Saturday, January 17, 2009

"Don't believe the headlines that the fight is over."

TxDOT Plays 'Possum Over TTC

TxDOT Plays Possum

January 17, 2009

By Tom DeWeese
Copyright 2009

On January 6, 2009, The Dallas Morning News carried a headline which read “Trans Texas Corridor is dead, TxDOT says.” The article went on to report, “The Texas Department of Transportation announced this morning that it has officially killed the Trans Texas Corridor, saying that despite the project’s visionary aspects, it is clearly not the choice of Texans.”

The fact that TxDOT is taking this action to disown the Trans Texas Corridor is testimony to the incredible job by grassroots activists who have opposed the TTC and the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). We have made life miserable for these officials who have tried to force such policy on us in virtual secrecy. They’ve been caught and so they have bailed out.

The “American Land Foundation” and “Stewards of the Range”, two major opponents headed by Dan and Margaret Byfield, have been successful in organizing 9 local commissions in communities directly in the path of the TTC. Those commissions are largely responsible for delaying and blocking TTC routes.

Said Byfield, “While their statement has largely been released for political reasons, they are at least retreating and regrouping – a major victory for the nine local government commissions formed in Texas to fight the TTC…” Byfield went on to explain that the TxDOT pronouncement is a direct result of grassroots opposition to the TTC. “Since the first local government commission was formed and began using the coordination strategy developed by Fred Kelly Grant, TXDOT has had to make several changes in their strategy to implement the super corridor concept.” He went on to detail the way TxDOT has changed its strategy over the past year as opposition grew:

1 - Their environmental studies have been delayed for over a year as they are challenged by the local governments through coordination.

2 - They scrambled to form “corridor advisory committees” and “corridor segment committees” all under their control to give the appearance they were listening to local citizens, after the first commissions were formed.

3 - They changed their preferred alternative on the I-69 TTC route after three commissions had been established on the new corridor path. (We expect them to go back to the new corridor concept if they can find a way around the local government commissions.)

4 - And today, they announce they are no longer pursuing the full TTC concept, making with it key concessions that indicate a step back for TxDOT and the Spanish firm holding the first design/build contracts.

5 - Concluded Byfield, none of these concessions would have occurred if the nine local government commissions had not formed and required the agency to coordinate the project with them. Although we have caused them to alter their approach, don’t believe the headlines that the fight is over.

Opponents to the TTC should be very proud of their accomplishment in forcing TxDOT's
very powerful and determined hand. It is a testament to the fact that grassroots activity is a powerful force.

However, we must also stay vigilant to TxDOT’s next move. Just because they are conceding defeat on their first effort, certainly does not mean they are giving up. History has shown us that, when faced with strong opposition, the perpetrators of these bad polices go underground like the bugs they are and then resurface with a new plan – which is just the old plan with a new name.

Key to the real agenda is this quote from the news report: “Each of the dozens of projects that were linked together under the rubric of the TTC – including the Loop 9 project in Dallas and the I-69 project in the south – will remain as stand-alone projects.” That’s an obvious smokescreen to make Texans think the TTC is dead.

TTC opponents are not falling for the TxDOT claim of surrender. Terri Hall, Founder/Director of “Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom” (TURF) and a major activist against the TTC said, “It's clear from the TxDOT Director's speech, that it's only a name change and the Trans Texas Corridor is, in reality, going underground. Hall cited a quote from the Austin American Statesman newspaper which said “Those 'smaller projects' will apparently include the 300-plus miles of what has been called TTC-35 from San Antonio to the Oklahoma border and the I-69 project from the Rio Grande Valley to Texarkana. But they will not be called the Trans-Texas Corridor."

As The Houston Chronicle put it, "The renewed effort now will operate under the name 'Innovative Connectivity Plan."

Said Hall, “No law has been changed, no minute order rescinded, no environmental document re-done (as is required by federal law), and there are still two contracts signed giving two Spanish companies the right of first refusal on segments of the corridor previously known as TTC-35 & TTC-69. So by every real measure, the Trans Texas Corridor goes on full steam ahead. What today's hype was about is a political ploy to make the public go back to sleep while it gets built under a different name. While we welcome genuine responsiveness from TxDOT and a true repeal of the Trans Texas Corridor, this hardly qualifies.”

Celebrate this first victory and get ready to engage the enemy again. TxDot’s action gives us one major message – we have them scared. We can and will stop the Trans Texas Corridor.

© 2009 Tom DeWeese:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"We’ll know they’re serious when these changes are made in writing, not by a director whose job is about to be scrapped..."

Trans-Texas Corridor Lives Undercover


The Clifton Record
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — The Trans-Texas Corridor as Gov. Rick Perry envisioned it is no more.

But it is still alive.

The Texas Department of Transportation has cut the controversial project into a number of "smaller projects."

Originally, the Corridor consisted of 4,000 miles of toll roads, rail lines, and utility lines 1,200 feet wide slicing though the state north from Mexico to Oklahoma.

The remaining pieces of the Corridor includes a 300-plus mile stretch (TTC-35) that runs from San Antonio to Oklahoma and another project (I-69) that runs from the Rio Grande Valley to Texarkana.

TxDOT executive director Amadeo Saenz broke the news of this new plan at the Texas Transportation Forum at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Austin last week.

"Make no mistake: The Trans Texas Corridor as we have known it no longer exists," he said, before unveiling the new "Vision 2009" project. "We must recognize the inevitable: The TTC is not the choice of Texans."

But Terri Hall, co-director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom ( told the Rrecord that Saenz’s move was a publicity stunt with no substance.

No law has been changed, no minute order rescinded, no environmental document re-done (as is required by federal law), and there are still two contracts signed giving two Spanish companies the right of first refusal on 5-6 segments of the corridor," she said.

"What today’s hype was about is a political ploy to make the public go back to sleep while they build it under a different name. We’ll know they’re serious when these changes are made in writing, not by a director whose job is about to be scrapped if the Legislature passes the Sunset Commission’s recommendations. This is a rogue agency trying to court lawmakers before the bleeding gets any worse," Hall added.

Gov. Perry, who suffered fierce opposition from his Republican allies for championing the TTC project, was out of the country when Saenz made his announcement.

© 2009 The Clifton Record

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Friday, January 16, 2009

"You are either at the table or you are on the menu."

Piney Woods Sub-Regional Planning Commission Hosts Meeting with TxDOT, EPA Feb 5th


Press Release
Piney Woods SRPC
Copyright 2009

The Piney Woods Sub-Regional Planning Commission (PWSRPC) took another step in the process of maintaining local control of future highway construction during a meeting held with TxDOT representatives last week.

