Saturday, October 03, 2009

Former Bush appointee Mary Peters now lobbies for Cintra-Zachry, public private parnerships and big brother vehicle mileage tax

Transportation mileage tax urged

Mileage tax


By David Hendricks
San Antonio-Express-News
copyright 2009

SAN MARCOS — With gasoline tax revenue plummeting as people drive less and vehicles become more fuel efficient, federal and state agencies must find a new tax to maintain and expand the nation's highway and road system, former U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said here Friday.

Peters said she favored a vehicle miles tax, or VMT, as a replacement to the decades-old gasoline tax, not as a supplement to it.

“The technology exists for it,” Peters told about 400 people attending the Austin-San Antonio Corridor Growth Summit at the San Marcos Convention Center.

A vehicle miles tax would be levied by navigational devices in vehicles. Mileage information would be read by other devices at gasoline stations. The tax rate could be adjusted to higher rates for driving in high-traffic corridors and/or for larger, less-fuel efficient vehicles.

The only problem with the VMT technology involves privacy, she acknowledged, since personal information about trips, times and dates would be recorded.

“Americans are driving less, using less fuel and therefore contributing fewer revenues to transportation even at a time when our needs are increasing substantially,” said Peters, who was transportation secretary from 2006 to 2009 under then-President George W. Bush.

The federal highway trust fund required extra allocations beyond gasoline tax revenues the past two years to remain solvent, she said.

“Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are taking increasing amounts of federal nondefense discretionary revenues, leaving transportation to compete for funding with education, health care and climate change. We won't win that battle,” she said.

Peters urged Texans to be heard in the debate as Congress prepares a new transportation budget, especially since Texas receives back only 92.5 cents for every $1 in gasoline tax it sends to Washington. Alaska, in comparison, receives $6 for every dollar and West Virginia about $4.

“I'm sure some of you are frustrated sitting in traffic in Texas when some of the funds are being used to restore covered bridges in Vermont, some of which don't even carry traffic,” Peters said.

Peters said the federal highway funding formulas need to change to allow states more flexibility in determining how to spend their allocations.

Better highways are needed to reduce congestion.

“Here in the San Antonio area, you waste 26,000 gallons of fuel per year and lose more than 27,000 person hours to delay, at a cost of more than $27 million a year,” Peters said.

The Transportation Department also needs long-delayed allocations to modernize the air-traffic control system, she said. Airliners can fly more direct routes under a satellite-based navigation system and avoid the delays under the current ground-based radar equipment, Peters said.

Since leaving office in January, Peters has started her own company, Mary E. Peters Consulting Group. One of her clients is San Antonio's Zachry American Infrastructure, a Zachry Corp. company. Peters is helping the company raise awareness of public-private partnerships in transportation projects.

© 2009 San Antonio Express-News:

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"Rick Perry is playing the blame game in the government version of Monopoly, but he's got no one to blame but himself."

TxDOT accounting tricks use funny money


Terri Hall
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

The average Joe barely puts his toe into the morass of transportation funding woes, but when the un-elected highway department becomes a defacto taxing entity through tolling, Joe's pocketbook will soon take note.

Since Rick Perry led Texas away from a pay-as-you-go system into a borrow-toll-and-spend-money-we-don't-have regime, TxDOT's "books" have been in a complete shambles (ie - its $1.1 billion "accounting error" last year that derailed dozens of promised highway projects).

It takes an incredible skill in accounting, that TxDOT apparently lacks, to keep up with the cashflow to cover mounds of toll road debt and the increasing number of promises the agency just can't seem to keep.

The accounting trick this time involves something called "contract authority," where the highway department can put a certain amount of money in projects under contract before there's actually money there to do it. Federal and state lawmakers encourage this game played with what amounts to Monopoly money, and no one is the wiser until it catches up with them. Like it did a few days ago.

The federal highway bill that passed in 2005 just expired on September 30. President Obama has several front burner bills, healthcare and cap and trade, ahead of any new transportation bill and Congress couldn't even agree on a 3 month extension bill, so it punted and passed a one month bill that continues the current law until a new bill or another extension bill is passed.

So you may have heard that the feds made over $8 billion in "rescissions" (or cuts) to highway funds, and will require the states to return money to Washington. Texas owes the feds $742 million.

I mean how could they give us the money we send to Washington only to take it back again? Sounds ridiculous, right?

Well, actually the vast majority of the rescissions don't involve REAL money. It involves this "contract authority" nonsense where the project gets "obligated" with funny money that doesn't exist, and rescissions only affect funds that aren't obligated yet.

