"Unless the feds step in, TxDOT may just get away with it."
If unemployment hadn’t jumped again yesterday, I would be laughing. Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton, who is, so far as I know, a white guy, called Hank Gilbert of Texas TURF — for sure, another white guy — a bigot.
Now, maybe Gilbert could have been a little more politically correct in his reference to “foreign investors” who are buying up American debt as TxDOT is getting set to use stimulus funds for risky “triple taxation” toll roads. Maybe Houghton should take a look into TxDOT’s mirror.
TxDOT was caught earlier this week with its pants down by State Rep. Dunnam of Waco, who chairs the Texas House committee overseeing the stimulus, on apparently ignoring one important stimulus fund requirement that the funds be used in economically distressed areas.
Not surprisingly, TxDOT covered its rear-end yesterday, showing up with 10 new projects in economically distressed areas. Then, of course, they proceeded to ram through a financially risky plan to fund toll roads to no where.
Linda Stall of CorridorWatch.org, gave testimony backed up by her and David Stall’s research outline BELOW this piece — be sure to read this! It gives chilling testimony as to the financial risks TxDOT is taking, alongside mounting evidence that the public-private partnership toll facilities are another financial crisis in the waiting for the American people. Texas is the test ground.
The Mayor of Waco, Virginia DuPuy, spoke to the Commission, and was nice a she could be, asking why TxDOT had left out what could arguably be the most important project in this state — widening IH-35 in McClennan County.
Lest we forget that the justification for the Governor’s attempts to ram the still very much alive Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC-35 segment) on rural residents in the blackland prairie adjacent to TTC-35, was the bottleneck on IH-35.
TxDOT Chair Deidre Delisi (Rick Perry’s controversial appointee) told the good mayor that “if the legislature passes” a package to fund this segment, then TxDOT will do it. Now, isn’t that charitable of Delisi. The problem is that TxDOT can’t promise what the legislature gives. But let’s not quibble.
Here’s the bottom line. As it currently stands, TxDOT will use 70% of the transportation stimulus funds approved yesterday for tollways.
- One of them, the Grand Parkway (aka porkway) is being heavily criticized by the all volunteer Citizen’s Transportation Coalition, as a developer/road lobby dream for many years. This road project has never been done by the local toll authority because it couldn’t be economically justified since no one lives out there yet, except a flock of birds in one of the country’s best waterfowl sanctuaries.
- Another controversial project is over the Edwards Aquifer (281 and 1604 in San Antonio). It was recently promised — a promise quickly then broken — to be a free road if stimulus funds were used.
- And, not to be outdone is the Austin area’s risky and expensive flyover road project from 183 to 290E in Travis County. It doesn’t seem to bother TxDOT that the funding to complete this project — for 290E — is questionable and traffic figures have been flat for years.
Tom Johnson, TxDOT's Mysterious Witness
Why would TxDOT push controversial projects when there are more — way more — than enough non-controversial projects that could be done? The answer was perhaps unintentionally given by the second speaker giving “expert” testimony at yesterday’s hearing. TxDOT chair Delisi failed to introduce the man, until a request came from the audience.
Then she only gave his name — Tom Johnson. Thanks to a trusty PDA carried by Linda Stall of CorridorWatch.org who was in touch with husband, David, watching the spectacle on the internet, we got Tom Johnson’s affiliation.
Mr. Johnson is a registered lobbyist for the Association of General Contractors. One could easily surmise that the road lobby is in cahoots with TxDOT to get taxpayers on the hook for projects they start, that we will all be paying to finish to help developers and road contractors reap profits for roads to no where (read: risky developments).
Some are now entreating Kay Bailey Hutchison to jump in as the Texas Governor’s race heats up. Some of us have already tried that dance and, so far, Kay is dancing with other partners.
My bet is on Vice President Joe Biden. Remember when President Obama said in his recent speech to Congress that, “No one messes with Joe”, appointing him to oversee the stimulus funds? You can contact the Vice President at Recovery.gov in the “share your story” section. And, of course, don’t forget your local state rep and Senator and your Congressman. Tell them you want real TxDOT reform in this session and they should contact the Vice President along with you. Slow the Mo Joe — and come quick to Texas!
CORRIDOR WATCH ON P3 TOLL - a crisis in the waiting…
For years we have read about citizen complaints regarding Cintra-operated ETR 407, located in Ontario, Canada. The citizen complaints were significant enough that in 2004 the Minister of Transportation appointed a task force to look into the issue.
One of the task force recommendations was that an Ombudsman be appointed to mediate between ETR 407 and the road users. The common complaints included invoices for toll road use for vehicles owned by deceased individuals, invoices based on old license plates not currently on the owner’s car, invoices mailed to the wrong address with late fees and admin charges mounting up, etc.
In these cases it is incumbent on the driver to present evidence that the car was stolen or the plates invalid to Cintra/ETR 407’s satisfaction. Drivers licenses and license plates will not be renewed until these matters are sorted out. One complaint stated that monies owed to ETR407 are exempt from bankruptcy.
We are on the leading of edge of creating the same problems for drivers here in Texas. News 8 Austin reported last week that a recently unemployed administrative assistant received a bill from TxDOT for $358.00 in unpaid electronic tolls. Well beyond the reasonableness of the accumulated tolls is the alarming amount of the administrative fees which total $11,142.00.
In 2003 when Texas HB3588 passed, it dramatically changed Texas transportation planning, financing and law. No longer were open bids required. The bids and the decision weighting are now kept secret (proprietary).
Not surprisingly, the contracts themselves are also confidential until signed. What the private partner looks to the State of Texas for is three-fold: the effective power of eminent domain; non-compete or compete-penalty clauses that create a lucrative monopoly; and, the use of State authority to enforce the collection of their private debt.
To assist in collecting that private toll, and fees, the State will refuse vehicle registration or drivers license renewal.
The State of Texas will force motorists to pay their outstanding toll fees even if that toll is being disputed. Their ability to drive a vehicle will be held hostage. And since this is a contractual term that is considered a civil action citizens are afforded limited rights absent most of the traditional protection of rights.
Only after a PPP contract is executed will the citizens of Texas find out what rights they have lost. Currently these contracts are not subject to review or approval by an elected official.
With the passage of HB3588 in 2003, Texas was on the forefront of public private partnerships for transportation infrastructure development. Texas was heralded by the Federal Highway Administration as leading the way with this innovative funding tool, where all the risk is borne by the private partner.
As the “test-case” for public private partnerships, will we also be the test case for loss of due process and other violations? Will contracts signed in Texas exempt the private partner from bankruptcies? What else will be hidden from view? $11,000.00 in administrative fees on a $348.00 bill would be considered usurious in other industries and such fees would be regulated.
© 2009 Independent Texans: www.indytexans.org
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