Saturday, August 09, 2008

“All the warning signals are there.”

U.S. 281 toll-road planners didn't figure on costly gas


By Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2008

Gas prices shot through the roof this year and a debate drags on over what the future holds, but none of that was reflected in recent traffic and revenue projections for the planned U.S. 281 toll road.

As a result, the estimates got a thumbs-down last month from State Auditor John Keel, who meted out his case in a single page of bean-counter lingo.

“Explicit consideration for the possible effects of higher motor fuel prices on the usage of the toll facility and, therefore, on revenues would seem warranted,” he concluded in a letter to the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority.

The state auditor doesn't actually sign off on traffic and revenue reports from toll agencies. According to a 2007 tolling law, the auditor just reviews and comments on them.

Alamo Regional Mobility Authority Director Terry Brechtel noted that in a letter responding to Keel, saying the audit's over.

However, she said the local agency agrees with his criticism and already had asked the consultant, URS Corp., to do a gas-price impact analysis.

“We will nevertheless forward to you a copy of the fuel sensitivity analysis once it is completed,” she said.

Such an analysis was a no-brainer to toll-road critics as long as two years ago.

Activists had tried to get the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which approved 70 miles of tollways in San Antonio, to study rising gas prices and the impacts to toll bonds that can stretch over several decades. The MPO board refused.

“It doesn't make sense,” said Terri Hall of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. “We're glad the state auditor has the same concerns that we do. Will this road even be viable in 10 years with the trends we're seeing in gas prices?”

Wary motorists have been scaling back in the face of gas prices soaring to a record U.S. average of $4.11 a gallon last month, according to AAA.

Americans drove 2.4 percent fewer miles through May compared to the same time last year and rush-hour congestion eased in many U.S. cities from March through May, federal data show.

San Antonio drivers spent 4.7 percent less time stuck in traffic, though officials say new lanes opening on Interstate 10 and new ramps at two Loop 410 interchanges helped.

Americans also have started avoiding some toll roads, with Houston reporting a 3 percent drop in traffic from March through June, and Dallas seeing a 2.3 percent slip in June on its President George Bush Turnpike. Growth on the Dallas North Tollway was flat.

Dallas' North Texas Tollway Authority asked its consultant to take another look at traffic projections for planned toll lanes on Texas 161.

“But they're not anticipating any change,” Dallas toll spokeswoman Sherita Coffelt said.

Unlike San Antonio's toll-road consultant, Moody's Investors Service took rising gas prices seriously Thursday when it issued a stable but cautious report on U.S. government toll roads through 2009. The long-term outlook was more uncertain.

“Gas prices at around $4 per gallon for a prolonged period could have a dampening effect on traffic and revenue and, if declines are not offset by rate increases, it could cause Moody's to change our stable outlook,” Moody's Senior Vice President Maria Matesanz said in a statement.

Federal forecasters say gas prices will spike even higher next year, but where they go from there is wrapped in a muddy debate on when global oil production will peak and begin to slide. Some say it's happening now; others say there's a four-decade cushion for technologies to come to the rescue.

San Antonio toll officials, getting ready to sell 40-year bonds later this year to help fund toll lanes on eight miles of U.S. 281 north of Loop 1604, are undeterred. They point to the success of Austin's 65 miles of toll roads, which began opening in late 2006 and are raking in more money than expected.

“If we get higher fuel efficiencies in our vehicles, that could have an impact,” Alamo Regional Mobility Authority spokesman Leroy Alloway said. “People are still going to be driving, we're still a very auto-centric country.”

Still, many toll critics aren't sold on the car-dominated vision.

“It's time for us to shift to sustainability, by moving to mass transit, or pay the price,” Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson said. “All the warning signals are there.”

Portions © 2008 KENS 5 and the San Antonio

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281 'Hogwash' threatens Edwards Aquifer

TxDOT documents not reassuring about toll-road concerns


Carlos Guerra
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2008

Long faulted for its arrogance, the Texas Department of Transportation also is under fire for embracing toll roads.

They are forced to because gas taxes can't meet growing highway needs, TxDOT officials say. So they will finance a lot of new highway lanes by tolling new and existing roads, and by handing some publicly owned right-of-way to private toll-road builders and operators in exchange for letting them collect tolls for decades.

TxDOT and the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority plan to pay for a huge expansion project by tolling 70 miles of U.S. 281, Loop 1604 and other area highways.

“It's a massive, multibillion-dollar project over the most sensitive parts of the (Edwards Aquifer) recharge zone,” says Bill Bunch, an attorney who, along with Andrew Hawkins, represents Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.

Construction on the 281-1604 project — which will be 19 lanes wide in parts — started in late 2005, and within weeks, a contractor ruptured a sewer main, spilling raw sewage for three weeks before it was fixed.

The two groups sued TxDOT and the regional mobility authority over their environmental assessment — required by the National Environmental Policy Act to get federal funds — which the groups say is flawed and grossly insufficient.

And they sued the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for approving TxDOT's environmental assessment and demanded a more extensive environmental impact statement (EIS) before irreparable harm is done to the aquifer.

The massive highways will traverse numerous recharge features and a lot of the Edwards' contributing zone. That notwithstanding, TxDOT's environmental assessment included a “finding of no significant impact,” which in bureaucratize is written: “FONSI.”

Bunch and Hawkins pressed their case, and just before it went to court, TxDOT and the RMA raised the white flag and the federal agency “disapproved” TxDOT's environmental assessment, forcing the state agency and the RMA to conduct the much more extensive EIS.

In the conduct of legal discovery, the attorneys recently uncovered some apparently damning documents.

In TxDOT's environmental assessment, the agency asserts that it “coordinated with” and “solicited comments and input regarding the proposed action and potential issues that should be considered during the development of the environmental assessment” from a number of agencies, one of which was the Edward Aquifer Authority.

“Hogwash,” says Hawkins. “We scoured everything in (TxDOT's) administrative record and found no letter asking for comment or coordination.”

In fact, all they found was a “Record of Conversation” of a 25-minute phone call made by a TxDOT contractor to an aquifer authority staffer asking for technical info. That isn't exactly “comment and coordination.”

But to be on the safe side, the attorneys checked with the aquifer authority for any correspondence whatsoever from TxDOT from December 2005 to the present concerning the planned toll roads on U.S. 281 and Loop 1604. “And they wrote us back saying we have nothing, no e-mail, no correspondence. Nothing,” Bunch says.

The lawyers did find two e-mails from a TxDOT geologist and a biologist that raise questions about the impartiality of their science.

In one to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the biologist wrote: “At the moment we are trying to get a FONSI from the FHWA by September.”

And the geologist wrote a colleague at TxDOT saying that he was “unclear on ... the extent to which we need to study (the) 1604 corridor,” before adding, “plus I know mgmt want to get (the) FONSI on 1604 right after 281 so we really need to get working on both.”

Portions © 2008 KENS 5 and the San Antonio

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Deceptive budgeting: Governors and legislators borrow money from the future and treat it as 'revenue.'


Stupid Budget Tricks

August 8, 2008

The New York Times
Copyright 2008

(Austin, Texas)--STATE governments across the country are reeling from the effects of the current economic downturn. New York, facing a $26.2 billion deficit over the next three years, is particularly hard hit. Like most other states, it is looking to balance its budget mainly by cutting spending.

But if history is a guide, governors and legislators across the country will seek to avoid the difficult choices that are required. Instead, they will likely pass the costs of the services that we enjoy today on to our children and grandchildren, through creatively deceptive budgeting.

This is a time-honored practice. In 1991, the State of New York sold Attica prison to none other than itself. The buyer was a state agency that financed the $200 million purchase price by issuing bonds. The agency then leased the prison back to the state, with the lease payments being equal to the debt service on the bonds.

In substance, of course, the transaction was nothing more than a borrowing arrangement — the equivalent of borrowing $200 million from the buyers of the bonds. Nevertheless, the state booked the entire sale price as revenue for the year. The previous year, the state sold the Cross Westchester Expressway to the New York Thruway Authority — in other words, to itself.

New York is not the only state fond of this sort of budgetary dissembling. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California wants to reduce his state’s deficit by borrowing money from the future. His plan is to issue $15 billion in bonds that are backed by future lottery revenues. More than a third of that money would be used to ease California’s current-year deficit.

Borrowing from the future to pay for the present is, unfortunately, becoming routine. In 2006, Indiana leased a toll road to a foreign consortium from Australia and Spain. The state received $3.8 billion upfront by surrendering the next 75 years of toll revenues. Other states have sold tobacco bonds that provide one-time infusions of cash — in return for forgoing 25 years of payments from cigarette companies that were supposed to pay for health care related to tobacco-caused illnesses.

Another trick is to move up the due dates on merchant-collected sales taxes from early next year to late in the current year. These taxes then are counted as revenues for the current year.

Other states have moved employee paydays from the last day of the month to the first day of the next month. This enables them to eliminate an entire month of employee pay from the year’s budget, because for one year there are only 11 paydays instead of 12. In subsequent years, the budget includes 11 paydays from salaries earned in the current year and one payday for money earned the previous year.

States also transfer money from a “rainy day” reserve account to the general fund and then count the amount transferred as revenue. This is the equivalent of solving personal fiscal problems by moving money from a savings account to a checking account and calling it “income.”

Pensions are the ideal budget item for imaginative accounting. When pension expenditures are decreased, the consequences of the cuts may not show up for decades. States can simply fail to pay the amount that is actuarially sound into pension funds. The retirement checks that state employees eventually receive under a defined-benefit plan are determined by the promises incorporated into the plan, not by the timing of a state’s contributions. In effect, the state pays now or it pays later. And by paying later, the eventual cost to the state will be significantly increased, because no investment income will be earned on the funds that should have been contributed now.

In the most advanced form of pension-budget fakery, states can adopt faith-based pension schemes. They borrow money by issuing bonds to make both the current payments owed to their pensions and to compensate for any previous shortfalls. Then they just pray that the returns on the investments that will be purchased by the pension fund will exceed the interest to be paid on the bonds.

It is easy to understand why public officials are tempted by these strategies. Ask citizens whether they would prefer that their state’s budget be balanced with “accounting adjustments” as opposed to a combination of tax increases and service cuts, and they might well opt for the budget tricks.

But put the question differently and ask voters about the morality of passing along our bills to future generations, and the answer would surely be quite different.

Michael Granof is a professor of accounting at the schools of business and public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

© 2008, The New York

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Heiligenstein: "Whether or not it's a toll road or it's not a toll road is inconsequential."

Tolling 290: Neighbors Disagree on Highway


KLBJ News Radio
Copyright 2008

People who use U.S. 290 east of U.S. 183 and west of the SH-130 toll road got to see an elaborate set of plans to upgrade the highway and add a toll road to it.


