Thursday, May 31, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
I am sad to see the unity between anti-toll groups eroding. While Texas Anti-Toll groups are split on whether SB792 is a compromise or a moratorium, their foes are moving on with business as usual.
We Texans are caught up in a plan to connect North America. The TTC is just were it starts (after all, we are the largest state and our former Gov. is now President). NASCO is but one example of the private interests that are influencing how Texas transportation policy is being made.
It is extremely important that Anti-Toll/TTC groups unit if there is to be any chance of slowing down this snowball that has been building for over a decade.
TxDot and NASCO (North America’s SuperCorridor Coalition) are hosting it's 3rd annual three-day conference in Fort Worth, TX. According to the NASCO program flyer, next year the conference will be in Guanajuato, Mexico, June 4-6, 2008.
More than 350 transportation, logistics and economic development specialists from the United States, Canada and Mexico are attending the meeting.
The nonprofit coalition, whose members include public- and private-sector organizations, wants to develop an integrated transportation system linking the three countries.
It is reported that NASCO has received $2.5 million in earmarks from the U.S. Department of Transportation to plan the NAFTA Super Highway. Their own website reveals how they have been actively involved in shaping our federal transportation legislation.
For over ten years, NASCO has been developing a strong coalition of cities, counties, states, Canadian provinces, and private sector companies to lobby for federal funding and promote a "SuperCorridor" to address the transportation, trade and security needs of the three NAFTA nations.
We have succeeded in bringing hundreds of millions of dollars to the NASCO I-35 Corridor, resulting in High Priority Corridor status for I-35 in 1995 under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). In addition, we successfully lobbied for the creation of two new categories under the Transportation Act of the 21st Century (TEA-21) – the National Corridor Planning & Development Program and the Coordinated Border Infrastructure Program.
The NASCO "SuperCorridor Caucus" was formed on Capitol Hill to promote corridor development and to help secure NASCO legislative initiatives in both the authorization and appropriation processes.
We continue to be recognized as the strongest International Trade Corridor Coalition on Capitol Hill, and we are the only Corridor Coalition with true international representation from the three NAFTA nations."Additionally, on their website:
North America's SuperCorridor Coalition, Inc. supports the Multi-state International Corridor Development Program in S. 1072
In a 1996 study done for NASCO, it was estimated that the corridor needed $2 billion per year in infrastructure improvements over an 18-year period. NASCO supports as high a funding level as possible for the Multi-state International Corridor Development Program to operate as intended.
Friday, May 25, 2007
"The valiant effort of Representative Lois Kolkhorst together with dozens of other legislators, thousands of CorridorWatch members, and the thousands more who joined us could not over come the tremendous power of the Governor's office."
"Did we lose? NO WE WON! We got a lot, a lot more than anyone thought possible!"
"public representations have been made to the legislature that no TTC construction contracts will be executed during the moratorium. Should that occur a certain firestorm will erupt with CorridorWatch leading a charge against TxDOT."
"Here are some of the positive things that Senate Bill 792 will do:
SB792 creates a formal legislative study committee to research and report on public policy implications of private partnership toll projects. This will provide the public a substantive opportunity to participate in the discussion of public-private partnerships and perhaps the overarching Trans Texas Corridor.
SB792 will require the authorization for comprehensive development agreements to come under review and reauthorization. This provides another opportunity to stop the use of CDAs.
SB792 provides for greater public access to information and more disclosure with regard to the Trans Texas Corridor and other toll related contracts and details."
Here are some of the other things that Senate Bill 792 will do:
SB792 prohibits a firm who has developed the market valuation for a toll project from investing in a private entity that participates in financing, development, construction or operation of a toll project. This helps eliminate a conflict of interest that has occurred in other state’s public-private partnership deals. It should also inject more accuracy into the financial model.
SB792 prohibits the use of an estimate of future project revenue in calculating the estimated amount of loss to the private participant in the case of termination for convenience (unless it was in the agreed base case financial model). This impacts the ‘buy-back’ provision of public-private toll roads and safeguards us against unreasonably high buyout expenses.
SB792 provides local toll road authorities with access to the state highway system without being required to pay excessive and unreasonable access fees to TxDOT. Those fees would of course be passed on to motorists.
SB792 grants authority for local toll roads to be developed using comprehensive development agreements within the framework setout in the bill’s provisions. Not a great provision, but does allow more local control that would otherwise exist.
SB792 invalidates a TxDOT ‘protocol’ established in north Texas that restricts the ability of regional toll road authorities to fully participate in toll road projects in the region. The ‘protocol’ served to force private toll road participants over public authorities.
