mexico. "What good are public forums with TxDOT if you can't trust them to give honest answers?," he asked.

One need not speculate on whether or not the decision to build TTC-69 has been made, Houghton was quite clear that it would be built. The only decision he left open for discussion was how to pay for it saying, "[the] choice is private sector or gas tax." Even that wasn't really left much in doubt since TxDOT told the audience that they were moving forward to reach agreement with a private partner to develop TTC-69.

[Video courtesy of Citizens for a Better Waller County]

NOTE: Connecting the TTC to Mexico has been part of the plan since 2002 See Plan >>

© 2008 CorridorWatch:

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Houghton admits TxDOT violated the law."

TxDOT admits to breaking the law, hired lobbyists

January 22rd, 2008

By Terri Hall
Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom
Copyright 2008

Hempstead, TX – TxDOT was confronted by TURF Board Member Hank Gilbert at tonight's Town Hall Meeting in Hempstead about it hiring 4 federal lobbyists (paid $5,000 and $10,000 monthly retainers ) Chad Bradley, Drew Maloney, Garry Mauro, Billy Moore and one state lobbyist with Alliance for I-69, Gary Bushell, to lobby elected officials and solicit them in selling the public on the controversial Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 privatized toll project.
On March 23, 2007, Bushell met directly with 4 Waller County Commissioners Glenn Beckendorff, Bill Eplen, Terry Harrison, and Milton Whiting. Apparently at the first meeting, Bushell didn't identify himself as a lobbyist as required by law. He failed to declare that he was a lobbyist until the second meeting with commissioners when two TxDOT personnel accompanied Bushell.
It apparently didn’t do TxDOT any good since the Waller County Commissioners have since passed a resolution against the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 project coming through Waller County. But that’s not the case in other meetings where elected officials raced to the microphone to sing the praises of the TTC-69 to their constituents like they did in Texarkana, January 15.

As part of TURF’s lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for its ad campaign to advocate toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor (in violation of Texas Government Code Chapter 556), new evidence uncovered this taxpayer-funded lobbying by TxDOT.
TURF discovered detailed logs showing a concerted campaign to lobby politicians, particularly newly elected officials, which is a BIG no-no for a state agency that must remain apolitical. Bushell personally lobbied more than two-dozen elected officials in the path of TTC-69 prior to the Town Hall meetings.
Houghton admits TxDOT violated the law! At the packed Town Hall meeting in Hempstead tonight (estimated 800-1,000 people in attendance), Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton said he also personally met with every county judge in the path of the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 as he defended the “necessity” of TxDOT hiring lobbyists to “lobby” elected officials (he used that exact word multiple times).
Texas Government Code: § 556.005. Employment of Lobbyist (a) A state agency may not use appropriated money to employ, as a regular full-time or part-time or contract employee, a person who is required by Chapter 305 to register as a lobbyist. Except for an institution of higher education as defined by Section 61.003, Education Code, a state agency may not use any money under its control to employ or contract with an individual who is required by Chapter 305 to register as a lobbyist.

"Where's the Travis County District Attorney? TxDOT has now publicly admitted, on camera, that it has violated the LAW!" says an incredulous Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (or TURF).
Zachry sends observer

Trouble in the private toll paradise?
Another first at tonight’s Town Hall was the presence of a Zachry employee taking meticulous notes on his laptop. Zachry Construction is one of the private consortiums seeking the development rights to the TTC 69 project. “This is a first,” said Hank Gilbert, a TURF Board member attending the Town Halls. “I’ve never seen a Zachry employee at a single public meeting in my 3 1/2 years fighting this thing.”

This may indicate trouble in Governor’s Perry’s world of private sector control of our public highways. The 80th Legislature passed a private toll moratorium (SB 792) in 2007 and the public-private partnership lobby has been jittery ever since. The public opposition is growing more fierce and more organized.

