Friday, January 20, 2006

"Speaking the Truth in times of universal deciet is a revolutionary act."


"Anti-Corridor" Candidates lining up to challenge incumbents

January 20, 2006

The Blackland Coalition Patriot
Copyright 2006

"Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity pure wind." --George Orwell, Author

A number of Central Texas political incumbents at the state and local level are finding themselves challenged by new candidates that are running on a platform of opposition to the Trans-Texas Corridor and TTC-35.

In the Governor's race (Primaries in March)

Rick Perry (R) (incumbent)
Larry Kilgore (R)
Robert "Star" Locke
Rhett Smith (R)
Felix Alvarado (D)
Chris Bell (D)
Bob Gammage (D)
Rashad Jafer (D)
James Werner (L)

Filing as "Independents"

Larry Camp
Richard "Kinky" Friedman
Carole Keeton Strayhorn

The only Governor's office candidates we have been able to con confirm their opposition to TTC-35 are Friedman and Strayhorn.

In State legislative contests, there are a number of contested incumbents as well.

State Representative District 20:
Don Gattis(R) (incumbent)
Jim Stauber (D)
Donald Zrudsky (L)

State Representative District 52:
Mike Krusee (R) (Incumbent)
Barbara Samuelson (R)
Karen Felthauser (D)
Lillian Simmons (L)

"Speaking the Truth in times of universal deciet is a revolutionary act." --George Orwell

© 2006 The Blackland Coalition Patriot


"The rush into this will create some opacity around risk. There will be other shoes to drop ..."

Turning Asphalt to Gold

January 20, 2006

The New York Times
Copyright 2006

In late 2004, Goldman Sachs advised the city of Chicago on the $1.83 billion sale of a 99-year concession for its Skyway toll road. For its work, the firm received a nice $9 million fee. More important, Goldman also got inspiration.

Across the negotiating table was an Australian bank that until recently was little known outside its home country: Macquarie Bank. In recent years, Macquarie has become the envy of Wall Street by buying the rights to operate infrastructure projects including ports, tunnels and airports, as well as toll roads, packaging them in funds and reselling the stock in those funds to the public, minting money at each stage along the way.

Now Goldman is raising a $3 billion fund to invest in similar public infrastructure deals. Another unit of the bank recently bid on a public-private partnership to run the Dulles Toll Road outside Washington. Mark B. Florian, the municipal finance banker who advised Chicago on the Skyway deal, has moved to New York to oversee the bank's efforts to advise on, invest in and better understand infrastructure assets.

And Goldman is not alone. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the best and brightest of Wall Street are for once not complimenting each other, but an outsider on the rise. Credit Suisse, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and UBS are all in different stages of exploring how to make money on public infrastructure, both as an adviser to others and as a principal in investing in the deals.

Credit Suisse is looking at how to leverage its expertise in buying real estate and advising on the sale of airports; both UBS and Credit Suisse are trying to gauge whether their big private banking clients would be interested in the assets.

"Before anyone else, Macquarie saw the potential of the U.S. market," said Robert W. Poole Jr., the director of transportation studies at the Reason Foundation, a libertarian research group. "They have the most robust model of highways as a new utility that can be an investor-owned utility like gas and electric utilities."

With local and state governments in the United States in search of ways to increase revenue without raising taxes or issuing bonds, public-private partnerships have recently become a hot-ticket investment idea.

During the last 12 months, more than $20 billion worth of private sector proposals have been submitted to transportation departments from Georgia to Oregon, according to a study by Mr. Poole. Just last night, bankers from Wall Street firms were working late to polish bids for the Indiana Toll Road.

"There's opportunity popping up all over the U.S.," said Greg Hulsizer, chief executive of California Transportation Ventures. In 1991, the company won a concession to build the South Bay Expressway, a 10-mile tollway in San Diego, and it is now owned by a Macquarie fund.

"It's not uncommon to see public-private partnerships for infrastructure around the world, especially in Europe," he said, "Here in the States, it's a new, emerging trend."

Macquarie came into its own only in 1985, when, as a subsidiary of Hill Samuel & Company, a British merchant bank, it received an Australian banking license. It is now a deal powerhouse; in 2004 and 2005, it bought $17 billion worth of global infrastructure assets, according to Thomson Financial.

Its model looks particularly alluring to Wall Street. Using a small capital base, Macquarie acquires giant assets by borrowing other people's money, then packages the assets into funds, which are sold to investors through public offerings or as unlisted funds. Along the way, it makes a killing on fees.

"It's an obvious gold mine," said one competitor who asked not to be named because his bank is working on its own infrastructure strategy.

The pitch to governments is simple: Macquarie will look after the assets - maintaining the roads or ports, raising toll road fees to make the investment more profitable - then give them back, in 99 years or so.

"It's not a sell-off of the family silverware," says Murray Bleach, head of Macquarie's North American infrastructure advisory business. "You leave it with someone who can polish it up and earn more money for the use of it."

Unlike private equity funds, which look for rates of return of 20 to 30 percent, these funds expect returns in the low to high teens, according to Macquarie officials, or 6 to 12 percent, according to competitors.

Macquarie has recognized that global investors have a seemingly insatiable appetite for dependable returns of 5 to 10 percent, especially since government bond yields have been lower of late.

The potential for fees in these public infrastructure deals is astounding, even by Wall Street's obsessive and excessive fee standards. Bankers can make advisory fees on the sale of the often-large assets. Then, once packaged into funds, the assets earn Macquarie management fees (1 to 1.5 percent) as well as incentive fees: 20 percent on profits above a certain threshold. The thresholds vary, based on benchmarks appropriate to the assets in the funds.

The model has risks. Low interest rates have provided flush financing for Macquarie. In essence, its deals are like leveraged buyouts: it provides the equity, borrows the debt and rakes in rich fees. Higher interest rates would make debt financing less attractive and could affect returns across the board.

This week, Macquarie's chief financial officer told Bloomberg News that the bank would earn no performance fees for any of its infrastructure or specialized funds for the six months that ended Dec. 31, which will reduce the bank's revenues.

"The rush into this will create some opacity around risk," said one Wall Street executive who is also looking at this strategy and insisted on anonymity because his bank did not yet have its strategy developed. "There will be other shoes to drop on this."

For its part, Macquarie welcomes Wall Street's crashing its party. "We've been saying it's a great asset class and now some of our dear friends are joining," Mr. Bleach of Macquarie said. "The market is not static. There will be plenty of assets to buy."

The Australian bank's model is a result of national circumstances. A 1992 law required employers to set aside a percentage of their employees' income for retirement. Today, workers are required to set aside at least 9 percent, which has helped build a national retirement nest egg of $591 billion, with $70 billion to $80 billion added every year - providing a huge cushion of capital to Australian banks.

Macquarie bankers had been advising the Australian government on the sale of public assets when it started a privatization drive in the early 1990's. Nicholas Moore, the head of investment banking in Sydney, decided the bank should get in on the action. In 1996, a Macquarie fund made an investment in an Australian toll road.

Today, Macquarie has roughly $23 billion invested in what the bank calls specialized infrastructure funds. The specialist funds have contributed heavily to the bank's bottom line. For the half-year that ended September 2005, corporate finance, which includes the specialist funds as well as advisory and financing work, contributed 41 percent of the bank's profit of 482 million Australian dollars ($360.5 million). Macquarie shares have risen more than 900 percent since they made their debut on the Australian Stock Exchange in July 1996. Macquarie's funds are invested all over the world and trade on various global exchanges: Macquarie Infrastructure Company Trust trades on the New York Stock Exchange, for example.