So in reality, only about $100 million in REAL money is actually at stake.

Sadly, TxDOT could have avoided the $100 million loss by simply making sure all the federal money was obligated. By its own admission, TxDOT knew it was coming and didn't properly prepare for it.

Now it has to return $100 million in desperately needed transportation dollars when it has been claiming we're completely OUT OF MONEY for roads in a scheme to make us accept Perry's toll-everything policies. Thanks to TxDOT's failure to obligate the funds, the "we're out of money" mantra is getting some legs.

Perry, whose political appointees run the highway department, is playing the blame game in the government version of Monopoly, but he's got no one to blame but himself.

© 2009 San Antonio Express-News:

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Texas Farm Bureau ditches Rick Perry

Hutchison To Be Endorsed By Farmers Organization

Rick Perry toll roads


Copyright 2009

CBS 11 News has learned Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison will pick up an important campaign endorsement in her race for governor.

The Texas Farm Bureau – the largest organization in the state representing farmers, ranchers and rural families – will throw its support for the Senator during a news conference in Fort Worth on Monday.

A news advisory from the Farm Bureau indicates the association's president, Kenneth Dierschke, will appear with Hutchison in Fort Worth and other Texas cities to make an important announcement.

The association has 430 thousand member families representing more than 1 million people across the state.

Perry, a farmer himself and former state Agricultural Commissioner, has been at odds with farmers and ranchers across the state over the past few years over eminent domain issues, and over his support for the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor.

© 2009 CBS Broadcasting Inc.:

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Police kill Rick Perry's cousin in self-defense

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s cousin Larry Don Wheeler shot and killed by deputies


BNO News
Copyright 2009

MONTAGUE COUNTY, TEXAS – Deputies with the Montague County Sheriff’s Department have shot and killed a cousin of Texas Governor Rick Perry, officials told BNO News on Thursday.

The cousin was identified as 74-year-old Larry Don Wheeler. Montague County District Attorney Jack McGaughey told BNO News that sheriff’s deputies initially responded to a 911 call of shots fired at his home at a Montague County country club on Saturday night.

When two deputies arrived on the scene, Wheeler, who was sitting on his backyard deck, pointed a shotgun at the officers and opened fire. One officer sustained a wound to his hand from the shots, McGaughey said. The officers then returned fire, and fatally shot Wheeler.

It was not immediately clear as to why Wheeler may have decided to open fire. The Texas Rangers, and an investigator from the Montague County District Attorney’s Office is investigating the case. McGaughey said the sheriff’s department is not involved in the investigation.

A spokeswoman for Governor Perry confirmed to BNO News that one of his cousins was killed but had no further information. It was also not clear why the governor did not decide to release the information earlier. Asked if the governor would release a statement, the spokeswoman said she was not sure. She also had no information about the relationship Perry may have had with Wheeler.

© 2009 BNO News:

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"...a propaganda event, not a 'fact finding' hearing."

TxDOT schedules public hearing on already made decision


By Bill Baumbach
The Collin County Observer
Copyright 2009

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has announced that it will hold a public hearing Wednesday, September 30 at 4 p.m., at the Maribelle Davis Library in Plano.

According to TxDOT's press release, the hearing will be to, "gather comments from interested persons regarding the proposed transfer to the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) of a portion of State Highway 121 from Hillcrest Road to Watters Road in Collin County."

The press release then goes on to state that, "Following the public hearing this portion of SH 121 mainlanes will become part of the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) system and will become an extension of the recently renamed Sam Rayburn Tollway; however, the service roads will retain the SH 121 designation. The new seven mile segment of roadway is scheduled to open today."

TxDOT really wants to hear you opinion of what they have already decided to do! A citizen has got to ask, "What's the point?". All decisions have already been made, the grand opening of the new road is already planned the signs are printed. What does TxDOT want? A pat on the back for a new toll road?

Cities, School Boards, the county, the NCTCOG and all sorts of agencies hold public meetings to "gain public input" on proposed projects and bond issues. I know, I've attended many.

I have frequently heard the organizers of these public hearings bemoan the fact that so few citizens bother to show up and speak their mind.

Most of theses hearings are organized and conducted by hired staff or contracted engineering firms. Rarely are the real decision makers present to listen and engage the citizens. Fancy slide shows and easels are displayed, not to present choices, but to convince attendees that the government or agency is working for the good of the community.

