Friday, September 21, 2007

Texas Group Files Lawsuit to End Government Toll Road Lobbying

Lawsuit seeks to prohibit Texas Department of Transportation from lobbying on behalf of toll roads.

Terri HallA grassroots anti-toll road activist group yesterday filed suit to block the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) from lobbying on behalf of toll roads. Texans United for Reform and Freedom (TURF) petitioned the Travis County District Court for a temporary restraining order that would prohibit the transportation agency from expending public funds on its "Keep Texas Moving" advertising blitz.

"Unlike purely educational public relations efforts such as the 'Don't Mess With Texas' campaign, the Keep Texas Moving campaign is a one-sided attempt to advocate one political point of view on a highly controversial matter," TURF founder Terri Hall wrote in her filing. "Absolutely no non-toll related solutions to the transportation needs of Texas are presented in the Keep Texas Moving campaign... As such, the Keep Texas Moving campaign and the lobbying campaign constitute state agency-sponsored political advocacy that is prohibited by sections 556.001 et seq. of the Texas Government Code."

Texas law allows government agencies to provide information to the public and to respond to requests for information and analysis, but it states that agencies, "may not use appropriated money to attempt to influence the passage or defeat of a legislative measure." All state employees must sign a document stating that they have read and understood this provision of law.

The state attorney general's office, representing TxDOT, postponed a hearing on the case until Monday. The state argues that because visiting Judge Bill Bender resides within the path of the proposed Trans Texas Corridor toll road, he should not be allowed to hear the case. Hall's team of lawyers are prepared to fight any of the state's procedural tactics.

"We knew they'd try this and we'll combat it so that this case is heard and TxDOT is forced to comply with the law," Hall said. "Between TxDOT's PR campaign, report to Congress asking that all limitations on tolling be lifted including buying back existing interstates, and Chairman Ric Williamson's recent trip to D.C. lobbying for the same, it's clear they've not only crossed the line into illegal lobbying, but they leaped over it."

Other related sources:

A Texas group opposed to toll roads goes to court (590 KLBJ)

Anti-Toll Road Activist Sues State Over Ad Campaign (KXAN)

Toll road foe sues over TxDOT ad campaign (

TxDOT threatened with injunction (more details here)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Reporter banned from secret meeting on selling US assets

WND banned from secret meeting on selling U.S. assets
'We don't feel news site is appropriate for a business conference'

Posted: September 19, 2007
1:00 a.m. Eastern

© 2007

EuroMoney PLC, the UK-based company that arranges dozens of financial conferences around the world each year, has refused to allow WND staff reporter Jerome Corsi to attend next week's "North American PPP (Public-Private Partnership) & Infrastructure Finance Conference" in New York, even though WND offered to pay the $1,999 conference fee required to attend.

"When government officials want to go behind closed doors with investment bankers and lawyers to discuss selling our public infrastructure to foreign investment leaders, investigative reporters need to be there to tell the public what is really going on," Corsi said.

"Why is it that all these PPP and SPP (Security and Prosperity Partnership)
meetings are behind closed doors," Corsi asked, "and government officials and their supporters think that's normal? But when investigative reporters want to attend and report on what is being said, we are the ones who get accused of being the conspiracy theorists?

"By refusing to allow WND to attend as a paying customer," Corsi argues, "EuroMoney is telling the American public that they intend to conduct a secret meeting designed to teach government officials how to sell out U.S. public infrastructure to foriegn investment concerns.

(Story continues here)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Austin: Nation's most congested mid-sized city

Saw this on the news tonight.

It takes us (on average) 31% longer to get to our destination in Austin during peak hours.

To compare, LA (the worst congested) takes 77% longer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

That Greater Austin is "the most congested medium-sized city in America" has become something of a mantra among local transportation officials, a handy fact used to justify or oppose toll roads, promote green measures or, this week, attack a proposed bus fare increase.

The Texas Transportation Institute, in its biannual Urban Mobility Report released today, once again puts the Austin metro area in that dubious position, giving it a congestion index of 1.31. That figure, which means a rush-hour trip takes 31 percent more time than the same journey at off-peak hours, puts Austin and its suburbs atop 30 metro areas designated as medium-sized.

However, the criteria used for that grouping lists the Austin-area population as 855,000, just less than 60 percent of the 1.45 million people that U.S. Census bureau says lived in the Austin metropolitan area in 2005, the year studied in the report. Most other similarly sized American cities in the report are credited with 70 percent to 80 percent of their total metro population.

The reason for the discrepancy is that the institute bases its calculations on data from "urbanized areas," rather than using entire metropolitan areas. If a satellite town, such as Georgetown or San Marcos, has slivers of rural areas separating them from the central city and close-in suburbs, then they fall out of the urbanized area.

The relatively stingy population estimate has the effect of putting Austin below the 1 million population threshold for a "large" city (thus the "medium-sized city" designation) and of driving up Austin's congestion index.

"I'm not sure how much lower the number would come down"if more of the Austin metro area was included in the calculations, said study co-author Tim Lomax, a research engineer at the Texas A&M University-based institute.

Austin traffic, according to the report, has worsened steadily through the years. In 1982, Austin's congestion index was 1.07, causing about a minute and a half of delay on what would be a 20-minute trip outside of rush hour. By 1992, that number had increased only slightly to 1.12.

But in 2000, after the high-tech boom of the late 1990s, the index had reached 1.24 in Austin, five extra minutes for that 20-minute trip. The estimated delay on that 20-minute jaunt now would be just over six minutes.

And in those 23 years, according to the report, the percentage of the Austin-area road system experiencing congestion during rush hours has grown from 21 percent to 55 percent. The hours of such congestion, it says, have grown from three hours in 1982 to 7.2 hours now.

Austin's congestion, by the calculations of the report, is the 15th worst among the 85 cities studied (which includes the largest metro areas such as New York and Los Angeles). Among Texas cities, it's worse than San Antonio's 1.23 index and not much better than Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, which have travel time indexes of 1.35 and 1.36, respectively.

And because the data in the 2007 study dates to 2005, that means the 61.5 miles of four- and six-lane tollways that came online around Central Texas in the past year do not figure into the ratings. Austin's index could improve when the next report comes out in 2009.

"Something to look forward to," Lomax said. "The key would be how much traffic is on those new lane-miles."

Traffic has been heavier than expected on all four tollways added, but is still light on the longest of those roads, Texas 130.

The institute has been studying urban traffic and issuing the mobility report since 1982. Lomax and his associate, David Schrank, do not literally time people's commutes, but use traffic counts along with specific highway and public transit data.

Congestion, Lomax and Schrank say in the report, is a problem in all American cities and is getting worse.

"The solution to this problem is really to consider all the solutions," the report says. "One lesson from more than 20 years of mobility studies is that congestion relief is not just a matter of highway and transit agencies building big projects."

The authors recommend a combination of such expensive construction and additional strategies — telecommuting, flexible working hours, clearing accident scenes faster, strategic construction to eliminate "choke points" in the highway system — to create "a balanced and diversified approach to reduce congestion."

However, the authors say, "realistic expectations are also part of the solution. Large urban areas will be congested. Some locations near key activity centers in smaller urban areas will be congested. But congestion does not have to be an all-day event.", 445-3698

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Austin Mojo - Tolls in the News: 183-A Tollway design generating rash of violations

In response to Lindsy's issue on the previous post... you're not alone.

Austin Mojo - Tolls in the News: 183-A Tollway design generating rash of violations

This report from July says this stretch of toll road has an amazing 30% violation rate.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Have a TX Toll Tag? Then you "voted" to convert Freeways to Tollways

A lot of "Take On Traffic" hats showed up early at tonights CAMPO meeting (contractors, private interests, chamber of commerce, not the working men and women who will pay). Among the arguments was the following:

"Supporters of the tollway plan pointed out that about 270,000 probable voters in this area have already cast something of a ballot for the four existing tollways that opened in the past 10 months by signing up for electronic toll tags."

How about that? You bought a TxTAG and you just voted to turn Existing Freeways into Tollways.

But all is fine, there'll still be free frontage roads!

"Most of the new tollways will overlay existing roads (though there would be free frontage roads alongside with at least as many free lanes as currently exist)." Frontage roads with intersections and stop lights do not equal free highways.

Hundreds of anti-toll speakers locked out of last nights meeting.
Read a report and view photos

FOX 7 News Report (video)

WHAT!! TxDOT pushing Congress to sell back existing interstate highways - turn into Tolls

I'm amazed at the creativity. Too bad they don't put it to good use to serve the public.

AUSTIN — The Texas Department of Transportation is pushing Congress to pass a federal law allowing the state to "buy back" parts of existing interstate highways and turn them into toll roads.
The 24-page plan, outlined in a "Forward Momentum" report that escaped widespread attention when published in February, drew prompt objections Thursday from state lawmakers and activists fighting the spread of privately run toll roads.
The report not only advocates turning stretches of interstate highways into toll roads, but it also suggests tax breaks for private company "investment" in such enterprises.
It seeks changes in federal law to allow the use of equity capital as a source of transportation funding. Along with that, it calls for altering the tax code to "exempt partnership distributions or corporate dividends related to ownership of (a) toll road from income taxation."

Read the whole smelly article......
The "Forward Momentum" document can be read on TxDOTs website. These people are listed at the end of the document as contacts:
Cindy Mueller, Manager, Federal Legislative Aff airs
Government & Business Enterprises Division
202-628-1943 fax

Patrick Mullane, Federal Representative
Government & Business Enterprises Division
202-628-1943 fax

Chris Lipp incott, Federal Representative
Government & Business Enterprises Division
512-463-9389 fax

Coby Chase, Director
Government & Business Enterprises Division
512-463-9389 fax

State officials trained to promote toll road plans on radio

State officials trained to promote toll road plans on radio.
The $20,000 contract with ViaNovo is part of the agency's Keep Texas Moving campaign, a public relations effort touting its implementation of Perry's transportation policy.

I'm so tired of seeing my tax dollars wasted.

Here's a glimpse into the minds of government crooks:

Coby Chase, director of the department's (Keep Texas Moving campaign) government and public affairs division, wrote in a July e-mail that plans call for the state officials to start out on satellite radio, in part because "the listening audience is paying for radio so they might be more apt to pay a toll." He wrote that the agency likely will buy advertising time on the satellite networks.

Isn't it nice to see your tax dollars being spent to try to convince you it's OK to take more of your money? Training and buying air time not to educate you, but to mis-inform you with partial truths.

But Rep. Mike Krusee, House Transportation Committee chairman, said the campaign is a response to lawmakers' demands for the agency to improve its communication with the public.

"I think TxDOT's doing exactly what the Legislature asked them to do, demanded that they do, and legislators who now cry foul are being hypocritical," said Krusee, R-Round Rock. "They were the ones that beat TxDOT over the head in public hearings for not explaining this."

Mr. Krusee, TxDOT we (lawmakers and the public) did not demand TxDOT spend our money on advertising or on training employees how to speak to us. We demanded honest answers and open government. The reason we didn't get it isn't because TxDOT did not know how to communicate. It is because the agency is corrupt, dishonest and they know it. They purposely try to prevent information flow to the public in fear that they will be exposed and relieved of their duty.

The final public CAMPO meeting to discuss "Phase2" tolls will be held at the state capital tonight from 6pm-9pm. Here are some details including free parking.