Macquarie's name is everywhere - its deals have been called Macquisitions - including a listing as a lead bidder for the London Stock Exchange. Recently, Macquarie has bought cooling systems in Chicago, satellite parking lots at various American airports and, most recently, with Black Diamond Capital Management, the Smart Carte Corporation, the concessionaire for baggage carts and strollers at airports across the United States.

The bank is frequently accused of overpaying. When it bid $1.83 billion for the Chicago Skyway with Cintra, a Spanish private sector developer of transportation infrastructure, the next closest bid was $700 million.

"Our view was we didn't overpay," Mr. Bleach said. "The market says we didn't." The bank refinanced about $1 billion of the debt in 2005, recouping about half of that for the equity partners.

The Chicago Skyway deal sheds some light on why such a concession might be attractive to governments. When Macquarie, together with Cintra, won the 99-year concession to run the Skyway, the city set aside a rainy day fund of $500 million, paid down $855 million in Skyway and city debt, set up an eight-year $375 million annuity and even had some money left over, which it will use to deliver heat to the city's neediest people.

In exchange, Macquarie and Cintra will operate the toll road, which generates about $20 million in cash flow a year, for 35 years. The concessionaires will be able to raise tolls and will be required to maintain the tollway.

"The economic analysis in favor of doing the deal was overwhelming." said John R. Schmidt, a lawyer from Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw who represented the city.

California has also seen advantages in doing a deal with Macquarie. In 1991, California Transportation Ventures won the right to build Route 125, a 10-mile toll road connecting one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, Chula Vista, to a major thoroughfare. But it took more than a decade to have environmental permits approved - the Quino checkerspot butterfly was discovered on the land - forcing the company to look for an infusion of capital. In two deals, Macquarie bought 100 percent of the partnership rights to the concession, and the toll road is under construction.

"We get a much-needed facility without having to divert funds from other projects to build it," said Laurie Berman, deputy district director for the California Department of Transportation.

Now that most of Wall Street is rushing in, it is unclear whether there will be enough investors who want to put their money in public infrastructure funds. And more competitors may just raise the prices of available assets.

As it grows, Macquarie will face its own challenges. It has had only two major mistakes, investments it has since sold: a power station and a fiber optic network, both in Australia. It cannot afford many more.

"It's not like we will make 50 percent on one asset and zero on another," Mr. Bleach of Macquarie said. "It's more like 13, 14, 15. We can't have any zeros."

© 2006 The New York Times


"The unity of Collin County leaders is starting to crack"

Hoagland: Don't let NTTA build toll road


By Amy Morenz
Frisco Enterprise
Copyrith 2006

The unity of Collin County leaders is starting to crack concerning the North Texas Tollway Authority's prospective role for State Highway 121.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Jerry Hoagland wants colleagues to consider endorsing the NTTA to manage - but not build - toll lanes on SH 121.

Hoagland wants to deny NTTA the construction contract because of the agency's recent decision to provide a 55-percent subsidy for the planned Southwest Parkway in Tarrant County. The commissioner wants one of the private companies vying to build the project build the toll lanes.

County Judge Ron Harris and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Hatchell, though, said Collin County still wants the NTTA to handle every aspect. Representatives of Collin County and its four largest cities have been negotiating for months for the NTTA, instead of a private company, to build and manage the toll lanes.

"I'm disappointed because I thought we had been moving forward as a committee after it was presented to the commissioner's court," said Hatchell.

Hoagland believes Collin County should reconsider its stance because of the NTTA's recent decision to provide a 55-percent subsidy to build the Southwest Parkway, instead of the 31-percent subsidy preferred by Collin County.

"By choosing to align ourselves with the NTTA regional financing approach, we have a mess on our hands," Hoagland wrote in a recent column for Star Community Newspapers.

Hoagland's comments come as the decision-process winds its way through steps needed to decide who builds and manages SH 121's toll roads and interchanges. The Regional Transportation Council is expected to decide how to distribute state funds on Feb 9. The Texas Department of Transportation, which controls the project's right-of-way, is also considering four private companies hoping to build and manage the project.

Under the plan approved by the NTTA board on a 4-3 vote in December, tolls on the Dallas North Tollway and the President George Bush Turnpike would increase to 11 cents per mile in 2007 and grow to 12 cents per mile by 2010, a 1.5-percent annual rate change. The eastern extension of the Bush from SH 78 in Garland to Interstate 30 in Rowlett would open with a 12-cents-per-mile toll, and Southwest Parkway - basically an extension of SH 121 from downtown Fort Worth to Cleburne - would open with a 16-cents-per-mile rate, with 1.5 percent annual increases.

Some 75 percent of NTTA's drivers come from Dallas and Collin counties, and 23 percent come from Denton, Tarrant and Johnson counties, NTTA statistics show. Collin and Dallas county representatives, including Collin County NTTA board member Paul Wageman voted against the 55-percent subsidy. Some have called the higher subsidy a "Robin Hood" move.

But Wageman said he doesn't see why that vote should have anything to do with the SH 121 endeavor.

"I really don't see how that subsidy for Southwest Parkway impacts our ability to do the project in Collin County because it's such a strong project," he said.

It's critical for the NTTA to obtain the right to build and manage SH 121 toll lanes, said Wageman. The prospective toll lines intersect with the Dallas North Parkway in the heart of the NTTA's service area.

"We're the culture of the people and the local authority," he said.

Hoagland said that despite promises made by Harris and Hatchell, SH 121 toll revenues wouldn't necessarily stay in Collin County and could end up subsidizing projects such as the Southwest Parkway.

"There's not a lot of drivers that want to continue to pour money into the NTTA so they can pay for a toll road that should not be built and won't stand on its own hind legs," Hoagland said.

The Texas Department of Transportation could set a maximum amount or profit a private company could generate, Hoagland said.

Neither Harris nor Hatchell want a private company to build SH 121 toll roads. Additional revenues from SH 121 would pay for Dallas North Tollway's expansion and repair projects in the county, Harris said.

"We don't want another company to finance it because they have to make a profit," said Harris. "Why not plow that money into the NTTA and keep the tolls down in Collin County."

Under Collin County's proposal, SH 121 tolls would be set at 12 cents a mile in 2010, while Southwest Parkway's would be 16 cents a mile to pay for additional amenities, Hatchell said.

"Any action at this time would be premature because we are about to embark on a strategic planning process that will, in part, better position us to meet the challenges," said NTTA chair Dave Blair in a written statement.

©Star Community Newspapers 2006


Texas Toll Party Rally in San Antonio

Rally in San Antonio

Saturday, January 21st

Ancira Jeep Dealership
24000 Hwy 281 North
San Antonio, Texas


Sponsored by the San Antonio Toll Party

Hundreds are expected to gather Saturday morning in San Antonio to voice objections to the conversion of free state highways into toll roads. Participants have promised to arrive from nine rural and urban counties surrounding San Antonio.

Confirmed speakers include . . . .

Gubernatorial candidate Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn

Gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell

Attorney General candidate David Van Os

State Senate candidate David Stall

State Representative candidate Nathan Macias

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson

And a host of other community leaders who are against tolling our existing FREEways.


David and Linda Stall will be there Saturday to address the rally and provide an update on the Trans Texas Corridor and what's being done today to stop the TTC.