TURF also discovered in a memo to TxDOT dated November 8, 2007, that Rodman & Co. marketing gurus seem to have drafted quotes on behalf of elected officials in order to place them as positive quotes in press releases about the TTC-69 project.
TxDOT also hired Governor Rick Perry’s political polling outfit, Bacelice & Associates, to conduct a poll that included asking one’s political party affiliation in its questions.
“What does a person’s political party have to do with a supposed ‘public information’ campaign? Nothing. It’s clear this ad campaign is about pushing a political agenda and brainwashing the public with pro-toll talking points like ‘tolls are better than gas taxes to fund roads'. C’mon, this is politics run amok and an agency run amok. Who’s going to rein them in?” criticizes Hall. “TxDOT has patently and repeatedly denied that they’ve been illegally lobbying elected officials, yet they secretly and knowingly hired registered lobbyists to do the Governor’s dirty work in ramming toll roads and this Trans Texas Corridor down the taxpayers’ throats! It’s an outrage and we intend to put a stop to it since no one else will,” promises Hall.
“The LAW forbids TxDOT from using taxpayer money for a political purpose, only to find they’ve blown millions on PR firms and are currently using OUR MONEY to put up more than 2 dozen TxDOT employees as they galavant all over the state in a series of Town Hall meetings. The Town Halls are for purely political purposes, and they’re more akin to a propaganda-filled dog and pony show than a real dialogue giving the public veto power over this project,” notes Hall.

TxDOT is holding this series of Town Hall Meetings ahead of the official LEGAL public hearings for TTC-69 in order to win over an unsuspecting public and to divert critics AWAY from registering their opposition on the official LEGAL record at the public hearings to follow.

TxDOT’s behavior demonstrates why there are laws prohibiting the government from using its power and OUR money against the taxpayer. The citizens have the deck stacked against them when their own government forcibly takes their money and uses it to clobber them.
What TxDOT calls “outreach” is, in reality, an ad campaign ( using public relations firms and political strategists to “sell” the public on a privatized, tolled trade corridor from Laredo to Texarkana.

Like TTC-35, TTC-69 plans to convert some existing highways into privately controlled toll roads, making Texas taxpayers pay twice for the same stretch of road as well as to force Texas landowners to give-up their farms and ranches for a massive new stretch of road in order to complete the entire TTC-69 project.

Read the latest in TURF’s lawsuit against TxDOT’s misuse of taxpayer money for an ad campaign advocating tolls and against its lobbying activities here.

Read TURF’s formal complaint against TxDOT’s illegal use of taxpayer money filed with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle here.

© 2008 Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"This is the governor's program. If we go in and try to scrap some piece of his program, I think we're going to have hell to pay."

Leader's death may not change TxDOT much

Gov. Perry, who picks commission members, says he still backs tollways


San Antonio Express-News/Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Copyright 2008

AUSTIN — The death of state Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson, the feather-ruffling toll road champion who left the agency with a sweeping vision and fences to mend with politicians and the public, may change the style of debate over Texas' transportation future.

But not its substance.

The five-member commission is appointed, and its new chairman will be named by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who has made clear that his support for toll roads and state-private partnerships hasn't changed.

"In the days since his passing, there have been calls from some quarters to abandon the forward-thinking initiatives we championed to meet our state's current and future transportation needs. That would be a big mistake," Perry said in response to a national commission's call for higher gasoline taxes and restrictions on states' toll contracts with private companies.

Commission member Ted Houghton of El Paso was blunt about Perry's influence.

"This is the governor's program. If we go in and try to scrap some piece of his program, I think we're going to have hell to pay with our boss, and that's the governor," Houghton said. "He was elected by the citizens, not us. We are an extension of what he believes."

Houghton and commissioners Hope Andrade of San Antonio and Ned Holmes of Houston said they support tollways and private investment as a key part of the state's transportation funding mix.

Despite some lawmakers' support for raising the gas tax, some commissioners suggested that the needed increase would be so large as to be unduly difficult.

At the same time — and while praising Williamson's intellect and drive — commissioners said they want to communicate better with lawmakers after tempers flared last year and the Legislature sought to rein in privately funded toll roads with a moratorium.

