Friday, June 19, 2009

Rick Perry hires HNTB lobbyist as chief of staff

Perry hires Ray Sullivan as chief of staff

hntb revolving door

Related Link: HNTB is lead consultant for Trans-Texas Corridor


By Jason Embry
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

Gov. Rick Perry announced this afternoon that he’s hired lobbyist Ray Sullivan as his chief of staff, replacing Jay Kimbrough, who will stay with Perry as a senior adviser.

Sullivan has worked on previous Perry campaigns. He has also been a lobbyist. His clients this year have included Banc Pass Inc., Compass Environmental Inc., Exelon Power Texas, Global Options Inc., HNTB Corp., Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. and Silver Eagle Distributors.

Sullivan has a more political background than Kimbrough, so it makes sense that Perry would bring him in as he shifts his focus fully to his re-election campaign. Kimbrough was brought in last year to provide a tough hand at the top of Perry’s organization and guide the staff through the legislative session. Sullivan has been part of a group of former aides that remain in close touch with the governor’s staff — a group that also includes Deirdre Delisi, Eric Bearse and Robert Black.

“I am pleased to have a man of Ray’s insight, experience and integrity rejoining my staff,” Perry said of Sullivan.

The governor also praised his outgoing chief of staff, saying, “This session’s achievements are a real tribute to the leadership of Jay Kimbrough.”

Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

© 2009 Austin American-Statesman:

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Perry vetoes bill that would have banned toll road propaganda

Perry Vetoes Toll Road Promotion Bill

would have prohibited TxDOT from using your tax money to get you to like toll roads

Keep Taxes Moving


By Jim Forsyth
Q101.9 News
Copyright 2009

Governor Rick Perry vetoed several measures approved by the Legislature on Friday, including a measure designed to prevent TexDOT from using tax money to promote toll roads, 1200 WOAI news reports.

The measure, sponsored by State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) would have prevented the Texas Department of Transportation from using state tax money to ‘engage in marketing, advertising, or other activities for the purpose of influencing public opinion about the use of toll roads or the use of tolls as a financial mechanism.’

The bill was a major priority of the anti-toll Texas Toll Party and other anti toll groups.

“Marketing toll roads as a user fee based alternative to congested highways is important to relieving congestion on Texas highways and keeping Texas moving,” Perry said in his veto message.

Perry said he was also concerned that the bill would prevent TxDOT from marketing ‘toll tags’ and other toll road related merchandise.

Perry also vetoed Senate Bill 488, which called on operators of cars and pickup trucks to stay more than four feet away from so called ‘vulnerable road users,’ including bicyclists, pedestrians, two truck drives, highway construction workers, even people on horseback.

The measure called for a $1,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail for violators.

The measure was praised by San Antonio bicycle riders, who told 1200 WOAI news that they are frequently sideswiped by cars which refused to share the road.

Perry said the ‘vulnerable users’ included in the bill are already protected by other pieces of legislation, and he said he objected to the fact that protections were granted for pedestrians, who are required by law to yield the right of way to motor vehicles, except at a marked crosswalk.

“The operator of a motor vehicle is already subject to penalties when he or she hit’s a bicyclist, person on horseback, or pedestrian, regardless of whether the person hit is a ‘vulnerable user’ or not,” Perry said.

The governor also vetoed a bill pushed by Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) which would have allowed public transit to use highway shoulders during peak traffic times in order to maintain their published schedules.

Perry said allowing busses on the shoulders of highways would leave no room for emergency vehicles.

© 2009 Q101.9 News:

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"TxDOT did not think it was worth mentioning in their environmental study."

Texas Mayors Petition Federal Highway Administration to Reject the Trans Texas Corridor

391 flag
Related Link: Texas 391 Commission Alliance

Five Texas Mayor's and their school districts have filed a formal request with the Federal Highway Administration to reject the environmental study for the Trans Texas Corridor, the superhighway championed by Governor Rick Perry. The corridor is an internationally funded toll road designed to connect Mexico to Canada that will take 146 acres per mile of private property from Texas citizens. These five Mayor's have taken a courageous stand placing a 30 mile wide gap in the massive project.


Press Release
Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission
Copyright 2009

Holland, TX -- The Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC) has filed a petition with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) demanding they reject the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Trans-Texas Corridor I-35 project.

The Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) is a quarter mile-wide transportation system championed by Governor Rick Perry as the first leg of an internationally funded toll road designed to connect Canada to Mexico for international trade. The Texas Legislature authorized the TTC in 2003, and Texan's have been fighting the massive project ever since.

However, it wasn't until August of 2007 that a group of five mayors and their city's school districts representing a total of 6,000 citizens banded together, that they found a way to slow down the massive project. They formed the ECTSRPC under Chapter 391 of the Local Government Code which gave them the ability to require the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) to coordinate the project with the Commission. They, in effect, created a thirty-mile gap in the middle of the TTC I-35 corridor route.

