Friday, January 18, 2008

During the 80th Legislative session, TxDOT was given "more funding than ever before."

Officials: Transportation Department is broke


By Dave Pasley - Staff Writer
Boerne Star
Copyright 2008

Texas Department of Transportation officials are not mincing words. The agency is broke.

“We are running out of money for new construction,” TxDOT Deputy Executive Director Steve Simmons said in an article for the November-December issue of Texas Professional Engineer.

And, the shock waves from the funding crunch are beginning to be felt around the state.

In Kendall County, TxDOT scrapped two projects worth $7 million from next year’s construction plans, and the agency tried to rescind a third, $500,000 project for a traffic signal at the new Champion High School, before state legislators intervened and the project was restored.

The projects that were cut in 2008 — widening North Main Street from FM 1376 to Interstate 10 and adding new storm drains on Main near Cibolo Creek — are simply being pushed back to 2009. The problem with that is that TxDOT officials expect statewide funding for new construction in 2009 to tighten even more, shrinking another 6 to 19 percent.

“I don’t know that anyone who went to school to become an engineer could have imagined the complex and emotional issues we would have to tackle in the transportation field today,” Simmons wrote in the article. “The political and financial factors that weigh on our decision-making process would seem foreign to our predecessors, but they are now simply part of the terrain in our profession.”

But it is not just civil engineers who are adjusting. State and local politicians long accustomed to TxDOT carrying the funding load may now have to look to local taxpayers to fund and construct major transportation improvements.

To help readers understand these changing dynamics the Boerne Star has invited local officials to answer questions regarding the changes that are taking place at TxDOT.

In the next edition, Kendall County Judge Gaylan Schroeder and Boerne Mayor Dan Heckler talk about how they plan to adjust to the changes at TxDOT.

Today’s questions regarding the future of TxDOT, are directed to State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, who represents Kendall County in the Legislature.

Q: Deputy Executive Director Simmons seems to place a lot of the blame for TxDOT’s funding shortfall on the State Legislature. For instance, in the Texas Professional Engineer article Simmons says “The Texas Legislature shifted more than $1.5 billion from the State Highway Fund for the 2008-09 biennium to pay for other state priorities” and “The 2007 Texas Legislature passed SB 792 which restricts TxDOT’s access to private sector investment to pay for the state’s transportation needs.”

Also, in other venues, Simmons and many others have placed some of the blame for the decline in project funding on the gasoline tax, which is not indexed to inflation and has not been increased since 1991. That tax is also in the purview of the Legislature.

What is your take on all of this? Is there a funding crisis and, if so, whose fault is it?

Sen. Wentworth: The Texas Department of Transportation is not broke.

During this year’s regular legislative session, we provided TxDOT more funding than ever before. TxDOT, like the rest of state government, operates on a two-year budget cycle, and for the biennium, which began on Sept. 1, their appropriation was $16,978,016,740, an increase of $1,815,921,332 including a $300,000,000 contingency rider that was certified by the Comptroller.

Before I go any further, let me share a little background information.

Since 1923, when the Texas Legislature began taxing motor fuel, 75 percent of the revenue has been constitutionally dedicated to transportation, and 25 percent has been dedicated to public education. If all of the state motor fuel taxes were to be re-dedicated to transportation, we would have to find another source of revenue for public education.

In addition to motor fuel taxes, other revenues, such as automobile registration fees and federal funds, pay for transportation. These combined funds create Fund 6, which is the portion of the state budget devoted to transportation.

As many of you know, last session, we passed Senate Bill 792, which established a two-year moratorium on certain statewide toll projects that involve a private entity operating or collecting revenue on a toll road. In addition, that bill authorized the Texas Transportation Commission to issue bonds up to $6 billion, up from $3 billion.

I acknowledge that TxDOT is being asked to do more with less, particularly since the federal government is constantly reducing the state’s share of transportation dollars. I understand that infrastructure finance of this magnitude is very complex, but I do not agree with the statement that the agency is broke.

Q: What is your solution to this problem, not what you think is going to happen, necessarily, but what you would like to see happen?

Sen. Wentworth: I have often said that Texans, like myself, have become accustomed to having the best of everything: schools, highways, parks, etc. We are not, however, used to footing the bill.

Up until the early 1980s, taxes on oil and gas production paid for a large amount of our state budget. As oil and gas production diminished, so did the revenue, and we are realizing the full cost of the infrastructure needed to support our booming economy.

First of all, I believe we need to be honest with ourselves and realize that we cannot build and maintain the highway system needed by modern day Texas without an increase in revenue, whether it be from motor fuel taxes, tolls or other sources.

The fact of the matter is motor fuel taxes are barely able to maintain the system we have in place, much less finance new construction.

Realistically, I believe we should use all of the financing options that are available to us to work our way out of our mobility predicament. In my mind, motor fuel taxes could be indexed for inflation and used primarily for maintenance, and new construction would be paid for with bonds, tax-increment financing or tolls, as long as the toll road is adding bona fide new capacity and is not a conversion of an existing road.

Q: OK, now we know what you would like to see happen, what do you think will happen?

Sen. Wentworth: As to what will happen, I believe TxDOT will continue to promote toll roads as the solution to our mobility woes, but I also believe Texans will accept the fact that we do have a crisis and become more willing to pay for solutions other than tolls, as long as they see progress being made.

Frankly, I see that trend already. Many of the letters I receive regarding transportation issues acknowledge that more money may be needed to address mobility issues, and express a willingness to pay it, just not through tolls.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with the Transportation Commissioners and TxDOT staff, and I am hopeful we can arrive at a solution to our mobility problems.

© 2008 Boerne Star Co

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Thursday, January 17, 2008

"This whole thing is a no-win proposition for Grimes County."

TTC/ I-69 Fiasco


Reuben L. Grassl of Shiro
The Navasota Examiner
Copyright 2008

Please let me echo remarks of Mr. Schneider's, Shiro, letter of December 26 in The Examiner, which we most definitely agree with, in his assessment of the TTC/I-69 “fiasco.”

In conjunction with Mr. Schneider's letter, we have a few additional things to “ponder.”

1. Could the routing through the lesser-populated rural counties - where there is no chance of ever becoming a political “voting block” - even combined, could ever compete with the “metro” areas, which are being told with this TTC/I-69 traffic wise, is the best thing, for them, since the invention of sliced bread.

2. What happens to our counties' tax base - example: ASCISD and Richards ISD - TTC/I-69 is proposed through full length of both districts. ASCISD ponders expansion and needs bond passage. TTC/I-69 takes out thousands of acres of taxable property plus the county's largest tax contributor, Tenaska-Frontier, which lies right in the corridor's path.

3. Rerouting pipelines, railroads, utilities, etc. for TTC/I-69 removes these taxable identities from the tax rolls. (Of course they are for it, no more taxes for them and the taxpayer furnishes them right-of-ways

4. The reduction of remaining taxable land, businesses, etc. appraisals will be minimized and possibly even worthless, where located along TTC/I-69 pathways: remember, TTC/I-69 is to move things quickly, leaving their unwanteds behind in Grimes County - trash, pavement, runoffs into our creeks, stock ponds, drainage, noise, pollution, etc.