So all too often the public leaves with the impression that they attended a propaganda event, not a fact finding hearing.

Most taxpayers I have talked to tell me that they couldn't be bothered to attend a public hearing unless it was to try to stop the government from running a freeway across their front lawn the next morning.

These folks simply believe that their input doesn't matter - that the public hearing is just a show put on after all the decisions have been made.

Sadly for our Democracy, TxDOT has just proven them right.

© 2009 The Keller Citizen:

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Texas 170 Highway to be converted into yet another toll road for North Texas Commuters

Texas 170 being planned as toll road

Toll Road Kill


The Keller Citizen
Copyright 2009

A long-awaited highway project in far north Fort Worth has been turned over to the North Texas Tollway Authority for planning as a toll road.

Tolled main lanes would be built on more than six miles of Texas 170, from Texas 114 near the Roanoke-Westlake border to Interstate 35W. Frontage roads would remain free.

Texas 170 is routinely lined with cars belonging to people arriving for shift work at Alliance-area employers.

The tollway authority, which builds and manages toll projects throughout Dallas-Fort Worth, was authorized to conduct the planning work during a Texas Transportation Commission meeting Thursday in Austin. However, the road will remain part of the state highway system.

The authority "will conduct the advance planning, environmental work, public involvement and development of toll feasibility studies," said Mark Tomlinson, Texas Turnpike Authority division director.

Though the project is likely at least five years away, Thursday’s action signifies that it’s no longer a pie-in-the-sky plan.

Tollway authority officials are developing Texas 161 in Irving and Grand Prairie, which is under construction, and Southwest Parkway in Fort Worth, which is scheduled to be under construction next year and possibly open by late 2012.

After those roads are complete, the tollway authority hopes to begin its next batch of toll projects, including Texas 170.

The commission also turned over to the authority planning for Texas 360, which connects Mansfield, one of the region’s fastest-growing cities, to the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport area.

Gordon Dickson is a Star-Telegram staff writer.

© 2009 The Keller Citizen:

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cash for Wankers: Rick Perry's latest pyramid scheme

Exclusive: Perry campaign recruiters getting paid per head

Money can't by Rick Perry love


The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

Gov. Rick Perry woos campaign volunteers by talking about fiscal restraint, limited government and states' rights.

And if all that fails, he offers them cash.

The Republican governor's re-election campaign is paying volunteers to sign up other volunteers, and it promises more cash for those turning out voters in the March primary. The campaign hopes for big dividends from the Amway-style program, known as Perry Home Headquarters.

"These are people that want to be involved," said Perry spokesman Mark Miner. "It's an incentive to work hard for the governor."

It's not unusual for a campaign to offer incentives for volunteers, but they usually consist of campaign souvenirs or special opportunities, such as meeting the candidate. Cash is a rare reward but perfectly legal.

Critics say it's no different from shadowy operatives using "street money" to maximize turnout at the polls.

"It's ripe for abuse," said Democratic political consultant Jason Stanford, who managed former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell's losing campaign against Perry in 2006. "It's the Anglo ACORN. A dishonest Perry supporter could create a huge scam."

Any shenanigans, however, would probably be perpetrated on the campaign itself, with volunteers eager for as money possible turning in names that won't support Perry in March.

Perry himself has touted the program at events to build support for his GOP primary battle against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

"If everyone in this room signs up Perry Home Headquarters, we will win this race. It won't even be close," Perry told a group of volunteers in Dallas last month.

Campaign officials said those receiving money will be listed in campaign finance disclosure reports. Hutchison aides said her campaign does not pay volunteers.


Perry's use of volunteers takes a page out of the playbooks of successful grass-roots campaigns before him, including last year's historic presidential run by Barack Obama and the groundbreaking ground game used by George W. Bush in his runs for the White House.

Incentives for those efforts included photos, backstage passes, trips to swanky fundraisers and even commemorative coins. None paid straight cash.

Perry's 2006 campaign had a similar approach, as volunteers competed to accumulate points for recruiting voters.

Jonathan Neerman, now the Dallas County Republican Party chairman, was one of those volunteers. He said no cash was involved then.

"If people were getting paid, I didn't know about it," he said. "I want my check."

Here's how Perry's grass-roots organization works:

Volunteers are asked to recruit friends and neighbors, referred to as Perry Home Headquarters. Those recruits pledge in turn to recruit 11 more people to vote for Perry in the March primary.

The initial recruiters get $20 for each Perry Home Headquarter they bring in, plus another $20 for every 11 voters that the "headquarter" signs up for the primary.