SB792 places limits on the non-compete and competition penalties allowable in the terms of an agreement with a private toll road partner. Limits included a geographical limitation of four miles and a series of transportation projects and facilities that cannot be prohibited or for which no penalty can be paid.
Some anti-toll groups will advocate for defeat of SB792 when it comes up for a vote in the House and Senate. CorridorWatch however will advocate for it to be passed into law. It represents a giant step in the right direction and lays the ground work for more progress in the future."
S B 792 is the distillation of dozens of bills filed this session by legislators dissatisfied with how Perry and the Texas Department of Transportation dove headlong over the past four years into pay-as-you-drive highways. More.....
Senate Bill 792 "is not only full of loopholes, but it makes things worse. 792 allows local authorities the same powers we were trying to take away from TxDOT," said Sal Costello, leader of People for Efficient Transportation.
Critics believe that Texas Department of Transportation officials will simply call the temporarily banned private equity toll road agreements another name: facilities agreements.
But. Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, author of the "facilities amendment," said TxDOT would get dragged into court if the agency tries to thwart the moratorium by using loopholes to get around it.
"It's a strong bill, with or without the amendment, if you think about how far we've come in the last year and a half," said Kolkhorst, who helped lead the fight for a moratorium on private toll roads.
Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who helped craft the final legislation, said the message in the bill is that "the public is telling TxDOT that 'We don't trust you. We have lost faith in what you are doing.'"
Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom, called SB 792 "a counterfeit moratorium because this governor snuck in a way to charge us 'market rate' on all tolls projects from now on" that will result in the highest possible tolls. "It does us no good if 281/1604 are in the private toll moratorium if they can still use our public toll authority to do the same thing," she said. "Our victory comes in the power of us sending a shot across the bow to this governor and TxDOT that their tricks are no longer under the radar." She accused lawmakers of selling out and predicted that voters will respond at election time.
Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom, called SB 792 "a counterfeit moratorium because this governor snuck in a way to charge us 'market rate' on all tolls projects from now on" that will result in the highest possible tolls.
"It does us no good if 281/1604 are in the private toll moratorium if they can still use our public toll authority to do the same thing," she said.
"Our victory comes in the power of us sending a shot across the bow to this governor and TxDOT that their tricks are no longer under the radar."
She accused lawmakers of selling out and predicted that voters will respond at election time.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Sunday, May 20, 2007
"When TxDOT says tolls are fair because only users pay, Hall sees tax-funded rights of way being converted to tollways, with profits going to other uses.
When TxDOT says market forces will keep toll rates in check, Hall sees a government monopoly squeezing cash from congestion-weary drivers.
When TxDOT says private sector innovation and efficiency will save time and money, Hall sees corporate handouts and toll rates rising faster than ever."
"She's doing what she thinks is right," said former San Antonio Mayor Bill Thornton, chairman of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority. "I also think she's misguided. She's been harmful to our community's transportation needs."
Friday, May 18, 2007
Have We Been Sold Out?
Things are moving so fast there may be no time for anyone outside a small circle of key legislators to impact the outcome. By the end of today it is likely that Governor Perry will have his way and the citizens of will have been sold out at the highest levels of Government.
RMA; one by Callegari (12) they believe was misdrafted; three by Kolkhorst (13, 15, & 16) effecting TTC35, CDA penalty payment funds, and a prohibition of investment firms being on both sides of a CDA; one by Quintanilla (22) a county contract provision; and, one by Y. Davis (27) requiring land taken by condemnation be offered back to the owner is unused.
- Senator Tommy Williams, Chair 512.463.
- Senator John Carona
- Senator Eliot Shapleigh
- Senator Kim Brimer
- Senator Robert Nichols
- Representative Wayne Smith
- Representative (to be announced)
- Representative (to be announced)
- Representative (to be announced)
- Representative (to be announced)
House Conference Committee members will not be formally named until Monday. But that doesn't mean that has got them picked and begun the process of looking at the bill language the Governor expects them to agree on.
There have been 35 ammendments to the bill over the last 3 days and I haven't had time to read through them yet and it's a long bill.
Looks like the CDA term limit is reduced from 70 to 50 years.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
“It’s an alliance for the Trans-Texas Corridor.”
Harris County this year paid a $50,000 membership fee to the alliance, a coalition of counties, towns, chambers of commerce and others.
It will ask the alliance to return more than two-thirds of this year’s fees.
$50,000 of our tax money to lobby against us. A refund is a nice start but how about passing a law that says no government agency can spend a penny for any lobbying firm? Yeah, that’ll go over well.Full Article
and the game goes on.......
By Ben Wear | Thursday, May 17, 2007, 09:34 AM
So, how long does Gov. Rick Perry have to decide what to do with HB 1892, the toll road bill he wants to die?
Perry’s office says he has until 11:59 p.m. Friday, and everyone seems to be going along with that. But it takes a flexible interpretation of the Texas Constitution to come up with that time.
Here’s the relevant excerpt of what the Constitution says about a governor and his consideration of bills from the Legislature: “If any bill shall not be returned by the Governor with his objections within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law … “
The Constitution, at least in this section, does not define what a “day” is. Under the interpretation of Perry’s office, he’ll actually have 10 days, 14 hours and 44 minutes to make a decision. His office received the bill at 9:15 a.m. on Monday, May 7. To get to Perry’s interpretation, you pretty much have to treat May 7 as Day Zero and assume that the 10-day clock didn’t start ticking until May 7 turned into May 8.
That extra time of almost 15 hours is not an inconsequential difference, under the circumstances.
The Legislature is scrambling to pass a replacement bill, SB 792, and to get it done before Perry has to veto HB 1892. This is not a drop-dead thing — the Legislature could still pass SB 792 and Perry could sign it even after an HB 1892 veto — but for a variety of political, tactical and symbolic reasons everybody really wants it to go down that way.
But with SB 792 just getting to the House floor today, and needing two days to pass, a 9:15 a.m. Friday deadline probably would be too soon. Waiting until the cusp of midnight, however, gives the House another working day.
Absent a Texas Constitutional scholar raising a stink, however, this is the interpretation that will carry the day. Or maybe that’s a day plus 14 hours and 44 minutes.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Bush Administration Quietly Plans NAFTA Super Highway
Headlines like the one above are popping up all over now days. Consider this and it's no surprise that the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) tried to influence Texas legislators not to pass HB 1892 (the TTC moratorium bill now on Gov. Perry's desk). Their actions sparked a sequence of interesting correspondence.
1) A copy of Federal correspondence to TxDOT can be found here. TxDOT then pushed on Texas legislators to kill HB 1892 by using Federal leverage.
2) May 1, 2007, their letter prompted a response from U.S. Senator Hutchison (here) expressing concern.
3) May 9, 2007 FHA replied to Senator Huchison (here).
So let's say this NAFTA Super Highway (TTC) plan by the Bush Administration is true. It could be possible Bush and Perry discussed this plan in the late 1990s when Bush and Perry were both in the Texas Gov. office. There was still plenty of work to do since some texas laws would have to be "modified" to allow for the TTC.
Interestingly enough, All 3 Texas Parties Officially Oppose the TTC. Yet, as we see, no party is willing to stop it. There are a lot of powerful people pushing this Highway with a lot of money to be made. The Bush Administration has remained quite publicly, but it appears they are working hard in the background to lay the foundations that connect Mexico to Canada.
From "Bush Administration Quietly Plans NAFTA Super Highway":
- NASCO, the North America SuperCorridor Coalition Inc. has received $2.5 million in earmarks from the U.S. Department of Transportation to plan the NAFTA Super Highway as a 10-lane limited-access road (five lanes in each direction) plus passenger and freight rail lines running alongside pipelines laid for oil and natural gas. One glance at the map of the NAFTA Super Highway on the front page of the NASCO website will make clear that the design is to connect Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. into one transportation system.
- Kansas City SmartPort Inc. is an “investor based organization supported by the public and private sector” to create the key hub on the NAFTA Super Highway.
- The U.S. government has housed within the Department of Commerce (DOC) an “SPP office” that is dedicated to organizing the many working groups laboring within the executive branches of the U.S., Mexico and Canada to create the regulatory reality for the Security and Prosperity Partnership. The SPP agreement was signed by Bush, President Vicente Fox, and then-Prime Minister Paul Martin in Waco, Tex., on March 23, 2005. According to the DOC website, a U.S.-Mexico Joint Working Committee on Transportation Planning has finalized a plan such that “(m)ethods for detecting bottlenecks on the U.S.-Mexico border will be developed and low cost/high impact projects identified in bottleneck studies will be constructed or implemented.” The report notes that new SENTRI travel lanes on the Mexican border will be constructed this year. The border at Laredo should be reduced to an electronic speed bump for the Mexican trucks containing goods from the Far East to enter the U.S. on their way to the Kansas City SmartPort.
- The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is overseeing the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) as the first leg of the NAFTA Super Highway. A 4,000-page environmental impact statement has already been completed and public hearings are scheduled for five weeks, beginning next month, in July 2006. The billions involved will be provided by a foreign company, Cintra Concessions de Infraestructuras de Transporte, S.A. of Spain. As a consequence, the TTC will be privately operated, leased to the Cintra consortium to be operated as a toll-road.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Monday, May 14, 2007
Sen. Robert Nichols:
“It adds a whole new level of new transportation codes and new authorities that have never been fleshed out in public hearings,” Nichols, a former Texas Transportation Commission member, said of the bill’s hot-off-the-printer’s 81 pages. Given the new exceptions added to his moratorium, and other new language, “we’re not quite sure what the moratorium will do.”
Sen. John Carona:
“Some of your comments are just not accurate,” said Carona, who has been in on the closed-door negotiations on the bill over the past few days. Nichols was not invited to those sessions. “I don’t want to let those statements go unchallenged before the press.”
Nichols replied that he had spent from 9 p.m. Sunday to 1 a.m. today going through the bill line by line and that his comments were in fact informed.
“Did you do that last night?” Nichols asked Carona.
By Ben Wear | Monday, May 14, 2007, 02:07 PM
The Senate, with just two weeks left in the session, has come to a big fat standstill. The reason: negotiations over SB 792, the newly crowned Big Transportation Bill.
Supporters of Gov. Rick Perry’s preferred toll road bill want it out of the Senate today. That would get it to third reading on House floor by Thursday, the scenario goes, in time to avoid a gubernatorial veto Friday of HB 1892, its older brother that Perry doesn’t like.
But the key senators on the bill, Tommy Williams of Houston and John Carona of Dallas, have been mostly missing in action since the Senate convened at 11 a.m., along with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. In the hallway outside waits a clutch of increasingly hungry staff members and lobbyists who worked on the bill.
Inside the Senate, the rest of us wait.
** It allows private toll road contracts to last 50 years, instead of 40 years as in HB 1892, and up to 70 years under current law.
** It exempts some more roads from the two-year moratorium on private toll road contracts, including Texas 99 near Houston and I-69 south of Interstate 37. South Texans, believing Perry’s claim that HB 1892 would kill any chance for that road, demanded this.
** It changes language in HB 1892 that would have allowed the state to buy back a profitable toll road from a private company based primarily on what the company had invested in the road. Instead, the buyback amount would be based on original estimates of toll revenue for the life of the project. This would be higher price generally than under HB 1892, but lower than under current law for successful toll roads.
** It fixes a mistake in HB 1892 which would have directed all money from multi-billion concession payments for the Texas 121 tollway to Dallas. Under this bill, the money would be allocated to both the Dallas and Fort Worth areas.
** The Harris County Toll Road Authority, which under HB 1892 would have gotten right of way free from the state for some new tollways, will have to pay the state its the original cost to the state of getting the land. However, those payments will stay in the Houston area for other road projects.** In a completely new section, all future toll road projects would undergo a “market valuation” by a third-party to determine what their value might be in up-front concession payments. Then the local toll road agency would have first shot at doing the project as long as it could raise that up-front money
Friday, May 11, 2007
Well, I knew it would happen sooner or later. Eventually I would have to meet the Toll Troll.
When all the toll roads started going up in Austin, I decided I wouldn't use them even if it means a longer drive. But this week I had a meeting and needed to get to 1431 toward Cedar Park and things didn't go as planned. I had not driven that area in several years so I was not familiar with the layout of the new 183 Toll Roads. I couldn't use the Toll Road anyway because I don't have a TxTag and the first entrance doesn't take cash.
Don't trust the maps
I looked up the route using online maps and thought I could take 183 North and exit before the toll roads, then stay on the access road until I get to 1431. I figured I could at least follow the signs to stay on the access roads because I had read that they had been re-routed. Things went fine until I got past 620 and Lakeline Blvd, then the access road ended and I was forced up onto the Toll Road entrance ramp. I stayed in the right lane and the entrance ramp turned into the 1431 exit ramp almost immediately. As I exited I was forced to pay $1.50 and man was I pissed! I couldn't have even been a mile and I didn't have a choice!
Suckered into Paying a $1.50 for 1/2 Mile!
