Saturday, July 26, 2008

"There will be virtually nothing stopping states and localities from using federal housing grants to help themselves to confiscate housing."

Congress' bailout opens doors to eminent domain seizures

Warning issued about 'bonanza' of potential property confiscations

July 26, 2008

By Bob Unruh
Copyright 2008

The congressional plan to bail out the U.S. housing and mortgage industries, which could be approved by Congress and signed by the president as early as this weekend, actually endangers Americans' housing, according to the director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

"Of all the unintended consequences of the housing bill that passed the House – of which there will likely be many – one of the most ironic and far-reaching may be this: that whatever security marginal homeowners have from foreclosures, their homes will be far less safe from being taken by a bureaucrat through eminent domain," John Berlau wrote on the organization's website.

According to the Wall Street Journal the White House says the bill needs to be enacted soon so its new authorities will start taking effect.

The sweeping package, the report said, "is the government's most aggressive response to rising foreclosures and fragile credit markets. It creates a new regulator for ailing mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and establishes a $300 billion program to expand the Federal Housing Administration's ability to guarantee mortgages."

However, some of the details included in the hundreds of pages of the bill are likely to surprise – and concern – Americans. For example, there's a requirement for a new fingerprint registry for those who are associated with the mortgage industry, raising privacy concerns for many.

There's also a provision many are interpreting as allowing the federal government to obtain information about online spending, money transfers and purchases, including ordinary eBay purchases.

Now comes the concern that the new proposal's affirmation of the Kelo decision by the U.S. Supreme Court actually could make the situation worse for homeowners.

That still-bitterly opposed Supreme Court opinion in Kelo v. New London decided in 2005 that the U.S. Constitution allows the taking of private property for private economic development, a decision decried by WND columnist Ellis Washington as "a blatant violation of citizen property rights, also an obvious misinterpretation of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which mandates, 'nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.'"

Berlau explains his worries about the wake of the Kelo verdict, and the new provisions in the housing bailout plan.

"Some states have passed laws protecting property owners by barring eminent domain solely for economic development purposes. But for the many states that still allow this practice, the federal government is often the source of funds for the projects that result in the use of eminent domain. Efforts to bar federal funds to be used on projects that make use of this type of eminent domain have stalled in this and the last Congress," he said.

"To their credit, the drafters of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, which passed the Senate on July 11, at least recognized this danger of throwing billions in construction grants to state and local governments. So they put in a clause stating, 'No funds under this title may be used in conjunction with property taken by eminent domain, unless eminent domain is employed for a public use.' The clause then adds that 'public use shall not be construed to include economic development that primarily benefits any private entity," he said.

"But this language has vanished from the House bill," he said.

Replacing it is language that "would give governments substantially more leeway to take land."

That provision changes the Senate's prohibition on funds "used in conjunction with property taken by eminent domain" with the looser ban of using funds for a "project that seeks to use the power of eminent domain."

"This new language in the House bill would give property-grabbing bureaucrats an easy way around the supposed prohibition on using eminent domain," Berlau said. "All they would have to do is take property for any reason that Kelo allows, and then come up with another project for the specific use of that property. If land were grabbed for general economic development, as Kelo permits, and then a new project were created for a city to sell this land to developers, this would likely not be a violation of the House bill. After all, the new project isn’t 'seeking' to use eminent domain, it is merely using land that had already been confiscated."

He warned of the potential for the bill to "stimulate a bonanza of state and local property confiscation of the type green-lighted in the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision Kelo v. New London."

"This new language means … there will be virtually nothing stopping states and localities from using the federal housing grants to help themselves to confiscate housing," he said.

Senators can be reached through the Capitol HIll switchboard at 202-224-3121.

© 2008, WorldNetDaily:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


TURF files appeal to reinstate lawsuit against TxDOT for its 'Keep Texas Moving' ad campaign

TURF appeals to higher court

July 26, 2008

By Georgia Fisher
New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung
Copyright 2008

Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) filed an appeal Thursday seeking to reinstate its lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation’s Keep Texas Moving ad campaign.

TURF contends the ad campaign is a pro-toll road campaign that violates the state ban on state officials participating in politics and using their authority and public money for political purposes. It wants the Third Court of Appeals to overturn Travis County District Judge Paul Davis’ decision to dismiss the case. The state agency argues that its actions are legal and proper.

“I’m hoping our case will be heard and that the court will find that this is not the appropriate role for a state agency,” said TURF Executive Director and Founder Terri Hall of Spring Branch.

The Keep Texas Moving campaign was active from 2007 to early 2008 and was designed as an informational campaign to educate citizens on proposed transportation projects and improvements, including toll roads.

TURF’s case did not enter the trial phase because TxDOT successfully argued the campaign had to be active for TURF’s case to be heard.

Whether the ad campaign is continuing is a point of contention between TURF and TxDOT. According to TURF, the fact that is still on the Internet is proof the campaign continues. TxDOT says the Website is an information tool available for Texans and provided direction to citizens seeking to publicly comment in town hall meetings on the Interstate 69/Texas Trans Corridor project.

TURF’s first filed a criminal complaint with the Travis County District Attorney’s office last summer against TxDOT’s ad campaign. Hall said when the process was not moving as quickly as TURF would have liked the organization filed a lawsuit against TxDOT in Travis County’s District Court.

“We hope the lawsuit will having a chilling effect on TxDOT and prevent them from continuing with this kind of behavior,” Hall said.

“Thus far, the lawsuit has failed,” said TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippencott. “If another court chooses to review it and ask us questions then we’ll be happy to cooperate, but we’re confident that the district court got it right.

“We do regret that particular people and organizations are using incorrect information, and are being detrimental to a dialogue about solving the state’s transportation needs,” Lippencott said.

TURF is also engaged in a federal lawsuit aimed at stopping the proposed U.S. 281 toll road project. TURF describes itself as a non-profit organization committed to proposing non-toll solutions to Texas’ transportation needs.

© 2008, New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Friday, July 25, 2008

"Somebody needs to go."

© 2008, TURF:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Toll road "non-compete" agreements set up roadblocks to the construction of new transportation infrastructure

Toll firm objects to work on W. 160th

The "non-compete" clause for the Northwest Parkway raises legislative concerns.


By Jeffrey Leib
The Denver Post
Copyright 2008

A key Colorado legislator expressed dismay Wednesday with "non-compete" clauses in agreements between toll roads and neighboring jurisdictions.

At a meeting of the Transportation Legislation Review Committee at the state Capitol, Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, raised his concern after Northwest Parkway operations director Steve Bobrick told lawmakers his toll road objects to improvements to West 160th Avenue because they might hurt the parkway financially.

"The purpose of toll roads is to augment state transportation infrastructure, not act as a roadblock to the construction of new transportation infrastructure in the northwest metro area," McNulty said.

Last year, a foreign-owned consortium spent more than $500 million to lease the toll highway from the Northwest Parkway Public Highway Authority and operate it for 99 years. Broomfield, Lafayette and Weld County control the authority.

The lease agreement included a section stating that construction of a "competing transportation facility" would be an "adverse action," reducing toll revenues and the number of vehicles using the parkway, and entitling the toll-road operator to compensation.

Pedro Costa, executive director of the company operating the parkway, told the public highway authority in a letter this year that the realignment and possible extension of West 160th Avenue is "a serious concern" that the company views as a "probable adverse action."

Plans for 160th do not constitute a "competing transportation facility" as stated in the lease agreement, said Broomfield City and County Manager George Di Ciero. He also acts as managing administrator of the public highway authority.

Officials in Golden have seized on the non-compete issue as they fight the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority's plan to build a 13-mile toll road from Colorado 128 near Jefferson County's airport to Colorado 93 near Golden.

Also at Wednesday's legislative hearing, officials of E-470 briefed lawmakers on plans to introduce cashless, "open-road" tolling on the highway early next year.

Under such a plan, toll booths will be phased out and motorists will be tolled either because their transponders record the fees or because snapshots of their license plates generate a bill for using the highway.

Peggy Catlin, acting director of the Colorado Tolling Enterprise, told legislators her agency expects to solicit interest in a possible "public-private partnership" that would help fund and construct an expansion of U.S. 36 between Interstate 25 and Boulder.

Such an expansion might start with the addition of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV)/ high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes for the entire length of the corridor. HOT lanes allow solo drivers to use the express lanes if they pay a toll.

Jeffrey Leib: 303-954-1645 or

© 2008, The Denver Post:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"We are being impacted by forces beyond our control."

North Texas Tollway Authority delays decision on State Highway 161

July 24, 2008

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

The North Texas Tollway Authority said Wednesday that it will need more time to decide whether to build the highly anticipated State Highway 161.

Credit-market uncertainties mean it will be at least September before the agency decides whether to build the Dallas County road, NTTA executive director Jorge Figueredo said Wednesday. Just three months ago, Mr. Figueredo assured members of the Regional Transportation Council that the NTTA would make a decision by August.

NTTA board member Gary Base, chairman of the authority's finance committee, said the delay was not NTTA's fault.

"This has nothing to do with NTTA," he said. "The world we live in today has changed drastically on us. We are being impacted by forces beyond our control."

The road will be built whether or not NTTA passes on it. Construction is under way, and if NTTA doesn't build it, private companies are expected to compete for a contract to finish the road and collect its tolls for 52 years.

In April, NTTA agreed to the basic terms of the toll contract, which was valued at about $1.1 billion. That gave the agency 180 more days to decide whether to exercise its option to build the road.

But on Wednesday, an analyst from the Royal Bank of Canada told the NTTA that its options for securing the funds needed to pay for the road had narrowed since April, largely because of changes in the municipal bond market. Among other problems, ratings agencies have downgraded bond reinsurance companies, ruling out some bonds that had once been attractive to NTTA.