The over-flow capacity crowd of public supporters caused the PWSRPC-TxDOT meeting to be moved to a much larger meeting room in the Nacogdoches County Courthouse Annex. This did not miss the attention of the three TxDOT officials, two of which were from the Austin Office, and the panel of consultants TxDOT brought with them, as nearly a hundred local citizens turned out to hear the Planning Commission's President, Hank Gilbert, grill TxDOT as to their plans.

Doug Booher, 'on the scene' Environmental Manager stated, "We're not going to pursue the 4,000 mile network. We are going to continue to pursue two individual projects; one of them would be the I-35 corridor project and the other one would be the I-69 corridor project."
When asked the question from the attending audience about a loop that once was planned to go around the West side of Nacogdoches, Booher stated, "I'm sure those plans would be dusted off and looked at again."

He also stated the name 'Trans Texas Corridor' would be 'phased out' and mentioned several times that tolling and public/private partnerships (by foreign investors) would still be an option in TxDOT's transportation plans.

Hank Gilbert also expressed to PWSRPC members that he is concerned about legislation Governor Perry may try to pass that would eliminate SRPC's, such as the Piney Woods. "We have people watching out for such legislation and if it is introduced, we will need for the citizens of Texas to call their Representatives and let them know that they want to keep their local SRPC's," Gilbert stated.

The strong show of public support for the PWSRPC's meeting with TxDOT validates the desire of the public for input and information.

The NEXT Piney Woods Sub-Regional Planning Commission meeting will be with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Representatives on Thursday, February 5, at 10:00 a.m. in the Nacogdoches County Annex.

This will also be an open meeting and the public is urged to attend. As Board Member Larry Shelton has stated, "You are either at the table or you are on the menu."

© Piney Woods Sub-Regional Planning Commission:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

“They changed the name to something that nobody can remember or say. But they did nothing that changes anything.”

NAFTA Superhighway Plan Still Possible


By: David A. Patten
News max
Copyright 2009

Opponents of the proposed NAFTA superhighway are warning that recent reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Last week, the Texas Department of Transportation, known as TxDOT, declared that the Lone Star segment of the $175 billion plan to link Canada, Mexico, and the United States via a single massive highway is dead and buried.

“Make no mistake: The Trans-Texas Corridor as we have known it no longer exists,” announced TxDOT executive director Amadeo Saenz.

David Stall, co-founder of the Corridor Watch advocacy group, hailed the decision to drop the Mexico-to-Oklahoma leg of the proposed superhighway as “a major victory.”

“It was a bad project pushed in the face of legislative and public opposition,” Stall told the Dallas Morning News.

Other opponents of the plan -- which the state legislature initially supported in 2003 -- remain skeptical. They dismiss the TxDOT announcement as a political ploy meant to defuse mounting opposition.

“It’s nothing more than a name change, and that’s all they did,” Dan Byfield of the American Land Foundation, tells Newsmax. “They changed the name to one that no one can remember or say. But they did nothing that changes anything.”

The new plan breaks the corridor into a series of smaller projects, and rechristens it the “Innovative Connectivity Plan.”

Byfield, who helped organize commissions in nine towns in the highway’s path, which many credit with blocking the highway’s progress, says it’s no accident the announcement was made just before the state Legislature convenes. He said the move will provide political cover to the highway supporters.

“It was a very tactical political maneuver on TxDOT’s part,” Byfield says. “It’s their third version of a transportation plan, so it’s hard to believe anything they say anymore.”

Similarly, Tom DeWeese of the American Policy Center wrote to supporters Tuesday: “We must also stay vigilant to TxDOT’s next move. Just because they are conceding defeat on their first effort, certainly does not mean they are giving up.”

And Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom, a leading opponent of the Trans-Texas Corridor, said: “It's clear from the TxDOT director's speech that it's only a name change and the Trans Texas Corridor is, in reality, going underground.”

That so many grass-roots groups have sprung up in Texas to fight the highway is one measure of its growing unpopularity.

Some object see it as a step toward handing over United States sovereignty to the combination of Mexico, the United States, and Canada, which would become a single economic entity called the North American Union.

Others complained that the plan envisioned Mexican 18-wheelers, which often are said not to conform to U.S. safety standards, rolling across the border along the Superhighway, with drivers not even asked to present paperwork until crossing the Texas-Oklahoma line.

And Lone Star state politicians flirted with paying for the project by allowing private firms to help foot the bill, in return for the right to collect tolls. That notion riled opponents who said U.S. drivers would be paying out cash to help boost Mexican industry.

The Superhighway has been touted as the biggest highway project since Dwight Eisenhower launched the interstate highway system in the 1950s.

“We need to keep fighting,” Byfield tells Newsmax. “And everybody we’re working with understands that.”

© 2009 Newsmax

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"The only sure way to avoid getting one of the tollway authority's trick bills for several hundred dollars is to have a lawyer ride with you."

For Whom the Toll Bells

The North Texas Tollway Authority exacts a stiff price for those who drive willy-nilly on its highways


By Jim Schutze
The Dallas Observer
Copyright 2009

Certain things you can do that might turn out very badly for you. Borrowing money from the Mafia, for example. Posing naked for a photographer who is a stranger.

But who worries about driving down a toll road? I can tell you who should: You!

Over the last several years I have received numerous phone calls, letters and e-mails from people complaining that they have been hit with huge, totally unexpected bills for unpaid tolls and associated fines.

For a long time, I brushed these aside. I thought, "Well, you know, people should pay their tolls."

But most of the people calling me don't sound like folks who regularly skip on restaurant tabs or jump over turnstiles. I made up my mind a few weeks ago that the next time I got one of these complaints, I would stop whatever I was doing and take a look. I didn't have long to wait. On a Monday morning I found a phone message from Rick Johns, a probation officer in Tarrant County.

Johns had just received a bill from the North Texas Tollway Authority for $337 for four trips on the President George Bush Turnpike, which runs from near the D/FW Airport east to the vicinity of Rowlett on Lake Ray Hubbard.

For the first trip, which he made a year and a half ago, he was charged at a rate of $3 in tolls and $100 in "administrative fees." The second trip, made about a year ago, was billed at $3 in tolls and $75 in fees. Another cruise down the PGBT the following day cost him $2 in tolls and 50 bucks in fees.

The most recent trip, his most expensive, was made last May and billed at $4 in tolls and $100 in fees.

According to Johns, this statement was the first notification of any kind telling him he owed the NTTA money. His claim—that this was a first notice—was backed up by the notice itself, of which he gave me a copy, and by the NTTA's own description of its billing practices when I called them. The NTTA didn't comment on Johns' case specifically.

Before I even venture into the question of the billing practices, let's you and I see if we can figure out how a normal, law-abiding citizen—a parole officer in this case—gets behind the eight-ball to the tune of three C-notes in unpaid toll road fees.

Johns drives to the Dallas side of the metropolitan area for his son's baseball games. He used to drive on the State Highway 121 tollway between Coppell and Lewisville.

There are no tollbooths on 121. Therefore it is not possible to pay your tolls as you go. Cameras along the way take pictures of you as you pass. If you do not have an electronic TollTag on your windshield connected to a credit card, the NTTA bills you by mail for the amount of your tolls.

Johns didn't have a Dallas-area TollTag. Didn't want one. Was happy to pay by mail. Did so. He even thought mistakenly that he was paying a little extra and didn't mind.

"I was under the impression that the toll may have been even 25 cents higher per toll by not stopping and paying, and I didn't have a problem with that."

He says he paid those bills when he got them. Never had a problem. So where did he do wrong? He started driving on another NTTA toll road—the President George Bush Turnpike. There, the rules are different.

As explained to me by NTTA spokeswoman Sherita Coffelt, the difference is that the PGBT does have tollbooths, while the 121 tollway does not. Coffelt said that wherever there are tollbooths, a motorist who does not have a TollTag must stop and pay cash. Where there are no tollbooths, a motorist does not have to stop and pay cash.

When a motorist is not required to stop and pay cash, he will be billed for the amount of his toll only. When he is required to stop and pay cash but does not, he's a toll jumper. He will be billed for the amount of his toll plus a $25 penalty called an "administrative fee."

No signs along the road warn motorists of this difference. Coffelt told me it's the motorist's obligation to know the rules.

Each skipped toll station incurs a new $25 administrative fee. On his jaunt down the PGBT last May, Johns passed by four toll stations, each one of which took a picture of his license plate and billed him for a $1 toll plus a $25 administrative fee. So four times $26 amounted to a bill for $104, a tab he racked up for 33 minutes of driving.

But wait. We're not done with the different rules on how to pay your toll. There is a third rule. On the Dallas North Tollway, you can pay cash, so if you don't have a TollTag you must pay cash, and if you don't pay cash you'll be billed for the tolls plus the $25 fees. But you can't pay cash.

Say what?

The Dallas North Tollway is a road where you can pay cash, so you have to pay cash, but if you enter the Dallas North Tollway at the main plaza at Wycliff close to downtown, you will notice that you can't pay cash. There are no tollbooths at Wycliff.

Coffelt explained to me that the absence of cash-taking booths at the main entrance to the Dallas North Tollway is just kind of an exception. The Dallas North Tollway is definitely a must-pay-cash toll road except when you get on it, when it is a can't-pay-cash toll road. But that doesn't last; later down the road you have to pay cash.

Maybe you better take notes.

If you enter at Wycliff and you don't have a TollTag and you don't pay cash because you can't pay cash, you will be billed only for the amount of your tolls. Maybe.

If you keep driving, and maybe you think this is a road where you don't have to pay cash because that's what it was when you got on, but you pass another toll plaza farther north at say, Keller-Springs Road where you can pay cash, but you decide not to pay cash because you have been lulled into thinking you don't have to pay cash, this is what you must do next:

Pull over to the shoulder immediately.

Exit the vehicle.

Put your head between your legs.

Kiss your ass good-bye.

You have just become a son-of-a-bitch, toll-jumping, miscreant fool, and you are about to feel the full weight of the law on your no-good, crime-prone head.

Well, you might think, maybe I make that mistake one time. They let me know. I take my medicine, pay my toll plus my 25 bucks. Man, I'll sure never make that mistake again!

Not so fast, Kemo Sabe. In Johns' case, for example, he had no idea he was doing anything wrong until he was on the tab for $337. He told me he certainly would have figured out a smarter way to behave had he known what was going on at the get-go.

"I get on George Bush, which I assume is the same deal as 121, and obviously if I had known this—a $25 administrative fee per tollbooth—I mean, good grief, I would have made other arrangements."

I asked Coffelt why people don't get billed or notified right away, the first time they hit the buzzer, so that they won't keep making the same mistake. She said the NTTA wants to spare people the annoyance of being billed every time they have a two-bit toll.

"We're not sending out a 40-cent bill, and then you end up paying 42 cents for postage, because what person would want to write a check for 40 cents. So we save up a couple of transactions."

I said I understood about the normal tolls, but did the agency try to let people know the first time they made a mistake and racked up a $25 administrative fee? She said no. They save up those too.

"We will save it, and you may get two, three transactions with $25 fees on it, so yes, we do save those."

Problem. Johns, indeed, had only four toll road trips on his first bill. But those trips took place over an 18-month period. And because the system hits him with a separate $25 fee every time he ticks past another camera, his total administrative fees for those four trips came to $325. The first trip alone, a year and a half ago, cost him $100 in fees.

They couldn't have given him a heads-up a year and a half ago?

I asked Coffelt how much the agency collects in administrative fees and fines. Apparently that is a really tough question to answer. She said she would have to get back to me.

I did not hear from her before the deadline for this story, but I did the best I could on my own. I looked online at the NTTA's annual financial statements.

According to the NTTA's 2007 financial statement, it collected $4.4 million that year in administrative fees "for collection of tolls from toll violators [the bastards]," representing 2.1 percent of its total income.

Note to reader: I added "the bastards."

What I found more interesting was this: Between 2001 and 2007, the agency's toll revenues grew by 89 percent. In that same period, its revenues for "administrative fees, parking transaction fees, statement fees and miscellaneous charges" grew by 356 percent.

So I guess if you are the bright person at the NTTA in charge of squeezing money out of people with non-toll fees, right about now you've got a big gold star over your name.

While they're at it, the NTTA should set up a special tollbooth just for people who get really behind on their administrative fees. Deadbeats would be required to park their cars and come inside.

There should be some old pinball machines in there and a couple guys in zoot suits smoking cigars, one of them cleaning his fingernails with a switchblade. They might say something like, "Pal, you gotta lotta administrative fees youse owes us. We'd like to settle this peaceful."

They might as well be honest about the type of operation they're running.

© 2009 The Dallas

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"What’s dead is the name. The concept is still in place."

Despite name change, TTC still exists


Nannette Kilbey-Smith
Wilson County News
Copyright 2009

ST. HEDWIG — As the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) unveiled its “updated vision” for the Tran-Texas Corridor (TTC) Jan. 6, members of the South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (391 Commission) watched with interest.

The commission formed to coordinate with TxDOT on transportation issues and concerns in the local area, primarily the impact of the TTC.

“The Trans-Texas Corridor, as it was originally envisioned, is no more,” TxDOT spokesman Karen Amacker told San Antonio’s WOAI News that day.

“Texans have spoken, and we’ve been listening,” said TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz in Austin, quoted in a TxDOT press release. “… I believe this transformed vision for the TTC and other major corridor development goes a long way toward addressing the concerns we’ve heard over the past several years.”

The local 391 Commission held its regularly scheduled meeting in St. Hedwig the following day. High on the list of updates were the latest revelations on the TTC. Commission President Kathy Palmer of St. Hedwig cautioned all present against celebrating the end of the TTC just yet.

“Yesterday, it was reported that the TTC was dead,” Palmer told members. “Actually, what’s dead is the name. The concept is still in place.

“It’s a little different,” she continued, adding that the width of the proposed transportation corridor has been scaled down from 1,200 feet to no more than 600 feet.

“Now, rather than a single-concept project, this will be a series of projects,” Palmer said. TxDOT will refer to the smaller projects by their segment names, for example, State Highway (S.H.) 130 or Loop 1604.

“They’re still thinking of the corridor as a whole to move goods from seaports to the north,” Palmer said. “San Antonio to Dallas is the priority now.”

The reason for the renaming of the project, Palmer said, is that the Texas Legislature is beginning its new session.

“The TTC had such negative connotations, TxDOT feared the Legislature would pull all funding for it,” Palmer explained. “Unless the draft environmental impact study [now awaiting approval with the Federal Highway Administration] and all funding is pulled, all that we heard in the last four years on this project is still a possibility.”

The new name TxDOT is using for the project is “Innovative Connectivity in Texas|Vision 2009.” View the full document HERE.

New segment committees have been formed to discuss individual projects that comprise the TTC. Palmer told the commission new rules for segment committees had been adopted; new representation would be invited by TxDOT to share citizen concerns with the committees.

New representatives on the 391 Commission include Marion city Councilman James Gray, Guadalupe County commissioners Judy Cope and Cesareo Guadarrama III, and East Central Independent School Board (ISD) President Steve Bryant.

Other entities with invitations to join the commission include the city of La Vernia, the La Vernia ISD, and the Marion ISD.

In other business, members raised issues to discuss with TxDOT during the commission’s next workshop, Feb. 25. Items include:
  • The potential increase in traffic from S.H. 130 on I-10 from Seguin to Loop 410 when S.H. 130 is complete.
  • Landowner access on stretches of S.H. 130 in Guadalupe County where properties will be split by the proposed roadway.
  • The impact on bus routes on small arterial roads within the East Central ISD if TTC construction begins.
  • The impact of potential TTC construction on residential access in Wilson and Bexar counties on F.M. 3432 and U.S. 87.
  • The impact of potential TTC rail and/or vehicular routes on the city of Marion, its school district, and its emergency services.
Members also agreed to cap the number of entities represented on the local 391 Commission; member entities can be municipalities, school districts, counties, and water utilities. At present, five entities are represented: the cities of St. Hedwig and Marion, Wilson and Guadalupe counties, and the East Central ISD.

Wilson County Pct. 4 Commissioner Larry Wiley expressed concern over the growth of the commission.

“If we get too large, we lose the interconnectivity we have with each other,” he said. “But I want to leave open the prospect for adding other entities that may need to join.”

“Some possible member entities already have a voice, because they have a seat at commissioners court,” Wilson County Judge Marvin Quinney said.

Bryant expressed concerns that Bexar County was not represented at the table, except by his district.

St. Hedwig city Councilman Susann Baker recommended capping the membership at eight entities and an adjustment to the bylaws to reflect this; the item met with full approval by the commission.

The 391 Commission will meet again Wednesday, Feb. 25, at 2 p.m. in the St. Hedwig City Hall. Although the meeting is open to the public, it will be a workshop with TxDOT; therefore, no public input will be permitted, Palmer said.

© 2009 Wilson County

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Monday, January 12, 2009

"Billions for the TTC, but not one penny for a bypass."

Broad vision, narrow minds


Nacodoches Daily Sentinel
Copyright 2009

The Trans-Texas Corridor is dead. Long live Interstate-69 — maybe.

Although Texas Gov. Rick Perry conceded Tuesday that the TTC project won't be moving forward, the I-69 project, which would pass through Nacogdoches according to some plans, is still a possibility.

While that may very well be, it seems doubtful, considering these financially uncertain times.

Although Texas' economy has fared better than most in the past six months, predictions of "trillion-dollar deficits for years to come" and warnings of a pending economic crisis — the worst seen since the Great Depression, according to our president-elect — gives us reason to believe that I-69 isn't likely to be built (or begun) during Rick Perry's lifetime, much less his term in office.

While we do agree with Perry that north-south thoroughfares are needed — not just along the U.S. Hwy. 59 footprint, but along Interstate 35 as well, we don't think it likely that there will be enough money for new construction when so many other immediate needs are not being addressed, due to the lack of funding.

A prime example is the much-needed bypass on U.S. Hwy. 59 North at Loop 224 in Nacogdoches. In 2007, Texas Department of Transportation officials said the acquisition of right-of-way would begin in 2008, with construction to begin in 2010. Instead, the project was moved to the back-burner because there wasn't funding for the $45 million project.

Billions for the TTC, but not one penny for a bypass. on a highway that receives 25,000 on any given day, according to TxDOT.

Perry said in an Associated Press story Wednesday that he thought that Texans just "misunderstood" the concept of the TTC, and that it was neither a "public relations failure, on his part, or a rejection on his views."

He was also quoted as saying that "Texans want to see their leaders have broad visions and not be 'sticking our heads in the sand.'"

We have to disagree. If anyone's head has been stuck in the sand, it's Perry's. We believe that Texans well understand the concept of the TTC and what the project meant. And that applies not just to the landowners who would be giving up enormous amounts of land for a project that had little hope of being built, but to the taxpayers and motorists who would be footing the bill for Perry's "broad vision" for generations.

Perry says his push for the TTC demonstrates that he's "not afraid of taking on big and tough issues."

Perry's also not afraid to or spend untold millions on "big, tough issues" such as the TTC. We say "untold," because TxDOT has yet to say how much has been spent on the project.

We agree that leaders should have a broad vision, and be willing to tackle tough projects. But first, tackle some of the small, no-brainers.

© 2009 The Nacodoches Daily

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Senator Carona files bill to promote more public-private partnerships.

Lege's transportation chief taking softer line this time around

Carona has filed bill that would allow private toll road leases for another six years.


Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

Lost in the hullabaloo last week over the "death" of the Trans-Texas Corridor was news that the Legislature's transportation leader filed a bill that same day giving six more years of life to private toll road leases.

That the bill, SB 404 , came from Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas , is no small thing. Carona is chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee . With his counterpart on the other side of the Capitol — former House Transportation Committee Chairman Mike Krusee — now retired and a majority of Krusee's committee defeated or retired as well, Carona stands as the main transportation mover and shaker.

Carona dropped news of his bill into the middle of remarks he made on a panel at the Texas Transportation Forum at the Austin Hilton. "To foreclose any option (for building roads) would be foolish," Carona said.

Watching Carona has been interesting over the past two years. He began the 2007 session calling for the replacement of Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson . Then by late in the session he had become a mediator between TxDOT and its most vehement critics. Similarly, last spring he called the naming of current Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi a "missed opportunity" by Gov. Rick Perry in the wake of Williamson's death. Tuesday he praised Delisi, standing by his side as moderator of the panel, for how she had handled the job in her seven months so far. "When you're wrong, you're wrong, and you have to stand up and say so," Carona said.

Last session, the Legislature banned most long-term toll road leases with private companies, granting a handful of exceptions. And the overall authority to have such "concession agreements" as of now would expire Sept. 1 , except for those few exceptions. The state could continue to sign such 50-year agreements for those few excepted projects until Sept. 1, 2011 .

Lawmakers didn't like that the leases generally last a half century because if tollways bring in more money than predicted, companies running them would get profits that could have built other roads had TxDOT operated the roads instead. They also disliked "noncompete" clauses that could mean fewer improvements in free roads near the tollways.

Carona's bill would extend both of those expiration dates for possible concession agreements by six years .

Carona — in his manner, his legislation and his rhetoric — seems to be sending the message that while the 2007 session was mostly about fighting over transportation and stopping what lawmakers saw as bad transportation policy, the 2009 session will be about trying to make new policy.

Not all legislators interested in transportation will necessarily be in as mellow a mood. But as the Legislature convenes tomorrow , Carona's opening moves could mean that the inevitable differences of opinion this time around won't become quite as heated.

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

© 2009 The Austin

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"A visceral fear of the word "tax" has impeded any efforts to keep up with Texas' burgeoning traffic demands."

The proof will be in lawmakers' funding plans


The Lufkin Daily News
Copyright 2009

Perhaps we should take heart that several local "mobility advocates" came home from Austin after a three-day forum buoyed by what they described as a fresh atmosphere for Texas transportation planning.

Former White Oak Mayor Tim Vaughn and SWEPCO executive Keith Honey are both credible civic leaders who we trust to look out for East Texas interests. We just hope their optimism about the future of Texas roads is not premature.

Despite the good news that the Texas Department of Transportation is stepping back from Gov. Rick Perry's controversial plan to use private developers to build his massive pet project — the Trans Texas Corridor — we still have not heard any rational discussion about the funding of much needed highway projects across the state.

A visceral fear of the word "tax" has impeded any efforts to keep up with Texas' burgeoning traffic demands on major interstate corridors and on vital regional and local arteries. Because of that fear, lawmakers have failed to provide sufficient funding to TxDOT for nearly a decade, prompting both the governor and highway officials to seek alternative routes.

The result has been a growing focus on the development of toll roads such as Tyler's new Loop 49 or Austin's new Texas Toll 130 bypass. The problem is that while they might make sense in some situations, such as the TT 130 route that allows Interstate 35 motorists to avoid the pitfalls of driving through Austin, toll roads are not a viable solution to all of our state's highway needs.

In the case of the Trans Texas Corridor, landowners' fears over the plans to cut several 1,200-foot wide swaths across Texas for multi-purpose corridors were exacerbated when Perry and transportation officials decided the best way to develop the concept was to sell the rights to private contractors.

Public officials who are serious about keeping up with the state's responsibility to build and maintain a highway system that meets Texans' needs have long discussed the need to adapt the state's fuel tax in a manner that would allow revenues to keep pace with inflation and growing needs. The problem is that the utter fear of "new" taxes has hamstrung leaders who refuse to index the gas tax, yet offer no viable funding alternative.

In recent legislative sessions, lawmakers have approved large highway bond programs to help fund the repairs and the new construction needed throughout Texas. TxDOT leaders were reluctant, however, to begin issuing such bonds because without firm commitments for future funding, they feared the debt payments would impede future operations.

So we are not convinced that it is yet time to begin cheering the "positive time" that Vaughn foresees for TxDOT. There might be some renewed commitment on the part of the department's leaders, but without a viable funding plan from the Legislature, their construction plans won't go very far.

© 2009 The Lufkin Daily News:

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"Privately financed toll roads so far are the only approach lawmakers have agreed to accept."

Texas lawmakers to weigh private road deals against tax increases


The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

Two years ago, lawmakers went to war with Gov. Rick Perry over his push to privatize Texas toll roads, but their efforts to stop the idea largely failed.

As they return Tuesday to launch the 2009 legislative session, lawmakers will be faced with a choice of either raising taxes – which both Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have called a bad idea – or giving private companies a greater role in paying for, and operating, a fast-expanding network of toll roads.

The two-year moratorium on private road deals that passed in 2007 slowed but didn't kill Perry's plan to privatize toll roads. Construction on one project is set to begin soon in Austin, and private firms are readying bids in Dallas, Tarrant and other counties across Texas.

And while the state Department of Transportation has officially killed the Trans-Texas Corridor, it hasn't canceled two development contracts with private firms that continue to look for ways to develop hundreds of miles of toll roads.

Moratorium at issue

Lawmakers could stop the practice, or simply extend the partial moratorium, but it's unlikely that they will.

"I see no reason to extend the moratorium, so long as we have leadership at TxDOT we can trust," said Dewhurst, who is president of the Senate. "There is certainly a place for private financing."

TxDOT has pledged to back away from the toll-roads-or-no-roads approach it has favored in recent years, but it remains convinced that without significant private financing, Texas will never come close to building the hundreds of billions of dollars in roads it says the state needs by 2030.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, isn't prepared to accept Perry's argument that privately financed toll roads are good for Texas. But despite emerging as one of the governor's fiercest critics during the skirmishes over the Trans-Texas Corridor, Carona has already filed a bill that would extend legal authority for private road deals until at least 2015.

A top aide said that's because privately financed toll roads so far are the only approach lawmakers have agreed to accept.

"His philosophy is that it is not the best approach," said Steven Polunsky, staff director for the transportation and homeland security committee. "The best approaches have been the ones that have been proven over time."

Carona, transportation chairman, would prefer to impose higher gas taxes on drivers and use that money to let the state build the roads it needs, Polunsky said.

"In the absence of those other methods, you have to do something," he said. "You either starve, or you have these less desirable alternatives, like tolls, and the comprehensive development agreements."

The same calculations are being made in statehouses across the country, where lawmakers from Georgia to Pennsylvania to Florida have either already followed the lead of pro-privatization states like Texas and Indiana, or are considering doing so when they next meet.

And while Democrats in Congress were highly skeptical of the Bush administration's full-fledged support of private toll roads when they gained power in 2006, they have since come to embrace them. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for instance, has said they will be part of any transportation finance reform that comes out of the 2009 Congress.

The deals have moved beyond statehouses, too.

In Chicago last month, a consortium of private firms bid $1.2 billion for a 75-year contract to install and operate parking meters on downtown streets. Other cities, including Dallas, are considering public-private partnerships that would involve private companies taking over services that have traditionally been provided by government agencies.

Last week, Mayor Tom Leppert said the city is considering a number of such possibilities but said it's too early to provide details.

Watchdog groups that have monitored Texas' rush to privatization say there are still concerns, even if they concede that some level of private financing is essential for transportation and other areas.

"We're not anti-toll road by any means," said Melissa Cubria, a researcher and spokeswoman for the Texas chapter of Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit agency that bird-dogs government spending and policy. "But it's just that we want roads that are built with the interest of the taxpayer in mind, not the interest of the private firms who are building them."

Her group wants tougher laws to ensure that the deals TxDOT strikes with private companies are more evenly balanced against the tendency of private firms to exploit every advantage they can.

Expect some noise

Too often, Texas lets companies it contracts with write the rules, watchdog groups have said.

Not everyone is ready to accept the private road deals as inevitable, however.

"We should be cautious," said Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham. "I am not for taking tools out of the toolbox, but I am also not for signing a road away for half a century or longer. ... I started last session by being very focused on the TTC, but the more I was involved in transportation policy, my concern became the private equity deals themselves."

But avoiding deals would require the Legislature to raise taxes to pay for what all sides agree are skyrocketing costs as Texas' biggest cities keep getting bigger and its network of highways and bridges keeps getting older. Carona has promised to push for higher gas taxes this session, and Polunsky said support for that has been growing. So far, however, both Perry and Dewhurst have said they think raising taxes in uncertain economic times is a bad idea.

Either way, one thing is certain, Kolkhorst said: The transportation debate in 2009 will be a lot like the one in 2007 – noisy.

"I give Gov. Perry credit for taking us out of the box, even if his approach was not what we would have liked, and placing transportation on the front burner," she said. "Now that he has put it there, he is going to find that we will come together to create a solution, even if it is not one of his choosing."

© 2009 The Dallas Morning

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"Legislators seem hell-bent to push through various TTC 'tributaries' at a huge cost to the Texas community."

81st Texas Legislative Session Off to a Bad Start Before It Begins

Do you have that bad taste in your mouth again? You should.


Peter Stern
Somervell County Salon
Copyright 2009

The Legislature begins its 81st session tomorrow and already Transportation Chair Sen. John Carona is extending private toll road contracts for 6 years.

Is this the same guy in 2008 who flipped when then TxDOT Commissioner Ric Williamson (who died last year) arrogantly refused to open discussion on toll activities and contracts with the Transportation Committee? Is this the man who promoted a moratorium on private toll road contracts?

What exactly is going on?

What is happening is that Sen. John Carona is setting the pace for the legislature to go more lenient with TxDOT and its previous questionable actions, contracts and activities during the past 7 years, under the guise that the agency now has more ethical management and that for some reason, previous private toll road contracts should be honored and extended.

Sorry, Sen. Carona and other legislators, Texans do NOT want toll roads and certainly we don't want such roads privatized whereby 80 percent of the revenues from tolls go back to the road corporation. That's just NOT cost-effective in the long run.
  • The first order of transportation business is to repeal the law that permits elected officials to divert any gas tax revenue to other interests, e.g., Department of Public Safety and to higher education (UT).
  • The 2nd issue is to unfreeze the gas tax and to permit an indexing as per the inflationary and/or cost-of-living adjustment rate.
  • The 3rd item for consideration is to increase the gasoline tax.
  • The 4th focus on the transportation agenda must be to consider other sources for building and maintaining Texas roadways.
Under no circumstance must the legislature consider toll roads except as a last resort when the previous 4 items have been approved and more revenue is needed.

While Texans are told that Gov. Rick Perry's pet project, the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) is dead, legislators seem hell-bent to push through various TTC "tributaries" at a huge cost to the Texas community. Tolls are new taxes! Toll costs are manipulated by the state and privateers. Toll revenues are diverted to other interests. Generally, tolls remain after roadways are purchased over time. Consequently, tolls are infinite taxes that we pass along to future generations.

TxDOT is still under investigation for fraud and criminal activities. Legislators must review all other options before continuing TxDOT's questionable old ways and certainly toll roads are NOT the first choice of providing the financing for our current and future road needs. All other options must be reviewed first.

Read more on Rep. Carona at:

© 2009 Somervell County Salon:

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TTC name change: "A public relations smokescreen to cool the white-hot opposition to comprehensive development agreements (CDAs)?"

CDAs look to survive Trans-Texas Corridor's demise


by Mark Lavergne
Dallas Blog
Copyright 2009

The Trans-Texas Corridor was pronounced dead early in the morning of January 6, at the Texas Transportation Forum, an annual conference put on the Texas Department of Transportation. But the death may represent less a change in substantive policy than a change in nomenclature, a public relations smokescreen to cool the white-hot opposition to comprehensive development agreements (CDAs), also known as "public private partnerships."�

The "death" of the Corridor does not mean the death of toll roads in Texas, and it certainly does not mean the death of CDAs.

"We’re talking toll roads," said Texas Farm Bureau president Kenneth Dierschke in a statement. "We’re still talking comprehensive development agreements, which allow foreign companies such as Cintra-Zachary to have a huge stake in the future of Texas transportation. We’re still talking massive projects. We’re still talking about the taking of private property."

CDAs live on�

The gargantuan project will now be broken down into a series of smaller projects, known as the Innovative Connectivity in Texas, which will include I-69, SH 130, and Loop 9. Whereas the original vision for the Corridor included a 1200-foot right of way meant to take in roads, and rail, and utilities, etc., the connectivity plan will be slimmed to 600 feet.

Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) said "people are desirous of keeping all options on the table, recognizing that our transportation challenge is enormous in this state, and to foreclose any opportunity would be a foolish one as we try to use a multi-pronged approach to addressing the literally millions of dollars in pent-up transportation projects."

Carona highlighted recommendations from the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee’s interim report, released over the holidays. Front and center was the recommendation for buyback provisions in the CDAs.

The financial community does not turn cartwheels over such provisions. But, Carona said, "it’s one of the things that members of the Legislature feel very strongly about." Carona told the forum that he was filing legislation to extend the Sunset deadline for CDAs by another six years.

Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) said Texans could expect to see more toll roads, local communities should get first crack at building their own, before private equity enters the picture. "If they feel like something has been shoved down there throats, it’s not going to be a successful project," he said. "It’s going to be a nightmare. … The local communities need to be involved early on in that project."

Rep. Carl Isett (R-Lubbock) said that public private partnerships are really "just a contract" which could have a "pay provision that suits your needs." He said the Legislature could be looking at developing a state agency that specializes in public private partnerships, and echoed Carona’s sentiment, saying now is "a terrible time to take tools out of the toolbox."

What to look for

Lawmakers gave a pretty clear picture of what to look for, transportation-wise, in the 81st session.

"This will be a busy session in transportation," Carona said. "Many described last session as the ‘transportation session,’ but I will tell you that the work we had last session to do I think pales somewhat in comparison with what lies ahead." The main goals, he said, are to relieve congestion in the least expensive way possible and to improve mobility.

Here’s a look at the issues discussed at the forum:

Fixing (or at least changing) TxDOT. It is evident that legislators have started playing nice with TxDOT, if only because TxDOT has started playing nice with them.

Carona, for starters, lavished praise onto TxDOT’s chairwoman, Deirdre Delisi, of whose appointment he had been originally quite skeptical. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst also expressed excitement over TxDOT’s improved responsiveness during his keynote address on Jan. 7.
Carona defended the streamlining of TxDOT’s functions and said it would actually cost less to create a new agency to handle motor vehicles. "It would actually create greater efficiency," he said.

Isett also expressed support for creating the new agency. If the forum is any indication, the change in the leadership structure of TxDOT, particularly moving to a single appointed
commissioner, may be less popular. Carona, Isett, and Nichols all reiterated opposition to creating a single appointed commissioner at TxDOT.

"Having five commissioners adds value to the system," Isett said.

"I do not want to see the Legislature at this point in time," Carona said, "become so bogged down in the issue of changing the structure as to overlook the real issues which are finding ways to affordably build roads and finding ways to finance them."

Diversions from Fund 6.

Carona said he was confident that there would be fewer diversions from Fund 6 in the next session, but said "I don’t think it’s a meaningful gesture if it’s done without a constitutional amendment which redefines what the purpose" of the fund is. Nichols said he would "jump on that in a heartbeat."

Transportation Finance.

Carona called for indexing the gas tax to inflation, which has always been a tough sell. "We have
to do something about this situation," he said. He observed that indexing the tax would cost the average driver merely about $15 a year. By contrast, Carona said, in a decade a driver could be spending $10 to $15 a day in tolls.

But Isett said he would oppose indexing gas tax to inflation. "As a student of economics I have … a problem with indexing the gas tax," he said.

"If you put an inflator on a bill of goods that’s in the basket," he explained, "then it causes the basket to go up, causing the inflator to go up, causing the basket to go up, so it becomes circular. … It will generate more money, but it’s not, from an econometric standpoint, a very good idea." Isett said he would introduce a constitutional amendment to set a cap on how much surplus money the Legislature can save, and have the rest be placed into a capital infrastructure fund.

Carona said that tolls and the gas tax would probably both be part of the solution to transportation finance, saying that the public would accept a "meaningful balance" between toll roads and tax-built roads.

Another piece of the puzzle may be the use of the $5 billion in bonds which voters approved in November 2008. Carona said the Legislature will now have to pass the enabling legislation to free up the $5 billion in bonds to pay for major road projects in Proposition 12.

Rail. Carona said there will be a lot of talk in the next session about regional rail, including money for rail relocation. He is currently working on an initiative in North Texas but said he has heard of interest in rail elsewhere in the state.

He also said he will be looking at inner-city high-speed passenger rail, "something that the Legislature for the last 15 years has had a history of start and stop ... I think the time has come to be able to provide high-speed rail in Texas." Carona said high-speed rail will require private capital.Isett also said he has asked his colleagues to consider putting a rail division inside TxDOT.

Property owner’s bill of rights.
Carona said he expects the property owners’ bill of rights to return to the Capitol next session. But he said Perry "had good reason" to veto HB 2006 last session."Transportation expansion in our state is something that we can’t turn back," he said. "It’s absolutely necessary in order to meet population projections in the state. But I think we can do that in a state as big as Texas and still be sensitive to the rights of property owners."

Dierschke said he hopes such legislation is not lost in the "TTC shuffle.""Eminent domain reform was never about the Trans-Texas Corridor only," Dierschke said. "However, the thousands and thousands of acres of farmland subject to takings by the TTC brought the issue to light. And the chance for reform is now."

© 2009

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

TxDOT's Innovative Connectivity Plan: "They are not really limiting themselves, even though they are saying they are."

TxDOT says TTC is dead; opponents not so sure


The Trinity Standard
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN – The death of the Trans-Texas Corridors (TTC) and the birth of a less ambitious highway plan was announced Tuesday by state officials in Austin.

During the Fourth Annual Texas Transportation Forum hosted by the Texas Department of Transportation in Austin, major changes in the state’s highway plans were unveiled.

Amadeo Saenz Jr., TxDOT’s executive director, said the ambitious proposal to create the TTC superhighways was being dropped and is being replaced by a plan to carry out road projects at an incremental, modest pace.

“The Trans-Texas Corridor, as it is known, no longer exists,” Saenz said.

The TxDOT official said the state will move forward with modification to proposed projects and will seek more input from Texans through additional town hall meetings and an updated Web site.

Saenz said the changes in the TxDOT plan are detailed in Innovative Connectivity in Texas/Vision 2009.

He indicated the change was in response to the large public outcry raised last year to the TTC proposal.

The plan called for up to 10 toll lanes – six for passenger vehicles and four for trucks – as well as six rail lines and a corridor to carry utility lines.

One of the TTC highways that was the center of heated opposition throughout East Texas was the Interstate 69/TTC. Under this plan, TxDOT proposed to extend I-69 through the region using the TTC concept.

Its proposed route would include a segment which followed the U.S. 59 corridor south from Nacogdoches through Lufkin down to Corrigan. There it would follow a new track westward through Trinity County south of U.S. 287 and then turn southeast near Trinity toward Walker County.

Under this plan, up to 5,800 acres of Trinity County land would be needed for the TTC right-of-way.

During a public hearing hosted Feb. 7, 2008, a standing-room-only crowd of opponents filled the Trinity High School gym to voice their concerns for the plan and the disruptions such a highway would cause.

In June 2008, TxDOT announced it was dropping the route through Trinity County and planned to stick to the U.S. 59 corridor all the way to Houston.

Saenz restated that position on Tuesday and noted that if the I-69 projected needed more lanes than currently existed for U.S. 59, the state will simply widen the roadway.

He added that should toll lanes be added to various roads, tolls would be assessed only on the new lanes and not those that currently exist.

Last year in response to the TTC plan, the cities of Trinity, Groveton and Corrigan formed The Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (TNT) to oppose the proposed TTC corridor through Trinity County.

State law gives commissions such as the TNT authority to negotiate highway changes with TxDOT and organizers hoped to use this power to challenge the TTC plan.

Connie Fogle of Trinity, a vocal critic of the TTC and a member of the TNT, said Tuesday that while she hopes TxDOT is being straightforward about the change, she and other TNT members have strong doubts.

“It would be wonderful if this were true, but I’m not so sure that it is,” she said, adding that in the past, TxDOT has played a game of “smoke and mirrors” to try to relieve public pressure.

“You know they are under pressure over this. The public was up in arms during the public hearings last year and the legislature’s Sunset Commission really raked TxDOT over the coals,” she said.

Fogle said she believes TxDOT hopes announcements such as this will prevent other sub-regional planning commissioners from forming.

“We, and other commissions, have been a real thorn in TxDOT’s side and this probably is a response to that,” she added.

She noted that despite the June announcement that TxDOT would follow the existing U.S. 59 route through East Texas, the Trinity County TTC corridor is still included in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that is being forwarded to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

“As long as the Trinity County route is still included in the DEIS, its still alive. If the DEIS is approved at the federal level, TxDOT could come back someday and say, ‘Oh, you know we tried to do it this way (follow U.S. 59), but it just didn’t work so we’re going to have to go back to the Trinity County route’,” she said.

She noted that TNT attorneys obtained copies of TxDOT’s Innovative Connectivity in Texas/Vision 2009 and are currently reviewing it.

“They already have noted that, as usual, TxDOT is leaving itself loopholes,” she noted.

She noted that in their announcement, TxDOT said the highway right-of-ways for things like the I-69 project would be no more than 600-feet wide – which is down from the 1,200-foot wide TTC plan.

“When our attorneys got to looking at the plan in detail, they found that it said the right-of-way would be not more than 600 feet ‘in most cases.’ They are not really limiting themselves, even though they are saying they are,” she said.

Fogle said despite the TxDOT announcement, the TNT will continue to operate to insure that the rights of local residents are protected.

They are scheduled to meet with local TxDOT officials during their next regular meeting set for 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 21, at the Trinity City Hall.

© 2009 The Trinity

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"The TTC has come to stand for a threatened land grab, a tin-eared highway bureaucracy and private toll roads as the only answer..."

Trans-Texas Corridor comes to a dead end

The massive complex of toll roads and rail lines was a bad idea that few should mourn


The Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Copyright 2009

The Texas Department of Transportation says that the Trans-Texas Corridor is dead, both in name and in concept. The landowners who fought and feared what it would do to their property hope the massive project is gone, too.

A bad idea that was conceived to answer a real shortfall -- the state's un-met transportation needs -- deserves to be buried. But that doesn't tell us how those highway needs will be met.

When Gov. Rick Perry rolled out the plan in 2002 to build a massive complex of highways, toll roads and rail lines that would traverse the state, it was supposed to stand for the state's vision for progress and modernization. But the Trans-Texas Corridor has come to stand for a threatened land grab, a tin-eared highway bureaucracy and private toll roads as the only answer to all transportation problems.

For South Texas ranchers and farmers, the Trans-Texas Corridor represented a threat to their family legacies. Hundreds of such land owners, both big and small, attended public hearings in South Texas to protest feared land grabs for right-of-ways for railroads, toll roads for trucks and highways for the public. Even the announcement last year that the proposed Interstate 69, whose routes will cross South Texas, would be restricted to the present right-of-way of existing roads didn't complete allay those concerns.

No wonder. The state's highway department and toll road proponents have been deaf to public concerns about privatizing thousands of miles of existing roadways, or of alarms about contracts to foreign firms to run the subsequent toll road systems, or about new roads running through virgin land. In fact, the proponents of toll roads seemed to go out of their way to tell the public that their input didn't matter much. It was going to be toll roads, first, last and always.

Now, the Texas Department of Transportation has a more modest plan, more of an assemblage of projected highway segments, one of which is the long-planned Interstate 69 to connect the Texas-Mexican border with the Midwest and run through South Texas, including a route near Corpus Christi. When the Texas Legislature called a two-year moratorium in 2007 on possible toll road projects until further study, the South Texas route was one of the projects exempted. Estimates have put the cost of the I-69 project at $12 billion to $15 billion. Given the reluctance of state legislators and Congress to raise fuel taxes, the prime source of highway funds, the question of where the money would come from for such projects as I-69 remains largely unanswered.

Private financing will remain part of the mix of possible answers for financing I-69 and other Texas highway needs. But so does raising fuel taxes, or finding an alternative to the traditional gasoline tax; Oregon has been experimenting with basing taxes on mileage. Then, too, there should be an option for regional financing of transportation. Toll roads, both private and public, have a place, but some roads, because they are critical to public travel, should always remain untolled.

The Trans-Texas Corridor may be gone, but the necessity for a more modern transportation system is not. I-69, for one, will be vital for South Texas' prospects for international trade and communication. Toll roads must still remain part of any plan for upgrading the state's transportation needs. It's just that toll roads shouldn't be the first option, or the only option, for all road issues as the Trans-Texas Corridor insisted.

© 2009 Corpus Christie Caller-Times:

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