A growing number of voters share our very serious concerns about the Trans-Texas Corridor and the horrific impact it will have on our state. has thousands of members across 174 Texas counties and urge all of them to attend the rally in San Antonio on Saturday.

Come hear what's happening and what you can do.

We need to impress our candidates and the legislature with the commitment we have as Texans to oppose the loss of our free roads, rights and liberties.

Grab your neighbors, co-workers, and friends to turn out to show just how many folks want to keep Texas FREEways FREE!

For a map click HERE. For a flyer, click HERE.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Hoosier governor pushes toll roads at the other end of the I-69 Corridor

Macquarie Infrastructure gears up for Indiana toll bid

January 20, 2006

The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Copyright 2006

MACQUARIE Infrastructure Group is expected to lodge a bid for the latest US toll road to hit the selling block, the 253-kilometre Indiana Toll Road.

MIG has already signalled its interest in the highway, which runs along the north of Indiana from the Illinois to Ohio state lines. Bids for the project are due by tomorrow.

The Republican Governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, is then expected to push for legislation to be passed to privatise the road.

The road connects with the Chicago Skyway, which is 45 per cent owned by MIG and only a year ago became the first existing toll road to be privatised in the US.

On Monday, Governor Daniels will announce the range of the bids. It has been estimated a 75-year concession of the Indiana Toll Road to a private operator will fetch the state as much as $US3 billion ($4 billion).

However, opposition to the lease remains fierce even among some of Governor Daniels's fellow Republicans, according to the Indiana media.

The lease of the road forms a key to funds for Governor Daniels's 10-year program to upgrade Indiana's highway network.

There are concerns a private operator could raise tolls to unacceptable levels. The Governor announced a 72 per cent increase in tolls on the road last September, the first in two decades. The road was built in 1956 and collected $US85 million in tolls in 2004.

The Indiana Toll Road is part of the Interstate-90 which runs across the US, from Boston to Seattle. It also forms part of the I-80 which runs from New Jersey to San Francisco.

Melbourne's Transurban, which has so far focused its attention in the US on toll roads in Virginia and Texas, is not in the race for the road. But competition for the Indiana Toll Road is said to be fierce. The Spanish infrastructure groups Cintra and Ferrovial are said to be interested, along with Hong Kong's Cheung Kong Infrastructure, which part owns Sydney's Cross-City Tunnel.

The State of Indiana has hired Goldman Sachs to evaluate the long-term lease of the toll road.

It is expected to be at least another month before MIG gains European Union regulatory clearance for its joint bid for Europe's third largest tolled motorway network, France's Autoroutes Paris-Rhin-Rhŏne (APRR). Eiffage and MIG were named as the preferred bidders on a 70.2 per cent interest in the 2205-kilometre APRR last month.

If given the regulatory go-ahead, Eiffage-MIG will launch a full takeover for APRR, valuing the road network at $11.3 billion. MIG will have a 28 per cent interest in the concession which expires in 2032.

Scott Rochfort

Copyright © 2006. The Sydney Morning Herald


The Buck stops here ...

Man awarded $1 for 105 acres Port condemned

January 19, 2006

Bay Area Citizen
Copyright 2006

For years, Seabrook residents have said building the Bayport container facility north of town would hurt property values.

They might be surprised at how much one man got for his tract of land - $1 for 105 acres.

Pasadena land owner Glenn Seureau, II, thinks he was robbed of his by the Port of Houston Authority. He plans to continue an uphill battle with the Port until he is paid fair market value for the land.

One civil court judge, on the other hand, seems to think $1 is compensation enough for Seureau's land, located just north of Seabrook.

Seureau fought for nearly three years to protect his property, in his family for more than 150 years, from the Port's power of eminent domain, only to lose his case in May of last year in the court of Harris County Civil Court Judge Lynn Bradshaw-Hull.

The judge ruled that having paid Seureau $1, the Port now owns the fee simple title to the property. Seureau was also ordered to give back the Port's previous payment of more than $1.9 million at 5.75 percent interest and pay the Port's court costs at the same interest rate.

Seureau has appealed the ruling, and he and his attorneys are currently in negotiations with the Port.

Port officials declined to comment on the case, but confirmed that they are working with Seureau to reach an agreement.

The conflict began in September 2002, when a special commission held a hearing regarding the Port's request to condemn Seureau's land. Seureau did not attend the hearing, and the commission ordered the Port to pay him approximately $1.9 million for the property.

The Port deposited the funds into the registry of the court, taking constructive possession of the land, but Seureau refused to take the money or relinquish the title to the property.

"I didn't think (the Port) had the right to take the property," he said, adding that the Port's need for the land seems to be based on private rather than public interests.

The Port plans to build a portion of the Houston Cruise Terminal on the property.

Seureau also believes $1.9 million is less than the market value for the land, which he had planned to develop with multi-family residences.

He was later advised by an attorney that he did not have the right to contest eminent domain and withdrew the $1.9 million to pay for further appeals regarding the market value of his land.

The Port brought Seureau to Bradshaw-Hull's court on May 16, 2005 to obtain the fee simple title that Seureau had withheld until that point.

On May 17, the judge excluded the testimony of both Seureau and his only expert witness, Louis Smith, saying that neither man could provide evidence that was relevant or reliable regarding the market value of Seureau's land.

According to court documents, the judge's final ruling was based on a lack of evidence to support Seureau's argument.

Seureau also made a motion to exclude the testimony of one of the Port's expert witnesses, Matthew Deal. The court denied that motion.

Seureau, who lives in his 180-year-old family home next door to the recently condemned property, said that although he is not familiar with the judge's intentions, he sees Bradshaw-Hull's ruling as a "punishment" for trying to challenge the Port.

"I was forced to settle for less than market value," he said.

Bradshaw-Hull declined to comment on the case since it is on appeal.

© 2006 The Bay Area Citizen:


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Zachry gives new meaning to "Pay as you go."

Shit happens

Raw sewage and a federal mandate put the brakes on the toll road

By Lisa Sorg
San Antonio Current

Two unrelated, but coincidental, incidents this week boosted the case of local groups suing the Federal Highway Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation over the U.S. 281 toll-road project.

On January 12, the Express-News reported that San Antonio-based Zachry Construction, which was contracted by TxDOT to build frontage roads along U.S. 281, had sheared a sewer main with a bulldozer in mid-December. However, Zachry misreported it to the San Antonio Water System as a water main, even though, as the Current later learned, a large, white sign with black letters in the area read: “Sanitary sewer force main.”

For Photo click HERE.

Due to miscommunications between Zachry and SAWS — the utility, believing the problem was with a water main, thought it was in Bexar Met’s jurisdiction — raw sewage seeped periodically into the ground over the Recharge Zone until January 10. On that day, SAWS learned it was a break in the sewer main and sent its crews to fix the leak in the 2-inch sewer-valve pipe. SAWS spokesperson Ann Hayden said crews repaired it within hours.

Hayden said SAWS is trying to determine the amount of sewage that seeped into the ground. Force-pressure sewer lines are fed by a lift-station pump that cycles on and off, meaning the leak wasn’t continuous, Hayden said.

SAWS and the Edwards Aquifer Authority are examining their databases to determine if any private wells could have been contaminated. Hayden said SAWS knows of no wells within a one-mile radius of the affected area; a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokesperson said there are no public water-supply wells nearby. The EAA hadn’t finished its analysis at press time.

In addition, the toll project took another hit on January 11, when the Federal Highway Administration ordered TxDOT to stop construction on the project and withdrew its environmental clearances, which had allowed construction to proceed.