As a result, NTTA will consider applying for an infrastructure loan backed by the federal government, though state officials said Wednesday that competition for those loans is fierce.

© 2008, The Dallas Morning News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Perry gets my nod as poster child for the out-of-touch politician who has lived most of his adult life on the company credit card."

All choked up over this Mansion mess

July 24, 2008

Bob Buckel
Azle News
Copyright 2008

Governor Rick Perry can probably continue to get re-elected until his world-famous hair turns gray or falls out. He just looks like a Texas governor ought to look (as a [female] former staff member said, “like he just just stepped out of a Wranglers ad”).

And hey, no ideas means no bad ideas, right? If you don’t count the Trans-Texas Corridor, that is.

But pretty as he is, Perry gets my nod as poster child for the out-of-touch politician who has lived most of his adult life on the company credit card.

He and his wife, Anita, recently launched a campaign to solicit donations to help restore the Governor’s Mansion which, you may recall, was gutted by fire in early June.

The Mansion – a 152-year-old landmark just across from the Capitol, was in the midst of being remodeled. The fire just made that job more extensive, expensive and difficult.

But don’t fret. The Perrys aren’t homeless. They had moved last fall to a hovel in the hills above Austin, where the state is paying $9,900 a month to rent them a gated estate until work on the Mansion is finished.

Now it looks like they will be staying a bit longer – maybe even until his term expires in at the end of 2010. Even if he is somehow not re-elected, it may be hard to evict them.

I was surprised so few eyebrows were raised over the pricetag of their temporary quarters. But now that they’re seeking donations to restore the Mansion, I just have to say something.

How can you look people in the eye and ask for money when they’re paying $10 grand a month for you to live off-campus? In what universe does that seem right?

Does this bother anyone but me?

I noticed the first donor to kick in was Dolph Briscoe, a former governor who owns a good chunk of South Texas.

Dolph put in $100,000 – generous, but it’s not going to break him.

I await a report on what the Perrys themselves are going to kick in. I know nothing about their personal fortunes or finances, but I do know a little math.

If they could just lower their lifestyle a bit and squeeze into a $5,000-a-month lean-to, they could redirect almost $60,000 a year into the Mansion’s restoration fund. If they could get by on $3,000 a month, they’d match Dolph’s donation in 14 months.

Friends who live in Austin assure me that you can indeed live there for less than $10 grand a month. One has a good job and he and his family live quite well – but the servants’ quarters at the governor’s rented estate would still be an upgrade for them.

Maybe I’m way off. Maybe that $9,900 a month is a bargain for the taxpayers of Texas. In the circle they run in, maybe it’s embarrassingly cheap. Or maybe as long as Rick buys his own hair gel, we’re getting the last laugh.

But if they’re going to ask the rest of us – who buy our own gas and pay our own rent – to kick in to restore the Mansion, it would make me feel better if the Perrys would prime the pump a little themselves.

© 2008, Azle News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Jankowski either wrote this article with a pre-determined outcome or just didn’t want to take the time to find the facts to back up his argument."

A Case For The Trans-Texas Corridor?


Eye On Williamson
Copyright 2008

There may be a case to be made for Rick Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) but the one that Phillip Jankowski of the Taylor Daily Press recently tried to make isn’t it - A case for the Trans-Texas Corridor. In an attempt to show how the TTC can make the city of Taylor a “player” again in Williamson County, he shows that he is obviously unaware of some of the greatest flaws and complaints rural and small town Texans have had with the TTC from the beginning.

In his Op-Ed Jankowski implores Taylor to “forget its past” and “embrace” Rick Perry’s TTC. Telling farmers that certainly some of their land would be destroyed but:

To the losers, any compensation would not make up for these agriculturists losing their most prized possession.

Still, with rising expenses in an already risk-laden enterprise, I wonder how many farmers would object to their land being sold at the highest reasonable value possible. And if negotiated right, those who would be hardest hit by eminent domain (yet another Taylor dirty word; I’m on a roll here!) may end up with incredibly valuable commercial real estate as businesses would clamor to snatch up land adjacent to the highway.

The premise that farmer/ranchers are willing to abandon the land that has been in their family for generations if the price is right, when the cost to TX agriculture - taking all that black land out of production - is far greater in comparison. And, as an aside, belittling their livelihood will get you nowhere. One of the first problems many had with the TTC, as stated by former TxDOT chair Ric Williamson, was the extremely limited access there would be to the new highway:

Toll roads would be built first and would probably begin with the special truck lanes, the state’s report said. Roads would have fewer ramps than interstate highways to cut down on development near the corridors. (Emphasis added).

“This is extremely limited access,” said Commissioner Ric Williamson. “We will not allow cities and villages to crop up along the route.”

Although I would be remiss if I left out the concept of “participation payments”, mentioned later in the above link and here by soon-to-be-former Rep. Mike Krusee, from 2003.

TxDOT does not now have authority to do what we call “corridor participation payments” – sometimes they’re called royalty payments for right-of-way acquisition. And it grants TxDOT additional exclusive development authority powers.

Participation payments are one of the added touches of HB 3588. It’s not just limited access that’s a problem with the TTC, but also the fact that all the concessions - gas stations, hotels, stores - will be inside the corridor, with all the money going to the state. (See here and here). That combined with the “extremely limited” access will deny the “boon to the city’s economy” which the Op-Ed points to as the trade off for the losers whose farmland would be destroyed.

Hopefully Mr. Jankowski will take this information into consideration and see that those opposed to Gov. Perry’s TTC are not a bunch of NIMBY rubes, solely opposed to progress. We’ve been immersed in this fight for years and while we may see the TTC as vile, and TxDOT and eminent as dirty words, we are not opposed to listening to someone who wants to make a case for the TTC. It just comes off better if they are well versed on the issue before trying to tell us how it is.

Oh and speaking of progress, I was able to turn up all the information to rebut this Op-Ed with simple web searches that took a few minutes. Which means that Mr. Jankowski either wrote this article with a pre-determined outcome or just didn’t want to take the time to find the facts to back up his argument. Either way it doesn’t reflect back well on the TDP.

© 2008, Eye on Williamson:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Faith-Based Tolling

Toll-road panel, experts show no fear of rising gas prices


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2008

It may be a blip or it may be a slip, but a recent drop in driving due to higher gas prices won't last long, experts said during a toll-road panel hearing Tuesday.

The days of cheap oil and gas are gone, but Americans will find ways to conserve and keep driving like there's no tomorrow for decades to come, they agreed.

That means fast-growing states such as Texas will need a lot more road lanes, officials told the Legislative Study Committee on Private Participation in Toll Projects, which held a public hearing at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

And by the time dwindling supplies pull the curtain on the oil age, technological breakthroughs could be rushing in to save the nation's car culture.

“We desperately need the highway infrastructure, regardless of what is fueling the vehicles,” Texas Railroad Commission member Elizabeth Ames Jones told the committee. “Even 50 years from now, I think there will still be vehicles and they will have tires.”

Committee members, directed by a 2007 tolling law to study the merits and pitfalls of privatization and report to the Legislature next year, wanted to know how oil and gas prices could affect toll-road contracts that can last half a century.

With regular-grade gasoline pushing past $4 a gallon in June, breaking the inflation-adjusted record set in March 1981 by more than 50 cents, Americans have cooled their driving passion.

Travel on U.S. roads dropped last year for the first time in 27 years, Federal Highway Administration data show, and stumbled 2.1 percent through April. A 4.3 percent decline in March was the largest seen since 1942, when the agency began issuing monthly driving reports.

Texas drivers also pulled back, logging 4.9 percent fewer miles in March and 1.5 percent fewer in April.

But the toll panel and those testifying showed no fear.

Committee member Robert Poole, a free-market advocate who has pushed private financing of toll roads for two decades, described the drop in driving as a “slip.”

Motorists will buy smaller and more fuel-efficient cars to ease the pinch, he said, though that will cut into gas-tax revenues used to build roads.

University of Texas at Austin Professor William Fisher, a former state geologist who addressed the committee, called the slump in driving a “blip.”

Experts hotly debate when global oil production will peak and slide, with some saying it's happening now and others estimating it's four decades away, but Fisher said there's plenty of time for technologies to catch up and satisfy a growing hunger for energy.

He also said crude oil, which topped $147 a barrel two weeks ago, will surely come down, maybe even below $100.

“We're talking about some high oil, but it doesn't have to be $140 a barrel, that's for sure,” the professor said.

Texas Transportation Institute researcher David Ellis told the committee that the will to drive, especially to get to work, is resilient to high gas prices. While Texans are driving less this year, the change is small compared with energy prices zooming up 46 percent.

“These things kind of return to something like normal,” he assured the panel.

© 2008, San Antonio Express-News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


“The same cheerleaders for this are the same ones who said FEMA was doing a heck of a job.”

Critics say FHWA report on road privatization is one-sided

July 8, 2008

David Tanner

Landline magazine
Copyright 2008

Critics to long-term leasing or selling of infrastructure, including OOIDA, came out swinging at a new FHWA report that paints a rosy picture of public-private partnerships.

The Federal Highway Administration released the report Tuesday, July 22, which was titled “Innovative Wave: An Update on the Burgeoning Private Sector Role in U.S. Highway and Transit Infrastructure.”

In a press release, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters spoke highly of the report, which touts the benefits of private-sector leases of toll roads in Indiana, Illinois, Virginia and Colorado.

Critics who oppose the long-term leasing of public infrastructure to private businesses say the report is one-sided.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said such a report from the current administration is no surprise.

“This report comes from an administration that does not give any priority or consideration to fiscal responsibility,” Spencer said. “The same cheerleaders for this are the same ones who said FEMA was doing a heck of a job.”

The report states that there are about 20 public-private road projects in the United States in various stages of development.