The potential voters can go out and recruit more Perry Home Headquarters and voters.

Kimberly Garcia, a former Perry field director from Abilene, said the program was working well.

"For some people, like college kids, it does help," she said. "It's a Friday night out, or it helps pay the electric bill."

By using the Internet, some volunteers have racked up impressive numbers.

According to e-mail traffic from a Perry campaign organizer, a Dallas-area volunteer scored $3,500 last month by recruiting volunteers and voters.

"We are still the largest grass-roots organization working for him," said Jeff Cline, the Rockwall man who made the most cash from the grass-roots effort.

With Perry spreading around money, competition inside and outside the campaign has increased.

A Twitter post from a woman identified as Shaniqua Curry shows how easy it is to join Perry's grass-roots army, even if it is for selfish reasons:


Clicking on the link sends you to a Perry campaign Web page that appears to have a unique identifier so the recruiter can be paid.

Miner said there was nothing wrong with the incentives. If Curry can get her car while Perry rolls to victory, "it would be a win-win situation," he said.

Said Garcia: "Republicans have never competed this way, using the Internet and social media."


And workers all across the state are going after the money.

A message from a Perry organizer obtained by The Dallas Morning News describes how volunteers are trying to outdo each other.

"Our top recruiter in Central Texas is a recent UT grad who recruited over 30 Perry Home Headquarters and received a check for over $700 for her hard work," field organizer Jon McClellan wrote in the message. "The top producing [volunteer leadership chair] was from Dallas and he recruited over 175 Perry Home Headquarters and received a check for over $3,500. If any of you are tech savvy, you need to do this too!"

McClellan, who referred questions to Miner, urged his Central Texas crew to top the Dallas total for September.

"Our goal for this month is to beat Dallas and to grow our Facebook group to over 300 supporters," he said.

Cline, the man McClellan wants his team to catch, is coy about his success. But the insurance company owner said he wasn't in it for the money.

"I've been apolitical all of my life," he said. "But then I see what's going on with the current [presidential] administration. I decided to step up and do my part. I got a big mouth, and I know a lot of people."

Cline said he has had to let 20 employees go, which caused him to try to find answers through the political process. And he likes Perry's message.

"I really believe it's the right thing to do," he said. "It's a lot of hard work. We believe in what he's doing."

Perry praised Cline's effort during his August visit with grass-roots workers at a Dallas coffee shop, where the walls were decorated with information on how to become a Perry Home Headquarter.

"If you want to know about home headquarters, come and talk to this young man," Perry said, perhaps helping Cline raise a few extra bucks.

© 2009 The Dallas Morning News:

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"Rick Perry isn't exactly a stranger when it comes to arrogantly blaming others for his mistakes."

DoS Attack Rains on Texas Gov Internet Parade

computer glitch


By Kevin Parrish
Tom's Guide
Copyright 2009

Recently Texas Governor Rick Perry kicked off his 2010 re-election campaign, and even arranged for an online rally scheduled for yesterday at 11:30 a.m. Central time. Billed as "Talkin' Texas," supporters were asked to visit the website and participate in the 10-minute rally, however, according to Perry staff members, hackers rained on the governor's online parade by kicking off a campaign of their own: a denial-of-service attack.

“Today’s ‘Talkin' Texas’ webcast by Gov. Perry was deliberately interrupted by a denial-of-service attack, preventing countless users from logging in to view the Governor’s remarks," said Gov. Perry Spokesman Mark Miner. "This planned and coordinated attack was political sabotage, and we are working to identify those responsible for this illegal activity. Before the attack was initiated, more than 22,000 users were able to log in and view Gov. Perry’s complete remarks, which will be distributed shortly.”

Local Austin news studio KXAN painted a different picture of the situation however, reporting that the problem didn't resemble a successful DDoS attack. Instead, the reporters pulled up an error reading "unable to connect to database server." Unlike slow or inaccessible connections experienced with DDoS attacks, IDF News explained that the database error can occur using the Drupal content-management platform.

With that said, it's possible that the website administrators knew the supposed attack was merely a database problem, and that the campaign simply spun the news to gain nationwide attention. If that is indeed the case, then the plan worked, and it was simply politics as usual.

© 2009 Tom's Guide:

Perry's online campaign event hit by technical glitches


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2009

Gov. Rick Perry was "Talkin’ Texas" on Tuesday, but a lot of supporters weren’t able to hear the governor’s highly touted online campaign event.

Perry’s staff said the webcast, during which the governor touted Texas’ economic strength, was hacked and countless people were unable to view it.

Those able to log on saw Perry standing in a Holt-Caterpillar plant in San Antonio, flanked by workers, talking about Texas and his aspirations for another term as governor.

He spoke of personally signing two state budgets that cut general revenue spending and improving education and security within the state. And he spoke of improvements he’d like to see — including giving Texans a chance to vote on a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to increase taxes, making a small-business tax cut permanent, creating penalties for Texas employers who "knowingly" hire illegal immigrants, and ridding the state of unnecessary laws and rules that "stifle Texas entrepreneurs."

"The challenges facing Texas are real, and they demand experienced executive leadership," Perry said. "I am convinced we need to keep moving forward with Texas values and proven leadership." He criticized Democratic-led spending in Washington, saying it is "building a mountain of debt our children and grandchildren will have to pay." But he noted that, as far as the economy is concerned, "Texas is a safe harbor [in] this economic storm" and said that "together, we will lead our nation out of this tough spot and keep Texas strong."

Perry’s campaign said more than 20,000 people logged on to see the webcast.

A spokesman for his chief challenger, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, had only one comment. "Clearly Rick Perry should have spent less paying off supporters and more on technology," Joe Pounder said. Dozens of comments were left on Perry’s site after the webcast.

Among the comments: "Proud to have him, proud to keep him" from Jillene Norris; "No change needed in the leadership of our Texas — vote for Perry?" from K Kowalski; "You’ll have my vote," from CindyNTexas64; and "I’m going to go spread the word," from Gibrill Mustapha.

Perry will likely face several candidates in the Republican primary in March, including Hutchison; Debra Medina, a businesswoman from Wharton; and Larry Kilgore of Mansfield.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates include former Ambassador Tom Schieffer of Fort Worth, humorist and entertainer Kinky Friedman, East Texas rancher Hank Gilbert, Fort Worth teacher Felix Alvarado and Garland therapist Mark Thompson.

ANNA M. TINSLEY, 817-390-7610

© 2009 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Barbs fly after Gov. Rick Perry's webcast speech is short-circuited


The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN – If a politician makes campaign promises on a live webcast that goes down, does he make a sound?

Gov. Rick Perry arrives at the Holt Caterpillar plant to deliver a Web address. As he was to begin, the campaign's server overloaded and had to be taken offline.

For Gov. Rick Perry, there was a definite thud Tuesday. And once out of the woods, the Perry campaign attributed the disruption to a planned Internet attack.

For several days, the Perry campaign promoted a live Web address that the governor was to deliver from the Holt Caterpillar plant in San Antonio. It was suggested that this was akin to a kickoff for his campaign for a third full term.

But just as the Republican was to begin speaking, the campaign's server was overloaded and had to be taken offline, disconnecting about 22,000 viewers. Some users were able to view the speech with no trouble.

Perry spokesman Mark Miner attributed the disruption to a denial-of-service attack, in which servers are deliberately bombarded with requests for data.

"This planned and coordinated attack was political sabotage, and we are working to identify those responsible for this illegal activity," Miner said.

He declined to name any suspects, but the inference was as clear as a tree falling in the woods.

GOP rival Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's campaign said it was in no way involved.

"What an embarrassing campaign launch," said Hutchison spokeswoman Jennifer Baker. "I'm sure the governor is hacked, but we are skeptical their site was. After all, Rick Perry isn't exactly a stranger when it comes to arrogantly blaming others for his mistakes."

Redglue Inc., which operates the Perry campaign Web site, said the server was "completely capable" of handling the traffic. Redglue president Anthony Kukla said a flood of false requests inundated the server about 11:20 a.m., and his company shut down the link and restarted the site – a process that took about 10 minutes.

"This is very easy to create. Thirteen-year-olds get caught breaking down the White House Web site," Kukla said.

He said he is certain the attack was intentional, not a glitch.

Keatron Evans, an expert at the Illinois-based computer security firm Infosec, said automated devices are available to launch such attacks. The Perry Web site's security measures would have made it a little more difficult, but someone with limited expertise could have pulled off such a ploy, he said.

Tracking such attacks is expensive and time-consuming, and the perpetrator is often hard to find, Evans said.

And of course, another explanation could be that "the server might not have been able to handle the load that was coming in," he said.

Phillip Martin, the social media strategist for the Texas Democratic Trust, which helps fund the state party, said such a well-coordinated attack against a Web site would be unusual because of the timing and sophistication.

Besides, he said, taking a swipe at both GOP camps, "If it were Kay Bailey Hutchison's team that hacked this, it would be the first competent thing they've accomplished."

In his speech, the governor proposed a constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to raise taxes and reversed an earlier position, saying he now favors criminal sanctions against employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

© 2009 Dallas Morning News:

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

TxDOT's 'godfather' of public private partnerships (P3s) exits to the private sector

TxDOT’s Russell Moves On

P3 Godfather TxDOT

Transportation Finance Intelligence
Copyright 2009

Texas DOT’s Phil Russell, a public sector veteran of the US P3 market, has retired from the department after 25 years of service to the procurement agency as Assistant Executive for Innovative Project Development.

Russell, one of the early originators of P3s and to many one of the “godfathers” of US P3s oversaw the development and operation of turnpike projects, coordination and planning of rail projects, pass-thru finance agreements, long-term transportation planning, and coordination with local toll authorities and metropolitan planning organizations for TxDOT.

As a director of the Texas Turnpike Authority Division under his direction, from 1998 to 2007, the division expanded the state highway system through the development of toll roads, working with districts and local officials on the formation of regional mobility authorities and state toll projects, and overseeing the preparation of P3s for TxDOT.

He successfully managed the Central Texas Turnpike project, TxDOT’s first toll road and the department’s first PPP – SH 130. He also managed the department’s Trans Texas Corridor activities.

Its expected that Russell will still remain very active within the P3 market and is no doubt being inundated with offers from the private sector anxious to recruit the services of a man with such great experience of operating within the P3 industry.

© 2009 Transportation Finance Intelligence:

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"For the first time, the taxpayers have a handful of responsive representatives willing to do the right thing."

Toll roads finally DEAD in San Antonio?


Terri Hall
San Antonio Transportation Policy Examiner
Copyright 2009

After four and half years of wrangling, congestion weary commuters may finally be close to REAL relief, without slapping TOLLS on existing freeways.

Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, the new Chairman of the Bexar County-San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), moved heaven and earth to see to it 281 north of Loop 1604 and Loop 1604 west (from Military Hwy to Bandera Rd) were officially removed from the MPO's long-range plan. The board will be briefed on the new plan at its meeting Monday, and it is slated to be formally adopted at its meeting October 26.

After thousands of Texans protested, attended hearings, organized petition drives, recalls, marches on Austin, as well as lobbying the Legislature, and taking their fight all the way to the halls of the U.S. Congress in Washington, concerned citizens are finally within striking distance to reverse course in nothing short of a David versus Goliath epic battle.

The final vote to adopt the new plan won't happen until October 26, but just getting these two freeways removed from the toll plan is a major feat. However, the grassroots are taking nothing for granted and have worked with Chairman Adkisson to ensure maximum public participation by holding the October 26 MPO meeting in the evening and on the northside.

Rick Perry's Transportation Commission also has to approve the plan. Considering every single opponent in the race to unseat Perry is against tolling existing freeways, he faces a massive voter uprising if his Commission attempts to usurp the decision of the local MPO.

Though funds can only be identified to fix only 16 miles of the over 40 miles of toll lanes planned for 281 and 1604, if these critical areas on 281 north of 1604 and 1604 from Military to Bandera Rd. remain toll-free, the other segments will not be toll viable and the rest of the ship will sink on its own.

Bait & Switch

TxDOT promised overpasses and expansion on US 281 in public hearings in 2001, and the gas tax funds became available in 2003. However, that same year the Texas Legislature, at the urging of Perry, passed an enormous omnibus toll road bill, HB 3588, which created a massive shift away from gas tax financed public highways to privatizing and tolling Texas roads.

By July of 2004, the Bexar-San Antonio MPO voted to turn 281 and 1604 into toll roads, then planning to use the gas tax funds allocated to fix 281 to subsidize the toll road instead. Every single existing expressway lane would be tolled, leaving access roads as the only non-toll option for the next 50 years. The ill-conceived plan to convert our freeways into toll roads, double the footprint (from 10 to 20 lanes), prohibit any expansion of free routes without paying penalties to investors, and explode the cost (by 10 times) led to two lawsuits that prevailed both times.

Foreign companies vie to takeover 281, 1604

In 2005, Spain-based Cintra and San Antonio-based Zachry submitted an unsolicited bid on the desk of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to takeover 281 north and the entire northern half of Loop 1604 (from Hwy 90 on the west side to I-10 on the east side).

Most local officials balked at such an idea, but the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA, an unelected bureaucracy created by the Bexar County Commissioners) entered into a memorandum of understanding with TxDOT to participate in negotiating the contract (and likely a revenue sharing agreement) nonetheless. In all, the ARMA and MPO have marked segments of 281, 1604, Wurzbach Pkwy, I-35, I-10, and Bandera Rd for tolling, many of them slated to be privatized and handed over to foreign entities.

However, selling our Texas freeways to foreign corporations doesn't sit well with most Texans, and a grassroots revolt against such deals ensued. In 2007, under tremendous pressure from taxpayers and citizens' groups like TURF, the Legislature passed a moratorium on private toll contracts (one severely weakened by Perry). Despite a dozen projects being excepted out of the moratorium, 281 was included in the moratorium and effectively killed the deal with Cintra (and a second bidder from Australia, Macquarie).

Local Toll Authority enters stage left

But the victory was only temporary since the ARMA stepped in to toll 281 and 1604 as a public toll project, leaving the taxpayers out of the decision once again. Having no ability to sway unelected agencies like TxDOT and the ARMA, concerned citizens turned anew to the MPO and Texas Legislature.

Managing to halt a litany of horrible anti-taxpayer transportation bills in the 2009 legislative session and special called session in July with the help of State Representative and MPO Board member David Leibowitz, up until now, the citizens were effectively no closer to stopping the toll road train wreck than they were when they first heard about it in hearings in March of 2005. New faces make the difference

That is, until Adkisson took the helm at the MPO in July. More sweeping change occurred on the MPO board with the addition of three new city councilmembers (all of whom ran on a platform against tolling existing roads) and a different mayor representing the small cities, Leon Valley Mayor Chris Riley. Add to that, a new San Antonio Mayor, Julian Castro, a refreshing change from the ardently pro-toll roadblock, Phil Hardberger, and for the first time, the taxpayers have a handful of responsive representatives willing to do the right thing.

Of course, TxDOT and the ARMA are already claiming the sky is falling and that the proposed amendment to fund these freeways and keep them toll-free isn't possible, but if the MPO exerts its political will to stand-up to these agencies, a non-toll solution will prevail, and a whole lot faster and cheaper than any toll solution (the soonest a toll road would be open to traffic is nearly a decade away). In fact, private toll contracts in Texas are no longer legal as of August 31 (except for those few projects that were excepted out of the moratorium), which will also effectively kill many tolls roads across the state.

So stay engaged and plan to attend the October 26 MPO meeting at 6 PM (location to be announced soon, likely at the Alzafar Shrine Temple off 1604), to ask this new MPO board to adopt its long range plan to remove 281 and 1604 from the toll plans once and for all.

© 2009

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“I dare Rick Perry — in an election year with all anti-toll opponents — to vote this down.”

Adkisson to push no-toll proposal


By Josh Baugh
San Antonio-Express-News
Copyright 2009

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson on Monday will recommend stripping toll roads from the Metropolitan Planning Organization's plans and fixing some of the region's most congested corridors with freeway expansions.

The move would represent a sweeping policy change for the MPO board, of which Adkisson is chairman, as well as a major victory for toll opponents, who say the concept of tolling in Bexar County would die altogether if Adkisson's plan proves successful.

Terri Hall, founder and director of two anti-toll groups — the San Antonio Toll Party and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom — has played a substantial role in the forming of Adkisson's plan. The portion that deals with U.S. 281 on the far North Side is exactly what Hall and her groups have been demanding for years.

“We're going to make them non-toll roads like they were in 2001,” Hall said, referring to a Texas Department of Transportation plan that called for overpasses at some major intersections on U.S. 281 north of Loop 1604. The plan never came to fruition and was replaced by one that would build tolled lanes instead.

Since Adkisson, a toll opponent, was elected MPO chairman in July, Hall has seen her power and influence multiply. Hall now has an ally in the top position of the organization. She appears to essentially have a seat at the table — she made a lengthy presentation at an MPO board meeting this summer and has helped craft the proposal that Adkisson will introduce Monday.

“The sense that Commissioner Adkisson and I are getting when we meet with elected officials is that toll roads are finished,” Hall said.

The 19-member MPO board will discuss the proposal Monday, but a vote won't come until a board meeting next month.

The MPO controls the purse strings of all transportation projects that include federal funding but doesn't do any construction. The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, TxDOT and local governments are charged with building the projects.