This study, an Environmental Assessment, is at the core of a lawsuit filed in district court last month by Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas and People for Efficient Transportation [See related story, “Road rage,” January 4-10, 2006]. The groups also requested an injunction, alleging the highway administration and TxDOT violated federal environmental law by failing to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement, which is required for federally funded projects in ecologically sensitive areas.

A portion of the proposed toll road would cross the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, Bexar County’s primary source of drinking water. The highway also borders the habitat of the golden-cheeked warbler, an endangered species.

While an Environmental Assessment is often less rigorous than an Impact Statement, the new study will include public hearings and consider alternatives to the project, which are AGUA and PET’s main concerns.

AGUA vice president Annalisa Peace says a January 27 court hearing on the motion to stop toll-road construction has been cancelled in light of the highway administration’s order. Nonetheless, Peace says, the public should remain vigilant about activities over the Recharge Zone. “We have to watch what’s going on out there.”

Additional reporting by Michael Cary

©San Antonio Current 2006


"We're going to see what our options are."

Second thoughts on tollways

Wed, Jan. 18, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

Amid concerns that Fort Worth's Southwest Parkway could siphon money from other regional road projects, Dallas County officials are calling for a meeting of local leaders to discuss whether they should consider backing out of the North Texas Tollway Authority.

Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher said commissioners met behind closed doors Tuesday with their lawyers to discuss their options, and want to meet with officials from Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties -- which, with Dallas County, make up the tollway authority -- to see where they stand.

This comes a month after the tollway authority decided to level out rates that would be paid by drivers on all its toll roads, rather than set higher toll rates for the Southwest Parkway, which some had argued would not draw enough drivers to pay its own costs.

Keliher said the tollway authority is being left with less-than-desirable projects as counties and private contractors pick off prime toll projects for themselves.

"If the NTTA is going to be a tolling authority for this region, and take on projects no one else wants, we need to assess where we are," Keliher said. "We're going to see what our options are."

On Tuesday, Tarrant, Collin and Denton county leaders said they supported keeping the tollway authority as it is.

Tarrant County Commissioner Glen Whitley said that if Dallas County breaks away it could compete with the authority for funding.

"I don't understand why it was all right for us to be a regional partner regarding air quality issues, but now when it comes to Dallas County's turn to being a regional partner in a tollway project ... Judge Keliher doesn't think they want to participate," Whitley said. "I didn't hear her complaining when they were expanding up into Collin County."

Whitley said local officials should work together in developing important projects.

"We're a region," he said. "I don't think we need to be worried about what is happening just in our own neighborhood."

Denton County Judge Mary Horn said Tuesday that she has no interest in pulling out of the tollway authority and hopes Dallas County does not drop out either.

"Surely they can't believe that only Dallas County residents drive on the George Bush Turnpike," she said. "I hope they will reconsider this option."

Collin County Judge Ron Harris said that Collin County should remain part of the tollway but that he shares Dallas County's concerns about the cost of the proposed Southwest Parkway toll road in Fort Worth.

The best way to address those concerns would be a meeting to discuss them, Harris said.

"As a team player you've got to listen to whatever's out there," he said.

The tollway authority was created in 1997 to replace the Texas Turnpike Authority and oversee the operations of toll roads in Tarrant, Dallas, Denton and Collin counties. The turnpike authority was absorbed into the state's Transportation Department.

Keliher said she's not happy about the tollway authority's recent decision to charge the same tolls on Southwest Parkway as on other roads. Some people have argued that the road will not draw enough drivers to pay its own costs.

"It's a bad business decision," Keliher said. "It is detrimental to the whole system. Even after 30 years when the bonds will be paid off, that road would never be able to pay it off."

But some tollway decisions don't come down to the bottom line, said Bill Meadows, Tarrant County's representative on the authority.

"The NTTA is the designated entity created by Metroplex leadership to provide regional transportation," said Meadows, a former Fort Worth City Council member. "If one project is looked at exclusively and totally in the vacuum of comparative financial feasibility, it doesn't take into consideration the regional approach.

"It's our obligation to consider all factors. We've got an obligation to serve regional transportation needs."

The proposed Southwest Parkway would stretch from Summit Avenue at Interstate 30 near downtown Fort Worth to Altamesa Boulevard/Dirks Road in southwest Fort Worth and eventually to Cleburne. It would include about eight miles of toll road from Summit to Dirks. The rest would extend about seven miles from Dirks to Farm Road 1187 in southern Tarrant County and on to U.S. 67 in Cleburne.

The toll authority is to design and build the main lanes; the Texas Department of Transportation will pay for the interchanges and the rights of way for them; and the city will pay for other rights of way, utilities, landscaping and arterial streets.

The most recent cost estimate for the highway is $825 million.

Fort Worth Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Silcox said breaking up the tollway authority would hurt the whole area, including Dallas.

"The NTTA is going to be more effective with all the partners sticking together than it is by all the partners splintering off," he said. "Dallas would then be on their own, having to fund everything by themselves. Is that good for the citizens of Dallas County? In my opinion, no."

Silcox said the Southwest Parkway may be the pattern for the future as toll roads become more prevalent.

"Some toll roads are going to cost more than other toll roads," he said. "There are going to be more tollways built to the Southwest Parkway standard than the other way."

Staff writers John Kirsch, Mike Lee and Anthony Spangler contributed to this report.

Anna M. Tinsley, (817) 390-7610

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


"TxDOT should have offered more alternatives, rather than a toll road or nothing."

HALT!: 281 toll road project ordered to stop


by Crystal Gottfried
Canyon Lake Times Guardian
Copyright 2006

Under increased public pressure, the Federal Highway Administration instructed the Texas Department of Transportation to cease work on both of its Hwy. 281 Toll Road Projects and withdrew its prior environmental clearances.

Two groups, the Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA) and People for Efficient Transportation, Inc. (PET), effectively stopped TxDOT's plans to build 12 miles of toll lanes along U.S. 281 from Loop 1604 to Borgfeld Road near the Comal County line on Jan. 11 with an injunction they jointly filed in federal court on Dec. 21.

AGUA, an organization formed by advocates for protection of the Edwards Aquifer, and the highway program watchdog, PET, joined together to file for a federal injunction asking that work on expanding and converting Hwy. 281 to a toll road be stopped, citing the lack of public input, discussion of alternatives, and assessment of environmental impacts.

The decision calls for a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) rather than the cursory environmental assessment of the projects to determine if they will cause more significant impact on the human environment.

"A project of this scale, in an extremely vulnerable water supply area and with major ramifications for transportation, public safety, and development, demands the most thorough analysis of all costs, benefits, and consideration of alternatives that better serve the public," said Bill Bunch, attorney for the plaintiffs.

For two years, TxDOT officials have continued to ignore the disapproval of local leaders, and in December, crews proceeded with clearing trees and vegetation along the Hwy. 281 right of way and began putting up silt fences in preparation for construction of the $83 million segment of frontage roads and toll lanes over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone.

At some points, the proposed toll road would be sixteen lanes wide to handle traffic on the highway that has grown from 8,600 vehicles daily in 1980 to presently more than 91,000.

Annalisa Peace of AGUA noted that contractors working on the project sheared a San Antonio Water Supply line that resulted in a leak of raw sewage over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone that continued unabated for over a month.

"This event clearly indicates that TxDOT needs to proceed more cautiously in its operations in this extremely sensitive area," she said.