Public-private deals already on the books include the Indiana Toll Road, the Chicago Skyway and the Pocahontas Parkway in Virginia. All three of those toll roads have been leased long-term to foreign-based firms.

Spencer said the governments of those states have a “pawnshop mentality” to accept cash in exchange for control of a public asset.

Click here to read FHWA’s report.

© 2008, Landline Magazine:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Highway 281 expansion violates rules against 'conversion' because the 'non tolled' lanes will essentially be the access roads with stoplights

Thornton: Toll Opponents to Blame for 281 Toll Road

tells legislative committee that 'litigation' filed by anti tll groups drove up the project's costs

July 22, 2008

By Jim Forsyth
Copyright 2008

Former Mayor Bill Thornton, who now heads the toll road planning Regional Mobility Authority, today blamed toll road opponents themselves for the fact that the 281 expansion project is being built as a toll road, 1200 WOAI news reports.

"While allegations have been made that previously planned improvements could have been fully funded without tolling, delays in the project, caused in part by litigation over environmental issues, initiated by TURF (Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, an anti toll group) and others, corresponding cost escalations due to inflation and highway construction costs, has eliminated the possibility of paying through the improvements through the traditional gas tax," Thornton said.

Thornton made his surprising comments to the Joint Legislative Committee on Toll Projects meeting at UTSA.

Anti toll groups have long claimed that building overpasses for through traffic at the major intersections on U.S. 281 would have cost roughly $140 million, far less than the estimated $1.3 billion cost of the 281 North Tollway, which was approved in December.

Thornton said the success of the 281 project will open the door to public support of more non traditional transportation projects in Bexar County.

"Our first toll project, to have a publicly financed and owned project, is paramount to demonstrate the positive benefits to our community," Thornton said. "We are able to build today the foundation for an economic engine for future projects in transportation and multi modal far beyond what is imagined today."

Thornton also blasted toll road opponents, who told the Sunset Commission hearing on the Texas Department of Transportation last week that the 281 project violates the legislature's rules against 'conversion' which is when existing lanes are tolled. The state has stated that no existing highways will be tolled, and tolls will only be collected on newly constructed highways and lanes. TURF and other groups claim the 281 project violates those rules because the 'non tolled' lanes will essentially be the access roads, with the through lanes being tolled.

"The law says the public must have access to the same number of non toll lanes that it had prior to the addition of the toll capacity. The 281 project meets that requirement. Currently there are two or three lanes of non toll capacity, and once the lanes are reconstructed and additional toll capacity is added, there will be at least the same amount of non toll capacity available to the public," Thornton said.

© 2008, WOAI:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"There will be a downsizing of sorts."

TxDOT undergoes reorganization; some may lose jobs


By Brandi Grissom / Austin Bureau
El Paso Times
Copyright 2008

AUSTIN - About 600 Texas Department of Transportation workers statewide, including 48 in El Paso, will see some big changes in their jobs and could even lose them as the agency reorganizes in the face of legislative scrutiny.

"There will be a downsizing of sorts, but I wouldn't say layoffs exactly," said TxDOT spokesman Mark Cross. "We're going to try to make sure nobody gets left without a job altogether."

Trying to save about $35 million and show lawmakers the agency takes their concerns seriously, TxDOT is starting a restructuring plan to weed out redundancies among its more than 14,000 employees, Cross said.

During the 2009 legislative session, lawmakers are expected to call for major changes at the department. In recent years, public outcry has grown over toll plans and multibillion-dollar long-term contracts with private companies and legislators frustrations have mounted with a perceived lack of accountability from transportation leaders.

"TxDOT implemented the restructuring plan to streamline operations, improve productivity and save money," Cross said.

The plan, he said, will happen in two phases. The first phase will start in September. Overlapping planning and development jobs in 25 TxDOT district offices will be combined at four new regional offices.

El Paso will report to a regional office in Lubbock.

The restructuring, said Chuck Berry, El Paso district engineer, will affect 48 of the 345 TxDOT employees in El Paso. Some will remain in El Paso but report to managers in Lubbock.

Those who can't work remotely but want to stay with TxDOT will be able to either take different jobs in El Paso or move to Lubbock.

"We're trying do everything we can help our employees," he said.

The second phase of the restructuring will affect only Austin employees, and won't start until 2010.

State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, often a TxDOT critic, said the reorganization is a healthy exercise, though he hopes no one loses their job.

"It's good business practice to take a step back and look at your procedures," he said.

Brandi Grissom can be reached at; (512) 479-6606.

© 2008, El Paso Times:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Monday, July 21, 2008

"The toll road authority is always looking at raising the fare regardless of what gas prices do."

Toll roads looking emptier lately

July 21, 2008

By Tom Abrahams
Copyright 2008

HOUSTON -- More people are opting to stay off Harris County Toll Roads to save some money.
The Harris County Toll Road Authority says business is not what it could be. It is seeing a reflection of trends nationwide which report that traffic itself is down between 2% and 3% from a year ago with gas prices the likely culprit.

Between March and June of 2007 and the same four months this year, total traffic has decreased by roughly 800,000 tolls. That's a slip of more than 2% and the high gas prices could be to blame.

"We also see data nationwide that our system tends to correlate with a decrease in traffic overall," said Peter Key of the Harris County Toll Road Authority. "People are driving less."
A system as large as Harris County's can certainly absorb a decrease of 2% or 3% in the short term, but in the long haul, that kind of loss can mean millions of dollars off the books.

"We are a toll road that's funded by toll revenue and not tax dollars," Key said. "So we want people on our road."

The tolls bring in roughly $1.25 million every day. That's a lot of cash, but it may not be enough down the proverbial road. And though no future projects are impacted yet, the toll road authority is always looking at raising the fare regardless of what gas prices do.

"Arbitrary toll increases I think are a thing of the past but you will see toll increases going forward with inflation," Key said.

There is no price increase planned at the moment, but when the new inflation numbers come out in the fall that could certainly change.

© 2008, KTRK-TV:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


'Back to the Future': Tolls return to I-30

Part of I-30 may return to tolled past

July 21, 2008

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2008

Drivers on Interstate 30 may soon go back to the future.

The highway opened in 1957 as a toll road, the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike.

Twenty years later it was converted to a toll-free interstate after the debt issued to build the road was paid.

But North Texas leaders are once again planning to collect tolls on part of the road, possibly by next year.

The Texas Department of Transportation is building reversible high-occupancy vehicle lanes in the median of I-30, from the planned Baird Farm Road bridge in Arlington to downtown Dallas.

Existing lanes would remain toll-free, as required by federal law, but the HOV lanes would be available to drivers of single-occupant vehicles who pay a toll.

Car poolers would still use the HOV lanes for free or at a discount. Details are still being worked out.

Toll amounts would vary depending on congestion at the time.

Toll collection would be electronic.

Car owners could either open a TollTag account or just wait for a bill to arrive in the mail.

The Transportation Department would photograph license plates of cars without TollTags and send a bill to the registered owner.

The Transportation Department is conducting an online survey of drivers’ attitudes toward the concept of charging tolls on high-occupancy vehicle lanes. To take the 10-minute survey, which will be available through August, visit

The "HOV managed lanes" are under construction from Texas 360 to Baird Farm Road in Arlington and from Loop 12 to downtown Dallas.

The portion between Texas 360 and Loop 12 is open and for now is being operated as a traditional HOV lane — open only to vehicles with two or more people.

To keep up with the ongoing I-30 construction in Arlington, visit

I-30 timeline Most of the high-occupancy-vehicle lanes being built on Interstate 30 are in Dallas County. They’ll only stretch as far west as Baird Farm Road in Arlington. But I-30 has a rich history from one end of Tarrant County to the other.

1949 A stretch of highway then known as Texas 550 is completed from Camp Bowie Boulevard to Summit Avenue in Fort Worth.

1957 The Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike opens. Texas 550 is redesignated I-20 (later I-30).

1958 Original Mixmaster completed at I-35W interchange.

1972 Title of I-20 transferred to southern portion of Loop 820.

1977 Turnpike converted to toll-free road and renamed to I-30 after debt paid off.

1990 Freeway widened to as many as eight lanes between Loop 820 and Summit Avenue.

1991 East Loop 820 interchange completed.

1997 Bridges rebuilt at Cottonwood, Johnson and Village creeks. Median barrier installed from Oakland Boulevard to East Loop 820.

2001 Stretch from I-35W to I-35E is renamed Tom Landry Highway in honor of the late Dallas Cowboys coach.

2003 New Mixmaster completed at I-35W interchange. Ramps rebuilt from Oakland Boulevard to East Loop 820. New bridges built at Oakland and Beach streets.

Sources: Texas Department of Transportation, Star-Telegram archives

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


Sunday, July 20, 2008

"If this uncertainty hangs over Loop 820, what will bigger, more complicated toll projects face?"

Toll trouble

July 20, 2008

Editorials & Opinions
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2008

Toll roads and toll lanes built by private interests may be the future of the Texas highway system. With a step back for every two steps forward, the state has been headed that way for about six years.

Plenty of Texans don’t want to go there. The Legislature paused all but a few proposed toll projects last year.

Now something else is becoming clear: Even the people who want to go the privately built toll route don’t know how to get there. All of this is new, and they’re feeling their way — in the dark.

Uncertainty about the proposed expansion of Northeast Loop 820 in Tarrant County, one of the few projects that the Legislature allowed to proceed, illustrates the point.

The project is on life support, with some potential investors backing out and public agencies scrambling to save it before an Aug. 15 deadline. It may not survive.

Ironically, disagreements among toll road supporters might kill the project.

What’s happening?

The Texas Department of Transportation proposes expanding the heavily traveled highway from four lanes to 10, with four new privately built toll lanes, between Interstate 35W and North East Mall. Five of the 10 worst traffic bottlenecks in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are along that stretch of Loop 820, including the top three.

The project will get about $600 million in public money, but it is expected to cost at least $2 billion.

What’s wrong?

Four international investment groups were interested in building the toll lanes. The winning bidder would stand to make money by receiving tolls for 52 years. The North Texas Tollway Authority, a public agency that builds and operates toll roads in Dallas-Fort Worth, said it wasn’t interested in doing the Loop 820 expansion.

A London group backed out, saying that the project was not viable (it wasn’t confident that it could make enough money). Another group, based in Spain, said it couldn’t meet the Aug. 15 deadline for bids. That leaves two potential bidders, both also based in Spain.

The Legislature has decided that NTTA will collect tolls and regularly forward the money, minus a transaction fee, to the winning bidder on any privately built toll lanes or toll roads in Dallas-Fort Worth.

The remaining bidders wanted assurance that they would get paid. NTTA offered a promise, but it wasn’t willing to put up any money to serve as a financial guarantee. Bidders worried about that because, as a public agency, NTTA is immune from lawsuits that might claim it had failed to keep its promise.

Does that kill the deal?

It could, but NTTA and the state Transportation Department have been working to keep the project alive.

Historically, the two agencies have had a stormy relationship, including a dispute over NTTA’s contract to build the planned Texas 121 toll road north of Grapevine. The Transportation Department says NTTA still owes it $52 million on that contract. NTTA says it doesn’t. They’ve decided to split the difference. NTTA has agreed to set aside $26 million in an irrevocable trust to guarantee its performance in collecting and forwarding tolls on Loop 820 and any other privately built toll roads in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Does that save Loop 820?

Maybe not. The terms of the Transportation Department-NTTA agreement have not been put in writing or signed. There is reason to worry that things could go wrong between now and Aug. 15.

For instance, the $26 million figure was reached solely to settle a matter unrelated to Loop 820. It was not based on any calculation of how much money would be at risk if NTTA failed to perform its duties in collecting and forwarding toll revenue.

Public discussion has indicated that the real risk, even years from now after all planned toll roads and toll lanes in the region are built, will be significantly less than that.

How long will it be before NTTA decides that it would not be smart to park that much money in a place where it can’t be touched and much of it serves no real need? Which agency — NTTA or the Transportation Department — has the right to the interest earned on that $26 million over the years?

Would anything else work?

The Regional Transportation Council, the planning body for transportation projects in the counties surrounding Dallas and Fort Worth, has offered to set aside $1 million from federal grants to guarantee NTTA’s performance on Loop 820 and keep the project on track. But why should yet another public agency play such a role? Even that probably won’t work unless the RTC actually sends the cash to the Transportation Department.

Where do we go from here?

We wait. Meanwhile, we have to wonder: If this uncertainty hangs over Loop 820, what will bigger, more complicated toll projects face?

© 2008, Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"We're paying to build a road for private companies, and now we're continuing to subsidize the private company. This just gets worse and worse."

Toll-Lanes Contract Could Cost State

Deal to Allow Free Carpooling on Beltway Project Might Leave Virginia Owing Millions

July 20, 2008

By Eric M. Weiss
The Washington Post
Copyright 2008

Rising gas prices are increasing transit and carpool use, which normally would be a good thing in the traffic-choked Washington region.

But under an agreement Virginia signed with the private companies building high-occupancy toll [HOT] lanes on the Capital Beltway, the state could be liable for millions of dollars a year if too many carpoolers, who will be exempt from tolls, use the lanes.

The carpool subsidy is in addition to the $409 million that taxpayers are investing in the $2 billion, 14-mile project, expected to break ground next week.

Under the 80-year contract signed in December, when gas prices were much lower, Virginia officials insisted that carpools of three or more people and buses be allowed to use the lanes for free and offered to reimburse 70 percent of the tolls carpoolers didn't pay.

At the time, transportation officials estimated that the provision would cost the state $1 million a year. The carpool subsidy will continue for 40 years or until the builders make $100 million in profits, according to the contract between Virginia and Transurban, an Australian company, and Fluor Corp. of Texas. The subsidy kicks in when carpools exceed 24 percent of

"Oh, you're kidding!" said Corey A. Stewart, the Republican chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, who carpools to the District several times a week and said there are better ways to spend the state's limited transportation dollars. "We're paying to build a road for private companies, and now we're continuing to subsidize the private company. This just gets worse and worse."

The HOT lanes, two in each direction, will be built on Interstate 495 between Springfield and just north of the Dulles Toll Road. Tolls will fluctuate based on the amount of traffic. Non-carpool vehicles could pay an average toll of $1 a mile.

Similar projects across the country limit the number of carpools allowed or charge them reduced tolls. Virginia officials said their unprecedented agreement was a way to balance the need for the toll lanes to succeed financially while not discouraging carpooling.

"In negotiating, we realized there was a conflict between what we wanted and what they wanted," said Barbara Reese, deputy transportation secretary and a key negotiator on the deal. "Somebody has to pay."

Reese said the carpool subsidy would kick in when the HOT lanes are at maximum capacity for more than 30 minutes. After that point, the state is liable for every 15 minutes that the HOT lanes are at maximum capacity for that day. She said the estimated $1 million-a-year liability exposure to the state seemed reasonable to state officials. She acknowledged, however, that the spike in carpooling and transit use could increase the state's liability, but officials said they could not estimate by how much.

Reese said the contract includes protections for taxpayers, in addition to a revenue-sharing plan if the project exceeds financial expectations. The money the state is contributing -- $157 million from surplus funds from prior years and $252 million in state and federal highway construction funds -- will pay for changes and improvements that the state requested, including building bridges, repairing ramps and connecting the HOT lanes through the Springfield interchange.

"This was not something for nothing," Reese said.

Financing for the project is also being provided by the federal government. The private companies are putting up $349 million in cash and will be responsible for building and operating the lanes and repaying the federal bonds and loans. The road will be turned over to the state after 80 years.

The project, in the works for nearly a decade, was planned as a way for private companies to add capacity to one of the most congested roads in the country, with little cost or risk to the public.

Now some transportation officials wonder whether the deal will wind up costing taxpayers much more at a time when the state's transportation budget is empty. The state will have to transfer $3 billion from construction projects just to maintain the roads it has over the next six years. With the General Assembly's failure to come up with a funding plan in a special session this month, there is little hope on the horizon.

"If we are going to pay this money ourselves, why not build it ourselves and keep the tolls for ourselves?" said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

But others said the state was left with little choice.

"Is this the ideal way to build public infrastructure? No," said Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. But he said that voters have turned down tax increases and that the General Assembly has failed to come up with additional money.

"At some point, we have to find a way to fund public infrastructure," Connolly said. "We're left with other models, all of which have undesirable side effects."

The goal of the HOT lanes is to use variable pricing to keep the lanes free-flowing. There is no upper limit on rates. Motorists who don't want to pay can drive in the free, non-HOT lanes.

During negotiations, the private companies argued that too many carpoolers in the HOT lanes at peak times would bog down the lanes and cost them revenue needed to repay the financing, because single- and double-occupant drivers would hardly pay a premium of $1 a mile or more to sit in stop-and-go traffic.

Other projects have struggled with how to encourage carpooling while keeping the "express" in express lanes.

In Houston, a HOT lane project set to open this fall limits carpoolers and transit vehicles to 25 percent of traffic. In California, carpoolers were initially allowed on HOT lanes for free but were soon charged half-fare after the lanes clogged. In the Virginia agreement, only state law could change the free-ride status of carpoolers and mass-transit vehicles.

Virginia's deal to subsidize carpools is unique in the fast-growing world of variable-cost toll lanes and public-private partnerships, according to Robert Poole, director of transportation studies for the Reason Foundation and an early proponent of HOT lanes.

"This is a way to get a significant amount of relief at a pretty modest cost to the state," said Poole, who tracks developments in the private toll-road arena. Also, "it's in the interest in both parties to ensure a good revenue stream."

Poole said that if the HOT lanes are flooded with motorists who don't pay tolls, "then it doesn't work."

Adding HOT lanes to the Capital Beltway, already one of the busiest highways in the country, is unprecedented in its ambition. In addition to building four lanes largely in the existing footprint of the Beltway, the builders had to figure out ways to get customers quickly in and out of job centers and such destinations as Tysons Corner, the Dulles Toll Road, the Springfield interchange and Route 66.

Fluor-Transurban is negotiating with the state to convert and expand the two reversible high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Interstate 395/95 into three reversible HOT lanes. Carpoolers and sluggers are concerned that the change would upset the successful system that has evolved on the highway over the years.

Ronald F. Kirby, transportation director for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said that once the Beltway HOT lanes connect with HOT lanes planned for I-395/95 and the HOV lanes on the Dulles Toll Road and I-66, drivers would realize that piling three people into a car could provide a free rocket ride across the region.

"I don't have any numbers to say that their numbers are too high or too low," Kirby said. "We don't have any experience with a facility like this."

But he said the "network effect" could provide greater incentives to carpool and perhaps trigger much larger carpool payments than state officials estimated. "There is some assumption of risk on the part of the state here."

© 2008, The Washington Post:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"No matter how much the public is irritated about anything, ignore it. "

Toll roads give me heartburn

July 21, 2008

Letters for Monday
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

Re: "There's no stopping toll roads of future – On tour, world summit delegates welcome NTTA's collection system," last Monday Metro.

Am I the only one in Texas, and the rest of the country as well, who still has heartburn over toll roads?

Those yahoos in Austin use what is obviously good judgment to conclude that no matter how much the public is irritated about anything, ignore it. The dummies will get over it. And from the looks of it, they may be right.

I still have a problem with our elected officials charging me to drive on roads that my tax money built.

The fact that Gov. Rick Perry is still pushing them is reason enough to vote against him and anyone else who is on the record as endorsing toll roads.

Don Hopper, Flint