During the first meeting with TXDOT in October of 2007, the agency stated that the DEIS, the environmental study necessary to move the project forward, would be sent to the FHWA for final approval by January 2008. However, Commission members raised objections and cited critical concerns all stemming from TXDOT's refusal to study the direct impact on the local communities and their economies.

Last year, they even called on the FHWA to require the agency to conduct a supplemental study. It has been 20 months since the first meeting, and TXDOT has yet to file for final approval.

The corridor will take 146 acres per mile. The total length of the Texas I-35 corridor spans approximately 550 miles directly affecting more than 81,000 acres of private property and hundreds of small, rural communities. This direct impact, such as the division of award-winning school districts and cutting citizens off from emergency services, was never considered in the DEIS.

Also, barely mentioned in the DEIS is the critical farmland known as the Blacklands Prairie. TXDOT's preferred route will destroy thousands of acres of the Blacklands, which is the heart of the local economies represented by the ECTSRPC. The Blacklands are considered to be some of the most productive and unique farmlands in the nation. They produce bountiful crops annually without irrigation making it a prized resource in modern America where water conservation is a key concern.

"The TTC destroys our farmlands and threatens our ability to feed our nation," commented local businessman and ECTSRPC director, Ralph Snyder, "yet TXDOT did not think it was worth mentioning in their environmental study."

In response, the mayors and school districts took a stand, right in the middle of the proposed superhighway. Now, they are calling on the Federal Highway Administration to reject the study in its entirety and begin anew, this time taking the local concerns into account. According to the Texas Administrative Code, the three year window to complete the study expired as of April 4, 2009, giving rise to the petition to reject the current study. "Significant changes have occurred since TXDOT started the original DEIS, and by law, they must begin a new one," stated Mae Smith, Mayor of Holland, Texas and president of the ECTSRPC. "Texans have lost confidence in this department so we are calling on the FHWA to delegate a new agent or conduct a new study themselves," Smith continued.

This past Legislative Session did not go well for TXDOT, which was up for reauthorization. The Legislature failed to pass legislation that would have continued the state agency. In addition, the Legislature failed to authorize Comprehensive Development Agreements necessary to continue the TTC I-35 project. And, prior to the 2009 Legislative Session, TXDOT launched a campaign renaming the TTC and promising the public significant changes to the original concept.

"All of these changes require the FHWA to begin a new study," claims Fred Grant, a consulting attorney with the commission. Grant believes that since the Legislature failed to reauthorize TXDOT, none of the provisions allowing construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor survived, which in turn left no authority for TXDOT to proceed with plans to construct TTC I-35.

"What these five un-paid mayor's and their school districts have done is remarkable," commented Margaret Byfield, executive director of Stewards of the Range, which helped the Commission organize. "They have taken on one of the nation's largest state agencies, a national agenda to build a road from Mexico to Canada, and international financiers looking to make millions from Texas drivers by exercising their local control authority."

The ECTSRPC filed the 27-page petition with FHWA on Thursday, June 18, 2009.

For a copy of the petition and more information go to

© 2009 ECTSRPC:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"Customers are getting charged double. For others, the charge goes through on the bank end, but shows 'invalid transaction' on the Tx Tag account."

TxDOT toll payment glitch affects hundreds

computer glitch


Copyright 2009

Some Central Texas drivers are finding out that money they put into their toll road accounts is simply not there. TxDOT blames the problem on a computer glitch that began a month ago.

Michael Miller points out his attempt at the beginning of the month to reload his toll tag, "there it is, right there, Texas Tag 30 bucks."

Miller's bank account reflected the charge, but it did not register with TxDOT.

"Then where is the money? They're not able to clearly define where the money is at. I don't know what to do at this point. It's very frustrating. I thought it's probably not just happening to me, it's happening to a number of people,” he said.

He was right. TxDOT Spokesperson Kelli Petras says a computer glitch has affected 360 transactions in Central Texas in the past month. Some customers are getting charged double while for others, the charge goes through on the bank end, but shows “invalid transaction” on the Tx Tag account.

"We're taking time to review all of the transactions for that day that paid with a debit or credit card and making sure that their account balance is correct,” Petras said.

If an error is found, Petras says customer service will contact the account holder. It's such a time consuming process that those affected must wait ten days before getting a refund.

"We're actively figuring out what's wrong with the software so we can fix this,” she said.

Tuesday was day eleven for Miller.

"I use the toll ways every day coming to and from work and it's been a big hassle,” he said.

There is a chance you will find the error before TxDOT does. Petras advises to check your account and if there are problems, call the customer service line at 1-888-GO-TX-TAG or 468-9824. Out of 12 thousand dollars in failed transactions, eight thousand have been refunded.

