Saturday, February 09, 2008

"The government taking our private properties in order to then lease them out to make a profit for the state is beyond unjust; it is an outrage."

East Texans fear I-69/TTC will disrupt their rural lives

February 09, 2008

Nachodoches Daily Sentinel
Copyright 2008

When Larry Shelton carried his wife, on their wedding night, through the door of the dream house he built for them in the Libby Community in east Nacogdoches County, he believed they would live out their lives in their new home, enjoying the simple pleasures of life most couples find themselves too busy or too removed from nature to appreciate.

He looked forward to holding her hand while walking through the woods, sipping their morning coffee together in the breakfast nook while looking out over the flowers in the garden, and working on his wood carving.

Little did he know, when the two of them walked through that threshold three years ago, there was a possibility that a super highway would freeze all of his hopes and dreams, instead filling both his and his wife's days with constant letter-writing, educating the locals about the highway's consequences and attending public hearings to protest the highway, which could destroy everything he worked so hard to build.

The I-69 Trans-Texas Corridor, if built, would include toll roads, high-speed freight and commuter rail, water lines, oil and gas pipelines, electric transmission lines and telecommunications infrastructure all in the same corridors. The corridor is one possible solution to rising traffic congestion problems, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. An exact location for the corridor has not yet been decided, but the possibility of it going through rural areas in Nacogdoches and Shelby counties has landowners upset and angry that the government could come in and take their land away to make room for a massive highway.

TxDOT has offered three alternatives, all of which are currently being considered as TxDOT officials hold public hearings to listen to the concerns and suggestions of those the highway would affect. The first alternative is taking no action at all and not building anything. The second would be an upgrade of current highways, including U.S. Hwy. 59 and others. This second option would still affect some locals, but not as many as the third alternative, which would be to develop a Trans-Texas Corridor and build a new route through the state. Though most landowners oppose the second option as well, it's the third option that has most rural landowners upset, scared and angry.

The proposed path of the corridor could end up cutting right through Shelton's property, which would mean the loss of the home he spent six years of his life building, including working holidays, weekends and late into the night,

"There's 17 years of blood, sweat and tears in this place," Shelton said, adding that no amount of money the government could offer would replace how much labor and love have gone into his property.

He and his wife, Merry Anne Bright, had planned on doing more with the place, including growing a beautiful garden. But for now, the two have no idea what the future holds and no assurances that any work they put into their home will matter years down the road.

"Our lives are put on hold," Shelton said. "It's difficult to go forward because it could be a waste of time and effort."

Shelton doesn't just worry about his own land, though. The corridor would also take away land from his neighbors, a farmer who had plans of building a large poultry house for an expansion of his business, and a 75-year-old woman whose family lived in their home for generations. Part of the nearby Libby community, which is currently in danger, includes what used to be a one-room schoolhouse and a cemetery with more than 75 graves that has existed since 1898.

"This is the heart of our community," Shelton said. "It would physically divide the community, and that would mean the death of the community."

So instead of living a relaxing, worry-free life as he had planned, Shelton and Bright are spending their time fighting the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor that threatens to destroy their way of life. He spends much of his time at meetings and writing letters speaking out against the super highway while Bright attempts to educate neighbors on the highway and what they can do to stop it. Recently, she distributed more than 3,000 packets of information, which included talking points for landowners to speak on at meetings.

Should the government decide to go forward with building the corridor, right of way, including some rural land, would have to be purchased.

"It's a new world out there is what they want to tell us and there's no room for this anymore," Shelton said. "They want to take our land to build things the city needs. That's a bitter pill to swallow. They're going to take our land by force."

At a recent public hearing, Shelton spoke out against the Trans-Texas Corridor, addressing both the possibility of people losing homes and land as well as the possibility of those who don't lose land having to deal with 24/7 traffic noise and the loss of the rural way of life.

"The concept of the government taking our private properties in order to then lease them out to make a profit for the state is beyond unjust; it is an outrage," Shelton said at the meeting. "And the notion that I'm here tonight working to push this thing off of my place and onto my neighbor's makes the fires of hell warm my feet."

In another little piece of farm paradise, Greg Grant, a landowner who grew up in the little town of Arcadia in Shelby County, walks the woods he helped cultivate and collects the eggs the chickens laid just like he did as a little boy when the farm belonged to his grandparents. Grant can hardly believe that this land, which has been passed down to him for seven generations, is now in danger of being disturbed by the Trans-Texas Corridor. The way the map now reads, the corridor would most likely not run through Grant's property, but it would travel adjacent to it, bringing traffic noise that would disturb the peace with which Grant grew up.

"Every dime I've ever made, every second of every day was for this place," Grant said. "It's at least a generation removed from the world.

As a boy, Grant recalls begging his parents to let him visit his grandparent's farm every day. After growing up in Arcadia, Grant went off to bigger cities, but in the end he felt the pull of his roots drawing him back home again. Grant said that's the way it is for many who leave home.

"The land is a part of them," Grant said. "Everybody seems to find their way back."

He remembers the one thing he missed more than anything was the pine trees.

"I missed their smell, sound, the frost and ice on the needles," Grant said. "I could barely survive without them."

Grant still likes to visit the creek known to him and his relatives as Grandmother's Creek, where he used to sit and look over the creek while listening to Granny tell stories. It was during his youth that Grant fell in love with history, family and nature, which would eventually lead to his passion for horticulture. He currently works as a research associate for SFA's Pineywoods Native Plant Center.

As he stands next to a tree, looking out over the creek, he listens to the water flowing and the birds chirping, sounds he fears will soon be replaced by the sound of traffic on a busy highway. He says that many people focused on the future — building and expanding — don't understand why he and others love this land as much as they do. They can't go beyond thinking it's "just" trees and birds which can be found anywhere. But Grant compared his love of the land to loving an old quilt your grandmother made — one with crazy colors that can't be replaced by anything "store bought." The highway, Grant said, is more like a plain white comforter many stores sell. Grant and others don't want to give up their "grandmother's quilt" for a simple "white bed sheet."

Grant's mother, Jackie Grant, lives in a house on a hill overlooking the creek. Grant's father promised her that he would build her a house on that hill if she would marry him. But when they married, he was as "poor as a church mouse" and couldn't afford it. Years later though, Grant's father kept his promise and built his wife the house on the hill.

