Friday, February 13, 2009

"A lot of members think I'm going to go over and set fire to the place and see who survives the blaze."

Rep. Joe Pickett picked to lead transportation panel


By Brandi Grissom, Austin Bureau
El Paso Times
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN -- El Paso state Rep. Joe Pickett will lead one of the most powerful committees in the Texas House, overseeing a multibillion-dollar transportation department that he once chided as a bully and has lambasted as secretive.

Pickett will be chairman of the House Transportation Committee, one of dozens of assignments Texas House Speaker Joe Straus announced Thursday, allowing the chamber to get to work on legislation a month after the session began.

Long considered an expert on transportation issues, Pickett, who is also chairman of the El Paso Municipal Planning Organization, said he was honored that Straus chose him to lead the committee.

"It's a big deal," Pickett said. "It's something that I'm very passionate about and I'd like to think I'm prepared to do. It's a huge honor and a huge responsibility."

Pickett has had a thorny relationship with the Texas Department of Transportation, the primary department that his committee will oversee.

In 2007, he filed a bill that would have abolished the Texas Transportation Commission, the department's governing board.

He also vehemently opposed the creation of the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority in El Paso. He said that it was unnecessary and that state Transportation Department officials bullied the city into creating the board by threatening funding for critical projects.

Pickett has also chastised the Transportation Department for not being open enough about its spending and for having what he considers an insatiable appetite for toll roads.

Despite past unpleasantness, Pickett said, he hopes to create open lines of communication with the department to try to handle the state's growing transportation needs.

"A lot of members think I'm going to go over and set fire to the place and see who survives the blaze," he said. "I'm not going to do that. I'm going to find things we can all agree on and go from there."

Pickett said his first priority for the committee would be ensuring that Texas communities have the resources they need to put federal economic stimulus dollars to work right away on transportation projects.

El Pasoan Ted Houghton, a member of the Transportation Commission who has in the past been on the receiving end of Pickett's ire, said he was confident Pickett would "do the right thing" with his powerful new position.

Pickett's appointment, Houghton said, is good for El Paso.

"Anytime you get placed in a leadership position, you get a lot of opportunity and you get to see a lot of things and effectuate change and help your community out at the same time," Houghton said.

El Paso Mayor John Cook said Pickett's appointment was a victory for the entire city.

"It's not just that he's chair of that committee, but it also gives him a lot of influence in other things."

Other House legislators from El Paso also fared well in committee assignments.

State Rep. Norma Chávez will remain on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which helps write the two-year state budget. She will also be on the Calendars Committee, which determines which bills make it to the House floor for a vote and when.

Both Chávez and Pickett were also assigned to the Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee, a key panel for El Paso because of Fort Bliss.

"El Paso came out smelling like a rose," Chávez said.

State Reps. Chente Quintanilla, Joe Moody and Marisa Marquez also said they were pleased with their committee assignments.

Quintanilla will be on the Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee, which could be the first stop for any bill that would allow the Tiguas to resume gambling at Speaking Rock Casino.

Overall, Quintanilla said, the House delegation received assignments that bode well for the border city.

Assigning legislators to committees was the first big challenge for newly elected House Speaker Straus, a San Antonio Republican.

Given the narrowly divided House -- 76 Republicans and 74 Democrats -- and Straus' promise of bipartisan and fair leadership, political observers were keen to see whether the assignments reflected those pledges.

Ross Ramsey, editor of the online political journal Texas Weekly, said that at first glance it seems Straus' appointments mirror the makeup of the House and don't indicate he exacted retribution against his opponents.

For example, former Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick wasn't made chairman of any committee, but he was assigned to the influential State Affairs and Energy Resources Committees.

Ramsey said he didn't expect a lot of grumbling about Straus' assignments in the House.

"I suspect they just come back and get to work," he said.

Brandi Grissom may be reached at;512-479-6606.

© 2009 El Paso Times:

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Hutichison throws weight behind Trinity Toll Road Boondoggle

Army Corps of Engineers to appoint a liaison for Dallas' Trinity River toll road


The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

In response to frustration from Dallas officials over cooperation on the Trinity River toll road project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to appoint a high-level employee to act as a liaison between Dallas, the North Texas Tollway Authority and top corps officials in Washington.

The decision comes a day after Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert met with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and leading corps officials in Hutchison’s Capitol Hill office.

According to people familiar with the meeting, the mayor expressed frustration that there was no single contact at the corps for the city to reach out to with concerns about project delays.

Corps officials created the new position Thursday evening. The liaison, whose name and title have not yet been made public, will have an office in downtown Dallas near City Hall.

It is unclear what authority the liaison will have and whether that will include the ability to direct engineers in the corps’ Fort Worth office who are running the agency’s work on the toll road project.

Leppert and corps officials were not immediately available for comment.

A spokesman for Hutchison said the senator was pleased the corps had taken quick action.

“The corps has shown that they are committed to making this project a success, and I believe the corps’ actions will ensure the Trinity River project moves forward,” Hutchison said in prepared statement.

The corps is responsible for the integrity of the Trinity River levees that protect Dallas from flooding. Engineering and construction of the toll road directly affect those levees and is subject to corps' approval.

© 2009 The Dallas Morning News:

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TTC aka 'Innovative Connectivity Texas Vision 2009' zeros in on Rockwall County

Trans Texas Corridor 'demise' does not stop Outer Loop


Leslie Gibson
Rockwall County Herald-Banner
Copyright 2009

While the Trans Texas Corridor may be dead, the Regional Outer Loop is alive and well.

It still is expected to run north and south between Royse City and Fate, on its way through Rockwall County and the eight other counties ringing the Metroplex. That Rockwall County path also puts it running through 1,237 acres being planned for a water control and improvement district within the ETJ of McLendon-Chisholm.

Never was its ultimate fate tied to the Trans Texas Corridor, a state project. This was explained to the Rockwall County Road Consortium Feb. 4 by the North Central Texas Council of Governments (COG) lead program manager of the Outer Loop, Jeff Neal.

COG has worked for two years with counties and cities to identify the corridor for the Regional Outer Loop/Rail Bypass.

Consensus for one entire corridor for the Outer Loop is expected by the end of September, he said.

That will be followed by a three-to-four-year process of determining the exact location of the Outer Loop, through preparation of a formal Environmental Impact Statement, which must ultimately be approved by the Federal Highway Administration.

Rockwall County commissioners, through agreement of city councils and county commissioners, selected its preferred route of the loop through the county.

The entire Outer Loop corridor to be identified by September 2009 is expected to be one-half to one mile wide, with the facility itself ranging from 450 to 600 feet wide, either within or closely adjacent to the preferred corridor.

The Outer Loop will be a toll road. Public funds will not fund the main lanes. However, public funds may pay for the right of way and select frontage road segments.

Polster and Neal both spoke at the Rockwall County Road Consortium Feb. 4.

COG has developed ways to enable appropriate entities to get right of way and to form public and private partnerships, and has created ability for new lanes to be toll roads.

“This is already a process we’ve been through,” Neal said. “We will continue that process like we have.”

That approach is now being adopted by the state in Innovative Connectivity Texas Vision 2009, noted the county’s road consultant, John Polster, of ITS. Innovative Connectivity is the replacement for the single project approach of Trans Texas Corridor, according to the TxDOT Web site.

“The Trans-Texas Corridor, as a single project concept, is not the choice of Texans,” was stated in a letter on the Texas Department of Transportation Web site “Keep Texas Moving.” The letter added, “Projects that had been developed under the heading of the Trans-Texas Corridor will now become a series of individual projects.”

However, Neal stressed in an interview after the consortium, that the Outer Loop has already been underway.

Indeed, the Collin County commissioners have “been very aggressive” he said.

Collin County has hired several firms to do schematic preparation for several segments, Neal said. Within that county’s boundaries, the route will be identified as the Collin County Outer Loop, which allows them to fund it on their own. “Their loop will stop inside their lines, to be an internal loop,” Neal said. The Outer Loop will tie into to it.

“They are trying to create a county toll authority,” said Polster.

As far as the entire Outer Loop, it is expected that by 2013 the environmental clearances could be obtained. One section of the Outer Loop between Interstate 20 in Mesquite and U.S. Highway 287 in Midlothian, identified as the Loop 9 Southeast Project, may receive environmental clearance from the Federal Highway Administration as soon as December 2009.

“We will see a lot of activity on the Regional Outer Loop in the next few months,” Neal said, including public meetings.

Fate mayor Bill Broderick asked about the movement to push the Outer Loop beyond the Royse City Fate path, but that is not occurring, Neal said.

Though Rockwall County has its Outer Loop path designated, it has no power to prevent any development on the path. “It’s just a line on a map to a developer,” said Rockwall County Road Consortium chairman, David Magness.

© 2009 Rockwall County Herald-Banner:

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

"It isn't the Corps of Engineers' role to advocate the road's construction, but to ensure the Trinity levees remain sound flood guards."

Dallas mayor, city manager visit Washington, D.C., to discuss setbacks in Trinity River toll road


The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

After a steady stream of news about setbacks and budget shortfalls for the planned Trinity River toll road, Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and City Manager Mary Suhm flew to Washington, D.C., on Thursday to seek assistance from Capitol Hill.

Frustration has been growing inside City Hall and among Trinity project backers over the pace at which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is moving on review and approval of various engineering elements of the toll road's design.

The corps' role was a major part of talks Leppert conducted with U.S. Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, and Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, and Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison.

"I would say that we clearly communicated how important it was to move forward as expeditiously as we could," Leppert said. "Delays are costly in a number of different ways. We're pushing, and we need everybody to work with us."

A Hutchison spokesman confirmed that the project's pace and the corps' work were important parts of the meeting.

"Senator Hutchison is working with the mayor to ensure strong communication between the city and Army Corps of Engineers on the project," said Hutchison communications director Jeff Sadosky.

Hutchison has closely followed the Trinity project, and a series of recent stories about setbacks and growing budget gaps prompted the meeting with Leppert.

Corps officials have long said that they are moving as quickly as they can.

But they have stressed that it isn't the corps' role to advocate the road's construction, but to ensure the Trinity levees remain sound flood guards.

© 2009 The Dallas Morning News:

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The Trans-Texas Corridor has been pronounced 'dead,' although critics have said the corpse still breathes."

The top issues of the 81st session: Transportation

The Texas Department of Transportation is coming under Sunset, but that may be just the beginning of things.


by Mark Lavergne
Volume 13, Issue 25
The Lone Star Report
Copyright 2009

Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) has a vision: high speed rail, which has recently been gaining traction among some North Texas elected officials. The controversy, of course, will occur over how to pay for the rail plan.

To relieve some of the pressure for more toll roads, Carona has proposed raising the gas tax, including indexing it to inflation. He has already filed the proposed constitutional amendment SJR 8, which if passed and endorsed by voters, would allow the Legislature to authorize the State Comptroller to adjust the gas tax.

Some lawmakers, including Carona, have indicated that the agency has already made considerable strides in the two years since the 80th session. Still, the agency will have some major reforms coming its way. Among those being advanced by lawmakers is an overall shrinking of the agency by trimming away its functions down to the Big Two: building roads and maintaining them. To that end, Sunset has recommended placing TxDOT’s vehicle registry and other functions under a new Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Trans-Texas Corridor has been pronounced “dead,” although critics have said the corpse still breathes. Watch for what happens with Comprehensive Development Agreements, which are the partnerships forged between the state government and private corporations that build toll roads.

Carona has also filed SJR 9, aimed at stopping diversions from Fund 6 so that it can go towards its original purpose: building and maintaining roads.

Of course, there is closely tied in with transportation issues the matter of eminent domain reform. We’ll discuss that issue next week.

© 2009 The Lone Star Report:

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"HB 11 would drive the final nail in the coffin of the project, preventing the state from using old corridor legislation to create something similar."

Toll road, Trans-Texas bills head to committee


Dallas Business Journal
Copyright 2009

Two bills with implications for Texas highways were referred to the Transportation Committee of the state House on Thursday.

House Bill 11, co-authored by Reps. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, and Dwaye Bohac, R-Houston, would repeal the authority to establish and operate the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, a favorite of Gov. Rick Perry.

The project was originally supposed to be a 4,000-mile network featuring toll roads, railway and utility lines. The Trans-Texas Corridor has faced opposition partly because of the proposed use of eminent domain to acquire the necessary land.

Leibowitz and Bohac’s bill would essentially drive the final nail in the coffin of the project, preventing the state from using the old corridor legislation to create something similar.

In a similar vein, Leibowitz is the author of separate legislation, House Bill 13, that would prevent the conversion of state highways into toll roads, except in limited circumstances. HB 13 was also referred to committee on Thursday.

© 2009 Dallas Business Journal:

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Governor 14% (and dropping)

POLL: Rick and Kay get personal, but not Kinky. Who gets it?

Who do you support in the 2010 governor's race?

Kay Bailey Hutchison (53.3%)

Rick Perry (13.6%)

Another Republican (1.9%)

A Democrat (27.1%)

An Independent (4.1%)


Randy Beamer
News 4 WOAI-TV
Copyright 2009

And so it begins. Or intensifies. Or gets interesting.

Or something.

However you want to describe it, the expected race between Governor Rick Perry and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison hit some kind of new level this week with its first real insult.

Perry dissed Hutchison saying " can't even do the (job) that we've hired you to do."

Maybe Perry cranked it up a notch after Paul Burka's Texas Monthly cover story called their fight for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010 "The Thrilla in Vanilla" with a "demure" Senator Kay taking on the "straightlaced" Governor Rick.

So maybe the governor was trying to prove he has a little street-fighter inside his straightlaces. And that a battle pitting former Aggie yell-leader and Eagle Scout Rick against former Longhorn cheerleader sorority sister Kay doesn't have to be all vanilla.

Whatever inspired it, that one little jab led to more ink, blogs, Web hits and general buzz than anything their expected race has seen before. I think I actually heard a couple of people who aren't political junkies talk about it. I could be wrong.

So let the polls begin.

By the way, we'll get to Kinky Friedman soon. The humorist/author/musician/cable news pundit got his own share of ink and blogs this week by telling the Associated Press (again) that he may run for governor again.

But that's for another poll. Soon. After all we have a mere 13 months left before the primaries.

This one is focused on Rick and Kay.

And try to keep your posts here semi-clean and barely tasteful -- if not exactly vanilla.

© 2009 WOAI-TV:

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"As long as Waller County remains on the EIS as an alternative, there is a danger to our area."

TxDOT agrees to work with county group on project


Waller County News-Citizen
Copyright 2009

WALLER – In a letter dated Jan. 21, addressed to the Waller County Sub-Regional Planning Commission, Amadeo Saenz Jr., executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, agreed to coordinate with the WCSRPC in regards to the plans and programs of the I-69/TTC project.

“We welcome the opportunity to work with your group on transportation issues that are important to Waller County citizens,” Saenz stated in his letter.

The letter further details that Saenz has instructed TxDOT Houston District staff to coordinate these efforts with the WCSRPC and to arrange a meeting, because the Houston District is best positioned to understand regional issues.

“This is a significant step in the process for Waller County citizens and the WCSRPC,” stated Maurice Hart Jr., president of the WCSRPC.

“As long as Waller County remains on the Environmental Impact Statement for the I-69/TTC project as an alternative route, we are going to require TxDOT to coordinate with us so that any potential project that is done in our area is consistent with the transportation and mobility plans and goals of our area and of our citizens,” Hart added.

Trey Duhon, vice president of Citizens for a Better Waller County, feels that this is a significant accomplishment for the WCSRPC, “This letter shows that TxDOT is acknowledging Chapter 391 of the Texas Local Government Code. Waller County now has the ability to sit at the table with a state agency like TxDOT as equal partners in the transportation process. The ultimate winners will be the citizens of Waller County. CBWC is extremely pleased that coordination efforts are now moving forward.”

Despite recent announcements by TxDOT that the Trans Texas Corridor project is dead, Duhon expressed caution, “After many years of working against the Trans Texas Corridor, the recent announcement is encouraging, but we can not let our guard down. The recent announcement seems to be more of a name change than anything else. As long as Waller County remains on the EIS as an alternative, there is a danger to our area. We have gone too far to relax now and get caught off guard. The WCSRPC will be an effectively tool to monitor TxDOT's real intentions.”

The WCSRPC was initially formed in April of 2008 by Waller County and the cities of Waller, Pine Island, and Prairie View. Since that time, the city of Pattison has become a member along with Waller ISD and the Brookshire Katy Drainage District, which became new members at the commission meeting that was held on Feb. 2. Don Garrett, president of CBWC, has also been appointed as a non-elected citizen director.

Hart stated, “We still have standing invitations to the cities of Hempstead, Brookshire, Katy, Hempstead ISD, Royal ISD, Bluebonnet Water District, and Emergency Services District No. 200 to be a part of the process in joining the WCSRPC. This organization will facilitate communication between Waller County cities, the county, and other important entities so that we can all work together to improve the quality of life for all Waller County citizens in relation to any state or federal project in Waller County. With TxDOT’s agreement to coordinate, it is important for everyone to have a seat at the table. We are looking forward to our first meeting with TxDOT officials.”

The Commission also voted to extend an invitation to Katy ISD to join the WCSRPC.

The WCSRPC is also looking at zip codes issues in Prairie View and Pattison, in addition to drainage issues in Waller County.

For additional information and updates on the WCSRPC, you can visit their website at As soon as a meeting date with TxDOT is set, the website will be updated with that date and time. The WCSRPC meets regularly at 7 p.m. on the first Monday of every month at the Road & Bridge complex in Hempstead across from DiLorio's on Business Hwy 290.

Meetings of the WSRPC are open to the public.

© 2008 Waller County News-Citizen :

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"I believe it is poor policy to recommend or to appoint a newly defeated political candidate to a public planning group."

Gerald Daugherty keeps seat on CAMPO committee


Ann Fowler
Oak Hill Gazette
Copyright 2009

Some local residents have expressed dismay at seeing the name of former Travis County Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty on the list of the Transit Working Group (TWG) Committee of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), but Daugherty calls it "much ado about nothing."

The purpose of the TWG is to study and assess the potential for rail in Central Texas as part of a wide-ranging transportation plan that includes new and toll roads, rapid and traditional buses, plus other modes of transportation. Daugherty was on the committee as a member of CAMPO, as was former Texas State Representative Mike Krusee. Both remain on the committee as private citizens.

Save Baron Creek Association board member Steve Beers noted: "It's surprising that Republican ex-officeholders like Mike Krusee and Gerald Daugherty get invited to stay on by Democratic State Senator Kirk Watson. That's very unusual."

Mayor Will Wynn, chair of the committee, calls Austin's mobility – or lack of it – its Achilles heel. "For too long we didn't make the land-use and transportation planning decisions necessary to accommodate future growth," he said. "We're paying for that now in longer drive times, lost productivity, environmental degradation and a host of other problems that come from sprawl."

Beki Halpin, an Oak Hill resident and chair of the Oak Hill Neighborhood Planning Contact Team, said, "Our new County Commissioner, Karen Huber, who now serves on the CAMPO board, ran on a platform that specifically rejected Gerald's pro-toll philosophy. She should represent Oak Hill and Southwest Austin in the Transit Working Group. Right now we have no representative in that group."

Roger Baker, a Save Barton Creek Association board member who often weighs in on Oak Hill transportation issues, told the Gazette he sided with Halpin: "I believe it is poor policy to recommend or to appoint a newly defeated political candidate to a public planning group like the Transit working group. The person the public elected to replace Daugherty, in this case our new Travis County Commissioner Karen Huber, should be offered the opportunity to replace him, assuming she is willing to serve. If not, she should still be given the opportunity to help choose his replacement."

But Texas State Senator Kirk Watson, who chairs CAMPO's Transportation Policy Board, said: "I appreciate the concerns of residents whose opinions differ from Gerald's and I encourage them to look at the balance of the TWG members. I believe they will find ample representation of their transit views among those individuals."

Sen. Watson pointed out that the TWG is a mixture of elected officials and civilians. He said, "The TWG is not exclusively elected officials, in fact there are few elected officials among the 15 individuals serving on the TWG. Individuals on the TWG were chosen to represent a broad array of views on transit."

Added Mayor Wynn, "The committee is made up of elected officials, CAMPO board members, and representatives from institutions, businesses and community groups from throughout our five-county region."

Said Sen. Watson: "Gerald Daugherty was appointed a year ago to the Transit Working Group to represent a point of view regarding transit that he shares with a portion, albeit a small portion, of the region's population. He was not appointed as an elected official."