(More multimedia links below)

"This takes care of the worst of the bottlenecks. The toll facility ends up paying for the non-toll facility. All folks win in this deal," says Mike Heiligenstein, Executive Director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which already oversees the 183-A toll road in Cedar Park. He says the status of the highway makes little difference in the long run to east-side commuters. "Whether or not it's a toll road or it's not a toll road is inconsequential. Over the next twenty years, you're going to see development more than double."

But Dewy Brooks, the president of a homeowners' association in a subdivision right along U.S. 290, doesn't see it that way.

"To take an existing road that's already there and turn it into a toll road and say it's an improvement, I have some issues with that," he says.

Heiligenstein says his agency has worked around Senator Kay Bailey-Hutchison's amendment banning current free roads from being turned into toll roads by keeping the frontage roads free of charge. In the past, the Texas Department of Transportation, a separate entity from the CTRMA, handling the 290 project, has taken a lot of heat from the public about plans to turn parts of Central Texas' highway system into toll roads.

"I don't think the public is shell-shocked anymore. I think when you have 350- to 400,000 toll tags on cars in central Texas, people are looking for more places to use them because their experience, I think, has been very positive," Heiligenstein said.

Part of the controversy was that the state intentionally lowered speed limits and added more traffic signals to slow traffic and promote the usage of the toll highways.

"We don't add signalization to the non-tolled facilities for the sake of trying to drive people to the toll road. That would show a complete lack of ethics and integrity," Heiligenstein said.

"In my mind, it will become an inconvenience to take it from 60 to 45 and unless they time the light correctly, it may take me even longer to get out onto the road," Brooks contends.

He has lived in his subdivision for about 12 years and says traffic has more than doubled in his area since moving in. But Brooks does not believe tolling U.S. 290 is the answer.

"Folks that will be moving, they know the toll road is coming. 'We were here', that's what I hear a lot," he says.

Jesus Valenzuela moved into the subdivision where brooks lives at about the same time.

"The builder doesn't care how we feel because this is about money," Valenzuela told KLBJ. "It's about money, it's not about people."

Both are concerned about the slower speed limits, 45 miles per hour, planned for the frontage roads of the proposed 290-toll road. Technically, the "U.S. 290" shield-graphic signs would be posted on the frontage roads, since they would replace the current tax-funded highway. Signs with graphics similar to the 183-A toll road, reflecting "290 toll" would be erected along the new toll highway.

"There will be lower speed limits on the frontage roads because that's where the intersections will be and that's where the neighborhoods would be. So we don't want to inundate those neighborhoods with 70-mile-per-hour traffic. If you want to drive 70, you'd better get on the toll road," Heiligenstein said.

"You always hear 'you don't have to take the toll road, you can take the free road.' I contend, yes, that is true, but to whose convenience?" Brooks said.

Valenzuela says after seeing the presentation Wednesday evening, he thinks the plan is pretty clear.

"It's already in place and we're just being notified of the situation," he said.

The CTRMA says the proposed upgrade and conversion of highway 290 would cost around $500-million and construction could begin in as soon as one year.



© 2008 Emmis Austin Radio Broadcasting

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"Some roads are more inelastic than others."

Moody's: Gas Prices May Lead to Toll Increases

August 7, 2008

By Audrey Dutton
The Bond Buyer
Copyright 2008

WASHINGTON - Gasoline prices at $4.00 or more per gallon for a prolonged period could depress toll road traffic and revenue, and compel governments to increase tolls to prevent credit rating downgrades, Moody's Investors Service warned in a report issued today.

Despite the warning, Moody's gave the government-owned toll road sector a cautiously stable outlook for the next year to 18 months, pointing to steady traffic in commuter-heavy metropolitan areas as a stabilizing factor. However, greater leveraging of toll road assets could put downward pressure on the sector's A1 median rating.

"We expect continued steady debt issuance, particularly as service area economies grow and toll facilities are tapped to undertake projects that local governments would rather not fund with taxes," the report said.

Traffic and revenue growth are likely to decelerate in some regions because of deteriorating economic conditions, Moody's said. But most toll roads rated by Moody's - especially those in major metropolitan areas - should see steady, if slower, gains in traffic and toll payments.

All but four of 45 government-owned toll roads that Moody's rates are stable, and its two ratings changes this year so far have been upgrades.

"The sector's credit strength reflects favorable historical economic conditions and traffic growth in the U.S., the low elasticity of demand experienced by many toll roads, and financial strength and stability of the sector," Moody's said in its sector overview.

Other factors keeping the sector stable are solid liquidity levels, the ability to independently increase toll rates, and the "relatively resilient underlying service area economies" for many major metropolitan areas that are served by toll roads.

Moody's gave examples of why some ratings were downgraded last year.

The North Texas Tollway Authority's revenue bond rating was downgraded by Moody's in November due to increased debt issuance and "steady toll increases" to support the additional debt, Moody's noted. Nevertheless, the traffic growth rate has remained steady. As of May, traffic was up 6% over 2007.

The Santa Rosa Bay Bridge Authority's rating was downgraded because traffic and revenue failed to meet expectations. The authority had to tap its debt service reserve fund to pay on its bonds. Lower-rated toll roads tended to be new, single-asset facilities that underperform because of local economic slowdown or "overly optimistic" predictions, the report said.

Moody's analysts said older, established toll roads linking residential centers with employment centers in both urban and rural areas are not likely to suffer from sustained drops in traffic. In fact, they said, established toll roads may be the exception to a national trend.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced last week that drivers traveled almost 10 billion fewer miles in May than in that same month last year. It was the third-largest monthly drop in U.S. vehicle miles traveled ever recorded. All three of the largest monthly mileage drops were this year.

But "the numbers cited there are on all U.S. highways, not just on toll roads," explained Maria Matesanz, a Moody's senior vice president who authored the toll road sector outlook. Matesanz said the rate of traffic growth on toll roads "may have slowed a bit, but the usage isn't declining."

Analysts emphasized that a clear-cut trend has not yet emerged that shows toll road traffic and revenues are in trouble. If tolling does see a decline because of a prolonged period of high gasoline prices, toll increases may be necessary, the report indicated.

The report did not speculate on a breaking point at which drivers might stop using toll roads because of higher toll costs.

"There's always that point, and that potential, that you could be compounding the problem, so it is a balancing act," said Tom Paolicelli, Moody's vice president and senior analyst. "Some roads are more inelastic than others."

It remains unclear, the analysts said, whether the economy, gas prices, or a combination of both is causing the decline in traffic growth rates.

Slowing regional economies combined with high fuel prices have, however, already affected some toll roads more than others, the analysts said.

The report said the government-owned toll road outlook is "more uncertain" for 2009.

"Given the reluctance to increase federal and state taxes to the levels needed to close the funding gap for road and bridge infrastructure, Moody's expects the increased use of tolling to help pay for new transportation projects, leading to greater toll revenue-backed debt issuance," the analysts wrote. In addition, more leveraging of existing toll road systems "may have a negative impact on some credit ratings."

Moody's cited examples of trends that may bolster the sector's credit health.

Increasing use of electronic toll collection and open road tolling - or cashless tolling - and congestion pricing could bring in more toll revenues, the rating agency said. But the analysts recommended against sharp bumps in toll prices, suggesting instead that "gradual, smaller" toll increases may be more acceptable to drivers and lawmakers. Cashless tolling could speed the flow of traffic and cut operating and capital costs of government-owned toll road facilities, the report said.

"Also, as tolling becomes more electronic," Matesanz added, drivers may pay less attention to toll rates. "So they're a little bit more insulated from the toll rate increases."

© 2008, The Bond

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"Should we declare victory and ignore the realities? In a word... NO!"

Have YOU drunk the TxDOT Kool-Aid?


Martha Estes
Wharton Journal-Spectator
Copyright 2008

Numerous citizens along the TTC-69 route are expressing satisfaction about the recent news to the effect that "it’s over, we won". I find that conclusion very disturbing because it is a very dangerous mirage to buy into.

Yes, the Texas Transportation Commissioners and TxDOT bigwigs have ’told us’ that Waller Austin, Grimes, and Walker Counties are no longer being considered as a western TTC-69 loop around Houston. AND they have said that "wherever possible" they will follow the existing footprint and right of way of US 59 for the 600+ mile Trans-Texas Corridor 69 as it is developed from Laredo through East Texas to points on the Arkansas and Louisiana borders.

What they did not remind you of include the following established facts:
  • 1. House Bill 3588 remains law with the same design features & intent to auction off our public transportation assets to global consortiums for toll revenues.
  • 2. The governor’s appointees on the Texas Transportation Commission remain loyal to his transportation policies which include numerous TTC projects and the intent to assess other state roadways as toll road viable "commodities".
  • 3. CDAs or public-private partnerships with 50 year secretive contract terms remain the "financing tool of choice" with the Transportation Commissioners and TxDOT.
  • 4. The moratorium that prevents TxDOT from signing CDA contracts expires with the end of the 2009 session.
  • 5. The TTC-35 and TTC-69 continue to go forward with a TTC-69 $5 million design contract awarded by TxDOT on Jun 26, 2008 to Zachry & ACS (Actividades de Construcción y Servicios, S.A), Dragados, UBS, SICE, and Steer Davies Gleave.
  • 6. The eminent domain realities leave all Texas property owners helpless to control their properties or receive any particular assessed value for them in condemnation.
  • 7. No amendment exists to trigger an override session to overturn the governor’s vetoes with veto-proof legislative majorities.
  • 8. Reforms of the Texas Transportation Commission & TxDOT and restrictions on Trans-Texas Corridors & state toll roads will only happen if OUR legislators make changes in the laws in the 81st Session of the legislature beginning on January 13, 2009.
Now, does that sound as if we should declare victory and ignore the realities? In a word... NO, unless we want to lose the ground we have worked for. But it does suggest that we ALL have some important work to do to influence our legislators to protect our public transportation assets and shape transportation policy for the people of Texas.

© 2008, Wharton Journal-Spectator:

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"The renovated U.S. 290 would have tolled main lanes with free frontage roads, with many stop lights."

Tolling 290: Meeting Scheduled for Tonight

Copyright 2008

A meeting is scheduled for this evening for a plan to renovate U.S. 290 east of Austin, from U.S. 183 to the SH130 toll road.

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, the group in charge of the 183-A toll road in Cedar Park, intends to take over the project as a toll road. Tonight's meeting is to discuss toll rates, property acquisition and a vision of the road.

The renovated U.S. 290 would have tolled main lanes with free frontage roads, with many stop lights.

The meeting is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. at the Educational Service Center on Springdale Road, just south of the intersection of Springdale & Manor Rds., and just south of where Manor Road meets U.S. 183.

© 2008, Emmis Austin Radio Broadcasting Company:

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“Progress for whom?”

TTC doesn’t foster affordable, friendly towns


To the editor:
Taylor Daily Press
Copyright 2008

Last time I checked Taylor was on the map, contrary to the writer’s urgings that we support a massive boondoggle like the Trans-Texas Corridor. I moved to Bastrop because Austin, where “all the money is going” is not affordable and not friendly to working people as it was years ago.

Let’s not cut off our noses to spite our face, in the name of almighty “progress.” Or, at least ask the question, “progress for whom?”

Linda Curtis


© 2008, Taylor Daily Press:

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"The economic wave created by the TTC will be as flat as the Blackland Prairie."

TTC won’t be an economic boost


Taylor Daily Press
Copyright 2008

To the editor:

I salute you for stirring the debate on the ill-conceived Trans-Texas Corridor. However, the explanatory ends do not always justify the means of that debate.

You seem a bit to eager to lead the parade of nattering nabobs of negativism. Your argument that Taylor will not be an economic player unless something is done to counteract the growth of surrounding communities is fundamentally flawed. Nothing short of a depression, or, say, a large physical barrier will stop the economic juggernaut that is Williamson County.

The disgruntled landowners you refer to, have every reason to be upset about the prospect of the TTC splitting their farms. You mentioned all the potential prime commercial real estate that would be born of the TTC. But before you wax your economic surfboard, realize that the economic wave created by the TTC will be as flat as the blackland prairie. Hundreds of miles of the TTC will be devoid of any frontage roads or cross-overs, basically neutering the would be commercial prowess of much of the adjacent land. And, where there are access points, the contractor will likely have exclusive concessionary rights for decades to come.

As for your assertion that the TTC will put Taylor “back” on the map, talk to the fine folks at the Taylor Chamber of Commerce and they’ll tell you that Taylor is and will continue to be on the map. Don’t worry, the growth on the west side of the county will continue to move east, and yes, so will the headaches that go with it, like the need for more infrastructure and more taxes.

So, instead of bringing east and west together in a harmonic utopian convergence, the TTC will more likely become an insurmountable economic wall separating east from west. And we saw how well that model worked for the Europeans with respect to the economic haves and have-nots. Make no mistake, Taylor has been and will continue to be very much a
player in Williamson County. Case in point: Taylor will decide the upcoming legislative race. You referred to Taylor as a whipping boy. Taylor is nobody’s whipping boy, and we do get the big picture!

Bobby Seiferman

Round Rock

© 2008, Taylor Daily Press:

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"Texas residents don't want toll roads, yet many officials--elected and otherwise--still continue to push aside the will of the people they serve."

Toll plans continue to put special interests over public good

August 5, 2008

Capitol Hill Blue
Copyright 2008

Nowhere is the fight against toll roads stronger than in the state of Texas.

In fact, Texas is the NATIONAL frontier for the fight against Bush and Perry's plan for the Trans-Texas [Mexico and Canada] Corridor.

The only good toll road is no toll road at all.

But don't take my word for it... just ask people in New York, New Jersey and California.

If there's an ounce of dignity and integrity and the need to do the right thing, we must speak out against the Central Texas, Trans-Texas Corridor and other toll road plans.

Contrary to Gov. Rick Perry, the Capital Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Texas Department of Transportation and other special-interest entities, the toll plan is not in the best interest of Texans.

The majority of Texas residents do not want toll roads, yet many officials -- elected and otherwise -- still continue to push aside the will of the people they serve. Any reasonable person must be able to see that toll roads merely are another form of regressive taxation.

While we're told that there are options in place for those who do not want to pay the tolls, the reality is quite different.

All Texas consumers will pay tolls, whether they use the toll roads or not.

We will all pay tolls many times over in purchasing goods and services from businesses that will use the toll roads. Inevitably, businesses pass along such costs to their consumers.

In addition, many of the roads slated for tolls already have been paid for with tax dollars. How many times should we pay for the same road?

Toll roads are nothing more than special-interest profiteering.

Toll plans should be eliminated primarily because they are not cost-effective, not necessary, and the people of Texas don't want them. In addition, the implementation of toll roads generally cause other issues or problems, including noise / environmental pollution, increase in traffic accidents and fatalities, decrease in adjacent property values, etc.

Special-interest officials must not determine the direction of our transportation needs Rather, Texans must be permitted to decide what is in their own best interests -- or at least the plan should be part of a public referendum.

If Texans fail in the fight against toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor, so will the nation.

© 2008, Capitol Hill Blue:

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“It’s a kind of one for all and all for one deal.”

I-69 partners make presentation

August 05, 2008

The Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2008

The Alliance for I-69 Texas and U.S.-owned company Zachry American Infrastruture have partnered up and are traveling across the state giving presentations on I-69. On Tuesday, they stopped in Victoria.

During the short initial meeting, city leaders met with Gary Bushnell of the advocacy group and Gary Kuhn, senior project manager for Zachry, the firm awarded the contract for the superhighway.

The Interstate 69 corridor project is a proposed multi-use, statewide network of transportation routes in Texas that will incorporate existing and new highways, railways, utility right-of-ways and toll roads. Zachry was awarded the contract for the project in June by the Texas Transportation Commission.

The presentation focused on ways Victoria could use I-69 to their economic advantage and about the potential the corridor has in terms of new transportation technology.

According to Kuhn, Zachry is working on a master plan that takes into account local projects Texas communities want to do and how the company can help improve local economic development. Kuhn also discussed Zachry’s proposal for a freight shuttle that would go alongside the existing route of U.S. 77 in Victoria. According to Kuhn, the freight shuttle combines the best characteristics of the rail and truck transportation, but is more efficient, cheaper and causes less pollution. He added that it would run on electromagnetic pulses that create motion and a freight shuttle system across Texas could be up and running by as early as 2015.

“We’ve been working with the Alliance to visit all the communities involved in the I-69 Interstate. There is a lot of collaboration that needs to take place among these communities,” Kuhn said. “It’s a kind of one for all and all for one deal.”

The meeting included Mayor Will Armstrong, Dale Fowler of the Victoria Economic Development Corp. and Lee Swearingen of the Victoria County Navigation District.

© 2008, The Victoria Advocate:

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Texas General Land Office gambles $200 million of the Texas Permanent School fund on Macquarie, Goldman Sachs (toll road) infrastructure funds.

Texas Land Office commits $100 million to infrastructure fund

August 5, 2008,

By Robert Elder
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

The Texas School Land Board today voted to invest $100 million in an infrastructure fund run by Goldman Sachs. (To recap the hierarchy of these investments: The school land board approves investments for the General Land Office, which does real estate and land investing on behalf of the Texas Permanent School fund. Income from the PSF helps pay for public education. Got it?)

Rusty Martin, deputy commissioner for funds management, told the land board that the Goldman fund will top out at about $7.5 billion and invest primarily in transportation and utilities infrastructure.

The generally dismal state of global infrastructure has spurred great interest in infrastructure as an investing asset class. The need is obvious, from bridge collapses in the U.S. to China’s goal of adding the equivalent of the U.S. highway system in the next few years.

The area has also drawn the attention of Texas lawmakers such as Sen. Steve Ogden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. The Bryan Republican has floated the idea of Texas public pension funds as a source of capital for infrastructure in the state. If the funds are investing — or contemplating investing — in infrastructure deals all over the world, Ogden reasons, why not put some of that money work in Texas?

Until recently, Texas public pensions have not committed large sums of money to infrastructure. That’s changing. In May, the $113 billion Teacher Retirement System of Texas committed $300 million each to infrastructure funds run by Morgan Stanley and Babcock & Brown.

The Goldman Sachs investment is the General Land Office’s second infrastructure deal. The GLO in February committed $100 million to Macquarie Infrastructure Partners II. Macquarie Group Ltd. is an Australian investment bank.

© 2008, Austin

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Monday, August 04, 2008

"This year we will start a demonstration site at a location to be announced.”

New ‘long haul’ transportation technology on the horizon

zachry ttc
A slide from the presentation shows the 2,000 mile stretches of guideways connecting Laredo, Corpus Christi, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio with the innovative freight transportation system. The plan is to have the system in place to take advantage of the expansion of the Panama Canal.


They Dayton News (Dayton, TX)
Copyright 2008

Readers recently read about new freight technology in the July 9 edition of Dayton News entitled “Freight shuttles can take the ‘long haul’ out of shipping.” That technology was further explained by senior project manager Gary Kuhn of Zachry American Infrastructure of San Antonio and Stephen S. Roop, Ph.D. and assistant agency director of the Texas Transportation Institute of The Texas A&M University System in College Station.

The two men were addressing the Liberty County Toll Road Authority (LCTRA) Board of Directors as well as an audience of interested persons and invited media. Members present included President Charlotte Warner, Vice President Dwayne B. Stovall, Asst. Secretary R.N. Smart, Director N. Dale Brown, Jr., Joe B. Allen and Jessica Jones, attorney and attorney assistant for LCTRA from the firm of Allen, Boone, Humphries, Robinson, LLP. Secretary Clifton Wilridge was not present.

Being discussed was a multimodal freight transportation device that moves freight up and down two-way guideways via linear induction motors powered electrically. The transports are unmanned, as was explained in the previous article.

“We all owe a lot to freight because it creates our opportunities to have goods and creates opportunities for economic development,” said Kuhn.

Kuhn began the presentation by explaining that normally three individuals would make the presentation but that one of their members was unavoidably detained.

“We’re one short on our normal ‘three musketeers’ as Ken Allen, who is the executive vice-president for H.E.B. and really wanted to be here, but a lady named ‘Dolly’ kind of messed everything up,” commented Kuhn. “And Charles Butt is real funny about making sure that there is milk on the table for the babies. So Ken sends his apologies and regrets that he can’t be here, and I will attempt to do his portion of the presentation.”

The presentation was broken down into three parts – Lemons, The New Juicer and Lemonade. Kuhn delivered parts one and three, while Roop took care of part two.

Kuhn spoke about transportation issues in that they had inefficiencies, public funding restraints, public focus on environmental issues and what he called a growing “psunami” of freight.

One of the more staggering statistics brought out by Kuhn dealt with the result of a company such as H.E.B. being able to reduce annual transportation freight miles from 60 million to 40 million. The 20 million miles saved would result in 3 million gallons less diesel being burned, 5,000 quarts less motor oil burned, 43,000 less quarts of motor oil that have to be managed, 125 lbs less rubber on highways to be washed into waterways and 2,000 less tires that do not have to be disposed of. The savings were staggering.

Kuhn also explained that the new technology was not competitive against the current trucking or rail industry, but supplemental. He explained how rail roads best service transportation needs to destinations greater than 600 miles. He also spoke of what he called Generation Y, or new truck drivers that don’t work to work nights, weekends or holidays and how the new technology would take the long haul out of the picture allowing this new generation of drivers the ability to be home each night while making shorter, but more numerous daily deliveries.

Safety and environmental issues served by having fewer trucks on the highways were also included.

The second part of the presentation, delivered by Stephen Roop detailed the history and development behind the new universal freight shuttle technology. Roop has been at Texas A&M for 20 years. He basically introduced the system by calling it a hybrid between trucking and railroading.

After laying out a lengthy history beginning in 1999 with federal funding for the study of a Texas Freight Tunnel with an underground rail for 450 miles from Dallas to Larado, to the Governor’s vision for the Trans Texas Corridor to 2008 when they plan to start construction of a demonstration project on donated land located in South Liberty County, to a target date of 2015 when they hope to have the proposed 2,000 miles of guideways connecting Dallas to San Antonio, Laredo, Corpus Christi and Houston with another line from Houston to San Antonio up and the network operational. The historical process was all about finding ways to ship more goods at less cost. The ill-fated beginning ideas formulated around underground transportation took a turn topside, coinciding with the Governor’s approach to major grade-separated corridors between markets in Texas, as the study group took a new approach.

“Wouldn’t this allow us to reconfigure this underground system that was never going to go anywhere,” explained Roop. “We could resize it, reshape it and put it up on the surface and begin operating it as a surface system. When we checked the economics of that, we found out they went from poor or marginally negative to almost investment grade returns and it would be very inexpensive to move freight in the system we’re talking about.”

Patents on some concepts were filed and Texas A&M created an entity through license agreements called The Freight Shuttle Development Corporation, formed in 2005. A year later, in Houston, Kuhn and Roop met for the first time at a railroad conference and began working towards the same goals.

Roop also showed conceptual artist productions of the system that would be 16 feet above ground and travel both ways in the median of the state’s interstate highways. He also spoke of a late development that had both he and the organization very excited.

“I-69 Master Development was awarded to Zachry this past month,” stated Roop. “It puts us at a new level in Texas with a tremendous amount of opportunity to capitalize and push forward the fact that Texas has been named the nation’s leading state for business. Part of that is the transportation system, the economy and the diversification of industry in the state. We think this is a very fertile area for what we are doing. And this year we will start a demonstration site at a location to be announced.”

Kuhn finished the presentation speaking to the tremendous capacity of the system, how it will be constructed using existing rights of way of the current highways system that is already in place, and how the goal to have everything up and running is by sometime in the year 2015.

© 2008, The Dayton

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NASCO rep tells citizens to "get with the plan or get out of the way.”

Cox addresses speed limits, other considerations at TTC meeting

August 04, 2008

Gainesville Daily Register
Copyright 2008

Though stalled in the water for now, discussion on the Trans-Texas Corridor 35 project continues, according to a report from Cooke County’s representative on the project.

Sheila Cox, who was a vocal opponent to the multi-modal toll road project when first presented to the public, was appointed to a regional corridor advisory committee last year. Cox submitted a summary of the advisory committee’s actions from July 23 in Austin, in which she said the project is far from being “dead.”

“... The TTC is still very much alive and continues as a threat to all Texans,” she said in her summary, which appeared in its entirety in the July 25 Register.

The next meeting of the advisory committee is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 21, a Thursday, in Austin (exact location TBA — most likely at the Greer Building on south side of the Capitol on 11th Street). The public is allowed to attend, Cox said, but are not allowed to speak or participate in the discussion.

She said she would like to see a good “delegation” from Cooke County at the Aug. 21 meeting.

“We’re designated at the convergence point for the Trans-Texas Corridor system, so we have much to lose by not being involved and much to gain if we are,” Cox said.

Chairs for guests are situated around the delegation room, while committee members are seated around tables, she noted, noting there is ample room.

Cox said there are usually five to 10 people watching the meetings. She noted Jan Johnson of Cooke County had attended the last two Austin meetings.

Though Cox’s summary of the July meeting had some sharp comments of her fellow committee members, she said feedback has been positive so far.

“I’ve had lots of people contact me, telling me they appreciate me for bringing them up to speed on what’s happening,” she said in an interview this morning.

According to Cox’s summary, the meeting agenda included presentations by two corporations who are members in NASCO (North American Super Corridor Coalition), Cox said. Those presentations were by Scott Braden, President of the Southwest and High Plains Divisions of McLane Trucking Company, and by Russell Laughlin, Vice President of Alliance Texas which is headed by Ross Perot. Both of these presentations included emphasis on the need for the NAFTA Super Highway as a trade route from Mexico through the United States and into Canada.

Also emphasized in these presentations was the role of the Trans-Texas Corridor in the implementation of an international express highway system.

In the question and answer wrap-up of Braden’s presentation, which had highlighted the requirements of major trucking firms, Cox said she asked what was the most cost-efficient miles-per-hour speed for trucks to travel. Braden replied, according to Cox, that 62 mph had been proven to be the most cost-efficient speed and at that speed even the pollution levels were less than at higher speeds.

Braden later indicated that his company’s truckers are ordered to not exceed 62 mph and he described his company’s electronic monitoring system that allows each of their trucks to be monitored during their entire routes.

Cox said she addressed the concern that the TTC corridors are proposed to have 80 mph speed limits for trucks and based on his comments that it would appear that the widespread non-attainment pollution control areas in Texas would only worsen with many trucks from other companies traveling at much higher speeds than 62 mph.

Laughlin commented on the TTC’s plans for Alliance, located north of Fort Worth and south of Denton, which contains Alliance Airport.

“I've given you the plan and the development,” Laughlin said, according to Cox’s notes. “Now you have the plan and the development, so get with the plan or get out of the way.

Cox said she replied by emphasizing cooperation.

“I asked Mr. Laughlin where is the interaction from the citizens in his closing comment that stated ‘so get with the plan or get out of the way.’ He was speechless and did not respond to my question and at that point the meeting facilitator moved the discussion to the next meeting agenda item,” Cox said.

The committee had several other points of “lively discussion,” according to Cox.

One of those lively discussions dealt with a comment made by committee member, Lana Wolf, mayor of Arlington.

Wolf, according to Cox, said “the TTC needed to get moving faster from the talking stage to the doing stage ... the only opponents to the TTC are coming from those farm people.”

Cox said the opposition to the TTC comes from both major political parties in Texas and not just those in rural, agricultural settings. Cox said she quoted the state Republican and Democratic parties’ platform planks against TTC and eminent domain abuse from various years.

“Wolf seemed shocked by the comments in the Republican and Democratic Platforms and she said that ‘it was just words on paper and no elected official would agree to a platform like that and they would leave the parties to become independents,’” Cox said. “I mentioned that would be an option for them but that the Independent Texans Party and the Constitution Party of Texas had similar platforms also strongly stating opposition to the TTC, abusive eminent domain and the Constitutional infringements of private property ownership.”

Cox said the comments by Wolf, Laughlin and Braden are cause for concern.

“There is a disregard that is prevailing — not just in some of the members of the committee, but it is prevalent in so many areas of government,” she said this morning.

For information on attending the advisory committee meeting, contact Cox at 1(940)727-2187 or at

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at

© 2008, The Gainesville Daily Register:

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

"RPO’s are being pushed by TxDOT in an attempt to make the public believe that they are the same as the 391 Sub-Regional Planning Commissions. "

From July 15 TxDOT Sunset Hearing, public testimony

TxDOT planning Rural Planning Organizations in contravention of legislation—testimony from Hank Gilbert

August 3, 2008

Susan Rigdway Garry
Anti-Corridor/Rail Expansion (ACRE)
Copyright 2008

Hank Gilbert, former Democratic nominee for Agriculture Commissioner, testified about the proposed Rural Planning Organizations (RPO’s). He is especially interested in the RPO’s because of the possibility that the RPO’s are being pushed by TxDOT in an attempt to make the public believe that they are the same as the 391 Sub-Regional Planning Commissions. Gilbert is president of one of these new 391 Commissions, the Piney Woods Sub-Regional Planning Commission.

This is a very important issue. If TxDOT is behind the formation of RPO’s, the RPO’s will be controlled by TxDOT through the regional Councils of Government (COG’s). On the other hand, the 391 Sub-Regional Planning Commissions are formed by the citizens through their local governments, and they have their own powers, given to them by statute.

Gilbert said, “I don’t believe he [Saenz] exactly told the truth a minute ago. Chairman Delisi, she wanted to make this a love fest today and she committed to honesty. But they have already broken that honesty when it was brought up about the RPO’s earlier today. We had a person at that meeting [on RPO’s] who sent me an email of what went on at that meeting on July 10. TxDOT, specifically Amadeo Saenz, addressed this and said they had come up with money at TxDOT to help fund and reimburse the COG’s if they created an RPO.”

Gilbert continued, “What’s important is that TxDOT has promulgated regulations to create RPO’s, which legislation actually failed last session. . . . So TxDOT decided to push the RPO issue forward so when the legislature comes into session they are having the legislation filed to authorize by statute what they have done by regulation. Then, they will pull the COG RPO’s into the Transportation statute and totally control all of the RPO’s. They’ll be nothing but a sounding board instead of a real board.”

Saenz contradicts Gilbert

After Gilbert’s testimony, Saenz then returned to the testimony table. “What Mr. Gilbert just presented is not factual. First of all, for the commissions, we have not adopted or done anything with the RPO’s. This was a conference, there is a mechanism in there that if they would be formed, which is one of the recommendations, then we can use state planning funds from the federal side to be able to cover their planning needs. But we have not taken any action on anything like that.”

Kolkhorst said “I’m not sure I’m for these RPO’s. . . Let’s not move forward on these RPO’s quite yet until we get through this.” Another Sunset Commissioner commented, “They need legislation to do it.” Kolkhorst replied, “I think what Hank [Gilbert] was trying to say is they’re doing it before we get there.”

Gilbert documents his testimony

Gilbert had documentation from the RPO conference including the agenda showing that TxDOT sponsored the meeting, that Saenz was on the agenda to speak about RPO’s, and info from COG’s about their new efforts to form RPO’s with the assistance of TxDOT. The list of attendees listed 45 TxDOT employees out of 200 registered in attendance at the meeting. Gilbert provided copies of his documentation to the Sunset Commissioners—the proof that his information IS “factual.”

TxDOT is already working on a plan to create its own system of RPO’s so that residents will think they are getting their own powerful Sub-Regional Planning Commission that represents them, but they will really be getting an RPO that represents TxDOT.

© 2008, ACRE:

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