As officials work to pave over lingering hard feelings, the Texas Department of Transportation faces the scrutiny of a "sunset" review. Some lawmakers want the appointed commission to be replaced with an elected transportation commissioner.

"We are all committed to reaching out and working closely with our legislative leaders and our communities," Andrade said. "Things haven't changed, other than Ric's not there. We still have the huge issues we need to address."

Holmes said he wants a "working-together kind of atmosphere" with the Sunset Advisory Commission and lawmakers. Still, he said, "We really don't have many choices in how we fund our system, and if we think we can depend totally on the gas tax and the current format, it is woefully inadequate."

Holmes offered a long-term idea that could prove as controversial as privately funded toll roads: eventually taxing Texas motorists per mile driven as opposed to per gallon of gasoline. He said that's likely more than a decade away in Texas but noted that it's a response to cars' increasing fuel efficiency.

Houghton said politics must be balanced against the economic reality, "and the reality of economics is ... we have hit a wall in the state of Texas" on funding growth.

"We need to hone our communication skills with the Legislature," he added.

Lawmakers, while giving Williamson respect, agree that transportation officials need to make changes.

"It is difficult, at least for this senator, to imagine TxDOT's credibility being any lower," said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, vice chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the committee's chairman, said TxDOT needs to listen.

"As one approach among many, public-private toll roads may, in fact, have a place in the overall funding scheme," he said. "The real issue becomes one of listening to the concerns of the citizens and the direction of the Legislature. In that regard, the Transportation Commission has been wrongheaded in the last couple of years."

Carona supports modestly increasing the gasoline tax, tying it to inflation and ending diversions from the highway fund to other state needs. He called private investment the most expensive option for taxpayers because it adds the element of profit.

Perry spokesman Robert Black disagreed, saying cost depends on how contracts are structured, citing companies' up-front payments and officials' approval of toll rates.

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, a committee member who has supported a gasoline tax increase, said the moratorium gave lawmakers a "two-year breather" to consider private equity in toll roads. He said the need to smooth TxDOT-legislative relations should be a consideration for Perry in appointing Williamsons' successor.

Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, a committee member, said, "I think he (Williamson) stepped way over the line on that (private equity financing of toll roads). But having said that, I think he saw a problem. He was trying to find the best way to solve that. He came up with a solution. I give him credit for that. I give the governor credit for that."

On the House side, Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, a private-tollway moratorium supporter, agreed that Williamson highlighted the funding problem "in a manner that probably will never be seen again. ... I told him: 'Ric, in the end, you're going to win. We're going to fund them. Not necessarily the way you wanted them to be funded, but we're going to find a way to fund them.'"

Kolkhorst supports the use of tollways, but not having them "given away for a half a century to private companies."

The search to replace Williamson, who died of an apparent heart attack Dec. 30, "is ongoing," said Black, the governor's spokesman.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area is pushing for the representation it lacks with Williamson's passing. Carona said Erle Nye, a Texas A&M regent and former TXU Energy chief executive and chairman, would be a strong contender.

Critics of TxDOT's implementation of tollways said Williamson's absence will be felt in conjunction with the sunset review.

"TxDOT will most likely have to bend just a little more," said Sal Costello, founder of

Terri Hall of San Antonio, who leads Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, said, "I don't expect any changes until we get a new governor."

But she added, "Very few of these commissioners are going to be willing to take the hits for this governor the way Ric Williamson was willing to do. Most people are only willing to go so far for a friend."

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

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Monday, January 21, 2008

TTC-69 Public Hearings coming to Rosenberg

Trans-Texas comes to town

January 21, 2008

By Stephen Palkot
Fort Bend Herald
Copyright 2008

A public hearing in Rosenberg Thursday will give Fort Bend County residents a chance to speak out on one of the most highly contentious public projects in the state.

The Trans-Texas Corridor/I-69 project is a massive, multi-modal transportation corridor designed to carry trade traffic to and from the state roughly along the Gulf Coast, and to take on traffic increases expected with the state's ongoing population growth.

The corridor is expected to start near Brownsville or Laredo at its southern end and mostly follow the route of U.S. 59 for connections to Louisiana and Arkansas.

Notably, the main artery of this corridor, expected to feature rail lines alongside dedicated car and truck lanes, will be bypassing Fort Bend County and the Houston area. However, current maps of the project show that a “connector” corridor has been planned that would run through southern Fort Bend County and ultimately connect traffic to area ports and cities.

Specifically, the TTC-69 could impact Fort Bend County with what is called Section S. Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) maps show planners are examining the possibility of Section S passing either between Beasley and Kendleton or cutting across the county south of Needville. No final route has been determined, and five variations are being explored within a swath of land.

Criticisms of the TTC concept have run the gamut from landowners opposing a property grab to a growing fear that the international implications of the TTC could erode the sovereignty of the United States. TxDOT has proposed that a private company could built the project and charge tolls and other fees for its use.

Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert said he believes the connection corridors contemplated to run through Fort Bend County are likely being considered to handle traffic to and from the Port of Freeport.

Many decisions lie ahead, said Hebert, so he said he encourages Fort Bend County residents to comment on the project.

“TxDOT seems to have relaxed their drive to do a 1,000-foot-wide corridor project, and they're amendable to putting in a size the local communities find more friendly,” he said.

The hearing will take place over two portions on Thursday, Jan. 24. From 5-6:30 p.m., members of the public are invited to view a series of panels about the project and to speak directly with TxDOT engineers and employees. Starting at 6:30 p.m., TxDOT will conduct a more traditional “public hearing,” where individuals will be allowed to offer commentary on the project.

The hearing will take place at the Rosenberg Civic and Convention Center, located at 3825 Highway 36 south of town. The following day, a similar hearing is scheduled for the same hours in East Bernard, at Riverside Hall, 14643 Buhls Road.

© 2008 Fort Bend Herald:

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Sen. Hegar and Rep. Kolkhorst Oppose TTC-69 Route

Hegar opposes TTC route in district

January 21, 2008

Brenham Banner-Press
Copyright 2008

State Sen. Glen Hegar says he opposes a route that would bring the mammoth Trans Texas Corridor through his district.

The Texas Department of Transportation has kicked off a series of public meetings to discuss the project. Meetings are scheduled for Tuesday in Hempstead (6:30 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 22892 Mack Washington St.) and Jan. 29 in Bellville (at the Austin County fairgrounds, also beginning at 6:30 p.m.).

No meetings are scheduled in Washington County, which likely wouldn’t be impacted much by the highway project.

Much of the discussion in public meetings already held centers on Interstate 69, a north-south superhighway through East Texas and into South Texas that would follow the route of U.S. 59.

Gov. Rick Perry first proposed the TTC six years ago. It would roughly parallel interstate highways with up to a quarter-mile-wide stretch of toll roads, rail lines, pipelines and utility lines. Cost of the project has been estimated at approaching $200 billion, the biggest construction project ever in Texas.

If eventually approved, it wouldn’t be completed for decades.

Hegar says he isn’t convinced that the project is a good thing.

“As Texas grows from 23 million to 40 million residents over the next several decades, careful study of the expansion of our highway system will be needed to ensure a healthy business climate and the continued flow of jobs to Texas,” he said.

“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.”

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) has also weighed in against the project.

Hegar also said that TxDOT is gathering applications for advisory committees that will study the project’s development and include affected property and business owners, representatives of local government and chambers of commerce, as well as environmental, technical, and engineering experts, among others.

Applications are available at and are due by Feb. 8.

© 2008 Brenham Banner-Press:

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"A lot of people are really scrambling right now, fearful about what's going to happen."

TxDOT cuts have engineers on edge

Agency announced 57 percent cut in engineering contracts in November, leading to layoffs, transfers - and dread.

January 21, 2008

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

Sitting in the rarefied air of the Texas Department of Transportation's commission chambers in November, it was easy to look at the 57 percent cut in engineering contracts in a political context. Cut $250 million from the agency's budget for such expenditures, I wrote at the time, and you get the attention of the Legislature.

Maybe so. But you surely get the attention of the engineering firms and the individual engineers who make their living designing and inspecting construction on Texas highways. For them, the announcement was more than merely political hardball in the department's ongoing bout with lawmakers over private toll roads .

To many Texas civil and structural engineers, the decision has meant layoffs, transfers to other states, reduced income or, for the luckiest among them, no immediate impact other than dawn-to-dusk fear that the layoff train is headed their way.

"They're calling it the 'Black Christmas,' " said Lisa Powell, owner of PE Structural Consultants in Austin, a 14-person firm that in good times gets 90 percent or more of its business from TxDOT. "A lot of people are really scrambling right now, fearful about what's going to happen."

Steve Simmons, TxDOT's deputy executive director, revealed the engineering cut in a briefing to the commission Nov. 15. The agency would also trim right-of-way purchases by 50 percent, he said, and reduce internal agency expenditures by 10 percent.

Why design roads or buy land for them when you don't think you'll have money to actually build them, Simmons wondered.

Then the agency in late November told its district engineers to cease awarding contracts for new construction beginning Feb. 1. The agency says its money, now and especially in coming years, is running out for a number of reasons. But the most politically loaded is the Legislature's 2007 decision to substantially curtail TxDOT's ability to reach long-term leases with private companies to build and operate toll roads.

Engineers, who like almost everyone don't have the access or expertise to audit TxDOT's claims about its financial state, feel like they're caught in the middle of the argument. They strongly suspect that the size of the cut was designed for its shock value, with little regard for the lives affected or what it might do to drain badly needed technical talent from the state.

"We have some concern about how this happened," said Steve Stagner, president of the Texas Council of Engineering Companies, "and whether it couldn't have been brought to a softer landing."

The Austin district's engineering budget for 2008 has been cut from $45.2 million to $19.6 million, causing a slowdown on design for adding lanes to MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) and a scramble to find some way to design planned tollways and free roads.

Central Texas engineers won't be the only ones affected by that particular Christmas present.

Getting There appears Mondays. For questions, tips or story ideas, contact Getting There at 445-3698 or

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman: www.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

"Privatizing roads as toll roads is just a politician's way of hiding a tax."

Gasoline tax vs. toll roads

January 20, 2008

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

Toll roads represent hidden taxes

Re: "Hike in federal gas tax floated – Perry, others condemn panel's plan, want more private funding of roads," Wednesday news story

A gas tax is a much better solution than toll roads. I find it interesting that Gov. Rick Perry condemned the idea of a national gas tax increase, while at the same time, he backs shoving toll roads down our throats.

Privatizing roads as toll roads is just a politician's way of hiding a tax. Ill take a gas tax over a toll road any day. It's puzzling why Mr. Perry would condemn the gas tax proposal, while at the same time advocating privatizing our infrastructure with for-profit toll roads. Does Mr. Perry have a hidden agenda?

A gas tax is a much better solution than making every highway a toll road.

Ralph Bouvy, Plano

Figure it for yourself: Gas tax cheaper

Fuel tax per gallon in Texas is .184 cents Federal, .20 cents state. Total: 38.4 cents. For a vehicle that gets 20 miles per gallon, this is a little less than 2 cents per mile. If the proposed increase is implemented, then in five years, the tax will increase to a little less than 4 cents per mile.

Gov. Rick Perry condemned the proposal, saying that toll roads are the better answer. However, on the North Texas Tollway Authority, the toll is 20 cents per mile cash or 14 cents per mile with the Toll Tag.

Why the difference? Well, the NTTA has to make a profit for investors, whereas the government does not need to make a profit.

John Knutson, Dallas

If pols would quit diverting tax revenues

The problem is not having enough money to build or repair the road infrastructure, but rather using those revenues for their intended purpose. Get rid of the earmarks and loosey-goosey use of such revenues for other unrelated purposes, and I suspect we can have some pretty nice roads.