Local resident and Fix290 member Carol Cespedes initially questioned Daugherty's appointment. She said, "My knee jerk reaction was that neither Gerald Daugherty nor Mike Krusee have any business on a current CAMPO committee charged with analyzing the potential for rail in Central Texas. [But] Reading the minutes from the last CAMPO meeting, I see that Watson announced that the Transit Working Group membership would remain the same with Daugherty and Krusee remaining on the committee as private citizens. So the argument may be for continuity and balance."

Indeed that is the explanation given by Sen. Watson: "The TWG has been working for over a year now. They developed a decision tree to be used in the review of major transit projects and are now mid-way through the testing of that tool. It would not make sense to replace an active TWG member at this juncture."

Local resident and city council candidate Sandy Baldridge, who heads both the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods and the Oak Hill Business and Professional Association, told the Gazette, "Our government bodies are set up to pass knowledge and events from one set of players to the next. They frequently utilize the experience of previous ‘voting' players as advisors to current players. Who better to serve as an advisor on any board, commission, taskforce, or working group than one who has been through the process?"

In fact, Daugherty says he brings plenty of mobility experience. "I have probably been involved with mobility and transportation longer than anybody on the committee," said Daugherty, who has been on the TWG since its inception.

Said Baldridge: "If our civilization turned on and turned off our experience like we do a faucet, we would still be recreating the wheel. Our Planning Commission, Zoning Commission, Water Quality Commission, etc. are all made up of appointed volunteers having some experience in the topic. I personally view this as just one step in the passing of the torch." -

© 2009 Oak Hill Gazette:

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Bailouts for Boondoggles

Taking Stock of Redevelopment Wrecks


Castle Watch Daily
The Official Blog of the Castle Coalition
Copyright 2009

money-down-drain.jpgWith the immense publicity surrounding Little Pink House, which tells the story of Susette Kelo’s battle with New London, Conn., many have been surprised to learn that the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London still stands vacant and empty.

The Fort Trumbull development is not the only failure in the media lately. Further down the Connecticut coast, Bridgeport’s Steel Point development, where like New London’s Fort Trumbull a neighborhood once stood. It’s been a decade since families left after being threatened with condemnation for a brand-new development that has yet to, well, develop.

The families in both Bridgeport and New London, however, have at least been able to move on since their properties were seized. Homeowners in Rock Hill, Missouri have been threatened by eminent domain for the past decade for a commercial development project that has three developers pull out of the project. 110 homeowners signed contracts with a developer for their homes late last year only to find out that this latest developer was pulling out of the project. The property owners now have homes that they have to continue to maintain even though they remain on the chopping block.

As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out, this is the third neighborhood in and around St. Louis to have been left out to dry by towns and developers who were too busy threatening to take other people’s property to get their own acts together.

Meanwhile, in New York, Atlantic Yards remains a concept only on paper. Not only that, but apparently it’s in need of a federal bailout. According to the New York Post, megadeveloper Bruce Ratner and local officials want stimulus funds to save the project.

© 2009 Castle Coalition:

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"The Hairspray Hate-Off."

Rick Perry, Populist


By Richard Connelly
The Houston Press
Copyright 2009

The sparring has already begun in earnest in what will likely be the most entertaining Texas governor's race since Clayton Williams was cracking rape jokes.

Kay Bailey Hutchison vs. Rick Perry. The Hairspray Hate-Off.

Things got ugly when one of Hutchison's supporters, the head of UT's investment board, resigned because he paid bonuses to the fund's executives even though the fund lost 27 percent of its value this year.

She accused Perry of orchestrating "a set-up" to embarrass Robert Rowling.

Perry responded by criticizing Hutchison for being in Texas giving speeches instead of in DC. (Snap!)

And he doubled down on his criticism of Rowling, who gave a $1 million bonus to an employee making $500,000 a year.

"In times like these, the idea that you give what most citizens out there would think -- a million dollar bonus on top of a $500,000 salary -- is an obscene amount of money," Perry said.

Rick Perry thinks millionaires have an obscene amount of money? This is news.
We heartily applaud the birth of Rick Perry, Fightin' Populist. We expect to hear "Every Man a King" at every campaign appearance from now on.

Bob Perry, the homebuilder who is no relation to the governor, regularly donates mightily to his election campaigns. We also believe he makes more than a million dollars a year. The governor will no doubt be returning all the "obscene" money he's receieved in donations, any day now.

This is going to be one entertaining GOP primary, people.

© 2009 The Houston Press:

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Wastrels at the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority went panhandling last week, hitting up the VIA board for bus fare to build toll roads."

Alamo RMA goes panhandling for toll roads


Greg Harman
San Antonio Current
Copyright 2009

Wastrels at the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority went panhandling last week, hitting up the VIA board for bus fare to build toll roads. That’s how an innocent-sounding suggestion to merge the two agencies twisted itself in my mind after attending last week’s joint board meeting on the topic.

I did a little deadline-pressure finger-punching this afternoon on the City-County Transportation Task Force’s proposal to merge the “Masters of Mass Transit” with the “Toll Road Troubadours,” aka the Alamo RMA.

We’re no Pat Driscoll, but we couldn’t help wondering just what the debt-riddled, publicly ridiculed RMA was bringing to the deal.

