Saturday, October 31, 2009

The 'Macquarie Model': A ripping success for the Banksters. Not so much for the investors (think pension funds).

Dismantling the MIG machine

Maquarie stock drops


The Age (Australia)
Copyright 2009

IT WAS once the flagship of Macquarie Group’s satellites, a toll-road fund that embodied the bank’s ambitions to become a globally dominant listed infrastructure funds manager.

In a flurry of transactions, Macquarie’s super-smooth bankers ranged the globe to create what Macquarie extolled as a new model, the Macquarie model, of listing infrastructure.

Yesterday, historically,Macquarie Infrastructure Group reached the end of the road at Sydney’s Westin Hotel.

Brought down by an astonishing $35 billion in debt over its road assets in North America, Europe and Australia, directors in Sydney, Britain and Bermuda agreed late on Thursday night to split MIG into separate ‘‘mature’’ and ‘‘active’’ funds.

Given that ‘‘mature’’ MIG has a debt level of 31 per cent and ‘‘active’’ MIG has a debt level of 86 per cent, the descriptions ‘‘good’’ and ‘‘bad’’ could also be used.

Pivotally, Macquarie is being kicked out as manager of good MIG, ending the Macquarie-sourced deal-making, refinancings, revaluations and fee-ripping since MIG was renamed in 2000.

While Macquarie is leaving ‘‘Good MIG’’ with a $50 million kiss-off, plus a 1 per cent advisory fee likely to be in the realm of $20 million, the exit fee pales in comparison to the hefty $345 million it stripped from Macquarie Airports on its way out.

Macquarie also remains as manager of ‘‘Bad MIG’’, with elevated base fees paid to the mothership because of the need for extra work on problem assets that include some with a 100 per cent level of debt— South Bay Expressway in the US and Warnow Tunnel in Britain.

Macquarie Bank chief executive Nicholas Moore protested yesterday that its model had been a success.

And indeed it had, for the bankers at least. For investors, however, the evidence from the past two years shows many of its major funds underperformed the S&P/ASX 200 Index (see graphic).

‘‘On the issue of the performance of the listed funds, I believe (they) will have to be judged as successful to date,’’Moore said at the bank’s interim results.

‘‘The performance of the funds— not all of them—but if you go through them one by one it has been a question of outperformance rather than underperformance.’’ But there is no doubt Macquarie is edging towards the door.

‘‘It was fun while it lasted,’’ Brett Le Mesurier, an analyst with Axiome Equities, said yesterday. It was Macquarie Infrastructure Group that made Macquarie what it is today.

No doubt, Macquarie’s stranglehold over once-public assets, with fees regularly ratcheting up on various formulas, have got up the nose of some users.

A Macquarie executive lost his job in 2003 when he crowed to investors about Britain’s M6 toll road: ‘‘We can put up the tolls by whatever we like and, almost as importantly, we can start the tolls on day one by whatever we like.’’

But the same boast helped make the toll-roads operation an investor darling, and Macquarie’s listed infrastructure fund model took off and spawned a host of imitators, including Macquarie Airports, Macquarie Media Group,Macquarie Capital Alliance Group and Macquarie Communications Infrastructure Group.

And with Macquarie Airports paying its parent $941 million since its birth in 2002, it’s little wonder Macquarie enjoyed the fees it dragged from the funds.

In late 2008, then JPMorgan banking analyst Brian Johnson found fees earned by Macquarie from its satellite business had grown from $376 million in 2002-03 to nearly $1.4 billion last financial year.

Among MIG’s heady early promises were predictability of cash flow, natural hedges against inflation from the pricing power in toll roads and the opportunity to refinance assets at more favourable rates as they entered revenue-earning phases of their development.

And the big sell for investors was a steady flow of distributions as MIG’s financial structuring of ‘‘greenfields’’ developments ‘‘brought forward’’ their distributions.

But the model carried the seeds of its own demise right from the start.

MIG’s toll-road operations never paid for itself: it was always a fiction of smart bankers being able to revalue assets, borrow more money and pay that money to investors.

Effectively, the bankers had come up with a formula for ‘‘bringing forward the cash flow’’ from infrastructure assets—and then dropping it straight into their top executives’ $30 million-plus salaries.

Anthony Kahn, a former chief executive of MIG, told BRW in 2002 that distributions to shareholders would move from payments out of capital to payments out of operations.

They never did. Not one distribution from MIG has been completely backed by operating cash flows.

Fast forward to yesterday’s annual meeting and MIG’s chairman,Mark Johnson, was promising distributions would be aligned with operating cash flows.

In practice, MIG became a spinning door that bought 33 toll roads and flogged 22 off on the way through.

Then a credit crisis made borrowing difficult, and a resulting asset deflation made revaluations for refinancing impossible.

Macquarie’s interim report revealed that since April 2007 it had made $592 million in write-downs to its listed managed funds. Its unlisted funds have fared little better, with a $410 million write-down over the same period. Now investors have had enough.

At MIG’s annual meeting yesterday chairman Mark Johnson noted the deal on good MIG removed the ‘‘external management hurdle which has existed for many institutional investors who no longer prefer that model’’.

The split of MIG puts its remaining nine roads into two separate funds: the Australian M7 Westlink and Toronto’s 407 ETR make up good MIG. The other seven—the M6, the Chicago Skyway, the Indiana Toll Road, the Dulles Greenway, APRR,Warnow Tunnel and South Bay Expressway—are bad MIG.

Johnson, a former deputy chair of Macquarie Group, provided the rationale for not only paying Macquarie, but paying it more as a percentage of assets to manage bad MIG.

‘‘Macquarie is one of the preeminent global organisations with regard to the management of infrastructure assets,’’ Johnson said.

‘‘Consequently it was a logical decision for the board that Macquarie be enlisted to help generate value for security holders.’’

(Note to board: the problems for MIG’s security holders have occurred under the watchful eye of these selfsame managers.)

MIG is the latest in a series of transactions as it substantially exits or re-structures its funds: Macquarie Capital Alliance Group via privatisation, Macquarie Leisure removing Macquarie as manager, the sale of Macquarie Communications Group, Macquarie Countrywide’s sale of US assets and Macquarie Airports punting Macquarie as manager.

On the way out, Macquarie has come under scrutiny for its exit strategy, with further related-party transactions and hefty exit fees as the funds’ boards confront costly poison pills. Macquarie sold MCAG to a related fund, collecting fees along the way.