R.H. Grimes, Dallas

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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"I for one am not willing to sit back and let it gut this county."

County concerned over cost of proposed TTC

January 2008

Trinity Standard
Copyright 2008

GROVETON – Concerns over the possible local cost and lack of local benefits of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) highway project were voiced Monday, Jan. 14, by Trinity County officials.

During a relatively brief meeting of the county commissioners, local officials agreed they needed to gather additional information about the possible local impact of the proposed highway.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) will conduct public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project on Thursday, Feb. 7 at Trinity High School. The hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m and county officials indicated they planned to be there to learn more about the highway plan.

During Monday’s meeting, commissioners indicated preliminary information on the TTC project indicates there would be no on or off ramp from the highway in Trinity County, which would mean that local businesses would see no benefit from the traffic.

It was indicated that the closest on and off ramps probably would be located in Polk and Walker counties.

The proposed Interstate 69/Trans-Texas Corridor is designed to run from Laredo in far south Texas up to Texarkana in northeast Texas. The federal I-69 part of the project would continue north into the Great Lakes region and would effectively provide a direct highway route between Mexico and Canada.

The TTC component is being proposed by TxDOT and the study phase of the project was tied into the I-69 proposal because the two routes could follow the same path.

Under TxDOT’s plan, the TTC would eventually include 10 lanes of highway traffic – three north and three south bound lanes dedicated to passenger traffic as well as two north and two south bound lanes used only by trucks. It would also eventually include six rail lines – two high speed passenger lines, two freight lines and two commuter rail lines.

According to preliminary information presented to commissioners on Monday, the right-of-way needed for the project would be from one-quarter to one-half a mile wide.

Among the alternative routes for the project is one that would by-pass the Houston area to the west. That route would cut through Trinity County east to west to the south of Highway 287. It would run to the north of Trinity and turn south near the Houston County line, continue through the Kittrell area of Walker County, cross the Trinity river and intersect with I-45 several miles north of Huntsville.

County Attorney Joe Bell noted that this alternative route for the TTC could require almost 6,000 acres of Trinity County land.

“In the past TxDOT has required counties to purchase all of the right of way needed for a highway project,” Bell said.

“If that holds true for this project, the county would have to purchase almost 6,000 acres of land. At an average of just $1,000 per acre, that’s about $6 million,” he noted.

Bell noted that at present the county receives about $2.5 million per year in property taxes.

“If we’re forced to buy the right of way, we would have to more than double the tax rate and then spend it all on the highway project,” he said.

The only way the county could finance such a purchase would be through the sale of bonds, which Bell noted would have to be approved by local voters.

“What happens if the voters say no?” asked Pct. 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham.“I don’t know,” Bell said. “The state could make it an unfunded mandate and we would have to come up with some way to do it.”

Bell noted the state could decide to purchase the right of way itself and include the money for the land in the bonds that would have to be issued to build the highway. In that case, the matter would be placed on a statewide ballot.

County Judge Mark Evans noted that local officials who are concerned about the project should pass those concerns on to the “people who have influence over the funding.”

He said officials in the governor’s office as well as the lieutenant governor, staterepresentatives and state senators would have a major impact on what happens with the project because they will have control of the money.

The county attorney noted opposition to the plan has been building in a number of counties along the proposed western alternative route.

“Property owners in Grimes and Austin counties have been putting up signs saying ‘No Trespassing by TxDOT’,” he said.

Suzanne Waller, chairman of the Trinity County Historical Commission (TCHC), noted that she has been researching the TTC project and is very concerned with its possible impact on the county.

“This is our lifestyle were looking are here,” she told commissioners.

Waller told commissioners she moved to Trinity County from an urban area and does not want to see the negative impact that the TTC could have on the area.

“I for one am not willing to sit back and let it gut this county,” she said.

She added that TCHC is in the process of updating its list of historic cemeteries and of identifying cemeteries that should be designated as historic.

“We need to identify these cemeteries especially if they are within the boundaries of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor,” she said.

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