Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rep. Harper Brown: "TxDOT circumvented us once again."

TURF'S Terri Hall Testifies before the Sunset Commission

Terri Hall: This mistrust is being fueled by how they're perverting the laws, whether its by the lobbying, or ..about converting the existing freeways into toll roads.

I know a lot of members thought you took care of it with HB 2707, which was supposed to prevent TxDOT from double-taxing citizens by converting existing freeways into toll roads. Yet that's precisely what they are doing on Highway 281 in Bexar county, despite the law.

If you look at Exhibit A it actually shows you the drawings that were shown to the public in two different public hearings. One in 2001 and one in 2005. The 2001 plan the freeway plan. That was going to be the improvements done to the road, paid for with gas tax money. The money was programmed in 2003...and then the whole thing was yanked because they wanted to turn it into a toll road. Remember how the department said they haven't analyzed all these roads, if they're viable for tolling, they're going to toll it.

So all of the freeway plans were taken off the table, and now they're going to toll this road. And you can see that what they are going to do is take the existing freeway lanes that are already paid for with our taxpayer money, and convert them into toll lanes. and make the only free lanes now frontage roads. Calling it highway robbery is not hyperbole here.

We also caught them trying to reduce the lane width of the non-tolled lanes on another project on 1604. Their own environmental document shows that this would slow traffic, and force more traffic onto the toll road. They even admit that when you narrow lanes, it slows traffic, which of course is an incentive to have people take the toll road.

So HB 2702 needs to be fixed to prevent this sort of chicanery from happening again.

Rep. Linda Harper Brown: I just want to be sure all the members understand this Ms. Hall, because I was quite shocked the first time I saw this, because I thought--and I guess it was once again niavete on my part--I thought when you pass a bill that said you couldn't toll existing lanes, I thought that really meant main lanes. I had no idea that they would redesign a road as they did here, and I just want to be sure that every member understand this because it could happen in their district as it did in your area.

So what they did is, if you look at these drawings you provided us, What they did was that they, supposedly, I guess, determined that the free lanes that we talked about, that you wouldn't toll existing roads... You have a road that's there now that's two to three lanes each direction--four to six lanes. And they have now...In the first drawing in 2001, they actually showed those, the new highway as being six lanes that are un-tolled in the center as main lanes that we all understand--main lanes of the highway.

Then all of the sudden they decided that that language in 2702, which said that you can't toll existing roads, meant that you could pick that road up and move it to the outside as a frontage road and consider that at free lanes...So I just want TxDOT to call me the next time they get ready to pick up a road and move it to the outside like that so I cansee that process being done, because I certainly want you and the other members of your group that are here and the other member of this commission and the legislature to understand that if they did it to you they can do it to us, and this is not what I thought it meant. I thought it said when you can't toll existing roads, it meant main lanes. It didn't mean that you could say the frontage road of a highway now, is going to be your free lanes, and we are going to toll every single main lane of a highway.

Terri Hall: That's right. If you look at the second drawing, that's what it shows. It's almost the identicle plan, as you you see. The six lanes will now be tolled. The only non-tolled will be frontage roads. They're replacing highway lanes--expressway lanes--with frontage roads and access roads, and clearly that is not a fair replacement. And that's why toll opponents continue to call it double taxation. I meant this is literally stealing our roads, out from under us.

And frankly, I'll tie that in to TTC-69, because remember, TxDOT made that announcement, that they're going to shift everything to existing, but the lanes that you have will still be there. Well guess what, they've been telling us that in Bexar County for three and one-half years. Those lanes could be downgraded to service roads. An have the main lanes be the Trans-Texas Corridor toll road, and once they do this, guess what? You're all out of luck.

And so that's why we bring this to your attention as well, because this could spread easily if you don't do something to fix this.

Rep. Linda Harper Brown: The other thing this does is because there are still the still have the problem on the frontage roads, you're not really getting an expressway or a freeway, a thruway because of that. So, it ... accomplishes another one of their goals. That is it forces people into paying those tolls. It's part of kind of a 'noncompete.' If you don't want to sit through all of those lights, you have to pay that toll to be able to be able to get where you're going.

Terri Hall: You've got it

Rep. Linda Harper Brown: So they circumvented us once again.

Terri Hall: They sure did. And in fact, you heard testimony today that they're not going to have 'noncompetes.' Well guess what. The public notice for 281 that was just done by the RMA ( Regional Mobility Authority) not even a month ago, shows that they're going to have a 'nononcompete' on 281. They're lying to you.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst: I've got a question. Is 281 a part of the carve outs in part of the Moratorium?

Terri Hall: No. That was the only CDA that got stopped and that was because we melted down the phone lines of Senator Jeff Wentworth

Rep. Lois Kholkorst: Okay, so you know it's for none of the carve-outs.

Terri Hall: ...But the problem is the [Alamo] RMA is doing it. All it stopped was Cintra- Macquarie from taking that road. Now the RMA's still converting this road.

Rep. Lois Kholkorst: Now the question about this is-- and Mr. Chairman, I think I was unusually nice today.-- It was the opening remarks by the new [Texas Transportation Commission] chairwoman [Diedre Delisi] about a 'new day for TxDOT.' And I think I wrote them down. The words were 'transparent and efficient, open and responsive. An so I would like to give TxDOT a chance to respond to that. Part of what you talked about in 2702.... [House Bill] 3588 [in 2003] was 'shame on us.'

[Senate Bill] 2702 [in 2005].... you know Senator Hegar was with me. I like to say we got the crumbs at the bottom of the floor, didn't we? We got a couple of little amendments here, it was hilarious, but nobody was really with us. There were three of use [Representatives], and nobody else was really listening.

Thank goodness the grass roots kicked in, and in the next [election ] cycle I got so many phone calls from legislators all over the state saying 'gosh, we should hae listened to you.' So in 2007 we really tried to do some things, even though we weren't as sucessful as we wanted to. This is my point Mr. Chairman, and it goes to the heart of the Sunset Report--is the lack of trust. Because it's always on semantics.

This is not what I want. I don't want the old TxDOT....

Terri Hall: This freeway 281 for improvements, as an example, was paid for with gas tax money, and the price tag was $100 million. Now as a toll road, they want to charge $1.3 billion, for what's essentially the same project. Look at the drawing.

Now when we're talking about funding roads, when we're talking about the 'funding gap,' and these other things that are happening, we need to know what the real 'apples to apples' comparison is. What will it take to fix our roads and keep them freeways, versus reconfiguring, bulldozing, putting down the toll gantries, putting up the cement barriers and doing all of this other nonsense to turn things into toll roads, versus 'just slap down the two extra lanes that are needed and get those overpasses in that have been paid for for five years, and be done with it.

That's the kind of thing we want you to be sure to demand from TxDOT. You deserve to know this before you appropriate money to this agency.. to really know wht the 'apples to apples' [comparison] is.

And I wanted to end with the lawsuit. TxDOT does not want this case heard. In our public interest lawsuits we have had this happen before. You might be familiar with the Texas Association of Counties case with Peggy Venable, where they were using our taxpayer money for lobbying. [LINK: TxDOT, Lies, and Videotape]

They did the same thing in that case as they are doing in our case. They used a plea of the jurisdiction. They claimed sovereign immunity, and they throw you out of court and the trial court before your case is ever heard. And that's what they did to our case. [But] it was settled in favor of the plaintiff. And that's what we intend to do. So our case isn't dead. I want you to see what these depositions show. It's that it's absolutely abundantly clear that TxDOT has used our taxpayer money. They've crossed the line.

Representative. Kolkhorst, to answer your question, Fund 6 is being used to fund this [Keep Texas moving] campaign. And we have the documents to prove it if you'd like them.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst: All of 'Keep Texas Moving'?

Terri Hall: All of 'Keep texas moving' is being funded with Fund 6 money.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst: (shaking her head) That's right.

Terri Hall: I could go on and on obviously, but at the end of the day, we've seen legislators hammer TxDOT before, but [they] have done very little to reign in TxDOT. The next [Legislative] session is the year of transportation. We have got to rein this agency in, and restore the public trust, and really get back to getting the roads done that need to be done.

TxDOT Executive Director claims ignorance

Rep. Ruth McClendon: "It is so unfortunate, that we came here and we started off on a good note. We talked about 'being honest.', we talked about it being 'a new day', we talked about 'fairness', and we talked about 'transparency.'

"Then you sit in front of us and tell us and everybody in this whole state who knows anything about toll roads, [that you don't know about highway] 281, because [there have been lawsuits] back and forth, I don't know how many times.

"And you know, because I know you know TxDOT. You've been there a long time. You're a smart man, and I know you know up and down, what 281 looks like.

And I think it's unfair that you sit before this commission, and try to pretend that you're not aware of what your department is doing..... We try to have a new day, and you continue in the same vein with this dishonesty that we have gone through over the last several years."

© 2008, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF):

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"Our gutless and inept political leaders are looking for the easy way out in providing our transportation needs."

Leaders, followers and manipulators

July 19, 2008

Larry Jones
The Weatherford Democrat
Copyright 2008

Back when I was a kid, we boys had a little game we liked to play. Actually it wasn’t a game; it was more of a behavioral trait. We called it “dog-pile.” Someone would fall or get knocked down and everyone nearby would run and jump on top of him. I certainly never wanted to be the poor fellow on the bottom. It was a lot like football, except football has a few more rituals that have to be observed. Like participants in a dog fight, football players have to squat down and sniff each other first, and then they fight. Always in the end, everyone runs and jumps on top of some hapless creature.

Seems like politics and government bureaucrats have adopted this same technique as they go about doing what they profess to be good for us. They appear to be ready to jump on any band wagon that rolls by if they can use it to push their own agendas. As viewed from my back porch, this seems to be what has happened to our nation’s highway system. Even though the poor chumps at the bottom of the pile get beaten up, our political leaders are eager to jump on the latest gimmick. Today’s favorite is that of selling our public roads to the highest bidder.

Since the earliest days, America’s highways have always been a government responsibility. Unlike many European countries, roads across our vast continent have always been built and maintained by the government. Responsibility for both construction and maintenance is relegated to various levels of government — federal, state, county and municipal.

By far the most ambitious undertaking for building highways was the implementation of our Interstate highway system under the leadership of President Eisenhower. This system injected federal money into the nation’s roads. This was a tremendous boon to motorists, especially in the poorer states that had notoriously dismal transportation infrastructure.

Today, money for building and maintaining our highways is getting harder and harder to find — or at least that’s what we’re told. Politicians keep telling us there just aren’t funds available to meet our transportation needs.

The latest gimmick for fixing the problem is that of privately built toll roads. Here in Texas we are currently getting a huge dose of this drivel, but it is also a national epidemic. States in the Northeastern U.S. have long had more than their fair share of toll roads, and even as close as Oklahoma there are several. I recall that 40 years ago while I was in graduate school at Oklahoma State I had to be very careful where I drove or the “nickel snatchers” would get me.

Among the earliest toll road projects in Texas was the Dallas Fort Worth Turnpike. It was a 30 mile stretch that opened in 1957, and was transferred to TxDOT in 1977, when the bond to finance it was paid off. Toll booths were removed and it became a part of Interstate 30. We no longer hear of plans to open up toll roads when their construction costs have been recovered.

Our gutless and inept political leaders are looking for the easy way out in providing our transportation needs. They tell us the only way to quickly do it is to turn it over to private investors. These corporations, many foreign owned, are obviously eager to gobble up contracts for new toll roads and even charge us to drive on already existing roadways.

Today, the “dog pile mentality” is alive and well in Austin. Our leaders seem eager to jump on board despite whatever the consequences to the little guys like me on the bottom.

Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy Commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to Columns submitted to The Weatherford Democrat by guest writers reflect the opinions of the writer and in no way reflect the beliefs or opinions of The Weatherford Democrat.

© 2008, The Weatherford Democrat:

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"There should be a way to prevent the TxDOT commission from being the private political playpen for Gov. Perry, or any other governor."

Time for a TxDOT reform

July 19, 2008

Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2008

In an effort to eliminate waste, duplication and inefficiency in Texas government, lawmakers created the Sunset Advisory Commission in 1977.