Macquarie Countrywide sold assets, paying fees to Macquarie. Macquarie Group collected a separate fee from the buyers of Macquarie Communications Group for its management rights.

Macquarie also found itself in a storm of investor discontent when Macquarie Airports revealed it would pay a $345 million exit fee to the mothership as an exit fee.

The underperforming Macquarie Media Group also this week revealed plans to internalise its management agreement, cutting ties with the mother ship at a cost of $45 million, plus a $2.8 million advisory fee and the chance of another $11 million in management fees until the deal is finalised.

Even though a shareholder vote was all that was required, had Macquarie been removed as manager, a poison pill would have been activated in the form of a similar 1.5 per cent base fee plus a performance fee.

Yesterday MIG’s lead independent director, Paul McClintock, said the MIG transaction had been a different transaction from MAP’s exit.

He refused to comment on whether negotiations on the $50 million fee had included a demand from Macquarie to be compensated for its loss of management rights for the good MIG assets.

Johnson said that two agreements over ‘‘active’’ MIG assets would not need to be triggered because Macquarie retained management of active MIG.

Now eyes are turned towards Macquarie Group to find out how Moore intends to replace its lost revenue streams.

As noted, the stop-gap measure has been to put the squeeze on its listed funds.

Tim Buckley, head of research at Shaw Stockbroking, said Macquarie booked $414 million in fees from listed fund initiatives, including internalisation, sales and recapitalisations at Macquarie Communications Infrastructure, Macquarie Leisure and Macquarie Airports.

‘‘Clearly they’re booking significant profits at the expense of the listed vehicles that they’ve run for a long time,’’ Buckley said yesterday.

‘‘(They are) forgoing a long-term earnings stream but the reality is that it’s now history.’’ And that new reality may have some implications for shareholders in funds that, to the present time, have had Macquarie as one of their largest shareholders.

Johnson and McClintock said yesterday the MIG deal did not include any arrangement about Macquarie’s 17 per cent stake.

Buckley said Macquarie could be expected to eventually exit its stakes over time.

‘‘They’ve got $500 million in capital tied up in the vehicle . . . they recycle capital pretty aggressively,’’ Buckley said.

When those sell-downs occur, it’s vale the Macquarie Model.

© 2009 The Age:

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Friday, October 30, 2009

"Hank Gilbert has the only transportation plan out there among challengers to Rick Perry from either party."

Will voters buy a tax increase for roads?


Rodger Jones/Editorial Writer
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

And maybe put a guy like Hank Gilbert in the governor's office?

The rancher Democrat announced his transportation plan yesterday in Fort Worth, including an 8-cent gas-tax hike and permanent indexing of the tax to cost of construction.

It came on the same day as doomsday scenarios laid out elsewhere in Fort Worth, before the Texas Transportation Commission. Money for roads continues to slide by the billions as cars use less fuel.

Coincidentally, regional transportation guru Michael Morris suggested to commissioners that traffic and roads might get so bad that voters could end up supporting raising taxes for roads.

Enter Gilbert. Does he have a chance with voters with his tax plan, as Morris might suggest? One trade-off Gilbert offering is to make it very tough to get more toll roads built. He has strong backing of anti-tollers across the state.

Gilbert said his gas tax plan would cost the average commuter between $1.20 and $1.60 a fillup. Say that's $10 a month for a lot of people. It could sound like a bargain for those who pay as much in tolls as they do to the electric company each month. A Frisco resident who commutes downtown on the tollway pays more than $8 a day if they have a TollTag.

Other things to like about Gilbert from the standpoint of local transportation officials: He is bullish on mass transit. (Aside: That could win him points with this newspaper's editorial board, considering our years-long push for expanding regional rail transit.)

The Gilbert plan says:

Improving and further integrating additional transit models into Texas' transportation infrastructure makes both financial and environmental sense. Hank proposes making more state funds available to cities to improve existing transit systems in the state's major metropolitan areas.

Hank also proposes funding more "ring line" transit routes and commuter/light rail systems to allow commuters to travel around a city's center without going through it, and connecting these ring lines to existing transportation infrastructure to make public transportation more efficient and consumer-friendly. ...

Hank proposes expanded high speed commuter rail lines. Hank proposes funding to allow cities with large suburban populations to create (or expand) commuter rail to help commuters get in and out of major metro areas faster and more efficiently.

Like it or not, Gilbert has the only transportation plan out there among challengers to Rick Perry from either party.

© 2009 Dallas Morning News:

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“I think the city is talking out of both sides of its mouth. The city wants to use the defense they won't allow citizens to use.”

City's defense for not paying up sounds familiar

Explanation for toll-road fines is the same one Houston rejects when motorists contest red-light violations


Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2009

The city has avoided paying county toll road fines using a defense it does not want motorists to use when contesting red-light camera violations.

Earlier this week, city officials again asked Harris County Commissioners Court to help them collect millions by blocking the registration of vehicles involved in red-light camera violations in which the fines have not been paid. Meanwhile, Harris County Toll Road Authority lawyers were continuing a fruitless effort to make the city pay tolls racked up by more than a hundred non-emergency city vehicles.

A city finance official claimed the toll fines are owed by the individual employees rather than the city, which owns the vehicles.

But the city's efforts to block registrations are aimed at the owners of vehicles involved in red-light camera violations.

“I think the city is talking out of both sides of its mouth. The city wants to use the defense they won't allow citizens to use,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said.

“They need to be better neighbors,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, adding that the only exemptions from the toll fees are for firetrucks, ambulances, law enforcement and military vehicles. “The city of Houston should make good on this and find a way to pay these dollars that are owed on any of their vehicles.”

A resolution appeared to be in the works Thursday, although how much is owed may be in dispute.

Frank Michel, a spokesman for Mayor Bill White, said the city will pay the toll road authority fines and is taking action to improve its internal monitoring of citations issued to non-emergency vehicles.

“It is our position the city is responsible to make sure these fines are taken care of,“ Michel said. “Our internal policy is to hold the driver responsible or accountable, and we haven't done a good job of doing that and we're going to work on it.”

He added: “Whatever is owed outstanding, we are working with the county to get it resolved .”
How much is owed?

