Saturday, April 26, 2008

Congestion pricing: An "ill-considered decision to allocate freedom of movement according to income."

Diamond lanes for the rich

April 26, 2008

Tim Rutten
Los Angeles Times
Copyright 2008

The late Michael Harrington, who examined the roots of American inequality more closely than anyone before or since, loved nothing better than to end the day with a few beers and a good argument. On one such occasion, he raised his glass, looked at the reporter across the table and said, "The great thing about beer is that it's one of the few good things in life that the rich do not begrudge the poor."
When the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted Thursday to convert carpool lanes to toll routes on as many as three Los Angeles freeways, the question of just what that decision begrudges to whom was lost in a flurry of self-congratulation.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called the move "a great opportunity to think outside the box," and added: "Part of the reason Los Angeles has not been able to grapple with gridlock is because we've been unable to make the tough decisions."

Right. It takes unconventional and courageous thinking to come up with a plan that clears a highway lane for the well-off, while the middle class and working poor are left to inhale each other's $5-a-gallon exhaust fumes.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina called the plan "a good beginning." On what? On making the daily lives of the hundreds of thousands of moderate-income commuters in her district even more intolerable?

The worst thing about this ill-considered decision to allocate freedom of movement according to income is that it represents local public policy made for the worst of all possible reasons -- simply because there's federal money available to do it.

There's never been any great debate on the MTA board about the wider implications of toll lanes or of the benefits of so-called congestion pricing -- which is a euphemism for reducing traffic by making it costly to use certain streets or even enter certain neighborhoods at peak travel hours. (London now uses this scheme to make it painfully expensive for all but the affluent to commute into the city on a daily basis by private car during business hours.) The issue has arisen now simply because there's free money to be had.

Here's how it unfolded. Federal transportation authorities have lately become enamored of imposing congestion pricing through toll roads, and have been offering the states funds to experiment with the concept. When New York's Legislature declined this month to endorse an agreement that also included congestion fees for parts of Manhattan, money became available for other municipalities, and the MTA board jumped outside the box to grab $213.6 million of it. As a consequence, existing carpool lanes on the Foothill, San Bernardino and, perhaps, Harbor freeways will be converted to toll routes, with the highest charges levied at peak commuting times.

Carpool lanes are a sensible and equitable way to encourage responsible behavior. People who choose to ride to work with other people or those who purchase low-emission, high-mileage vehicles have the opportunity to travel more conveniently while reducing congestion, pollution and fuel consumption.

Note the word choose.

Congestion pricing will reduce traffic as well, but it will do so by allocating a precious resource by income. In California, we long have used everybody's tax money -- mainly from gasoline purchases -- to build and maintain roads.

Moreover, in Southern California, the middle class and working poor have no choice but to use the freeways to get back and forth to work and school because, decade after decade, public officials have encouraged urban sprawl while neglecting public transit. For most commuters today, the highway is the only way.

California's great public resources -- free schools and universities, libraries, the freeway network -- once were creators of opportunity. And because so many availed themselves of that opportunity, these resources became powerful engines of equality -- distributors, if you will, of the American dream.

Today, as The Times recently reported, public schools are going hat in hand to parents hoping to make up for the shortfalls in public funds. Affluent parents in affluent neighborhoods will find that money; the children of the poor will do without and fall further behind.

Now the MTA proposes to address the all-too-real problem of gridlock on the cheap -- and on the backs of working people.

Since when was that "a hard decision"?

It's the sort of thinking that will make Los Angeles and Southern California the sort of place Harrington described in "The Other America" -- one where "life is lived in common, but not in community."

© 2008 Los Angeles

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"A 20th-century plan in the 21st century."

Trans-Texas Corridor


Written by Sonny Williams
Quarter Horse News
Copyright 2008

Each day, I make the dreaded drive down Interstate 35 to go to work in Fort Worth. Each day, I slug through the snarl and sludge of ceaseless traffic, which intensifies my growing desire to commit hari-kari, or at least incites a vehement curse of the highway gods. Certainly, we in Texas need more lanes, more roads, more rails, more something to deal with the ever-expanding urban population and growing international commerce. Yet how do we solve our transportation needs without carving up the countryside like some congratulatory cake? Or should the construction of a superhighway-rail-utility corridor even concern us?

All along I-35, one can enjoy the pastoral views of horse and cattle ranches, longhorns and buffaloes lazily relaxing in pipe-fenced pastures, and, occasionally, llamas, alpacas and even camels wandering amongst the flowering bitterweed, all apparently content. I wondered if the caustic criticisms of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) were warranted. Was I being enticed by some bucolic dream, lost in some idyllic nostalgia? Perhaps the laying of more cement, albeit a massive amount of cement, would have little ill effects and may actually benefit the public interest of Texas. I also wondered about those folks who own those horses and cattle, ranch owners and farmers, specifically those with land that existed in the path of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor plan, since the state will enforce eminent domain to acquire property for its construction. What was their take on the plan? Were all the marches on the Texas Capitol, the emotion-choked speeches at town meetings and on the Internet, the hoopla and ballyhoo over the TTC to be taken seriously? Or was it the proverbial sound and fury signifying nothing?

I wished to avoid paranoid politics, and searched for evidence devoid of scare tactics, propaganda and deception by quotes and information taken out of context. Many opponents’ arguments against the plan, such as former state comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s, are tainted with xenophobic, isolationist rhetoric. Such arguments disseminate the fear of a land grab by foreign companies, our modern-day conquistadors, thereby turning TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) into EuroDOT, and that a North American Union, complete with a common currency called the “amero,” is in the works.

As entertaining as conspiracy theories may be, they better serve hobbyists and duplicitous politicians than assist one in making reasonable political choices. Foreign investment does not erode American sovereignty. Toll roads are often essential to meet the state’s transportation needs. However, legitimate concerns arise over the TTC project, such as the privatization of public infrastructure, converting freeways built with tax dollars into toll roads, using public funds for private profit and the condemnation of private land. Many also view the plan as a security threat, opening fast, unsupervised pathways for terrorism, illegal immigration and drug trafficking – all vital concerns.

Yucatan to Yukon

Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched the TTC project in 2002. According to TxDOT, the purpose of the project is “to improve the international, interstate and intrastate movement of goods and people; address anticipated south and east Texas transportation needs for the next 20 to 50 years; and sustain and enhance the economic vitality of Texas.” After the plan was developed, a series of state laws were put into place, the most significant of which is House Bill 3588. Speaking on behalf of the Texas Department of Transportation at a TTC meeting in 2003, Phillip Russell, director of the Texas Turnpike Authority Division, said, “It [HB-3588] gives us all the authority and all of the power we need on a state level to move forward on the Trans-Texas Corridor, plus some.” TxDOT officials claim that the bill is “the most revolutionary transportation legislation that’s come out of anywhere in the last 40 or 50 years.”

According to the Trans-Texas Corridor Executive Summary produced by TxDOT, the Trans-Texas Corridor is an all-Texas transportation network of corridors up to 1,200 feet wide. The 4,000-mile corridor will include separate highway lanes for passenger vehicles and trucks, high-speed passenger rail, and commuter and freight rail. The corridor also will have a dedicated utility zone. Four corridors have been identified as priority segments of the Trans-Texas Corridor. These corridors parallel I-35, I-37 and I-69 from Denison to the Rio Grande Valley, I-69 from Texarkana to Houston to Laredo, I-45 from Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston and I-10 from El Paso to Orange.

