Thursday, November 05, 2009

Perry appointee Houghton pushes for a private developer to build and toll Texas 161

Official says tollway authority should bow out of Southwest Parkway


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2009

A Texas Transportation Commission member wants the North Texas Tollway Authority to withdraw as the lead partner in the Southwest Parkway project and let the state seek a private developer to build the toll road from Fort Worth to Cleburne.

Commissioner Ted Houghton of El Paso discussed his recommendation about Southwest Parkway in an interview a day after the tollway authority said that the toll road is expected to cost $2 billion but that only $1 billion is available. The tollway authority said it would needs state aid to start construction next year.

Houghton wrote in an e-mail to Commissioner Bill Meadows of Fort Worth this week that his "recommendation on the project on the western end of the Metroplex is that NTTA turn that project back to us and we utilize the private pass-through tool that would bring in private equity."

A third party would pay for Southwest Parkway upfront and be repaid over time with tolls from the road.

Pass-through financing has built smaller city- or county-funded projects in other cities and would not be covered by the Legislature’s ban on comprehensive development agreements between the Texas Department of Transportation and private developers, Houghton said.

Concession fee

Houghton, one of five state transportation commissioners, also said that the Plano-based tollway authority had requested a $200 million discount on another Dallas-Fort Worth toll project: Texas 161, which is under construction in Irving and Grand Prairie and is a gateway to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

Last year, after months of intense negotiations, the state Transportation Department and the tollway authority agreed that the market value of the Texas 161 toll road from Texas 183 to Interstate 20 was $458 million. That would be the "concession fee" the authority would have to pay the state to take over the project.

The authority hasn’t decided whether to take over Texas 161.

But Houghton and other state officials have balked at the authority’s requests for financial aid, including a request for the state to use its gas-tax-supported Fund 6 as a guarantee against certain authority debts, and a loan of $300 million to $500 million from the state infrastructure bank.

State law gives the authority primacy, or first dibs, on toll projects in Dallas-Fort Worth, and the Transportation Department can’t pursue private development of a toll project unless the authority declines it.

The first portion of Southwest Parkway, an eight-mile stretch from Interstate 30 in west Fort Worth to Dirks Road in an undeveloped part of the city’s southwest side, was expected to be under construction in 2010.

'I’m all ears’

Tollway Authority Vice Chairman Victor Vandergriff of Arlington said Thursday that he was unaware that a pass-through tolling arrangement with a private developer could even be done.

"I’m all ears," he said. "I would be pleased to understand that, and be supportive of that, if it will get the project done."

But Vandergriff reiterated that the authority wants to build Southwest Parkway.

Negotiations between the authority and Transportation Department are reaching a crucial phase, and Vandergriff said he doesn’t want to "point a finger" of blame for the Southwest Parkway funding gap.

But he did say that part of the problem is that the Transportation Department withdrew about $211 million in gas-tax-supported funds from the project to make ends meet on other Tarrant County projects, including the proposed expansion of Northeast Loop 820 and Airport Freeway.

That funding loss is part of the reason the authority is seeking a state loan, Vandergriff said.

Earlier this year, Johnson County officials, who refer to the project as Chisholm Trail, warned that moving gas tax funding out of the project could delay it.

"We’ve got a very tough finance market and very financially challenged agency" in the Transportation Department, Vandergriff said. "It really doesn’t do any good for one side or the other to point fingers unduly. I think it’s premature to say the parties can’t work together to get it done."

GORDON DICKSON, 817-390-7796

© 2009 Fort Worth Star=Telegram:

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Wall Street swine are among the first to get H1N1 Flu vaccine

Goldman Sachs, Citigroup got swine flu vaccine

"REALLY!?!" SNL rips Goldman


Associated Press
Copyright 2009

NEW YORK — Some of New York's biggest companies, including Wall Street giants Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, received doses of swine flu vaccine for at-risk employees, drawing criticism that the hard-to-find vaccine is going first to the privileged.

Hospitals, universities and the Federal Reserve Bank also got doses of the vaccine for employees who need it the most, such as pregnant women or chronically ill workers, according to the city's health department.

In order to receive the vaccine, companies had to have their own medical staff. Distributing large doses of the vaccine to such businesses is "a great avenue for vaccinating people at risk," said Jessica Scaperotti, spokeswoman for the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

But critics said Wall Street firms should not have access to the vaccine before less wealthy Americans.

"Vaccines should go to people who need them most, not people who happen to work on Wall Street," Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut said Thursday.

"Wall Street banks have already taken so much from us. They've taken trillions of our tax dollars. They've taken away people's homes who are struggling to pay the bills," union official John VanDeventer wrote on the Web site of the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union. "But they should not be allowed to take away our health and well-being."

Meanwhile, the director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent a letter Thursday to state and local health departments asking them to review their distribution plans and make sure the vaccine is getting to high-risk groups.

Dr. Thomas Frieden said any decisions that appear to send vaccine beyond high-priority groups "have the potential to undermine the credibility of the program."

Swine flu vaccine has been in short supply nationwide because of manufacturing delays, resulting in long lines at clinics and patients being turned away at doctor's offices. The vaccine started trickling out in early October, and there are now nearly 36 million doses available.

© 2009 The Associated Press:

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"Never underestimate the stupidity of the Texas electorate."

Hypocricy Thy Name Is Rick Perry


by Jeff Prince
Forth Worth Weekly
Copyright 2009

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram article on the 11 propositions passed by voters yesterday contained a quote that would be funny ha-ha if it weren’t so funny weird/tragic.

The story describes how Texans stood tall in favor of property rights by voting a whopping 81 percent in favor of Proposition 11, which restricts government entities that want to nab your private property at a pittance by using eminent domain, and then turning it over to private developers who make a fortune at your expense.

Texans began clamoring for the added protections after the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision in 2005 to allow using eminent domain for private development purposes.

The Star-T article quotes Gov. Rick Perry saying the voters “sent a clear message: Don’t mess with private property rights.”

What the article failed to mention was that Perry vetoed a similar proposition in 2007 even though it was passed overwhelmingly in the state House and Senate.

At the time, Perry was touting the Trans-Texas Corridor.

In other words, he wanted to allow a foreign-owned company to rely on eminent domain powers to take private property from farmers, landowners, and homeowners, and then turn that land into a toll road that most Texans didn’t even want.

So he vetoed a proposition that had been handily passed by your elected representatives. That was the first insult. Now, he’s using the old “don’t mess with property rights” blah-blah-blah while basking over the passage of a proposition that could have been established two years ago if not for him.

But Perry’s got good hair… and he’s so handsome that even a hottie like Sarah Palin (okay, a mentally disturbed hottie) looks awed by his visage. So voters will probably re-elect him again.

© 2009 Fort Worth Weekly:

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

"The State can still condemn Texans' land against their will and hand it over to private developers for toll roads using public private partnerships."

Texans vote for eminent domain reform, Prop 11 falls short of giving it to them


Terri Hall, San Antonio Transportation Policy Examiner
Copyrigtht 2009

Texans overwhelmingly voted for Proposition 11 in hopes that it sends a strong message that Texans want eminent domain reform. However, Prop 11 didn't get the job done.

The Texas Legislature needs to continue the push for further reforms and to prevent abuses. TURF didn't support Prop 11 because it still allows a governmental entity to take Texans' private property for "urban blight" and "certain economic development or enhancement of tax revenue purposes," nor did it include:

  • Strong definition of public use limiting eminent domain for ANY economic development and tax enhancement purposes
  • Good faith negotiations (prevent entities from low-balling landowners and forcing them to hire expensive lawyers to get fair market value)
  • Compensation for diminished access to a landowner's property
  • Limit the granting of eminent domain to any further entities without a vote of the people
  • Relocation assistance for displaced landowners
  • Ability to buy land back at original cost after 10 years if the State doesn't use it

Bottom line, the State can still condemn Texans' land against their will and hand it over to private developers for toll roads using public private partnerships called Comprehensive Development Agreements.

The Trans Texas Corridor, originally slated to gobble-up massive swaths of private property (4 football fields wide, biggest land grab in Texas history) through rural Texas, along with dozens of toll projects in urban areas are precisely why Texans have yet to get a strong eminent domain reform bill.

When foreign corporations get controlling interest in public highways in such sweetheart deals with guaranteed 12-19% annual profits, non-compete agreements that guarantee congestion on the free routes, etc., they become defacto taxing entities and charge Texans hefty tolls to access their own public roads.

It's private profits in the name of public use.

© 2009

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

"Taxpayers are still left with the struggle to get elected MPO representation undiluted by appointees who don't answer directly to the voters."

Non-toll plan still makes the most sense


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

The recent Oct. 26 meeting of the San Antonio Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) was lobby politics over sound public policy.

The MPO policy board specifically asked its Technical Advisory Committee to do a side-by-side comparison of TxDOT's 2001, $100 million non-toll freeway plan to fix 281 with the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority's $475 million (or $1.3 billion with interest) toll road plan.

It failed to do so, I submit, largely because of a lack of cooperation by TxDOT and the push for toll roads by the special interests in the road building industry.

When duly elected representatives that are tasked with allocating state and federal transportation dollars, and making transportation decisions for our region, cannot get open public records, straight answers, or cooperation from our state highway department, we have a problem.

I've made no secret about my position against tolling our existing freeways. Our highway department, in my opinion, is not the final word in the question for or against tolling.

It is failing to cooperate with those on the policy board who want to see non-toll options implemented to keep our freeways toll-free.

The MPO, set-up by federal law, is an equal player in transportation decisions and so is the Federal Highway Administration that administers the National Environmental Policy Act.

When the current Texas governor's re-election (and hence TxDOT's continued pro-toll policy) is anything but reassured, the Sunset process awaits TxDOT in the next Legislative Session.

John Carona (the Chairman of the state Senate's Transportation Committee) also says we can do without tolls by proper reliance and stewardship of our gas tax, then one has to wonder about the dogmatic pro-toll direction of TxDOT.

An obvious obstacle in moving forward is the composition of the MPO policy board itself. Its un-elected 9 appointees from various agencies nearly equal its 10 elected officials.

Last Monday's vote was a close 6-5 vote in favor of tolls if you isolate elected officials, versus a distant 13-5, when you add-in the non-elected appointees.

One non-elected member abstained. Despite attempts to remedy this in the courts and in the Legislature, the taxpayers are still left with the struggle to get elected MPO representation undiluted by appointees who don't answer directly to the voters.

The National Environmental and Policy Act which requires consideration of social, economic and environmental effects of roadways, requires an environmental impact study that is underway but is estimated to take three years.

I submit that non-toll is less intrusive (10 versus as many as 20 lanes into our Hill Country), less expensive ($200 million ballpark versus $475 million), least threatening to the nation's most vulnerable aquifer and our nearly sole source of drinking water.

And because of its scale, a non-toll plan is more likely to be able to be built quickly. A comparative study, as we had requested before, would likely reveal the same conclusion.

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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