© 2009 KVUE:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Trinity Toll Road: "It's time to buy flood insurance."

Who Will Deliver the Coup de Grace to the Trinity toll road, the Corps or NTTA?

Trinity Toll Road


By Sam Merten
The Dallas Observer
Copyright 2009

It's still dead: When the mayor urges people to buy flood insurance, we get a little worried. It means the report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Dallas' levees is really bad—so bad that the city council ponied up $29 million to find out what's wrong.

Mayor Tom Leppert, who has been aggressive in pushing timelines for the Trinity River toll road, said the levee study will cause a 20-month delay for the road's completion date. The North Texas Tollway Authority, which is expected to build and fund most of the project, stopped design work at 30 percent and rescinded a request to grab $55 million in funding from the Texas Department of Transportation.

Sherita Coffelt, an NTTA spokesperson, says "there is no way to know" how much the delay will add to the current $1.8 billion estimate for the road. "We don't even know if there is one at this point."

But we know delays cost money. As council member Ron Natinsky wrote on his Web site during 2007's campaign to halt the road's construction between the levees: "And if we don't VOTE NO and keep the project moving forward, the delay will cost $10 million per month or $120 million per year."

Whoopsie. Looks like another $240 million just got tacked on to a project estimated 11 years ago to cost $394 million.

The corps has long been expected to serve as executioner for plans to build the road inside the levees, but the NTTA is emerging as a serious contender, especially since its board of directors delayed a $35 million traffic study for the road as part of a plan to cut its budget by $108 million. (The agency is looking at raising tolls on its existing roads, even as the amount of traffic on the roads decreases.)

The traffic study determines how much funding the NTTA will contribute to the toll road, and an unfavorable traffic report would spell doom for the road.

With the NTTA reaching over and yanking the emergency brake on this sucker, the city must be evaluating a Plan B. Right...right? Well, not according to city manager Mary Suhm.

"Why would I go off in another direction when I don't even have an answer?"

The corps says the levees aren't safe, and the NTTA looks like it's gonna bail, that's why.

When one of the two inevitably breaks ups this ménage à trois, it'll be just like a flood pushing through the levees, and all the backers of this boondoggle are gonna get wet. To which Buzz echoes the mayor's advice: It's time to buy flood insurance.

© 2009 The Dallas Observer:

Top Dallas officials to travel to Washington, D.C., to discuss Trinity River Corridor project progress


Dave Levinthal
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, City Manager Mary Suhm and City Council member Dave Neumann plan to travel today to Washington, D.C., where they will meet with U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and various federal highway and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials about the Trinity River Corridor project.

The meeting comes at Hutchison's request.

Leppert and Neumann said Wednesday the talks will center on simultaneously repairing the corridor's earthen levees, which the corps recently deemed to be in unsatisfactory conditions, and working toward construction a planned high-speed toll road within the levees.

"It's a conversation of making sure we're getting as much support as possible for the Trinity River Project," Leppert said.

Said Neumann: "We want to make sure the leadership at the national level stays on board with our Trinity River project."

© 2009 The Dallas Morning News:

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"Elected officials need to be talking to the citizens about what's coming down the pike...Dallas will have toll rates that are incredibly high."

Big upfront deal for Highway 121 toll road weighs on Dallas-area agency

Toll Road Kill

Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

Was $3.2 billion too much to pay for the State Highway 121 toll road? That's a question top officials of the North Texas Tollway Authority are asking themselves as they consider a staff proposal to send tolls soaring on all of its highways by Sept. 1.

It's a question that was asked two years ago, too, when state and local officials awarded NTTA the rights to the richest new toll road contract in American history. But it wasn't one that officials in North Texas asked for long.

With every dollar of the massive payment, made in cash by NTTA and reserved for roads, rail and bike trails in North Texas, officials were eager to spend the badly needed money. Scrambling to a get a piece of the Highway 121 pie, local governments submitted hundreds of transportation project proposals worth more than $8 billion.

"This is about the future," Richardson City Council member John Murphy said just after casting his vote on the Regional Transportation Council in favor of awarding the project to NTTA. "Not long ago, we were at a point where we were saying, 'Oh my gosh, where are we going to get the money to build roads?' Now, we're saying instead, 'Show us the money.' "

With resources tight everywhere, the deal was more than just a way to advance a needed highway. It was seen as a harbinger of a new way to pay for roads in Texas, where raising taxes to build them the old-fashioned way had long since run out of favor.

But just two years later, that future has turned out different from what anyone foresaw. Traffic is slowing across the NTTA toll system, where revenue is down, too. On Highway 121 itself, now known as the Sam Rayburn Tollway, traffic is nearly 20 percent below levels projected two years ago.

