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December 1, 2006
Open letter to Rep Dawnna Dukes
From: Vincent J May
To: Dawnna Dukes
Subject: Open letter to Rep Dawnna Dukes #10.8
Dec 1 2006
State Rep Dawnna Dukes
Around 2002 CAMPO began assembling the 2030 Mobility Plan. The entries for 3 sections of Hwy 290 E, from 183 to Decker Lane, had a combined price of $115 million. (Very LARGE pdf, >5meg, see page 126)
In 2003 TxDOT decided to make 290 E a toll road. They added a quarter mile to make it go from 183 to just past SH 130 and recalculated the price in 2004 to $297 million. (1 meg pdf, see page 1)
Next, CTRMA hired a company last March, PBS&J, to get a new 2006 price estimate for 290 E. Charles River Associates (CRA) incorporated PBS&J's "Construction Cost Estimate", $584 million, into their Draft Final Report on Phase II roads. (0.4 meg pdf, see page 13) The increase in the cost of 290 E is not inflation. The first Feasibility Study price of $297 million was calculated in 2006 dollars. See page 8 of that pdf.
(PBS&J employees pled guilty recently in a scandal whereby they embezzled millions of dollars from TxDOT and a dozen other state DOTs. The stolen money was given to politicians in what the FBI thinks may have been bribery. I think it probably was bribery. Are any CAMPO members driving new Mercedes?)
CRA, which prides itself on how many of its people have Ph. D's, was consultant to publicly owned BC Rail when it was offered for sale. After the sale was completed, it was learned that the private buyer paid about $750 million below its true value. CRA defended its actions by blaming other people who gave CRA bad information.
As I stated above, CRA used information supplied by a company, PBS&J, whose information may have been tainted. Would a Ph. D think twice about a road whose cost had gone from $115 million to $584 million in 4 years? Not CRA. (CRA also relied on TxDOT for an opinion on how much of a gas tax increase would be needed to replace tolls. CRA also relied on CAMPO data for their 2030 projections. When problems arise, I suppose CRA will say, "Don't blame us. We relied on other people's information.")
Another company worked closely with PBS&J, URS, which has a history of faulty Traffic & Revenue studies. The Denver Post found that most of the toll roads that went bankrupt in recent years had been constructed by companies that had also done the Traffic & Revenue studies for those toll roads. (If you have a potential billion dollar construction contract, but you will only get the job if the T&R study supports it, and if you are also doing the T&R study, might you fudge the T&R study? Just a little?)
CTRMA, which knows all about these things, told URS in advance, that they would get construction contracts - if the T&R studies, done by URS, supported the projects. Can you be any more corrupt?
So much for 290 E. How about the whole Phase II plan? You won't believe it. Go back to page 13 of the CRA Final Report where you found the $584 million price for 290 E. Look at the total for all of the projects listed. It says $2.689 billion. But look at the list again. It does not include 183A, CTRMA's first project. It was priced at $527 million in 2004. $390 million has already been spent to build the first half of the project.
Adding $527 million to $2.689 billion gives us a grand total of $3.216 billion. That is almost exactly $1 billion more than the June 2004 estimate of $2.215 billion for the Phase II toll plan. And $1 billion is exactly how much money CAMPO was expecting to earn in profits - if the roads were tolled.
And $1 billion is exactly how much money Mr Krusee and his cronies on CAMPO want to steal from people who drive pickups, to spend on passenger trains. (They intend to steal billions more for other projects that will be of little use to motorists. But they can only do this if we let them toll us or charge exorbitant taxes on gas.)Sincerely,
Vincent J May
His Way or the Highway
Behind the Lines
Now that Rick Perry has won another term, his transportation plan moves on down the road. What kind of a toll will it take on Texas?
Every day I can look out the window of my office in downtown Austin and watch traffic creep along Interstate 35, half a mile away. The time of day doesn't seem to matter, nor does the weather: morning or evening, wet or dry, the snarl persists. Part of this is due to the unwieldy design of the downtown exit and entrance ramps, but the main reason is the volume of traffic, much of it commercial. I dread the drive to Dallas, which I last made on the Friday afternoon before the Texas-Oklahoma football game--surely the worst day of the year for such a trip. It took me forty minutes to negotiate the eighteen miles from downtown to the suburb of Round Rock, and much of that time was spent idling in a canyon of eighteen-wheelers.
The announcement several years ago that the Texas Department of Transportation--TxDOT, as it's widely known--would build a toll bypass known as Texas 130 east of Austin was cause for celebration. Texas 130 was particularly welcomed by community leaders in the fast-growing town of Pflugerville, which abuts Austin to the northeast. The annexation, years earlier, by Austin of a strip of land along I-35 had kept Pflugerville from reaping the taxes generated by the high-dollar commercial property along the freeway frontage. Now, with the completion of another brand-new toll road, Texas 45, which will tie into the bypass, Pflugerville could look forward to development along the flanks of the new highway, which would relieve homeowners from bearing the principal responsibility of paying for city services. But when TxDOT announced the design of Texas 45, it had no Pflugerville exit and no frontage road, and that made the adjacent property unattractive for development. What was the reason for this oversight? It was no oversight, according to state senator-elect Kirk Watson, who, as mayor of Austin, had served on the board of the federally mandated regional mobility planning organization for the Austin area. "TxDOT," he says, "wanted to maximize its toll revenue."
A single nonexistent exit on a single yet-to-be-completed highway is of little consequence in the big picture of transportation policy in Texas. And yet the missing Pflugerville exit is emblematic of why so many Texans are upset about that policy and why it became an issue in the governor's race: The importance of roads is not merely to make sure that you and I can get from point A to point B rapidly and safely. Roads create wealth. They multiply property values. They bring economic development. They improve the quality of life. But as Texas turns more and more to toll roads, critics of TxDOT fear that the tail is wagging the dog, that the funding mechanism has become an end in itself, and that a mammoth state agency has lost sight of its duty to serve the public and instead serves its own ends.
This is not going to be a screed against toll roads or against Rick Perry's multi-highway Trans-Texas Corridor plan, though the opponents have made some legitimate points. Existing highways built with tax dollars ought not to be converted to toll roads; this is double taxation. Commuters should not be forced to tithe for the privilege of using a freeway overpass, as TxDOT wanted to do on another Austin expressway--conjuring up the memory of Ludwig of Bavaria, who built his medieval castle on an island in the Rhine, the better to extract tolls from passing boatmen. Yet toll roads are an essential part of our transportation future. The current revenue stream, which depends on a twenty-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline, one fourth of which goes to education, is not enough to meet the state's needs. Without toll roads, gridlock will continue to strangle Texas cities.
All of the rhetoric over whether to toll or not to toll has obscured a much bigger issue, which is privatization of transportation. TxDOT's plan for toll roads is to surrender public control of these roads by entering into "comprehensive development agreements" (known as CDAs) with private companies, such as the partnership between Cintra, a Spanish company, and Zachry construction in San Antonio, which is building the first link in the Trans-Texas Corridor, an alternative to Interstate 35 known as TTC-35. Cintra-Zachry paid $1 billion to TxDOT for the right to collect tolls for the next fifty years. I'm not going to make a xenophobic argument, as Carole Keeton Strayhorn did in her gubernatorial campaign, that this is a land grab by foreign companies. It doesn't really matter whether the company operating the toll road is American or European or Qatari. What matters is whether the arrangement protects the public interest. Here is what John Carona, a Republican state senator from Dallas who is the new chairman of the Senate committee that deals with transportation, has to say on that subject: "Within thirty years' time, under existing comprehensive development agreements, we'll bring free roads in this state to a condition of ruin."
It may seem as if the system of granting a concession to private companies in return for money, like restaurants at an airport, is a great idea--"free money" that TxDOT can use to build other toll roads, enter into still more concession agreements, and build still more toll roads, as if the agency had succeeded in creating a perpetual-motion machine to finance roads in perpetuity. But alas, there is no free money, and there is no perpetual-motion machine. The private companies that will build and operate the toll roads are in business to make a profit. In order to ensure that profit, they must have people who want to drive on their roads. And--here's the rub--in order to be sure that people will want to drive on their roads, the CDAs with TxDOT will contain non-compete clauses that prohibit TxDOT from building new roads or upgrading existing highways. Any improvement to an existing highway that is not already planned at the time TxDOT enters into the contract is prohibited. That billion-dollar concession limits TxDOT's ability to improve nearby secondary roads. How about adding extra lanes? Sorry, prohibited by the CDA. An HOV express lane? Not a chance. This is why Carona says that free roads will be reduced to ruin. TxDOT will no longer be able to respond to the transportation needs of the state, other than to say: If you don't like the traffic, use the toll road.
Oh, I almost forgot. About that free money: It may be free for TxDOT, but it isn't free for you and me. The billion dollars represents the present value of future toll revenue. TxDOT finds it attractive for the same reason that buyers of lottery tickets ask for the "cash option." They want their money up front--so they can use it now, so that it won't be eaten up by inflation--rather than have it dribble in over twenty years (or fifty). Meanwhile, the private toll road operator wants to get that billion dollars back. And the way the company will get it is by raising its tolls over fifty years, largely unrestrained by the public sector. Tolls will be market based--that is, whatever the traffic will bear. In effect, TxDOT's free money amounts to a tax on our children and our grandchildren.
Concession agreements are not the only way to build toll roads, just the most expensive one. (Carona likens it to "renting to own.") In fact, toll road authorities have functioned in Houston and Dallas for years by using the conventional method of building the roads: issuing revenue bonds that will be paid off with toll revenues over a period of twenty to thirty years. When major league baseball first came to Arlington in the seventies, I drove to games from Dallas on the Dallas--Fort Worth Turnpike. In twenty years (1957-1977) the bonds were paid off and the turnpike became a free road, Interstate 30. It remains free today. The Dallas North Tollway followed a similar pattern, except that when the original section, from downtown to Interstate 635, was paid off, tolls continued to be collected so that the tollway could be extended farther north. The Harris County Toll Road Authority has built 101 miles of toll roads, including a section of the Sam Houston for which I gladly pay $1.25 four times in order to drive to my hometown of Galveston without having to contend with Houston traffic. This method of financing is, in the long run, far cheaper for the public than concessions and higher tolls. In the past, TxDOT cooperated with these local authorities--for instance, by making right-of-way available--but since Rick Perry has been governor, a much more aggressive department seems to regard the local toll agencies as competitors. The North Texas Tollway Authority wanted to build Texas 121, for example, but TxDOT stepped in and forced the NTTA to cede control of the project, thereby allowing TxDOT to do another concession agreement. The NTTA will be allowed to collect the tolls, but that is all.
How did we get to this point, and what can we do about it? For years, state budget writers have been dipping into the pot of money that is earmarked for highways to fund the Department of Public Safety, on the theory that state troopers are responsible for highway safety. This ploy diverted $700 million from road building in the current biennial budget. At the same time, lawmakers have refused to raise the gasoline tax since 1991. In a Republican era, any kind of tax increase is unthinkable, even if its purpose is to further the cause of free roads. TxDOT played politics too, putting more projects on its approved list for future construction than it could afford; now it uses the length of the wish list to win the support of local transportation planning organizations for toll roads, warning communities like Austin and El Paso that their only other option is to wait 25 years for free projects.
The final step was the 2003 legislative session, when Republicans controlled all the levers of power--House, Senate, governor--for the first time. Major bills were rushed through the Legislature with little debate or discussion. One of these was the omnibus transportation bill that authorized concessions and other mammoth changes in the way we build highways. Few lawmakers knew what was in the bill. The Senate gave it only cursory inspection. The result was a scheme in which TxDOT will be taking in billions of dollars from the private sector with no oversight by the Legislature, no responsibility to say how that money will be used, and no assurance for the public that free roads, as well as toll roads, will benefit from that money. Governor Perry has strongly supported transparency, accountability, and oversight in public education. He could do the state and the public a great service by insisting on the same standards for highways. Otherwise, we are headed for the worst public policy fiasco in my lifetime.
October 13, 2006
Wed., Jul. 26, 2006
It’s Time For Some New Blood in Austinhttp://news.galvestondailynews.com/story.lasso?ewcd=4453326fa53e4680cbd62824cb3a48d8
“Legislators fired” — that should be the next headline in newspapers throughout Texas.
What a sham our elected officials are.
Instead of working for Texas families and their children, they continue their ineptness and special-interest motivations.
It is an outrage that so little was accomplished once again in a legislative session and elected officials must be held accountable by the voters, from the governor right on down the line.
Voters need to get smart finally and vote out the vermin proliferating at the state capitol.
Furthermore, special interests must be banned from contributing huge amounts to legislative campaigns.
It’s time for Texans to hold elected officials accountable and to take back their legislature.Jamey McGhee
October 18, 2006
Yeah, We Voted on Tolls — Kinda
By Ben Wear http://www.statesman.com/news/content/ news/stories/local/10/16/16wear.html
Mary: Prop. 14 should be declared unconstitutional because it was so deceptive and misleading. Texans were had!Monday, October 16, 2006
Do you remember voting on the Trans-Texas Corridor?