Toll Road Authority spokesman Eric Hanson said there are 552 violations involving unpaid tolls for 122 different vehicles owned by the city. To date, the city owes $13,851 in unpaid tolls, fines and collection fees, he said.

Michel said the city's tally showed 81 vehicles totaling about $1,000 in tolls, along with fines and penalties of about $11,000.

Last Friday, four days before city officials went to Commissioners Court seeking approval of a contract to block the registration of vehicles of red-light camera scofflaws, a city finance employee sent an e-mail to the county attorney's office.

“Harris Co. have (sic) been sending individual tickets without pictures (no proof) and expecting someone to pay,” finance department employee Al Owens wrote. “That someone would be the driver and not the City of Houston. The City of Houston is not responsible for tickets incurred by employees with city vehicles.”

He also wrote that it would be impossible to determine who was driving the city vehicles at the time of violations.

The e-mail was in response to a demand earlier that day by Assistant County Attorney Clarissa Bauer, who informed Owens the Texas Transportation Code requires the Toll Road Authority to send the delinquent notice to the registered owner of the vehicle, not the driver.

“HCTRA has hundreds of photographs of City vehicles using the Toll Road system without paying,“ Bauer wrote, adding, “For years, HCTRA has been sending violations notices to the City of Houston but the City has failed to pay.“ Bauer said some fines have been sent to a law firm for collection.

© 2009 Houston Chronicle:

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"An extremely ambitious experiment."

Feds to Convince DC Area Taxpayers to Embrace $4.8 Billion Mileage Tax

Washington, DC regional officials seek federal gas tax money to study political implication of $4.8 billion mileage tax on motorists.

Mileage tax by mojoskillet.

Copyright 2009

Officials are looking to convince residents in the Washington, DC metropolitan region that converting local streets into toll roads would be good for them.

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board last Wednesday voted to seek federal gas tax funds to bankroll a $400,000 study on how best to sell the public on a controversial per-mile tax proposal that would raise up to $4.8 billion in new revenue.

"A comprehensive road-use pricing initiative in the Washington metropolitan area would be an extremely ambitious experiment," Brookings Institution authors Benjamin K. Orr and Alice M. Rivlin explained in a policy paper designed to garner the interest of regional authorities.

"Leadership and upfront investment from the federal government would also be essential to get the experiment off the ground and ensure comprehensive implementation. Some recent indications of interest at the federal level suggest that this might be possible. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has recently stated that, due to the failure of the Manhattan congestion pricing initiative, the US Department of Transportation still has funds available for pilot congestion pricing programs."

Brookings, a left-wing think tank, will complete the study entitled, "Public Acceptability of Regional Road Pricing: Can it be Designed to Garner Public Support?" by December 2010, presuming the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approves the request. The funds will pay for a series of telephone surveys and focus groups with residents and special interest groups with an eye to determining how best to package ideas that have generated significant public opposition when proposed in other areas around the world.

In the UK, for example, 1.8 million residents signed an official Downing Street petition urging the prime minister to scrap plans to implement a GPS-based mileage tax. In Manchester, 79 percent voted against congestion charging in a referendum last year as 74 percent of voters did in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2005. The proposed Washington toll system raises many of the privacy concerns identified by UK opponents of congestion charging.

"Vehicles would be fitted with a GPS transponder device similar to an E-ZPass, perhaps as part of the registration process," Orr and Rivlin explained. "This device would record the type of vehicle, the distance traveled, and the time and location of travel."

Despite the privacy issues, DC officials insist that tolling is necessary for making up for the shortfall in gasoline tax revenues. The proposed mileage tax would solve this problem by increasing motorist taxation levels by a factor of ten. The additional revenue would be diverted to spending on buses and rail service.

"State gas taxes raise approximately $420 million in the Washington urbanized area every year," Orr and Rivlin wrote. "Revenues from the road-use pricing scheme described above would be between $2.96 billion and $4.79 billion, depending on the average fee... Net revenues could be split between improving mass transit (particularly buses), a need-based refund or discount, and roadway maintenance."

The federal and state excise tax is only one component of money raised from motorists in the DC and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Other taxes imposed on motorists include Virginia's personal property tax on automobiles, vehicle licensing and registration fees, a tax on car insurance, special taxes on commercial vehicles, as well as parking and speeding tickets. The total of all motorist-related taxes in Virginia exceeds the amount spent on road building and maintenance in the state, according to TheNewspaper's analysis.

Copies of the tolling resolution and Brookings report are available in a 600k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Approval of Submission of a Value Pricing Grant Proposal (Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, 10/21/2009)

© 2009

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"There is a viable non-tolled option."


Reasons non-toll option is best bet for MPO


By Tommy Adkisson - Guest Commentary
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

Here are just some of the reasons why I believe the non-tolled option in our Metropolitan Planning Organization short- and long-range plans is so important:

  • The only way to have a non-tolled option considered is to have our plan reflect that.
  • Seemingly endless court battles over economic and environmental issues that must be addressed under the National Environmental Policy Act.
  • There is a viable non-tolled option. Using the 2005 Zachary proposal and actual cost of the three-mile plan used by Clay Smith on Oct. 9 at the TAC meeting yields a $26 million per mile cost and, when multiplied by this project's length of 7.8 miles, equals a total project cost of $202.8 million.
  • In contrast, the Regional Mobility Authority has yet to justify its much larger projected cost of $475 million, $70 million of which accrues to acquisition of right of way. Because the RMA is taking over a portion of the state highway system, it is obligated to pay the right of way costs. By contrast, the MPO does not have to pay right-of-way costs for a non-tolled scenario because TxDOT has its own separate fund for right of way.
  • On Oct. 19, the RMA testified that they plan to enter into risky multi-leveraged debt financing of the Texas Mobility Fund money in order to finance the toll road. This is the sort of multi-leveraging (second, third and fourth mortgages) that created the financial crisis we have experienced of late nationally.
  • Just for the total interest on the $330 million in toll revenue bonds alone, the RMA said it needs $864 million over 40 years!
  • The minimum toll project cost is $1.3 billion.
  • The U.S. 281 market valuation says the toll plan requires 200,000 cars per day in the out years in contrast with an existing 86,000 cars per day, on average. As if these assumptions requisite for this toll plan's solvency were not risky enough, the requisite level of traffic guarantees ongoing legal battles over environmental impacts to our aquifer.

I am asking for your support for the non-tolled option. I look forward to working with you to move our community forward.

