Thursday, May 20, 2010

Spanish Company Cintra's NTE Mobility Partners to convert even more Dallas freeway lanes to privatized tollways

Private company proposes tearing down and rebuilding part of I-35W


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2010

A toll road developer has offered to tear down and rebuild 10 miles of Interstate 35W from downtown to far north Fort Worth to relieve one of Tarrant County's biggest bottlenecks with a combination of toll and nontoll lanes.
The proposal by NTE Mobility Partners, submitted this week to the Texas Department of Transportation, would allow [essentially force] motorists to pay their way out of congestion on toll lanes that would extend from Interstate 30 near downtown to North Tarrant Parkway, south of Alliance Airport.

For motorists who can't or don't want to pay tolls, the project would include reconstruction of existing nontoll lanes, continuous frontage roads, improvements to access ramps and an end to those pesky left-lane exits at the I-35W/Loop 820 interchange. Federal and state law generally requires existing nontoll interstate lanes to remain free, although toll lanes can be added. Months of negotiations are likely needed before it becomes clear whether state officials will approve the project. But the developer has said that, if its offer is accepted, the $2.7 billion project could be open to traffic by June 30, 2017.

"With the new proposed configuration, the project will result in over 1.5 million hours saved annually by moving drivers from congested roads to free-flowing lanes," according to an executive summary of the report released Thursday afternoon.

But while the I-35W plan may be the best and perhaps only chance of fixing the interstate for at least the next 10 years -- state officials and lawmakers say they'll run out of gasoline-tax-supported funds to build any roads by 2012 -- the proposal promises to be controversial on many levels:
  • Tarrant County residents may be growing intolerant of toll roads as a solution to seemingly every mobility problem in the western Metroplex. Toll projects are already under way on Texas 114/121 in Grapevine, Airport Freeway and Loop 820 in Northeast Tarrant County, and Southwest Parkway in Fort Worth.
  • The I-35W developer is overseeing the Airport Freeway/Loop 820 project, known as North Tarrant Express.
  • The I-35W project does not have environmental clearance and, although the federal government is expected to sign off on it by early next year, there's always a chance it could be delayed by an unforeseen environmental problem. In any case, dirt won't turn on I-35W until that paperwork is filed.
NTE Mobility Partners, which is led by the U.S. arm of Spain-based Cintra, says that while it will bring outside money to the table to pay for most of the construction and maintenance, it will need some public funds.
The executive summary calls for the Transportation Department to inject $287.5 million in public funds, although later it explains that a scaled-back version of the plan could be done for $173.8 million in public funds.
Officials with NTE Mobility Partners declined Thursday to elaborate on those costs, which are expected to be detailed during a Texas Transportation Commission workshop Wednesday in Austin.

© 2010 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Big government teaming up with Big Business to make a profit off the enforcement of laws is quite literally the Mother of All Corruption."

"Isn't it supposed to be greedhead Republicans who want to privatize everything -- and turn the entire clunky apparatus of government into a nationwide system for Making People Pay?"

Democrat Double Taxers


By Eric Peters
The American Spectator
Copyright 2010

No one likes paying for the same thing twice.

So what is it with these High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes that charge people for the privilege of being able to drive on roads and highways financed by motor fuels excise taxes?

They're sprouting up all over the country. Or rather, the infrastructure for charging motorists to use existing roads is sprouting up all over the country. Roads that were built (and continue to be maintained) with money extracted from these same people via motor fuels taxes, which average about 40 cents per gallon (see here for details).

In my home state of Virginia, for example, the last governor (Tim Kaine) wanted to give what amounts to taxing authority to a private, for-profit company (Transurban of Australia) over a major portion of I-95/I-395 in Northern Virginia, near D.C. -- for the next 80 years.

Drivers would have to tithe to Transurban for the privilege of using these roads -- roads that were built for public use and with funds derived from the motor fuels taxes that all drivers must pay, every time they fill up.

Naturally, there's to be no reduction in the motor fuels tax, nor any rebate or credit given to drivers who pay the current taxes but don't elect to use the for-profit HOT lanes.

A decent case can be made for privately financed and constructed toll roads that charge user fees. If, for example, a private company can gin up the capital from investors (not taxpayers) necessary to build a new road or highway -- and restricts use of the finished road to drivers who pay to drive -- fine. That's free market capitalism in action. It could also be a great deal for motorists. There would be less traffic -- and possibly, the owners of the private toll road could set higher (or even no) speed limits, since the state would not be involved.

But it's outrageous to take existing and publicly financed, public-access infrastructure and turn it into an ATM for a privately held, for-profit vendor.

How is this any different from granting, say, "Justice Enterprises, Inc." operating control of your local county courthouse -- and giving it the power to hit you up for $5 every time you need to get a legal document filed or want to contest a traffic ticket?

Oh, yeah -- I forget. They already do charge us for contesting traffic tickets.

And countless municipalities all around the country have turned over aspects of traffic enforcement to private, for-profit companies -- taking a cut of the proceeds themselves, of course.

That's bad enough. Big government teaming up with Big Business to make a profit off the enforcement of laws is quite literally the Mother of All Corruption.

But these HOT lanes are even more depraved because there is no longer even a weak attempt at justification based on the punishing of wrongdoing, or at the very least, law-breaking. With a photo radar or red light camera ticket, the argument can be made that, hey, you broke the law -- and thus, the fine.

It's certainly obnoxious to know that part of the fine you get hit with ends up going to help finance braces for the teenaged kid of the CEO of the private company that runs the automated cash machines -- but there's at least some comfort in knowing there's a connection, however tenuous, between your actions and the handing over of your hard-earned money.

But HOT lanes?

All you're guilty of is wanting to use the roads you already paid for without being dunned again for the privilege.

An irony of the situation in Virginia is that it was a Democrat governor, Tim Kaine -- who continues to serve as chairman of the Democratic National Committee -- who was pushing the HOT Lane Hustle. Isn't it supposed to be greedhead Republicans who want to privatize everything -- and turn the entire clunky apparatus of government into a nationwide system for Making People Pay?

Apparently, Democrat pols like Kaine are just as eager to dip their beaks.

Keep it all in mind next time you stop for a fill-up.

© 2010 American Spectator:

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NTTA seeks to maintain 'Magnetar' status as toll tax collector

North Texas Tollway Authority OKs a familiar wish list for 2011

black hole


The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2010

When lawmakers meet in 2011, they will be presented with a familiar roster of goals by the North Texas Tollway Authority, whose board on Wednesday approved a legislative agenda that picks up where things ended in 2009.

Chief among the NTTA's priorities will be to persuade lawmakers to keep it as the first-choice toll provider in North Texas, even as the number of local toll authorities created by counties has risen.

Just before the 2009 session, Collin County commissioners created their own county toll authority, drawing a stern rebuke from state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas. But like many transportation-related provisions in the tumultuous 2009 session, legislation backed by NTTA to clarify the larger agency's relationship to a county toll authority did not survive.

Since then, the Collin County Toll Authority has begun acquiring right of way for a potential toll road. But without funding for the project, it has not yet tried to advance the road beyond initial stages.

A second county toll authority was created by Dallas County commissioners this year, though it, too, lacks the resources at present to build any new roads.

NTTA vice chairman Victor Vandergriff said NTTA seeks to persuade lawmakers to make clear that NTTA has first right of refusal for building any toll road within Dallas, Denton, Collin and Tarrant counties. But he stressed that NTTA will not challenge the existence of the local toll authorities.

"This does not affect a county's right or a city's right to put their own authority together," Vandergriff said.

The legislation will be important if North Texas is to retain its regional approach to toll roads, which is embodied in the NTTA's four-county makeup, he said.

NTTA also will again ask lawmakers to change the rules governing conflict of interest for NTTA board members. Currently, those rules flow from the 1953 statute that created NTTA, and attorneys for the authority said the rules are too imprecise. If adopted, the new approach would subject NTTA directors to the same rules as government officials of other local entities, such as cities, counties and Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

Another sought-after change would amend the Texas Public Information Act to allow NTTA to keep secret draft "working papers" associated with audits of the authority. Final reports would be public.

And the board decided to postpone until June a discussion about extending the contract of executive director Allen Clemson. Spokeswoman Sherita Coffelt said board members wanted more time to review the proposed terms.

© 2010 Dallas Morning News:

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Monday, May 17, 2010

"All this spending is being revealed at a time when the state has looming financial problems, as in a shortfall of $11 billion."

Public records reveal Rick Perry's $700 coat rack and the governor's pricey living expenses


By Jennifer Peebles
Texas Watchdog
Copyright 2010

Hope you like that $700 coat rack the governor uses. After all, you paid for it.

Texas taxpayers have shelled out almost $600,000 in the past two years in rent and other living expenses for Gov. Rick Perry's mansion in West Austin. That's according to public records procured by an Associated Press reporter whose work we at Texas Watchdog follow carefully, Jay Root (he's @byjayroot on Twitter).

Along with the $700 coat rack, Root writes, there's the grand the gov (or, we assume, his wife or someone working for him) plunked down for window dressings from Neiman Marcus and $70 for two years of Food and Wine magazine.

Guess the Gov had to go with Food and Wine now that Gourmet went out of business.

The folks at Food and Wine had this to say on Twitter today

Love that TX Gov Rick Perry is a fan, but wish he hadn't spent public $ on subs. TX chef recipes 4 Perry to enjoy 4 free:

The gov has been renting a posh place for the last couple years now because the governor's mansion -- the real one -- had been overdue for an upgrade. But then someone came along and set the real governor's mansion on fire and nearly burned it down. That case still hasn't been solved, and it'll be a couple of years before the place is fixed up again.

The irony, though, is that all this spending is being revealed at a time when the state has looming financial problems -- big looming financial problems, as in a shortfall of $11 billion with a B.
That number could go as high as $18 billion, the Texas Observer reported today.)

Meanwhile, back at the mansion (the rented one), the governor's office is continuing to try to withhold 10 e-mails from the AP pertaining to the rental mansion, and Root reports that payees weren't listed for $810,000 in mansion-related expenses.

From Root's story:

"These are non-taxpayer dollars that go for entertaining and various costs that a governor's residence would have," said Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner. "These are the same policies that were implemented for numerous governors before Rick Perry."

Perry's aides add the governor, who has made officeholder transparency a signature issue of his 2010 campaign, has fully complied with ethics and transparency laws that govern such spending.

Transparency issues were one of the items that were cited by the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington when it ranked Perry as one of the nation's worst governors a few weeks ago.

The Republican governor's Democratic critics have been having a field day with the story. Democratic challenger and former Houston Mayor Bill White said he would rent his own house until the governor's mansion (the real one) is repaired. And Burnt Orange Report has a video from the state Democratic Party that sets a slideshow of real estate Glamour Shots of the rental house to some swingin' '70s disco before asking why taxpayers tightening their belts should shell out for the gov's swanky digs.

© 2010 Texas Watchdog:

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"Taxpayers have spent, at a minimum, $592,000 for rent, utilities, repairs, furnishings and supplies since Rick Perry moved in."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s $600,000 taxpayer paid rental home


The Vile Plutocrat
Copyright 2010

With the state facing a budget shortfall of at least $11 billion, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has spent almost $600,000 in public money during the past two years to live in a sprawling rental mansion in the hills above the capital, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

[Associated Press] Governor Perry's rental home costs more than $10,000 a month in rent, utilities and upkeep to house himself and his wife in a five-bedroom, seven-bath mansion that has pecan-wood floors, a gourmet kitchen and three dining rooms. Perry has also spent $130,000 in campaign donations to throw parties, buy food and drink, and pay for cable TV and a host of other services since he moved in, the records show.

The public spending on Perry's rental comes as the state grapples with a budget shortfall forecast to reach at least $11 billion over the next two years. Perry has asked state agencies to cut their budgets by 5 percent and the Republican House speaker has begun to consider furloughs and shortened workweeks for state employees.

Ethics watchdogs, meanwhile, say Perry's campaign may have violated state disclosure laws because of the vague way he's reported what his staff calls "incidental" spending at the mansion.

Perry's incidental state-paid expenses:

  • 6,386-square-foot rental sits on more than three acres and was advertised in 2007 for sale at $1.85 million
  • $18,000 for "consumables" such as household supplies and cleaning products
  • $1,001.46 in window coverings from upscale retailer Neiman Marcus
  • a $1,000 "emergency repair" of the governor's filtered ice machine
  • $700 clothes rack
  • $70 for a two year subscription to Food & Wine Magazine
  • $56,000 stipend for food and beverages
  • Maintenance on the heated pool has cost taxpayers at least $8,400
  • the tab for grounds and lawn maintenance has topped $44,000
  • His spokeswoman made a pint of mentioning that he has ONLY one housekeeper, one full-time chef (although a second chef works part time), a mansion administrator (who left and was not replaced), and a steward.

The Grand Total
Taxpayers have spent, at a minimum, $592,000 for rent, utilities, repairs, furnishings and supplies since Perry moved in.

Perry dismissed criticism of his spending with a laugh when asked by the AP about the costs of living in the exclusive Barton Creek Estates neighborhood in West Austin: "If that's the best cut anybody's got of leadership in the state of Texas, then bring it on."

Since Perry took office in 2001, spending from his tax-payer financed "Mansion Fund" has topped $800,000. That should make all the state employees he fired feel real good about doing their part to help save the state coffers in this time of recession.

We already know the answer to this question, but "are there any honest politicians?"

James Richard "Rick" Perry
(born March 4, 1950) Is the 47th and incumbent Governor of Texas, having held the office since 2000. He is a member of the Republican Party.

© 2010 The Vile Plutocrat:

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