As a result, drivers will soon be paying more, much more, to drive on NTTA toll roads. The money from higher rates is badly needed to satisfy creditors, who are owed more than $6.1 billion.

Did NTTA simply pay too much for the toll contract? Did the Regional Transportation Council demand too steep a price? "Yes, it did," said NTTA vice chairman Victor Vandergriff. "Both in what it paid and in the way it was paid."

Paul Wageman, the hard-fighting NTTA chairman who had led the authority in its campaign to wrest the project away from its private-sector competitor in 2007, said it's too early to tell whether NTTA made a good deal with the 52-year contract. Time (and a better economy) may ease many worries, he said.

Still, hindsight makes the decision to pay so much money upfront, leveraged against future tolls, look shortsighted on the part of the agency and the Regional Transportation Council, which insisted on the payments if NTTA was to win the contract over Spanish toll road firm Cintra, he and Vandergriff said.

But if the RTC was pushing too hard, it was doing so out of well-earned frustration, even desperation.

For years, North Texas leaders had looked at the area's worsening traffic and increasing air pollution and seen a ticking time bomb capable of blowing apart the region's powerhouse economic growth.

State and federal gas taxes had been frozen since the early 1990s. Area roads got older, more expensive to maintain, and increasingly crowded. Meanwhile, every six or so years, the region said hello to a million new faces.

So it was hardly Murphy alone who looked at the 26-mile toll road running through some of America's fastest-growing communities and had a Jerry Maguire moment.

Wageman still sees the Highway 121 project as a good investment. The economy will rebound, and not even higher rates will persuade Dallas drivers en masse to trust their commutes to the region's jammed free roads. But he worries that too much is being expected from toll roads, and from tolling in general.

"There is a high level of receptivity to tolling in North Texas, especially on the eastern side of the region," Wageman said. "But TxDOT has run out of money, and now we look at a regional transportation plan that is replete with tollways. Add to that a new wave of managed lanes, a concept that is completely untested in Dallas, which will have toll rates that are incredibly high.

"My concern is that the elected officials really need to be talking to the citizens about what's coming down the pike. Sure, we're all glad there is going to be added mobility, but there is a cost associated with that."

Drivers could one day soon realize they are being tolled every which way, and decide they don't like it. "That receptivity will be gone," he said.

But if too much is being asked of toll roads, it's not because local leaders haven't tried to find other answers.

A Dallas senator led efforts to raise the gas tax in Austin this year, but failed. Local efforts to get permission to ask voters to pay more taxes and fees for roads and rail also died in Austin.
Even private toll roads, the model NTTA managed to beat out in 2007, is under a cloud in Austin, where a legal tussle over the constitutionality of long-term contracts with private toll operators has stalled two major North Texas projects.

By 2012, the Texas Department of Transportation will be out of money for new construction, officials there have said. And in Washington, the highway trust fund is running out of money, too.

"I am an NTTA board member, and I hate tolls," Vandergriff said. But for now, he and others say, it's the only option on the table.

But as tolls soar later this year, it won't just be the drivers who are paying more. If they are angry enough, or simply too strapped, they may decide to avoid them altogether, traffic jams or no. That's when North Texas will find itself right back where it started, before Highway 121: bad air, more traffic, and fast running out of options.

© 2009 The Dallas Morning News:

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Gov. Rick Perry, eminent domain and the Alamo : A Show About Nothing

Impressive show: Ailing Perry signs resolution at Alamo.

Oh, it was nothing

Davy Crockoshit


Ken Herman
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

THE ALAMO – Who amongst us does not enjoy political theater?

Like when a president goes to a food kitchen. Or a senator shows up at a school. It's all about stagecraft, from the floor marks showing who stands where, to who gets to say what when. Nothing left to chance. Political theater is no place for improv.

The only thing better than political theater is the subcategory of political theater/fiction. This would be when a politician performs in a little show that is fully make-believe.

Your governor offered a fine such performance Monday.

A real trouper, Gov. Rick Perry showed up at the Alamo, right arm in sling from a recent bike wreck, and used his left hand to sign House Joint Resolution 14, a proposed constitutional amendment concerning eminent domain.

Quite a performance, complete with stirring words about how the Alamo heroes fought and died for concepts like private property.

"You see," your governor said, "land ownership has been essential to the Texas culture for a long time."

It's hard to beat the Alamo for a backdrop — though it does invite a snide line or two about defeat. But we will skip that low-hanging comedy fruit and comment only on the ceremony.

Beautiful. Perfect. Inspiring. And as phony as they come.

Here's why: Texas governors have nothing to do with proposed constitutional amendments. When a proposed amendment gets the necessary two-thirds vote in each chamber — as HJR 14 did this year — it goes to the secretary of state, who puts it on the statewide ballot. Unlike proposed laws, proposed constitutional amendments are not routed through the governor's office.

No vetoes allowed. No signature required. No signing ceremony needed.

The legislative Web site lists the 84 actions it took to get HJR 14 approved. The word "governor" never appears.

But he did Monday, declaring his unswerving support and signing something that did not need his wrong-handed autograph.

All theater needs motive. And there's plenty here. It's all about re-establishing Perry as a private property-rights kind of guy, a credential he covets as he heads toward a 2010 renomination battle against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

HJR 14, set for the November ballot, would strengthen a 2005 state law barring government taking of private land for private use. That bill was sparked by a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing governments to take land from one owner and give it to another for economic development purposes.

Exactly two years ago Monday, Perry invited questions about his dedication to private property rights by vetoing a bill dealing with the concept of "diminished access." Texas law allows compensation for landowners if condemnation proceedings substantially decrease a property's values. The vetoed 2007 bill would have allowed compensation for "any diminished access."

At the time, Perry said he vetoed the bill because it could produce unreasonably large payments to landowners who suffered limited reduction of value. Maybe, but the veto did not sit well with some, including the Texas Farm Bureau, holder of a potentially pivotal endorsement in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary.

The 2007 veto came on the heels of Perry's ill-fated Trans-Texas Corridor highway project, one that also attracted the ire of folks who fear government taking of private property.

Trans Texas Corridor Land Grab

And that's why your governor was at the Alamo to affix his superfluous southpaw signature to HJR 14.

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, stood with Perry on Monday. After the "signing" ceremony, the 21-year legislative veteran could not immediately recall previously attending a ceremony where a governor signed something a governor has no business signing.

Nothing wrong with it, said Wentworth, noting the value of calling attention to an important issue.

And potential political benefit for Perry in a GOP primary?

"I think this would help him in that respect, yeah," Wentworth said.

When I was growing up on the mean streets of Flatbush, the wise elders among my people had a word for the kind of thing that happened Monday at the Alamo:

"Mishegoss," they would say with a dismissive facial expression.

That's mish-i-goss.

Google it. You will use it for years to come as you enjoy political theater.; 445-3907

© 2009 Austin American-Statesman:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mea Maxima Culpa: San Antonio Express-News falls for Gov. Perry's eminent domain flim-flam show at the Alamo


Setting It Straight: 'Eminent domain fight'

Radical Sheep Media Logo


Bob Richter
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

Gov. Rick Perry signed something in front of the Alamo Monday, but, it turns out, it wasn’t a bill to allow Texas voters to decide a constitutional amendment restricting eminent domain because the governor doesn’t figure in that process and doesn’t sign anything approving it.

The Express-News’ coverage resulted in an inaccurate story Tuesday that editors learned of late Tuesday.

The event, on a sunny Monday morning, with the Shrine of Texas Liberty in the background, did, however, garner news attention. The Express-News report was printed on the front of the Business section beneath a headline, “Eminent domain fight,” and a sub-headline: “Perry signs bill allowing vote on constitutional amendment limiting its use.”

Staff writer Jennifer Hiller described the event as Perry signing a bill “that would send the property rights decision to voters ...”

A June 12 media advisory from Perry’s office promised he “will sign legislation to allow Texans to vote on a constitutional amendment to increase property owners’ rights.” And a story on the governor’s website Monday was headlined: “Gov. Perry signs legislation protecting Texas property owners.”

Unfortunately, with that kind of help from the governor’s office, the Express-News got the story wrong. While it requires two-thirds approval by both houses of the Legislature, a constitutional amendment does not require the governor’s approval to be put on the ballot.

A Perry spokeswoman, Allison Castle, told the Express-News via e-mail: “It was a ceremonial signing as the governor has done numerous times before to highlight priority issues,” citing events in 2007, 2005, 2003 and 2001.

However, the ceremony was unnecessary to the amendment process or to whether it goes to voters, and for erroneously explaining that process, the Express-News apologizes to its readers.

Bob Richter is the Express-News public editor. Contact him at or (210) 250-3264.

© 2009 San Antonio Express-News:

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"Drivers, pull out your wallets. "

North Texas Tollway Authority to discuss toll rate increase today

txdot road rally


The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

Drivers, pull out your wallets.

Toll roads in North Texas are about to get much more expensive if North Texas Tollway Authority board members accept a plan to be discussed at a meeting today.

By Sept. 1, toll rates would jump 32 percent, as the NTTA scrambles to find new revenue in the face of badly slumping traffic figures.

North Texans' apparent reluctance to mix a recession with toll charges has led to about 11 percent less revenue than projected for the NTTA in the first four months of 2009. Looking ahead, the authority said Monday that means about $30 million less revenue in 2009. In turn, that will prompt significant postponements of maintenance and other projects, Chief Financial Officer Janice Davis said.

The NTTA had expected to borrow against that $30 million to fund about $108 million in preventive maintenance and other projects – all of which have been canceled, Davis said.

Among other cuts, the NTTA will postpone for at least one year a $35 million traffic and revenue study for the Trinity toll road.

That will delay design work on the controversial toll road, but Davis said work there was already going to stop temporarily, thanks to concerns about the Trinity River levees. The city of Dallas announced this month it will spend $29 million and more than two years studying the levees, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said are inadequate.

If the NTTA board approves the higher toll rates, drivers would pay about 14.5 cents per mile instead of 11 cents, and the NTTA could expect about $52 million more dollars per year, Davis said. In addition, rates would go up about 5.5 percent every other July 1.

But the rate increases – which would include Dallas North Tollway, Bush Turnpike and the State Highway 121 Tollway – are about more than boosting revenue for its own sake.

The NTTA owes bondholders billions of dollars, largely as a result of the $3.2 billion it paid for the Highway 121 toll contract in 2007. Those bondholders have been promised that revenue will stay far above debt-service obligations. If the NTTA doesn't do so, bondholders can force the agency to increase rates.

Davis said she is optimistic that the action will prevent ratings agencies from lowering the NTTA's bond rating.

"Traffic on our system is projected to be down about 9.8 percent" this year, Davis said. "I think what the market looks for is decisive action to fix the problem. They realize we are not going to recover the losses by a toll increase within one year. They are looking more for action by the board that shows it is willing to do what is necessary to keep our system solvent."

But the same steps taken to respond to declining traffic could make the NTTA's problem worse, according to some drivers who said Monday that higher rates will cause them to avoid toll roads.

"If they raise rates, I will keep my Toll Tag, but I probably won't use it as often," said Plano resident Bethany Anderson, who said she spends about $30 a month on tolls by using toll roads when traffic is bad. "Every little bit helps when you look to see what you can cut, especially as gas prices ratchet back up. ... I'm gonna need to see the NTTA's plan for a teleporter before I want to pay more in tolls."

Davis said staff has considered the potential for further traffic declines as a result of the rate increases. "But we think the additional revenue brought in will be sufficient" to compensate, she said.

The NTTA is not unique in confronting steadily declining traffic numbers. Over the past 18 months, Americans have simply begun driving less – prompting what the Federal Highway Administration has called among the longest sustained reduction in miles driven in U.S. history. As part of this trend, toll roads across America have seen revenues fall as well.

But the NTTA is especially vulnerable, thanks to an extraordinary amount of debt. When the Regional Transportation Council voted in the summer of 2007 to award the Highway 121 contract to the NTTA, it did so on the assumption that this fast-growing region would continue to see extraordinary population growth.

That growth has slowed in the recession, and high gas prices have helped persuade some North Texans to avoid toll roads.

As a result, traffic is 19 percent below projections for Highway 121, now called the Sam Rayburn Tollway.

The problem for the NTTA, said Davis, is that with traffic down so far so soon into the 52-year contract, there is little chance to ever catch back up, even with higher toll rates.

"When you have to retreat from your base year, then you are starting from a lower base. So while your growth may recover, you never recover what you have given up to that lower base line. It does become a significant number as you extend it out into the future."

NTTA ideas for revenue, cuts

Increase toll rates across the system 32 percent, from 11 cents per mile to 14.5 cents.

Postpone $82.5 million in capital improvement projects, including an already announced one-year delay in electronic tolling on the Dallas North Tollway.

Postpone spending $35 million for a full traffic and revenue study for the Trinity tollway for one year, maybe more. The study is essential for any further design work beyond that being completed now by consultants.

Falling ridership on toll roads
Month Toll


% change
September 15,678,902 16,793,733 7.11
October 17,926,281 18,146,205 1.23
November 16,788,269 16,219,199 -3.39
December 16,995,797 17,253,934 1.52
January 17,127,647 16,485,443 -3.75
February 16,770,868 16,150,211 -3.7
March 17,326,059 17,487,864 0.93
April 17,770,023 17,590,112 -1.01

September 15,066,408 14,599,839 -3.10
October 16,030,716 15,416,778 -3.83
November 14,895,902 13,724,086 -7.87
December 14,676,371 14,393,121 -1.93
January 15,060,413 13,686,889 -9.12
February 14,809,523 13,513,275 -8.75
March 15,224,142 14,775,083 -2.95
April 15,747,817 14,823,448 -5.87

SAM RAYBURN TOLLWAY (State Highway 121)
Traffic so far this year has been 18.76 percent below NTTA projections.

© 2009 The Dallas Morning News

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"The Texas Senate protects big money special interests and the private profits of foreign corporations instead of guarding the public interest..."