Tommy Adkisson, Bexar County Commissioner for Precinct 4, can be reached at 100 Dolores, suite 1.2, San Antonio 78205, by e-mail at or by calling 335-2614.

© 2009 San Antonio Express-News:

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"We understood that TxDOT and ARMA were so stuck on their insistent toll planning that they could not consider other options."

Toll road plan survives MPO vote


By Amber Whittaker - Staff Writer/North Central News
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

The San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization's transportation policy board defeated an amendment to nix tolls from plans to widen U.S. 281 on Monday despite heavy opposition from an audience that was largely anti-toll.

The amendment was proposed by Bexar County Commissioner and board Chairman Tommy Adkisson and supported by anti-toll groups Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom and the San Antonio Toll Party.

Adkisson said his plan would have reduced the cost from $475 million to $200 million for a non-tolled 281. The final vote was 13-5 against the amendment. District 8 City Councilman Reed Williams was one of the few amendment boosters. The board also unanimously voted to kill tolling plans for Bandera Road.

The meeting at Alzafar Shrine Temple drew a rowdy crowd of more than 500, though that number dwindled to about 100 when votes were cast around 11:30 p.m.

Opposition was intense throughout the meeting. Residents held signs that read “Pink Slip, vote for toll roads and you're fired” and booed officials who advocated toll roads.

Adkisson had a strong anti-toll road ally in State Rep. David Leibowitz, who grilled Alamo Regional Mobility Authority Executive Director Terry Brechtel on costs and the exclusion of overpasses in ARMA's toll road plan.

When Leibowitz asked Brechtel if toll booths would be taken down when road construction funds were paid, her answer caught some of the night's loudest jeers.

“First of all, the Alamo RMA has never represented that there will be toll booths because it will be all electronic,” Brechtel said.

Many commenters supported overpasses to relieve traffic congestion on 281 north from Loop 1604 to the Comal County line as an alternative to a toll road.

County Commissioner Kevin Wolff asked that the creation of a non-tolled engineering study be added as an agenda item in the MPO's next meeting.

He said he still felt “very wanting” for a side by side comparison of a tolled and non-tolled plan.

TURF Director Terri Hall said the MPO had previously asked ARMA and the Texas Department of Transportation to provide a non-tolled study for a side-by-side comparison.

“They failed to do it,” she said, “so that Commissioner Adkisson would come here today asking for your vote empty-handed.”

Some residents living near 281 north of 1604 criticized a toll road plan, citing prohibitive costs for motorists, safety concerns for residents and business profit losses.

“If 281 is tolled, I won't be able to make a move without reaching for my purse. I'm retired. I live on a fixed income. I don't want to be triple taxed for getting into my car,” Timberwood Park resident Marilyn Knapp Litt said.

Elvis Ruiz, Encino Park Homeowner's Association president, suggested that an overpass or underpass be built from 281 to Encino Rio for ease of access and safety reasons.

He said the toll road that TxDoT and ARMA representatives described to Encino Park residents would be dangerous for them.

Motorists leaving Encino Park would need to merge across three lanes of high-speed traffic to reach a turn-around exit at Evans Road to travel south.

Ruiz said he was told that TxDoT would monitor the intersection but not build a better connecting road until the “number of accidents warranted it.”

“After that meeting, we understood that TxDoT and ARMA were so stuck on their insistent toll planning that they could not consider other options,” Ruiz added.

Hollywood Park City Councilman Bob Sartor said his constituents were concerned a toll road would increase cut-through traffic, costs of living and harm local businesses.

While most board members who would later vote against Adkisson's amendment were mum throughout the meeting, State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, who was openly derided for opposing a non-toll option, defended his stance.

“I'm not a toll road advocate. What I am is an advocate against congestion,” he said.

“If we adopt this half-baked (non-toll) plan, it will delay reducing congestion in a corridor, which is completely in my senate district. I am committed to reducing congestion and increasing mobility,” Wentworth added, incurring many boos.

As the final vote happened more than five hours after the meeting's start, attendees listened in silence before trudging out of the room.

“This was a waste of time. They don't care. I don't know why they are up there,” said Timberwood Park area resident Anna Gonzalez. She vowed not to take a future toll road.

“I'll avoid it just because I'm not paying that toll,” she added.

Shirlene Harris, who travels 281 frequently, said she was displeased but not surprised.

“They are flouting the will of the people,” she said.

“Only seven people testified in favor of tolls, and they were the Greater (San Antonio) Chamber of Commerce, the North (San Antonio) Chamber of Commerce and those who work for the highway lobby,” Hall wrote on the TURF Web site Tuesday.

“It was over 90 percent against tolls. This should sound the alarm quite clearly that our elected officials no longer represent us. It's taxation without representation.”

State and local officials are working to flesh out plans on two other projects to help alleviate traffic congestion in North Central San Antonio: a partial interchange at 1604 and 281 and a superstreet along 281 north.

© 2009 San Antonio Express-News:

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"Fraud and an unconstitutional taking, deceptive trade and a consumer law violation."

Texas Drivers Challenge Tollway Fee


Courthouse News Service
Copyright 2009

DALLAS (CN) - A class of motorists says the Texas Department of Transportation has no right to charge a $1 invoice fee for drivers who use the state's ZipCash video toll system. The class claims the state gave drivers no notice of the fee and has no statutory authority to charge it.

Lead plaintiff Mary Kemp says she drove the State Highway 121 toll road in September 2007 and did not have change to pay the toll upon exit, nor did she have a toll tag in her car, which is tied to a pre-established account. She decided to use the remaining payment option, the video toll lanes that result in a bill being sent to her home.

Kemp says that based on the signs on the tollway exit, she believed she would be billed 60 cents. But the state added the undisclosed $1 invoice fee.

She calls that fraud and an unconstitutional taking, deceptive trade and a consumer law violation.

She also sued the TexasTollways, the Texas Turnpike Authority and the State of Texas. She seeks refunds, an injunction and costs. She is represented in Federal Court by Thomas Corea.

© 2009 Courthouse News:

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

By shamelessly pretending that in is out and up is down, [the current Republican leadership] have spun themselves into Wonderland.


Texas a fiscal wonderland? Now that's pure fantasy

mad toller


Jim Dunnam, Texas House of Representatives
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

Up is down. Left is right. Black is white.

It applies to Alice once she fell down that hole and walked through the looking glass.

It applies equally to our Republican leadership in Texas.

Watching Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst accept and spend President Barack Obama's stimulus money like drunken sailors then attempt to hide/rationalize/deny/avoid that fact, is getting more and more surreal and humorous — and more and more sad.

First, Perry slammed the stimulus and all its works in the Washington Times last February. However, he neglected to state that he had written a letter to Obama asking for the money just a day after Obama signed the bill. The ink wasn't even dry, and Perry had his hand out.

(Read the letter Perry wrote Obama on Perry's Web site:

Next Perry told The Wall Street Journal that Texas wanted nothing to do with Washington and said our balanced budget is proof we can do it without outside help. He omitted the awkward fact that the stimulus money Perry got from Obama is what Texas used to balance its budget.

Perry then went on the tea party circuit with Mark Sanford, bragging about turning down $550 million to help unemployed Texans. (Our unemployment rate just hit 8.2 percent, incidentally, with more than 44,000 more Texans out of work last month).

But Perry once again mysteriously forgot to tell The Journal and those tea partiers that he had personally requested — and Texas will receive — some $16 billion in Obama's stimulus money.

Now Dewhurst also appears unable to stay off the Wonderland bandwagon. Dewhurst wrote a column about "How Texas lives within its means" (Oct. 21) and points out that we have a balanced budget!

Of course, we all learn in sixth grade that Texas has a constitutional provision requiring a balanced budget, so we can't fault Dewhurst for knowing that one. And the balanced budget mandate is a good thing.

But then he falls into the same rabbit hole Perry fell in. Dewhurst brags that he "led the effort to save $7 billion to balance the revenue shortfall we anticipated this year."

That's interesting because Texas spent $12.6 billion more this session than last session. How you spend $12.6 billion more while cutting $7 billion is a real feat.

Incredibly, Dewhurst adds: "It's simply political fiction that stimulus dollars were necessary to balance our budget." Now that, folks, is what we in Texas politely call total bull.

Don't believe me. I'm just the chair of the House Committee on Federal Economic Stabilization Funding — in charge of monitoring Texas spending of stimulus dollars. I'm a Democrat, too, so maybe you should hear from a Republican.

How about what the Republican chair of the Senate Finance Committee told the Fort Worth Business Press last week?

"In order to balance the budget this biennium, which is $182 billion, we used $14 billion in federal stimulus money to balance it," said State Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan. "We're not expecting a similar amount of similar money to be available in the next two years, because the federal government just doesn't have it. So, assuming that's true, you go into the next session with a $14 billion hole."

Does that sound like responsible budgeting or what? We spent all the stimulus money in such a way that we will "go into the next session with a $14 billion hole."

The problem with much of the current Republican Party leadership is not that they disagree with Democrats. The real problem is that they disagree with reality.

By shamelessly pretending that in is out and up is down, they have spun themselves into Wonderland.

Whether you like the stimulus or not, this misinformation is getting out of hand.

Dunnam, D-Waco, is chairman of the House Select Committee on Federal Economic Stabilization Funding and also a House Democratic leader.

© 2009 Austin American-Statesman:

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“It's never going to be over till we get our nontolled plan.”

Adkisson shifts focus after losing toll vote


By Josh Baugh
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

Terri Hall knows no defeat.

Monday night's toll road vote by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, she said, wasn't a loss in her crusade against toll plans in Bexar County.

That the proposal to strip toll plans from segments of U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 was shot down by a 13-5 vote wasn't a surprise to Hall. The MPO board held a “roll call” vote, Hall said, and now there's an official record of how each MPO member — 11 of whom are elected officials — stands on toll roads.

Alongside Hall, MPO Chairman Tommy Adkisson, a Bexar County commissioner, had pushed the plan to strip tolls. But shortly after its resounding defeat — and for perhaps the first time since rolling out the proposal several weeks ago — he didn't appear to be on the same page as the activist.

It's time to “turn the page and get on with other governance items,” Adkisson said. He pointed to Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Department of Transportation as major obstacles to removing toll plans. “I think that unless we get a new governor, the toll road issue is on hold.”

A mass transit proponent, Adkisson — who's up for re-election next year — said he would shift his focus to that issue.

The 19-member MPO board spent nearly five hours Monday listening to public comment. Of the more than 500 people who attended the meeting, about 100 registered to speak. Only seven spoke in support of keeping tolls in transportation plans for the county. But the opposition to tolls wasn't enough to sway the opinions of the policymakers.

“That says that our elected officials need to be thrown out on their ears,” Hall said. “It's never going to be over till we get our nontolled plan.”

She warned that the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority — the agency that would expand the highways, and possibly toll them — and others would face a third round of litigation unless they kill tolls outright. In 2005 and 2008, Hall's organization, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, and environmental groups filed lawsuits to block toll roads in North Bexar County.

Adkisson questioned whether the results of environmental impact statements on U.S. 281 and Loop 1604, which aren't expected to be completed until 2012 at the earliest, would pass legal muster.

“I would think that others who weigh in on this — and there are many others besides myself — will have something to say about it,” he said. “That's really more their fight than mine.”

With tolls still on the table for U.S. 281 and Loop 1604, only time will tell whether they come to fruition. A plan will emerge for the gridlocked highways after the environmental studies are completed in three to five years.

Until then, the mobility authority has other projects to keep itself busy. It's slated to begin work on a “super street” on U.S. 281 early next year. It's also studying the feasibility of another super street to help congestion on Loop 1604.

Super streets help reduce congestion by removing signals at some intersections. Motorists who want to cross the highway or turn left, for example, instead go right and then make a turnaround.

The agency also is working on an environmental study that would clear the way for an interchange on the south side of U.S. 281, connecting to Loop 1604.

At the MPO, work will continue on Mobility 2035, a comprehensive, long-range transportation plan. And it's possible that the MPO will move forward on a proposal from County Commissioner Kevin Wolff to conduct a study that would allow the organization to do an “apples-to-apples” comparison of tolled and nontolled plans.

Adkisson's two-year chairmanship, which began in July, has been turbulent. Tolls have been the focal point of every meeting he's presided over. During his first as chairman, he promised to move “heaven and earth” to find a solution to gridlock on the North Side.

