Saturday, November 01, 2008

"TxDOT never should have built those lanes as narrow as they did and sacrifice public safety for political whim. That was inexcusable."

TxDOT sacrificed safety on Central's HOV lanes, says lawmaker


Copyright 2008

A powerful state lawmaker says the Texas Department of Transportation caved in to political pressure when it scrapped designs for much safer HOV lanes on North Central Expressway.

News 8 has learned that plastic pylons were a compromise for TxDOT, which had long insisted on concrete barriers to separate the HOV lanes from other traffic.

"I think TxDOT cut corners," said Republican state representative Linda Harper-Brown, chair of the House Transportation Committee.

She's reacting to the News 8 report showing the plastic pylons lining the HOV lane on North Central Expressway do not prevent cross-overs; accidents are up 40 percent; and three motorists have already been killed.

News 8 found TxDOT scrapped plans for a single, reversible HOV lane, protected by concrete barriers. Instead, it squeezed two lanes in roughly the same space and lined them with plastic pylons.

Brian Barth is TxDOT's director of planning. "If we had the space to put concrete barriers in this concurrent design, I think we would've done that," he said.

Harper-Brown is also chair of the Sunset Commission. It will review TxDOT's performance this session, and could restructure the agency.

She says TxDOT's design of North Central Expressway's HOV lanes will be a major issue.

"I think we'll have considerable conversation about it," she said.

Harper-Brown is particularly concerned that TxDOT was originally dead-set against the two-lane design, but reversed itself when local communities pushed hard for the two-lane design. They argued two lanes would better serve a growing population.

"TxDOT never should have built those lanes as narrow as they did and sacrifice public safety for political whim.That was inexcusable," Harper-Brown added.


© 2008 WFAA-TV:

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Ideology takes its toll: "The corporate privatization model pushed by the Bush DOT and Rick Perry are by far the most expensive way to do the job."

The Wrong of Way

Texas highways for lease.

by Pat Choate
The Texas Observer
Copyright 2008

The administration of President George W. Bush had three major domestic goals: privatize Social Security, transfer federal work to private corporations, and shift the financing, construction, and operation of America’s busiest highways, including the high-traffic parts of the interstate system, from public freeways to privately operated toll roads.

The tolling of major parts of America’s road system is a fundamental shift from traditional U.S. policy of providing the best roads at the lowest cost to a market-based approach that seeks to maximize highway revenues. The resulting costs can be high. In northern Virginia, for instance, a private consortium led by an Australian company is now constructing toll lanes inside the public right-of-way and will charge commuters $1.54 per mile during rush hours. Similar projects are under way in 24 other states.

The two people responsible for implementing the Bush administration’s tolling policies are U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters and D.J. Gribbin, the department’s general counsel. Both worked for the Federal Highway Administration during Bush’s first term, and then both left to work for companies involved with tolling. Peters headed consulting at HDR Inc., a major engineering firm. Gribbin was the Washington lobbyist for Macquarie Holdings (USA) Inc., one of the world’s largest toll road operators.

Not surprisingly, George W. Bush’s home state of Texas, following the lead of states like Indiana, is a principal proving ground for his administration’s road privatization program.

In brief, the generic name for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s privatization program is Public-Private Partnerships. Most often, the arrangement allows a private company either to convert existing highways to toll roads or to plan, finance, build, and operate roads and bridges.

In 2005, for example, the state of Indiana created one of the first partnership arrangements by selling a 75-year operating concession on the Indiana Toll Road, which runs east-west for 157 miles across the northern part of the state, to Macquarie-Cintra, an Australian-Spanish consortium, for a $3.85 billion up-front payment.

Dangerous Business

Newly elected Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who was Bush’s first budget director, rushed the deal to a conclusion in a record 117 days in 2005. The enormous up-front payment allowed Daniels to keep his “no-new-taxes” campaign pledge, distribute $250 million to the counties surrounding the toll road, and fund dozens of other projects. In exchange, the toll company got to double the tolls, then double them again. Further on, the consortium can raise tolls according to a generous formula built into the contract.

Later, Indiana legislators learned that they had leased a public asset for $3.85 billion that would produce at least $121 billion of revenue over its 75-year contract life.

They also discovered that they had given the Spanish and Australian corporations a “no compete” clause in an area 10 miles along either side of the road. If Indiana violated that clause, such as improving local roads that would deflect traffic from the turnpike, the state had to pay the consortium for any lost revenues. Thus, for the next 70 years, two foreign corporations will have control over development in a 20-by-157 mile, 2-million-acre swath through the middle of Indiana.