Grant worries that if the Trans-Texas Corridor is built next to their land, instead of the current view his mother has, she'll "look down on the world's largest highway."

Jackie Grant feels what the government is proposing can be interpreted as a simple matter of right and wrong, and they (TxDOT) are in the wrong.

"These are hallowed grounds here," she said.

Grant stressed that he and his neighbors would fight to the very end to save their land.

"If people in Texas don't fight for their land, they're not Texans," Grant said.

Bob Crump, resident of the small town of Silas in Shelby County, fears what will happen to him and everyone else if their land is taken away, and they're forced to move elsewhere. Most Silas residents are retired and elderly and don't know any other way of life.

"Most of our citizens have lived in this area most of their lives," Crump said. "Some have moved here to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the piney woods of East Texas. All of this will be destroyed."

Helen Billingsley, whose husband and children own 500 acres of land in both Huber and Silas in Shelby County, are also in the path of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor. Her voice broke as she fought back tears talking about the land she loved and her fear of losing it all.

"This is where our grandsons love to come to roam the woods, fish in the ponds and generally explore the land to feel a part of it," Billingsley said. "In my mind's eye, I can still see our oldest grandson with arms outstretched and head leaned back experiencing the freedom and sheer joy of running along the pasture road from the top of a wooded hill to the very bottom."

Billingsley had hoped to pass the land down to her grandchildren, and them to their grandchildren.

"As my grandfather and mother used to often say, 'They are not making any more land. Take care of it and don't sell it,'" Billingsley said. "But if I-69/TTC takes the recommended preferred pathway, I won't sell it; it will be taken away from me and my family by foreigners."

Billingsley worries about what would happen to her family if their working ranch of 50 or more cattle is taken from them.

"I know that this is God's land, and we are only stewards, but we try our best to be good stewards, which means replanting pine trees when needed and protecting our streams and wildlife," Billingsley said.

Although the corridor most likely won't be built in her lifetime, Billingsley said it still breaks her heart to know her grandchildren will miss out on what she's grown up around.

"My husband and I have visited 49 of the 50 states, and I dare say that the piney woods of East Texas are right at the top of my most-beautiful list," Billingsley said. "The thought of replacing this precious little corner of God's creation with the noise, commotion, fumes and general distastefulness that a mega highway would bring is almost more than I can bear."

State Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, encourages everyone concerned to attend the public hearings TxDOT is hosting at different locations. According to McReynolds, the Legislature in the last session passed laws keeping TxDOT from issuing any new contracts for the corridor for two years. During the next session in January of 2009, a study group will look at the plans and determine if the corridor is truly needed, or if an alternative can be found. McReynolds worries that about 70 percent of residents currently oppose the corridor, and he said he hopes everyone will come to the meetings.

"Democracy takes place when people come together," McReynolds said. "You don't get a vote on this, but I think the agency will listen to people, and you will be taped, and it will be reviewed. I think they will listen to testimony ... This is our land and we want to be sure before Big Brother comes in and takes it that they've studied and looked at other opportunities. Showing up at these meetings is our chance to have our voice heard."

Shelton encourages everyone attending the meetings to get informed. He also encourages everyone to give written comments, which TxDOT will accept until March 19. McReynolds also stressed being polite when offering comments, since TxDOT officials are doing what they can to gather opinions before going forward.

The public hearing in Nacogdoches will be held Thursday, Feb. 14, at The Fredonia. According to, at the hearing, TxDOT staff will be available to answer project questions during an open house between 5 and 6:30 p.m. A formal presentation about the environmental study begins at 6:30 p.m., followed by comments from the public.

For more information on how to make sure your voice is heard, contact Larry Shelton at 936-462-8848.

© 2008 Nachodoches Daily Sentinel:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Many made posters displaying their anger about the proposed superhighway."

Landowners protest Trans-Texas Corridor

Feb 8, 2008

By Lacy Ledford
Copyright 2008

TRINITY - The Texas Department of Transportation held another hearing last night about the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor.

Before last night's meeting at the Trinity High School gym, people boarded decorated tractors and trucks for a parade downtown. Many made posters displaying their anger about the proposed superhighway.

Landowners say the highway would divide their county in half and cost them about 5800 acres of land.

© 2008 KETK-TV:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Friday, February 08, 2008

"Senators see the agency as hostile to any alternative they come up with to tolling."

Senators express lack of trust in TxDOT


by William Lutz
Volume 12, Issue 24
The Lone Star Report
Copyright 2008

Lawmakers have expressed anger at officials with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Texas Transportation Commission before.

But at the joint hearing of the Senate Finance and Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committees Feb. 5, Senators of both parties expressed a complete lack of trust in the agency.

Both the agency’s new executive director Amadeo Saenz and the commission’s new chairperson Hope Andrade told Senators they want to work with the legislature. But Senators aren’t so sure.

“Frankly, I don’t have a lot of confidence in what’s coming out of that shop over there [at TxDOT],” said Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands).

What caused the latest breakdown in trust between TxDOT and lawmakers?

The Texas Department of Transportation, once it knows how much money it has, decides the dollar amount of road construction contracts it can let. Only toward the end of December 2007, lawmakers were informed that TxDOT’s first public estimate of this amount was too high by about $1.1 billion. This means the agency has delayed several planned highway construction projects.

Finance Chairman Steve Ogden (R-College Station) took a careful look at the financial data provided by the agency. “This is screwed up,” was Ogden’s view of the matter.

TxDOT executive director Amadeo Saenz told senators he has consolidated TxDOT’s planning functions to ensure this kind of mistake does not occur in the future. But lawmakers – quite directly – questioned the motives of the agency.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) noted that quotes from agency officials in her local newspaper attributed the reductions to a lack of funding. She asked to see a copy of the agency’s talking points distributed to district engineers and then blasted those talking points.

“It is also highly irresponsible and intellectually dishonest to blame Congress or blame the Legislature for what basically is caused by poor planning,” she said.

Several Senators called the reductions a “ploy” designed to pressure the legislature into supporting privatized toll roads. “This commission is not playing as an honest broker on how to help meet the needs of this so-called second-largest transportation system in the world,” said Sen. Kirk Watson to Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton. “Instead, the commission and you in particular, since you cited my name, have an agenda. And that agenda is to privatize that second largest transportation system in the world. And you’re hell-bent for leather on doing that up to and including issuing reports like we got at the end of last year so that you will force the hand.”

What really upset the legislature is a policy disagreement between the Office of the Governor and the Legislature on whether or not to issue the full amount of short-term bonds authorized under Proposition 14 from 2003. “Our cash flow projections indicate that the department’s limited resources will need to be dedicated to maintaining our existing assets over the next few years,” said Andrade in a letter to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. “If the department were to borrow an additional $3 billion for new construction, the debt service (about $240 million per year for 20 years) would necessarily come from funds needed to maintain the existing system.”

Senators, however, are upset about the failure to issue the bonds because they see the agency as hostile to any alternative they come up with to tolling.

Ogden told the agency not to compromise safety.

But some senators explicitly asked whether the department’s desire to increase its maintenance budget is driven by safety concerns or by a desire to promote toll roads.

Senators, and by extension the lieutenant governor, have made it crystal clear that they believe the Texas Department of Transportation doesn’t work and play well with state lawmakers.

The one remaining question is what are the Senators willing to do about this state of affairs. Are they willing to take on the governor in late May? Would they be willing to force a special session? What changes are in store for the agency? Stay tuned to find out.

© 2008 The Lone Star Report:

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"I will do whatever the governor asks me to do."

Perry's decision could shake up highway board

Many are seeking Williamson's spot; governor also may bump chairwoman

Feb. 8, 2008

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

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry's former chief of staff, a big campaign donor and people active in North Texas transportation are among contenders for a spot on the powerful commission that oversees state highways.

There's one vacancy on the five-member Texas Transportation Commission, left by the death of chairman Ric Williamson, but a Perry spokesman left open the possibility Friday that he could cause a bigger shake-up by deciding to replace Hope Andrade, of San Antonio.

The interim chairwoman, Andrade is the only commissioner from South Texas. Her term expired last year.

Andrade said the GOP governor has neither indicated he'll replace her nor assured her that she'll stay. Other commissioners are Ned Holmes, of Houston, Ted Houghton Jr., of El Paso and Fred Underwood, of Lubbock.

"I will do whatever the governor asks me to do," said Andrade, who was appointed by Perry in late 2003. "Whether it's one month, three months or one year, I'm going to do the best job I can to bring us all together to work on finding long-term solutions to our transportation funding challenges."

Perry spokesman Robert Black said replacing Andrade is "within the governor's purview" but "no decision has been made yet."

Matter of geography?

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, said, "We hope to keep Hope Andrade on the commission. ... She has been a hardworking, conscientious and able advocate for the needs, transportation-wise, of our part of the state. I think she deserves more time as a member."

Perry's office made it clear that his former chief of staff, Deirdre Delisi, of Austin, is in the running despite reported concerns by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

Like other officials from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Carona is pushing for an appointee who would give that region the geographic representation it lost with the death of Williamson, who was from Weatherford.

Among those being considered is former TXU chief executive and chairman Erle Nye, of Dallas, who has donated $203,000 to Perry since 2000 and would have to give up his seat on the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents to serve on the transportation panel. Black said contributions have no effect on appointments.

Looking for a post

Other applicants include former Fort Worth City Councilman Bill Meadows, a member of the North Texas Tollway Authority; former Duncanville City Councilman Grady Smithey Jr., a Perry appointee to a panel studying private participation in toll projects and secretary of the Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition; former Denton County Commissioner Sandy Jacobs; Benny Fogleman, in insurance sales in Livingston; Alan Wade Tompkins, vice president and general counsel for Unity Hunt Inc. in Dallas; and Southlake Mayor Andrew Wambsganss.

Lawmakers have said it's important that the appointment take into account the need to smooth relations between the Legislature and the commission. The fiery Williamson tangled with lawmakers in pushing Perry's transportation vision, including private investment in toll roads, an avenue the Legislature sought to curtail.

Carona said in a speech that he was opposed to Delisi being appointed, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

"We don't need political hacks in that position," Carona said, according to the newspaper report. "We need people who understand the business. We need people who understand transportation. We don't need someone who's unpopular with the Legislature."

Black said, "I'm really not going to dignify that, other than to say I think Deirdre Delisi, over her tenure in state government, has proven herself to be an exceptional leader and incredibly talented individual."

Delisi, 35, was Perry's gubernatorial campaign manager in 2002 and worked in George W. Bush's first presidential campaign.

© 2008 Houston Chronicle:

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Carona on Deirdre Delisi's possible appointment to the Texas Transportation Commission: "We don't need political hacks in that position."

Dallas lawmaker backs higher gas tax


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2008

FORT WORTH -- Few Texans wield as much influence on transportation issues as state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

He and other state officials are investigating a $1 billion-plus cash-flow shortage at the Texas Department of Transportation that has forced a statewide shutdown of most road work.

On Wednesday, Carona addressed the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition about many topics.

Gas tax increase

Texas needs to put the brakes on toll roads in Dallas-Fort Worth, he said. "There are 14 toll projects under consideration in this area, versus only six in Houston," he said. "Don't overload us. We just want balance."

So how should roads be paid for? In 2009, Carona will propose raising the state gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon to 30 cents, which would generate an additional $1 billion a year.

Other alternatives:

Index the gas tax to rise with inflation, to cover the rising cost of road work.

Index the gas tax to rise with fuel efficiency.

Ask voters for a constitutional amendment barring state government from diverting road funds for other needs.

Use more debt to build roads.

"TxDOT has $9 billion of debt capacity they could have been issuing," Carona said. "They have unilaterally decided they don't want to issue it. That's fiscally irresponsible. They are not using the tools the Legislature has given them."

No 'hacks,' please

Carona said he has been told that Gov. Rick Perry will appoint former Chief of Staff Deirdre Delisi to the Texas Transportation Commission. The governor's office declined to comment.

Carona said it would be a bad move.

"We don't need political hacks in that position," he said. "We need people who understand the business. We need people who understand transportation. We don't need someone who's unpopular with the Legislature."

Also under consideration are Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, who isn't seeking re-election, and former Fort Worth Councilman Bill Meadows, now a North Texas Tollway Authority member.

Carona isn't high on Krusee, a Perry insider. But he likes Meadows.

The governor could make up to two appointments any day now. A vacancy was created by the death of Chairman Ric Williamson of Weatherford in late December. In addition, interim Chairwoman Hope Andrade continues to serve even though her term has expired.

No sales tax

Opponents of raising the state's 8.25 percent sales-tax cap to pay for regional rail have won the battle. It's doubtful that the proposal, which failed in the 2007 legislative session, will get serious attention in 2009, Carona said. But he said he plans to meet with business leaders next week to find out whether they are serious about supporting the concept of regional rail and just not the sales tax as a funding method.

"There are those with influence who don't agree -- Texas Instruments and others -- and that's OK. That's politics," Carona said. "But I hope these companies come up with constructive alternatives."

The money is safe

The Transportation Department received nearly $3.2 billion upfront from the North Texas Tollway Authority when it leased the Texas 121 toll road project in Denton and Collin counties. Metroplex leaders worry that the money may be raided to balance the state budget. No so, Carona said. "Let me assure you, your money is safe. ... We'll keep a close eye on it."

Carona file

Name: John J. Carona

Occupation: Real estate management firm president; Dallas state senator

Background: Served as a state representative from 1990 to 1996 before election to the Senate; native of and resident of east Dallas; degrees in insurance and real estate from the University of Texas at Austin

Source: State of Texas

GORDON DICKSON, 817-685-3816

© 2008 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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Misfeasance vs. Malfeasance: TxDOT and Texas Senators square off again

Change of Course

February 7, 2008

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

What's a billion dollars between friends?

First of all, the Legislature and the transportation department aren't to be confused for friends. And second, TxDOT's billion-dollar miscalculation in road-building funds is more than a little fuzzy math.

It's simply awful fiscal management and – what's more important – a chance for the department's critics in the Legislature to draw into question TxDOT's fundamental direction.

The department needs to build bridges to lawmakers, and fast.

TxDOT and the Legislature developed a hate-hate relationship in recent years, as highway funds began to dry up and the department turned increasingly to toll roads and privatization to make up the difference. The lead pioneer was Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson, who died Dec. 30. He relished the head-butting with lawmakers and seemed amused at times that they were getting barbecued by constituents over gridlock and toll roads, with no relief in sight.

A showdown was set for Tuesday – two Senate committees vs. TxDOT. Mr. Williamson's former colleagues had to swallow hard and admit that double-counting of revenue caused a $1 billion falloff in road funds. Many lawmakers would have staked their SUVs that TxDOT had ginned up a revenue shortfall to help the case for toll roads ... except that the agency pleaded guilty to incompetence. Misfeasance, not malfeasance.

Not everyone is satisfied, however. Nor should they be. TXDOT is still tightening the spigot on money for new road-building, and lawmakers are hearing a clamor to raise the gas tax to stay abreast of construction needs. There's also no understanding between lawmakers and the department over how much more money the state can legally – or should prudently – borrow for roads.

TxDOT has been getting heat from lawmakers for the agency's multimillion-dollar public awareness campaign to sell its transportation approach, "Keep Texas Moving."

It's even more important now to get good, useful information to a legitimately more skeptical bunch, state lawmakers. It's important for TxDOT to eliminate obstacles to lawmakers' understanding of the funding predicament. Failure means the public wastes more time and money idling needlessly in traffic.

© 2008 Dallas Morning News:

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

“The Texas Department of Transportation is one of the most arrogant agencies we have in the state.”

Senators unhappy with TxDOT

Sometimes the truth just has a way of coming to light.

February 07, 2008

The Palestine Herald-Press
Copyright 2008

A public information officer with the Texas Department of Transportation this week wrote a column in the Herald-Press describing the financial woes facing TxDOT and how because of those problems the state’s transportation department doesn’t have the money to deal with many of the state’s transportation issues.

Apparently, several of the state’s senators do not feel that is the case at all. David Dewhurst called out the state’s interim chairwoman of the Texas Transportation Commission, Hope Andrade, on this very issue, according to a story from the Associated Press.

In December, Andrade issued a warning of a budgetary shortfall for TxDOT, which included a decision to postpone new highway projects and focus the department’s attention on existing roads.

The state’s lieutenant governor would have none of that. In a letter to Andrade, as reported by the AP, Dewhurst told her the forecast used to project a $3.6 billion revenue shortfall by the year 2015 “does not show the complete financial picture.”

In other words, TxDOT has an agenda and is playing politics with the state’s tax dollars, or so some of the state’s top senators believe, at least according to chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, “This is screwed up. I understand how to do a cash flow statement. I understand how to do an income statement. This isn’t one of them. This is really bad.”

What’s causing this consternation of the senators is the refusal of TxDOT to include $9 billion in bonds set aside by the Legislature, including $5 billion approved by the voters.

Instead, the department continues to press for the toll-road option, above elected official and public outcry.

One senator even got personal with TxDOT in a comment reported by the AP, “Texans today saw convincing evidence of a fact many of us have known — they cannot trust the Texas Department of Transportation or the policies that are consigning Texas to inadequate roads and privatized toll ways,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

Ogden’s argument is that using the bond money for TxDOT’s road projects would cost Texans less in the long run than these toll road projects TxDOT is trying to force on the state.

Of course, Gov. Rick Perry, who took most of the teeth out of the moratorium the Legislature wanted, is pushing toll roads and public-private partnerships.

In a statement, Perry spokesman Robert Black’s statement sounded much the same as the TxDOT spokesman’s in the Herald-Press, “Just saying no isn’t going to be an option.”

Another elected official at odds with TxDOT is State Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville, who called the Trans Texas Corridor, “the biggest land grab ever done by the state.”

In meetings with TxDOT officials, Hopson told me it is hard to get the whole truth out of the department when discussing the state’s transportation issues.

“The Texas Department of Transportation is one of the most arrogant agencies we have in the state,” Hopson said of the state transportation officials, while at the same time praising TxDOT employees at the local level. “I learned two sessions ago that they are difficult to deal with.”

Just to set the record straight, though, land TxDOT wants does not run just along the I-69 corridor, but also the I-35 corridor, they also would like a corridor running alongside I-45, and they eventually would like to see one running along I-10 as an east-to-west corridor. Other corridors the state would like to see built would be along I-20 and a new one running east to west along the Texas-Oklahoma border.

To get all of this, the state will have to acquire approximately 584,000 acres which it will either have to buy from willing sellers or procure by eminent domain from land owners who do not want to give up their property.

“East Texans love their land and they get a little spooky when the government comes in and talks about taking it over,” Hopson continued. “They also get spooky about an agency from outside the country taking over Texas roads.”

Now, about those trucks coming up through Mexico, well, it’s a one way street.

As a matter of public record, a Chinese shipping firm that goes by the name Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. has spent millions of dollars refurbishing and creating new deep water ports on Mexico’s Pacific coast.

America’s major West Coast ports in California are clogged because of all the Chinese products flooding into this country.

To help ease the congestion, much like TxDOT said they are trying to do, China will just go around the problem and use Texas’ roads to bring more tainted food, more toys with lead paint, more poison toothpaste and whatever products the country makes, with what amounts to slave labor, into this country so stores like Wal-Mart can make more money.

It’s much more than trucks, though, as trains are a part of the Trans Texas Corridor plans. If the TTC projects were to be built as designed, there would be six rail lanes to go along with the traffic lanes. As it is now, BNSF is steadily bringing Chinese products up from the Mexican port of Manzanillo.

What’s not coming up by rail is coming by truck which does add to the traffic problems. While I applaud TxDOT’s efforts to ease the congestion in the cities, let’s not forsake the state’s beauty and much of its heritage to accommodate products that are essentially undercutting the American economy.

All is not lost, though; according to Hopson, I-69 is not a done deal yet.

“If we do it at all, there will be no foreign government or a company from outside the U.S. administering our roads,” Hopson said. “The state of Texas needs to be in charge of and operating these roads.”

© 2008 The Palestine Herald-Press:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


TxDOT spins revenue shell game

TxDOT responds to Dewhurst's concerns over funding shortfall claims

February 7, 2008

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

TxDOT has made public a letter to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who last week demanded to know why the department keeps saying it is broke when the Legislature has given it the okay to borrow billions of dollars for new roads.

The short answer, says interim chairman Hope Andrade of San Antonio, is that more borrowing means bigger debt payments – and the department can’t afford to spend more on debt unless the Legislature gives it money to do so.

Lawmakers have informally assured TxDOT that they will make sure the money to support the borrowing is appropriated during the next session, but TxDOT has yet to adjust its financial plan to count on those extra funds.

Like many others, Mr. Dewhurst had also questioned the accuracy of TxDOT’s claim that the state faces a long-term funding gap for transportation of some $86 billion. The lieutenant governor said other estimates range from $40 billion to $60 billion.

In the letter sent Wednesday, Ms. Andrade said the department is revising its numbers thanks to recommendations by the auditor’s office, but said other, lower estimates have been incomplete surveys of the costs the agency must confront.

Also Online:

Letter: From Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to TxDOT

Letter: From TxDOT to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst

© 2008 Dallas Morning News:

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"A disregard for our communities and way of life."

Grimes County declares war!


The Navasota Examiner
Copyright 2008

An uninformed observer dropping in on the Walker County Fairgrounds on January 30 might certainly have gotten the impression that Grimes County has declared war!

Somewhere between 800 and 1000 concerned citizens gathered to voice their opinions and hopefully have questions answered regarding the proposed Trans Texas Corridor Toll Road Project. Walker County's meeting had the dubious distinction to be the only venue offered to Grimes and Trinity Counties as they weren't afforded the opportunity to host a town hall meeting.

At both meetings property owners and concerned citizens voiced their discontent with Perry's vision of a multi-use toll road corridor being attached to the proposed Interstate 69 path that would take approximately 145 acres per mile of roadway.

Additionally at the January 23 meeting, at least five officials from the Bryan/College Station/Brazos Valley area (which will lose no land to the corridor) touted their approval and recommendations of the corridor's division of Grimes County to service their wants and needs for contact with an Interstate Highway.

January 30 told a different story however, as Grimes County had its own representation this time. Along with some 50 citizens, our esteemed County Judge and every County Commissioner attended. Judge Shiflett informed the Texas Department of Transportation in no uncertain terms that the corridor vision would not be welcome in Grimes County and “what part of no didn't they understand?”

Commissioner Pendley likewise was emphatic in his vocal opposition for himself and his constituents to the loss of thousands of acres of agricultural use land, “some that has been farmed for over 100 years” and the forever change of face the corridor would bring to Grimes County.

Julian Melcher agreed in his defense of Grimes County and the corridors disregard for our communities and way of life. Judge Shiflett assured attendees that the resolution previously filed by Grimes County officials would be rescinded and replaced with “no build” verbage.

Representative Lois Kolkorst had her input too. She ardently recommended alternatives to the corridor toll road vision of Rick Perry's. She suggested that with some thought, legislative work and maybe some change to the gas tax, Texas could fund new road projects itself without the need of toll roads and the foreign company ownership suggested by Rick Perry's plan.

The Texas Transportation Commission and The Texas Department of Transportation agreed that this corridor vision - which would stop at the Texas State border - can be stopped. It can be stopped by our comments, but our comments must be recorded at the public hearings, sent formally in letter format or through their Web site, and the comments must fit into their specific point category. Comments must be received by March 19, 2008 in order to count towards the official record.

In order to be counted, your comments must address a reason for your negative response pertaining to the route, environment, historical places, people, funding, privatization, etc.

Mail to P.O. Box 14428, Austin, TX 78761 or go to

© 2008 The Navasota Examiner:

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"We want to make it clear that there is a political price for doing this."

Teamsters' ads call for firing of U.S. transportation chief

End to cross-border truck program sought

February 7, 2008

By Paul M. Krawzak
San Diego Union-Tribune
Copyright 2008

WASHINGTON – The Teamsters have launched a blistering radio and direct-mail campaign calling for the ouster of U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, whom they blame for continuing a program that allows Mexican trucks to travel throughout the United States.

The campaign marks the latest effort to end the controversial, five-month-old cross-border trucking project promoted by the Bush administration.

In the radio ad, which will begin running today on the self-described “progressive” Air America radio network, the blaring of a horn and sound of a crash precede a call to “fire” Peters. The ad says that Peters has ignored a law passed last year to end the program. The ad is expected to run for one week.

The closest Air America affiliate station to San Diego listeners appears to be KTLK-AM in Los Angeles, according to the network's Web site.

Teamster leadership said it is firing off 250,000 letters to union members who live along the U.S.-Mexican border or haul freight, in an effort to generate opposition to the program.

The union also is targeting Peters in her home state of Arizona, where the transportation chief has been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2010.

“Part of what we want to do is make it clear that there is a political price for doing this,” said Teamsters spokeswoman Leslie Miller.

Brian Turmail, a Department of Transportation spokesman, was dismissive of the attack.

“It's the kind of thing you do when the facts aren't on your side,” he said. “Considering the source, it's pretty ironic.”

The administration refused to end the pilot program after Congress passed a law to deny funding for it. Administration officials said a loophole in the law allows existing programs to continue.

Opponents have filed suit in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to stop the program. Oral arguments are scheduled for Tuesday.

Several lawmakers who oppose the trucking program looked into the possibility of a congressional lawsuit against the executive branch, but they were advised by attorneys that it would be unlikely to succeed, they said.

Opponents contend that the administration has failed to ensure that Mexican drivers meet the same safety standards as U.S. drivers, creating a danger on the nation's highways.

U.S. officials counter that every Mexican driver must pass a safety audit before joining the pilot program.

The administration views the pilot project as the first step toward a wider opening of the border to trucks from both nations, a move it says is required under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Both nations' economies will benefit, it says.

Paul M. Krawzak: (202) 737-7688;

© 2008 Union-Tribune:

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"Trans-Texas Corridor 69 will not only break us financially but shackle the future generations if this plan goes through."

Residents warn of toll from planned highway

February 07, 2008

Longview News-Journal
Copyright 2008

Not one of the 11 East Texans who approached the podium at Wednesday's hearing on Interstate 69 voiced support for the planned highway.

"This is highway robbery, and we should not pursue this project," said David Simpson, a Longview resident and fifth-generation Texan. "This process has bypassed the Constitution. It has bypassed the U.S. Congress, and I'm opposed to it because of the unconstitutional way that it has been pushed through."

The public hearing, held at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center, was a chance for residents to comment and ask questions about Interstate 69/Trans-Texas Corridor. The corridor would extend about 650 miles from Laredo to Victoria to Houston's north and west suburbs. It would then travel through East Texas to Texarkana parallel to the U.S. 59 route, according to environmental impact studies released in December.

The corridor is a collection of passenger and freight highway lanes, utility and rail lines and pipelines. Its width could reach 1,200 feet — more than three football fields from end zone to end zone.

The Texas Department of Transportation is holding 47 public hearings in three weeks along the corridor route. TxDOT Tyler District held Wednesday's hearing in Longview because U.S. 59 touches the southeastern tip of Rusk County, according to TxDOT spokesman Larry Krantz.

About 105 residents attended Wednesday's meeting, Krantz said. Would-be participants had three options for communication: speak at the microphone, speak in private with a court reporter or write their comments. Comments are being accepted until March 19. After that, substantive comments will be addressed in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. The Federal Highway Administration then will announce whether it has selected the recommended corridor route, selected an alternative route or taken no action — an alternative that would mean that no location for the corridor has been identified.

Nearly everyone who spoke publicly Wednesday were in favor of the no-action alternative.

Some East Texans dressed the part. Nancy Falster, a Winnsboro farm owner, wore a prison outfit to depict that she and other Texans were becoming prisoners because of the corridor.

"Trans-Texas Corridor 69 will not only break us financially but shackle the future generations if this plan goes through," she said. "We already pay for the roads by taxes. What else will we be paying in the future?"

At least one person who attended the Longview hearing was not opposed to Interstate 69/Trans-Texas Corridor. Longview District 2 Councilman Daryl Williams, who did not speak in public comment, said the planned corridor would bring benefits to his city.

"It really won't impact us much," he said. "I just want it west of Marshall."

TxDOT officials were not allowed to respond to any comments entered into record.

© 2008 Longview News-Journal:

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"It will take a united effort to stop this thing."

Growing Pains

TxDOT plan for proposed interstate meets stiff opposition

February 07, 2008

By Steve Bandy,
Marshall News Messenger
Copyright 2008

The vast majority of the 100 people attending Thursday night's public hearing opposed the proposed Interstate Highway 69/Trans-Texas Corridor. Only four of the 13 who spoke publicly favored the project.

The hearing was sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation to receive comment on the Tier One Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed transportation project from Texarkana and Shreveport, La. to South Texas.

Mayor Ed Smith said he supported the project and felt that most of the citizens of Marshall did as well.

"This will be good for the economic development not only of Marshall, but of all of Northeast Texas," Smith said.

He referred specifically to the TTC, which, according to the broad plans presented by TxDOT, would branch off from I-69 just south of Timpson. I-69 would continue on a more eastward course to meet up with the Louisiana section of the interstate below Shreveport. The TTC, a TxDOT initiative for accommodating the state's growing transportation needs envisioned as a multi-modal system providing separate truck and passenger vehicle lanes, freight and passenger rail lines and space for future utility use, would extend northward, roughly paralleling U.S. Highway 59, skirting Carthage and Marshall to the Texarkana area.

"If this route through Northeast Texas is delayed, then traffic that diverts to the east through Louisiana will result in economic development along that route," he said. "It would be hard — if not impossible — to recapture that traffic."

Allen Livingston IV, however, opened his three-minute address by saying "the mayor does not speak for all of Marshall," drawing loud applause from the audience.

Livingston called the proposed TTC "the largest land-grab in Texas history" and urged TxDOT to modify its plan to include only those roadways and rails that are available today. He said the right-of-way required for the multi-lane TTC — up to 1,200 feet — would eat up 146 acres of land every mile.

"This will kill rural Texas towns and will cause towns like Marshall to slowly deteriorate," he said.

Linda Curtis of Bastrop is a member of an organization known as Independent Texans, which she said "represents tens of thousands of Texans opposed to the project." Her group presented a form letter which calls for a congressional investigation regarding the actions of Gov. Rick Perry and TxDOT, outlining 10 points she said "deserve further inquiry."

The letter puts forth such allegations as deceptive lobbying efforts leading to the passage of a transportation bill implementing the corridor, the misuse of public funds for the purpose of "selling" the project to the public and the withholding of public documents, specifically a signed contract with CINTRA, a Spanish-based toll road consortium which appears to have favored status to build the corridor.

"It will take a united effort to stop this thing," Curtis said.

James Mason of Carthage also spoke against the project, saying the massive right-of-way would "divide communities, divide school districts, divide people from their churches and families" and generally create a lot more travel for residents trying to get from one side of the corridor to the other.

"Until we use all of the Highway 59 right-of-way it is of no use to obtain additional right-of-way," he said.

Mason also said citizens of Shelby County are currently trying to convince their county commissioners to adopt a formal resolution in opposition of the corridor. "Are the people in Shelby County smarter that the people in Panola or Harrison counties?" he asked.

Dennis Dugan's family owns and operates a farm directly in the path of the proposed corridor.

"The threat of losing their land is putting hundreds of Texans at risk," he said. "How can you sell land that may or may not be taken by the government? How can you build or plant on that land?

"In a time when we should be focusing on guarding our borders and protecting our citizens, instead they're making crossing the border more comfortable for them and they're taking the family farm to do it."

Daryl Ware of Marshall called the project a "property rights" and "national sovereignty issue" that threatens to "obliterate our borders with Mexico and Canada."

Dennis Weis and Dr. Jim Harris appeared to agree to disagree.

Weis urged TxDOT to abandon the "outrageous" plan for a new corridor and upgrade the existing U.S. Highway 59.

Harris said he believes "an I-69/TTC in the footprint of U.S. 59 would be one of the biggest things that will ever happen to Marshall."

John Melvin Dodd of Gilmer, however, said he opposed the TTC "anywhere" in the state.

"Our elected officials are betraying the wishes of the vast majority of Texans," Dodd said, adding that, though the corridor is not currently considered in Upshur County, "all of Texas will be affected by it."

Fuzzy Harmon of Marshall was the only speaker to contest claims that the corridor would benefit economic development in the city, explaining that businesses already established along the U.S. Highway 59 corridor would be hurt with the change in traffic patterns should the TTC take the bulk of traffic away from the center of Marshall.

"The whole community is dependent on the current traffic flow along Highway 59," he said. "If the traffic is moved west or east of the city, those invested along (U.S. Highway) 59 will hurt. I don't think this is good for our local business."

City Manager Frank Johnson spoke in favor of it after thanking TxDOT officials for hosting what he said was the third meeting in Marshall on the proposed project.

"Transportation is the lifeblood of any community," he said. "Communities on major transportation routes thrive and prosper while those not on these routes struggle."

Johnson said about 29,000 vehicles currently cross intersection at U.S. Highway 59 and U.S. Highway 80 on a daily basis. "Taking into consideration the projected 60 percent population growth in the next 25 years, we will have between 47,000 and 48,000 vehicles a day there," he said, "and traffic along Highway 59 will slow to a crawl."

He thanked TxDOT for its effort "to relieve what we all know will be future transportation problems."

Retired County Judge Wayne McQuarters of Marshall was last to speak favorably of the project.

"We have good transportation. Good roads and transportation are essential to a community, essential to job creation," McQuarters said.

He said the improved transportation system would improve the economy of the area.

"This is our chance to bring jobs back," he said. "I-69 is a compatible counterpart to I-20. We should be unselfish for the benefit of our children."

Bob Ratcliff, the TxDOT district engineer, conducted the meeting, explaining that all comments — those presented publicly along with those presented in writing and to the various court reporters stationed throughout the room — will be taken under consideration and "all concerns will be answered" in the Tier Two Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Deadline for presenting additional comments on the Tier One DEIS is March 19, he said. Following development of the next DEIS, more public hearings will be held. To comment on the plan, visit

© 2008 Marshall News-Messenger:

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

"Don't fall into unconditional love with the lawmakers over this sudden swing against TxDOT. They still need constant watching."

Traffic...Toll Roads Threat Keeps Some From Buying Beyond Loop 1604


Larry Nolan Stewart
San Antonio Real Estate news
Copyright 2008

What do toll roads and real estate have in common? Nothing? Something? Plenty?

As if things were not tough enough, selling your home in some areas around San Antonio can be complicated by the growing unpopularity of driving north on U. S. Highway 281 or west on IH-10.

There are many who claim that over development and under planning have created a traffic mess that turns many buyers in other directions. By the time house hunters navigate to Stone Oak and points beyond, for a simple house hunt they envision their investment of many hours of time and dollars on fuel just to go to and from work in the city.

Time conscious real estate professionals are not wild about the drive either. As a drive to the Texas Hill Country turns into a drive into the 'paved over' Texas Hill Country the song of the hills grows weak to some buyers.

The trip to Boerne is about the same. When you get there you reach a nice small town that is being turned into little San Antonio. The traffic jams are a revenue builder for law enforcement as frustrated drivers finally get a stretch of open road and put the hammer down! The rearview mirror turns red and the blood pressure goes up when a host of DPS, county sheriffs and others lay in wait for the hapless motorists that finally see an end to stop and go traffic.

This is not to say don't go. My comments are simply a reflection of what I see and hear. Buyers are discovering China Grove and Lavernia to the east and Wilson County down around Floresville. There is life in the other than north directions. Inside Loop 410 is looking better to many.

Buyers seeking the country life would do well to assess the situation and make certain that the trade off is one they can be happy with.

TxDOT and many local politicians have been "dictating" toll roads as 'THE' solution rather than 'A' solution.

Activists like Terry Hall the San Antonio Toll Party, R. G. Griffing, a.k.a. 'Dr. Dan the Scandal Man' at his San Antonio Lightning online newspaper, and our local talk radio hosts have created so much media attention to TxDOT and Governor Rick Perry's toll road agenda, a few Texas Senators have made scathing critical comments to and about TxDOT.

We should remember that we did not hear much from the senators when the toll roads fight was young.

Could it be that their wrath is real or is it a case of checking to see which way the wind is blowing after the above local champions for honesty did the senators jobs for them?

Don't fall into unconditional love with the lawmakers over this sudden swing against TxDOT. They still need constant watching. Let them know that you expect changes.

© 2008 San Antonio Real Estate News:

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"A Void of Accountability"

Motorists forced to face toll roads as state plays budget shell game


Jaime Castillo
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2008

It's amazing what pushes the outrage needle these days.

Web hits mushroom and national debate ensues when a blowhard like Al Sharpton accuses another blowhard like Don Imus of making dumb statements.

If Britney so much as leaves her compound, the world stands still.

But here in Texas, it's a mere annoyance that the Legislature and state transportation officials are making bigger fools out of us than we previously thought.

Gridlocked Texas drivers have known for some time that they are being held hostage, caught between a vice of gutless state budgeting and Gov. Rick Perry's love affair with toll roads.

We've been asked to swallow tolled highways as the only way out of a situation in which construction costs are rising as fast or faster than a booming general population.

And we've been told to do this while state lawmakers poke us in the eye with one hand and use the other to continue to drain highway dollars for things that have nothing to do with building roads.

In the current two-year state budget, another $1.57 billion will be diverted from road building to allow the supposedly fiscally conservative state leadership to balance the books in other areas.

And now we come to find out, the situation is even worse.

During a Senate hearing Tuesday, it was revealed that the Texas Department of Transportation made a $1.1 billion accounting error when it erroneously tallied some bond proceeds twice.

The news came a day after a story by Peggy Fikac in the Express-News showing that more than $3 billion in dedicated fees and taxes will go unspent for their specified purposes, which include trauma care and clean-air efforts.

The reason?

State lawmakers are using the money to shore up the budget in other areas.

As one economist put it: "We're basically borrowing from ourselves. It's like using the rent money to pay the food bill."

A governor's spokesman pointed the finger at the Legislature, saying lawmakers need "to square up with Texans" and make the budgeting process more "transparent."

Rep. Warren Chisum, the Republican chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, dismissed the whole matter as nothing more than "a bookkeeping deal."

In this void of accountability, the state is continuing a long tradition of watching revenue from things like the state lottery go to places other than where officials told us it was going to go.

A major subplot of this year's state legislative elections is the future of unpopular House Speaker Tom Craddick.

If a coalition of moderates and Democrats succeed in toppling him, they should remain mindful of the fate of the current Democratic Congress.

After being handed a majority in the U.S. House by frustrated voters, the new leadership shamefully plunged ahead and continued the pork-barrel system of funding local projects through things called budget earmarks.

Today, the approval ratings of Congress are worse than those of war-torn President Bush.

We Texans now know that our state's budgetary shell game involves highways, state parks, trauma care and clean-air efforts.

What we don't know is if Texas lawmakers — from either political party — will ever understand why this is wrong.

© 2008 San Antonio Express-News:

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"Texas Transportation Commission members have an agenda. And that's to privatize the second-largest (highway) system in the world."

$1 Billion Error Caused Cash Crunch

Agency officials say they double-counted bond revenue; legislators remain skeptical about legitimacy of fiscal 'crisis'

February 06, 2008

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

The Texas Department of Transportation made a billion-dollar error, officials of the agency admitted Tuesday under stern questioning from legislators, a mistake they said contributed significantly to TxDOT's sudden cash crunch.

TxDOT officials say agency planners inadvertently counted $1.1 billion of revenue twice, a mistake that caused them to commit to more road projects than the agency could handle.

But lawmakers, always skeptical, were often openly hostile during a lengthy Senate committee hearing that amounted to a thorough wood-shedding of TxDOT. They let department officials know that they remain suspicious about the legitimacy of the fiscal crisis.

Texas Transportation Commission members, said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, "have an agenda. And that's to privatize the second-largest (highway) system in the world. And you are hell-bent-for-leather to do that."

State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, pushed for a third party to look at TxDOT's books.

"It's important to me that we get the state auditor's office in there as quickly as possible," said Williams, who carried legislation last year that substantially curtailed TxDOT's authority to agree to long-term leases with private companies to build and run tollways.

TxDOT's executive director, Amadeo Saenz, said he would welcome an audit.

Saenz, TxDOT Chief Financial Officer James Bass and three transportation commissioners spent three hours answering questions in an unusual, out-of-session joint meeting of the Senate Finance and the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security committees.

TxDOT officials first announced a money shortage in November, ascribing it to a number of factors: inflation, reduced federal transportation grants, increased road maintenance needs and, most tellingly to legislators, the loss of revenue from those private toll road leases. Until Tuesday, top TxDOT officials had said nothing publicly about having made a serious bureaucratic error.

According to Saenz and Bass, the $1.1 billion that was counted twice was money borrowed through selling bonds. As a consequence, top agency officials told TxDOT's various divisions and districts that they had $4.2 billion to spend this fiscal year.

"As soon as I heard that number," Bass said, "I knew it was an overestimate."

Soon after, with so-called "lettings" for 2008 trimmed to $3.1 billion, TxDOT officials announced huge cuts in spending on right of way and project design, as well as a freeze on the start of many road projects that were ready to go. That sudden halt to projects got legislators' attention — and their goat. The Legislature and voters last year gave the agency authorization to borrow an additional $8 billion — though $5 billion of that will require further legislative action in 2009 — and so legislators don't like that crucial road projects are suddenly up on blocks.

It didn't take long after the freeze announcement for the idea to take hold that TxDOT was manufacturing a crisis to coerce legislators into backing away from the limits on private toll road contracts.

Tuesday's alternative explanation may have been only partially helpful to the agency.

"So, what you're saying is, it's not a political effort on your part," Watson said. "It's a lack of competence."

Saenz said he has brought the planning function, along with project procurement, under Bass' control to avoid the sort of left hand-right hand problem that caused the error.

How state and federal money goes into and out of TxDOT has long been a puzzle, one made only more complex by the addition of toll road financing and a growing practice of delegating road building to local agencies. Lawmakers, gazing at balance sheets gray with numbers and listening to Bass' clarifications of them, said the opaque nature of how TxDOT presents its finances makes it hard to trust the numbers.

"This is screwed up," said state Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, chairman of the Finance Committee, brandishing a revenue-and-expense table. "This is really bad. I heard your explanation. But based on the data, it doesn't match."; 445-3698

© 2008 Austin American-Statesman:

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