As we get better acquainted with the players and their driving records, it came as no wonder ARMA Director Bill Thornton opened the meeting by giving County Judge Nelson Wolff serious plaudits by suggesting that any progress made in the future on creating a “multi-modal” transportation network in San Antonio will all be all thanks to Wolff.

No entity with life-sustaining funds flowing through its limbs wants to be out of the game. A body in motion tends to stay in motion (until dismantled by progressive taxpayers demanding accountability and progress, I even now hear some suggesting). Politics, itchy backs, and slime.

On a positive note, our transportation arcana is finally taking up the question of light rail, rapid transit, and our growing peddle culture. There is receptivity being expressed for creating an open, community-based planning process (“with a strong education and advocacy component,” the recommedation reads) like Envision Central Texas.

Then there is the urge to merge.

“Is there any reason the VIA image would be enhanced by the marriage with a toll-road group?” VIA board member Lou Miller asked.

And what about the debt?

Debt? At the RMA? First mention we’d heard in the well-worn meeting’s minutes. Turns out there’s $10 million worth. Thanks, Lou.

My recommendation for saving the RMA would be to sell off all those years worth of engineering and environmental studies on the U.S. 281 toll-road debacle. It was RMA Director Terry Brechtel’s thought, too. Go check the minutes if you don’t believe me.

[If watching the road builders is your bailiwick, check out the Transportation Task Force report yourself.]

© 2009 San Antonio Current:

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"It is vital that we have transparency in the process."

Legislation to extend state open records law could be a tough sell


By ABC-7 Reporter Martin Bartlett
Copyright 2009

EL PASO -- Legislation proposed by a South Texas lawmaker could dramatically extend the reach and scope of state open records and state open meetings laws, but it might also be a tough sell for lawmakers.

Rep. Ismael "Kino " Flores, D-Palmview, is asking the Texas Legislative Council to draft legislation that would require Regional Mobility Authorities across the state -- including the Camino Real RMA in El Paso -- to post agendas online as well as all back-up material, according to a news release sent by his office.

"(An) RMA is a very important public body with ... the power to raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars on major projects including toll roads," Flores said in a statement. "Since RMAs have and will have a great impact on our present and future roads and highways throughout Texas, it is vital that we have transparency in the process.

Regional Mobility Authorities are already required to post their agendas and open their meetings to the public. The Texas Transportation Code defines an RMA "a body politic ... and a political subdivision of this state" and therefore they are already subject to state open records and open meetings acts which require most governmental entities to post their agendas but not back-up material, said State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, a leader in the state legislature on transportation issues.

Pickett said getting legislators to agree to extend the laws to include back-up information which often includes research prepared by staff "would be a tough one."

If passed, he said, it might discourage people to attend RMA meetings.

"I think it would actually be counter-productive," Pickett said. "People would have false security that everything is there."

Pickett said including back-up information might paint an incomplete picture; he said, staff often adds back-up information several times between the posting of an agenda and the actual meeting.

If passed, Flores bill would require back-up information to be posted along with agendas three days before the body meets.

More than a half-dozen RMAs serve many Texas metropolitan areas and have jurisdiction, in many cases, beyond county lines and city limits.

© 2009 WorldNow and KVIA:

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Monday, February 09, 2009

"Momentum has stalled due to concerns that developers were enriching themselves at the expense of taxpayers."

U.S. stimulus plan might curb state privatizations


By Joan Gralla
Copyright 2009

NEW YORK - The outlook for U.S. road and airport privatizations has dimmed because the infrastructure aid in the $800-billion-plus U.S. economic stimulus plan gives states other options, analysts said on Monday.

Public-private partnerships often require that developers make huge upfront cash payments to states in return for multiyear leases. But deals have stalled since banks stopped lending as freely to these companies, said Kurt Forsgren, a Boston-based Standard & Poor's Ratings Service analyst.

The new federal dollars are expected to be funneled through states and planning groups. Some self-supporting transportation systems, such as turnpikes, which can raise money for improvements by increasing tolls or selling bonds, likely will be left out in the cold, Forsgrem said. That might make them less-desirable candidates for privatizing.

"Why turn something over to a long-term concession which in the future would not be a recipient of federal aid?" asked Forsgren.

Moody's analyst Chee Mee Hu said states will take different approaches with the new stimulus dollars, which will determine whether, for example, they reduce the amount of tax-exempt bonds they sell.

Massachusetts began selling debt backed by federal transportation aid in the mid-1990s, a strategy adopted by other states.

"I think a lot of proposals are being put forward," said Hu.

One constraint the states will face is the U.S. government's insistence that work begin swiftly on the transportation improvements in order to create jobs sooner rather than later.

The shrinking appetite for public-private partnerships can already be seen in the decline in responses some states are getting when they put out preliminary bids for projects, called requests for proposals, Forsgren said.

That's a shift from what until last year was a surge in the demand for U.S. privatizations among overseas developers, including Spain's Abertis (ABE.MC) and Cintra (CCIT.MC) and Australia's Macquarie Infrastructure Group MIG.AX.

U.S. investment banks, eager for stable sources of funds, also raised hundreds of millions of dollars to invest in roads, bridges and airports.

Several blockbuster deals have been signed in the Midwest, including Chicago, as well as in Florida and Virginia.

But momentum has stalled in other states, such as Texas, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, due to concerns that developers were enriching themselves at the expense of taxpayers.

U.S. states will still have at least one compelling reason to turn to private developers, even with the new federal aid.

"I think the question is that the needs far outpace their resources," Forsgren said.

Another obstacle could crimp public-private partnerships, at least for roads and airports: the recession has led consumers to cut back on car and plane trips, as they did during last year's fuel price spike.

That makes partnerships less attractive to developers who lease roads, airports, and bridges around the world.

A case in point is a Virginia toll road owned by Macquarie, according to Moody's, which on Monday cut the outlook on the sparsely traveled highway to negative.

After growing more than 6 percent from 2002 to 2005, traffic on the artery to Dulles Airport has fallen 3.7 percent in the past three years and could fall 7 percent this year, Moody's said in a statement.

(For more on infrastructure, please visit coverage/infrastructure)

(Reporting by Joan Gralla; Editing by Dan Grebler)

© 2009 Reuters:

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“We’re spending our highway user dollars to give to the private sector that’s going to turn around and toll us? Really? During these economic times?”

TxDOT selects Cintra to add tolled lanes to Dallas loop


By David Tanner, staff writer
Land Line Magazine
Copyright 2009

Whenever Spanish toll road operator Cintra lands the winning bid to take over a toll road or build a new one, highway users should read the fine print, trucking officials say.

Cintra is the leading partner in a consortium most likely to rebuild and add tolled lanes to 13 miles of the Northeast Loop in the metro Dallas area.

The Texas Department of Transportation announced Jan. 29 that it intends to work with the Cintra-led team known as NTE Mobility Partners to replace a portion of Interstate 820 and state Highway 121/183 known as the Airport Freeway with a wider roadway that will include tolled express lanes.

The project is part of a regional corridor dubbed the North Tarrant Express, aimed at increasing lane capacity in North Texas to meet population and transportation demand.

Part of the concern that truckers and other highway users have with this agreement is that the Cintra-led team will be in charge of operating and maintaining existing infrastructure built with tax dollars, said Mike Joyce, director of legislative affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“For our members, we’re concerned that Cintra is getting its claws into those existing lanes with a bigger picture in mind when it comes to collecting toll revenue,” Joyce told Land Line.

He points out that Cintra has at least a 50-percent involvement in long-term contracts for the Indiana Toll Road and Chicago Skyway that put highway users on the hook for decades of guaranteed toll increases.

“These agreements have begun to evolve over the past year or so into agreements that are much more favorable to the highway user, but they’re still not nearly as favorable to the highway user as they need to be,” Joyce said.

Another concern is that the Cintra-led team is composed of a total of 12 firms, including other European companies, American financial giant JP Morgan and the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System.

“That’s a lot of hands to feed,” Joyce said.

TxDOT officials said up to $600 million in available fuel tax revenue would be combined with private investment and toll revenue for a total investment of $2 billion.

“The second cautionary flag I see is the leveraging of $600 million in fuel tax that is paid by highway users,” Joyce said. “We’re spending our highway user dollars to give to the private sector that’s going to turn around and toll us? Really? During these economic times?”

As the 13-mile portion of the North Tarrant Express moves forward, TxDOT has also asked NTE Mobility Partners to develop master financial and construction plans for additional portions of the loop.

Cintra, whose full name is Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte S.A., partnered with Texas firm Zachry to construct and manage 40 miles of state Highway 130 from San Antonio to Austin.

TxDOT also tapped Cintra-Zachry to develop the first leg of the massive project formerly known as the Trans-Texas Corridor that would run parallel to Interstate 35.

Cintra also has a 53-percent stake in the Toronto-based 407 Express Toll Route.

© 2009 Land Line Magazine:

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"Rick Perry gave out millions in Texas taxpayer dollars to corporate predatory lenders who helped cause the economic crisis in the first place."

Perry: No to bailouts, yes to subprime lenders


Wayne Slater
Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

Interesting that Gov. Rick Perry is so dead-set against government bailouts, as we reported today, but he gave out millions in Texas taxpayer dollars to corporate predatory lenders who helped cause the economic crisis in the first place. Perry has doled out millions from his state Enterprise Fund to businesses that say they'll produce jobs in the state.

Perry awarded $20 million to Countywide Financial. The company subsequently ran into legal trouble because of its predatory loans and, as the economy turned south, was subsequently bought up by Bank of America (which happens to be one of the big federal bailout recipients).

Then there was Washington Mutual. In 2005, Perry gave a $15 million handout of taxpayer money to the nation's largest savings and loan. Again, the promise was jobs. Instead, WaMu foundered and federal regulators had to step in (and ultimately get swallowed up by JPMorgan Chase) - but only after the ailing lender's political fund made campaign contributions to Perry.

As for the promised jobs, A Perry spokesman said the governor still hopes they'll come. And if they don't? The spokesman says they'll just have to pay back the money -- presumably with federal bailout dollars.

© 2009 The Dallas Morning News:

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"This is $84 million of taxpayers' funds that we very well may be dropping down a rabbit hole."

Angela Hunt Wants to Reevaluate the City's Toll Road Investment

Angela Hunt isn't shocked about the funding issues with the Trinity Turnpike, especially since she knew about them before the vote in November 2007.


By Sam Merten
The Dallas Observer
Copyright 2009

After reading Friday's story in The Dallas Morning News regarding the nearly $1 billion funding gap for the Trinity Turnpike, Angela Hunt decided she would spend this week developing a strategy to address the approximately $64 million remaining of the city's $84 million contribution to the project. She's unsure whether a briefing to the full council or Trinity River Corridor Project Committee will ultimately be included her recommendation.

"It's only prudent for us to step back and reevaluate because this is $84 million of taxpayers' funds that we very well may be dropping down a rabbit hole," Hunt tells Unfair Park. "We continue to throw millions and millions of dollars at this, and it's becoming more apparent to everyone that the funding for this toll road doesn't exist."

Hunt listened to the audio we provided of Mayor Tom Leppert promising in October 2007 that the North Texas Tollway Authority would be contributing $1 billion to the project, and she says it wasn't news to her, as Leppert made the same claim at several debates throughout the campaign.

She doesn't know the motivation by The News, but stresses that it is reporting a fact that was known before the '07 referendum. "We who were supportive of moving the toll road from the park knew that there was an enormous spending gap as you reported before the election, so this didn't come as a shock to any of us," Hunt says.

Hunt also criticizes the paper for not following up with Mayor Leppert regarding his statement that buckets of funds were available to close the funding gap, such as what the buckets are and how much money the buckets carry.

"Those questions weren't asked by The Dallas Morning News, and if they were, they certainly didn't report that the mayor refused to answer those very simple questions," she says. "The Dallas Morning News should have followed up with those questions, and it was a glaring omission."

We actually posed those questions to the mayor Friday and received no response. "This is the same type of obfuscation that we've dealt with this mayor for months not only during the toll road referendum but now during the convention center hotel," Hunt says. "It's so frustrating."

© 2009 The Dallas Observer:

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

"It just seems like every time we turn around, someone's got us in their cross hairs.”

Landowners question high-speed rail


By Peggy Fikac
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN — For travelers, a 200-mph train connecting San Antonio, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth may sound like a dream. But for some landowners along the proposed Texas T-Bone high-speed rail route, it's a question mark that they fear could easily turn into a nightmare.

“From a rural, agricultural standpoint, we're very concerned. It just seems like every time we turn around, someone's got us in their cross hairs,” said Central Texas farmer Richard Cortese, a Bell County commissioner and a leader in the Texas Farm Bureau.

Despite efforts by high-speed rail backers to build a partnership with local communities, some landowners are wary, partly because the fresh rail push comes after heated battles over the Trans-Texas Corridor, a massive proposal pushed by Gov. Rick Perry for a network of highways, tollways, pipelines and rails.

State officials recently buried the Trans-Texas Corridor's name after a backlash from property owners who feared their land would be devalued or taken. But “it hasn't gone away,” Cortese said.

“If you were to take a template of the Trans-Texas Corridor and lay it over this high-speed rail issue, I think you would find that many of the concerns would be very much the same,” said the Texas Farm Bureau's Gene Hall. “Fixing eminent domain (strengthening private property rights) is the first step toward increasing our comfort level with any of these projects.”

Several proposals are percolating in the Legislature to strengthen property rights. Hall said one key element is to ensure that property owners are compensated not only when they're forced to sell their land for a public project but when access to their property is diminished, affecting its value.

Besides the property-rights concern, Ralph Snyder of Snyder Salvage in Holland raised issues including train noise and who'd be on the hook for mitigating it.

He and Cortese said they understand the need for transportation in a growing state but that they want a detailed plan before making up their minds about the $12 billion to $18 billion rail proposal that would follow the Texas T-Bone — from Dallas-Fort Worth through Austin to San Antonio and branching off in Temple to go to Houston.

“We haven't seen any financial prototypes on this. I think that's our concern,” said Cortese, with questions including the expense to local governments if they're responsible for train stations.

Backers envision a project that's primarily privately financed but stems from a partnership with local governments. They'd like to have it running by 2020.

This legislative session, they're asking for state help, including tax exemptions for companies that would build the project.

“There's a perception about rural people that they are backward and they don't understand the problem. That's just simply not true,” Snyder said. “They want the studies done before a project is undertaken to make sure the right thing is being done.”

A key high-speed rail backer said details still are being developed because supporters want to ensure the proposal bubbles up from communities instead of being seen as handed down from the state capital.

“We want to involve the communities and the counties and the interest groups in that planning process, as opposed to ‘You bring this back when you have a plan and then we'll shoot at it,'” said Temple Mayor Bill Jones, vice chairman of the nonprofit Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp.

Local communities will decide whether to contribute financially to such things as building a train station, he said.

Among key points, Jones noted the consortium includes elected leaders, cities and counties, among others, and that backers have said they want to elevate the rail where necessary to reduce the effect on property.

“We are committing as best we can possibly commit at this stage to elevate as much of the system as we can where it's necessary,” Jones said.

Property owners said the prospect of the rail being elevated would help address their concerns because it would allow access to land on both sides of the track.

Former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, chairman of the nonprofit corporation, said the group is sensitive to local concerns and would want to stay along existing routes and minimize the infringement on private property. “It's not only good politics,” Eckels said. “It's cheaper that way.”

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