Ultimately, the highway plan is to be national and international in scope, with a spider web of roads extending from Mexico’s Yucatan to Canada’s Yukon.

The total anticipated right-of-way for 4,000 miles of priority corridor is 584,000 acres. The estimated total cost for the TTC network ranges from $145.2 billion to $183.5 billion, though these numbers continue to fluctuate. TxDOT has indicated that the entire TTC will be a toll road, and the price will be decided on “what the market will bear.” On December 16, 2004, the Texas Transportation Commission selected a consortium led by Spanish-based Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, S.A., an international engineering and construction firm, and San Antonio-based Zachry Construction Corp. to develop the Oklahoma to Mexico/Gulf Coast element of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC-35). Cintra-Zachry paid $1.2 billion (the present value of future toll revenue) to TxDOT for the right to build and operate the initial segment as a toll facility and collect tolls for the next 50 years.

In 2004, late Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson unequivocally stated, “It’s either toll roads, slow roads or no roads.” While some applaud Williamson’s candor, others question his draconian ultimatum. However, according to Chris Lippincott, media-relations officer for TxDOT, Williamson’s statement is met with unanimity within the transportation department.

“There’s not money to build it [the TTC] otherwise,” Lippincott said. “The gas tax hasn’t been raised since the early 1990s. In the last five years, we’ve experienced 60 percent inflation in our construction costs. And very soon, we will barely have enough money to pay for maintenance, much less the addition of new lanes to existing roads or the construction of entirely new corridors. The development of toll roads is not anything anyone celebrates, but it will increasingly be a reality for drivers in metropolitan areas and as we develop these new corridors as well.”

Your land is their land

One of the more pressing concerns for horse owners and ranchers is the state’s enforcement of eminent domain, or land acquisition, to build the corridor. Many feel this is in direct violation of property owners’ rights, and that the condemnation of half a million acres of Texas land to generate revenue is a travesty and a blatant misuse of eminent domain. However, Lippincott wants to remind Texans that, other than the Camino Real (the oldest road in Texas), every road in Texas used to be private land. Lippincott said the law regarding the condemnation of land for transportation would continue to be enforced.

“We use eminent domain all the time for transportation projects,” he said. “The condemnation process is the thing that we hate the most about our jobs and our department. But it is a necessary evil. It is a process that is clearly spelled out in law, and we will follow that law. As we go forward with the Trans-Texas Corridor or any other project, you will see us attempt to minimize the disruption that comes with the purchase of right-of-way.

“The acquisition of right-of-way, in addition to being a difficult issue for people from a legal prospective and from a perspective of sentiment, is also an expensive process,” he continued. “The department is dealing with cash flow issues. We’re sensitive to people’s concerns. We always have been. But it [land acquisition] is a factor in any transportation project development. Right-of-way has to be acquired, but we are required by law to pay fair market value for that property. Unfortunately, there’s no way to get around that [land acquisition]. But we are doing everything we can to minimize the negative impacts that transportation development has on our state’s property owners.”

Lippincott stated that though the acquisition of private land is unpleasant, the building of an extensive road-and-rail corridor is essential and will benefit Texans, especially those living in metropolitan areas. Forty-five percent of the state’s population lives within 50 miles of I-35, and the population of Texas is growing by 1,000 citizens a day, he said. These people are going to buy “stuff.” He emphasized that trade from Mexico, China and elsewhere is going to come here regardless of whether the TTC is built or not.

“The Panama Canal is being widened and deepened, and trade from China is going to come through the Panama Canal, and the first ports that they are going to get to in the United States are Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Houston and Beaumont,” he said.

The construction of the TTC will have a profound impact on the state’s cities, as well as on the rural areas, Lippincott continued. He encouraged horse and ranch owners to stay aware and to stay engaged. Public awareness and public participation are essential to meeting the state’s transportation challenges, and TxDOT has provided numerous opportunities for citizens to voice their opinions.

“As far as specific impacts on horse and ranch owners, we are doing everything we can to involve them in the process,” he said. “We have had over 14,000 public comments on Interstate 69 Trans-Texas Corridor; we have held over 500 meetings on the Trans-Texas Corridor; we’ve had meetings in all 254 counties in the state; we’ve held 171 environmental meetings and hearings on I-35; we’ve held 95 on I-69; we have an extensive Web site. We’ve done everything to engage the public.”

Horse and ranch owners in Texas share the state’s commitment to cleaner air, safer roads and a growing economy, he said. According to Lippincott, those goals will be much harder to meet without any improvements to the transportation infrastructure. He noted that Texas air is getting dirtier, roads are getting more crowded, and residents risk losing out on jobs and economic opportunities if an infrastructure is not developed to handle these issues.

“The way to ensure that our state’s horsemen and horsewomen are represented is for them to stay involved and to participate in the public awareness and public hearings process, to speak with their local TxDOT representatives and keep an eye on us online at”

Rancher reactions

On the map, the plan in toto looks ominous, like a tentacled leviathan that has crawled from the Gulf of Mexico. From Gainesville to Laredo, large groups of people have voiced their opinions on the corridor plan, and it’s difficult to find anyone who strongly supports it. The public has expressed overwhelming discontent over the plan, as visits to town meetings and marches on YouTube attest, as well as reports on NBC Nightly News and CNN. CNN conducted a poll and asked the question: “Should foreign companies be allowed to control vital transportation infrastructure in this country?” Ninety-nine percent of those responding answered, “No.”

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has not joined Gov. Perry on his TTC quest, and he spoke on the subject with typical sang-froid. “One of my top priorities is to make sure Texas has the roads we need to keep our state moving.”

Dewhurst won the Senior Amateur cutting at the 2007 National Cutting Horse Association Futurity, and owns the 1,800-acre Snaffle Bit Ranch, headquarters for Falcon Seaboard Ranches, in Fredericksburg, Texas.

“But,” he continued, “I share many of the reservations of my fellow ranchers and farmers about the need for the Trans-Texas Corridor and the impact it could have on agriculture by dividing land and requiring the taking of private property for right-of-way, and that’s why I’m pushing TxDOT to justify their plans and to minimize damage to our citizens.”

Jim Babcock owns Babcock Ranch in Valley View, Texas, which is about five miles off of Interstate 35. With the construction of TTC-35, his ranch would rest in the resulting triangle. Babcock measured his words deliberately and thoughtfully, with a keen eye on real estate prices.

“I would think the only thing it would do is change the property prices,” he said. “I think the property prices would go up. You would think bringing traffic and making traffic easy to get to should make real estate worth more money.”

Even though one major highway runs near his property, Babcock isn’t too concerned about the TTC. He believes he lives far enough away from the recommended route that it won’t bother him.

“I think that we’re far enough away from it. It’s not one of those issues that I don’t want to talk about because it doesn’t affect me, but I don’t know how it’s going to affect me at this point. Highway 35 being five miles away doesn’t affect us, and I can’t imagine being five miles away from this other one is going to affect us very much. I’ve tried to ask a few questions and find out, but it’s been so vague.”

Jo Ellard, owner of EE Ranches, has a Stallion Station in Whitesboro, Texas, and a cutting horse operation in Pilot Point, Texas. Not to be lassoed by propaganda, Ellard expressed some practical opinions, questioning if the corridor will ever actually come to fruition.

“It [the TTC] is not going to affect me directly. If it were to materialize as it’s planned or what you can see on the Internet, it would come south of my place, and I guess that ultimately would benefit. However, I don’t think that it will happen anytime in our lifetime. Maybe my grandchildren’s lifetime it might happen.”

She bases this time frame on her experience observing the slow building of other roadways and tollways, some taking 30 years to create and some of which are still incomplete.

“By the time that they complete this thing [the TTC], transportation as we know it is going to be so obsolete that it will be antiquated itself. It’s a great concept on paper, and sounds like it’s going to connect the borders and make transportation across the country easier, but, in actuality, I’d be shocked to ever see a mile of it completed.”

Even so, Ellard said certain aspects of the plan, such as eminent domain, are unfair, and that since the project isn’t just a four-lane highway, an exorbitant amount of land will be required for its construction. Yet Ellard proffered a conjecture. With a project this extensive in scope, Ellard said she thinks that Gov. Perry may be looking for a monument to himself that will remain in memoriam and in perpetuity. “This sounds like a politician’s idea for a legacy,” she said.

It doesn’t pay for itself, it over-taxes the citizens, it takes away the citizens’ land,” she said. “I travel down these highways that are just boggled with traffic. The I-35 corridor all the way to Austin and I-45 to Houston are just treacherous. Why can’t they just improve the roadways that we have instead of jumping off on some brand-new project that is not going to reach completion in the foreseeable future?”

Ernest Cannon, 64, a successful lawyer from Houston, has owned a number of outstanding cutting horses, most notably Jae Bar Fletch. In 1991, he and the horse easily won the NCHA Non-Pro World Championship. Cannon expressed the attitude, and frustration, of many horse owners, who are simply too busy wrestling with day-to-day problems to spend valuable time on something that doesn’t directly affect them.

“I’ve got so much on my plate now, I haven’t given that [the TTC] the vaguest thought,” he said. “I’m trying to get my clones registered. I’m trying to get my burn ban lifted so I can burn. I’m trying to get people legalized.”

However, Cannon, as his name implies, fired off a few explosive rounds toward government entities in general.

“I’ll tell you the truth, the way I feel about it is government’s more intrusive now than it’s ever been in my lifetime. I have to spend all my time dealing with the commissioner’s court about where I can put a cattle guard. I’ve gotta deal with the TCEQ [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality] about water rights. That [the TTC] doesn’t concern me until it comes through my place. Your issue may or may not be important, but my list of things that the government’s aggravating me with is so long.”

Cannon said the urban areas garner all the votes and that politicians are not remotely interested in what affects those in rural communities who are trying to make a living raising horses and cattle. He reflects the frustration of many people who have contended with government and big business and said he feels fighting city hall is futile, since politicians manipulate the public and have their hands in deep special-interest pockets.

“That corridor is to do business with Mexico, which is not good for us anyway,” he said. “All this is about is about votes. The politicians have decided where the votes are and studied demographics, and the merits of the issue just don’t have any bearing on anything anymore. Rick Perry threw in with those homebuilders and construction people to get elected. I mean, he’s not going to detour. Hell, if they want him to, he’ll pave Texas, and we’re not going to do any good fighting this.”

Cattle call

A large number of TxDOT hearings and town meetings have been conducted to allow concerned citizens to voice their opinions. The public hearings on the Tier One Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) are now closed, though interested residents can make comments at the TxDOT Web site and through the mail. TxDOT states that no property acquisition or construction will occur as a result of the Tier One DEIS, and after federal approval, it will move into Tier Two environmental studies.

At a public hearing in Humble, Texas, on Feb. 28, 2008, TxDOT public information officer Norm Wigington said, “If the FWHA [Federal Highway Administration] sees that there is no support from the citizens of Texas, the TTC will not be built.”

According to Lippincott, though, this isn’t true.

“We [TxDOT] don’t speak for Federal Highway. In any event, that’s not the case,” he said.

Such contradictions are the reason many state representatives, ranch and cattle owners, and citizens are wary of statements made by the government body. Many believe that they are receiving conflicting information and view the deals between Gov. Perry and Cintra-Zachry as a covert circumvention of legislative and public approval.

At the TxDOT TTC-69 Public Hearing at Waller High School on Feb. 27, 2008, state Rep. John Zerwas, (R) Katy, strongly urged a “No action alternative on the TxDOT project, no questions asked.” Zerwas stated numerous objections to the project: “We will not tolerate the secretive and clandestine manner in which this legislation passed in 2003. We will not subject future generations of Texans to the financial ambitions and will of foreign companies when it comes to our transportation system.”

Eldon White is the executive vice president and CEO of Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, whose mission is “protecting the stewards of land and livestock in the Southwest.”

“We are very concerned about the amount of land it [the TTC] would take up and the exercising of eminent domain to be able to receive that land or get that for the use of the corridor,” he said. “We’re encouraging the governor to use existing roads where possible, roads and rights-of-way where possible, to minimize that impact on ranch lands throughout the state.

“There’s a couple of issues that we are very concerned about and continue to be concerned about as we monitor the hearings, the town hall meetings, being held around the state,” White said. He is particularly concerned that dividing land would hinder the rancher’s ability to work his property, and there seem to be no provisions that take into account the rights of the landowner.

“We have some urgency with it, we feel there are some key issues, like the land owner’s rights and access to property, that have to be resolved now,” he said.

Though the TSCRA does not have an existing policy on the use of toll roads, White said, “One model that I saw that made more sense to me was to take the existing rights-of-way of the freeways and expand the number of lanes, causing some of the lanes to be toll lanes and others not.”

Rosemary Gambino, past president (as of Jan. 1, 2008) of Texas CattleWomen, was loquacious and passionate on the subject and encouraged people to get active because she is “hugely concerned.”

“This is a huge loss of agricultural land,” she said. “Ninety-two percent of our farms and ranches in Texas are owned by private landowners. Once we take this away, with something of the magnitude of the Trans-Texas Corridor, it can never be recovered. This is irreversible.”

Not only will the devastation of the land be felt by the actual highway system, she said, but the surrounding areas will be affected as well. The ramifications of the plan include drainage problems, and noise and light pollution, which can negatively impact livestock and wildlife. Gambino estimates that 9,600 trucks leave Laredo each day. With the construction of the TTC, Gambino estimates that this will increase to 28,800 each day when the TTC opens.

“Texans are going to bear the burden of giving up our agricultural resources so that cargo can be transported to Canada,” she said. “I feel it [the TTC issue] is extremely urgent. TxDOT spent $9 million of our taxpayers’ money to promote the corridor. … It’s our money that they’ve used to promote this.”

Gambino said that the statistics on the loss of private farms and ranches are devastating, and the TTC is going to change Texans’ way of life. According to Gambino, it will impact every citizen in the United States. Gambino said she realizes the need to relieve traffic congestion, providing better access for trucks because of population growth; however, she believes that hauling cargo by truck is becoming obsolete and that the plan is far from being revolutionary.

“We need to use existing rails and roads. This [the TTC] is a 20th-century plan in the 21st century,” she said. “We really need to investigate cleaner transportation, which includes rail.”

The muckrakers

Sal Costello started the Web site in 2004 when he discovered that TxDOT planned to toll a bridge in his neighborhood that had already been paid for. In 2005, he created, and then A vigorous opponent of the TTC, one of Costello’s missions is to “increase public awareness and understanding of the dramatic negative effects Freeway Tolls and the Trans-Texas Corridor will have on Texans.”

Costello’s Web site consists of satirical videos, a petition against the corridor and numerous articles, news releases, links and quotes. According to one of the site’s claims, Gov. Rick Perry and TxDOT have in effect declared a legal land war on much of rural Texas, and plan to confiscate 584,000 acres of private land. The claims continue to assert that once the state legally takes away people’s land using eminent domain statutes, land and natural resources will be turned over to private corporations to make profits.

Costello is concerned that too few people are aware of the plan and fears most will join the fight against it too late. For Costello, the consequences of people in the horse and cattle industries not responding to this issue are that “their [horse and cattle owners’] heritage, the land that their families had – for how many decades – their business can all just disappear.”

Costello said the TTC is going “to cripple their [the horse industry’s] microeconomy, how they get somewhere, how others get to them.”

“This is all about moving cheap goods from Mexico into the United States; it’s not for us. This is for special interests, and special-interest politicians,” he said.

Costello suggests that horse owners get involved, show up at public hearings and educate themselves by going to, where visitors can send a message to Gov. Perry and more than 200 state representatives and senators.

David Stall and his wife, Linda, created Corridor Watch ( “to increase public awareness and understanding of the Trans-Texas Corridor.” His Web site is replete with position statements from political parties, research documents and exhaustive quotes, all “Challenging the Wisdom of the Trans-Texas Corridor.” David Stall’s primary concerns center around “transparency and accountability.”

“Our goal is to have an open dialogue,” Stall said. “First of all, nobody’s decided that we absolutely have to have these roads. There is no support for the Trans-Texas Corridor. There is no community that has demanded it, there’s no industry that has demanded it, there’s no political will for it whatsoever. It’s exclusively being promoted by the governor’s office.”

According to Lippincott, the current revenue, which includes a 20-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline, is not enough to meet the state’s needs to build and maintain roads, and toll roads are essential to provide the necessary revenue for road maintenance. Though Stall said he’s not anti-toll road, he said, “Toll roads should be voter-approved,” rather than forced upon its citizens with no recourse.

“The direction the governor gave was make it policy, not politics, which means we’re not going to run this through the legislature, we’re not taking this before any other decision-makers, we’re just going to make it policy.” Besides, Stall said, “A toll road is the most expensive way to create revenue.”

Though not against foreign investment, Stall said, “A foreign company does not respond to public pressure like a domestic corporation does.” Cintra-Zachry is traded on the Spanish stock market in Madrid, he said. There’s no pressure that Texans could bring as a community to cause “social responsibility,” or a change in company policy based on public discontent. With a domestic company, if consumers didn’t like what it was doing, they could protest, they could go to the company’s headquarters, they could put pressure on its stockholders, and affect a change. However, according to Stall, the Texas governor is involved in clandestine deals in smoky back rooms that elude the public conscience.

“The whole advantage of the private partner is they’re not subject to political pressure, and they can keep the tolls at the highest rate the market will bear, which is not a market rate because it is a monopoly,” Stall said.

One of TxDOT’s claims is that U.S.-Mexico trade has doubled since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which, it argues, makes the building of the TTC essential. Stall responded to this with a laugh and said, “TxDOT always goes back to 1995 and before because the only NAFTA growth occurred between 1995 and the year 2000. Since then, it’s been absolutely flat.”

Even so, Lippincott warned that 80 percent of all NAFTA truck traffic crosses the Texas-Mexico border. By 2030, NAFTA tonnage on Texas highways and railroads will increase nearly 207 percent. “The denial of the impact of this coming swelling trade is an issue,” he said.

For Stall, whether the company is foreign or domestic, “Public infrastructure should not be used for private profit,” he said. In fact, Stall said he believes the federal government is in the TTC deal lock, stock and barrel, and is a powerful advocate for the corridor plan because it’s pushing privatization so it can get out of funding highways in the future.

“It’s [TTC] a very serious threat to private property rights in the state. It’s a conversion of privately held land into state-owned property that is franchised out for a profit. The Trans-Texas Corridor is an egregious taking of land. It will create a barrier. … there will be no free access, and it will particularly affect rural mobility in a tremendous way. It will also impact rural economic development.”

As insular as the horse industry, particularly the performance horse industry, may seem, it is still like an ecosystem, a symbiotic system in which all things affect one another – horses, cattle, feed and hay prices, fuel prices and roads, all are interrelated. However, so much about the TTC is vague and indeterminate: No final route alignment has been determined; routes are subject to change; no dates of acquisition have been provided – it will be determined by the particular needs in a given area; no date of construction has been given; and many of the facts regarding the planning, construction and ownership of the TTC are under debate. It can be difficult to ascertain just how such a complex project may affect Texans.

For horse and cattle owners, the land is essential for their livelihood. For others, the open landscape and countryside, the animals and wildlife, is a harborage, a refuge from the steel-and-concrete invasion of urban development. Most will acknowledge that transportation in Texas requires immediate attention, yet many believe that an inordinate amount of Texas land is being transmogrified in the name of “economic vitality,” and at an alarming rate.

Predicting the future is hazardous, but one thing’s certain; once the project’s done, it’s done.

© 2008 Quarterhorse News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE

Friday, April 25, 2008

"Governor Perry's unwillingness to seek public solutions to public needs is the real abdication of responsibility."


Texas roads: Perry needs to take real responsibility

April 25, 2008

Longview News-journal
Copyright 2008

"It is an abdication of responsibility."

That's what Gov. Rick Perry thinks of the possibility that the Texas Legislature might again stand in the way of his efforts to privatize the construction of toll roads across Texas.

The real problem is Perry's conclusion that the state is unable to perform one of the most basic functions of government since before the invention of the horseless carriage: The construction, maintenance and operation of vital public infrastructure.

The governor's fear of taxes in any form is so visceral that he finds himself unable to conclude that there is any other way to build much needed public highways than to turn the process over to private enterprise.

Perry and his supporters love to pitch the idea by saying it is a way to develop public infrastructure without levying any new taxes.

What they fail to highlight is the fact that somehow at some time the public will be picking up the tab for privately developed highways, only the bill will be higher because the developer will be tacking on a profit margin — probably a very large profit margin.

Those profits will come not only from the tolls that the developers will collect from people using these vital roadways, but also from the franchise the privatization model would grant them on the lucrative land surrounding interchanges. Having that franchise to develop the hotels, restaurants and gas stations that thrive along major interstates is a big plum for potential developers but a sour grape for local business owners along the proposed routes.

A year ago, the Legislature stood up to Perry and reined in his headlong rush to privatize the development of much of his grand Trans-Texas Corridor concept. There are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who can see that the governor's short-sighted ambition to privatize highway development could spell some long-term problems for Texans.

The fact is that our state's development of highways has fallen behind motorists' needs, not only in major metropolitan areas, but along key long-distance travel corridors such as Interstate 35 from San Antonio to the Red River and Interstate 20 from Dallas to the Louisiana border, as well.

The price we pay for not being willing to pay for new highways in the past are congested, often dangerous stretches of road.

Our fear is that the price we pay for Perry's privatization program will be almost as dear.

The governor needs to be told by voters and lawmakers alike that his unwillingness to seek public solutions to public needs is the real abdication of responsibility.

© 2008 The Longview News-Journal:

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TxDOT plans to spend more on toll roads, less on highway maintenance

Texas Transportation Commission cuts funding for road maintenance

April 25, 2008

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

AUSTIN – Texans can expect a bumpier ride over the next decade, as the state transportation department plans to spend considerably less on highway maintenance than it had previously anticipated.

A long-range funding plan approved by the Texas Transportation Commission on Thursday would reduce by about $4.9 billion the funds the Texas Department of Transportation plans to spend on maintenance between 2009 and 2019. That change will mean that by the end of that period, pavement conditions on one in five Texas roads will be below what the department calls "good or better."

In other business, the commission as expected unanimously approved the State Highway 161 agreement worked out last week by TxDOT and the North Texas Tollway Authority.

TxDOT strives to let only 10 percent of its roads fall below "good or better" condition. Currently, 13 percent do.

The impact will be more than just worsening pavement conditions and more potholes. In addition, TxDOT will sharply curtail improvements that are now routine – like adding sidewalks to some roads as part of repaving projects – but don't directly affect the quality of the roads.

By 2019, the state would need about $9 billion to catch up on the deferred maintenance to bring the pavement conditions to the 90 percent "good or better" target, said deputy executive director John Barton.

In reducing maintenance, the commission bowed to heavy pressure by legislators who have demanded TxDOT spend more to build roads.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst hailed the change in direction. "It's a signal to me that TxDOT wants to work with the Legislature," he said in an interview this week.

The $4.9 billion taken from maintenance Thursday is significantly less than regional officials were told to expect in a similar long-range plan presented five years ago. The local money provided in that plan was supposed to be spread out between 2004 and 2014. Now, local areas will have to make do with about 80 percent of what they had expected – and make it last until 2019 instead of 2014.

The Dallas and Tarrant districts will get $2.27 billion to spend by 2019, instead of the $2.6 billion it had counted on spending by 2014.

North Texas is uniquely insulated by the cuts, however. The Regional Transportation Council has already adopted plans to spend toll revenues provided by the State Highway 121 and 161 projects, said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

© 2008 The Dallas Morning News:

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"Perry's not budging on transportation issues --foreign-operated toll roads and the rest."

Perry throws down gauntlet on transportation


by William Lutz
Volume 12, Issue 35
The Lone Star Report
Copyright 2008

Gov. Rick Perry had a clear message for lawmakers at the Texas Transportation Forum in Austin April 22: He's not budging on transportation issues --foreign-operated toll roads and the rest.

"This is progress, and it works," the Governor said.
The transportation forum was created by TxDOT as an alternative to industry conferences less friendly to the agency's agenda.

"While I am looking forward to addressing this issue [transportation] when the Legislature meets in 2009, " Perry said, "the state cannot afford to repeat 2007. Members of the Legislature must understand that 'no' is not a solution to this challenge. It is an abdication of responsibility." Perry made clear his determination to defend the renting of state right-of-way to private companies in exchange for a fee and building and operating a toll road.

He also defended foreign and private-sector capital, saying, "In Texas, we pursue private money to build our communications infrastructure, we leverage private money to build our rail infrastructure, and we welcome private investment from overseas if it means putting in a new Samsumg plant or a new Toyota manufacturing facility. So why in the world shouldn't we pursue private funds to help us build roads?"

Toyota and Samsung, to be sure, face competition in their industries. Nor do they hold government-issued exclusive franchises to build and operate toll roads--a point neither included in Perry's speech nor lost on many legislators.

Perry also reiterated his opposition to issuing any more bonds against future gas tax revenues until a long-term transportation finance plan has been adopted.

Perry's key point: Even while the state is growing, highway contract lettings are declining, due to dwindling state and federal gas tax revenues. "[T]he simple truth," said Perry, "is, when it comes to roads we need more of them."

Besides Perry's speech, the forum furnished interesting panels, of which the most worthwhile, possibly, dealt with transportation finance. Texas Department of Transportation director Amadeo Saenz, chief financial officer James Bass, and assistant executive director for innovative financing Phillip Russell provided one of the clearest explanations to date of current TxDOT policy.

Bass, discussing problems with transportation finance at the federal level, noted that when the last federal transportation bill was passed (called SAFETEA-LU by the Washington crowd), the federal highway trust fund had a positive balance, which was distributed to states in a lump-sum in the bill.

Now, said Bass, that balance is gone, and the federal highway trust fund is in financial trouble.

Bass said the last round of rescissions (cuts in previously appropriations disproportionately affected the federal government�s equity bonus program. That program ensured that all states received a minimum percentage of their gas tax dollars back. Texas, historically a donor state, disproportionately benefits from the program. Thus it was disproportionately hurt by the rescissions, Bass said.

The panelists estimated that over the next 10 years, traditional financing sources will yield $28.2 billion, which they called a fraction of the amount needed to pay for the state�s transportation needs. Hence, the need for new approaches to transportation finance.

Meanwhile, Perry wasn't alone in refusing to back down on a transportation agenda. Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said she's not budging in her opposition to tolling existing highways.

At a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee April 22, Hutchison made clear she still opposes converting freeways to toll roads.

"I am concerned about the views on tolling that were put forward," she said, "I do support the right of local communities to build new infrastructure through tolling. I support tolling if it is going to create an additional lane, where you keep the freeways that are already built with the same number of free lanes. I just can't support the proposal to toll existing lanes. "The federal government and the states built these roads using federal funding with the commitment that they would remain freeways. These existing roads are a public good, built with public funding, and should not be converted to generate money for local entities to take away from the federal taxpayers." O

© 2008 The Lone Star Report:

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Poll results: SPP plans are 'treason'

97 percent oppose North American Community without congressional approval

April 25, 2008

Copyright 2008

A new poll by the American Policy Center has revealed that the lack of widespread opposition to the agenda of the Security and Prosperity Partnership, announced in 2005 by President Bush and his counterparts from Mexico and Canada, is because more than half of the American residents polled hadn't heard of it.

But when they did, their voices were clear, with overwhelming majorities opposing the concept, plans and ideas.

The poll was done by the APC, a grassroots activist group in Washington that asked a series of questions about the SPP, the Trans Texas Corridor transportation project and other issues.

"While President Bush and his counterparts in Mexico and Canada continue to deny that the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) is the beginning of a North American Union, Americans around the nation are expressing their growing opposition to the scheme," the center said in introducing its poll results.

The poll of one million American households revealed that 58 percent of the households contacted had not heard of the SPP.

"It is important to note that APC did not select households that might represent specific ideological positions," the group said. "The chosen households represented neither conservative nor liberal positions. Instead the recipients were a wide [variety] of Americans who live in the direct path of the proposed Trans Texas/NAFTA Corridor, from Texas to Minnesota."

The center said the first question was whether the residents had heard of the SPP, and 58 percent said they had not.

But the rest of the results were lopsided. The center said 95 percent of those responding opposed the concept that "private corporations should have the power to enforce trade policy that may adversely affect our national sovereignty and independence."

That related to the public-private partnerships being established across the U.S., from foreign corporations running highways and airports in Illinois to Spanish investors building a new transportation corridor across Texas.

"Chapter 11 of the NAFTA Agreement states that disputes over NAFTA-related issues will be heard in NAFTA courts superseding U.S. local, state and federal courts…." the third question noted, and 91 percent of the respondents indicated that would threaten U.S. sovereignty.

A total of 87 percent said they did not believe it would enhance U.S. security by expanding the nation's security perimeter to include Canada and Mexico, and 95 percent opposed a Mexico truck program instituted by federal administrators.

That program set up by the Bush administration allows Mexican trucks directly on U.S. highways, even though the 2008 omnibus spending bill "was clearly written and designed to put the brakes on the current pilot program," according to sponsor Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

A total of 92 percent said they opposed a common North American currency such as the "amero."

"Though denied by the Bush Administration, there has been much discussion in economic and academic circles about the creation of a North American currency much like the euro," the center, which has compiled an information sheet about the plans, said. "In October 2007 during an appearance on the Larry King Show on CNN, former Mexican President Vicente Fox answered in the affirmative when King asked him about the creation of a united currency."

Ninety-five percent said public hearings and debate should be held before the plans move further forward.

"To date, there has been no congressional legislation, no congressional hearings and no congressional oversight concerning the establishment or operation of the SPP," the center said. "No federal money has been officially allocated by Congress. No official authority has been provided for the creation of the SPP."

The opposition figure was even higher – 97 percent – when surveyors asked: "Should the Bush administration be allowed to move forward with its plans to create a "North American Community' without congressional approval?

A still-high 88 percent opposed the suggestion that the "United States should be 'harmonized' or merged into a union with Mexico or Canada," the survey said.

"Finally, responders were asked to provide their own comments and thoughts on the SPP. The word most often used was 'treason.' Another said, 'I want no part of the social health care of Canada and I do not want to incorporate Mexico's turmoil and poverty into our United States," the center said.

"Yet," said Tom DeWeese, president of the APC, "as the Texas Department of Transportation signs an agreement with the Spanish company Cintra containing no-compete clauses and guaranteed returns; as the Kansas City council loans $2.5 million to build the inland truck port called KC Smart Port; as the 20 SPP working groups continue to write policy; as the Mexican trucks roll over our borders; as high level meetings go on – the Bush administration dares to deny that ANYTHING is happening. Why? The responses to APC's survey show why. When Americans understand the truth, they say NO in resounding numbers."

The government's original statement announcing the "partnership" said it would "increase the security, prosperity, and quality of life of our citizens. This work will be based on the principle that our security and prosperity are mutually dependent and complementary, and will reflect our shared belief in freedom, economic opportunity, and strong democratic values and institutions."

But the SPP organization itself has taken the unusual step for a government agency of posting on its website a multi-page "debunking" of "myths."

For example, the document says the SPP is not even an agreement, but is a "dialogue," and it "does not attempt to modify our sovereignty or currency."

Further, it says the SPP updates and consults with members of Congress, although there is no mention of a congressional authorization or oversight.

It does affirm that the SPP is a White House-driven initiative but denies having a "secret plan" to build a NAFTA superhighway. Critics say it's just called the Trans-Texas Corridor.

© 2008 WorldNetDaily:

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

" It comes down to trust...and that's in short supply."

Wide use of tolls could unclog roads, Seattle study says


By Eric Pryne
The Seattle Times
Copyright 2008

Widespread tolls could make chronic traffic congestion in Seattle and other cities "a thing of the past," a pioneering study says.

Tolls could cut the average late-afternoon commute time from downtown Seattle to Tacoma by perhaps 40 percent. A typical rush-hour drive from Bellevue to Lynnwood could be trimmed by more than one-third, the Puget Sound Regional Council's "Traffic Choices" report concludes.

But those results would be achieved only by imposing tolls on a scale never attempted anywhere before.

Drivers would pay a toll on almost every mile they drive — every freeway, every significant arterial. Global Positioning System (GPS) and cellular technology would track their travels. Tolls would be deducted from prepaid accounts.

Matthew Kitchen, the study's principal author, acknowledges the region's not ready for anything like that now. While such a regional "congestion-pricing" system is technologically feasible, he says, the big public-policy questions it raises — fairness, privacy — haven't yet been answered.

And any proposal would encounter stiff opposition from people like former state Sen. Jim Horn, R-Mercer Island, a longtime toll skeptic. He says regionwide tolling is really about "rationing your roadways and harming your quality of life."

But transportation policymakers are more open to tolls now than they were a decade ago. Drivers began paying a toll of up to $3 to cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge when it opened last year. Next month "HOT" lanes — HOV lanes that commuters driving alone can use for a toll — will open on a stretch of Highway 167 in South King County. In London, all cars now pay a stiff toll to enter the central city.

Someday, says former state Transportation Commission Chairman Aubrey Davis, politicians will embrace regional congestion pricing, for two reasons — to generate revenue for transportation improvements and to help unclog roads by reducing demand.

"We're going to have to lose a couple elections [on new transportation-tax proposals] before people will take this seriously," Davis says. "I have no doubt we're going to go down this road. I just don't know how far, or how fast."

The Puget Sound Regional Council, a four-county planning agency, spent six years planning and conducting the $3.1 million study, funded largely with federal dollars. It attracted international attention because it was the first effort anywhere to explore just what impact regionwide congestion pricing might have on driver behavior and traffic. The final summary report was released this month.

At the core of the study was a groundbreaking experiment: Researchers recruited drivers in 275 Seattle-area households to pay virtual tolls — with real-world economic consequences — then observed how their driving patterns changed.

The volunteers had devices mounted on their dashboards that tracked their trips and transmitted the information to a central computer. For about eight months in 2005 and 2006 they paid "variable" tolls, linked to congestion levels, that ranged from nothing late at night to 50 cents a mile on freeways during the late-afternoon peak.

The charges were deducted electronically from accounts funded by the study's sponsors that were sized to match how much participants had been driving before the study.

Volunteers got to keep whatever was left in their accounts when the experiment ended. That gave them a real-world incentive to drive less, or drive at "cheaper" times or take "cheaper" routes.

For many, money proved a powerful motivator. Overall, participants took fewer trips and drove fewer miles.

Mail carrier Pat Christenson stopped taking Interstate 405 and started driving less-expensive back roads from her home between Totem Lake and Kingsgate to her job at the Kirkland Post Office.

She and her husband made other small changes in their driving habits. When the experiment ended, they pocketed about $500.

While there's no longer any money in it, Christenson still drives the back roads to work. "I got used to it," she says. "I think about the freeways and not wanting to be on them." Plus, I-405 isn't really any faster, she adds.

When the experiment was over, Kitchen and others plugged the results into the regional council's computerized traffic model, which projects how traffic in King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties is likely to change under different scenarios.

The model calculated that, for some corridors, improvements in average peak-period afternoon commute times in 2010 could be dramatic:

• Downtown Bellevue to Tacoma, without tolls: 78 minutes. With tolls: 46 minutes. Average toll: $13.41.

• Downtown Seattle to Lynnwood, without tolls: 33 minutes. With tolls: 22 minutes. Average toll: $6.17.

Kitchen says the travel-time savings the model produced probably are conservative. If regional tolling actually were adopted, he says, some people probably would move closer to work, or work closer to home, reducing overall traffic volumes. The model didn't account for that.

And real-world tolls would be different — perhaps lower — because planners would devise a toll schedule that is more nuanced than the relatively simple one the Traffic Choices study employed, he adds.

The final report concludes that, while it would be costly and complex, there are no technological barriers to implementing a Traffic Choices-type tolling system across the region. It estimates startup costs at about $750 million, annual operating costs at about $288 million.

Those costs could drop steeply as cellular technology advances, Kitchen says.

Over 30 years, the report estimates, tolls could generate $87 billion in today's dollars. The fairness of any regional road-tolling scheme would depend to a great extent on how those dollars are spent, Kitchen says.

The study confirms higher-income people — people who could most afford the tolls — would benefit most if regionwide road pricing were adopted for real. As for the less affluent, "they're worse off unless you do something beneficial with that [toll] revenue," Kitchen says.

It could be used for road improvements, or better transit service. Or it could allow policymakers to roll back other taxes, perhaps the gas tax or vehicle-excise taxes.

The final report explores the question of privacy — the discomfort many feel about a system that could collect and store detailed information about their driving — but offers no solutions.

"I don't think there is a magic bullet," Kitchen says.

Safeguards against disclosure could be established, he says, but there's no way to make them foolproof. It comes down to trust, Kitchen says, and that's in short supply.

Davis suspects many people wouldn't have a problem: "How many people don't have a cellphone because of the privacy issue?" he asks.

Kitchen says the Traffic Choices results will be considered by the regional council's planners and elected officials as they develop a regional transportation plan for 2030. That plan could call for no tolls, or a network of HOT lanes, or something more extensive, he says.

The study also could influence policy elsewhere. The Dutch government, which plans to adopt systemwide tolling, has followed it closely, Kitchen says.

To Horn, regional congestion pricing would signal a major cultural shift. "Our lives have gotten so much richer because of our ability to travel," he says.

"What you're saying here is, 'I want you to stay home.' Or, 'I want you to live in cages, stacked on top of one another. I want you to live where you work, like in a company town.' "

But Davis says that because driving is widely perceived as "free," everyone pays — in wasted time, wasted gas and increased pollution.

"We don't get anything for nothing," he says. "We just think we do."

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or

Read the report: The Traffic Choices summary report is available online at

© 2008 The Seattle Times Company:

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Gov. Perry and the Legislature have seen tolls as a way to avoid raising taxes to pay for roads, a position that neither seem eager to change."

Transportation leaders: Texas needs more money for its roads

April 23, 2008

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

AUSTIN — Maybe Texas’ transportation problems are a lot simpler to understand than recent fights over toll roads make it seem, North Texas leaders told state senators Wednesday.

“My first recommendation: You need to provide a lot more revenue for transportation,” Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, told the Texas Senate transportation committee.

That was hardly the only suggestion from Mr. Morris or the many others who spoke to the committee, which is seeking input as it readies an approach on toll roads, TxDOT and more for the next legislative session.

But it might offer Texas drivers the most meaningful window into what the fighting has been all about lately. No matter who is doing the talking about transportation in Austin, the conversation usually gets back to the billions of dollars Texas needs, but doesn’t have, to pay for its roads.

It is those money problems that have led to clashes over toll roads, privatization, or other hot-button issues. Tensions between the North Texas Tollway Authority, lawmakers and state transportation department leaders flared up most recently in North Texas when the State Highway 161 toll road negotiations broke down at the last minute.

“NTTA should not be expected to solve TxDOT’s financial crisis,” Mr. Morris said after the Wednesday hearing. “But if you aren’t going to give it the money it needs, you can’t blame TxDOT for taking the position that we better squeeze as many nickels as we can out of every … project.”

The state’s biggest urban regions all have big transportation needs, and increasingly their price tags read in the billions.

The push and pull over money has led to increasing reliance on tolls, as is evident all across North Texas. Shrinking tax revenue has meant more and costlier tolls sprouting up all over. And more are on the way.

State Highways 121 and 161 are both under construction, and both will carry higher toll rates than any that North Texans had paid previously. Later this year, TxDOT will partner with a private firm to add six new toll lanes to LBJ Freeway where rush-hour commutes could cost as much as $15 a day. About a half-dozen other toll projects are in the works, too.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, told the transportation committee he chairs on Wednesday that private or public, tolls boil down to the same thing: “Either way, it’s the drivers’ money.”

But Gov. Rick Perry and the Legislature have so far seen tolls as a way to avoid raising taxes to pay for roads, a position that neither the governor nor most lawmakers seem eager to change.

Instead, Mr. Morris, for instance, said Wednesday that he’d support a sales tax on gas purchases, a levy that would be on top of the 38.4 cents per gallon Texans pay in state and federal gas taxes already.

This week, Texas Transportation Commissioner Ned Holmes said he’d support an inflation-adjusted hike in the gas tax, and more vehicle registration fees, too. He said those things are needed on top of more tolls.

“This is no single, silver-bullet,” said Mr. Holmes. “But you do need a stable source of revenue.”

But there is a reason Austin hasn’t raised gas taxes since 1991. They don’t like to. And when filling up increasingly means breaking a hundred, voters aren‘t likely going to like it either.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said as much in an interview Tuesday.

“But right now, with gas going $3.50 to $4 and a lot of people having a hard time … now is not the time — I don’t think — to be increasing any taxes,” he said.

He may be right, though some drivers say they’d tolerate higher gas taxes even as the high prices have led them to drive less.

Scott Landfried, 27, a Dallas native who now works in Austin, said he’s taken to riding the bus to work about half the week. Higher gas taxes, he said, might make more people do the same.

"It doesn’t make sense that taxes have been kept artificially low at the 1991 level," he said. "I think they are going to have to raise them. Maybe if they do, people will start to think more about the real cost of transportation."

But bickering over tolls and taxes won’t slow the need for new roads, transportation experts warned at a conference this week in Austin.

“The only thing we could do to avoid this crisis is end immigration and procreation — and we’re not going to do that,” said Jim Bougart, deputy transportation secretary for California. “We’ve tried the reverse Field of Dreams strategy: We figured if we don’t built it, they won’t come. That hasn’t worked, and it is not going to work.”

It’s not likely to work in the Dallas area either, where more than 9 million residents are expected to call home by 2030.

Funding shortfalls

The Regional Transportation Council says transportation projects will cost more than $50 billion more by 2030 than current funding levels of $71 billion will provide. Among the biggest shortfalls:

$12.7 billion more for new tollroads and freeways;

$32.1 billion more for rehabilitating old roads

$6.7 billion more for rail- and freight-related projects

$6.0 billion more for local non-highway roads

$1.1 billion more for right of way purchases

SOURCE: North Central Texas Council of Governments

© 2008 The Dallas Morning News:

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"A peaceful 2009 session is anything but certain."

Gov. Perry sticks to privatization for toll roads

April 23, 2008

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry promised to keep fighting for private toll roads and his other transportation priorities Tuesday during his first major speech on the subject since the death in December of transportation commission chairman Ric Williamson.

"This is a place for big challenges, not big excuses," he told state Transportation Department employees and highway experts from around the country at the annual Transportation Forum.

Next year's legislative session, he said, can't be anything like last year's.

"The Legislature must understand that 'no' is not a solution," Mr. Perry said. "It is an abdication of responsibility."

Before last year's stormy session, lawmakers had steadily expanded Texas' ability to partner with private firms to develop toll roads in Texas.

"There remain many, many financial institutions who are ready, willing and able to invest their money to build the roads we need," Mr. Perry said Tuesday.

Across America, states from Georgia to Indiana to Pennsylvania – all facing huge road-funding deficits – have actively considered following Texas' example and seeking out private toll road deals. The results have been mixed, but since last year, those same companies' welcome in Texas has been uncertain.

In 2007, legislators rebelled over Mr. Perry's ambitious push for toll roads and privatization, demanding greater roles for public agencies such as the North Texas Tollway Authority.

Mr. Perry said lawmakers and voters alike reacted too quickly to an idea they may not have fully understood.

"Too often these debates over highways have been driven by emotion and not reason," he said. "As a result, honest debate has been stifled, and progress has been sacrificed on the altar of politics."

With Texas adding 1,500 people a day, Mr. Perry said the cost of building and maintaining the state's roads is far beyond what tax revenues will pay for. Only by inviting private firms to invest their billions in toll roads can Texas build its way out of its increasingly congested traffic jams, he argues.

Mr. Perry and his transportation department have said private companies often are willing to pay more for toll road contracts. They also agree to take on risks that have traditionally been borne by the public, such as the risk that traffic will be less than expected on a toll road.

In addition, he argues that competition with private companies helps boost toll rates, and forces even public toll authorities such as NTTA to pay more for the right to collect tolls.

Critics, however, have said it is the transportation department that has insisted for too long on building highways its own way, with too little input from the Legislature.

"Over the last four years, the previous leadership at TxDOT regrettably was tone-deaf to the Legislature," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said in an interview Monday. "That resulted in last year our saying 'enough' and passing a moratorium."

Mr. Perry vetoed that bill but eventually signed a compromise that Texas transportation commissioners, including Mr. Williamson before his death, have often said "slammed the brakes" on efforts to woo private toll road investors to Texas.

On Tuesday, the governor praised Mr. Williamson's vision, but he has not yet appointed a successor. Commissioner Hope Andrade of San Antonio has been serving as interim chairman and has brought a less confrontational style to that role.

The change in style has been welcome, Mr. Dewhurst said.

"Today is a new day, and I am committed to working with TxDOT in a constructive manner," he said.

But a peaceful 2009 session is anything but certain.

Mr. Dewhurst and others have demanded that TxDOT speed up its sputtering highway construction schedule by issuing more debt.

The department, in turn, has insisted lawmakers ease restrictions on tolls and stop siphoning off gas tax revenues to pay for things other than roads.

Those issues probably will be debated today, when a Senate transportation committee hearing puts TxDOT leaders on Capitol hot seats.

Mr. Perry showed no signs of retreating.

"It's possible we haven't thought of everything yet," he said. "So bring us your ideas, and let us look at them."

But borrowing more, for example, isn't one he's ready to consider anytime soon.

"Until a greater solution, and by that I mean a long-term solution, becomes clear, I am not willing to allow this state to simply go further into debt," Mr. Perry said.

Meanwhile, he called the Legislature's continued diversion of gas taxes away from transportation projects an "addiction to gas tax money" that should end.

That's a demand local leaders, including North Richland Hills mayor and Regional Transportation Council chairman Oscar Trevino, also have been making.

The Legislature isn't making any big promises on that front, not yet anyway.

Mr. Dewhurst said he expects lawmakers to reduce those diversions next session – at least by enough to fund debt payments for the bonds that TxDOT so far has refused to issue.

These policy disputes in Austin are just part of a burgeoning conversation held in statehouses across the country and in Washington, where Congress is gearing up to rewrite federal transportation policy.

The fights are increasingly over the same policy differences: Some call for higher gas taxes, some for more tolls and many want both.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, issued a statement Tuesday against raising gas taxes, a position shared by Mr. Perry and Mr. Dewhurst.

But other leading voices said a solution that doesn't push gas taxes higher will never be enough.

Mr. Trevino has heard the hardening positions for months as RTC chairman. So he wasn't expecting surprises from Mr. Perry's speech.

It would sound something like this, he predicted: "We don't have enough money; we don't have enough money; and we don't have enough money."

Trouble is, Mr. Trevino said, that part is only too true.

© 2008 The Dallas Morning News:

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"Somehow we ended up with the Governor dictating what we need and how we'll get it."

CorridorWatch Comments on the Governor's Speech


David Stall
Copyright 2008

Today Governor Perry used the podium at a TxDOT conference to deliver a verbal assault on the Texas Legislature and every citizen of Texas.

We can certainly agree that the last few years have been challenging times at TxDOT. Finally, TxDOT is in the public eye, and the result so far has been a real poke in the eye to anyone looking.

The heat TxDOT receives today is the direct result of the direction they have been forced to take by two powerful men, Governor Rick Perry and his late best friend Ric Williamson. It is their planning, not TxDOT's, that has people puzzled.

It is their insistence that a projected population growth somehow justifies anything they want to do, anywhere they want to do it, using any financial scheme available.

It's building roads from where no one lives to where no one works that leaves us puzzled.

No matter how many Aggies you put in Kyle Field you still don't need a 1/4-mile wide Trans Texas Corridor in Pecos County.

Yes, companies are moving to Texas in droves, but will they continue to find our state as inviting when the toll cost of driving to work or moving their goods to market skyrockets? Texas is a big state and tolls here will add up to big money in a big hurry.

Perry accuses the legislature of abdicating their responsibility when in fact they are among the few who are acting responsibly.

We believe the Governor's headlong rush to public-private partnerships could lead to disaster.

Wall Street firms are just now starting to describe these deals as financially-engineered infrastructure models that should raise great concern. We agree. Does anyone remember the marvelous financial model that led to the rise and fall of Enron?

Today Perry described this private financing as something that you would have thought too good to be true. Then claims, "But it is true." Really? And if Texas is such a powerhouse economy why is it that the only way we can afford to build highways is with one of these private partners?

We have not lost sight of the facts, even though they are hard to find among the something for nothing public-private partnership rhetoric. And when was there ever any honest debate to stifle? When was there any debate?

One thing we know for sure is that market-driven solutions will, by design, produce the highest possible tolls to maximize revenue. A good deal if your on the collection side of these state sanctioned monopolies. Not so good for the travelling public and those who will pay the added cost for goods and services using these maximized toll roads.

Yes, we need to address transportation finance. But in that process the citizens of this state should have a say in what they want and what they are willing to pay for. Somehow we ended up with the Governor dictating what we need and how we'll get it. In the process we completely lost our ability to control the price we will pay for what he is buying.

Seems Perry and Peters knows what's best for us. You can call it politics Mr. Perry, but that's how we the citizens have our say. We elected those legislators and we expect them to represent us, and sometimes that means saying no.

We have a lot of needs in this state, better and safer roads are certainly high on the list, but so is education, and a few dozen other items. Rumor has it that our population is booming. It's hard to believe that the only thing all those new Texans will need are toll roads.

Maybe we do need toll roads. If so lets have that discussion, maybe even a vote, and lets be reasonable in the process. How about a return to accountability and transparency in the way we propose projects like the Trans-Texas Corridor?

The Governor's good sound bites will leave a bad taste in our mouths for decades to come. As always the devil is in the details. Details that Perry brushes aside. There is no free lunch and there is certainly no free highway.

No matter how you get it built it is the citizens of Texas who will pay the tab. We can pay it though a direct tax we have control of or pay it along with a profit to a private monopoly that we have no control over. In either case we deserve to have a say.

The real innovation that the Governor has proposed is turning our highways into the state's largest and least controllable taxing machine. Ensuring that we, our children, and grand children will be producing revenue for the state and their public-private partners long after Governor Perry has left the stage.

© 2008

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