If there were signs saying I needed to turn somewhere to avoid getting on the toll road, I sure didn't see them and there was no way to turn around. Once I exited, there were four toll booths and the signs are hidden under a cover over the booths, so I couldn't tell which one was the cash booth or how much the toll was until I was nearly at the booths. Luckily, I was the only car there. That's funny somehow.
Ridiculous! $3/mile should be illegal. I feel sorry for any visitors to our town. They won't know about the NO CASH entrance and they won't know what the total tolls will be until they exit and then get an additional $6 bill in the mail for not having a TxTag. They'll probably go away thinking what a bunch of rip-off nickel-and-dime thieves we Texans are.
Warn your visitors so they don't get screwed too.
Friday, May 4, 2007
bill was passed. The only dissenting vote
was cast by Rep. Mike Krusee."
– Houston Chronicle.
How sad that Krusee is my representative. I petitioned him to vote for this bill.
So here's a time line for the bill:
05/02/07 - TX, House sent the bill to Gov. Perry 139-1 (Senate 27-4)
05/12-13/07 - Gov. Perry must veto the bill or allow it to become law (sign it or not)
05/14-28/07 - Legislature can override a veto with a two-thirds vote of both chambers
05/28/07 - Session Ends
Judging by the support by both House and Senate, it appears this bill will become law even if Perry does decide to veto in protest.
My bet is he just lets it sit. A veto would make another national story of Perry vs. the State of Texas! But Ic ould be wrong. Perry has already proven he's comfortable with controversy. You know what they say... "any press is good press". Maybe this is his way of getting his name out there for a presidential run in 2012.
Regardless, HB1892 is well on it's way to slowing down the Trans-Texas Corridor.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
I spend about 1.5 hrs a day on Austin roads and not a day goes by that I don't see near-wrecks because people do not let merging traffic into a lane. People speed up behind and cut you off when you are exiting, even though you were in front of them with your blinker on.
People will try to exit at the last minute, often without blinkers, and cut through several lanes of traffic where the gaps between cars are barely big enough to squeeze into.
I'll be doing 75 in a 65 and some nut will get on my rear bumper like I'm driving 10 below posted!
I've passed two vehicles were I thought the one in back was being towed, but as I pass I see they are just tailgating with only 2 feet between them!
If I leave a gap of 10 feet between my car and the one in front of me going 70, you can guarantee a moron will cut in and force me to hit my breaks.
I think driving here is getting worse. It's like a bunch a caged rats fighting with no regard for others.
Texas Public Radio reports that members of Texas Congress received a letter from the Texas Department of Transportation demanding that they seek approval of ALL transportation projects with them before obtaining federal funding.
Republican Congressman Ted Poe of
“They’ve gotten too big for their britches. Obviously, TxDOT is an administrative group and they are to spend the money as we direct that they are to spend it, whether they like it or not. Their responsibility is not to determine projects. Their responsibility is to build bridges and roads and freeways.”
Democratic Congressman Charlie Gonzales:
He thought TxDOT’s letter was strange, and says the agency’s position could hurt the state.
“For TxDOT to basically say ‘don’t send us any federal dollars’ is not truly in the best interests of Texans and our communities…..”
Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar:
Said he is also upset at TxDOT.
“I understand and respect the Department of Transportation for the position that they’ve taken. But for us to pre-clear everything through them – it’s just not the way things are done,” Cuellar said.
Lawmakers argue that TxDOT officials aren’t elected, so they shouldn’t choose which projects are built. They wrote a letter to TxDOT explaining their concerns. Gonzales says, “I thought it was a very polite letter saying, ‘look, what do you mean by this and it doesn’t make any sense.” “Do you really want us to stop attempting to gain federal dollars for
TxDOT issued a statement saying the “intent is just to make sure that we can advance transportation projects here in
Most lawmakers think their dispute with TxDOT can be worked out before federal transportation dollars are threatened. But almost a month after their letter was sent, they say they have not even received a response.
Motorists without Tx-Tags will begin paying to drive most of the 183-A toll road this morning. If these drivers blow through the southern most electronic toll plaza of 183-A near Lakeline Mall, they will be charged a $5.00 fee on top of the 45-cent toll. Steve Pustelnyk, with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority says their intent is to eventually go to electronic tolling only.....
"If you don't have the money, we'll be taking a picture of your license plate and we'll be sending you a notice in the mail just letting you know we are now charging and you need to pay the toll. Eventually that notice will turn into a $5 administrative fee, plus the toll that will be due,".....
Mapping out how to pay on 183-A
The pay structure is complicated. Click above to learn what to pay, where to pay and how to pay.