Death knell of road privatization?

tomb skull

Texas Attorney General hesitates to sell-off highways to foreign corporations


Terri Hall
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

Friday, Texans learned that Attorney General Greg Abbott refused to sign-off on the first of two contracts called Comprehensive Development Agreements (or CDAs, also known as public private partnerships or PPPs) for toll projects that would hand control over two Texas highways in North Texas to a foreign corporation from Spain.

This is GREAT news for all Texans! Texans of all stripes have put-up stiff opposition to CDAs that sell-off Texas highways to the highest bidder and effectively take-out a second mortgage on our highway system. The Legislature sent a CDA moratorium to the Governor by a combined vote of 169-5 in 2007, but the BIG MONEY sprung into action to end the moratorium this session, so far, to no avail.

CDAs mean the loss of control over our public infrastructure in sweetheart deals that last for a half century at a time. They include non-compete agreements that forbid or financially penalize the highway department for building any "competing" free roads surrounding the toll road (ensuring congestion on the free lanes), guaranteed profits for a half century at a time, massive public subsidies (resulting in double and triple taxation), and multi-generational debt.

Abbott revealed taxpayers will sink $1 billion in public money into these deals only to be taxed 75 cents a MILE ($3,000 a year on average) in tolls to a foreign company to drive their own public highways. Thomas Jefferson repudiated such multi-generational debt and knew it would destroy our Republic declaring, "No generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence."

Abbott essentially said the same calling the CDA for the Tarrant I-820 toll project with Cintra of Spain unconstitutional, because "the Texas Constitution says that one Legislature cannot financially bind a future Legislature." Indeed, one generation should not bind another with its debts. Our children and grandchildren will surely curse us to their graves.

According to Bloomberg, the current financial crisis has exploded the national debt from $10 trillion to $19.7 trillion and there is deep American dissatisfaction with the massive federal debt that will bind multiple generations with this generation's indulgences is what is referred to as perpetual debt, a debt that cannot be repaid.

Kudos to Abbott for refusing to saddle future generations of Texans with such gross fiscal malfeasance. Abbott's hesitation explains why the Senate tried, unsuccessfully, to remove the Attorney General from signing-off on the "legal sufficiency" of CDAs. The Texas Senate needs to be taken to the woodshed for protecting the BIG MONEY special interests and the private profits of foreign corporations instead of acting as the guardians of the public interest as they're elected to do.

CDAs will sunset August 31. Texans will be watching the special session with fierce interest to ensure Governor Perry doesn't attempt to re-authorize these private toll contracts for his cronies who have stuffed his campaign coffers anticipating their quid pro quos.

Will Abbott's refusal to sign be the death knell of CDAs in Texas? If Texans are vigilant, the answer is yes.

Read more about the horrific financial pitfalls of CDAs/PPPs [HERE].

Terri Hall, a homeschool mom of seven turned citizen activist, is the founder of the San Antonio Toll Party and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. Learn more about Terri Hall.

© 2009 San Antonio Express-News:

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"Stop chanting the word 'conservative' like a village idiot. The word has lost its meaning."


Perry's Red State


Royal Masset
Kronberg's Quorum Report
Copyright 2009

The 81st legislative session was the strangest one I’ve ever seen. The lesson I’ve learned from this session is that our Texas legislature is almost superfluous. As long as the Executive branch keeps on functioning Texas can keep buggering on without a legislature. (Of course at some point people who buy our bonds need to know Texas will pay them back.)

The big truth here is that the legal structure and form of our Texas government is almost meaningless. What does count is leadership. While we make much of our government being a constitutional parliamentary system derived from the British, we often forget, or never really knew, that Great Britain does not have a written constitution. Their government was shaped by hundreds of years of traditions put in play by families who routinely murdered each other for power. Even the great Magna Charter was just an attempt by English Realtors to limit the eminent domain rights of King John.

Power in Texas government belongs to those who exercise it. We are constantly being told that the Governor of Texas is an inherently weak governor. The story line is that after the Republicans were booted out of the Capitol in 1873, our constitution was rewritten to make sure no future Republican Governor would have the power to rule over us. All this is historically true but the Texas Governor can and should exercise great power when needed. History is filled with leaders who rose without having a great title with great authority. The most powerful person in the Soviet Communist party was called its “Secretary“. Julius Caesar’s started his rise to power as head of Rome’s Park’s and Wildlife Department. (before football players there were gladiators)


The key to understanding the 81st session is that there was no leadership. Texas Republicans have great candidates who are world class at being elected to office. But no one who really wants to govern.

Once my then-three year old daughter Isabel knocked over a large vase. It made a horrible noise breaking. Isabel, having her father’s political instincts, acted as if the vase fell by itself. “What happened?“ She reminded me of how Rick Perry governs. Problems emerged with the Texas Youth Commission, The State School at Corpus, the Texas Child Protective Services which seized several hundred children and their mothers without due process, and the complete collapse of the 81st legislative session in its final days. Perry didn’t run and hide. But he didn’t take charge either. He initially acted like these imbroglios were someone else’s responsibility. “What happened?”

In fairness to Rick none of our other state leaders covered themselves in glory. Joe Straus was learning the ropes. His goal was to be a bipartisan referee. He was so bipartisan it made many of us long for the good old days of partisan bickering. At least issues were joined and you’d know what the different arguments were. Craddick was a control freak but under him legislation got passed. How the House could have adjourned sine die without telling the Senate is beyond comprehension. Lt. Gov Dewhurst is a great entrepreneur but is not a political leader like Bullock.

The one person who could make life in the Lege exciting again is Comptroller Susan Combs. So far she has been a team player and her rulings on budget estimates and revenue have been straight. Watch her closely. She is our smartest officeholder in state government. She is fully capable of pulling a Bob Bullock and forcing a special session by decertifying our budget like Bullock did in 1986, which essentially cost Governor Mark White the election.


Several trends are bad news for the future of Republican leadership.

1) The Hispanic population in Texas is rapidly increasing and will soon be a majority. At the same time Hispanic support for the Republican Party is in rapid decline, thanks to self inflicted wounds like the unnecessary voter ID bill. Republicans might be able to hold onto enough power to control redistricting in 2011. But it will be a near thing and we will lose control of Texas during this decade unless Republicans make great inroads with Hispanic voters.

2) People actually expect government to do something. The big divide in the future will not be conservative/liberal. The political fault lines are between urban and rural voters, with suburban voters trending toward the concerns of urban voters. Suburban voters used to be the backbone of the Republican party. They now expect us to govern and help them with things like education, health care and employment. The ideal of limited government is dead. Just one example. In the last few years I have cared full time for and buried my sister and both parents. My whole generation is finding itself caring for aging parents. The time and expense of this was much greater than I had anticipated. While most of us will gladly bear any burden for our families, the reality is that my generation has to care for our parents and our children at the same time. Many cannot do it without help from government.

3) Talk about substantive ideas of governing. Stop chanting the word “conservative” like a village idiot. The word has lost its meaning. Many of our primary debates have been little more shouting matches to see who is the most conservative. This may be great for winning the March Republican primary. But it may not win in November.

I’m not even sure what “conservative” means anymore. One of “conservative’s” meanings used to be more local control. But in the “lost Session” the so called conservative position was against local option for things like red light cameras and taxes for local transportation systems.

4) For the first time since the early 1990’s, the Democrats will field Class A candidates. John Sharp, Kirk Watson and Bill White are among the best candidates ever fielded for statewide office. They all have proven track records in governing. They are not second string “miracle team” media freaks. So far we Republicans are lucky they have focused on the US Senate special election and have designated a weak candidate, Tom Shieffer, to run for Governor. While I love Rick Perry dearly, he would serve Texas Republicans best by not running for reelection. Conservatives used to favor term limits.

© 2009 Harvey Kronberg:

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Texas Farm Bureau calls for special session to address eminent domain abuse

It's time to finish the job on eminent domain reform

June 15, 2009

President Kenneth Dierschke
Texas Farm Bureau
Copyright 2009

(SAN ANTONIO) – Texas Farm Bureau appreciates Governor Perry’s support for this important piece of the eminent domain package we have sought since 2007. While we fully support HJR 14, it is only one step in fixing the eminent domain laws of the Lone Star State.

HJR 14 ratifies a law that the Legislature passed in the 2005 special session that limits the taking of private property by the use of eminent domain. Subject to voter approval in November, it will add that important protection to the Texas Constitution. It does little however, to relieve the burden property owners continue to endure when a condemning entity goes after their land. That is an important “next step.”

Texas Farm Bureau strongly believes that additional protections–compensation for landowners for lost access to their property, offers that represent fair market value and the right to repurchase land not used for the condemning purpose—must be part of any true reform.

We were deeply disappointed when the 81st Legislature adjourned without a solution to a problem that is surging with the state’s rapid population growth. The opportunity was there. The governor, the entire Texas Senate and a large majority of the members of the House Land & Resource Management Committee stood in full support for SB 18, a bill by Senator Estes that offered the true eminent domain reform Texans deserve. The opportunity died however, in the battle over Voter Identification on the House floor.

On May 27, Texas Farm Bureau called for a special session to address full eminent domain reform. Since that time, Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, and others have called for the addition of eminent domain reform to a special session agenda.

We are today in firm support of HJR 14. Adoption by the voters of Texas will be a good beginning. However, it’s also time to finish the job.

© 2009 Texas Farm Bureau:

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