As part of these tolling deals, the state also gets part of the revenues—up to half in the Texas contracts—making these programs as much about financing state government through transport taxes as it is about providing good roads and bridges. Today, Texas uses half the monies collected for its highway fund to finance nontransportation functions, including education and the Department of Public Safety. Since the state budget surplus is more than $10 billion, road tolling in Texas is also about political ideology. (The accessible surplus is lower because about $6 billion is reserved for the state’s “rainy day” fund and about $3 billion is earmarked to cover property tax cuts approved by the last Legislature.)

Gov. Rick Perry, from Paint Creek, is the driving force behind the tolling of Texas roads. Then-Lt. Gov. Perry succeeded President-elect George W. Bush as governor in December 2000. Elected twice subsequently, Perry is now the longest-serving governor in Texas history.

The highway privatization program that Perry unveiled in June 2002 consists of a massive, 4,000-mile network of supercorridors, some of which would be a fifth of a mile wide, take 146 acres of land per mile, and carry parallel links of toll roads, rails, and utility lines. The projected cost of the so-called Trans Texas Corridor is between $145 billion and $184 billion in 2002 dollars, which, the governor said, would come from a combination of state funding, local toll segments, and exclusive development agreements with private corporations.

Before Texas could implement the plan, the governor needed 10 changes in Texas law. One would give the Texas Department of Transportation authority to acquire private property through quick condemnations. Another would allow TxDOT to grant private organizations the right to develop all types of transportation projects anywhere in Texas. Perry also wanted and got the authority to hold toll revenues outside the state treasury, assign ownership of those toll revenues to corporate developers, allow the issuance of bonds to finance the corridor, and remove all restrictions on the number of projects that TxDOT could pursue. He also wanted an exemption from federal environmental laws for those projects that had no federal funding. In short, the governor sought a free rein.

First, however, voters had to amend the Texas Constitution. Thus, the 2002 election ballot included something called Constitutional Proposition 15. It read: “The constitutional amendment creating the Texas Mobility Fund and authorizing grants and loans of money and issuance of obligations for financing the construction, reconstruction, acquisition, operation, and expansion of state highways, turnpikes, toll roads, toll bridges, and other mobility projects.”

While many voters thought Proposition 15 was simply authorizing a new transportation financing authority, Perry and TxDOT later claimed that the four little words, “and other mobility projects,” ratified the 4,000-mile Trans Texas Corridor.

Second, implementing legislation from the Texas Legislature was required. Thus, in June 2003, as the legislative session was drawing to a close, state Rep. Mike Krusee, the Round Rock Republican and longtime Perry ally who chaired the House Transportation Committee, introduced a bill known as the “Driver Responsibility Law” that zipped through the Legislature on a vote of 146-0 in the House and 31-0 in the Senate. Few legislators read the particulars, and Krusee emphasized to the media that this was a law to crack down on drunk drivers, plus provide some money for the governor’s proposed corridor. With only a few members of the Legislature in the know, both houses authorized TxDOT to privatize the Texas highway system.

On August 20, 2003, barely two months later, TxDOT convened a conference at its Austin headquarters with its staff and private contractors. Phillip Russell, director of the Texas Turnpike Authority, told the group that the drunk driver bill “gives us all of the authority and all of the power we need on a state level to move forward on the Trans Texas Corridor, plus some.”

Indeed, TxDOT and the U.S. Department of Transportation were forging a new national model for financing, building, and operating highways. In the process, TxDOT changed its bidding process from one that relies on the lowest bid for the same work to a “best value” selection, allowing the consideration of political and other factors. In addition, the implementing legislation empowered TxDOT to make sole-source agreements with a single company or group to design, develop, construct, finance, acquire, operate, and maintain facilities such as turnpikes, highways, freight or passenger rail, and public utilities. In effect, Perry put a “for lease” sign on all Texas state roads.

A major problem that the governor and TxDOT faced early on is that many Texans hated the plan. They did not like turning public roads into private tollways. They hated the idea of the state’s seizing some 500,000 acres of farm and ranch land for the supercorridors. Most galling, they loathed the notion that two foreign corporations would be profiting from the operation of highways that the people of Texas had paid for and owned.

Among the earliest opponents were David and Linda Stall of Fayetteville, Texas, a small community between Austin and Houston. David Stall is a fourth-generation public servant and professional city manager. Linda Stall is a community organizer, issues activist, and teacher.

In February 2003, the Stalls attended a luncheon speech at the La Grange Chamber of Commerce, where TxDOT Director Michael Behrens described the corridor. Afterward, Linda called TxDOT headquarters in Austin and got several boxes of the full plan, titled “Crossroads of the America’s Plan.” David, who is intimately familiar with the laws and rules of Texas, says he was surprised by the arrogance of it all—the corridor process had no transparency, no participation by other public planning entities, no involvement of local governments, and, worst of all, no participation by the public.

Linda also learned that the corridor authorizing legislation required TxDOT to hold a hearing in every county through which one of the super corridors would go. In early 2003, TxDOT officials chose to obey the letter rather than the spirit of that law by quickly convening pro forma hearings in all 254 Texas counties, giving the absolute minimum public notice. Consequently, many hearings had no attendees other than TxDOT employees.

When Linda Stall learned about the meeting in the county where David was working, she went to the local Lions Club, Chamber of Commerce, and other organizations urging people to attend. Twenty-five people were present, but the local TxDOT employees did not know enough about the corridor to answer their questions. After that meeting, the Stalls created a Web site, Corridor Watch, where they began to post information—

A week after their first county hearing, the Stalls learned that TxDOT had scheduled a session for Fayette County, where the Stalls live. Linda stirred up enough interest to get more than 80 residents to attend the meeting at the local TxDOT office, which could handle only 60 people. Again, TxDOT personnel could not answer the public’s questions. However, this session was different.

After about 30 minutes of presentation and questions, County Judge Ed Janecka interrupted the session and pointed out that the meeting did not count because Texas law says space is required for all parties who wish to attend, plus TxDOT personnel were not answering people’s questions.

Three weeks later, more than 700 people came to the TxDOT hearing at the Knights of Columbus Hall in La Grange, as did senior TxDOT officials. The audience asked hard questions. Local newspapers reported that the overwhelming majority of attendees had decided they wanted the corridor canceled.

Undeterred by the public’s opposition, in 2004 TxDOT awarded a contract to a Cintra-Zachry consortium to develop a project design for the first phase of the corridor. Cintra, a large Spanish firm that builds and operates infrastructure projects worldwide, is a partner with the Australian firm, the Macquarie Infrastructure Group, in many global projects, including the Indiana toll road concession. Zachry Group is one of the largest construction companies in Texas, and its owners are longtime political supporters of Perry and Bush. The Cintra-Zachry team in Texas includes 16 other firms, including J.P. Morgan Securities Inc. and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP

At that point, the Stalls went political. Because of their efforts, the 2004 Republican State Convention in San Antonio adopted a platform plank that called for the repeal of the Trans Texas Corridor. In 2006, the GOP retained the plank in defiance of the governor. The Texas Democratic Party and the Libertarian Party adopted similar positions in 2006. By then, the concerns of a few isolated people had become a movement involving thousands of Texans from all political parties and all parts of the state.

Because TTC-35, the portion of the super corridor that runs north to south from San Antonio through Austin and Dallas to Oklahoma, uses some federal funds, TxDOT had to hold environmental hearings in the summer of 2006. More than 14,000 people attended. William H. Molina, a filmmaker, made a documentary, “Truth be Tolled,” which shows Texans at those hearings who are stunned, angry, and desperate to keep their farms and ranches from being taken by the state. The film also shows the obvious indifference of the TxDOT officials as they stall the meetings, provide dismissive answers, and simply ignore many speakers. The film won the first prize at the 2007 WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival.

The corridor was a top issue in the 2006 Texas gubernatorial election. Nevertheless, Perry won re-election with 38 percent of the vote; three other candidates—a Democrat, an Independent and a local showman—split the opposition.

In early 2007, the Stalls and other corridor opponents mounted an aggressive lobbying campaign in the Texas Legislature to get a two-year moratorium on corridor activities; they were trying to kill the project through delays. The opponents brought thousands of people to anti-TTC rallies at the Capitol in Austin, hundreds of whom also attended corridor-related legislative hearings.

As political prospects for a moratorium brightened in early 2007, Perry rushed into a deal with Cintra to lease a partially finished state highway in Dallas, convert it to a toll road, and take a concession payment of $2.8 billion. Perry’s panicky move, however, angered Jere Thompson Jr., former chairman of the North Texas Toll Authority, an old and experienced public toll organization that TxDOT had discouraged from bidding on the Dallas project. Thompson sent a letter to the Dallas Morning News claiming that if NTTA could bid using the same assumptions as had Cintra, the state and region would get $3.5 billion more.

The resulting political uproar forced Perry to allow an NTTA bid. In a further twist, the U.S. Department of Transportation sent TxDOT a letter threatening to withhold future federal highway funds from Texas if it rejected the Cintra bid. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican, challenged Transportation Secretary Peters on the matter, but she quickly backed off.

NTTA’s bid, which included a pledge to reinvest its anticipated $1.3 billion in profits in Texas, had a total value of $6.69 billion, which clearly won over Cintra’s bid, valued at $5.07 billion.