5. Businesses will not locate along this type of highway system - as stated - TTC/I-69 is to move goods, not accommodate business along its route. Ex.: Houston toll roads - virtually no business frontages, except possibly at on-off ramps, which in the realms of the TTC/I-69 there will be very few ramps and even then, only in metro areas. Then the toll road authority TTC/I-69 controls these, plus all traffic flow along its route to eliminate any competition with the toll way operation.

6. Private property - homes, farms, ranches, small businesses - values will be reduced drastically. No value in a home or rural setting in earshot or view of a corridor. Your $300,000 private investment may become worth $75,000, and on that basis, that is what TTC/I-69 is going to offer you (give you), non-negotiable, thanks to the latest out of Austin.

This whole thing is a no-win proposition for Grimes County. We give them our county and probably won't even get an on-off ramp. Our neighbors up north will probably get a ramp though; a lot of political clout there.

A personal opinion - this whole corridor scam is politically motivated on the highest levels of government to appease and pay back the outsourcing industrial northeast, and is a way to pay back a coalition debt as a result of our involvement in the East. Remember who was one of our larger coalition partners, and now, evidently, it's payback time for that European country on the backs of our little county of Grimes.

Please, please be present at the Grimes County Expo Center on Feb. 28 at 5 p.m. to observe TTC/I-69 and TxDOT's rooster dance around these issues. Tell your out-of-county friends of our plight and request their support in this. Your support and attendance is needed to stop TTC/I-69 at our county line.

© 2008 The Navasota Examiner:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Who is this highway for? Who is it really going to benefit?"

I-69 & Trans-Texas Corridor


by Christa Lollis
KTRE Channel 9 (Lufkin, Nacodoches)
Copyright 2008

LUFKIN- A continuous 10-lane interstate complete with restaurants, and rail lines could soon run throughout Texas. It could even run right through Lufkin and Nacogdoches, and that's not sitting too well with some people.

"The main reason is who is this highway for? Who is it really going to benefit," Hank Gilbert wonders. Those are questions Gilbert wants answered. He and his organization are against construction of the interstate but TxDOT says it's nothing they aren't used to. One representative, Steve Simmons said, "We're not seeing anything different that we're hearing at the I69/TTC debate as what was discussed during the building of the interstate highway system. It's a new concept. It affects people. It affects their communities. It affects the state of Texas."

TxDOT reps answered questions and told the audience why I-69 and the Trans-Texas corridor are a good thing, and important to the growth of the state. "1000 new people move to Texas everyday. We basically add the population the size of San Antonio every 5 years," Simmons explained. Opponents of the plan came armed with stats of their own. "The federal housing and our developments says just the opposite, that Texas has been basically zero growth for the last 5 years. We've had a large migration from the rural to urban areas but not a whole lot of growth," Gilbert argued.

The growth argument wasn't the only negative East Texans saw in TXDOT's plans. "I am very concerned about foreign entities in this plan," one East Texan said. Another asked, "To the extent that you could use the existing footprint would that part be tolled also?" This wasn't the first, and it won't be the last of town hall meetings throughout the state but TxDOT hopes that when they leave each city, there will be a few more supporters than when they arrived

© 2008 WorldNow and KTRE:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Many people expressed concern over effects of the proposed corridor, such as the loss of open space, private property, and environmental damage."

Corridor of change: East Texans express their opinions for and against the proposed

I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor during town hall meeting

January 17, 2008

The Lufkin Daily News
Copyright 2008

Hundreds showed up to a town hall meeting Thursday night in Lufkin, many with questions for Texas Department of Transportation officials about the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor that could run through or around Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Huntsville and other East Texas towns.

As it's drawn up, I-69/TTC would include toll roads, high-speed freight and commuter rail, water lines, oil and gas pipelines, electric transmission lines and telecommunications infrastructure in one corridor running north/south through Texas. One primary purpose of the corridor would be to help with the state's projected traffic congestion.

Texas Department of Transportation representative Cheryl Flood answers questions concerning the proposed route of the Trans-Texas Corridor at Thursday evening's town hall Meeting at Pitser Garrison Civic Center.

Although TxDOT directors assured everyone that nothing is set in stone and they want to hear the public's ideas, current plans have the corridor running through East Texas.

"One option is no-build," said TxDOT Executive Director Steve Simmons. "Another is a different alignment."

Many land owners expressed worry over the corridor being built directly over their land.

"There's a lot of 'ifs,' such as if it's going to come through my land," Gary Smith of Trinity County told the TxDOT officials. "I don't want to go somewhere else, but I'm only one person ... Who's going to buy this right-of-way, and what's going to happen to our lives?"

Phil Russell, TxDOT assistant director of innovative project development, explained how the process of buying someone's land works. According to Russell, an appraiser would be hired to assess the value of the property. The owner would be shown the value and given relocation assistance. If the owner didn't like the price offered, he could go through several more processes of trying to come to an agreement on a fair value.

Russell also encouraged everyone with such concerns to contact TxDOT so the agency could do what it can to avoid that property.

The possibility of turning state highways 59, 281 and 77 into toll roads also concerned many people. Russell said he believes that, if those roads are expanded, only the new lanes would be subjected to tolls.

Many people expressed concern over other effects of the proposed corridor, such as the loss of open space, the loss of private property (including ranches that have been in a family for generations), and damage to the environment. However, some expressed support of the corridor.

"I'm tired of building tunnels under roads so little frogs can cross the road," said J.T. Smith, a former transportation worker. "We need a better dream than the rest of the world. Let's build through downtown and keep our cities vital."

Houston County Judge Lonnie Hunt also expressed support for the corridor.

"Change is never easy, but change is coming," Hunt said. "I think it's important that we plan for it and that we plan well into the future. This will give you a greater connection to another part of the world."

The town hall meeting came right before 46 public hearings to be held in different part of Texas over the next couple months, beginning in Center and Huntsville on Feb. 4.

Lufkin's is scheduled for Feb. 12 at the Pitser Garrison Civic Center. All meetings are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.

© 2008 The Lufkin Daily News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"There are a lot of low-income farmers and property owners here in East Texas. They're not going to be able to fight this."

Land loss big concern at corridor meeting

January 17, 2008

Longview News-Journal
Copyright 2008

CARTHAGE — James Mason doesn't want a new highway cutting him off from his property. James Boggs wants to keep American jobs here.

They were just a sample of about 140 residents who asked, commented and listened during a public forum with state transportation leaders Wednesday night in Carthage. It was the second of several forums scheduled along the Interstate 69/Trans-Texas Corridor, a proposed superhighway that likely will parallel U.S. 59 from Texarkana to the Mexican border.

"We haven't done a very good job of (communicating) in the past," said Steve Simmons, deputy executive director of Texas Department of Transportation. "That's why we're here now."

The Trans-Texas Corridor was an idea first proposed by Gov. Rick Perry about six years ago. It would be up to a quarter-mile-wide highway with toll roads, rail lines, pipelines and utility lines, state officials said. Its cost is estimated at nearly $200 billion.

The idea has caught opposition on several sides — from residents fighting a potential eminent domain land grab to taxpayers fearful of a Spanish firm's involvement in planning the corridor.

"If you put Interstate 69 down the middle of U.S. 59, I've got property on both sides of that road, and it's going to be a six-mile drive for me to get back to my property on the other side of the highway," said Mason, 45, of Panola County. "Whenever you put that road down, you're going to do this to people. You're going to divide properties."

Simmons and other TxDOT officials cautioned that a route for Interstate 69 has not been finalized, noting that construction of even one part of the corridor is at least 10 years away in a best-case scenario.

Mason's comments were in the minority here Wednesday. Several residents asked about the state's ongoing transportation funding crisis and broad corridor plans.

Highway construction costs have risen 62 percent in the past years and have doubled costs from one decade ago, Simmons said. The federal highway trust fund could be $4 billion in the hole by 2009, he said. That has led TxDOT to focus on maintaining existing lines while telling residents that future large-scale highway projects such as Interstate 69 are likely to be tolled.

"Just like there's not one silver bullet to solve all of our transportation problems, there's no silver bullet that caused all of our problems," Simmons said. "We have 80,000 miles of roadway. With the weather we've been having and those inflationary costs, we haven't been able to keep up with those needs out there."

Hank Gilbert of Whitehouse was in Texarkana on Tuesday and in Carthage on Wednesday on behalf of Texans United for Reform and Freedom, a citizens' group concerned about toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor. He said a new eminent domain statute allows the state to seize property before the owner can take the issue to court.

"You're going to cut farms in half," Gilbert said. "Also, there are a lot of low-income farmers and property owners here in East Texas. They're not going to be able to fight this."

The attorney general's office handles land acquisition, not TxDOT, said Phil Russell, executive director of innovative projects for the agency. Property can only be acquired for transportation purposes, not commercial development, and the department has never used the "quick grab" statute and probably never will, he said.

"As I understand it, it simply gives us the ability to take possession of that property a bit earlier," Russell said. "You don't limit any of your abilities to go to the special commission or the courthouse to argue the value of your property or anything else."

TxDOT will hold 45 public hearings in February in Texas to discuss Interstate 69 and allow residents to respond. A meeting will be held Feb. 6 at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center, and hearings will be held Feb. 5 in Carthage, Marshall on Feb. 7 and Jefferson on Feb. 21.

© 2008 Longview News-Journal:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"A tough sales job."

Tough road ahead for Trans-Texas

Jan. 17, 2008

The Associated Press
Copyright 2008

CARTHAGE, Texas — State transportation officials may have a tough sales job ahead as they try to pave the way for new highways — mostly toll roads — to deal with the booming Texas population.

Department of Transportation executives were in Carthage Wednesday night in far East Texas for the second stop in a month long series of public town hall meetings to discuss the Trans Texas Corridor, a proposed network of superhighway toll roads, and other transportation issues.

About 100 people attended the session at the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame where a panel of officials — like they did at the initial session the previous night in Texarkana — fielded questions about toll roads versus free roads, timetables for construction, property acquisition and the absence of traditional money sources to pay for new roads.

"I'm kind of scared where we are now," Center Mayor John Windham said, referring to the availability of money to build new roads. "If we get highways built in Texas, I don't see any way except if it's going to be a toll road."

Much of the discussion was about Interstate 69, a long-sought north-south superhighway through East Texas and into South Texas that would follow the route of U.S. 59. The scheduled series of meetings is in areas where the road likely is to go.

"Let me say, the best chance of building I-69 is as a toll road," said Phil Russell, an assistant executive director of the transportation agency.

He assured people, however, that existing roads, like U.S. 59, would not be tolled. Transportation department officials also said maintenance on existing roads wouldn't suffer if new roads were added.

"We're going to do the very best job we can do to keep those in tip-top shape," Russell said.

The unprecedented meetings are intended to answer questions and improve communication between the agency and people who use the roads as plans move forward for the proposed Interstate 69 project, which also could be a leg of the gigantic TTC.

"There's some folks out there that have their minds made up about things and we just want to provide the information we have," said Steve Simmons, deputy executive director of the transportation department.

While some have embraced the project as long overdue, others contend it is unneeded and improper.

"I'm one of the few here that don't believe we need this highway," said James Mason, of Carthage. He owns property on either side of U.S. 59 and worried he'd have a six-mile trip to get from one side of the road to his property on the other side if the new road is a limited access highway.

"That's not going to work," he said.

Agency officials said they would work with landowners and build grade separations or other methods to alleviate such problems. The same concerns were voiced during construction of interstate highways in the 1960s, Simmons said.

"I like the format and I'm glad they're doing this," said Hank Gilbert, of Tyler. "But they still have some facts wrong and they're still not telling the whole story. They're not being 100 percent truthful. It's kind of fishy. There's a hidden agenda they're not talking about."

Agency officials deny any secret plans.

Gov. Rick Perry first proposed the TTC six years ago. If completed as much as 50 years from now, it would roughly parallel interstate highways with up to a quarter-mile-wide stretch of toll roads, rail lines, pipelines and utility lines. Cost of the project has been estimated at approaching $200 billion, and at 4,000 miles or so it would be the biggest construction project ever in Texas.

TTC also could require the state to acquire nearly 600,000 acres of private land, much from farmers and ranchers.

The initial meeting Tuesday night at a Texarkana high school extended well beyond three hours as several dozen people talked about land acquisition, toll roads versus free roads, construction timetables and environmental impact.

Other questions focused on the involvement of foreign interests and notions that the project was a conspiracy to move forward a North American Union that would unite Canada, the United States and Mexico into a single government.

"I read it on the Internet," one man insisted to the transportation panel, whose members remained polite and thanked him for his thoughts.

Phil Russell, an assistant executive director of the agency, said while some segments of existing U.S. Highway 59 could be incorporated into the new highway, those lanes would remain free.

"We don't ever expect to toll existing lanes," Simmons said.

"If we have to build additional lanes, they will be tolled, I would anticipate," Russell said.

Linda Ballard, of Atlanta, said some of her relatives had to sell property for construction of Interstate 30 but lauded transportation officials for paying fair market value.

"You'll probably get my house," she said.

She worried, however, that her relatives' experience was years ago.

"How can you guarantee me fair market value?" she asked.

"I think we can," Simmons said. "We have to follow the law."

Some feared if appeals that are part of the acquisition procedure failed, the state would just take the land it wanted.

"I wouldn't get too focused on [that]," Russell said. "We've never used it and I don't think we ever will."

No exact route for the new highways has been determined yet, and it could take up to five years before it's even a "line on a map," according to Russell. He also said it could be 10 years before drivers get to ride on just a piece of the road.

Officials said toll roads are needed because gasoline tax revenues and federal highway money, long the staples of highway construction, will be able only to pay for maintenance costs but not new construction.

Much discussion focused on a Spain-based firm that was part of a consortium to win a planning contract for the first phase of the Trans-Texas Corridor, which is to parallel I-35. But transportation department officials insisted the land and roads would continue to be owned by the state and denied the bid process was designed to exclude American firms, few of which even chose to bid on the project.

European firms appeared to be more willing than American companies to wait years before receiving financial returns on their investment, Simmons said.

The town hall meetings are intended to compliment public hearings scheduled to begin next month on environmental impact studies related to the I-69 project. Those sessions, by rule, are more formal and don't allow for the give-and-take between people and the agency officials.

The Carthage session ended after about 90 minutes, considerably shorter than the nearly four hours officials were peppered with questions from several dozen people Tuesday night at a Texarkana high school.

© 2008 The Associated Press:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"It appears that the public has yet to be totally convinced. We're not convinced , either."

Editorial: Texas Corridor

January 16, 2008

Nacodoches Daily Sentinel
Copyright 2008

The building of the Trans-Texas Corridor, according to Gov. Rick Perry's Web site, promises a bright future — cleaner air, better safety and faster commutes.

Not only that, as a toll road, it can be built faster, cheaper and better.

If there are facts to back up those promises, they weren't readily available. Although the Web site offers what it calls a "fact sheet" on the project, it's not a listing of facts and statistics. It's a list of responses to criticism, or as the Web site puts it "Realities" that refute "Contentions."

It's likely that some of those contentions will be brought up during a series of town hall meetings, the one for our area to be held in Lufkin tomorrow night.

Although the governor's office and TxDOT assert that building a $200 billion dollar toll road is key to meeting our future transportation needs, it appears that the public has yet to be totally convinced.

We're not convinced, either.

Our plan for the future should go beyond building bigger highways for more vehicles. With $100 a barrel oil, we should be planning for alternative modes of traffic — high speed trains, for example. Although the corridor also includes a rail component, if the idea is to encourage rail traffic, why offer the enticement of a super-fast, super-convenient superhighway next to it?

Building a highway that will encourage more truck traffic, more commuting and more gas consumption, just doesn't make sense. Nor can we understand how building a toll road will "significantly reduce air pollution," as the governor's office claims. Better highway, fewer cars, just doesn't make sense.

Future planning should focus on ways to discourage traffic, not to increase it. Offering vehicles the opportunity to drive cross country at speeds of 85 mph sounds like more like an incentive than a deterrent, even if they'll have to pay extra to do it.

It also strikes us as unwise to "combine roads, rail, utilities and energy pipelines into a single corridor." Sounds like a pretty good target for a terrorists — and at a quarter of a mile wide, it's not likely one that could be missed, even from outer space.

Our state needs a plan that takes a real look at what we're going to need 50 years from now. Oil isn't going to last forever, not even at $1,000 a barrel.

That's not just a promise, that's a fact.

© 2008 Nacodoches Daily Sentinel

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Curious about the Trans Texas Corridor? How about furious?"

TTC-69 Town Hall Meetings

Copyright 2008

Today the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has formally begun a massive public reeducation and public relations effort in an aggressive and expensive attempt to stem the chorus of objections voiced thus far over the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC).

Millions of tax dollars are being spent in the attempt to sway public opinion instead of building and maintaining Texas highways. Rather than listening to the public and addressing our needs and concerns, TxDOT is out to reeducate us, to convenience us that the TTC is the only solution that can meet our transportation needs.

Despite our obvious misgivings, we must all once again participate and voice our continued concerns and objections to the Trans Texas Corridor.

During January 2008, TxDOT will begin holding a series of meetings they are calling, "Town Hall Meetings." Unlike the environmental hearings held thus far, these meeting promise open discussion between TxDOT and the public. Well at least that's how they are being promoted.

Despite our obvious misgivings, we must all once again participate and voice our continued concerns and objections to the Trans Texas Corridor.

TxDOT says,

"If nothing else, Texans have been curious about the Trans-Texas Corridor, and for all the information that has been given about the project, many Texans still have lots of questions. And the Texas Department of Transportation plans to answer them at a series of town hall meetings that will begin January 15 at various locations across the state."

Curious? Curious about the Trans Texas Corridor? How about furious.

14,000 Texans attended more than 50 TTC-35 hearings and voiced their loud objections. TxDOT turned a deaf ear. Clearly TxDOT has an agenda, one that they haven't allowed to be derailed by overwhelming concern expressed by thousands of Texans. This new "Town Hall" approach appears to be in direct response to the missteps TxDOT made with TTC-35. Missteps that led to both houses of the Texas Legislature passing bills to put a two-year moratorium on the Trans Texas Corridor.

TxDOT says,

"These town hall meetings, unlike the formal project public hearings that many Texans have attended, will allow attendees to discuss the corridor and its impact to Texas with TxDOT officials. It also will allow attendees to get their questions answered about the corridor and statewide transportation policy. In short, these town hall meetings are a conversation that will lead to solutions to Texas’ current and future transportation challenges. "

Sadly TxDOT has consistently demonstrated that they lack the latitude to allow such discussion to deviate from the Governor's predetermined outcome. The Governor and his Transportation Commission appointees have no interest in participating in any conversation that doesn't end in agreement with the Governor's TTC plan.

The Texas Legislature could not even engage TxDOT in such discussion during their most recent session. Stonewalling, refusing dialogue, misrepresentations, and conspiring with the Federal Highway Administration to sabotage legislation were among the unprecedented tactics used by TxDOT under the direction of the Governor's Transportation Commission.

Notwithstanding TxDOT's determination to direct the discussion to reach their desired outcome, it is important that the citizens of Texas continue to build a record of raising legitimate concerns and objections.

Stand up and be heard.

© 2008 CorridorWatch:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"It has become absolute orthodoxy within the conservative movement that you cannot raise any taxes. In this instance, I don't see any alternative."

Study: Toll roads alone won't pay for U.S. highway needs

Bipartisan panel says Congress will need to increase gas tax

January 15, 2008

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

A federal commission created by Congress called for big increases to the federal gas tax on Tuesday as part of a sweeping overhaul of how America builds and pays for its highways, bridges and transit systems.

The proposal for a 40-cent increase over five years touched off a stormy debate in Washington that is expected to last until at least 2009, when legislation governing scores of transportation programs expires and must be rewritten.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry condemned the proposals.

"Washington is still mired in old-school bureaucratic thinking," Mr. Perry said in response to Tuesday's long-awaited report by the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. "Washington is clearly incapable of meeting today's transportation demands, so why should anyone believe they can handle tomorrow's?"

With Mr. Perry as governor, Texas has been among the nation's strongest advocates for giving states more authority to partner with private companies to build highways as toll roads. Dozens of new toll roads have been proposed in Texas, and his administration has routinely rejected calls for higher gas taxes.

Mr. Perry's strong reaction Tuesday reiterates his long-standing support for aggressive pursuit of private toll financing, and puts him in lock-step with the Bush administration. Though U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters led the panel, on Tuesday she rejected its call for higher gas taxes.

Ms. Peters signed the report but joined the two other administration appointees on the panel in issuing a dissenting statement opposing higher gas taxes. Like Mr. Perry, Ms. Peters believes the federal government should reduce the role it plays in building America's roads. Instead, both want to give states greater freedom to partner with private companies to meet those needs.

"Raising gas taxes won't improve traffic congestion, it will only perpetuate our ineffective reliance on fossil-based fuels to fund infrastructure and send more of Americans' hard-earned money to Washington to be squandered on earmarks and special-interest programs," Ms. Peters said.

But all nine of the members appointed by Congress in 2005, including five appointed by Republicans, say new taxes are critical.

"I am a die-hard conservative Republican," panel member Paul Weyrich, founding president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, said at a news conference Tuesday. "And it has become an absolute orthodoxy within the conservative movement that you cannot raise any taxes. Well, in this particular instance, I don't see any alternative."

Reform in 2009

None of the report's recommendations are binding for Congress. But its release prompted comment from all sides of the national debate over taxes and tolls. It is widely expected to frame the discussion between now and 2009 over how to fix the nation's aging and inadequate network of roads, bridges and rail lines.

Legislation that governs federal transportation programs expires next year, and the new laws that will be needed will probably be among the most heavily debated in Congress. Committee hearings begin this month.

The panel wants Congress to raise the federal gas tax – currently at 18.4 cents a gallon – by 5 to 8 cents a year for five years, and then allow the rate to grow with inflation after that. By then, drivers would be paying $6 extra for every 15-gallon tank. The panel also wants state gas taxes increased.

That's too much, said Carrollton resident Jon Moore.

"We are taxed to death already. It costs more to eat, to drive, to live. Every year, the property taxes go up on our houses," said Mr. Moore, who is self-employed and commutes as little as possible. "It cost $75 just to register a car each year. Why is that? If we use too much water, they tack on a penalty. If we use too little water, they raise the rate. ... Everyone wants more no matter how many repossessions are taking place."

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, also rejected the idea of raising the federal gas tax.

"With Americans paying more than $3 per gallon at the pump and the economy teetering on a recession, we should be providing tax relief, not imposing a tax that has the greatest impact on lower- and middle-class families," her spokesman Matt Mackowiak said.

Jack Schenendorf, the commission's vice chairman, acknowledged that voters and lawmakers are reluctant to pour money into a system he described as broken.

"We believe that it [the gas tax] can be raised, but only if you go to the people with a clear mission with what you are going to use it for," he said. "All of us believe that the federal program needs to be fundamentally changed."

Other major recommendations include a complete reorganization and streamlining of the federal transportation system.

The panel wants spending on U.S. transportation infrastructure to nearly triple to at least $225 billion a year for the next 50 years.

"This is going to take political leadership," Mr. Schenendorf said. "We have concluded that our surface transportation system in America is at a crossroads. We have a looming crisis coming. A failure to act would be catastrophic to this nation."

Government's role

Ms. Peters and Mr. Perry are not alone in arguing that the federal government wastes the money it now has and shouldn't be rewarded with large new taxes. Others who support the panel's call for a continued federal leadership role in transportation say higher taxes are the wrong approach.

U.S. Rep. John Mica, the ranking Republican on the House transportation committee, said big gas-tax increases are a bad idea.

"While I respect their hard work and efforts, the commission's recommendation of a dramatic increase in the gas tax does not stand a snowball's chance in hell of passing Congress," said Mr. Mica, who has visited Dallas frequently in the past few years to discuss what he calls a looming crisis in transportation funding.

In an interview, he said Congress could support indexing the gas tax to inflation but suggested more emphasis be placed on leveraging what funds it gets by issuing bonds and partnering with the private sector to build toll roads.

So-called public-private partnerships have been a centerpiece of Mr. Perry's approach since he first took office. Since then, dozens of tolls roads have been proposed for Texas, and many of them will be eligible to be built by private companies. The Spanish firm Cintra is developing the first phase of the massive Trans-Texas Corridor, and private firms are expected to bid this year to build six new toll lanes on LBJ Freeway in Dallas.

Twenty-three states let private companies partner with governments to build toll roads or bridges, the report said. In all, 31 states have tolled structures of one type or another.

But the report also urges states to impose restrictions on contracts with private firms, something advocates of so-called public-private partnerships say the companies will find onerous.

Robert Black, spokesman for Mr. Perry, said restrictions on such deals should not be imposed from Washington.

"The governor sees this report as Washington, D.C., trying to implement a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach," he said. "Instead, it should free the states up to decide which restrictions it wants to impose. It ought to be the state's prerogative, not the federal government's."

One aspect of the report that would give states more authority to toll both new and existing interstates drew criticism from Ms. Hutchison.

"Taxpayers should never be asked to pay twice for a highway," said her spokesman, Mr. Mackowiak.

  • Raise federal gas taxes by up to 40 cents per gallon by 2014
  • Raise overall transportation spending by all governments to at least $225 billion a year – nearly triple the current level
  • Allow states to toll new and existing interstates, particularly in major metro areas
  • Encourage private toll roads, but with new limitations
  • Save money by reducing the time it takes to build major projects

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co:

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"Governor Perry's legacy has already been defined by his property rights record, and it will not be favorable."

Interview with Texas Farm Bureau President


by Christine DeLoma

Volume 12, Issue 20
The Lone Star Report
Copyright 2008

Kenneth Dierschke, a cotton farmer from Wall, is president of the state’s largest farm organization, the Texas Farm Bureau (TFB). I chatted with Dierschke the other day about issues most important to farmers and ranchers. Private property rights top the list. (No wonder Gov. Rick Perry’s controversial veto of eminent domain reform shocked many TFB members) Dierschke explores the possible reasonings behind Perry’s veto of what he calls the “most important property rights legislation in at least 10 years.”

DeLoma: One of the big issues outlined in the Texas Farm Bureau’s annual convention was the need to revisit eminent domain reform, which Gov. Rick Perry vetoed. Why is reforming eminent domain important to your members?

Dierschke: The process is obviously in need of reform. When I go out and speak to people and explain to them how many entities [in] the state of Texas actually have the power of eminent domain, they are usually very surprised. Actually there are thousands of them.

The fact is, eminent domain has become far too easy, thanks to two very unfortunate Supreme Court decisions. The deck is now stacked against the property owner. For example, the condemning entity does not have to make a good faith offer before they initiate this process. That means they can lowball the property owner and force that family to decide to take the matter to court. They can get the property literally for a very low and unfair compensation.

In another case, the court ruled that property owners need not be compensated for diminished access. This is state-sanctioned robbery, and no one who claims to support property rights can possibly be for that.

I’d also like to make clear that this is not a rural vs. urban issue. For every person that owns a home, a business, a car, or other property is subject to being steamrolled by an eminent domain process that has lost all pretense of fairness.

We do not dispute the fundamental concept of eminent domain, and we also understand that with the exploding population of Texas in coming years, the taking of private property for public use will become more frequent. What we’re saying is just: Treat us fairly when that happens.

DeLoma: Were you surprised at Gov. Perry’s veto of HB 2006 and his reasons behind the veto?

Dierschke: Yes, I was very surprised at the veto. It was inconceivable to us that the Governor that has stood in front of Farm Bureau members at dozens of meetings, who was professing his support for property rights, turned his back on farmers and ranchers and property owners.

The reasons for the veto, what I’ve heard, really don’t ring true. We’ve heard some ridiculous numbers [of what it] would cost the state. But I really haven’t seen an official estimate when you come down to it...

You can’t say to people, “We want our property, but we don’t want to pay for what it is actually worth.” We can’t have that in the state of Texas.

We also heard from the Governor’s office that all the condemnation lawyers would benefit from the diminished access provision of House Bill 2006. That’s just nonsense. Actually, by more clearly defining the circumstances by which diminished access would apply, the need for lawyers would be much less.

Then there was the ludicrous claim that House Bill 2006 did not apply to rural Texas. Tell that to the farmers and ranchers whose land is in the path of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor.

In fact, that is probably what the veto is about. For better or worse, the Governor has taken his legacy on the Trans-Texas Corridor. I think it is more likely that his legacy has already been defined by his property rights record, and it will not be favorable.

Folks need to understand, though, that this is not just about the Trans-Texas Corridor. Anywhere, anyone in the state of Texas can have their property taken and be unfairly compensated.

DeLoma: The Texas Farm Bureau supports compensation for diminished access to an owner’s property, yet Perry cited it as one of the reasons for his veto. Does TFB plan on bringing the issue back to the Legislature and risk a Perry veto? If so, why?

Dierschke: Our goal is for an identical bill to reach the Governor’s desk. Certainly we expect a veto. However, we expect to be able to override his veto. Our members’ challenge will be to obtain the bill’s passage in a timely manner to have the opportunity to override.

House Bill 2006 passed both houses of the Legislature with a veto-proof margin. Eminent domain [reform] is an idea whose time has come. This is a defining issue. Gov. Perry vetoed the most important property rights legislation in at least 10 years. We will not accept a gutted, meaningless bill.

DeLoma: What are some of your other top public policy priorities for the next legislative session?

Dierschke: Up for Sunset review is the Texas Transportation Commission, and I’m confident that reorganization will be of interest to our membership. Maintenance of our members’ access to available oil supplies will be significant, and as always we will be vigilant in our protection of various tax treatments that agriculture currently enjoys [such as] agriculture use valuation and the sales tax exemption on our input items.

DeLoma: What kind of federal legislation is the Texas Farm Bureau supporting?

Dierschke: Probably the main thing that we have on our agenda is the reauthorization of the 2002 Farm Bill and currently the 2008 Farm Bill — we are very supportive of that. That legislation not only impacts farmers who participate in those programs but also anyone who uses the land and water conservation programs of the USDA.

We’re also committed to the trade distortion improvements. The average tariff on products entering the U.S. is 13 percent, whereas the average tariff on our products entering other countries is 63 percent. Approximately 25 percent of our annual production is exported.

Another thing we are looking at is immigration. Our farmers and ranchers need a dependable supply of workers, and we will continue to work on that situation.

DeLoma: How important, these days, is agriculture in the state’s economy, and what do you think the state can do to support Texas farmers?

Dierschke: Well, I think the contributions that agriculture makes to the Texas economy are very significant. One in five jobs in Texas is dependent on agriculture, and that includes jobs on our farms and ranches, jobs in processing , transporting, marketing, retailing , and all those things that involve getting food from the farm to the table.

Then also there are some extremely important farm service industries and resources that go into supporting our food and fiber producers. So the annual value that commodities produce in Texas is more than $13 billion and the value to the economy of the state is more than $55 billion a year... And there are hundreds of rural communities across Texas that exist to support agriculture.

And one of the main things the state does to support farmers is the Texas Department of Agriculture. They help development of our product in state and also out of state and nationally, so we thank them for that.

DeLoma: Anything to add?

Dierschke: Agriculture is committed to a more energy-independent America. There are alternative energy sources available in Texas, mainly cellulosic and biomass energy products. The state must play a role in developing these energy alternatives. And Texas, as we all know, has been an oil and gas state for many years.

We can remain a leading energy state with the appropriate leadership. The farmers and ranchers of Texas stand ready to do our part.

© 2008 The Lone Star Report:

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"The Trans-Texas Corridor ... is not so far down the road that it can't be stopped."

Toll Time?: East Texans' views to be sought at town hall meetings

January 15, 2008

Longview News -Journal
Copyright 2008

A long a path that roughly parallels the East Texas route of the much-anticipated Interstate 69, area residents will have three opportunities this week to take part in town hall meetings to discuss the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor.

The Texas Department of Transportation's statewide series of such meetings begins tonight at Pleasant Grove High School in Texarkana, and then moves to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage on Wednesday and the Lufkin Civic Center on Thursday. All of the meetings begin at 6:30 p.m.

Gov. Rick Perry's corridor plan — which relies heavily upon toll roads and private investors — has stirred great passion in Texas. Some backers tout it as the most cost-efficient way to meet the ground transportation needs of the nation's fastest growing state, while detractors label it the biggest land grab in Texas history.

There was a serious move in the Texas Legislature last year to derail Perry's plan. Although his foes were not successful, they did slow the progress of the first stage. That stage granted the franchise for the initial leg of mega-tollway to the Cintra Zachry consortium, a private concern teaming Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte SA of Spain and Zachry Construction Co. of San Antonio. The Spanish firm is one of the world's largest developer of toll roads.

While the first stretch of the Trans-Texas Corridor is scheduled to be built by the Cintra Zachry partnership, the opposition to the concept has prompted some unique partnerships, as well. Toll opponents range from a very irate collection of farmers and ranchers, who say the state will need to take some 580,000 acres to complete the governor's full vision, to Texans who think toll roads are the wrong answers to the state's transportation needs.

The Texas Farm Bureau, usually a reliable supporter of conservative Texas leaders, has been one of the leading voices in criticizing Perry for the Trans-Texas Corridor plans. Some business leaders have also raised questions since the privately operated toll road concept gives the developer an opportunity to control motorists' access to services such as motels and gas stations.

Other critics say the state is falling back on toll roads as an option because key leaders such as Perry are afraid to set gasoline taxes at a level that will return sufficient funding for Texas' highway building and maintenance needs.

On the other hand, proponents of the toll concept see it as the only viable way to raise the billions of dollars it will take to complete major new highways such as Interstate 69, which would eventually connect the U.S./Mexico border at Laredo with the U.S./Canada border in Detroit.

Although Perry and TxDOT have made some headway on their vision for the Trans-Texas Corridor, it is not so far down the road that it can't be stopped.

Whether you oppose the concept, agree with it or simply want to learn more about it, we suggest you make time this week to hit the road to a neighboring town and attend one of the town hall meetings.

© 2007 Longview News-Journal:

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"A lot of carnage."

Public meetings starting on giant Texas highway project


Associated Press
Copyright 2008

TEXARKANA, Texas -- State transportation officials tried Tuesday night to ease fears of people in the projected path of a likely toll road through East Texas that could be part of a gigantic superhighway project criss-crossing much of the state.

"It's a tough process," Phil Russell, an assistant executive director for the Texas Department of Transportation, told more than 150 people in Texarkana at the first of a series of town hall meetings regarding the Trans Texas Corridor. "I know it's difficult."

On Wednesday, the forum was moving to Carthage, then Thursday to Lufkin. All are communities that would be affected by a major leg of the so-called TTC along the Interstate 69 route long sought by East Texas officials.

Officials said they hoped the unprecedented town hall sessions over the next month would answer questions and improve communication between their agency and citizens.

Gov. Rick Perry first proposed the TTC six years ago. While embraced by many, it's being fought by some who describe it as unneeded and improper.

If completed as much as 50 years from now, the TTC would roughly parallel interstate highways with up to a quarter-mile-wide stretch of toll roads, rail lines, pipelines and utility lines. Cost of the project has been estimated at approaching $200 billion.

TTC also could require the state to acquire nearly 600,000 acres of private land, much from farmers and ranchers.

A procession of more than two dozen people who approached a microphone set up at a Texarkana high school cafeteria worried about land acquisition, toll roads versus free roads, constructon timetables and environmental impact. They also suggested that improvements in existing highways be made to alleviate the need for toll roads.

Russell said existing highway lanes never would be tolled.

"If we have to build additional lanes, they will be tolled," Russell said.

Agency officials said toll roads were the alternative because existing gasoline tax revenues and federal highway money soon only will take care of maintenance and not new construction in a state where the population is expected to double and traffic is growing exponentially.

"The traffic, the freight, is coming," said Steve Simmons, the department's deputy executive director. "We've got to start moving this thing forward. We've got to be ready for it. Regardless, it's coming."

New Boston resident John Talbot told a panel of department officials he worried about displacement of 1 million people from the TTC.

"That's a lot of carnage," he said.

Simmons disputed the number, saying it was difficult to come up with one but characterized Talbot's figure as "pretty high."

"We don't even know where the road is going to go yet," he said. "I'm not going to say it's not going to affect anybody."

Linden resident Richard Arnold said he lived near existing U.S. Highway 59, which could roughly parallel the proposed Interstate 69.

"What are you going to put out there?" he asked. "Does anybody know?"

Simmons said no alignment has been made for that highway or for the TTC, which could incorporate or parallel the new road.

"We don't know," he said. "We have no idea what the transportation system is going to look like."

Arnold also raised questions about foreign investment because a Spain-based firm was part of a consortium to win a planning contract for the first phase of the TTC, which is to parallel I-35.

That phase was planned by the Cintra Zachry consortium, composed of Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte SA of Spain, one of the world's largest developers of toll roads, and Zachry Construction Co. of San Antonio.

Amid accusations the state was giving land to a foreign entity, officials insist the property would continue to be owned by Texas like any other state road, with any foreign interests recouping their investments from toll revenues.

Ed Serna, an assistant executive director for support operations in the department, said the bidding process was open to all but there were few American companies willing to bid.

"It was not just a Spanish company with Texas companies cut out," he said.

Simmons said it was "flabbergasting" to state transportation agency officials but it appeared foreign companies in the process were more patient than American firms to wait on returns on their investments.

"That's the difference," he said. "That's what we're seeing."

Besides I-69 and 35, the Trans-Texas Corridor as proposed also could include new superhighways that parallel existing Interstates 37 and 10.

At least one opposition group has taken the transportation department to court with a lawsuit accusing agency officials of improperly using their authority for political purposes.

The sessions move next week to outside Houston, then to South Texas, before winding up Feb. 6 in Robstown, outside Corpus Christi.

© 2007 The Associated Press:

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"The feds told CAMPO to comply with the federal law as soon as possible, but the road lobby fears reality."

Watson waiting for answers on CAMPO spending plan

Jan. 15, 2008
Copyright 2008

CAMPO Chair Sen. Kirk Watson still is undecided whether to try to amend the organization's three-year Transportation Improvement Plan given the grave situation of transportation finances across the state.

The Texas Department of Transportation has announced wide cuts from its state budget, cuts that likely will trickle down to the region's road projects. Watson, like many others, was surprised by TxDOT's announcement. The Transportation Policy Board approved its TIP plan in October. A month later, the Texas Transportation Commission was saying the financial situation was so dire in the state that it was time to cut budgets, from the top of the agency down to the regions.

Watson fired off a letter filled with questions for TxDOT about the new information that has come forth since the TIP vote. If Watson really was dissatisfied with the answers, it would be easy enough for Watson to find the support to reconsider the TIP vote. That was clearly on the mind of some who have opposed the board's decision to approve toll roads and a broader road system than some would support.

It was certainly the thought on critic Roger Baker's mind. At the beginning of the brief meeting – the main item of action was accepting Executive Director Michael Aulick's resignation – Baker said the impending financial shortfall left the CAMPO planning process in shambles and blamed the board for not paying enough attention to its finances.

"So now CAMPO is stuck with this mess without the staff and finances needed to meet the new and stricter federal planning regulations, or even to staff its subcommittees properly," Baker said. "CAMPO's latest hypocrisy will probably be to try to delay amending the TIP to correspond with current reality. The feds told CAMPO to comply with the federal law as soon as possible, but the road lobby fears reality."

The new federal regulations that Baker referenced were changes that require new transportation plans – amendment or overall plan – to take inflation into account. For now, CAMPO offers estimates on road construction. New federal guidelines, approved last December, require the metropolitan planning organization to take inflation into account. So if a project is built in 2010, its cost must be estimated in 2010 dollars.

"If CAMPO does amend the TIP, it is true that you would have to do more honest and realistic planning, without enough staff," Baker said. "But facing reality is better than being in denial by continuing to uphold the many unrealistic assumptions in CAMPO's current TIP and long-range plan."

After the meeting, at a reception to honor Aulick, Watson said he had yet to get all the information he needed. District Engineer Bob Daigh confirmed that much is in flux at TxDOT right now when it comes to how cuts will be handled on the district level. Watson, noting the board had made the best decision with the most accurate information at the time when the TIP was approved in October, said he was still waiting on information from the state transportation agency.

"When I have answers from TxDOT, and I have what I believe to be all the information I need, then I will be able to make a decision based on that," Watson said.

In other business at the meeting, Watson said Maureen McCoy would serve as interim director of CAMPO while the search was on for a permanent replacement. Aulick, who has been at CAMPO for 15 years, will serve as a special assistant and will help ease the transition between administrations, Watson said.

© 2008 In Fact News, Inc.

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Bush's Department of Transportation supports the sales or long-term leases of roads to private parties despite negative impacts.

Toll Road Privatization May Result In More Crashes On Other Roads

Jan. 15, 2008
Copyright 2008

Privatizing toll roads in the U.S. may result in significant diversions of truck traffic from privatized toll roads to "free" roads, and may result in more crashes and increased costs associated with use of other roads, according to a new study.

The study used data from the State of Ohio, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Ohio Turnpike to predict annual Turnpike truck vehicle miles traveled, and therefore diverted vehicle miles, based on National truck traffic and Turnpike rates. The researchers then compare estimated truck traffic diverted from the Turnpike to truck traffic on Ohio road segments on possible substitute routes.

Both economic models support the hypothesis that rate increases divert traffic from toll roads to "free" roads.

"While recently privatized roads do not have enough history to determine how high actual rates will rise, adequate data do exist to determine what happens when toll rates increase dramatically on state-run toll roads," says co-author Peter Swan, Assistant Professor of Logistics and Operations Management at Penn State's Harrisburg campus.

The study concludes that if governments allow private toll road operators to maximize profits, higher tolls will divert trucks to local roads, depending on the suitability of substitute roads. The authors estimate that for 2005, a for-profit, private operator of the Ohio Turnpike could have raised tolls to roughly three times what they were under the public turnpike authority, resulting in about a 40% diversion of trucks from the Ohio Turnpike to other roads.

"The Ohio Turnpike substantially increased tolls during the 1990s to help finance construction of a third lane in each direction over substantial portions of the Turnpike," the researchers say. "Because the Ohio Turnpike raised its rates for trucks in the 1990s and later lowered them again, sufficient data exist to calculate a demand curve for the Turnpike based on demand and the toll rate. We then use the resulting demand curve to estimate diversion of trucks caused by the changes in the toll rates and to forecast how toll rates might affect Turnpike truck revenue."

The number of diverted trucks is important to both the State of Ohio and the Nation for economic and social reasons.

  • First, many of the substitute roads are two-lane highways with crash rates many times that of the Turnpike.
  • Second, the increased traffic has reduced the quality of life for communities located along diversion routes and dramatically increased the maintenance costs of many of these roads, say the researchers.
  • Finally, higher truck tolls have two negative effects on the economy. Motor carriers eventually pass all tolls to consumers in the form of higher prices for goods. While higher toll rates may not decrease the efficiency of non-diverted trucks, they have raised costs.

Furthermore, diversion reduces the efficiency of these trucks because they clearly are taking a second-best route. The resulting loss of efficiency can stifle economic activity, according to the study.

Many of these economic and social costs may not be considered in future leases or sales, especially when such costs are paid by people in states other than the one making the lease agreement.

The study researchers question whether it makes good policy sense to substitute the existing fuel tax-based system of funding road infrastructure with a system that uses widespread tolls and to grant long-term leases to private enterprises that will operate them for profit.

"The combination of inadequate maintenance, lack of capital for new capacity, and ever-growing demand has led to renewed calls for tolls," Swan and Belzer state. "It is curious that national policy clearly supports sales or long-term leases of roads to private parties when such negative results can be expected.

"It does not appear that the U.S. Department of Transportation has considered how far tolling and highway privatization should go ... how such a market-based system of interstate highways will affect the parallel system of publicly-owned state and local roads ... or the effect of private tolling on interstate commerce - unless U.S. DOT is already committed to the toll-based funding for all roads."

"If the true problem is that political leaders are unwilling to face the voters with the reality that there is no free lunch, then the problem we seek to solve by tolling and privatization will not solve the problem at all. In fact, our research suggests that it will only make the problem worse," Swan and Belzer say.

Peter Swan of Penn State -- Harrisburg and Michael Belzer of Wayne State University presented the findings of their study, "Empirical Evidence of Toll Road Traffic Diversion and Implications for Highway Infrastructure Privatization" on Jan. 14 at the 87th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Washington, D.C.

© 2007 Science

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Dissenting Bush appointees back private toll roads and tolled freeways

Study: Toll roads alone won't pay for U.S. highway needs

Bipartisan panel says Congress will need to increase gas tax

January 15, 2008

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

More and higher tolls won't be enough to pay for the nation's highway needs, a bipartisan study panel chaired by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation said today in a long-awaited report.

Instead, Congress will need to raise the federal gas tax by 25 to 40 cents a gallon over five years, according to the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. The 12-member commission is a bipartisan panel formed by Congress in 2005 to rethink the way the nation builds and pays for its highways and transit systems.

"There is no free lunch," Jack Schenendorf, vice chairman of the commission, said at a news conference Tuesday morning. "No way to accomplish what we are talking about without spending money, and therefore you have to raise money. There is no way to avoid that."

Higher gas taxes, new taxes on transit tickets, and higher freight fees are also part of the panel's recommendations.

"We have concluded that our surface transportation system in America is at a cross roads. We have a looming crisis coming," Mr. Schenendorf said. "A failure to act would be catastrophic to this nation."

In addition to higher fuel taxes – a politically explosive recommendation – the report calls for substantial streamlining of the system used now to build highways, bridges and other major transportation projects.

The report recommends that the nation spend at least $225 billion a year for the next 50 years to improve its highways, passenger rail lines, and transit systems. That’s nearly triple what the nation spends now, including local, state and federal level, Mr. Schenendorf said.

Its conclusions represent an endorsement in part, and repudiation in part, of the approach championed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Mr. Perry and his appointees to the Texas Transportation Commission have resisted calls to raise state gas taxes, and instead pushed hard to expand the use of tolling to pay for new roads.

But Mr. Perry will find more support on another key aspect of his transportation agenda: Expanding the use of tolls to ease congestion and generate money to build other, free highways.

The report recommends that laws be changes to make it easier to toll both new and existing interstates, though only in metropolitan areas of more than 1 million residents.

On the issue of private companies building and operating toll roads, the recommendation is more mixed, and not as finely in line with Mr. Perry’s approach.

The report strongly supports the use of private firms to help pay for, and often operate, toll facilities. Such proposals are already alive and well in Texas, where the Spanish firm Cintra has a planning contract to develop the first phase of the massive Trans Texas Corridor, and where private firms are expected to bid later this year to build six new toll lanes on the LBJ Freeway in Dallas.

But the report also urges states impose strong restrictions on the contracts associated with such deals, something that advocates of so-called public-private partnerships say the companies will find onerous.

The recommendations are not binding. They are expected to be used as a starting point for Congress, which is set to debate calls for major reforms to the transportation program between now and 2009, when the current authorizing legislation expires. Every five years, Congress passes a sweeping transportation bill that sets overall policy.

Underlining how political contentious some of the proposals will be, all three members appointed by the Bush Administration issued a dissenting report that rejects gas-tax increases, Instead, they want the focus kept on private investment and higher tolls.

Hearings on the report are scheduled for tomorrow in the House, and for later this month in the Senate.

Also Online

© 2008 Dallas Morning News:

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