The move to strip tolls from transportation plans has put him at odds with the majority of the MPO board, and his role as chairman has come under fire from some of his colleagues. Wolff said Adkisson's management of the MPO “is severely lacking.”

The organization, he added, has the task of determining the region's best transportation projects — from highways to rail lines — and can't only focus on the toll issue.

“If he doesn't start figuring out that this job is much larger than the narrow, myopic place he's taken it to, I think you'll find a board that says, ‘You know what, we've got to make a change,'” Wolff said.

City Councilman Reed Williams, a recent addition to the MPO board who voted for the nontoll plan Monday, said Adkisson's leadership was fine. He said he's eager to move forward with a proposal made by Wolff to conduct a study on a potential nontoll plan.

“I'm going to work on this estimate. I'm going to try to figure out a nontoll road that makes economic sense,” Williams said. “I'm going to go to work.”

© 2009 San Antonio Express-News:

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“Vote for toll roads and you're fired!”

U.S. 281, Loop 1604 toll plans survive vote


By Josh Baugh - Express-News
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

Near midnight Monday, the Metropolitan Planning Organization shrugged off the pleas of scores of toll road opponents and voted to keep tolls in the mix for U.S. 281 and Loop 1604.

In a striking defeat for MPO Chairman Tommy Adkisson, the panel voted 13-5 to keep tolls in the short- and long-range plans for the two highways. But it also voted unanimously to kill toll road plans for Bandera Road.

The series of votes was the climax of a night in which hundreds of toll opponents packed the Alzafar Shrine Temple on the far North Side to demand that plans for toll roads be stripped from Bexar County's transportation future.

Their message was unequivocal: They vehemently opposed tolling U.S. 281 and Loop 1604. They implored the MPO's 19-member policy board to fix the gridlocked highways — quickly, and without tolling. Throughout the night, speakers reminded the 11 elected officials on the board that they would be up for re-election, and their decision on tolls wouldn't be forgotten in the voting booth.

“It's been loud. It's been clear,” Paula Stoner said. “The majority of the people in this room do not want (tolls).”

They were fighting for Adkisson's proposal to take toll roads off the table in Bexar County.

Several others, including Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President Richard Perez — a former MPO chairman — and Terrell McCombs, asked the board to vote against Adkisson's plans, which they said would only add to congestion in the future.

More than 100 people signed up to address the board, the vast majority of whom said they opposed current plans to toll highways in San Antonio.

Normally, the MPO would have held such a meeting during the day, making in inaccessible to most residents. But Adkisson, a county commissioner, and toll critic Terri Hall wanted a big turnout to bolster board support for the plan. And they got it — or at least they got the big turnout.

State Rep. David Leibowitz, an MPO board member, and Adkisson were heralded as champions for the taxpayers while others on the board were chastised for their opinions that ran contrary to Adkisson's plan.

State Sen. Jeff Wentworth was singled out and attacked for his support of leaving tolls in the MPO's short- and long-range plans. Critics said he wasn't representing his constituents. But Wentworth fired back, saying there are only three options for North Side highways, including doing nothing or increasing the statewide gas tax.

Not addressing the problem is “off the table,” he said, and as long as Gov. Rick Perry is in office, a gas-tax increase isn't politically viable.

“The third option is tolling,” he said to a boisterous round of boos. “Whether you like it or not, I'm speaking the truth. ... What I'm trying to do is reduce congestion. I'm not a toll road advocate. What I am is an advocate against congestion. If we adopt this half-baked plan, it will delay reducing congestion in my district.”

The hundreds-strong crowd responded by holding pink signs high in the air that read: “Vote for toll roads and you're fired!”

Hall, founder of toll-opposing Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, received by far the strongest support of anyone at Monday's meeting. One resident suggested that the first overpass on U.S. 281 should be named “Terri Hall Way.”

After speaking for nine minutes about the need to spike toll plans, Hall received a standing ovation and a series of hugs from supporters.

Hall demanded that the MPO board listen to the public about U.S. 281 and Loop 1604.

“We want both of them fixed, and we want it done with the tax money we've already given you,” she said.

© 2009 San Antonio Express-News:

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Monday, October 26, 2009

“It seems like TTC-35 has more lives than a cat.”

Concerns remain over Trans-Texas Corridor


By Fannin County Farm Bureau
North Texas e-News
Copyright 2009

Bonham – The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has declared the Trans-Texas Corridor I-35 “dead” once again, but Gov. Perry’s massive transportation project can still be resurrected as long as statutes authorizing its construction are on the books, said Fannin County Farm Bureau President Jerry Magness.

“It seems like TTC-35 has more lives than a cat,” Magness said. “The concern of farmers and ranchers in Fannin County is if the same problem will pop up under a new name.”

TxDOT officials announced the no action alternative in response to citizens’ comments received during the environmental review of TTC-35. TxDOT officials said the recommendation will effectively end efforts to develop TTC-35 through the Trans-Texas Corridor concept.
“The announcement said nothing about TTC-69 and other projects,” Magness said.

Magness said rural Texans remain upset over the Governor’s transportation plan that would have gobbled up and paved over some of the richest farmland in Central Texas. Their response was overwhelmingly negative on a series of public meetings on the environmental review for both TTC-35 and TTC-69.

© 2009 North Texas e-News:

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

"The RMA can't show how it will finance its toll road other than to use the word 'leveraging' a bunch of times and basically say 'trust us.' "

Board must vote down NEW taxes to drive on existing freeways


Terri Hall
San Antonio Transportation Policy Examiner

What began as a taxpayer revolt like the Boston Tea Party over four years ago known as the San Antonio Toll Party (later going statewide as Texas TURF), will culminate in a decisive meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (or MPO, local board set-up by federal law that allocates highway dollars to local projects) tomorrow night at the Alzafar Shrine Auditorium at 6:00 PM.

After petition drives, packing public hearings, grassroots organizing, working for change at the MPO and in the Texas Legislature, and even a recall campaign, angry taxpayers who oppose imposing tolls on our existing freeways (already built and paid for with gas taxes) will have a shot at reversing course tomorrow night.

In July of 2004, the MPO voted to convert 281 (north of 1604) and the entire northern loop of 1604 (from 151 on the west side to I-10 on the east side) into toll roads. Since then, parts of I-35, I-10, Bandera Rd., and Wurzbach Pkwy were added to the toll plans.

The voters have NEVER had a say about whether or not they approve of this new tax for driving on northside freeways, the lifeblood of daily living. We still aren't getting a vote, but many of the elected officials on the MPO represent residents who live and work near 281 and 1604, and they need to HEAR FROM YOU and SEE YOU at tomorrow's meeting at Alzafar Shrine.

The Express-News calls a non-toll plan for 281 and segments of 1604 the "Adkisson-Hall" plan, but the non-toll plan to fix 281 is TxDOT's plan promised in public hearings in 2001 ( see for proof). TxDOT recently disavowed its own plan that had $100 million in gas taxes to fix the freeway (the gas taxes inexplicably disappeared last year), and said it was "old" based on an engineering study from 1984 that it now "can't find."

Converting freeways to tollways -- a DOUBLE TAX

Schematics for the lanes planned by the tolling authority (the RMA) for 281 and parts of 1604 clearly demonstrate that access roads, not conventional highway lanes, will be the only non-toll lanes if these freeways are converted to tollways.

Tolled lanes are clearly overlaid onto the existing free lanes on 281, which under the RMA's plans will no longer be free. This violates Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison's federal law that prohibits imposing tolls on existing highway lanes, a practice that wrought the term DOUBLE TAXATION. Commuters should NEVER have to pay NEW taxes to drive on a freeway their tax dollars have already built and paid for (at a cost of $2,000-$3,000 a year on average)!

Today's Express-News story explains how the MPO specifically asked for a side-by-side comparison of TxDOT's original non-toll plan for US 281 and the RMA's current toll plan, and after three meetings, none was provided. However, TxDOT's Clay Smith made the case that a 2005 proposal by Zachry, for what was to be the first phase of the toll road on 281, was a valid plan and testified that the Zachry bid of $78 million for the first 3 miles (which went to contract) is the REAL cost of improving 281.

Rick Perry's TxDOT in total rebellion, refuses to do non-toll fix on 281

After a complete failure by the MPO Committee tasked with providing the board vital detailed information about toll and non-toll options, Good Guy Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, Chair of the MPO, asked TxDOT to sponsor a non-toll option for 281 using the 2005 Zachry proposal (changing the highway lanes to free lanes versus all-tolled) for the Board's consideration at tomorrow's big meeting. TxDOT REFUSED to do that, too!

If this doesn't demonstrate the complete obstinance of this out of control agency, I don't know what does. All the while they and the RMA, who are conducting what's required to be a new unbiased environmental study of both tolled and non-tolled options, claim to be studying a non-toll option for both 281 and 1604. Yeah right!

It's high time the MPO shows these un-elected agencies who's boss, and insist a non-toll plan be implemented NOW! Exacerbating the long-standing problems with the San Antonio-Bexar County MPO, nearly half, 9 of its 19 members, are also UN-ELECTED, unlike MPOs around the state that average 2 unelected members. These rogue agencies have the pecking order's the MPO who directs TxDOT and the RMA what to do, not the other way around.

Claims of insufficient info is a ruse

Members of the MPO Board cannot claim they do not have data for a non-toll option on 281 upon which to base a decision tomorrow when TxDOT just testified October 9 that the 2005 Zachry plan and cost are valid.

This plan was previously vetted by the MPO and actually went to contract. The total cost to fix 281 from 1604 to the Bexar County line (7.8 miles total) using Zachry's hard numbers to get a cost per mile ($26 million per mile) comes to $202.8 million, nowhere near the tolling authority's $475 million toll road cost. Just for the interest on PART of the toll road debt comes to a whopping $864 million over 40 years. That makes the minimum toll project cost $1.3 billion. RMA documents also affirm the toll tax will NEVER come off the road when the debt is repaid, so it's a permanent new tax on driving!

On Monday, October 19, 2009, the RMA testified that they plan to enter into risky multi-leveraged debt financing of the Texas Mobility Fund money in order to finance the toll road. This is the sort of multi-leveraging (like taking out second, third and fourth mortgages on our highway system) that created the current global financial meltdown, and which the Texas Legislature rightly rejected during the special session in order to prevent TxDOT from doing so. Will the MPO allow such reckless financial schemes by the Bexar County RMA that racks-up unsustainable debt?

The 281 market value study shows that the toll plan requires 200,000 cars per day in the out years just to stay financially solvent (versus today's 86,000 cars per day, on average). This level of traffic guarantees ongoing legal battles over environmental impacts to our aquifer.

Some also claim all options must remain on the table, however, the ONLY option currently on the table in the MPO plans are toll roads. So a vote for the status quo is a vote for toll roads. If you care to see who's using YOUR taxpayer money to lobby for a new tax on driving on the northside, read about the partially tax-funded San Antonio Mobility Coalition, the chief lobbyists for toll roads and its list of road contractors and financiers who have a vested interest in raiding your wallet on risky toll road schemes here.

Skittish MPO board members seem to be holding 281 and 1604 to a different standard and different level of scrutiny than when these plans were adopted as toll plans. For instance, when the project cost for 281 went from a $100 million freeway plan in 2004 dollars to a $475 million toll road by 2006, no one questioned it. Now when the taxpayers seek accountability for the "lost" $100 million in gas taxes that were promised to fix 281 and insist the non-toll fix be restored, board members shudder at a cost reduction and want more "data"?

RMA's risky toll road financing scheme a house of cards

None of the RMA's toll road plans on 281 and 1604 are toll viable, meaning they already know not enough people can afford to take the toll roads to even cover the cost of construction, so it needs to SUBSIDIZE them with MASSIVE amounts of public money. The RMA couldn't even secure all the subsidies it needed for 281 last year before the environmental clearance got yanked, and at one point was considering an additional loan, this one for $95 million that would have required $700 million in interest!

It also sought $135 million in stimulus funds to subsidize the 281 toll road before the public outcry ensued over such TRIPLE TAXATION: gas taxes already paid for existing lanes, they planned to use more tax money (stimulus money) to turn existing lanes into toll lanes, and then charge a third tax, toll tax to drive on it.

Bottom line: the RMA can't show how it will finance its toll road other than to use the word "leveraging" a bunch of times and basically say "trust us."