The Edwards Aquifer, the primary source of drinking water in this area, is a karst aquifer that is highly vulnerable to water pollution because surface water quickly enters the aquifer through recharge features without significant filtration.

PET founder Sal Costello said that the Gov. Rick Perry has directed TxDOT officials to create a new drivers tax by privatizing and tolling roads that taxpayers have already paid for.

"With TxDOT's rush to get out of the transportation business and into the revenue generation business, they've tried to cut corners by not producing all the necessary studies," Costello said. "The law is working for the people today, at least in the case of this one public highway of the many Perry is trying to toll in Texas."

Bill Barker, a local transportation consultant who is helping AGUA and PET with their lawsuit, said that road improvements are needed but that there is a difference between just building roads and really solving transportation problems.

"With a fresh start on the planning of this corridor, I am optimistic that a long term solution will emerge," Barker said.

Attorneys for the parties are working out details for an agreed dismissal of the lawsuit and construction on the project which was to start last Monday has stopped.

Opponents of the project say that TxDOT should have offered more alternatives, rather than a toll road or nothing, to handle the ever-increasing traffic congestion on the highway.

© 2006 Times Guardian


"Not everyone believes the state is telling the truth when it comes to converting existing freeways to toll roads."

For whome the roads toll

January 18, 2006

By Lisa Ferrell
Managing Editor
Inside Collin County Business
Copyright 2006

Some say it’s the only answer, others aren’t ready for a third toll road in Collin County, but most just fear a “Robinhood-like” scenario that isn’t just limited to school finance.

The issue — converting Hwy. 121 to a toll road — has been not only a water cooler topic at the office but a major concern for local officials and businesses along the well traveled road linking the county to DFW airport and beyond.

The facts are simple: the state is short on cash, there are a number of roadway projects that are a priority, the amount of people in the Metroplex (as well as the State of Texas) continues to increase. So growing demand and limited resources to accommodate it have made industry experts get creative in finding ways to solve their problem.

But what’s at the heart of the issue are two things: money and control.

During a year of extensive media coverage, meetings, public discussions and editorials the voice of Collin County is clear: Hwy. 121 needs to be improved. The questions surrounding the process are what local officials continue to ask.

Which agency will be picked to construct and operate Hwy. 121 as a toll road? How much will the tolls be and what exactly will they pay? Will money generated by Hwy. 121 be siphoned to other areas around the state?

The beginning

The idea to convert existing roadways to toll roads came into play as the state began looking at the slate of projects they needed to tackle. The idea is to generate revenue through a user-fee based system in order to cover the costs of roadway improvements.

But not all roads that are on a priority list of improvements are being considered as possible toll roads. Those possible toll roads in the Metroplex include: SH161, Express toll lanes for LBJ freeway, as well as SH183 and a portion of I-35E.

“Right now we’re in a position where only 30 percent of the needed improvements that we’d like to make can be funded in the future,” said Jeff Neal, Senior Transportation Planner with the North Central Texas Council of Governments. “We now have to come up with as many ways as possible to be able to fund the construction of these projects in the future.”

One of the things that was realized about Hwy. 121 is how far in the future it would be completed according to the current transportation plans.

“Just in the Dallas District of TxDOT, their mobility plan is calling for approximately $10 billion worth of projects that they hope to construct,” Neal said. “Based on the current level of funding and the prioritization of all the projects we’d like to build, it was thought that the 121 corridor of Collin County would not be completed as a freeway until as late as 2037.”

Because Hwy. 121 is so far down the list of highways to be improved/expanded, local officials have been thinking of ways to move the process along. One of those ways included a pass through financing option that Collin County is currently looking at doing with the needed improvements to Hwy. 75.

The pass through financing source of funding was something that Collin County engineer Ruben Delgado said he approached the state with several years ago as a solution for Hwy. 121. It didn’t work out as an option because, according to Delgado, they were looking at Hwy. 121 as becoming a toll road.

“It’s probably the number one highway in the state to become a toll road because it will generate a lot of money,” he said.

So whether or not Collin County likes the idea of a third toll road, it looks like it’s the option the state is leaning towards.

But not everyone believes the state is telling the truth when it comes to converting existing freeways to toll roads. And groups across the state have organized to fight TxDOT and the Texas Legislature when it comes to converting existing roads to pay as you go roads.

Current funding

Currently the Department of Transportation is primarily funded through the gas tax (see sidebar) as well as motor vehicle registration.

“I believe the gas tax has not been increased in a number of years,” Neal said. “Right now the collection of funds from the gas tax has stayed relatively flat. We would expect though that in the future as more and more cars are made to be more efficient that the amount of money that would come in to fund roadway construction from that gas tax would probably decrease.”
But the cost of constructing and maintaining roadways is predicted to rise as compensation and construction materials rise.

“As money goes down and construction goes up we’re going to be less and less likely to afford a lot of construction projects that are demanded out there,” Neal said.

The only portion of 121 that is funded by the gas tax in Collin County extends from Hillcrest to the Denton/Collin County line. The rest of Hwy. 121 is only slated for access road improvements.

The plan, according to Neal, is to construct Hwy. 121 from Central Expressway to the Dallas North Tollway as a six lane highway with various frontage road accommodations.

If Hwy. 121 were to be converted to a toll road construction could begin in as early as 2008.
That timeline is appealing to business leaders, government officials, and Hwy. 121 commuters considering the alternative — a completion date of 2037.

Although there is some argument to be made regarding whether or not to convert Hwy. 121 into a toll road, there’s an even bigger debate occurring regarding how that would be accomplished and where Collin County dollars would end up going.

Local authorities want to make sure that tolls collected from 121 in Collin County be used to pay off the bond used to construct their portion of the toll road as well as operational and maintenance costs for the toll road.

According to Delgado, the county is pushing for NTTA to become the agency to construct and operate the toll road. NTTA is among a group of companies that include Skanska BOT, Macquarie Infrastructure Group, Texas Toll and Power, Cintra, Concesiones de Infraestruturas de Transporte, S. A., and Pioneer Heritage Partners that have made a proposal to the state.
“TxDOT has received a proposal from a private organization to build and operate 121 as part of what is called comprehensive development agreement,” Neal said. “It’s possible that some other entities may come and construct 121, perhaps even operate it.

“I think ultimately the final decision on whether or not that happens does rest with TxDOT.”
Delgado thinks TxDOT may make a decision as soon as February.

“The bottom line is we want NTTA to be the agency,” Delgado said. “We want local control.”
According to Delgado there are about $500 million worth of road projects in Collin County. They view Hwy. 75 as the priority of those projects and are working out a way to fund improvements. Delgado said they are exploring a pass through financing deal that will allow the county to lend the state money to make improvements that the state will eventually pay back. Delgado explained that is a complex option that will require much planning.

© 2006 Inside Collin County Business


TxDOT and NASCO "formalize" their commitment to TTC-35

TxDOT teams up with international group on Trans-Texas Corridor


Dallas Business Journal
Copyright 2006

In a rare endorsement, the Texas Department of Transportation is joining the North America's Supercorridor Coalition Inc., a nonprofit, international organization based in Dallas.

The members of Nasco, founded in 1994, aim to develop the highway infrastructure from Canada through the United States to Mexico, particularly the Trans-Texas Corridor, which would widen and expand Interstate 35 into a mega-trade corridor.

A press release Wednesday from Nasco and TxDOT said the two will work together to ensure development of the TTC, championed by Gov. Rick Perry.

"The Texas Department of Transportation is formalizing its commitment to work closely with Nasco and its local, state and international members as the strongest voice on the continued development of I-35 and Trans-Texas Corridor 35," said Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission.

"Without question, Nasco has been the single most influential organization, not just in Texas, but the nation, when it comes to the development of I-35," Williamson added. "They also know what it will take to meet the challenges of the next 50 years."

TxDOT will market the I-35 and Trans-Texas Corridor 35 with Nasco to state, national and international audiences, as well as work on common federal priorities, said Amadeo Saenz, TxDOT's assistant executive director for engineering operations.

Saenz said Nasco's leadership has helped TxDOT to understand how a broad transportation corridor benefits all sides.

Saenz and Nasco Executive Director Tiffany Melvin will make presentations on I-35 and TTC-35 at the Northeast Mexico-Texas workshop on logistics for regional competitiveness in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico.

Nasco has memoranda of understanding with eight U.S. states and one Canadian province for ongoing cooperation in enhancing the I-35/I-29 and I-94 corridors and major connectors to those highways. Nasco also has signed a letter of intent with the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation of Mexico to develop a plan to monitor the operation of commercial cargo vehicles along I-35 using intelligent transportation systems.

The 20-member Nasco Board of Directors includes eight Texans representing Webb, Bell, Denton and Tarrant counties, Free Trade Alliance San Antonio, EWI Risk Services, the International Bank of Commerce and the international law firm Strasburger & Price.

Nasco's general membership includes Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT), Hillwood Properties/Alliance Texas, Love's Country Stores, the City of Midlothian, the City of Gainesville, GrowthNet Trading, and Franco Eleuteri & Associates.

Web sites: and

© 2006 American City Business Journals Inc.


"There were questions about whether local officials and state leaders wanted I-35W developed as a toll road."

Toll project shelved for now

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

AUSTIN - Once again, Tarrant County commuters are stuck in traffic.

Plans to build privately run toll lanes on Northeast Loop 820 and Airport Freeway were shelved Tuesday by state transportation officials, who said the project across more than 30 miles in Tarrant and Dallas counties had become too problematic.

The delay may frustrate many motorists who have been waiting more than a decade for road work to begin between Alliance and Dallas/Fort Worth airports, but state officials pledged to restart the bidding immediately -- with a better blueprint.

Construction could still be under way by 2009 or earlier, they said.

Four bidders had offered to build median toll lanes, but each wanted to start in the Dallas area first because they could collect more toll revenue early on, officials said. That didn't sit well with Tarrant County officials, who say congestion relief is sorely needed in the Fort Worth section, where toll lanes might not have been built for years.

Tarrant County leaders had already earmarked some local money for the project.

Dallas officials had other priorities.

Last week, Tarrant County Commissioner Glen Whitley asked that the Tarrant County portion of the project be separated from the Dallas County portion. Whitley and other members of the newly formed 35W Coalition also have called for toll lanes on Interstate 35W to be included in the project.

Whitley's letter helped state officials realize it was time to start over, said Ric Williamson of Weatherford, Texas Transportation Commission chairman.

"If we start down a road and something goes wrong, we can't be afraid to stop, step back and even suffer losses," Williamson said.

Construction of the Tarrant County toll lanes won't necessarily be delayed, Texas Department of Transportation officials said. Redrawing the project is only expected to take about two months. During that time, an environmental study will continue. By the end of the year, private companies may again be at the bidding table.

"This will not stop the project development," said Russell Laughlin of Hillwood Properties, who is transportation chairman for the 35W Coalition. The group is fighting for I-35W traffic alleviation from Meacham Boulevard to Alliance Airport.

Instead of extending the median toll lanes more than 30 miles from Interstate 35W to Interstate 35E, Tarrant County officials say they want the lanes to go only about as far east as Texas 161, near the D/FW Airport south entrance.

But new elements could be added, including toll lanes on Interstate 35W, perhaps from Meacham Boulevard to Alliance Airport, and reconstruction of the I-35W and Loop 820 interchange.

Private companies hadn't been sure how much of I-35W to include in the project. There were questions about whether local officials and state leaders wanted I-35W developed as a toll road.

After the 35W Coalition called last week for I-35W to be doubled to four lanes in each direction, with two toll lanes and two nontoll lanes, the local acceptance of toll lanes became more clear.

Jose M. Lopez de Fuentes, director of U.S. projects for Cintra, one of the companies bidding on the project, said he wasn't upset by the state's decision to scrap all the bids.

"We liked the project a lot, but we will like it much better after it is repackaged," Lopez said. "I think it will still happen. I think it will happen soon."

The setback in Tarrant County was the only bad news announced during a workshop held by state officials in Austin to brief lenders, engineers and other interested companies on $27 billion worth of Texas toll road projects.

More than 400 people attended the briefing, including representatives of overseas companies. Officials said 600 people also watched an online broadcast.

Projects include the Trans-Texas Corridor toll road from the Metroplex to San Antonio.

Median toll lanes on the Grapevine Funnel project also may be farmed out to the private sector, said Phil Russell, director of the Texas Turnpike Authority Division, as well as improvements to Texas 360 and potentially dozens of other state projects originally planned as nontoll roads.

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

"The idea is, you're spending a lot of money, and you're trying to show people that you're doing something."

Paving Reelection Plans With Vows to Ease Traffic

Motorists are fed up, so some governors risk the 'big spender' label in promising to find fixes.

January 17, 2006

By Sam Howe Verhovek
Los Angeles Times
Copyright 2006

SEATTLE — Offered a chance recently to knock 9.5 cents in taxes off a gallon of gasoline, voters in Washington state said no. The message to Gov. Christine Gregoire and the Legislature was this: Keep the $8.5 billion in taxes, but follow through on your pledge to fix the state's crumbling, congestion-plagued highways and bridges.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry may be staking his reelection prospects this year on his idea of a "Trans-Texas Corridor," a $180-billion multi-decade proposal to build super-wide pathways between the state's big cities for cars, trucks, high-speed trains and pipelines carrying water, oil, electricity and broadband Internet connections.

And in other states, such as New York, Virginia and Idaho, governors — and in some cases the candidates vying to replace them — are pushing multibillion-dollar solutions to chronic highway traffic and other big infrastructure problems.

Against this backdrop, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has unveiled his own rebuilding plan for California, arguably laying claim to the biggest of all big fixes: a $222-billion plan to refurbish freeways, ports, levees, schools and jails across the state.

These mega-proposals from state leaders reflect many economic and political currents, including bigger revenue projections from an improving economy in many states, unexpected congressional largesse in last year's $300-billion highway bill, and polling that indicates voters are fed up with traffic.

But they also represent a clear gamble on a sort of fix-the-potholes theory of campaigning, in which many state leaders seem willing to risk the big-spender tag for the big-fixer mantle.

"It is the true Mayor Daley-ism of gubernatorial politics this year," said Ed Sarpolus, a Michigan pollster, referring to the two generations of Chicago leaders generally credited with making their city work. "The idea is, you're spending a lot of money, and you're trying to show people that you're doing something."

At his inauguration Saturday, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, pledged to "address the transportation dilemma that complicates our lives and threatens our prosperity."

Traffic congestion was a huge issue in the campaign he won, and Kaine, the former lieutenant governor, has held 11 town hall meetings on the subject since his victory in November. The problem is especially acute in northern Virginia's ring of suburbs and exurbs outside Washington.

The literally concrete solutions outlined by Schwarzenegger and others have drawn plenty of critics. Fiscal conservatives worry about a new era of run-amok state borrowing, and environmental and mass-transit advocates bemoan more pavement as the solution to congestion.

In Texas, for instance, plenty of landowners in the path of the governor's big plan (which includes privately financed tollways) are irate over it. In Idaho, a grass-roots group calling itself the Road Kill Coalition has mounted vigorous opposition to a proposed four-lane divided highway just north of the booming capital of Boise.

For Schwarzenegger, the California infrastructure proposal also represents an attempt to change the conversation from his overwhelming setback at the polls in November.

Voters rejected all four initiatives he had vigorously promoted, which dealt with campaign funding, redistricting, teacher tenure and a cap on state spending. (Schwarzenegger, who vaulted to office in a 2003 recall election, is running for a full term.)

Although it may be unclear how these issues will play out politically, there is no question that spending across the country on highways and bridges is already up significantly.

Federal, state and local spending on roadways jumped about 12% in 2005 to a record $66.2 billion, after three years in which such spending was basically flat, according to Census Bureau figures.

The interstate highway system, launched in 1956 by President Eisenhower, marks its 50th anniversary this year. The pressures on it have grown immensely.

In the Northeast and Midwest, the aging highways and bridges represent a huge maintenance problem.

In some Sun Belt states, gridlock stems from continued population growth and expanding foreign trade, said Jack Basso, a senior official with the American Assn. of State Highway and Transportation Officials. (I-35, which stretches across Texas from the border with Mexico through San Antonio, Austin and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, is particularly jammed.)

There is "a whole range of pressures on the system," Basso said. "Overall, there's a clear need for investment. That's what a lot of the governors are responding to."

There is some indication that voters may be more amenable to such spending than in past years, and large-scale post-hurricane reconstruction efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi also will drive up spending.

The American Road and Transportation Builders Assn., an industry group based in Washington, said about 80% of transportation bond and other funding issues put before voters in the last two years had been approved, compared with about 50% in 2002.

In New York, voters recently approved a $2.9-billion highway and mass transportation bond, with about half the money dedicated to fixing roadways. These include many major arteries in and around New York City, including the Van Wyck Expressway, Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and Henry Hudson Parkway.

Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican thought to have presidential aspirations, said in delivering his 12th and final State of the State address this month that New York could afford transit upgrades and other new programs while delivering tax cuts, because the state is running a projected $2-billion surplus.

He even unveiled a program to promote sale of tax-free ethanol at service stations along the New York State Thruway. Pataki said ethanol, derived from corn, would help cut dependence on "terror-promoting foreign oil." Some skeptics called his proposal pandering to voters in Iowa, where the first presidential contest of the primary season is held.

Voters also approved highway bond issues in Maine and Ohio in the November election, although in Oklahoma they turned back a proposal to raise the gas tax, and bond issues were defeated in Arkansas and Colorado.

Though spending on highway programs increased noticeably in 2005, part of it was caused by sharp hikes in the cost of materials used in construction.

And, said William R. Buechner, vice president for economics and research at the American Road and Transportation Builders Assn., even the expanded total work on the nation's highways barely represents two-thirds of the investment needed for major fixes to the system.

"I think we're moving in a positive direction here, but we're far from a real fix," Buechner said. "There's still a lot of work that needs to be done that's not getting done."

© 2006 Los Angeles Times


Dallas County leaders are upset with the way the Tollway Authority wants to bankroll a toll road in Fort Worth

Dallas Doesn't Want To Pay For Fort Worth Toll

Jann 16, 2006

Jack Fink Reporting
CBS 11 News
Copyright 2006

(DALLAS) Dallas County is considering dropping out of the North Texas Tollway Authority. Tuesday commissioners will meet privately with lawyers to mull over legal options. They're upset with the way the Tollway Authority wants to bankroll a toll road in Fort Worth.

As CBS 11 News reported last month, Dallas County hired a law firm just hours after the Tollway Authority's vote.

While Dallas County reviews its legal options at least one Collin County Commissioner is voicing his concerns.

Dallas County leaders are upset because they believe Tarrant County could be getting more than it deserves. They’re opposed to the idea that drivers who use the North Dallas Tollway and the George Bush Turnpike will have to subsidize the Southwest Parkway in Fort Worth.

Tuesday morning Dallas County Commissioners will meet privately with a law firm to see if it's possible to drop out of the Tollway Authority.

"We'll be looking at the by-laws of the NTTA. We'll be looking at what we can do under statute and at what our options are in the next legislative session," said Judge Margaret Keliher, Dallas County Commissioners Court.

Last month, the Tollway Authority board voted to spread out the cost of the Fort Worth toll road.

Dallas and Collin Counties hoped Southwest Parkway drivers would pay a greater share since it'll be their road.

Tollway Authority's board chairman Dave Blair declined an interview, but issued a statement that said, “Any action at this time would be premature because we are about to embark on a strategic planning process that will, in part, better position us to meet challenges."

Those challenges include competition among private firms to build toll roads.

A Collin County Commissioner wants to reconsider the county's plan to have the Tollway Authority build and operate the new Highway 121 toll road between Central Expressway and the North Dallas Tollway.

"I don't think it's a good thing for us to do because our citizens are going to take the brunt of the carrying of the toll road over in Tarrant County," said Commissioner Jerry Hoagland.

Instead, Hoagland wants a private firm to build the Highway 121 toll road and the Tollway Authority would only operate it.

Four companies have placed bids and the state will pick the winner.

When contacted by CBS 11 News a Fort Worth Assistant City Manager declined to comment about Dallas County's legal review.

As for the Tollway Authority the board has a strategic planning workshop this Wednesday to set the course for future goals.

(CBS 11 News)

© 2006 CBS Stations Group of Texas


Monday, January 16, 2006

"Should legislators even serve on the CAMPO board?"

A familiar newcomer for CAMPO

January 16, 2006

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

In case you missed it, former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson was elected to the Texas Senate a couple of weeks ago.

Well, not exactly. That's actually when the filing period for the 2006 election ended. Watson drew no Democratic primary challenger, and no Republicans are running. He will have an opponent in November, Libertarian Rock Howard. But a Libertarian last won a Texas legislative spot in . . . well, never, actually.

So, it's Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, come next January. The transportation connection to this is that Watson will succeed Gonzalo Barrientos, also a Democrat, who has been chairman of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board for two decades.

I used to describe this board as "little-known" or "obscure." Then, in July 2004, the group of 23 legislators, city council members and county commissioners authorized charging tolls on everything but the drive-through at Wendy's and was obscure no more. So it matters who runs it. And who serves on it.

Which brings up a longstanding question: Should legislators even serve on the CAMPO board? Around the state, on the boards of the seven other such planning organizations in metro areas, they generally don't. Five (including Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth) have no legislators, San Antonio has one legislator among its 19 members, and El Paso has six lawmakers on its 25-member board.

CAMPO, on the other hand, has 10 legislators, or 43 percent. Anti-toll folks began to grumble about the surfeit of legislators last year mostly because one of them, state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, wrote the 2003 state law that made the toll plan possible. Krusee then orchestrated the 16-7 vote in favor of tolls.

The logic breaks down a little, however, when you look at that vote. Five of the seven no votes were legislators. Take away all 10 of them, and the vote was still 11-2 in favor of the toll plan.

This argument predates tolls. In a consultant's study of CAMPO five years ago, the authors noted that in their interviews with sitting board members and civic leaders, some said having all these legislators was "undesirable. However, it was not easy for us to get to the root cause of these impressions."

Basically, the argument is that council members and commissioners hear from the public all the time and thus should decide which roads to build. Maybe so. But the legislators are the ones governing the state budget, and that's where the big money is for transportation. Whatever. At this point, there's no momentum for kicking them off.

Which brings us back to the senator-to-be. Watson, who served on CAMPO for four years as mayor, didn't want to participate in speculation about taking possession of Barrientos' CAMPO gavel, calling "that kind of determination premature." But as mayor, Watson was aggressive in rounding up local money to persuade the state to build more roads here, so count on his being more than a dabbler in transportation.

"As state senator," Watson said, "I look forward to being in the big middle of it."

Getting There appears Mondays. For questions, tips or story ideas, contact Getting There at 445-3698 or

© 2006 Austin American-Statesman:


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Governments are willing to cede control of public roads.

More turning to private tollways

Jan. 14, 2006

Gordon Dickson
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

Since 2004, private companies have pledged about $35 billion to build and operate toll roads across Texas and the United States, a Star-Telegram review of proposals shows.

That’s more than the $34 billion in federal highway aid that Congress disbursed nationwide last year.

The value of the projects, many of which are still being negotiated, astonishes even those who support toll roads. The proposals include the Trans-Texas Corridor toll road from Dallas-Fort Worth to San Antonio and toll express lanes on Northeast Loop 820 and Airport Freeway.

At least 17 states are pursuing privatization of highways at some level, a compilation of reports by the Federal Highway Administration and the Reason Foundation shows. Supporters say this may be the beginning of a trend that forever changes how America pays for roads.

“The potential may be limited only by the number of road projects worth building,” said Robert Poole, founder of the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation, which supports privatization. “There’s several trillion dollars available worldwide.”

Drivers who crave a more efficient highway system and are willing and able to pay to get out of traffic congestion may welcome a national patchwork of toll roads run like a business. But critics say that the focus on toll roads could lead to neglect of existing roads and that private companies will get carte blanche to raise tolls.

Some motorists won’t be able to afford the tolls. The out-of-pocket costs will likely be much higher than on Texas toll roads built in the past 50 years by government-backed agencies, which have traditionally kept tolls artificially low because of political pressure.

“The Lexuses and Lincolns will be getting on the toll roads, and everybody else will be getting on the side roads,” said Lourdes Galvan, who is district director for the League of United Latin American Citizens in San Antonio and who opposes tolls statewide.

Quick cash for governments

Investors view toll roads as a low-risk place to park their cash long-term — almost like a public utility.

Private investment in roads is common in Europe. So far, much of the private money for U.S. roads has come from European and Australian companies with access to large pension and insurance accounts, looking for a place to invest money for 50 to 100 years, said Tom P. Rousakis, vice president of municipal finance for Goldman Sachs & Co.

Efforts to build private U.S. toll roads began percolating a few years ago, when state and federal laws started to change as transportation officials looked for funding alternatives to the gasoline tax.

Thirty-eight cents per gallon of every gasoline purchase in Texas goes toward state and federal gas taxes. The taxes yield about $4.4 billion a year for Texas, not enough to keep up with statewide transportation demands.

Tolls are now needed because past elected leaders weren’t honest with America about the cost of building and maintaining roads, said Ric Williamson of Weatherford, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission. A half-century of denial has created a highway system no longer adequate for moving people and goods where they need to go and a tax base that can’t fix it, he said.

“Baby, it’s slow roads, no roads or toll roads,” Williamson said. “Public servants who don’t warn their constituents of that aren’t doing them justice.”

Williamson also said toll roads could generate much of the money needed to build a North Texas regional rail system so it wouldn’t be necessary to ask the Legislature for a referendum on a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax.

Two projects got the attention of transportation planners nationwide:

The Trans-Texas Corridor: In December 2004, a Spanish/U.S. consortium was hired to create the $6 billion toll road to relieve gridlock on Interstate 35 between Mexico and Oklahoma. Madrid-based Cintra and San Antonio-based Zachry Construction are the lead partners. Cintra-Zachry agreed not only to build the road at no direct cost to taxpayers but also to pay a $1.2 billion concession fee that the state can use as it wishes on other transportation needs. Cintra-Zachry will collect tolls for 50 years.

The Chicago Skyway: Chicago needed money for various programs and in late 2004 offered to lease the Skyway, a 7.8-mile elevated toll road. Another consortium led by Cintra stepped up and offered $1.8 billion to collect tolls and maintain the road for 99 years.

The Texas and Illinois situations differ but could both result in a big payday for governments willing to cede control of their roads.

Now state agencies nationwide are lining up their own projects. In states such as Delaware, Indiana and New Jersey, there is talk of leasing existing toll roads to the private sector to raise cash.

Indiana is also pressing ahead with plans to build the rest of its portion of Interstate 69, which would stretch southward through East Texas to the Mexican border, as a private toll road. The Texas Department of Transportation is putting out a call for privatization of its portion of the road, too.

Georgia officials are negotiating with private investors to build a toll road, toll express lanes and truck-only lanes in the Atlanta area.

In the Washington, D.C., area, negotiations are under way to build private express toll lanes on the Beltway and other freeways leading into suburban Virginia and Maryland. Virginia is also considering leasing the Dulles Toll Road.

In Houston, consultants recently told Harris County officials that they might get $7 billion or more if they privately leased their toll road system and let a private company keep the tolls.

What could derail the momentum of the move toward privatization?

Political pressure comes from elected officials who don’t like the prospect of requiring residents to pay higher and more frequent tolls to escape congestion, said Peter Samuel, founder of the online newsletter TOLLROADSnews, based in Maryland.

But in the end, Samuel said, states may not be able to resist the big dollars.

Costs and controversy

Most private toll roads will likely be completely electronic.
Instead of paying at toll plazas, motorists will affix transponders such as TollTags to their cars and pay with a credit card or prepaid account without stopping.

Or, for a higher toll, they can drive without a transponder; their license plate would be photographed and the car’s registered owner mailed a bill, as is done now on a toll road in Toronto.

Instead of 10 cents a mile, tolls would be 20 or 30 cents, perhaps $1 in some areas to reduce traffic during peak hours, according to several university studies and the World Bank. Even at 25 cents a mile, a one-way trip on toll lanes from Interstate 35W and Loop 820 in north Fort Worth to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport would cost about $3.75.

The higher tolls are just one hot button.

There’s also the issue of confidentiality. When a state is deciding which consortium to hire for a project, much of the selection process is secret. Companies are encouraged to share trade secrets.

Losing bidders can be paid for their “intellectual property.”

And then there are noncompete clauses.

Private bidders often ask for clauses in their contracts to ensure that a state doesn’t build new roads that hurt business on toll roads for the duration of the contract.

Critics say private toll roads would discourage improvements to surrounding roads.

In the Metroplex, planners can expect to continue building freeways identified in their plans through 2025, but anything after that could be blocked by noncompete clauses, said Amadeo Saenz, Texas Department of Transportation assistant executive director for engineering operations.

Or, as Rousakis, of Goldman Sachs, put it while briefing North Texas leaders about privatization: “The more power you give to the concessionaires, the greater value you’re going to get out of the road.”

This report includes material from the Federal Highway Administration, the Reason Foundation, wire services and other newspapers.

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram: