Saturday, August 23, 2008

"TTC-35 and the NAFTA Superhighway will create a path of destruction all along our nation’s most valuable farm land."

National Geographic recognizes our soil, not the danger to it


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

The September issue of National Geographic has an interesting article, “Our Good Earth,” on the soils of the world and the dangers to them.

If you have access to this issue, please see the map on page 92 and notice how TTC-35 and the NAFTA Superhighway will create a path of destruction all along our nation’s most valuable farm land.

Even though National Geographic ranked this soil as one of the “most highly fertile soils in the world,” the article did not mention the imminent threat to it posed by TTC-35, even though it covered threats to some other soils.

The article is online at in the September issue. I can’t find the map online. It is on page 92 in the print edition. [See the scanned image below]


I have sent the letter below to the magazine. Perhaps if more of us write, National Geographic will recognize the importance of this topic.

Blackland Prairie TTC
Blackland Prairie: DARK GREEN
Trans-Texas Corridor Priority corridors:

To the Editor of National Geographic:

Regarding “Our Good Earth” in the September 2008 issue, one imminent danger not covered in your article is the Trans-Texas Corridor, which is underway in Texas and forms the first stage of the NAFTA Superhighway. Your map on page 92 illustrates that one of the largest areas of the most highly fertile soils in the world begins at the Texas-Mexico border and runs north to the northern Midwest.

Much of this Blackland Prairie in Texas, from the Mexican border to the Oklahoma border, is slated to be paved over by the Trans-Texas Corridor route called TTC-35—an almost quarter-mile wide swath of 10 vehicular lanes, 6 rail lines, and pipeline and utility zones. It is proposed to proceed north from Texas as the NAFTA Superhighway, covering hundreds of thousands of acres of the world’s best farmland, right through the middle of “the world’s breadbasket.”

Texas farmers, ranchers, and other rural residents have been fighting the Corridor for years, and we would like to alert the rest of the country, indeed the world, that one of the largest areas of “Good Earth” in existence is in extreme danger from an unnecessary project that benefits only those who will profit monetarily from its construction, while permanently depriving the world’s population of this invaluable resource.

It is very easy to send a letter to the editor of National Geographic through

© 2008, ACRE:

"It's curious why state legislators would vote in favor of legislation, then waste taxpayer funds to work and have it overturned at the federal level"

Pickens' energy plans clouded by federal decision


By Elliott Blackburn
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Copyright 2008

Federal authorities may unravel a tiny Panhandle government with far-reaching powers.

The U.S. Department of Justice blocked changes to Texas law that last fall helped create the board of the Roberts County Fresh Water Supply District, a body dominated by employees of Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens.

Losing the district's authority could complicate Pickens' most visible means so far of running pipeline and power line infrastructure across the state.

Jay Rosser, spokesman for Pickens' Mesa Water, said the decision as Mesa officials understood it did little to change the board or plans to move massive water and wind energy resources out of the Panhandle and into the Metroplex. State officials were not sure what, if any, consequence the federal decision would force on the board and the water district.

"At this point we can't talk about anything because we haven't seen it," state attorney general spokesman Tom Kelley said.

A decision dated Thursday appears to make three of the board's five supervisors, including its president, ineligible to serve.

The freshwater supply district gave Pickens access to low-interest bonds and to eminent domain, a government's power to compel the sale of private property for public use. Mesa Water and Mesa Power, instruments of Pickens' push to build one of the largest wind farms in the world, joined with the district to pursue right of way between the remote resources and customers in Dallas and Fort Worth.

Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, authored changes overwhelmingly approved last session in the House and Senate allowing a property owner in a freshwater district to serve on the board. Previous law required board supervisors be registered, resident voters.

The change allowed three Pickens employees to serve as supervisors of a Roberts County Fresh Water Supply District created over land wholly owned by Pickens. Only two residents on the property voted in a November election to create the district - both work for Pickens.

The Civil Rights Division of the justice department wrote in a letter dated Aug. 21 that Texas failed to prove Creighton's changes did not harm minority voting rights. A department objection, which carries the same weight as an injunction from a federal court, made a law that took effect nearly a year ago unenforceable.

Officials were still studying what the decision meant. The law changing the supervisor requirements no longer applied, secretary of state spokesman Scott Haywood said. But it was not yet clear how the DOJ's objection may affect the supervisors already serving.

The district could find new, eligible supervisors, Rosser said.

"That's certainly an option, and it would be a relatively easy fix," Rosser said. "The important thing is that it did nothing to challenge the creation or existence of that district."

Mesa could abandon the district proposal entirely. Summer filings with the state Public Utilities Commission suggest the company could consider a more traditional means of stringing its power lines.

"We have a number of other options available that we're pursuing," Rosser said, though he declined to answer where the district now fell among them.

Residents around the Panhandle and in the proposed path of the pipeline greeted plans over the last year with a mix of anger and awe. Many seemed stunned that such a small district could boast such broad reach.

Landowners who attended meetings held by the district and later by Sens. Robert Duncan and Kel Seliger were wary of the eminent domain powers, authority Mesa officials have played down, and frustrated that there seemed no opportunity to tie into the power lines.

The district no longer commands the interest in Roberts County coffee shops that it once did, County Judge Vernon Cook said. Cook opposed the water district but supports Pickens' plans to develop wind energy through the area.

"I'm not at all surprised," Cook said of the federal decision. "We'll have to look at the ruling and fine print on the thing and see what the impact's going to be."

Duncan, a Lubbock Republican, has been critical of the district in public meetings but had no comment Friday.

"It's curious why state legislators would vote in favor of legislation, then waste taxpayer funds to work and have it overturned at the federal level," Rosser said.

© 2008 The Lubbock

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Billionaire Pickens would leave Texas taxpayers holding a bag of wind.

Pickens’ Windy Scheme Will Leave Taxpayers Holding the Bag

August 22, 2008

Zonia Pino
The Heartland Institute
Copyright 2008

T. Boone Pickens is a smart businessman. In fact, he’s a genius at it. In a world where the manufacturers of “green” this and “Earth-friendly” that are rolling in, um, er--green--Pickens has found a way to make the millions spent on jute supermarket bags look like chump change. The state of Texas’s investment of $4.93 billion in wind technology is going to make wind farmers such as Pickens even wealthier.

Pickens’ good fortune overshadows the misfortune of Texas taxpayers who will have to pay for this losing endeavor.

Like many states trying to cope with high energy prices, Texas is banking on wind as the next “big thing.” Unfortunately, wind has had a poor history as an energy source.

For starters, wind power is very unreliable. The turbines that produce the electricity work only when the wind is blowing within a specific, narrow range of speed. In its downtime, the system has to revert to conventional power sources, and the switching between wind and conventional power requires an even greater output of energy just to make the conversion.

Second, wind farms require vast amounts of land in order to garner any energy. Landscapes across America would be blighted by countless regiments of these monstrous machines--often taller than the U.S. Capitol. Much of this land would be acquired through the controversial practice of “eminent domain,” where the government takes private land for the “good” of the larger populace.

With all this tax money and other government favors floating around, naturally many wind farms are now being created for the sole purpose of serving as tax shelters. Large landowners are finding it profitable to use their land for tax breaks and subsidies that are more lucrative than the revenue from electricity they produce. Texas taxpayers are being forced to throw their money to the wind.

Pickens’ recent environmental conversion is a perfect example. He has been buying water rights from the Ogallala Aquifer in the hopes of pipelining water to Dallas--which would provide him with a major windfall. The best route for pipelining that water is the land the state of Texas has granted Pickens to build windmills. Scratch an environmentalist, and you’ll often find an opportunist.

Wind-garnered energy certainly has a place in our energy production mix, along with coal, nuclear, and fossil fuel energy--but it should not come at the expense of the Texas taxpayer.

If Pickens is serious about wind technology, he can well afford to fund the project himself. Governments shouldn’t make us pay for risky business ventures just to make more billions for billionaires while leaving taxpayers holding a bag of wind.

Zonia Pino ( is a legislative specialist for The Heartland Institute.

© 2008 The Heartland

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New Perry scheme would funnel teachers pension fund dollars into risky toll road projects.

State Agrees to Stop Diverting Highway Construction Money

Nearly $10 billion diverted since 1987, many blame diversion for the need for toll roads

August 22, 2008

By Jim Forsyth
WOAI (San Antonio, TX)
Copyright 2008

Governor Perry and other state leaders have agreed to bring a halt to the practice which some say has led to toll roads...the diversion of money from the state's highway fund to other projects, 1200 WOAI news reports.

"Implement a plan that sets a definitive course to end the practice of funding the Department of Public Safety with gas taxes that are needed for road construction, and return to funding the DPS with general revenue," is the first goal in a long term transportation funding plan released by Perry, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, and House Speaker Tom Craddick.

1200 WOAI news has reported extensively on twenty years of efforts to divert gasoline tax money meant to be used to build roads into not just the DPS but to a string of pork-barrel projects, including construction of roadside historical markers, paving parking lots, and other projects only vaguely connected to transportation. A total of $9.7 billion has been diverted by greedy lawmakers over the course of the past ten sessions.

The proposals also calls for creation of the Transportation Finance Corporation, which would allow public investment funds, like teacher pension funds, to be invested directly into toll road construction.

Lawmakers would also authorize the appropriation of so called Proposition 12 bonds approved by voters in November.

Proposition 12 bonds would be bonds backed by the state's highway fund which would be used for highway construction.

"Issuing these bonds needs to be a long term set of solutions for solving our state's transportation problem," TxDOT's Chris Lippincott said.

Taxpayer advocates praised the commitment to stop diverting highway money.

"It is critical that the diversion of dedicated fuel tax dollars come to a stop," said Justin Keener, Vice President of the libertarian-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation. "We are pleased to see agreement to fund DPS from general revenue instead of gas taxes the public expects to be spent on road construction."

But questions were raised about the investment of teachers pension fund money into toll road projects. Some analysts have said that steadily rising gasoline prices, and the cut in driving which those higher prices will continue to cause, will make toll roads less profitable and less desirable in the coming years, especially if alternative types of transportation, like the proposed commuter rail line between San Antonio and Austin, become reality.

© 2008

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Perry, Dewhurst & Craddick want public pension funds to invest in toll road privatization schemes

Perry, Dewhurst, Craddick: Boost highway funding now

Sweeping policy changes to jump-start renewed construction of roads proposed.

Letter to Texas Transportation Commission Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi

August 22, 2008

By Mike Ward, Robert Elder
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

With highway construction slowing because of red tape and budget woes, Texas' top three leaders — Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick — on Thursday proposed sweeping policy changes to jump-start and pay for new road projects.

In a letter to Texas Transportation Commission Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi, the three proposed significant changes in how Texas pays for the roads it builds and said they have "agreed to work together" to make changes.

Otherwise, they said, the state's "ability to fund needed transportation projects in the future is limited," due to cutbacks in federal highway funding, limitations of existing state funding programs and population growth that continues to outpace infrastructure planning.

One prong of the plan would create a Transportation Finance Corporation to allow state investment funds — including the state employee and teacher retirement systems, among others — to directly invest in state transportation projects. Combined, the two state systems manage $135 billion in assets.

State pension officials took a cautious view of investing in state projects in testimony this year before the Senate Finance Committee, saying a mandate to invest in Texas infrastructure could conflict with their duty to find the best return on investment for retirees.

Other highlights of the leadership's plan:

  • Eventually stop funding the Texas Department of Public Safety with gas tax funds, and divert that money — as much as $600 million a year — to road construction. DPS could instead be funded with general revenue tax funds, the proposal suggests.
  • Quickly authorize as much as $5 billion in bonds for additional highway construction projects. Voters approved a constitutional change in November 2007 to allow these bonds, but legislation is still needed to authorize them.
  • Within the next month, sell up to $1.4 billion in bonds already authorized for construction "to ensure that greater road funding levels are maintained through the fall and spring" until the other changes can be made.

Aides to Perry and Craddick said the letter reflects an agreement between Perry and legislative leaders that has been the subject of ongoing negotiations.

In a statement, Dewhurst seemed to agree: "The Legislature is firmly committed to crafting a long-term solution to our state's transportation challenges, while the steps we are taking with this agreement and our current discussions with TxDOT will allow us to meet the priority new construction needs over the next three years."

Delisi didn't return a phone call seeking comment Thursday.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, an advocate for improving Texas' transportation policies, said he supports stopping the diversion of gas tax revenue to DPS and the proposed bond sales.

"The voters have said they want that," he said. "We should look to the local entities to make sure the money goes where people want it to go."

Watson called the financing corporation an idea worthy of further discussion.

Thursday's move came five months after legislative leaders had proposed that the Texas Department of Transportation borrow an additional $1.5 billion against future gas tax revenue to bridge a financial tight spot that was slowing construction.

In February, the agency had announced it would stopped pursuing many new construction projects because funding would not be available in future years to pay for them. In addition, the agency chopped its Central Texas engineering budget from $45.2 million to $19.6 million, further stalling the dates that several proposed new road projects would be completed.

Highway contractors complained at the time that while the funding rollbacks would reduce available projects during the next two years, it could also adversely affect future projects by delaying design and planning work.

The invest-in-Texas-roads idea isn't new. In May 2007, the transportation department's research division published a report titled, "Transportation Infrastructure Opportunities for State Government Pension Plans."

The report said "infrastructure investment, particularly in transportation, has the potential to provide strong, steady returns, and pension plan administrators should embrace this new asset class."

At a March meeting of the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, proposed that the teacher and state worker pension funds could loan money for infrastructure projects on their own accord or invest alongside private entities through a newly created partnership.

"Our trust funds are now investing in infrastructure in other states and other countries," Ogden said, so it may make sense for the funds to invest in Texas.

Ogden's Capitol office said he wasn't available for comment Thursday.

Pension fund officials told Ogden at the hearing that any investment must earn a competitive return with similar deals.

Britt Harris, the chief investment officer of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, said infrastructure investing could make sense if the deal was "equal to or better than something we can get in another (investment) vehicle."

The pension fund's "ultimate loyalty is to the members," Harris said, not to target investments based on geography or politics.

Mary Jane Wardlow, spokeswoman for the Employees Retirement System of Texas, said system officials had only seen the letter Thursday and had no comment on the plan.; 445-1712;; 445-3671

© 2008 Austin

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Poor traffic numbers shock Macquarie Investors

MIG bashed for value cut

August 22, 2008

Scott Rochfort
The Age (Australia)
Copyright 2008

MACQUARIE Infrastructure Group has suffered one of its worst one-day drubbings after the toll-road group slashed the book value of its assets by $1.7 billion.

Securities in MIG closed down 14¢ at $2.49, having slumped as much as 44¢, or 17%, in morning trade, after the company shocked investors by announcing the book value of its portfolio of toll roads had fallen from $10.2 billion to $8.6 billion in the second half. This had led to a fall in MIG's net asset value per share from $4.59 to $3.84. The company blamed the devaluation on changing "risk premiums" on several of its roads.

MIG also said it would sell its 50% stake in Sydney's M7, to help fund the buyback of 10% of its stock. But MIG chief executive John Hughes denied it was part of a wider strategy by Macquarie eventually to delist underperforming funds.

"We've told the market for two-odd years that we're a developer of roads," said Mr Hughes, arguing MIG never intended to hold on to its 50% stake in the M7 for the long term. "It makes good sense to see what value we can crystallise in an economy that's doing really well," he said.

Speculation of a possible privatisation of Macquarie's various infrastructure funds has gathered pace since mid-June, when the investment house announced plans to privatise its underperforming cashbox Macquarie Capital Alliance Group.

The share price fall was exacerbated by MIG reporting a bigger than expected 55% fall in net profit to $767 million. But MIG said its final distribution would be unchanged at 10¢ a security.

The biggest contributor to the $1.7 billion cut in the value of MIG's roads was the slashing of the book value of its stake in Britain's longest toll road, the M6, from $3 billion to $2.2 billion, which was partly blamed on poor traffic numbers.

MIG said it expected to conclude the sale of the Sydney M7 stake — worth $802 million on its books — by January. It is also looking to divest its stake in the Portuguese Lusoponte toll road worth $188 million.

But Mr Hughes rejected speculation MIG could also sell its remaining stake in its various US toll roads. It sold a 50% stake to the unlisted Macquarie Infrastructure Partners in late 2006.

© 2008 The

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Proposed Grand Parkway toll road blindsides homeowners

Consumer Watch: No one-stop site to track road plans

Aug. 22, 2008

Copyright 2008
Houston Chronicle

Bob Elliott and his wife, Virginia, thought they had moved into their dream home, the last one they would ever buy.

Now, after about two weeks in their house in the Lakes of Avalon subdivision in Spring, the Elliotts don't see much of a future there. That's because 60 lots in the subdivision are in the right of way of a proposed segment of the Grand Parkway.

"It leaves us in a subdivision that is now garbage," Bob Elliott said. "We have lost tremendous value on our homes, not to mention the fact that we are not a regular subdivision now. We are just on a piece of land right off the freeway."

The Elliotts and their neighbors are left wondering why weren't they told by the builders or the developer that the roadway would go through their subdivision of several hundred houses between FM 2920 and Kuykendahl Road

Unfortunately for homebuyers, there is no one-stop location — physical or on the Internet — to get information about subdivision developments and proposed roadways in the Houston area. So, you're going to have to check with various entities — the city of Houston, Harris County, toll road authorities, transit agencies and other agencies — to see what they have planned for an area.

Hard to believe

Tracy Martin, a Lakes of Avalon resident, said she didn't check beforehand to see if the parkway was coming through her neighborhood because she thought nothing like that would happen to a new subdivision.

"And, by no means, even if you yourself had all the background and all the education to check for the tollway, if you had seen the neighborhood that we stay in, not once would you have thought that a Grand Parkway would cut it in half," she said.

As the owner of a real estate company, Elliott said he's familiar with the services available for prospective homebuyers wanting to check on construction projects.

"There is no database," he said. "When you get something like this (Grand Parkway) that's been in the works for 25 years, nobody knows anything. Even today, I cannot find a map that shows the streets."

David Gornet, executive director of the Grand Parkway Association, said the proposed segments of the 185-mile highway are on the nonprofit group's Web site.

But, as Elliott points out, since the maps only include major roads, that makes it difficult to see the neighborhood streets that will be affected.

Fighting the route

Robert A. Hudson, a Spring developer who partnered with Lennar on the project, has said builders knew the highway might come through the subdivision.

Daris Horn, regional customer care manager for Lennar, sidestepped questions about that. But she said the builder will do what it can to help change the route.

"We live there, too," Horn said. "We have homes that are not sold. We have associates that live in that community, so we feel like they are a part of us."

Suzy Hartgrove, public affairs manager for the city of Houston's Planning Department, said it would be nice if there was one location where a consumer could look for data on proposed construction of roads, water treatment plants and other public projects in the area.

She recommended checking each governmental agency's Web site for capital improvement projects.

Hartgrove said Houston's public works department has a weekly report that lists major construction permits by ZIP codes.

Deborah Vaughn, director of architecture and engineering for the Harris County Public Infrastructure Department, said the county has a Web site at with capital improvement projects planned by county agencies, including the Toll Road Authority, Flood Control District and the Architecture and Engineering Division. Raequel Roberts, the Metropolitan Transit Authority's spokeswoman, said its projects on are the Web site under the tab of "Metro Solutions" at

Got a problem?

You don't have to search agency after agency to get your consumer problems solved. Send an e-mail to And check out the Consumer Watch blog at

© 2008 The Houston

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Perry, Craddick and Dewhurst pledge create an infrastructure bank (Transportation Finance Corporation) for TxDOT

Texas officials urge TxDOT to issue $1.5B in bonds for new roads

August 21, 2008

Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

Gov. Rick Perry has joined leaders of the Texas Legislature in calling on the state transportation department to immediately issue about $1.5 billion in bonds to pay for more roads, a step the governor and department officials have resisted for months.

In a joint letter issued today by the governor's office, Mr. Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick urged transportation chairman Deirdre Delisi to take steps to issue the additional debt by as soon as September.

The extra debt has been a priority for lawmakers for nearly a year, ever since TxDOT began reining in spending as it confronted a long list of financial worries – from the growing construction costs, a soaring maintenance burden associated with Texas' aging roads, and a flat gas tax rate that hasn't been upped since 1991.

Despite those costs, and their own opposition to raising revenues, many lawmakers, including Mr. Dewhurst, accused TxDOT of painting an overly dire picture of its finances. The worry was that the poor-mouthing was aimed at weakening the legislature's opposition to toll roads as a new session looms in 2009.

For proof, many looked at the department's refusal to include in its financial plan the availability of the bonds, and to exclude another $5 billion in bonds made available by a constitutional amendment approved by voters last fall.

As TxDOT trimmed its spending, road projects got delayed across Texas, though in Dallas most of the impact was muted by the availability of money from the North Texas Tollway Authority.

Ms. Delisi, Mr. Perry's former chief of staff, insisted as recently as earlier this summer that issuing the extra debt without what she called a long-term solution would be irresponsible. TxDOT CFO James Bass warned that the bonds would cost so much interest over the next 20 years that their long-term effect would be negligible.

Gov. Perry, in an Austin speech in April, flatly refused to heed calls from Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and others to borrow more.

But Thursday's announcement changes all that, a spokesman for Gov. Perry said.

"The governor is tremendously pleased. We wanted a long-term solution," said spokeswoman Allison Castle.

The letter is just that, she said. It pledges that that in return for the governor's support for the immediate spending, the lawmakers will also provide new funds to cover the payments on the $5 billion in bonds approved by voters in November, and give TxDOT the legal authority to issue that debt.

More importantly, the letter pledges all parties end a practice that has become routine in the legislature: spending some $1.2 billion in gas tax money each session to fund the Department of Public Safety, a practice long decried by Gov. Perry and state and local transportation officials.

Just how strong a commitment the lawmakers have pledged to make is unclear, though, given that Thursday's letter makes no mention of how quickly the diversion of gas tax funds will actually end. The goal will be to fund DPS from the general fund, but the letter does not indicate where that money will come from.

All three leaders also pledged to support the creation of what they are calling a "Transportation Finance Corporation or similar entity that will allow public Texas based investment funds to invest directly in Texas transportation projects that offer a potential solid long term return."

How that will work, and who will be allowed to invest in such a company, will have to be determined when lawmakers return to Austin in January, Ms. Castle said.

© 2008 The Dallas Morning

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Three Amigos "agree to work together."

Big 3: Boost highway funding now

August 21, 2008

By Mike Ward
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

With budget limitations slowing highway building as needs continue to grow, Texas’ top three leaders — Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick — today proposed sweeping policy changes to jump-start renewed construction.

In a letter to Texas Transportation Commission Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi, the trio proposed significant changes in how Texas pays for the roads it builds and said they have “agreed to work together” to make changes.

Otherwise, they warned, the state’s “ability to fund needed transportation projects in the future is limited” — thanks to cutbacks in federal highway funding, limitations of existing state funding programs, growing construction costs and population growth that continues to outpace planning for new roads.

Highlights of the new plan:
  • Stop funding the Texas Department of Public Safety with gas tax funds, and divert those millions to road construction. DPS could instead be funded with general revenue tax funds.
  • Create a special Transportation Finance Corporation to allow Texas-based investment funds to directly invest in state transportation projects.
  • Authorize perhaps as much as $5 billion in bonds for additional highway construction projects. Voters approved a constitutional change in November 2007 to allow these bonds, but legislation is still needed to authorize them.
  • Within the next month, sell up to $1.4 billion in bonds already authorized for construction bonds “to ensure that greater road funding levels are maintained through the fall and spring” until the other changes can be made.
“We believe these measures to be a good start to addressing the long-term challenges of financing a world-class transportation system,” the letter to Delisi states.

However, the letter continues, because an ongoing analysis will show that “more is needed … we intend to keep working toward consensus on additional solutions to further ensure that this state and its communities have access to the necessary funding tools to meet our transportation needs.”

No immediate word from legislative leaders on the proposal.

© 2008 Austin

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Withheld documents, are called "a small addition" by the TxDOT, but "numerous" by U.S. District Judge

New documents cause delay in U.S. 281 tollway lawsuit


By Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2008

A judge on Wednesday granted a 60-day delay on the U.S. 281 tollway lawsuit so federal officials can review recently discovered documents from a state environmental study.

The documents, called “a small addition” by the Texas Department of Transportation but “numerous” by U.S. District Judge Fred Biery, could alter the Federal Highway Administration's environmental clearance for the eight-mile toll road.

Toll critics and environmentalists filed the lawsuit in February to challenge the environmental study's thoroughness.

“TxDOT has discovered numerous documents containing potential evidence which, to its credit, says should be reviewed,” Biery said in a four-page order.

The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, which took over the U.S. 281 toll project from TxDOT, promised not to start construction during the break, the order says.

Biery also noted that court battles take time. Thirty-plus years ago, the U.S. 281 project now known as McAllister Freeway was locked in litigation for 14 years and many contracts were delayed.

“The court presumes counsel and the parties will continue to use best efforts to proceed efficiently and professionally,” the order says. “Like good wine, the court will make no opinion before its time.”

© 2008 KENS 5 and the San Antonio

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The TTC project "will constitute the largest conversion of Prime Farmland for a single project in the history of Texas."

Groups claiming TxDOT falsified toll project studies

Related Link: Texas 391 Commission Alliance

August 21, 2008

Country World News
Copyright 2008

Members of a Central Texas sub-regional planning commission believe they have found a "smoking gun" that proves the state's transportation department alledgely falsified an environmental study on the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor.

The development comes from a lawsuit filed by Texans United for Reform (TURF) over a Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) proposal to convert part of U.S. Highway 281 into a toll road. TURF members allege that TxDOT emails show that the department "rigged" the environmental work for the 281 project to pre-determine a finding of "No Significant Impact" before the study began.

Members of the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission, which was formed to make sure the state involves people affected by the TTC in the process, believe the allegations by TURF are significant because it shows that TxDOT has done with the 281 study exactly what the commission has accused TxDOT of doing in relation to the corridor proposal.

"What TURF and the Edwards Aquifer Guardians have uncovered shows that the conclusion was there before the study was even done," commission member Ralph Snyder of Holland said at a meeting of the commission on Aug. 12. "They cherry-picked the information to arrive at the conclusion they want.

"This is the most important thing to happen since the inception of the TTC-35. It makes our case by showing that they (TxDOT) worked all along toward a pre-determined conclusion."

Gov. Rick Perry proposed the TTC in 2002 as a series of six-lane highways with separate high-speed rail lines and utility corridors criss-crossing the state. Each corridor could be as wide as 1,200 feet.

Perry, TxDOT and others have touted the corridors as a solution to the state's transportation problems, but opposition has arisen on several fronts, particularly in the rural parts of the state where the corridors would have the biggest impact.

The sub regional planning commissions are local groups formed in response to the Texas Local Government Code, Chapter 391, which requires state agencies "to the greatest extent feasible" to coordinate with local commissions to "ensure effective and orderly implementation of state programs at the regional level."

The Eastern Central Texas commission was formed in August of last year to challenge TTC-35, the first leg of the proposed TTC system, which would run about 600 miles from Gainesville to Laredo, roughly parallel to IH-35. Eight other such groups have formed across the state, most of them in East Texas where another leg of the TTC, TTC-69, has been proposed.

The commission has asked for a supplemental report from TxDOT, which in turn has asked the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) if it has to conduct the supplemental report. The commission received a reply from Janice Weingart Brown, division administrator for the FHA on Aug. 6.

"I can assure you that concerns that you have raised will be addressed in our Final EIS (Environmental Impact Study)," Brown wrote. "FHWA is also independently reviewing and considering the environmental documents being prepared by TxDOT.

"Based on the public involvement meetings that have been conducted and our review and analysis of comments, we firmly believe we are following the prescribed processes and regulations under NEPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the Council on Environmental Quality."

Margaret Byfield with the American Land Foundation, a private property rights group working with the sub-regional planning commissions, noted that the letter is dated one day before the allegations over TURF's 281 lawsuit broke. She added that the letter really doesn't comment on the commission's request for a supplemental report.

"It makes no commitment," she said. "It infers that it will address our concerns in the TIER 2 study, which is too late. TIER 1 approves the building of the highway. TIER 2 is concerned with where the highway will be built."

The commission voted unanimously to forward the letter to Fred Kelly Grant, attorney for the American Land Foundation.

Grant, who lives in Idaho, emailed commission members prior to the August meeting about the TURF 281 lawsuit. "I have already asked for documents from the discovery to include in a proposed augmentation petition for you to send to the federal highway administration," he wrote. "The inference of lack of credibility which is made in your original petition will now be actual, not just an inference."

The commission also received a copy of a May 2006 letter from then state conservationist Larry Butler to engineer Edward Pensock with TxDOT on farmland protection issues related to TTC.

In that letter, Butler said that the TTC project "will constitute the largest conversion of Prime Farmland for a single project in the history of Texas."

The letter also addressed the issue of small dams on private property that are designed to control flooding, noting that more than 260 of those small dams are located in the TTC-35 study area.

"Direct impacts include areas where the TTC-35 might eliminate the structure, causing roads, bridges, towns and houses to flood."

Current state conservationist Don Goihmert addressed the group last month and said the state's NRCS office would conduct a study for the group to further evaluate the impact of the TTC along specific routes identified by TxDOT.

© 2008 Country World

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Mike Krusee pitches toll road snake oil in Utah

National advocate for doing away with gas tax for toll booths finds support among state lawmakers


By Brandon Loomis
The Salt Lake Tribune
Copyright 2008

Utah's pending shift to time-of-day tolls in freeway express lanes moves the state one step closer to a necessary overhaul in highway funding, a national transportation advocate told legislators Wednesday.

Tolls are fairer and stabler revenues for road building and must anchor infrastructure plans since gas taxes will fail, starting next year, to keep the federal highway trust fund solvent, said Texas state Rep. Mike Krusee, a member of the National Transportation Infrastructure Finance Commission.

After the presidential election, that commission will recommend a national shift away from gas taxes and toward tolls to charge people for interstates they use - and more during rush hours - essentially turning freeways into fee-ways.

Both federal and state governments will have to make the change - some key Utah lawmakers are interested - as the trust fund is drained, Krusee said. The fund's shortfall will start at $5 billion next year and swell to $30 billion in 2010, likely meaning a one-third reduction in federal assistance for Utah roads, he warned.

"We don't even know in 20 to 30 years if [motorists] are going to be buying any fuel or what kind of fuel they'll be buying," Krusee told the Utah Legislature's Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee. His answer: Charge for miles traveled.

The Utah Department of Transportation plans to use electronic on Interstate 15 within two years so commuters can spot-pay for express lanes. The amount - which has yet to be set - will depend on how busy the freeway is at the time of travel. Higher traffic will mean a higher toll.

That plan could stretch to all lanes if state and federal lawmakers do as Krusee suggests.

The Texas lawmaker called the current funding plan a subsidy by taxpayers to suburban developers who use the roads to open cheaper lands and further bog down commuter-hour traffic. Charging a toll instead means everyone pays their way and the government gets a return on its investment, which it can bond against for future projects.

Electronic scanners are the method of future tolls nationwide and already are used in places such as Chicago, Krusee said. It's necessary to install cameras as well, so that cars without transmitters can be charged the toll by mail if their license plate is spotted.

Texas built a $3 billion tollway around Austin four years ago, Krusee said, and within six months sold as many transmitters for it as there are residents in the county.
UDOT pays about 85 percent for its own road projects, potentially lessening the blow from federal shortfalls compared with states that get half or more from U.S. gas taxes. But Krusee sees a market approach as the surest way for future generations to snag needed funding.

He found enthusiastic supporters in the Utah Legislature.

"Hearing you is a breath of fresh air," Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said. "I just want to welcome you to the socialist republic of Utah," a reference to what he considers subsidized rush hours.

Stephenson is president of the business-backed Utah Taxpayers Association, which supports freeway congestion pricing. He said it is wrong for taxpayers to subsidize interstate capacity built to meet the demands of just four hours a day. Better, he added, to have those peak-hour drivers pay their way.

More than half the motorists on the nation's freeways during rush hours are not driving to or from work, Krusee said. Charging them might move them off the road until later, speeding up traffic.

Sen. President John Valentine, R-Orem, said he is "intrigued" by a market approach to roads.

E-tolls ahead
Electronic tolling is coming to Interstate 15's express lanes within two years. Details about the transmitters and possible fares have yet to be set, but motorists will pay more during rush hours.

© 2008 Salt Lake

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"Toll roads face a more uncertain future than other transportation sectors."

Fitch Report Glum on Airports, Toll Roads

August 20, 2008

By Audrey Dutton
The Bond Buyer
Copyright 2008

WASHINGTON - Airports and toll roads face a more uncertain future than other transportation sectors, Fitch Ratings said in a special report due out today. The agency revised its outlook for both airports and toll roads to negative from stable, and suggested the sectors may be undergoing permanent transformation.

The negative outlook is "based on continued weakness in enplanements and toll-paying traffic volumes that are being adversely affected by more than seven months of volatile fuel prices, economic weakness, and inflationary pressures," the report said.

The revision to negative comes only five months after Fitch's special report on global infrastructure and finance for 2008 that gave airports and toll roads a stable outlook, despite its expectations for pressure on both sectors.

But the sluggish economy combined with "an approximately 33% increase in gasoline prices and a 52% increase in jet fuel prices from 2007" led to airport passenger declines up to 19% and a drop in toll-paying traffic of as much as 16%, the report said.

Moody's Investors Service last week lowered its own outlook for airports to negative, with fuel prices as a major factor. Airports are expected to see service reductions in the near term, as airlines try to shave off excess capacity during the post-summer travel months.

"The question is, could that continue, and could that be a shift in the paradigm?" said Mike McDermott of Fitch.

Larger airports with international service and expressway systems have "fared slightly better" than other categories of airports and toll facilities, but the overall trend is declining traffic, the report said. The southwest was highlighted as the "most challenging" region for both airports and toll roads.

The changing travel patterns on toll roads could have a longer-term effect than on the airport sector, McDermott said. Commuters may change where they live or work because of the high cost of commuting, or start using public transit more than cars, he said.

"On the surface side, continued pressure could result in the federal government providing a larger increase in funding for transit, with more limited growth for highways. In addition, we could also see a longer-term shift in population trends with growth accelerating in the urban core and slowing in suburban areas, where driving in congestion is currently a part of daily life," the report said. "The combination of policy and demographic shifts could have a significant impact for toll road credits over the longer term, as they will likely take a much longer time to develop. If they do materialize, prospects for roads dependent upon sustained long-term growth could be impacted."