Can they name investors who will finance a start-up toll entity with a BBB rating (one step above junk bond status) using extremely risky multi-leveraging scenarios (using borrowed money to leverage another loan to get more borrowed money to use as down payments to "secure" yet more borrowed money and so on multiple times over) with this tight credit market where ratings agencies have gone sour on toll roads that are going into default all over the country? This is the rock solid "data" the RMA has provided to finance it's $1.3 billion toll road that some MPO members argue they're more comfortable keeping in place than a $202 million non-toll fix? What's wrong with this picture? Politics and BIG MONEY!

Accept NO EXCUSES and insist our elected officials stop playing politics with people's lives, end the controversy and legal wrangling, and get our community moving forward again by voting against these ill-conceived plans to turn our freeways into tollways. Those being held hostage in congestion EVERY DAY because of TxDOT's mismanagement of funds and two environmental studies (one inadequate, the other fraudulent) that caused the clearance to be pulled on 281 twice (then later affecting 1604), deserve better.

Contact MPO Board members here:

Be at Alzafar Shrine Auditorium Monday, October 26, at 6 PM and make your voices heard or be tolled!

© 2009

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


“There’s a viable nontoll option on the table. They can stop bellyaching and give us our nontoll road.”

Vote to bar tolls set for Monday


By Josh Baugh
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

When Tommy Adkisson calls for a vote Monday to strip toll roads from Bexar County’s future, he’ll have support from hundreds of area residents expected to pack the Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting.

But it appears that he won’t enjoy the same level of backing from his 19-member MPO board. Adkisson, the chairman, has a handful of allies on the board, but he has faced a full-court press from his opponents, who he says have spread a “sky is falling” fear among the decision-makers.

“I have never allowed myself to become a hostage for the highway lobby,” said Adkisson, a Bexar County commissioner. “Right now, they’re going for the gold, and I’m going for what I think is right.”

Adkisson is charging ahead with the meeting, which will be held — uncharacteristically — in the evening and on the far North Side, ground zero for the toll road debate. Normally, MPO meetings are held the fourth Monday of each month at 1:30 p.m. near downtown, the audience mostly composed of lobbyists and representatives of construction and engineering companies.

Terri Hall, founder of anti-toll Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, has said the goal of the venue change was to shift the power to the voters.

The changes worry those who don’t want to see the current plan changed.

State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, an MPO member, said he’s seen politicians waver under pressure.

“If we counted votes right this minute, in the peace and calm of this room, we don’t think she has the votes,” the San Antonio Republican said, referring to Hall, who’s known as the architect behind the proposal. “But I’ve been in office for nearly 30 years as commissioner, as a state rep, as a state senator, and I’ve been to these public meetings.

“Although I’m a scrawny little guy, I’ve got apparently a lot stronger backbone than a lot of my colleagues had. And you put them in a room with a whole bunch of really pissed-off constituents who are voters, and they’ll switch their votes.”

Adkisson and Hall’s proposal calls for removing tolls from U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 and drastically reducing the cost of construction to relieve congestion — from $475 million to $200 million on U.S. 281, and from $243 million to $200 million on Loop 1604.

Opponents of the plan say it would cause gridlock for generations because it only addresses U.S. 281 and a much smaller segment of Loop 1604.

MPO board members have asked for a side-by-side comparison of the toll and nontoll plans, but nobody has been able to provide one — in part because the proposal didn’t come from a sponsoring agency or with engineering reports and other vital information needed to evaluate it.

Hall and Adkisson would present a nontoll version of a 2005 plan that was halted by a lawsuit but could have been the area’s first toll road. That project, which had been contracted out, would have cost $78 million for 3 miles, making the cost per mile $26 million. Taking the project 7.8 miles to the county line, Hall said, would cost roughly $202 million.

“There’s a viable nontoll option on the table,” she said. “They can stop bellyaching and give us our nontoll road.”

At first, Adkisson and Hall balked when pressed for details on their proposal, saying they only offered a starting point for discussion and a policy shift. At an October MPO technical advisory committee meeting, Hall said she didn’t have a panel of engineers and was just a “housewife” being set up to be a scapegoat. Adkisson said his job as MPO chairman is to set a policy and see that it’s implemented.

But they’ve since strengthened their proposal by suggesting using the 2005 plan.

It’s unclear whether the MPO board will accept that plan as enough evidence that a nontoll plan is viable.

“Right now, I’m leaning towards not voting for the Terri Hall-Tommy Adkisson plan, simply because I’ve got nobody showing me any numbers as to whether their plan is real,” MPO member and County Commissioner Kevin Wolff said.

On the other hand, City Councilman Reed Williams, new to the MPO, said he’ll vote for the nontoll plan.

“I started looking at numbers — think about spending $440 million for 7 miles (on U.S. 281) — that’s a lot of money,” he said. “I think we have to come up with a lower-cost option there and something that’s not quite so grand.”

Janice Brown, the Texas administrator for the Federal Highway Administration, wrote in a letter to Adkisson that a full environmental impact statement must be conducted on the U.S. 281 corridor before additional capacity is added. Hall, whose group successfully sought a full EIS in a 2008 lawsuit, has argued that, based on her reading of the National Environmental Protection Act, that level of study — a three- to five-year process — isn’t necessary with a less-invasive, nontoll project.

Brown’s letter says otherwise.

“Any transportation improvement, tolled or nontolled, that addresses the long-term capacity needs of this corridor is likely to have potential impacts that warrant full environmental study in an EIS,” Brown wrote.

But Hall said she doesn’t see the letter as a loss in her fight. The letter contained two attachments that speak generally about when to apply each level of environmental scrutiny, and Hall says those prove she’s right.

“However, the original Jan Brown letter is basically saying they’re gun-shy about doing an (environmental assessment) because they’ve been sued twice on the project,” Hall said. “So we understand that. That’s not a problem.”

Regardless, the environmental review “is going to go more quickly and smoothly and not be contested in court” if a scaled-back nontoll version moves forward, Hall said.

Toll opponents have framed Monday’s meeting as a vote for or against tolls. Their counterparts — including some MPO board members, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority and other local leaders — say it is about making a responsible vote based on sound data.

“We believe that the plan being promoted by Terri Hall and Tommy Adkisson makes no sense. It’s not thought out,” said Richard Perez, president of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and a former MPO chairman, during a recent San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board meeting. “What Tommy wants to do is not right.”

But Adkisson said he stands by his plan, contending that it’s for the “band of middle-class warriors with no special interest” who are looking to their government for help.

© 2009 San Antonio Express-News:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE