Friday, January 08, 2010

"A dime for needed highways, very bad; but untold hundreds of billions of dollars for oil speculators is OK?"

Toll Roads: By the Numbers


Ed Wallace
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2009

"I’m not real fond of raising [gas] taxes when there’s a recession going on." — Texas Governor Rick Perry, quoted at

Our governor keeps shifting his excuse for opposing the gasoline taxes that would bring all Texans highways equal to the sharply increased traffic demand. Gov. Perry’s position, quoted above, rings false for several reasons:

1. He was against raising the gasoline tax in the best of financial times. You’ll find out why in a moment.

2. The proposed tax that Perry was rejecting to get our highway construction in gear to accommodate past and future growth was one thin dime per gallon.

3. Of all the things government does with tax dollars that give huge immediate returns to the national or state GDP, infrastructure investment tops a very short list. Some have suggested that every dollar invested in new roads adds $6 to the economy as it is spread around. That’s an overstatement, but easily $1.50 or more returns to the economy for every new highway dollar spent.

4. Highway funds go to hire people to build roads and supply the construction material: Therefore, road construction quickly lessens any recession’s effect.

Step Over a Dime: Expensive PR

Years ago I wrote that, having had the same gasoline tax for nearly 20 years, Texas easily could add a dime to the price of gas and get the roads built that we desperately need. That dime could come close to fully funding new construction to lower the congestion caused by our massive growth. This was the legitimate use for such funds; after all, government is supposed to invest for our economic future.

Looking at Department of Energy data on gasoline use in Texas, over the past decade that dime per gallon could have added close to $12 billion to our highway fund.

Keep in mind that 11 years ago gas was selling for 99 cents, so a dime per gallon would not have been missed. Come to think of it, drivers would have missed that amount even less when gasoline was $4 a gallon. But therein lies the hypocrisy: Elected officials, both state and federal, refused to raise taxes to fund new highways claiming "no new taxes" — but said not a word when speculators took oil from under $12 a barrel in 1999 to $147 in the summer of 2008. A dime for needed highways, very bad; but untold hundreds of billions of dollars for oil speculators is OK?

Nobody likes higher taxes, but that’s because the average person doesn’t perceive any extra benefit from paying more. But public roads benefit everybody — and everyone can identify this smart use of public funds. And now? Allowing private corporations to build toll roads that everybody will have to use is just "new taxes" under a different name.

"Value-Priced" Motoring

When toll operators find their ventures insufficiently profitable they simply raise their tolls — again and again. Doubt that? Just look at the recent toll increases on the NTTA projects over in Dallas and Collin counties.

© 2010 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


“I think the Trans Texas Corridor will kill Rick Perry against Bill White."

Hardcastle: State to face $15 billion deficit


David Rupkalvis
The Graham Leader
Copyright 2010

When the Texas Legislature convenes next year, at least nine new legislators will be seated.

One of their first challenges will be dealing with an expected $15 billion budget shortfall, State Rep. Rick Hardcastle told the Young County Republican Women on Monday.

“It’s been a good year for Texas,” Hardcastle said. “We had a balanced budget. Don’t expect we’ll balance it next time. We’re expecting to have a $15 billion shortfall.”

Hardcastle said the decreased tax money is from a combination of many factors.

“The No. 1 cause is the oil and gas prices came down and leveled off,” he said. “We make millions of dollars on oil and gas. The recession is the second part. It’s a combination of everything — the economy, people quitting spending. The $15 billion is projected by what we have coming in and what we expect to come in in two years.”

When the Legislature does reconvene in 2011, one big question will be who is governor?

“Whether or not we’ll have a new governor, no one will know until March,” Hardcastle said. “If Bill White wins the Democrat primary, whoever wins the Republican primary better get their work boots on. Bill White is the most popular governor of any big city in the nation. Houston is a huge voting block.”

Hardcastle said while he supports both Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison, he said he is leaning toward Hutchison for a variety of reasons.

“I think Kay can beat Bill White, and I don’t think Rick can beat Bill White,” Hardcastle said. “I think the (Trans Texas) Corridor will kill him against Bill White. I don’t want to see a Democrat governor when we have a Republican majority.”

The next Legislature will have to handle one of the hottest political battles, redistricting. One way or another, rural Texas will lose in the redistricting process, Hardcastle said.

“Redistricting is coming up,” he said. “We know for a fact North Texas will lose at least one member. We’re hoping we can maintain rural Texas. All 16 of my counties have something on the line with redistricting. They don’t want to be tacked on to the wrong population center. If you’re in Graham or Jacksboro, you don’t want to be attached to Lubbock. You don’t want Lubbock electing your state representative.”

To prove his point, Hardcastle discussed the agriculture exemption on property taxes. He said every legislative cycle, liberals or “urbanites” try to remove the exemption.

“They try every year to get rid of the ag valuation on ag land,” Hardcastle said. “They are going to open the code again this year. Will we get it like we want it? Only with the grace of God, the Farm Bureau and the cattle raisers everywhere.

“Expect it will go away in your lifetime. I only hope it doesn’t go away in my political lifetime. We went from 96 members in the rural caucus 10 years ago to 66.”

While there are difficulties facing Texas in the future, Hardcastle said the problems are nothing like those facing the federal government.

“When I give a speech at Lions Club or a Rotary Club, I usually start off by saying, ‘Folks, I didn’t vote for the bailout, I didn’t vote for health care and I don’t live in Washington D.C. part of the year,’” he said. “Right now, we’re in a big mess in Washington D.C., and we need answers. We don’t know where to turn for answers.”

Hardcastle, who was first elected in 1998, will be running for his sixth term in the state House.

© 2010 Graham Leader:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Cashing in: Former Bush Transportation Secretary Mary Peters continues to push privatized toll roads in Texas as a paid consultant

Bush transportation secretary urges Texas to re-authorize private toll roads


Michael Lindenberger
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

Texas lawmakers should reauthorize private toll roads in the Lone Star State when they return to Austin in 2011, former U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters told Texans Thursday.

With little likelihood that Congress will pass meaningful transportation reform, or find long-term funding solutions, in 2010, Peters said states will do well to send strong messages that they are doing their part to solve their transportation challenges. Toll roads, and the ability to attract private investors to pay for them, are one way many states, including Texas, have used to do just that, she said.

Under Gov. Rick Perry, Texas emerged as the leader among states in pursuing private toll roads but that momentum was halted last year, when the Legislature allowed the legal authority for most private toll roads in Texas to lapse.

"That moratorium on public private partnerships should be removed," she said. "The state of Texas should put that in abeyance. Restoring (private toll roads) here in Texas could show the federal government that you are really serious about tackling your own transportation problems."

Zachry American Infrastructure, in partnership with ACS [Actividades de Construcción y Servicios], was chosen by TxDOT as the Master Developer for Interstate 69 in Texas. Zachry American Infrastructure partnered with Cintra to form SH 130 Concession Company, which is developing SH 130 segments 5 and 6.

Peters is now a paid consultant -- or "senior adviser" -- to Zachry American Infrastructure, a private toll road (and other infrastructure) developer affiliated with Zachry Construction, a Texas construction company founded in 1924. TxDOT tapped the infrasture development firm to provide a master plan for Interstate 69 in Texas, and the company joined with Cintra to develop SH 130 in Austin.

Peters spoke at the annual Texas Transportation Forum, a talk fest sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation involving hundreds of engineers, local officials, financiers and others.

The issue of private toll roads will return when the 2011 session of the Texas Legislature begins. Both candidates for governor -- Perry, the incumbent, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison -- have said they support private toll roads, though Hutchison has said Perry has placed too much emphasis on tolls in general as governor.

Congress has been struggling with transportation financing for more than a year, as the 2005 authorization bill formally expired last year. It has been extended by a series of emergency spending measures, but states like Texas have faced uncertainty about whether they can count on the federal government to provide the funding needed for projects currently under construction.

She said rather than bite the bullet and pass the massive reauthorization bill -- one version of which, introduced in the House last year, would cost $500 billion -- Congress will opt instead to pass the Jobs for Main Street bill as a kind of second stimulus, make a few changes to keep the highway trust fund solvent and put off the tougher questions about transportation funding until 2011, she said.

The jobs bill, lampooned by Republicans as "son of stimulus," totals $154 billion, she said.

"I do think the Jobs for Main Street bill will pass this year, in some form, but I think it will be passed at the expense of a long-term reauthorization bill," she said. "I just don't think the political will is there (to pass transportation reauthorization).

If the jobs act does become law -- and it faces opposition in the Senate -- it would mean nearly $40 billion more for American highways, perhaps as soon as later this year. That's almost as much as the states received for roads and bridges in 2009 as part of the first -- (and much larger) stimulus package.

Texas would receive about $2.5 billion, about the same it received in 2009.

© 2010 Dallas Morning News:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Thursday, January 07, 2010

"Despite his recent comments to the contrary, Rick Perry’s Trans-Texas alive and well in the Texas Transportation Code."


Texans for Kay
Coyright 2010

Despite his recent comments to the contrary, Rick Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor proposal to seize nearly 600,000 acres of private property across Texas and give it to foreign companies to charge tolls is alive and well in the Texas Transportation Code.

As governor, Kay Bailey Hutchison has vowed to protect private property rights and kill the Trans-Texas Corridor once and for all by wiping it off the books.

If you agree with Kay, and disagree with Perry on big government land grabs, foreign ownership of our roads, and the Trans-Texas Corridor, please sign our petition today!

© 2010 Texans for Kay:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Work on toll roads and public-private partnerships is continuing, although in smaller, less showy stretches. "

The Trans-Texas Corridor


Population growth means a looming transportation challenge


The Economist
Copyright 20010

AUSTIN--The imagery of Texas is rural—cattle, cotton, cowboys and, these days, wind turbines whirring against the endless sky. But the reality is increasingly urban. Texas has three of America’s ten most populous cities—Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas, at fourth, fifth and eighth respectively. Together with Austin, the capital, and Fort Worth, which is generally lumped with Dallas in a sprawling metroplex, these metro areas form a triangle that is home to 13m people, or half the state’s population. In size and economic might this is analogous to the north-east corridor of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC. And Texas’s population is growing nearly twice as quickly as the national average. Twenty years from now, there will be up to 17m new Texans.

This is a bragging point for Texas politicians, but it presents certain challenges, among them transport. Congestion ensnarls the cities of the triangle, and some of the roads in between are surprisingly ancient. On one main route between Austin and Houston traffic slows to pass through downtown Giddings (pop. 6,000), which is dotted with dusty antique stores.

In 2008 the state convened a dozen business and civic leaders to consider the scope of the problem. The next year the 2030 Committee, as it was called, concluded that to maintain competitiveness the state should invest $124 billion in roads over the next 20 years. Given the current approach to funding, however, they reckoned the state would invest only $70 billion over that period. And during that time the wasted time and fuel would add up to $500 billion.

How to bridge the gap? In 2002 the governor, Rick Perry, offered a grand vision: the Trans-Texas Corridor, a network of highways criss-crossing the state. The centrepiece would be a 600-mile (1,000km) thoroughfare running the length of the state, roughly paralleling the existing Interstate 35, from Mexico to the Red river. It would be 1,200 feet (370 metres) across—the width of four football fields, in Texas terms—with plenty of room for cars, trucks and trains. It would be expensive, but never fear: the state would work with the private sector, and companies would run the corridor as a toll road. “Toll roads, slow roads, or no roads,” explained Mr Perry.

Critics howled. They said that carving out the corridor would require unprecedented use of eminent domain to swallow private lands, and fretted about traffic from Mexico and the cost of tolls. Under fire from all sides, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) killed the corridor last year. But the issue is very far from dead. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the state’s senior senator, who is challenging Mr Perry for the 2010 Republican nomination for governor, argues that the “concepts and strategies” of the corridor are still alive and well. They certainly are. Work on toll roads and public-private partnerships is continuing, although in smaller, less showy stretches.

© 2010 The Economist:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE