Saturday, May 10, 2008

Perry: "If there are folks out there telling them here's where the roads gonna go and here's what it's gonna look like they might be pulling your leg"

TTC Protest


by Christa Lollis
Copyright 2008

(Nacogdoches) Signs protesting the Trans Texas Corridor and Governor Rick Perry lined North Street in Nacogdoches this afternoon. East Texans are concerned about their land and wanted the governor to know.

"My home and my personal property is in the corridor so I stand to lose my home, my land and everything that I've worked for, my security. Our community will be split and our lives will certainly be changed forever," Larry Shelton from Nacogdoches County explained.

That is one of the groups major concerns. They're worried East Texans will have to pay too high a price for the TTC. Merry Anne Bright says, "People are concerned about a loss of private land that a corridor that takes a 1200 foot swipe through East Texas is too much."

During the governors visit to East Texas he told KTRE that no routes have been set in stone and any maps made so far are just proposals. And Perry responded, "I think that if there are folks that are out there telling them here's where the roads gonna go and here's what it's gonna look like they might be pulling your leg."

But that's not these protestors only issue. They're also upset about having to pay for roads they don't want in the first place. Perry says new roads have to be paid for some how, but anything existing will remain a free road. "Those are prohibited by laws. You can't by law toll existing roads." These East Texans are sticking to what they believe in and say they'll keep fighting until the battle is over.

© 2008 KTRE-TV:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Perry is part of greed and corruption of the highest order."

Anti-corridor rally timed for graduation day

May 10, 2008

The Nacodoches Daily Sentinel
Copyright 2008

While Gov. Rick Perry was in Johnson Coliseum addressing SFA graduates, on the other side of campus a group of citizens were not so happy about his appearance in Nacogdoches.

In the free-speech area of campus, near North Street and Vista Drive, many farmers, property owners and concerned citizens gathered for a Citizens Against the Trans-Texas Corridor Rally.

Holding protest signs and using a tractor as a symbol of the farming community, those who gathered wanted to make their cause heard by the governor, as well as the community. Many vehicles traveling on North Street honked in support of the anti-TTC cause.

Libby community resident Larry Shelton said it's important to keep the opposition alive.

"It's a bad idea for Texas and a bad idea for Texans," Shelton said to a crowd of supporters. "Gov. Perry thinks the TTC is the solution to the state's traffic problems, but the TTC is a problem itself, not a solution."

In fact, many whose property could be affected by the multi-lane mega structure turned out to hold signs and echo the cause.

Kathy Brittain held a "Come and Take It" flag symbolic of one used during the Texas Revolution in 1835. She said it signified their fight with the government, and that they would not freely give up their land — it will have to be taken with a fight.

Brittain said her family's land is located near the proposed TTC footprint, and if her land isn't taken, she is concerned about the pollution and noise issues the corridor might bring.

Steve Chism wasn't as subtle with his message. He referred to the TTC toll road issue as "taxation without representation."

"I believe Perry is part of greed and corruption of the highest order," Chism said.

The group Independent Texans shared the same sentiments at a table set up with a petition calling for Perry's impeachment.

Most people at the Citizens Against the Trans-Texas Corridor Rally said they take the situation personally because their land is at stake. But Tommye Tracy said the issue hits home for her because her loved one's eternal rest depends on it.

"My husband and son are buried in Libby Cemetery on FM 1878 — right in the path of the corridor," she said. "I don't know what they plan on doing with that if they decide to build the road."

Those who do own land in the shadow of the corridor are just as uncertain.

Shelton said he and others are "uncertain of the future" and are unsure of even managing their land.

"How are we to know if we should even perform any long-term management or plant any trees if it's not going to matter in years to come?" Shelton said. "If the state continues to take land for reservoirs for the cities and our land for the TTC there won't be anymore rural land or a rural lifestyle."

Roger Mills' 200 acres, which has been in his family since 1875, is at stake, he said. To show the impact the road will have on farmers, he brought his tractor to the rally, which had an anti-TTC sign in the bucket.

"I want to draw awareness that this not only affects the landowners, but the farmers," Mills said. "With the price of food going up, people are going to need to rely on local farms more.

"I've been to several meetings, and it's overwhelming the number of folks against (the TTC)," he added. "I don't know why they are so insistent on building it."

Nolan Alders spoke to the crowd of upset landowners, but said he was mostly there to listen. Alders was appointed to the state I 69/TTC advisory board recently to give input on the project.

"I came here to listen to you," he said to the people.

Alders said he recently attended a meeting in Austin where Texas Department of Transportation officials detailed their plans on the roadway.

"I asked them 'If you have these plans already, then why did you invite me here?'" Alders said. "I want to be fair, but I want us to have a voice too."

Although Perry was in town for graduation, he did not attend the rally.

© 2008 Nacodoches Daily Sentinel:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Friday, May 09, 2008

“Eminent domain proceedings are heavily favored towards condemning authorities in Texas.”

Committee studies eminent domain, Christmas Mountains


by Mark Lavergne
Volume 12, Issue 37
The Lone Star Report
Copyright 2008

The House Land and Resource Management Committee will have its work cut out for it this session.

The committee chaired by Rob Orr (R-Burleson) met On May 5 and 6 this week to discuss a number of hot button land-related issues, among them eminent domain reform (or lack thereof), and the Christmas Mountains.

Eminent domain reform

If there is any land issue at which another swing will assuredly be taken in the next session, it is eminent domain reform. Richard Cortese, a Texas Farm Bureau director, argued to the committee that “eminent domain proceedings are heavily favored towards condemning authorities.”

Phillip Russell, assistant executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), said May 6 that the controversial agency tries to “balance those private property rights with the needs of a growing and bustling economy and a bustling state.”

But the committee seemed to wonder if that balance can be better achieved through statutory means, such as requiring condemning authorities to pay for landowners’ appraisal and attorney’s fees.

Reform of eminent domain law in Texas is important, say proponents, because of the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision Kelo v. New London.

The court held that economic development qualifies as public use, and therefore the government could force a private citizen to sell land, so that the government could hand that land off to a commercial entity in order to “develop” the local economy.

The decision left open a window for state lawmakers to place limitations on the condemning powers of the government. Sen. Kyle Janek’s (D-Houston) SB 7 from 2005 was the first step in that direction. Rep. Beverly Woolley’s (R-Houston) HB 2006 from last session would have taken it further by defining “public use” to exclude the possibility of handing private land over to private commercial entities.

Just before finally passing the Legislature, Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) added a provision that owners who suffer diminished access to there property as a result of eminent domain must be compensated for it.

The bill made it to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk. Perry vetoed it. He said the diminished access amendment would have cost the state $1 billion.

Property rights activists were not pleased, and the hearing on May 6 showed they still aren’t. Kristina Sillcocks of the Attorney General’s Office, who has represented TxDOT in litigation proceedings, told the committee that just compensation of property owners is currently defined by determining “fair market value,” i.e., looking at similar-sized properties that have sold in the same general area. In other words, the citizen whose land is taken is compensated only for the land, not the cost of litigation should any disagreements arise.

Sillcocks said 85 percent of eminent domain cases are negotiated between the condemning authority and the landowner.

Harold Collum of TJD Corporation in Fort Worth told the committee of his experiences having a small tract of land taken by the state. Two independent appraisers sized up the land for Collum and the state respectively, settled with Collum for the higher amount, ($109,000), but then sued Collum to try to recover some of it. A third appraiser set the price of the land in the middle of the first two appraisals – this one at $64,000.
What followed was a lengthy litigation process over the price of the land that is “killing us really, financially,” Collum said. His attorney estimates that by the process, once over, will have cost him about $35,000. That does not even include the possibility that, in the event of a trial, a six-person jury could side with the state as to the land’s value, in which case Collum would have to return about $45,000. All told, the taking of his land could end up costing him a pretty penny as well.

“It’s probably too late to help us,” Collum said, “but I sure hope you change the law.”
Conservatives and liberals both have reasons for wanting to make the eminent domain process a little less … eminent. For conservatives it is a simple matter of property rights and ensuring just compensation.

Orr asked Collum for suggestions on how to “better the process,” to which the landowner replied, “Chairman Orr, if they had to pay our attorneys’ fees, I don’t think this would have gone forward. If they had to pay attorneys’ fees and our expenses, then I think this would stop real quick.”

For liberals it’s a text book case of the big guy picking on the little guy.

Rep. Yvonne Davis (D-Houston) hammered Russell on whether it was common practice for TxDOT to appeal appraisals. Russell said only “a very small amount” of cases are appealed by either the landowners or the state.

But Davis seemed skeptical, saying that among entities with “unlimited resources,” like big businesses and the government, “there is an incentive to string it along because it basically depletes the other person’s resources, and therefore they end up settling under duress.” “To me I don’t think that’s a way to treat citizens,” Collum said.

Said Rep. Dan Barrett (D-Fort Worth): “If there is some way that we as a Legislature can deal with this system and make it fairer to landowners of all stripes, then I think that that’s something we ought to look at.”
Bill Peacock, director of the Center for Economic Freedom at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), said that a recent study by TPPF has shown that there are no negative economic consequences from eminent domain reform. In fact, large scale economic development can and does occur without eminent domain, he said.

“At the end of the day,” Russell said, “if you think it is appropriate and public policy that additional compensations should be due to private property owners, all we would say … is please try to be very clear about it so that there’s no argument or worry that if something passes later on we find ourselves arguing in the courthouse about what the intent was of the Legislature.”

The Christmas Mountains
With several members of the Capitol Press Corps sitting about 20 feet to his left, General Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, speaking about the now-infamous Christmas Mountains, told the House Land and Resource Management Committee that in all his political career, “I’ve never encountered an issue that the press has screwed up more than this one.”

LSR interviewed Patterson on Oct. 5 of last year, at which time he emphasized that the Christmas Mountains are not accessible to the general public. On May 5, he showed the Land and Resource Management Committee a satellite map of the controversial tract of land that demonstrated as much.

Patterson told the committee that an easement has been added that leads onto the property, but that the land there is so rugged that it provides access only legally, not practically.

Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso), admitting he had only read the papers, said: “I’m telling you, this is completely different from what I had envisioned. I didn’t realize the limited access, the rugged terrain, the pros and cons of who has it.”

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department told the committee that they are still not interested in acquiring or running the Christmas Mountains. Carter Smith, executive director of Texas Parks and Wildlife, said that TPWD’s priorities for acquisition of land is governed by the State Land and Water Resources plan, which does not include Christmas Mountains. TPWD manages 450,000 acres near the Christmas Mountains, including Big Bend State Park, Smith said.

Andy Jones, who represents the Conservation Fund in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma, told the committees that donors have developed an apprehension towards working with them as a result of the Christmas Mountains controversy. Said Jones: “I guarantee you the first question out of the donor’s mouth is, ‘Are you working with the Land Office on this at all? And if you are we’re not going to talk to you.’ They’re concerned about where their money is going.”

Jones said that the National Parks Service (NPS) had a very substantial staff at the neighboring Big Bend, and thus would be better equipped than the limited staff at the General Land Office.

Patterson said the intent is to keep the Mountains in the ownership of the state of Texas, but said “that could change in a matter of months.” He said he would be open to any type of entity, state – federal, or private – owning the property so long as his concerns are met, among them, the allowance of hunting and the preservation of visitors’ rights to bear arms on the property.

“I happen to believe it is unconstitutional to have an arbitrary ban on firearms,” he said.

Patterson also emphasized that if the state sells the property to NPS, it must maintain rights to the minerals there.

“I’m not interested in our access to minerals contingent upon a mineral plan developed by the National Parks Service,” he said. “… Mineral reservation will remain to the best of my opinion at this point, and we will have the ability to access those minerals without any federal requirements that we need to satisfy. Only state requirements in doing so.” O

© 2008, The Lone Star Report

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"We just want to squash any thoughts of unhappiness about the job he's doing."

Leaders come to defense of DFW transportation chief


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2008

We like Michael. That's the message from dozens of Metroplex leaders who made it clear this week that they're happy with the work of Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

The message is a response to rumors that a few Collin County officials are quietly lobbying to have Morris fired. Although the Collin County officials haven't spoken against him publicly, the scuttlebutt is that they're unhappy with recent negotiations over two toll projects under construction: Texas 121 north of Grapevine and Texas 161 in Grand Prairie.

Morris negotiated both deals. He is credited -- or blamed -- with forcing the Plano-based North Texas Tollway Authority to pay top dollar for the projects. The authority agreed to pay $3.2 billion for Texas 121 and is studying whether to pay $548 million for Texas 161. Only a small fraction of that windfall will go to Collin County. The rest will pay for roads across the region.

Morris' supporters say they acted quickly to nip the clandestine anti-Morris campaign in the bud. Three agencies -- the Regional Transportation Council, Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition and Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition -- passed resolutions expressing confidence in him.

"We just want to squash any thoughts of unhappiness about the job he's doing," Burleson Mayor Ken Shetter said.

Collin County Commissioner Joe Jaynes said he knows of no such effort to get Morris fired. Tollway Chairman Paul Wageman of Plano said, "The report I got was that Michael played a constructive role."

GORDON DICKSON, 817-685-3816

© 2008 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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"To get an upfront cash payment and give away control for 75 years would be detrimental."

Public Wary of Increasing Efforts to Lease Roads

May 9, 2008

The Wall Street Journal
Copyright 2008

An increasing number of international companies are looking to make multibillion-dollar investments in U.S. roads and bridges. But a brewing fight in Pennsylvania offers a test of the American public's willingness to give up control of vital infrastructure -- and potentially pay higher tolls.

Morgan Stanley estimates Pennsylvania could raise as much as $18 billion by leasing the state's major highway system to private investors, who would charge tolls and fund the system's upkeep. Units of Spain's Grupo Ferrovial SA and have said they are considering bidding. Abertis Infraestructuras SAAustralia's Macquarie Group Ltd. and Spanish construction giant Actividades de Construcción & Servicios SA are considering bids, said people familiar with the matter. Potential bidders have been invited to submit offers in coming days.

The prize: The Pennsylvania Turnpike, which includes more than 500 miles of highway stretching between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia that carry about 190 million cars, trucks and commercial vehicles annually. Under its current toll system, the turnpike contributes more than $600 million annually to the state.

If completed, a lease deal would be the latest in an increasing number of infrastructure agreements that put U.S. roads and airports under private control. U.S. infrastructure has appeal for investors because such deals have long been common in the rest of the world and many of the best roads and projects have been taken. Chicago raised $1.83 billion in 2005 by leasing its Chicago Skyway to a group that includes Macquarie and Ferrovial for 99 years. Indiana obtained $3.85 billion in 2006 through the 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road to the same group.

State officials see a potential source of funds for their aging roads and bridges. Pennsylvania estimates its immediate needs total $1.7 billion a year. Proponents of lease deals see them as a way to meet the U.S.'s growing infrastructure investment needs, which total $1.6 trillion over the next five years, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

But Pennsylvania's lease efforts under Gov. Ed Rendell face hurdles that could bode ill for the future of such projects in the U.S. Some potential bidders are having difficulty arranging financing for a bid amid the global credit crunch, said people familiar with the matter.

In addition, the lease deal is generating sizable opposition because, under the current formula proposed by the state, the winning bidder will have considerable freedom to raise tolls. Many members of the Democratic Party, which controls Pennsylvania's House of Representatives, are opposed because of the potential for higher tolls at a time of uncertainty over gasoline and diesel prices. Some frequent turnpike users also are lobbying against it.

The turnpike "is a huge contributor to our transportation infrastructure," said State Rep. Joe Markosek, majority chairman of the Pennsylvania House's transportation committee, which must approve the plan. "To get an upfront cash payment and give away control for 75 years would be detrimental."

"Our feeling is that a toll is a tax," said Bob Long, owner of Daily Express Inc., which has a fleet of 350 trucks that haul large machinery and building materials across Pennsylvania.

State Rep. Richard Geist, a member of the Republican Party and minority chairman of the House's transportation committee, expects a deal would be approved through a "consortium of Republicans and Democrats from cities with mass transit" in need of infrastructure funding. "I'm convinced public-private partnerships are a viable funding alternative," he said.

Under the terms being discussed, toll increases can match the rate of inflation or rise by at least 2.5% a year, following a 25% increase set for next year. Currently, a car crossing the state would pay $22.75 in tolls, according to Dennis Enright, a principal of New Jersey-based NW Financial Group, which specializes in project finance. By the end of the 75-year term, tolls to cross the state could reach $176, he estimated.

Forecasts of higher tolls may sound alarming, but U.S. per-capita income will also grow over that time, said Nicolás Rubio, business-development director of Ferrovial's Cintra unit. "The price of bread rises along with inflation levels over the decades, but the economic effort to buy such bread for the average U.S. family is much lower today than it was 50 years ago," he said.

--Jason Sinclair contributed to this article.

Write to Santiago Pérez at

© 2008 The Wall Street Journal:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Thursday, May 08, 2008

"Oklahomans are battling what could well be the next Oklahoma land rush - only this time the state will be taking the land back from the people."

Act Now to Stop Oklahoma NAFTA Superhighway!

May 8, 2008

By Tom Deweese
Canada Free press
Copyright 2008

Despite massive public opposition, on Tuesday, April 29th, the Oklahoma state legislature approved a bill to allow creation of “Smart Ports” and continuation of the NAFTA Superhighway system in Oklahoma.

The bill is on Governor Brad Henry’s desk. This bill, according to Oklahoma Senator Randy Brogdon, infringes on the State’s rights. The road will be regulated under international law, and the bill waives the State’s 11th Amendment protection from being sued in federal court. This bill must be stopped immediately.

Oklahomans for Sovereignty and Free Enterprise (, or OK-SAFE, is a group of concerned citizens, formed specifically to fight extension of the NAFTA super-highway from Texas through Oklahoma to Kansas. They also fight other efforts to establish the North American Union. Their educational efforts have been so successful, both with state legislators and members of the general public that a similar bill was defeated last year. Also, an anti-Real ID bill passed unanimously in both the House and Senate last year. And the Senate passed a resolution acknowledging that construction of NAFTA corridors is part of attempts to create a North American Union, and urging Congress “to withdraw...from the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America and any other activity which seeks to create a North American Union.”

Opposition to the NAFTA super-corridor has been so strong in Oklahoma, in fact, that Tiffany Melvin and Frank Conde, the executive director and communications/special projects director, respectively, of North America’s SuperCorridor Coalition (NASCO) personally met with the Senate Transportation committee last year. Melkin said their visit was an effort “to eliminate public confusion about NASCO and the SuperCorridor.” Yet during their address to legislators, audio access to the meeting was somehow turned off, and citizen participants were not allowed their promised time to rebut or question NASCO’s presentation.

There is significant support for NAFTA superhighways in Oklahoma’s public sector. Oklahoma Senator Debbe Leftwich serves as NASCO’s Secretary, and Dawn Sullivan, a planning and research division engineer for Oklahoma’s Department of Transportation (ODOT), is a member of NASCO. ODOT’s annual NASCO dues are $25,000 taxpayer dollars. Another major supporter has been Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.

Mayor Cornett signed the “Kansas City Declaration” in 2004 at the North American Trade Corridor Partnership (NAITCP) in Kansas City. The “Kansas City Declaration” is defined in the “Summit Report from the 2004 NAITCP” meeting as being “The Declaration of North American Integration.” Also among the 90 signers was Kay Barnes, former Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri.

This document recorded participants’ “shared vision of future cooperation for communities along the NAFTA Trade Corridor in Canada, the United States and Mexico (concluding the) economic vitality and social integration of our communities demand open, dynamic and secure borders.” Mayor Cornett also called for the economic integration of North America in a video interview at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in June of 2004.

In a June 25, 2007, interview with Dr. Jerome Corsi, Mayor Cornett repudiated his signing “The Declaration of North American Integration,” saying “It was a pretty stupid thing to get involved with.” He further stated, “I am opposed to the extension of the Trans-Texas Corridor into Oklahoma if the whole point (emphasis mine) is to make it cheaper to transport containers from China coming through Mexican ports.”

Adam Rott, founder of Oklahoma Corridor Watch ( expressed guarded optimism at Cornett’s repudiation, wondering, “to what extent Cornett’s decision was just politically expedient. Back (in 2004) Mayor Cornett didn’t answer my phone calls,” Rott said, “but I would like to see what actual steps Cornett is going to take to solidify his repudiation of this declaration.”

Rott’s caution seems justified. The NAFTA Superhighway is designed to come right through the middle of Oklahoma City, and Mayor Cornett’s very clear support of integration was taken in the shadows of a private meeting, without the knowledge and support of his constituents.

Michael Shaw, President of Freedom Advocates (, very clearly outlined the dangers inherent in these NAFTA superhighways at last year’s Freedom 21 conference when he said, “The Trans Texas Corridor is the literal pathway to the economic equalization of nations. The consequence of creating this (public private partnership) includes an economic, and perhaps a military, Trojan Horse that will be given open landing in America and a colossal road to infuse political/economic Sustainable globalism throughout America. In order to meet the global economic equalization objectives (Sustainable Development) requires global management of trade. Managed trade necessarily means bringing down American production and ultimately middle class standards of living. American economic submission and political regionalization is designed to lead to a borderless world - The Trans-Texas Corridor is designed as a step toward world governance.”

On a positive note, the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) website ( does not yet indicate Oklahoma is among the 21 states that have passed public-private partnership enabling legislation, which the FHWA considers essential to allow private investment consortia to lease existing toll roads or build new toll roads in a state.

It is quite obvious the extent toward which more and more of our government officials have been working overtime, in secret, to establish the North American Union. They are working feverishly to achieve their treacherous objectives in relative secrecy, and without the advice and consent of the citizens they were elected to serve.

Oklahomans are battling what could well be the next Oklahoma land rush - only this time the state will be taking the land back from the people.


Call Governor Henry at (405) 521-2342. Tell him to veto the Smart Port and NAFTA Superhighway bill.

Call Mayor Mick Cornett at (405) 297-2424, or email him at Tell him to immediately issue a written statement repudiating any involvement with any North American integration activities, and acknowledging such integration represents a significant threat to Oklahoma’s, and the nation’s sovereignty.

Call Senator Leftwich at (405) 521-5557. Tell her you want her to resign her NASCO membership.

Call ODOT’s Planning and Research Office at (405) 521-2704. Tell them you want ODOT to cease any and all planning or activities associated with establishing a Smart Port in Oklahoma City, or utilization of any Oklahoma state highway as a NAFTA Superhighway.
Posted 05/8 at 08:16 PM Email (Permalink

© 2008 Canada Free Press:

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"TxDOT has done more harm to the public's trust of state government than any other agency and needs to be overhauled."

Lawmaker targets agency


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2008

FORT WORTH -- The Texas Department of Transportation has done more harm to the public's trust of state government than any other agency and needs to be overhauled, state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, said Wednesday.

Harper-Brown also told the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition on Wednesday that the Transportation Department has failed to build roads necessary to reduce congestion, and has overstated its financial problems to win public support for toll roads.
"TxDOT used to be a premier agency in America. It's not any more. Other states have better roads," Harper-Brown told the group.

Harper-Brown is a member of the Sunset Review Commission, which periodically reviews state agencies to determine whether they're still necessary.

Commission members are expected to grill Transportation Department officials during hearings this summer.

Harper-Brown said she is researching how agencies in states such as Florida build and manage their transportation projects while sticking to firm deadlines and keeping lawmakers and the public informed about finances.
She said the Texas Transportation Department lacks transparency about its finances and often refuses to answer basic questions from lawmakers. "If there is not a major change at TxDot, I'm not sure the Legislature will vote to give them more money."

Several Tarrant County officials agreed with Harper-Brown about the need for better oversight, but defended Transportation Department officials in the Fort Worth district, which serves Tarrant and eight other area counties.

They asked Harper-Brown to protect the region's existing agreements with the state Transportation Department, including an agreement with the North Texas Tollway Authority to build Texas 121 in Denton and Collin counties and generate $3.2 billion for other regional projects. North Texas leaders want to keep that money in North Texas, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley told Harper-Brown.

Maribel Chavez, the Transportation Department's Fort Worth engineer, told Harper-Brown that federal environmental laws are a main reason that road projects are delayed and if Florida has found a way to speed up that process, she'd like to know about it.

GORDON DICKSON, 817-685-3816

© 2008 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"TxDOT answers only to its political masters — and then only to some of them. "

Why does the Lone Star State allow TxDOT's bureaucratic arrogance?


Ken Allard
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2008

The headlines might have read, “No Hope, No More,” but we have been on a collision course over the future of TxDOT ever since Gov. Perry's dismissal last week of interim commissioner Hope Andrade.

She succeeded chairman Rick Williamson, whose last wish was that his embattled agency might engage in a creative dialogue with its critics. He even reached out to ask for my help in connecting the agency with “some of the best minds at UTSA,” but his untimely passing prevented those possibilities.

The widely respected Andrade tried to continue his initiative, but certain fundamentals have emerged. Among them: to the extent that it can be controlled at all, TxDOT answers only to its political masters — and then only to some of them. When hauled before the Texas Senate earlier this year, agency leaders had no good explanations for some outrageous failings, including a billion-dollar accounting error and millions more wasted on lobbying for dubious pet projects.

Had a similar situation occurred in Washington, indictments might well have followed. But not in Texas.

Sen. Glenn Hegar recently wrote that lawmakers' “concerns about the Trans-Texas Corridor, the agency's policies, funding schemes, budget and construction priorities have (often) been met with contempt and disdain by TxDOT officials.”

The mystery is why such bureaucratic arrogance is tolerated in the state that produced the legendary “Lonesome Dove” figures of Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae.

But if you think the agency isn't listening to your concerns, don't feel too badly. They don't listen to the Texas Legislature, either. In an interesting twist, Sen. Hegar also sits on a sunset committee charged with identifying “waste, duplication and inefficiency” among state agencies.

Ironically, TxDOT's turn for review comes up this year. Can you think of some issues the sunset commissioners might want to look into? What kinds of minds produced the “My Favorite Martian” School of highway design, bewildering tourists and locals alike as they try to escape from the San Antonio airport? Even more interesting: Why is there apparently a requirement that all TxDOT engineers be Aggies?

There are, of course, far larger issues because if TxDOT and toll roads are the only answers, we're probably not asking the right questions. County Judge Nelson Wolff recently raised the possibility of light rail. Until recently, there was the assumption that toll roads were the only alternative or, according to Sen. Hegar, “selling our highway infrastructure to the highest bidder, usually a foreign-owned company.”

Like a mule's first kick, paying $4 for a gallon of gas is an educational opportunity that ought not to be missed. So, too, are the unmistakable signs that the real poverty in this area begins with our thinking. Simply go out U.S. 281 to the areas around Evans and Bulverde Roads to glimpse urban sprawl at its ugliest, a spectacular failure of zoning, planning and land use but, most of all, of common sense.

Forget the obvious threats to the aquifer, to the environment, and even to public safety if the sprawl zones ever had to be evacuated. It is as if the developers had abandoned all thought of San Antonio and were busily building the new and glorious Newark-Upon-the-Guadalupe.

As a wide-eyed schoolboy back east, I learned Texas history from afar, especially that part about lines being drawn in the sand. With the governor, the bureaucrats and the developers now on one side of that line, what a joy, what an honor it is to be here and on the other!

Retired Col. Ken Allard is an executive-in-residence at UTSA. E-mail him at

© 2008 San Antonio Express-News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Pompous Circumstance: Rick Perry to give commencement speech in the path of TTC-69

Anti Trans Texas Corridor Rally Planned


by Donna McCollum
KTRE-TV (Lufkin-Nacodoches)
Copyright 2008

Around Martinsville, in eastern Nacogdoches County, country roads trail past farms and ranches. It's a place where people used to talk about hay yields. Now discussion has turned to politics. Protest signs reading, " No Trespassing to Trans Texas Corridor" hang on their fences and gates.

This week's discussion centers around a rally on the day Governor Rick Perry will be in Nacogdoches delivering a commencement speech. He may need more luck than the graduates.

Trans Texas Corridor opponent, Larry Shelton said, " We want to send a message loud and clear to the governor that we are tired of him wasting our time and our money for doing this absolute absurd project." Shelton describes his community as the epicenter of the Trans Texas Corridor. He stands to lose his property. He's not alone. " It will go straight through my house. Right through my kitchen, " said a Martinsville third grader.

The school district is concerned the corridor will cause the district to lose tax revenue, forcing it some day to consolidate with nearby districts. Consequently, the opposition includes school children. Their classroom assignment has been to write politicians about their concerns about the TTC.

Today letters went out to President Bush. " Our small school will go out of business. We will have to pay to go on the TTC, " read one child from his letter. Another wrote, " We need money for other things as food, water and bills. Have you thought about it?"

In Martinsville, the Fighting Pirates are fighting Governor Rick Perry. The children's teacher, Jan Tracy said, " A lot of people here in the rural areas are rather insulted and upset that he's been invited to come here and speak and want him to understand what a big issue this is for us and how important it is for our county and our area of the state. "

Despite their disapproval with the governor, participants say they're not wanting to disrupt anyone's graduation day. The rally will be on the main campus, away from the Johnson Coliseum. The 'Citizens Against The Trans Texas Corridor' rally will be from 10:30 to 1:30 in the wooded area across from the SFA university center. Texas Turf and Independent Texans will be present. Tractors can be parked by the Turner Auditorium. Participants are confident the governor will feel their presence.

© 2008 KTRE-TV:

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"It's amazing how reaching into that pocket to get that three bucks seems a lot more painful than hearing that beep."

Macquarie circles airport in Texas

May 08, 2008

David Nason, New York
The Australian
Copyright 2008

The Macquarie Group's airport ambitions in the US have spread to Texas, where its infrastructure division is in talks to lease all or part of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in the Texas capital, Austin.

A Macquarie spokesman confirmed yesterday that discussions with Austin officials were under way but stressed they were at a "very preliminary stage", with no formal proposal for an ABIA takeover on the table.

According to some projections, leasing ABIA to a private operator could earn the city of Austin $US500 million ($526 million) annually.

The airport play comes as Macquarie and its Spanish toll roads partner Centra await a decision on a proposed 75-year lease for the Pennsylvania Turnpike, one of the US's busiest highways.

At least three consortiums have submitted bids with Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who is expected to select his preferred operator sometime in the next week.

Mr Rendell wants to channel the lease payments -- possibly as much as $US18 billion over the life of the lease -- into Pennsylvania's ageing highways, bridges and mass transit systems. But he is facing opposition from legislators, voters and his own Turnpike Commission.

Opposition to airport privatisation in the US is also expected to be strong, especially if foreign companies are involved.

Under a Federal Aviation Administration pilot program introduced in 1966, US airports can be exempted from federal administration, but until now only Chicago's Midway Airport has actively pursued privatisation.

The program allows for up to five US airports to be leased to private operators, but the hurdles are many, including approval from the FAA and from 65 per cent of airlines using the airport.

Macquarie, which already operates airports in Sydney, Tokyo, Brussels, Copenhagen and Bristol in England, is one of six companies to have lodged a proposal with Chicago officials.

It now sees a second opportunity in Austin, where the push for privatisation is driven by federal laws that compel the city to spend airport revenues at the airport while other city-operated businesses such as Austin Energy and the Austin Convention Centre return their profits to the city.

Austin city councillor Brewster McCracken told the Austin Business Journal he was opposed to privatising public assets but regarded the airport as a separate issue because it provided no revenue to the city's general fund.

ABIA's total operating revenue for the 2007 fiscal year was $US81.9 million with $US17 million of that going back into the airport's capital fund.

Austin-Bergstrom is a former US Air Force Base 8km outside Austin that was only opened to civilian traffic in 1999, to replace a smaller airport. Last year, it serviced almost 8.9 million passengers, a record.

Globally, the Macquarie Group has some $US200 billion invested in infrastructure and it has targeted the US as its major infrastructure growth area.

Body: And for good reason. In a report last week, the US Urban Land Institute and Ernst & Young said US transportation infrastructure investment was lagging far behind that of most other developed nations and that greater acceptance of public-private partnerships was the only practical answer.

It estimated the annual shortfall in funds for US transportation needs at a staggering $US170 billion, a figure that would rise sharply with the forecast population growth of 90 million over the next 35 years.

The report said vehicle miles travelled in the US had increased 95 per cent since 1980 while road capacity had increased only 3 per cent.

It said 24 per cent of US roads were in poor to mediocre condition and more than 25 per cent of bridges were structurally or functionally deficient.

Macquarie and Cintra already jointly own and operate toll roads in Illinois and Indiana.

Last month, electronic tolling started on the Indiana Toll Road with drivers using the automatic system getting their tolls frozen at current rates until 2016.

A spokesman for the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co, which operates the toll road, said the spirit of the toll freeze was to look after local users.

But in 2006, Macquarie Infrastructure Group chief executive Stephen Allen told investors in New York that the real advantage of automatic tolling was that people tended to think tolls were cheaper when they had an electronic tag.

"I call it the 'mobile phone effect'," Mr Allen said at the time. "How many people out there know the cost of a call on your mobile phone? Well, it's very expensive, I can assure you of that.

"It's the same thing with (electronic) tags. You go through, you hear the beep, you don't think about it. You pay your bill once a month. It's amazing how reaching into that pocket to get that three bucks seems a lot more painful than hearing that beep."

© 2008 The Australian:

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

"One would expect that the toll road would use dollars to alleviate congestion on toll roads."

Hoopin' It Up At The NTTA


Bennett Cunningham
CBS 11 News (DALLAS)
Copyright 2008

The North Texas Tollway Authority [NTTA] is spending a small fortune on things that have nothing to do with building roads.

Instead, it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of your toll money on advertising that comes with a valuable perk, and you don't get to enjoy it. It's an advertisement at the American Airlines Center which reads "TollTag people." This ad is costing you nearly half a million dollars.

We asked the executive director of the Tollway, Jorge Figueredo, why his agency spent the money. He told us "I don't know what the rationale was but I know we are not going to do it under my watch."

The NTTA signed the contract before Mr. Figueredo took charge in August 2007, but it's still in effect. As part of the half-million dollar contract, the NTTA was allowed to put an enormous kiosk in the center's rotunda, where employees sign people up for TollTags.

But the one big plus for the NTTA has nothing to do with advertising. It's the dozens of free tickets they get to Dallas Mavericks and Stars games. When we asked Mr. Figueredo about it, he said "I didn't know we got tickets and I don't know what is done with them."

But we do. A CBS 11 public information request reveals NTTA employees enjoyed some great Dallas Mavericks games. Some of the NTTA staff went to last year's quarterfinal playoff game against the Golden State Warriors, and others attended regular season games against the Spurs, the Pacers, and the Rockets.

But the NTTA claims it gave away lots of the tickets to unnamed "TollTag people." All they had to do was answer trivia questions at the game or sign up for a new toll tag.

Michael Sullivan of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility thinks this type of spending is outrageous, "one would expect that the toll road would use dollars to alleviate congestion on toll roads."

And the perks don't end on the court--they continue on to the picnic table. The NTTA has a picnic committee. When the NTTA's picnic committee meets, they don't meet in a park or on a picnic blanket. They meet at Pappadeaux Seafood and spend $600 on crawfish and shrimp. When we looked at the receipt for that meeting, it appears they all had such a good time, they forgot how to add. When they totaled the bill with tip, they wrote $602. But when we did the math, we found the total should actually have been $20 dollars less.

After we began asking questions about the NTTA's spending habits, they hired an internal auditor to examine the records. And there are plans to overhaul the NTTA employee spending policy, which was basically nonexistent until our investigation.

A concrete policy may have prevented 2 years of Tollway spending - including $100,000 spent for food: catering and fine dining, more than 4,000 donuts and 2,300 slices of pizza.

And guess what else we discovered? Many times, when NTTA officials ate using your money, the meals were tax free--thanks to the NTTA's tax exempt status. That's right, not only do NTTA officials get to eat on your dime, they did it without paying a red cent in tax to the state. Mr. Figueredo told us "it makes me angry to talk about this and the people know how angry I am about this."

Shortly after we confronted Tollway officials about our investigation, Mr. Figueredo immediately suspended the use of NTTA credit cards for many of these items.

The Tollway's contract at the AAC ends in 2009.

© 2008 CBS Broadcasting Inc.:

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

"Sen. Watson said he believes Delisi, 35, has the substance to do the job."

Can Delisi steer Transportation through all the potholes?

May 4, 2008

The Editorial Board
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

As the new chairwoman of the Texas Transportation Commission, Deirdre Delisi has to convince a corps of skeptics that she is up to the job.

Delisi was Gov. Rick Perry’s former campaign director and chief of staff, and her appointment was loudly criticized as the victory of politics over experience. The first person she and Perry had to win over was Austin Sen. Kirk Watson, who could have blocked her appointment. After long discussions, they succeeded in getting Watson’s approval for Delisi to succeed the late Ric Williamson, who had a contentious relationship with the Legislature. Williamson died in December.

Getting Watson’s blessing is a good sign because Watson, vice chairman of the Senate transportation committee, is no fan of the commission that runs the Texas Department of Transportation. Last year, the department pulled the plug on state funding for Central Texas highways, infuriating local leaders.

Watson said he believes Delisi, 35, has the substance to do the job and that she understands the problems the department has created over the years with its bullying tactics and lack of openness and accountability.

Central Texas is caught in a transportation bind and traffic worsens by the day. This region needs everything - more roads, completion of unfinished highways, better maintenance and more mass transit. It was a disaster when the Texas Department of Transportation claimed a $1 billion error that meant Central Texas wouldn’t get expected state highway money.

That accounting error, which many saw as a political power play by the transportation commission, was the perfect example of the dearth of forthrightness and accountability that has long defined TxDOT. It will be a stunning accomplishment if Delisi can rid TxDOT of its overbearing reputation and make peace with the Legislature and the communities the department is supposed to serve.

Watson said he was assured that Delisi also will involve local communities in highway planning. That, too, would be a major change for an agency known for imposing its will on highway planning and construction.

Though it is fortunate that Central Texas now has a presence on the transportation commission, Delisi still must show that she is more than a Perry pawn. Can she lead the commission? Can she push back? Can she be independent when she needs to be?

All that remains to be seen. Texas leaders and lawmakers have six months to judge Delisi’s performance before her appointment goes to the state Senate for confirmation in the 2009 legislative session.

We wish her well. Central Texas needs a strong voice on the commission, one that understands the needs of a growing community being strangled by traffic. And TxDOT needs a leader who can change its imperious and opaque culture.

Few state jobs are more important or more demanding than sorting through the myriad demands for highways and planning for the future in this booming state. We hope Delisi proves her critics wrong and justifies Watson’s faith in her ability to deliver a more open, accountable and effective Department of Transportation.

© 2008 Austin American-Statesman:

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“Is it going to be Pecan Stump Road now?”


Contractor removes landmark pecan tree by mistake

May 4, 2008

Waxahachie Daily Light
Copyright 2008

FORRESTON – More than 100 years of history lays shredded in a bar ditch; a historic landmark for this tiny community is no more.

Late last week, a state contractor sawed, chopped and mulched one of Forreston’s signature sights, the huge pecan tree marking the eastbound turn off of U.S. Highway 77 onto Pecan Tree Road.

“Is it going to be Pecan Stump Road now?” said Jeff Browning of Waxahachie, who said he was shocked when he saw a crew taking the tree down. “It was a tree SWAT team, there were so many people working on it. In this day and age of air pollution, when someone cuts down a tree like that, it’s a crime against humanity.”

Forreston business owner Barbara Kauffman of Bon Ton Vintage described herself as “devastated” at the tree’s destruction. She said she’d driven by the tree the day before it was cut and hadn’t noticed anything amiss with it, such as damage from recent storms that could have prompted its removal.

“That was a landmark,” she said, noting it was easy to give directions based on the tree’s location because of its stature and visibility.

Pct. 4 Commissioner Ron Brown said he immediately contacted the Texas Department of Transportation after the tree’s removal came to his attention and was told a contractor had made a mistake.

“The tree was over 100 years old. It was alive and it’s been a landmark for years,” Brown said. “I remember the tree from when I was about 4 years old – and it was full grown then.”

He agrees with the value the tree had as a marker through the years.

“You could tell people to go one mile past the tree, go two miles. That was the only tree on the highway for a long time,” he said.

Brown has filed a letter of complaint with TxDOT’s Ellis County office, which is forwarding the letter to its contractor as well as conducting its own investigation into what happened.

“I will be making formal contact with the contractor and giving him a chance to respond,” area engineer Bill Pierce said.

From what he has determined so far, the contractor cut down the pecan tree even though TxDOT hadn’t marked it for destruction.

“We mark the trees to be removed and that one was not marked,” Pierce said, noting markings are always made with bright, fluorescent orange paint in accordance with the extensive specifications found in the state agency’s contracts for brush and tree removal in right of ways. “It was a mistake because (the contractor) has to be directed by TxDOT to remove a tree.”

Even if the tree had been damaged or sickly, it still would have been TxDOT’s decision as to its disposition, not the contractor’s, he said.

“Anything that has a substantial diameter, like that tree, we would look at two or three times before making a decision to take it out,” Pierce said, saying of what happened, “It’s not the way we do business.”

Efforts to obtain comment from the contractor were unsuccessful by press time Saturday.

Although Brown grew up near the historic pecan tree, he said he never climbed it, quipping, “I was too short. But I remember as a kid that people would stop there under the tree while they were traveling. … They would sit there and eat their lunch. … And then the Highway Patrol used to sit under it and catch people.”

He said he’s saddened by the tree’s loss.

“There were a lot of memories there – and those memories are still there, there’s just no tree,” he said.

E-mail JoAnn at

© 2008 Texas Weekly:

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