The 12-member commission is a legislative body that puts every Texas agency under the microscope every 12 years.

This year, it is the Texas Department of Transportation’s turn on the Sunset commission’s hot seat. It couldn’t have come at a better time.

It’s possible that TxDOT and its five-member panel appointed by the governor has managed to aggravate, in one way or the other, every Texas lawmaker plus a good proportion of the state’s population over the past several years.

TxDOT officials somehow managed to make a $1 billion accounting error that caused a huge falloff in road funds needed to build and maintain the state’s road system to accommodate increased traffic demands.

The agency also launched a multimillion-dollar public awareness campaign to sell its transportation approach, “Keep Texas Moving,” that appeared to be a sales pitch for a controversial toll-road project.

The state auditor’s office blasted TxDOT for hiding lobbying expenses for the controversial 4,000-mile Trans-Texas Corridor proposal concept behind legitimate expenses.

Another reason the Sunset commission needs to closely review TxDOT’s operation is the way the governor’s hand-picked commissioners have attempted to push through Perry’s concept of privately run toll roads without the approval of Texas lawmakers or the public.

Critics charge that Perry has used his politically appointed commissioners to run TxDOT out of the governor’s office.

Certainly, more transparency and accountability are required at TxDOT. There also should be a way to prevent the TxDOT commission from being the private political playpen for Gov. Perry, or any other governor, especially those governors who launch projects and concepts without consulting the Legislature or the public.

Whether the commissioners continue to be appointed by the governor, or elected by the voters or selected for appointment by a bipartisan qualifications commission, reforms are called for at TxDOT.

© 2008, The Waco Tribune-Herald:

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TxDOT Director: "People didn't understand toll roads."

Government advertising under scrutiny

TxDOT campaign at center of debate over $100 million in ad spending

July 18, 2008

Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Copyright 2008

AUSTIN — Government spending on advertising is being put under a microscope by state lawmakers who say they want to ensure public funds are used to inform, not unduly influence Texans.

The effort was sparked by concerns over a divisive toll road campaign by the Texas Department of Transportation, which was in a familiar spotlight at Friday's House State Affairs Committee hearing on the issue.

"We get all of the advantages of the toll roads, and yet there are a lot of people that see a lot of disadvantages," said Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, a State Affairs member. "It seems like there was almost an effort to go beyond what the legislative intent was ... We have an agency here that kind of has their agenda that is different from ... legislative intent. I guess that's what our concerns are."

Coby Chase, director of TxDOT's government and public affairs division, responded, "We have most certainly, certainly heard that." He said that the agency is "reassessing everything."

About $4.5 million has been spent on the Keep Texas Moving campaign, but there are no additional big advertising pushes in the works under its banner, according to TxDOT. The campaign originally was proposed at $7 million to $9 million.

Chase called it a response to concerns that people didn't understand toll roads.

The ad campaign had a ripple effect by prompting Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, State Affairs vice chairman, to call for the committee to study advertising practices across state government.

State agencies' public awareness campaigns often give useful information, but "some state agencies may have overstepped their bounds by actually advertising their programs in an effort to lobby the public to support their agenda or utilize a particular service," Paxton said.

The committee gave an initial look Friday at everything from health officials touting the benefits of breast feeding to promotion of state agricultural products to the Texas Lottery Commission's advertising.

It's unclear just how much state agencies spend on promotions, since state records don't precisely track them.

But an examination of state records last year by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News found the tally for advertising, publications and promotional items could easily reach $100 million or more in state and federal funds just for fiscal year 2008.

The tourism section of Perry's office, for example, has a $40 million advertising budget; the Lottery Commission spends $31 million; TxDOT budgeted $18.4 million for advertising, aside from the Keep Texas Moving program; and the Secretary of State's office had an estimated $4 million budget for such efforts.

TxDOT drew much of the attention, a spot to which the agency is accustomed.
  • It just this week faced criticism from the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, which looks at whether agencies are in need of major changes or should be continued. Sunset staff has recommended major changes.
  • Its Keep Texas Moving campaign on toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor transportation network struck a particular nerve with lawmakers, who've heard an outcry about the corridor's possible route from landowners and have sought to rein in state partnerships with private companies on toll roads.
Both ideas have been pushed by Gov. Rick Perry as an answer to traffic congestion and tax revenues that are short of meeting road needs.

© 2008, The Houston Chronicle:

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Friday, July 18, 2008

"We think we have a potential way to move forward and get this project across the end zone and finally score a touchdown."

TTC supporters hear newest plans for highway

July 18, 2008

The Nacodoches Daily Sentinel
Copyright 2008

Supporters of the Trans Texas Corridor Friday heard Texas Department of Transportation officials summarize recent and upcoming milestones in the highway project's history, including details from the development agreement with Zachary American Infrastructure/ACS approved last month.

The proposed concept brought by ZAI/ACS calls for portions of U.S. Hwy 59 and Loop 224 around Nacogdoches to be developed before 2015, according to the presentation.

Alliance for I-69 Texas — a nonprofit association of local governments, economic development groups and private sector organizations that champions the construction of an Interstate highway through East Texas — hosted TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz and other TxDOT leaders at their quarterly board meeting, held at the Fredonia Hotel and Convention Center.

Introducing Saenz, Alliance Chairman John Thompson, who is the Polk county judge, said "I-69 has cleared a lot of hurdles in the last eight months." Indeed, Friday's remarks were made just yards from the room where, in February, more than 700 East Texans attended a public meeting filled with impassioned pleas against the project. Thompson credited the state transportation agency for adapting the vision of the TTC to accommodate the will of the public, by agreeing to follow the path of existing highways and by adopting policies to secure the existing number of non-tolled highway lanes. "That course correction has made a dramatic change in the attitude in the public," Thompson said.

Saenz broke away from his prepared speech to provide details of the ZAI/ACS proposal as well as information on other state transportation initiatives. Saenz repeatedly emphasized the local input that would be involved in decisions about the need for toll rates, highway alignment and the need for additional transportation services, like rail lines. Corridor Advisory Committee member Nolan Alders, of Nacogdoches, and others from the region were in attendance. Saenz said locally appointed segment committee members will be installed by the end of the year.

"It's been interesting," Saenz said. "Now with the tools that we have, we think we have a potential way to move forward and get this project across the end zone and finally score a touchdown and connect South Texas to the rest of the state, connect the state of Texas with another major corridor to the rest of the United States and both international countries on either side of us."

The ZAI/ACS proposal identifies 10 near-term projects for the corridor, including upgrades to Loop 224 and a "reliever route" for U.S. 59 to pass around Lufkin and Nacogdoches. The project will be based on an earlier design for a bypass route that begins near Corrigan.

Saenz used examples from South Texas to explain how financing such projects might work. Under ZAI/ACS's plan, the revenue from an initial toll project — the upgrade of U.S. Hwy. 77 — would fund construction of the next project, repeating the process across the whole $12 billion to $15 billion estimated to complete the corridor. TxDOT has already spent $48 million on the project's environmental research, according to an Alliance presentation.

Among an audience of corridor supporters, Alliance Attorney and Consultant Gary Bushell delivered his own presentation to the group, elaborating on the larger economic context of the Interstate, which will link port cities in Texas with the nation's interior.

"This is something we have had to convince members of the Texas legislature. We are growing. We are going to grow as a state whether we build infrastructure or not," Bushell said. "Freight is coming, ready or not. World trade is growing. We're the number one export state in the United States."

Thompson said the global economy has presented a lucrative opportunity for Texas in the form of the TTC. "It's a high-stakes game. Little old East Texas has a chance to participate."

© 2008, The Nachodoches Daily Sentinel:

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"Using taxpayer money to advance an agenda in favor of toll roads in Texas."

TxDOT Defends Marketing Strategy to House Committee


KLBJ News Radio
Copyright 2008

Executives from the state highway department are again defending themselves at the Capitol against people who say they are using taxpayer money to advance an agenda in favor of toll roads in Texas.

At the heart of the issue are claims that TxDOT has hired lobbyists, using taxpayer dollars, to push in favor of projects like the Trans-Texas Corridor. Part of that is the "Keep Texas Moving" website.

"Marketing is undertaken to inform drivers in the Austin area about the opening of new toll roads, toll road locations and incentive periods, and about the benefits of paying with an electronic tag," said Coby Chase, Director of Government Affairs for the Texas Department of Transportation.

A San Antonio-based anti-toll road group showed an edited video to the Texas House State Affairs Committee. In edited clips, it showed TxDOT executives Amadeo Saenz, Ted Houghton and Chase seemingly contradicting themselves on camera during separate occasions contrasted to what each executive later said in taped depositions.

"I've heard this from a lot of members that they don't even know where all the money is going," said Terri Hall, Founder of the group 'Texans United for Reform & Freedom', who testified before the committee Friday afternoon. "It's been just as hard for us through this narrow lawsuit on this one campaign to even nail down how much money has been extended."

"TxDOT spent $5.1-million on the TxTag and toll road marketing initiative as of January, 2008," Chase adds.

TURF is in continuing litigation with the state highway department.

"There is really a co-mingling here, in this particular ad campaign by TxDOT, the Keep Texas Moving campaign, a co-mingling between advocacy and advertising. And that's exactly what they've done with this campaign," Hall said, in testimony.

More lawmakers at the state Capitol are agreeing as the TxDOT Sunset Review, a massive re-evaluation of the department moves forward, that major reforms are overdue in how the department does business.

Earlier this year, during a Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, it was discovered that TxDOT made a $1.1-billion accounting mistake which infuriated lawmakers who say the highway department did not reveal before blaming the legislature when major cuts were announced in new highway construction projects.

© 2008, Emmis Austin Radio Broadcasting Company:

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The Hogwash Treatment: TxDOT moves to retain original TTC-69 Tier II DEIS route for future development

Austin, we have a problem

Related Link: Texas 391 Commission Alliance


by Virginia “Dee Dee” King and Connie Fogle
Groveton News
Copyright 2008

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) announced June 11th that it will recommend that the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) Project be developed using existing highway facilities “wherever possible”.

TxDOT is trying to slip through the current Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for approval by the Federal Highway Administration to get financing to start construction! As Craig Whealy wrote in his Letters to the Editor (June 19th), “when a project moves from a Draft EIS to Final after federal approval, all discussion and legal challenges come to a screeching halt.” The finalized EIS (Tier II) “does not preclude the use of the Preferred Alternate at some time in the future.”

TNT (like that acronym?) has requested a meeting with TxDOT to get answers to the concerns in Trinity and Polk counties. No reply, yet.

So, who and what in the heck is TNT? Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-regional Planning Commission whose purpose is to coordinate with state and federal agencies on any concerns involving our counties. Mayor Grimes Fortune (Corrigan), Mayor Troy Jones (Groveton), Mayor Lyle Stubbs (Trinity), and member at large Bob Dockens make up the Board of Directors.

TNT wants the existing EIS rewritten to no longer include Trinity County, and to start addressing the Polk County issues involving US Hwy 59.

Connie Fogle, Dee Dee King, Jessica Parish, and Craig Whealy, all Planning Commission Associates, along with representatives from three other Planning Commissions sat in a meeting, on July 15th, between the ECTSRPC (East Central Texas Sub-regional Planning Commission) and the NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service), in Holland, TX. Though the Topic of Discussion was “The Impact of the Trans-Texas Corridor, I-35 Segment”, TNT associates benefited from some insights presented by Donald Gohmert, State Conservationist and Dennis Williamson, Acting Soil Scientist. These insights brought home possible issues if the current DEIS is approved.

Two other Planning Commission Associates attended the Sunset Advisory Commission meeting in Austin, July 15th, concerning the proper functioning of TxDOT. Created in 1977, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission is to identify and eliminate waste, duplication, and inefficiency in government agencies

Noble Campbell, a TNT Associate member, attended the Sunset Advisory Commission meeting on TxDOT. Noble had prepared a 3 minute present-ation for the commission, where he said “My second worry relates to an aspect of the supposedly agreed re-structure of the route of the "corridor", moving it to the "footprint of existing highways" …from Laredo to Texarkana.