Fitch plans to release a more detailed report on credits for toll roads and airports in September, followed in October by a report on sea ports and transit systems. For now, Fitch's outlook for ports and transit remains stable. Today's report said that while transit is not immune to higher fuel costs and slowed economic and tax revenue growth, the sector is benefiting from increased ridership and support for growth in services.

The nation's seaports are also seeing a "mixed bag," with declining imports somewhat mitigated by growth in exports, Fitch said.

Ports that launched expansion projects to bring more inbound traffic could be pressured by lowered volume, the agency said. But ports have protection through long-term leases that have locked up some ports' revenues, said Fitch analyst Jesse Ortega in an interview.

© 2008 The Bond

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Toll road finance gets even riskier

Toll road and airport projects are now riskier

August 20, 2008

Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2008

High fuel prices, inflation and a dragging economy have made bonds for toll roads and airports riskier, Fitch Ratings said in a report today.

Click image for bigger version.

With tollway and airport traffic down as much as 16 and 19 percent, respectively, the report said the outlook for tollways and airports is now negative, down from a stable assessment just five months ago.

"The question is whether the current trend will continue for a longer period," it states. "It is Fitch's view that challenging conditions will persist over the next one to two years."

Though fuel prices have been dropping from last month's record, the economy and credit markets remain troubled and Europe and other counries show signs of stress, the report explains. Besides, food and other commodities haven't joined the fuel-cost slide.

Not mentioned is that the U.S. Energy Information Administration expects even higher gas prices next year, and a debate slogs ahead on whether global oil production has peaked — and if not, then when — and how well technologies and alternative sources can fill the gap. Many agree that the age of cheap energy is over.

If pressures continue, and policymakers start pushing more money to public transit and more people begin shunning suburbs to live in urban cores, toll roads will face bigger problems, the report says. Airports could lose 10 percent of capacity within several years.

The report's title rings ominous: U.S. Transportation Assets: Facing a Temporary Decline or a Permanent Change?


Most U.S. toll roads now face traffic losses of 2 to 10 percent, says the Fitch report, which tracked numbers through June. Operators may have to boost rates and cut costs to keep bond ratings healthy, which might be difficult, even more difficult for private concessionaires charging maximums allowed in contracts.

Texas toll hopes, though, aren't as bleak.

"Facilities in Texas appear to be a bright spot, with year-on-year reductions of less than 5 percent, which is half of what most other facilities in the Northeast, Midwest, Southeast and the West are experiencing to date," the report says.


Seats on domestic flights could be down nearly 8 percent in the last quarter of 2008 compared to a year ago, the Fitch report says. Major airport hubs will fare better, losing only 6 percent.

Some airports could grow mostly because Southwest Airlines continues to expand, it says. San Antonio International Airport, where Southwest is by far the biggest carrier, saw record months in May and again in June. But several airlines, including Southwest, recently announced they will pull back some flights here.

Most U.S. carriers plan to cut capacity 6 to 14 percent in the third and fourth quarters of this year, Fitch says. Airports in the middle of big projects, such as San Antonio's huge expansion, will likely have less flexibility to weather any financial storms.

© 2008 San Antonio

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"Toll roads have seen traffic fall as much as 16 percent."

Fitch: Negative outlook on US airports, toll roads

Aug 20, 2008

Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Tom Hals
Copyright 2008

CHICAGO- Skyrocketing fuel prices and drops in U.S. airport and toll road traffic led Fitch Ratings to revise outlooks for the two sectors to negative from stable, the rating agency said Wednesday.

Fitch cited continued weakness in airline travel and toll-paying traffic volume that "are being adversely affected by more than seven months of volatile fuel prices, economic weakness and inflationary pressures."

For U.S. airports, Fitch's action followed Moody's Investors Service's revision last week of the sector's credit outlook to negative. Standard & Poor's Ratings Services said in July that airport credit quality was stable but threatened.

The number of air passengers has fallen as much as 19 percent, while jet fuel prices jumped 52 percent over 2007, Fitch said.

Major carries such as UAL Corp's (UAUA.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) United Airlines, AMR Corp's (AMR.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) American Airlines, Northwest Airlines Corp (NWA.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Continental Airlines (CAL.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) have announced plans to reduce domestic flights as they battle high fuel prices.

Fewer flights and passengers mean less revenue for airports in terms of landing fees, concession business and parking.

Large hubs with international traffic have fared better than other airports, according to Fitch.

Airports have options to deal with revenue pressure, the rating agency said, including deferring capital improvement plans, closing down underutilized terminal space, and raising parking fees.

Toll roads, meanwhile, have seen traffic fall as much as 16 percent, as gasoline prices have risen about 33 percent, Fitch said.

"The key to maintaining financial flexibility during the current environment is for a combination of rate increases and cost-cutting measures," Fitch said.

On a regional basis, the rating agency said the economic situation in the southeast for both airports and toll roads appears to be the most challenging.

© 2008 Thompson and

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Sober(?) Mike Krusee warms up for career as toll road lobbyist

Texas Lawmaker Talks Toll Roads with Utah Legislature

Aug 20, 2008

by Jeff Robinson
(KCPW News)
Copyright 2008

Utah lawmakers took tips on highway funding from a Texas legislator this morning. Texas Republican Representative Mike Krusee joined them on Capitol Hill. He told the Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee that with federal money drying up, the only way to pay for new highways is to make them toll roads.

"Guess how many roads pay for themselves in taxes? Zero. Not a one. Most of them are less than 50 percent," said Krusee. "Imagine if you're a grocery a store owner, and you decide, I'm gonna sell sirloin at a buck a pound, and I'm gonna sell milk at a dime a gallon. That's basically what's happening with transportation. We're letting people use our roads for three cents a mile, when it costs us 20 to 30 cents a mile."

Krusee noted that both the state and federal government will collect less and less money from gas tax revenues as residents buy more fuel efficient cars or drive less.

The lawmaker, who chairs the Texas House Committee on Transportation, also urged lawmakers to consider congestion pricing. It's a method of collecting tolls during peak traffic times so that fewer cars use the road.

"If the road gets really congested, you just raise the price until some people decide to use alternatives, and that road is free-flow," said Krusee. "When you can tell people and you can tell businesses that they have a certainty in traveling from A to B at all times, I think that's really valuable for your economy, and I think it's also good for your quality of life."

Krusee's remarks to the Utah legislature came as the state decides whether to make the planned Mountain View Corridor a toll road. Several west side cities have urged the legislature not to do so, though UDOT says it will face a $16.5 billion shortfall in the next two decades with the current revenue streams.

© 2008

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Krusee will go to trial for drunk driving charge

Krusee’s drunken driving case going to trial

August 20, 2008

By Isadora Vail
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, will go to trial for his drunken driving charge on Nov. 17.

Krusee’s attorney, Jason Nassour, said Krusee was in Utah speaking to state legislators and was not able to attend the court hearing this morning. He said Krusee was not required to be in court, and Nassour entered a not guilty plea for his client.

Visiting Judge Chuck Miller, filling in for County Judge Suzanne Brooks, set the case for pre-trial on Oct. 7 and trial on Nov. 17.

Krusee was arrested April 30 after a trooper saw Krusee’s car swerving on U.S. 183, according to an arrest affidavit. He failed field sobriety tests and refused a breath and blood test, according to the affidavit.

Krusee carried and passed legislation in 2003 that created the “driver responsibility program” to help fund the Texas Mobility Fund. That program included a number of surcharges for driving offenses, including $1,000 for a first conviction of driving while intoxicated.

© 2008 Austin

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"Toll rate adjustments to prevent or minimize revenue loss could prove difficult."

Fitch Revises U.S. Airports and Toll Roads Outlooks to Negative

August 20, 2008

Copyright 2008

NEW YORK-- Fitch Ratings has revised the Outlooks for the U.S. Airports and Toll Roads sectors to Negative from Stable. According to the special report, 'U.S. Transportation Assets: Facing a Temporary Decline or a Permanent Change?', driving the outlook revisions are continued weakness in enplanements and toll-paying traffic that are being adversely affected by more than seven months of volatile fuel prices, economic weakness and inflationary pressures.

Fitch analysts say that given continued economic weakness coupled with an approximately 33% increase in gasoline prices and a 52% increase in jet fuel prices from 2007, U.S. airports and toll roads are now experiencing declines in enplaned passengers and toll paying traffic of as much as 18% and 16%, respectively.

To the extent the combination of volatile fuel prices and a weak economy persist for some time, management's ability to pass along cost increases through adjustments in terminal and airfield leases and toll rate adjustments to prevent or minimize revenue loss could prove difficult.

Fitch says enplanement and traffic reductions do vary significantly across the gamut of U.S. airports and toll roads given the varying economic strength and other competitive characteristics that exist in the airport and toll road sectors. To date, large hubs with an international component and expressway systems have fared slightly better than other categories of airports and toll roads. The overall trend by region shows that the economic situation in the southeast for both airports and toll roads appears to be the most challenging.

In Fitch's view, if the underlying pressures continue unabated over the next several years there is the potential for more fundamental change in airline pricing that could sustain the capacity reductions planned for the third and fourth quarters of 2008 - thus taking out a portion of the low fare capacity added over the last five years.

In addition to airports and toll roads, higher fuel prices, the slide of the U.S. dollar and the weakening economy have been impacting transit systems and seaports. While the Outlook for transit systems and seaports remains Stable, Fitch is in the process of analyzing sector and asset specific trends. A more detailed analysis of these sectors will be available in October.

Fitch will host a teleconference in early September highlighting key findings in today's special report and will issue a more comprehensive analysis of the airport and road sectors to highlight credits that are at risk in the current economic environment in late September.
Fitch's special report 'U.S. Transportation Assets: Facing a Temporary Decline or a Permanent Change?' is now available at

SOURCE: Fitch Ratings

Fitch Ratings, New York
Michael McDermott, +1-212-908-0605
Cindy Stoller, +1-212-908-0526 (Media Relations)

© 2008

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Monday, August 18, 2008

"Lawmakers divert approximately 40 percent of the revenue received from our gasoline tax, which also has been frozen for at least the past decade."

Legislators Continue to Divert Tax Revenues

August 18, 2008

Peter Stern
Capitol Hill Blue
Copyright 2008

Legislators Must Stop Diverting Revenues from the Gasoline Tax

What's the use of having a budget and taxes if legislators override them and use funds for other issues?

The gasoline tax was created and implemented to provide the revenue needed to build and maintain our roadways; however, a large portion of that revenue is diverted to other "causes".

In addition various tax dollars are "stored" in general funds and are used for anything that officials feel they want to.

Unfortunately, as is done with many such 'funds', the legislature is permitted to move around the revenue to other interests.

It is common knowledge that lawmakers are diverting approximately 40 percent of the revenue received from our gasoline tax, which also has been frozen for at least the past decade.

Where does it go?

Some of it goes to higher education and some to the Department of Public Safety.

Is it legal for lawmakers to divert the revenue?

While it may be legal, it is NOT the right thing to do. It is NOT ethical.

Last year Senator John Carona, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, stated that it was time to use the revenue from gas taxes for what it had been intended: building and maintaining Texas roadways.

However, the "beat" goes on and on, as too often our officials use our tax dollars for whatever whim is in vogue.

While legislators should have resolved this issue years ago, it is better late than never since the price of gasoline has risen dramatically and has spurred on daily living costs as well.

Another political issue re: the diversion and freezing of our gasoline taxes is the plan for toll roads throughout the state. The governor and pro-toll proponents, including the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), point to the lack of transportation revenue and insufficient gas tax revenues to continue building highways [as you go method] and that toll roads are needed. Toll roads are special interest efforts and are NOT cost-effective.

Hardworking Texans should contact their Senators and House of Representatives to apply some additional pressure on lawmakers to use the gas tax revenue solely to build and maintain our roads.



House of Representatives:

© 2008 Capitol Hill

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