Adkisson aims to amend the MPO's short- and long-range plans by removing tolling proposals from segments of Loop 1604, U.S. 281 and Bandera Road. The amendment would require shifting money and would likely affect other transportation projects.

Because the changes deal with state funding, they would also have to pass muster with the Texas Transportation Commission, a five-member board appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, an ardent toll advocate. The TTC's chairwoman, Deirdre Delisi, is Perry's former chief of staff.

But Hall and Adkisson don't see that as a substantial obstacle because Perry can't afford to cross voters on the far North Side who don't want tolls, they say.

“Pressure works in favor of anyone seeking to change the status quo,” Adkisson said. “The status quo on 281 North and 1604 has got to go.”

Hall was more explicit.

“I dare Rick Perry — in an election year with all anti-toll opponents — to vote this down,” she said.

Adkisson's plan would reduce the cost of a U.S. 281 project from Loop 1604 to the county line from $475 million to $200 million, expanding the road to include six to eight lanes and overpasses. It would call for building all eight direct connectors between U.S. 281 and Loop 1604, rather than just the four southern connectors that the Alamo RMA plans to construct.

The plan would also expand Loop 1604 from Texas 151 to Bandera Road with six to eight non-tolled lanes, and it would remove plans to build toll lanes on Bandera between Loop 410 and Loop 1604.

Can it be done?

MPO board members learned about Adkisson's proposal Friday morning when the organization released an updated agenda for Monday's board meeting. Some officials say they're not sure that Adkisson's plan would work.

“If it can happen, I'm all for it,” said County Commissioner Kevin Wolff, an MPO board member. “If you can prove this up, then let's go to town.”

City Councilman Ray Lopez said he is reserving opinion until he better understands Adkisson's plan. He wants to see how it would affect the funding of other projects in the region.

Others say they won't support it at all.

“We don't support it at the Texas Department of Transportation because in so supporting it, we lose over $900 million of transportation infrastructure,” said Clay Smith, a TxDOT planning engineer who sits on the MPO board. “That leaves hundreds of thousands of motorists for generations to come in gridlock. We don't think that's the right thing to do.”

Smith said Adkisson's plan would kill any expansion on other parts of U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 for the next 25 years, leaving those portions exactly as they are today.

The Alamo RMA, which has tolling power, is the agency slated to build highway expansions on U.S. 281 and Loop 1604. The agency received federal environmental clearance Friday to build a “superstreet” on U.S. 281, which is expected to temporarily ease congestion until the RMA can build more capacity.

The RMA also is conducting massive environmental studies on the two highways and a smaller study of an interchange project on the southern side of the 281/1604 intersection, where the agency plans to build four non-tolled connectors with federal stimulus money.

But TxDOT's Smith said the project's stimulus funding could be jeopardized by Adkisson's desire to build all eight connectors at once.

Adkisson said he expects there to be ample opposition.

“It won't take long for dark imaginings to be showcased by the just-say-no-to-anything-new crowd, and those who are ensconced in the thinking of the past that would have us tolling these roads,” he said. “I would think anybody who wants to defeat this will attempt to suggest that the sky is falling, the world is coming to an end, life as we know it will never be the same again, because that's a tried-and-true, age-old tactic.”

RMA spokesman Leroy Alloway, who contended that the plan was Hall's — as opposed to Adkisson's — questioned Friday whether the details on funding and environmental issues in the proposal would be plausible.

“We look forward to seeing what Ms. Hall's plan is. We've said from Day One that if there's another plan that works, we'd look at it,” he said. “We want to see what she has to say and what she's going to present.”

RMA and TxDOT officials say there's no available funding for non-tolled highway expansion plans, despite what Hall says.

Vote in October

The debate starts Monday, with the decision coming a month later. Adkisson said he plans to hold the October meeting in the evening on the North Side so constituents can attend. Adkisson said the MPO meetings, typically held on one Monday a month at 1:30 p.m., are “anti-citizen, inconvenient (and) citizen/user unfriendly.”

Hall shared the same sentiment.

When the MPO board meets in October to vote on Adkisson's proposal, it'll do it in front of a packed house of toll opponents rather than a room full of highway lobbyists who are paid to baby-sit the meetings, she said.

Adkisson and Hall say they believe they have enough support on the MPO to move the non-toll proposal forward. What remains to be seen is whether they do.

“I'm depending on all of them to join hands and march down this road as a show of solidarity of this community that we want this to be done without tolls,” Adkisson said.

© 2009 San Antonio Express-News:

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