"The manipulations of the Environmental Tier I activities, at step 9, marks step 9 as a beginning of Tier II. There is an effort underway at TXDOT that Tier II of the original corridor route will not be eradicated, meaning that the original corridor route will remain legal and intact through eternity…and at this point, we get the 50 year hogwash treatment. There are four counties in the loop which was planned to bypass Houston on the west side…

"We are concerned that the "50 year hogwash treatment" may revert to about a "5 year hogwash" when TxDOT gets stuck in the middle of Houston and complains its way out, explaining that it has to revert to the Tier II route (in the current TTC/I-69 DEIS) through the four counties noted.(Waller, Grimes, Walker and Trinity)”

July 18th, the Sunset Advisory Commission posted the hearing report at listed 6 issues that Sunset had identified concern-ing TxDOT at http://www. and added 16 more from the public hearings.

Hank Gilbert, of Whitehouse TX, submitted Number 16: which requires TxDOT to properly coordinate with all local governmental entities in the proposed pathways of their future projects, not just the elected officials TxDOT deems important. (Hank Gilbert, President – Pineywoods Sub-Regional Planning Commission)

© 2008, The Groveton News:

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FBI Probes TxDOT Credit Union for Fraud

F.B.I. Involved In Possible Multimillion Dollar Fraud at TxDOT-Wichita Falls Credit Union

Jul 18, 2008

Katie Crosbie
KFDX-TV (Channel 3)
Copyright 2008

KFDX has learned that the F.B.I. is investigating a possible multimillion dollar fraud case at the TxDOT Credit Union in Wichita Falls. We're told that the former president of the TxDOT Credit Union is under investigation and has resigned.

John Buckley, president of the Postel Family Credit Union, is now serving as acting manager of the TxDOT Credit Union. He says the investigation began after an annual state examination.

The credit union serves around 400 TxDOT workers and their families. Buckley says all customers' accounts are federally insured, up to 100 thousand dollars. He says the credit union is continuing with normal operations during the investigation and that the credit union is cooperating fully with the investigation. No charges have been filed in the case yet.

The TxDOT Credit Union has been in Wichita Falls for more than 50 years. We were unable to get any information on this investigation from the F.B.I. office in Dallas.

© 2008, KFDX-TV

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Texas Transportation Commission Chair Deirdre Delisi forms new '2030 Committee'

2030 Committee to study transportation needs

Public hearings will gather Texans views on the future of transportation

July 18, 2008

Written by Staff Reports
The Sweetwater Reporter
Copyright 2008

A new committee of Texas leaders has been created to map out the state’s transportation needs through 2030. Formed by Texas Transportation Commission Chair Deirdre Delisi, the 12-member 2030 Committee has been charged with assessing infrastructure needs in light of mounting economic challenges over the next 22 years.

The committee will issue a report on its findings in December 2008. “In recent years I have seen a sharp rise in the discussion about the transportation challenges we face in Texas,” Delisi said. “From the everyday commuter to large shippers, most everyone seems to understand that something needs to be done. However, before we solve the problem we need to define the problem so we can properly align our limited resources.”

The committee, comprised of business and transportation experts, held its first organizational meeting on June 24. In coming months, the committee will hold five public hearings throughout the state to gather input from Texans on the future of transportation. The first hearing will be held July 24 at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus in Austin. The locations and dates of additional hearings are being planned.

“The vitality of any economy is linked to a viable transportation system. To meet the growing competition from others, Texas must protect our prior investment in the transportation infrastructure while addressing the mobility needs of an expanding population,” said 2030 Committee Chairman C. Michael Walton, who holds the Ernest H. Cockrell Centennial Chair in Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. “The charge of the 2030 Committee is to define the transportation needs of Texas.”

The committee will work with professionals from the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Transportation Institute at A&M University.
For more information, including a complete list of committee members, visit

2030 Committee Members

Ken Allen, San Antonio
David M. Laney, Dallas
Law Office of David M. Laney, PC
Ruben Bonilla, Corpus Christi
Port of Corpus Christi Commission
David Marcus, El Paso
Marcus, Fairall, Bristol + Co.,LLP
Jon Cannon, Dallas
FedEx Kinko's
Drayton McLane, Jr., Temple
McLane Group
Drew Crutcher, Odessa
Landgraf, Crutcher & Associates, Inc.
Roger Nober, Fort Worth
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation
Judge Ed Emmett, Houston
Harris County Commissioners Court
Gary Thomas, Dallas
Dallas Area Rapid Transit
Tom Johnson, Austin
Associated General Contractors of Texas
C. Michael Walton, Austin
The University of Texas at Austin

© 2008, The Sweetwater Reporter:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Perry pushes to preserve powers to appoint Transportation Commissioners

Governor rejects call for voters to choose TxDOT head

July 16, 2008,

San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2008

AUSTIN — Lawmakers should look at allowing voters, rather than the governor, to choose the overseer of the Texas Department of Transportation, a member of a legislative body studying the controversy-stirring agency said Tuesday.

"I think that we ought to have everything on the table," said Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, a member of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, at a hearing on possible changes at TxDOT. "We ought to look at leaving it like it is. We also ought to seriously look at an elected commissioner."

McClendon asked Sunset staff — who earlier issued a report urging other major changes at the agency, citing an atmosphere of frustration and distrust — to study the pros and cons of an elected commissioner.

Critics of TxDOT and the commission that oversees it applauded the idea, and one man said, "Amen!"

The idea was seconded by Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, who said the proposal would make a "bold statement" that the agency must rebuild trust and address the state's transportation needs. She said 76 percent of people who have commented during the review process want an elected commissioner.

"I think that if we did not look at that, we would be as guilty as TxDOT is of not listening to the public," Harper-Brown said.

The idea met with resistance from Gov. Rick Perry's office. His spokeswoman, Allison Castle, said that TxDOT "is part of the executive branch of government, and the governor believes that's where it should stay."

Sunset staff already has recommended a revamp of TxDOT's governing board, its project planning and its dealings with lawmakers and the public.

Transportation commissioners appointed by Perry have had a contentious relationship with lawmakers, who have sought to rein in privately run toll roads and have voiced concern over not having enough sway on transportation policy.

Commissioners have worked to carry forward Perry's transportation vision, which includes a reliance on private investment and on tollways as traditional funding sources, such as gas-tax revenues, fail to keep pace with transportation needs.

Commissioners also have worked to implement Perry's proposed Trans-Texas Corridor transportation network, which has run into vociferous public concern from landowners over its route, prompting adjustments.

The Sunset staff report said its review of TxDOT "occurred against a backdrop of distrust and frustration with the Department and the demand for more transparency, accountability, and responsiveness. Many expressed concerns that TxDOT was 'out of control,' advancing its own agenda against objections of both the Legislature and the public."

TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott said last month in the wake of that report, "The confidence of the Legislature and the public are very important to us. We still have work to do, but we are confident that our ongoing efforts to improve the transparency and accessibility of TxDOT are making a positive impact."

Sunset staff recommended replacing the five-member commission with a single commissioner, who would have a two-year term rather than the current six years, but would still be appointed by the governor. The shorter term would mean required Senate confirmation would occur more often, giving lawmakers more oversight.

© 2008, The Houston Chronicle:

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Iola-Grimes County 391 Commission is formed

Commissioners say yes to 391

Related Link: Texas 391 Commission Alliance


BY DAVE LEWIS, Publisher
The Navasota Examiner
Copyright 2008

After a few months of pressure from the public and taking time to become comfortable with the idea, the Grimes County Commissioners’ Court Monday voted unanimously to create a resolution that would allow the county to form a 391 sub-regional planning commission.

The county’s move would follow the City of Iola’s action last week to form its own 391 commission. Plans are for Grimes County to participate with Iola to complete the process of two founding entities providing the formation and leadership of such a commission.

County Attorney John C. Fultz was instructed to frame the county’s 391 resolution, which is expected to mirror Iola’s. Passage of the resolution is expected this month.

In moving to create the resolution, Precinct 3 Commissioner Julian Melchor said he’d like to see certain stipulations included in the plan. However, Melchor was informed that his suggestions were covered in the Iola plan, which is expected to be the county’s model.

Other governing bodies may participate in the Iola-Grimes County 391 commission if they comply with the commission’s structure.

The sub-regional commission would give county residents and elected officials a measure of status in dealing with proposed state projects that could adversely impact the area. The initial chief concern locally was construction on the previously proposed TransTexas Corridor route, which would have cut a significant swath through Grimes County, destroy several farmsteads and remove thousands of acres of taxable property from the county’s books.

TxDOT recently announced a new proposal to use existing roadways to complete construction of the corridor. Residents in favor of the 391 Commission say they want to make sure that the county has a say in all future projects planned for our area.

© 2008, The Navasota Examiner:

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“Bell County sits here like a stepchild and they’re cramming this corridor down our throats.”

Local commission takes on Trans-Texas Corridor

Jul 16, 2008

by Fred Afflerbach
Temple Daily Telegram
Copyright 2008

HOLLAND - The mayor of this small community 15 miles south of Temple said Tuesday the commission of which she is president is ready to take by the horns the Texas Department of Transportation and its controversial proposal, the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Armed with an 80-page manual, “How to Fight the TTC,” and backed by two non-profits who say they protect private property rights, Holland mayor Mae Smith said rural Bell County is ready for a fight.

“Bell County sits here like a stepchild and they’re cramming this corridor down our throats,” Ms. Smith said, regarding the commission’s relationship with TxDOT. “We are past sitting here at the table with them, finding out what they’ve done, what they’ve not done, blah, blah. We’ve done that twice with them for four and a half hours each.”

The commission with the long name - Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission - formed in the summer of 2007. It includes mayors and school board administrators from Holland, Rogers, Bartlett and Little River-Academy.

In June, the commission petitioned the Federal Highway Administration to provide an environmental impact statement it could present to TxDOT. Until the study is released, both parties are at a standoff.

Chris Lippincott, TxDOT spokesman, said they have worked hard to address the commission’s concerns.

“We’re committed to working with them. We would not be doing anyone favors if we were less than thorough.” Lippincott said a complicated project like the corridor is “not always a linear process.”

Members say the planning commission is not your ordinary grass-roots organization. Formed under Texas Local Government Code 391, it has some teeth. According to the code, city and county officials can form a regional planning commission that “can force state agencies to coordinate with their activities.”

And the group is growing.

Buckholts Mayor Hal Senkel said the group asked them to join after it learned the proposed corridor route included this Milam County community of several hundred.

“Now that the corridor is supposed to go right down through the middle of the Buckholts area, they asked us to join up with them so they could fight for us, too,” Senkel said. “We don’t want the corridor there either. We have some of the choice black land anywhere around. We’ve got high producing land, crop land.”

Ms. Smith’s comments came at a workshop at which a state conservation expert met with the commission. Members say TxDOT has not consulted experts while assessing the corridor’s environmental impact on Bell County farmland.

Donald Gohmert with the Natural Resource Conservation Service said he could only act in an advisory capacity.

The group pushed Gohmert to provide information that detailed the value of the lost prime farmland and watershed changes the corridor would cause.

Ms. Smith said they had to call upon the NRCS themselves because their concerns have fallen on deaf ears at TxDOT.

“They haven’t considered our farms. They haven’t considered our schools. They haven’t considered the tax base loss. Every question we ask ‘When are you going to consider this,’ they say that’s in phase two.”

TxDOT is currently conducting phase one, which they say is the first of two environmental impact studies. The first will identify a broad area; the second, called phase two, will narrow the scope of the project.

Ms. Smith said she isn’t buying that timeline. If the commission doesn’t get its concerns considered now, during phase one, she said, phase two would be too late.

“Phase two is when you put the pavement down,” Ms. Smith said.

© 2008, Temple Daily Telegram:

Related Link: Texas 391 Commission Alliance:

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"You believe this is an organization that’s going to change on a dime? I don’t see that happening."

Some at Austin hearing question TxDOT's competency

Jul. 16, 2008

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2008

AUSTIN — One of the Texas Department of Transportation’s newest board members questions whether the agency’s senior employees can fix their deeply rooted financial and planning problems.

"Do we have the core competency leadership skills to make change?" Bill Meadows of Fort Worth, who was appointed to the Texas Transportation Commission three months ago, said during an interview Tuesday. "Our commission has got to ensure that the senior leadership has the competency to implement our policy. It’s not personal. It’s about the business of the people."

Meadows made his comments during a break at a Sunset Advisory Commission hearing. Under the sunset process, state agencies are reviewed to determine whether they’re functioning properly.

The sunset commission issued a scathing report last month that called for the Transportation Department’s five-member board to be replaced with a full-time appointed transportation czar who would answer directly to legislators.

The report — likely to become a bill during the 2009 legislative session — also recommended that the department’s planning process be simplified and that leaders do a better job reaching out to the public. The sunset commission met for over 10 hours Tuesday. About 80 members of the public signed up to speak, most of them staunch opponents of the Transportation Department’s plans to build toll projects such as the Trans-Texas Corridor.

State Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, a sunset commission member, said he was disappointed that the Transportation Department’s executive director did not fire any staff members after learning in September that planners and financial officers had overestimated the money available for road work by $1.1 billion. The discovery led to a near-shutdown of statewide road work.

"Somebody is to blame," Hegar said. "Those are taxpayer dollars."

'Serious questions’

Meadows, of Fort Worth, didn’t testify during the hearing but watched most of it from the gallery. During a break, he said he was frustrated that he had been on the board for three months and still didn’t understand the agency’s plans.

"I have serious questions about the planning process and our plan for the future. I’m unclear about it."

Amadeo Saenz Jr., the Transportation Department’s executive director, later responded to Meadows’ comments with the same assertions he made during nearly three hours of testimony to the sunset commission. Saenz said his staff is working to combine several cumbersome plans — some thousands of pages thick — into a single document that Texans may use to more easily understand when and where roads will be built and how they will be paid for. Saenz also said his agency intends to combine some operations in the 25 districts statewide to save money.

"Right now we still have a ways to go," Saenz said. "We’re running a very decentralized system."

Options considered

Some at the hearing called for abolishing the Transportation Department while others strongly supported replacing the five-member commission, whose members are appointed by the governor, with a single commissioner who would be elected statewide.

David Smith, a Denton financial analyst who traveled to Austin to testify, said he doesn’t trust the existing leadership. "You believe this is an organization that’s going to change on a dime?" Smith testified. "I don’t see that happening."

State Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, said he supports an overhaul of the Transportation Department but opposes abolishing the five-member commission. "I finally have a Fort Worth commissioner that just got appointed," Brimer said, referring to Meadows.

Brimer and other sunset members are exploring whether to form a new legislative body to oversee Transportation Department decision-making. Under one proposal the sunset commission is considering, specific road projects would not be funded without the legislative body’s approval, although members would not be allowed to add "earmarks" — pet projects — to the list.

North Texas’ concern

Tarrant County officials are watching the proposed changes at the Transportation Department with extra concern, hoping to avoid delays on several toll projects scheduled to be built in the next year or two. Among them: the expansion of Northeast Loop 820 and Texas 114/121 in Grapevine, and the construction of Southwest Parkway in Fort Worth.

While people in other parts of Texas have often spoken against tolls in the past few years, the Metroplex’s Regional Transportation Council embraced the state’s desire to use tolls and private-sector financing to pay for roads. Now, with the sunset commission poised to recommend sweeping changes to the Transportation Department, Tarrant County officials are concerned that those long-awaited projects could again be delayed.

GORDON DICKSON, 817-685-3816

© 2008, Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Australia's toll road companies are unsustainable unless the Government continues to prop them up with subsidies..."

Toll roads to nowhere

'In the absence of full disclosure it is tempting to suspect that a government could play fast and loose with taxpayers and ignore the long-term consequences'

--Goldberg's report

July 16, 2008

Michael West
Sydney Morning Herald
Copyright 2008

Three years ago, a 75 year-old academic from Sydney University, Dr John Goldberg, issued a paper claiming Australia's toll road companies were unsustainable unless the Government continued to prop them up with subsidies under its infrastructure bond scheme.

Goldberg was rubbished by the operators Transurban and Macquarie. How could all the broking analysts, institutional investors and other experts be wrong, and this bloke right? PricewaterhouseCoopers, auditor and consultant to most of the stapled infrastructure structures, was also wheeled out as an expert to debunk Goldberg's contention that the toll road model was flawed.

It got worse for Goldberg. Without telling him, the University of Sydney's Vice Chancellor Gavin Brown caved in to a demand from Macquarie to disassociate the University from Goldberg's work.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws show a request to Brown from the former bank's lobbyist and Federal MP Warwick Smith: ''We request that the University of Sydney publicly disassociate itself from Dr Goldberg's paper and the grossly irresponsible remarks he made on the ABC's 7.30 Report on October 20, 2005''.

Brown duly issued a release putting distance between the uni and its academic, an honorary associate in the School of Architecture, Design Science and Planning on the grounds that he was honorary and not on salary any more.

Goldberg pressed on with his papers, predicting Sydney's Cross City Tunnel and the Lane Cove Tunnel projects would implode. They have. Overly bullish traffic forecasts and extreme debt loads were to blame, as Goldberg had forecast.

His thesis was that the projects' traffic forecasts were structured to fit with the financial model, not the other way around.

The original subjects of Goldberg's work, Melbourne's City Link and Sydney's M2 have not imploded. Macquarie sold the M2 two years ago via the Sydney Roads Group spin-off and Transurban subsequently acquired it, adding Sydney's M2, M5, Eastern Distributor and Westlink M7 to its suite of assets anchored by City Link.

Taking its toll

Even before the credit market iced over, listed tollroad shares were on the wane.

The savage blow to anything with leverage over the past year hit them hard. And then, last month, Transurban's new chief Chris Lynch conceded his business model was unsustainable. He took the axe to distributions (which were made out of capital rather than cashflow), raised equity and revealed a plan to `de-leverage'.

That government subsidies were drying up as concessions from the infrastructure bond schemes drew to an end had not helped. There may have been flaws in Goldberg's work, as Transurban had claimed three years before, but the guts of it - that the model was flawed - appeared right.

Although Transurban dropped its model - the Macquarie Model as it is called - and the Cross City and Lane Cove Tunnel projects both had blown up, Macquarie - as always, a mile ahead of the curve - bid aggressively for the Airport Link deal in Brisbane and won.

Now the Queensland Government is forging ahead with its deal with the Brisconnections (Macquarie) consortium to develop the Airport Link. Same model: promoter fees out upfront, distributions paid back to unitholders out of their capital, then debt years before cashflow materialises, and no funding alternatives made available for public debate.

And how's this for a response on oil price as a variable to consider over the next five decades?: "Oil price assumptions make up part of vehicle operating cost assumptions. Vehicle operating costs include many factors, such as tyres, servicing, fuel, depreciation and debt servicing etc - oil prices are not a separable assumption. ''

That is a departure from the other operators whose line is, yes, oil price assumptions were factored into our traffic model but, no, we won't be revealing to the public what our oil price assumptions are because they don't matter. The price of petrol, you see, doesn't have much of an effect on motorists' behaviour and therefore toll revenues. ''Inelastic,'' apparently.

MIG in the cross-hairs

Nobody appears to have told investment bank Goldman Sachs, though, as a piece of research from last Friday on Macquarie Infrastructure Group's latest traffic numbers downgraded its recommendation thanks to ``the impact of higher petrol prices ... (and) a slowing economy''.

''Even the jewel in MIG's crown, H407, has felt the impact of higher petrol, prices having now recorded two consecutive months of negative traffic growth (-2.2% and -3.4% respectively), '' said the report.

The Toronto 407 is reputed to be the best infrastructure asset in the world, a massive highway with no regulatory constraints on raising tolls.

In its report on the same data, ''Breaking the Myth'', Citigroup wrote

''The recent under-performance from MIG's assets has broken the myth that toll-roads are largely immune to economic slowdowns.''

Macquarie Equities research too talked about the impact of "price elasticity''. Most of the tolls had been jacked up and motorists, hit by the petrol price too, were apparently fed up.

The oil price is now $US100 above its level of three years ago. It is time the operators and Governments come out and say what their oil price assumptions are. We are talking about long-term leases here. In the case of Brisconnections, which floats in a few weeks, the concession lasts for 45 years.

In the absence of full disclosure it is tempting to suspect that a government could play fast and loose with taxpayers and ignore the long-term consequences by getting an infrastructure project up and defraying the costs to future generations.

Meanwhile, speculation rises as to what Macquarie will do about MIG. With the unit price wallowing at $2.18, a mop-up is on the cards. When new chief executive Nick Moore, the architect of the stapled-security infrastructure model, faces shareholders for his debut annual meeting in Melbourne later this month, you can be sure the issue will be up for debate.

There is a lot of retail money in MIG and other Macquarie trusts chasing the yield while institutions have deserted the story in droves and unit prices have languished. All alternatives will have been canvassed by the bank to address this listless price performance. If they can see a profit in it they will privatise and either split up the assets or slot them into a wholesale fund.

Part of the underperformance has been due to poison pills in the MIG triple-security structure designed to ward off predators. That there are no potential suitors then to challenge Macquarie for the rights to manage MIG does not help the unit price. Neither do current economic conditions but it is unlikely the bank can leave things as they are.

The pain promises to hit the profit pool given satellite trust unit prices, not only in MIG but in Macquarie Airports and Macquarie Communications, have fallen well below book value. That not only means writedowns, but also falling fees.


Moves afoot

The Macmothership has been soaking up stock in all three this year. Something is on the boil. It is now up to 16% in MIG.

This buying however has done little to keep the price up and calls are growing for something to be done to close the yawning gap between stated net asset backing and the foundering unit price - a gap which now stands at $2.41 per unit.

Macquarie needs some hungry pension funds onside before it makes a move on MIG. It can hardly fund a move from its own balance sheet but it could do it with a syndicate of funds at the right price. With the demise of the listed funds model, retail investors don't matter as much as they used to. In the world of wholesale funds, institutions do matter.

As the bank needs to preserve its social contract with the institutions it would look to concoct a structure which offered them rollover relief. Although Macquarie would be a price-taker rather than a price-maker in this negotiation, it may still rip out a couple of hundred million dollars in transaction fees.

A lawsuit by Ontario Teachers Pension Fund filed in the NSW Supreme Court may even be a tactical ploy in the negotiating process. Ontario was Macquarie's first big institutional supporter and did well out of MIG during the fund's heroic era. And Macquarie isn't in the habit of announcing bad news unless that news is so material as to constitute a slam dunk breach of continuous disclosure rules.

The risk with a mop-up, this most palatable of potential plays, is that it would entail an admission that the bank's listed infrastructure model (despite Brisconnections) was dead. Perversely, though, this admission could underpin the other trusts on the proviso that a bid might be coming for them too.

Another risk is corporate governance. An in-house bid would present a nightmare for an "independent'' director.

Whatever the case, Nick Moores' former 2IC in the investment banking department, Michael Carapiet, was recently appointed to the MIG board. It's unlikely he's there for a love of tarmac. The signs of corporate activity are amassing. Macquarie has hardly been talking the MIG story up of late ... and it would like nothing better than to cut the short-sellers to shreds.

The Citigroup analysts put it this way last Friday:

''In our view, the stock is screaming for an action from the management to reduce the gap between the share price and its Net Asset Value of $4.59ps. While cutting distributions to a sustainable level of 10cents ps would be a good start, given it is already priced in the share price, other option could be to move the listing of the stock to the US and realise the cost of capital arbitrage (US 10-year bond yield of 3.8% pa versus Australian 6.3%). Still other avenues could be the full privatisation or part-sale of its assets in order to crystallise value. Regardless, some action is needed to justify those management fees. `'

The likelihood is Macquarie will make a corporate move this year to resolve the crisis which has beset its model - unless there is a lot the market doesn't know.

If John Goldberg's success in picking infrastructure failures extends from the Cross City and Lane Cove Tunnels to Transurban and MIG, watch out.

© 2008, Sydney Morning Herald:

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