As that bid process was taking place, TTC opponents were continuing their siege of the Texas Legislature. Consequently, the moratorium passed both Houses in May 2007 by large, veto-proof margins. Perry threatened to hold the part-time lawmakers in Austin in special session for as long as required to get his way. When thus confronted, “the legislators,” according to one Austin political writer, “crumbled as easily as a piece of tin foil.”

Perry vetoed the moratorium bill, and neither house even attempted to override, choosing instead to enact a weak compromise bill. After the Legislature adjourned, Perry and TxDOT acted as though the legislative session had never happened. They moved forward on 80 toll road projects. David Stall wrote to Corridor Watch members in early August 2007 that TxDOT officials had resumed “their headlong rush to use every available loophole, exception, and remaining authority to build toll roads and grant toll road concessions just as fast as possible.”

Perry also vetoed other TTC-related legislation. One bill would have reduced the potential abuse of TxDOT’s eminent domain powers by ensuring limited uses for private properties seized and providing for just compensation. Another vetoed bill would have required TxDOT to study the upgrading of existing routes before seizing private property for new corridors.

In August 2007, TxDOT announced that the state would stop all new highway construction. If Texas communities wanted new roads, they would be required to either raise local taxes and pay for the roads themselves or accept toll roads. The facts that the state used almost half the monies from the state highway fund for nontransportation spending and had a $10 billion surplus were seemingly irrelevant realities.

In late August 2007, San Antonio radio station WOAI obtained a TxDOT report Perry had sent to President Bush and the Congress asking that the federal laws be changed so states could toll all or part of the interstates. Additionally, he requested that Congress exempt private investors in toll road projects, such as the Cintra and Macquarie consortia, from federal income taxation. The report created another political storm, but TxDOT pushed ahead with its tolling efforts, which continue until this day.


Despite the fact that TxDOT and Perry mounted a $9 million public relations program to sell their road program to Texas voters, polls reveal that many voters remain intensely opposed.

The crash of global financial markets in the summer of 2008 dried up much of the easy financing used by private toll corporations. To keep the Texas road building program funded, the state’s top three public officials—Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and Speaker of the House Tom Craddick—announced on August 19 their intention to use monies from the $135 billion state employee and teacher retirement systems.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation is providing every governor and state legislature legal research on how they can change their constitutions and laws to facilitate the private tolling of their roads and bridges.

On July 24, U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat and chair of the Senate Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure, held a hearing on the tax implications of the private financing of programs such as the Texas corridor. Edward D. Kleinbard, the top staffer at the Joint Committee on Taxation, testified that if public-private partnership deals such as those of Indiana and Texas have a lease that is 55 years or longer, the concessionaire is deemed the “constructive owner” and can accelerate depreciation over a 15-year period, giving the investors a quick return on their money.

Dennis J. Enright, an investment consultant, testified that if roads were built and operated as a public sector funding authority, such as the North Texas Toll Authority, it could produce the same value as a private sector entity, as Cintra or Macquarie does, for at least 30 percent lower user charges. Why? The cost of capital for a public authority, Enright testified, is that much less than for a private corporation. In the North Texas Toll Authority versus Cintra bid-off, NTTA’s bid would produce 32 percent more value for Texas.

In sum, while Perry is correct that Texas needs massive new investment in its highways, the private corporate model he has chosen and that the federal Transportation Department is pushing on other states is by far the most expensive way to do the job.

Pat Choate is an economist and author of Hot Property; Agents of Influence; The High-Flex Society; America in Ruins; and co-author with Ross Perot of Save Your Job, Save Our Country. He was Perot’s vice-presidential running mate in 1996. His latest book, Dangerous Business: The Risks of Globalization for America, from which this article is adapted, was published this year by Alfred A. Knopf.

© 2008 The Texas Observer:

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Friday, October 31, 2008

“It’s just a way to keep the people placated for the present time. It’s a done deal. It’s been a done deal for years.”

Is Trans-Texas Corridor dead or only undead?


Fred Afflerbach
Temple Daily Telegram
Copyright 2008

Put a fork in it. That’s what two Texas politicians recently said about the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor.

“Everybody in Austin knows it’s dead. Everybody across the state knows it’s dead. It’s just something to be talking about,” House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, said at a debate in Midland on Oct. 19, according to a published report.

But folks fighting the corridor here in Central Texas call it election season bluster.

“Yes, they are still planning to do it,” said Mae Smith, Holland mayor. “That’s nothing but political talk. I don’t believe anything Mr. Craddick says, or any politician says prior to election.”

Ms. Smith is also president of the Eastern Central Texas Sub-regional Planning Commission, a group of mayors and school board members who are working to stop the corridor by pushing environmental impact studies. The commission says expansion of Interstate 35 is a viable alternative.

“We’re not denying there is a traffic problem. But keep it in the footprint of I-35 . . . and not destroy our prime farm land, school districts and towns,” Ms. Smith said.

A spokeswoman for Craddick responded Thursday.

“The House overwhelmingly voted to place a moratorium on the Trans-Texas Corridor because of various issues that were raised, such as property rights and toll roads. Currently, the House Transportation Committee, the House Appropriations Committee and the Sunset Advisory Commission, as well as the state auditor, have been investigating these matters. It is clear from what has come back from these committees that the Trans-Texas Corridor will be addressed once and for all in this next session of the Legislature.”

And that worries folks like Ms. Smith. Once the election is over, the Legislature will go back to work pushing the corridor.

Speaking from the Milam County seat of Cameron on Wednesday, State Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan - not up for re-election until 2010 - said he agreed with Craddick’s statement.

“I think the speaker had it right the other day when he said, ‘I think everybody knows it’s dead,’” Ogden said.

Rather than a Trans-Texas Corridor for utilities, motor vehicles and trains, Ogden believes efforts will be directed toward developing an interstate-quality highway from South Texas to East Texas parallel to Interstate 35.

Again, Ms. Smith said the commission adamantly opposes any new thoroughfare east of I-35, through the Blackland Prairie.

“They’re still wanting to stick it right on top of us. A smaller version, even more so, should go right in the footprint of 35.”

Another commission member and a small business owner, Ralph Snyder, said Craddick and Ogden supported the corridor from its inception and they weren’t changing direction now.

“It’s just a way to keep the people placated for the present time. It’s election time,” Snyder said. “It’s a done deal. It’s been a done deal for years.”

But Snyder isn’t saying raise the white flag. He says the commission could have some impact how and where the final project is built.

Meanwhile, down at the Texas Department of Transportation, spokesman Chris Lippincott said TxDOT was waiting on the results of an environmental impact study the Federal Highway Administration is conducting.

“It is a big complicated study,” Lippincott said. “It’s a big project.”

After the study is completed in early 2009, Lippincott said TxDOT would open the discussion for public comment. He would not elaborate on Craddick’s statement.

© 2008 Temple Daily Telegram:

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

New film will focus on "TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and ad campaign that advocated toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor"

New documentary exposes TxDOT


The Bandera County Courier
Copyright 2008

Award-winning San Antonio filmmaker William Molina will launch his new sequel in the “Truth Be Tolled” documentary series on Thursday, Oct. 30, at the Palladium Theater at the Rim, 17910 West Interstate 10 in San Antonio.

The cast and crew will hold a “meet and greet” at 6 pm in the second floor lounge of the theater. The screening will begin at 7 pm.

This film – dubbed the TURF (Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom) Special Edition – will focus on the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) illegal lobbying and ad campaign that advocated toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor on the taxpayer dime, according to Terri Hall, TURF executive director. She added that TxDOT is still actively engaged in lobbying despite TURF’s taxpayers’ lawsuit to halt such activities.

To attend the special showing, RSVP to

© 2008 Bandera County Courier:

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Gov. Rick Perry and his appointees "remain committed to using increasingly expensive toll roads as a primary means to finance highways in Texas."

Transportation officials to approve TxDOT funds for State Highway 161


The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

Top transportation officials will meet in Dallas today to formally approve a deal brokered earlier this month between the state transportation department and the North Texas Tollway Authority. The deal pledges TxDOT revenues as a financial backstop for NTTA’s billion-dollar plan to build and operate State Highway 161.

Commissioner Ted Houghton of El Paso has been one of NTTA’s sharpest critics in the past, but on Wednesday he said he and the four other members of the Texas Transportation Commission are determined to help entities like NTTA build more toll roads, rather than continue the costly and at time bitter turf wars that have characterized the agencies’ relationship in the past. “I’ve told my other commissioners, we need to get out of the way and start enabling the urban areas of the state to get over the goal line with some of these projects,” he said.

He said he remains committed, as does Gov. Rick Perry who appointed each of the commissioners, to using increasingly expensive toll roads as a primary means to finance highways in Texas. But he said the extent of the state’s need for new funding has prompted him and others to embrace a hybrid approach to funding — a sharp departure from the ton emanating from the commission last year when debates over private toll roads dominated a stormy session of the Texas Legislature. “We haven’t gotten away from our problem: There is not enough capital (to build the roads and bridges the state needs.)”

Mr. Houghton said he fully supports raising the gas tax to help pay for spiraling maintenance and construction costs, though he said he would want any increase to be limited to indexing the gas tax rate to inflation, so its revenues would grow with the cost of living in Texas.

“I am all for indexing,” Mr. Houghton said. “I think we’ve really shot ourselves in the foot by not indexing it in the past.”

The gas tax rate in Texas has been 20 cents since 1991, and efforts to raise it — or index it, too — have routinely failed. The federal rate is about 18 cents per gallon, and has been since 1994.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, has pledged to introduce legislation that would tie to the gas tax rate to inflation when lawmakers return to the capital in January. Earlier this month, Gov. Rick Perry, who has steadfastly opposed any gas tax increase in the past, said he would not oppose Mr. Carona’s bill, and would not veto it if it passed.

Still, both the governor and Mr. Houghton have said the usefulness of the gas tax rate is fast declining, given that Texans are driving more fuel efficient cars, and over the past several months, driving fewer miles.

They both argue that toll roads, including nearly a dozen planned for North Texas in the next 10 to 15 years, are a fairer way of raising revenues.

© 2008 The Dallas Morning News:

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"Both Republicans and Democrats, agreed Wednesday they are opposed to the proposed tolling of the Grand Parkway."

Candidates denounce Segment C of Grand Parkway plan


Fort Bend Sun
Copyright 2008

Candidates in local races, both Republicans and Democrats, agreed Wednesday they are opposed to the proposed tolling of the Grand Parkway, particularly Segment C, that would impact Fort Bend neighborhoods and businesses.

Under the proposal, Segment C would expend the Grand Parkway across U.S. 59 along Crabb River Road with an overpass.

U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Stafford, who is running for re-election against Republican Pete Olson and Libertarian John Wieder, said he opposes toll roads in general.

“I believe our founding fathers intended for us to have equal access to public infrastructure,” Lampson said. “I want to do what I can to promote access to those facilities.”

Steve Host, Republican candidate for state representative for district 27, said he doesn’t agree with the proposal from the Texas Department of Transportation’s plan.

“I don’t believe it’s a road for transportation,” Host said. “I think it’s more of a development project.”

State Rep. Dora Olivo, D- District 27, urged residents to continue to organize and connect with other organizations so they all can fight the proposed toll road together

“Our roads belong to the people, we pay for them,” she said. “When they started this proposal they talked about beautiful four lane road and making it a scenic route and we need to stick to that.”

State Rep. John Zerwas, R- District 28, said even though his district isn’t directly impacted he could offer his experience with the Trans-Texas Corridor, an example of what can be done when residents come together and offer alternative solutions.

“TxDOT shelved [the Trans-Texas Corridor],” he said. “That project is not going to occur in the near future.”

In June, TxDOT announced its plans to use existing highways and roads instead of constructing the corridor in rural parts of north and west Houston

Richard Morrison, Democratic candidate for Fort Bend County precinct 1 commissioner, said if elected he would not allow a toll road project to be brought to voters as a county bond referendum.

Morrison, a Greatwood resident, said he firmly opposed the Segment C project and would continue to fight it even if he is not the next commissioner.

Republican candidate for Precinct 1 Commissioner Greg Ordeneaux said he supported expanding Crabb River Road as an alternative.

“We need to find viable alternative for the future of mobility needs in Fort Bend County,” Ordeneaux said.

County Commissioner Andy Meyers, representing precinct 3, said Segment C is not toll feasible.

“I turn 65 this year and I don’t think we’ll see Segment C built in my life time,” Meyers said.

He said the county is working with local legislators to help pass a bill during the 2009 session to turn over state projects like the Grand Parkway to local officials so citizens can have more control over the roads built in their communities.

Meyers is running unopposed to keep his seat on the county commission.

Paul Turner, the moderator for the candidates forum, said all the candidates on the ballot were invited to the event but not everyone chose to participate.

The candidates forum was sponsored by S.T.O.P, a local group of business and homeowners opposed to the Segment C plan of the Grand Parkway. The organization is advocating for a return to the original design of a scenic four-lane highway without tolls.

© 2008 Fort Bend Sun:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Despite the Katy 'Freeways' size, the massive project adds "just one new 'free' lane, a pair of toll lanes and no significant transit improvement."

Katy Freeway expansion declared done

Festivities celebrate the completion of 18-lane project with eventual tollway


Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2008

Amid a burst of confetti and a release of balloons, some 400 supporters and road-building professionals Tuesday applauded the consummation of Texas' biggest freeway project — $2.8 billlion, 23 miles long and the first to have a tollway down the middle.

"This project, for all intents and purposes, is complete," announced Delvin Dennis, interim director of the Texas Department of Transportation's Houston District. "Tomorrow morning the (high occupancy-toll) lanes open. If you're not doing anything, take a ride on them."

The two center lanes of the rebuilt Katy Freeway in each direction from Texas 6 to the West Loop will operate from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., but drivers will need two or more people in the car.

Tolls on hold for now

Tolls will not be introduced until probably late April, giving the Harris County Toll Road Authority several months to gauge the likely demand, said authority spokeswoman Lawanda Howse. When the trial run is over, she said, tolls that increase with traffic volume will be collected via EZ Tag or TxTag for vehicles not meeting occupancy requirements for free rides. Transit vehicles will use the lanes at no charge.

Elected officials attending the celebration included Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. John Culberson, who, with former County Judge Robert Eckels and county infrastructure director Art Storey, had pushed the idea of including toll lanes and using county toll road revenue to speed completion of the work.

Culberson said the job was completed in five years and four months, compared to a likely 10 years or more with conventional funding.

"And without a single federal earmark," he added.

290 project down the road

Culberson then told the crowd, "290's next," referring to plans by TxDOT and HCTRA to widen the Northwest Freeway, and build a tollway along Hempstead Highway. The double-barreled project is expected to extend through much of the next decade.

Perry noted the roar of traffic below, above and around the crowd, which was gathered on a frontage road overpass.

"This is the sound of freedom we hear," he said. "These people need roads to get to work, to church and to school."

Opponents of the project have noted its extreme size — 18 lanes, counting toll and frontage lanes from Texas 6 to Washington, and more lanes at entrances and exits. The widening uprooted numerous businesses along the route and took two streets in the city of Spring Valley. Opponents also say the widening will increase emissions and noise and contribute to suburban sprawl.

Despite its size, the widened freeway adds "just one new 'free' lane, a pair of toll lanes and no significant transit improvement," said Robin Holzer, chair of the grass-roots Citizens Transportation Coalition.

"Too bad it does not have a space for a commuter rail like our design did," said environmental attorney Jim Blackburn, who tried unsuccessfully to force the state to revise its plans, add mass transit and lessen the project's impact on neighborhoods.

Still hoping for rail

Before the ceremony, Eckels said he still hopes commuter rail can be built along the route, possibly in one of the strips between the main and frontage road lanes.

The track would need to be elevated over major crossings, he said, adding that, if that is too costly, Westpark may make a good alternative.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority, which already plans light rail on Westpark, paid to have Katy Freeway overpasses beefed up to carry its trains if space there ever is available for them.

But Culberson, whose ability to get federal dollars was crucial to the widening project, pledged not to give up a single freeway lane for Metro rail.

Brandt Mannchen, the Sierra Club regional air quality chairman, expressed regret at what he termed a missed opportunity to have rail on the Katy.

"Instead, we have allowed the privatization and commercialization our freeways via toll lanes," he said.

"Those that are less able to pay will have to stay in slower congested lanes, while toll lanes will be used by those who have the money."

© 2008 Houston Chronicle:

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"I need my job, but I don't want to be intimidated, so I'm speaking up for everybody."

Boss takes office politics to a new level


Courtney Zubowski
KHOU-TV (11 News Houston)
Copyright 2008

SEABROOK, Texas -- A couple from Seabrook said they usually get a box full of mail every day. But last Thursday, a piece of mail delivered some advice they didn't ask for.

"It was pretty much intimidating," said the couple. "It was trying to tell me to vote for the people he voted for."

The letter was from the chairman of the board at the Zachry Construction Corporation. It was addressed to employees and friends.

The man who got the letter said he's an employee.

"I need my job, but I don't want to be intimidated, so I'm speaking up for everybody," said the man.

In the letter, Bartell Zachry wrote that he wanted to share his thoughts on some important contested races.

It read: "You do not need my suggestions about the presidential race, but I do believe in deeds not words, experiences not promises.”

Zachry also shared his thoughts on other candidates. But according to the company's spokesperson, the advice in the letter is not something employees should feel obligated to follow.

"This certainly is not meant to be an intimidation piece. It's merely informative through Mr. Zachry's PAC. He doesn't have the time or inclination to go and check and see who voted," said the company’s spokesperson.

11 news legal expert Dr. Gerald Treece said the letter is perfectly legal, but it may open the door for lawsuits against the company down the road.

“It's hard to convince people that the reason they didn't have a job action against them was some reason unrelated to this election. I didn't say it's real. I said it's perceived. I didn't say the boss would lose. I just said he has to deal with it. If he hadn't written this letter, he wouldn't have to deal with that issue," said Treece.

Treece said the letter is nothing more than a man expressing his First Amendment rights.

© 2008 KHOU-TV, Inc.:

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Monday, October 27, 2008

"TTC-35 and I-69 — the proposed tollways that have roiled Texas for three or four years, are very much alive."

Is Trans-Texas Corridor a dead issue?

Craddick's declaration at debate fuels speculation - and a complicated answer.

October 27, 2008

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

"Everybody in Austin knows it's dead. Everybody across the state knows it's dead. It's just something to be talking about."— Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, Oct. 19, 2008

The "it" in that quote, uttered during a Midland debate last week with the Democratic challenger for Craddick's House seat, Bill Dingus, referred to the Trans-Texas Corridor.

When I heard about this early last week, my first reaction was, "Really? Uh-oh." As in, the Texas Department of Transportation quietly killed the whole effort to build a tollway parallel to Interstate 35 and another tollway from Brownsville to Texarkana called Interstate 69, and the Statesman's transportation reporter missed the whole thing. Big uh-oh.

And I figured that for those farmers and ranchers whose property is along the broadly defined corridors of TTC-35 and I-69, Craddick's words had to be a relief. I could envision them cracking open a cold one to celebrate the news that their grandbabies would still be working the land in 60 years.

Not so fast.

Turns out that accurately interpreting Craddick's words depends on the meaning of "it" and the definition of "dead."

I called Craddick's office and got his spokeswoman, Alexis DeLee, on the phone. So, I asked, are TTC-35 and I-69 dead? Is that what the speaker was saying? Because if so, then TxDOT, which has agency employees, consultants and two private toll road consortiums working on various environmental and engineering plans for both roads, is wasting a lot of money.

"We're not getting into I-69," DeLee said, adding that I-69 wasn't in the Trans-Texas Corridor plan. She didn't want to talk about TTC-35 much either. "The comment he made was about the Trans-Texas Corridor as it relates to its original plan laid out by Ric Williamson. And that is dead."

Actually, that original plan was laid out by Gov. Rick Perry at a Jan. 28, 2002, news conference, not by the late state Transportation Commission chairman (though Williamson tirelessly pushed for it). And the original map for the 4,000 miles of tollways, railways and utilities across the state clearly shows a corridor along I-69's route.

Here's the deal: Rural folks, including those in Craddick's district, hate the Trans-Texas Corridor. So Craddick was selling what people at that debate were raring to buy. And the truth is that in the six years since Perry's announcement, TxDOT hasn't lifted a finger to work on most of the lines on that corridor map. Who needs parallel tollways to roads like I-10 and I-20 with sparse traffic? No one.

And the railroad and utility aspects of the corridor plan have gone nowhere as well.

So, yes, overall, the Perry/Williamson Trans-Texas Corridor is dead.

But two pieces of it — TTC-35 and I-69 — the proposed tollways that have roiled Texas for three or four years, are very much alive. So hold off on sending flowers.

Getting There appears Mondays. For questions, tips or story ideas, contact Getting There at 445-3698 or

© 2008 Austin American-Statesman:

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Michael Baker Corporation hires former TxDOT Executive Director Mike Behrens

Baker Hires Former Head of Texas Department of Transportation Michael Behrens

Oct. 27, 2008

Business Wire
Copyright 2008

PITTSBURGH-- Michael Baker Jr. Inc., an engineering unit of Michael Baker Corporation (NYSE Alternext US: BKR), has hired Michael W. Behrens as director, National Transportation Programs. In this capacity, he will provide advice and guidance on project delivery methods to Baker's long list of transportation clients. In addition, Behrens will be active in numerous Texas transportation advocacy groups.

"Mike will be participating in some national initiatives as well," said John Kurgan, executive vice president and Transportation business line manager. "His experience with Texas DOT is critical in embracing innovative ways to approach our nation's transportation infrastructure during this important juncture."

Most recently, Behrens was executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and was responsible for managing, directing and implementing TxDOT policies, programs and operating strategies. He represented TxDOT before the Texas Legislature and other entities and was instrumental in leading Texas into a new era of project delivery through legislation enacted which enabled Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in the Trans Texas Corridor.

Behrens earned his Bachelor's Degree in Civil Engineering from Texas A&M University and began his career with TxDOT as an engineering assistant in the Yoakum District as an area engineer, district planning engineer, assistant district engineer and finally district engineer for the 11-county district of Yoakum. In 1998, he became the Department's assistant executive director for engineering operations in Austin.

Behrens is a member of the Transportation Research Board Executive Committee and the board of directors of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). He is past president of the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (WASHTO). Currently, he serves on the Civil Engineering Council for Texas A&M University and on the Texas Transportation Institute Advisory Council. He and his wife, Karen, have two sons and a daughter.

Michael Baker Corporation ( provides engineering and operations and maintenance services for its clients' most complex challenges worldwide. The firm's primary business areas are aviation, defense, environmental, facilities, geospatial, homeland security, municipal & civil, pipelines & utilities, transportation, water, and oil & gas. With more than 4,000 employees in over 50 offices across the United States and internationally, Baker is focused on creating value by delivering innovative and sustainable solutions for infrastructure and the environment.

SOURCE: Michael Baker Corporation

Michael Baker Corporation
David Higie, 412-269-6449

© 2008 Business Wire:

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