Me neither. But I think I might have. Sort of.
Toll road proponents have said over the past couple of years that Texans had voted to authorize what has turned out to be a very aggressive push for toll roads. Gov. Rick Perry said as much in the Oct. 6 gubernatorial election debate.
One of the moderators relayed a question from a McKinney woman asking why Texans haven't gotten to vote on the "Trans-Texas Corridor and related toll highways."
The corridor is Perry's 4,000-mile plan of tollways, railroads and utility lines.
The governor's response was deft.
"First and foremost, the people of Texas had the opportunity to vote on a substantial amount of that in a constitutional amendment," he began, going on to say that the Legislature had debated and passed toll laws in several sessions. The voters, he said, "sent a clear message of how we're going to build infrastructure."
What actually happened is that in a September 2003 election, 810,855 Texans said yes to ballot language that only the most wonkish among them could have known authorized wholesale borrowing for toll roads. The 45 words on the ballot, in fact, do not include the words "toll" or "turnpike."
Here's what Proposition 14 proposed:
"The constitutional amendment providing for authorization of the issuing of notes or the borrowing of money on a short-term basis by a state transportation agency for transportation-related projects, and the issuance of bonds and other public securities secured by the state highway fund."
I was told at the time that the purpose of this was to allow the agency to borrow here and there against future gas-tax revenue to address cash-flow problems. And that, in fact, is what the first part of the language refers to.
But then there's a comma, and some more words. Some technical but powerful words that amounted, apparently, to the electorate saying, "Whoo-eee, slap some toll roads on us, baby!"
Now, Texans did approve another constitutional amendment, this one in 2001, that created the Texas Mobility Fund, and it actually said the money could go to "state highways, turnpikes, toll roads, toll bridges, and other mobility projects." A total of 543,759 Texans said yes to that one.
In 2003, lawmakers dedicated some fees allowing that fund to borrow $4 billion or more.
And as the governor said, that same year the Legislature approved a huge bill allowing the creation of the Trans-Texas Corridor. That bill, passed in a session marked by Democrats fleeing to Ardmore, Okla., and a $10 billion budget gap, got little press coverage.
Did Texans vote on the Trans-Texas Corridor? Not in any real sense.
Did we vote on a "substantial amount" of the toll road revolution? Yes, technically, in a special September 2003 election with predictably poor turnout and all the focus on other amendments, we gave the Texas Department of Transportation carte blanche to borrow for roads and charge tolls.
Who knew? Almost no one.By Ben Wear http://www.statesman.com/news/content/ news/stories/local/10/16/16wear.html
October 8, 2006
Halliburton’s Lobbying Efforts Paid Off: Watchdog GroupFrom http://www.lonestaricon.com/absolutenm/anmviewer.asp?a=627&z=69
WASHINGTON — A watchdog group says that the lobbying efforts of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former company paid off big-time.
Over the last six years, Halliburton has bought influence in Washington to the tune of $4.6 million.
At the same time, its government contracts mushroomed by over 600 percent and jumped from being the 20th largest federal contractor to sixth by 2005, according to HalliburtonWatch.
As a result, the company gained $18.5 billion in revenue from contracts related to the war in Iraq from March 2003 to June 30, 2006. In 2005 alone, Halliburton received $6 billion in federal contracts.
The analysis found that Halliburton’s lobbying efforts came from three main sources: the board of directors and their spouses, Halliburton’s political action committee, and the company itself.
Halliburton’s board of directors have seen the entire value of their stock jump to over $100 million — a quadrupling between March 2003 to March 2006 due to high oil prices, contracts, and Mideast violence.
The value of shares held by Halliburton’s largest corporate shareholder — CEO David Lesar — jumped from $17.3 million in 2003 to $66.8 million in 2006, said the HalliburtonWatch report.
For more information, visit HalliburtonWatch’s website.INFO
October 14, 2006
Strayhorn ad attempts to breakdown Perry supportFrom http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/politics/4259735.html
Details of a new television campaign ad from independent gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn:TITLE: "Beyond"
LENGTH: 30 seconds.
PRODUCER: Alex Castellanos, media consultant; WF of R Inc., media placement.
AIRING: Started Friday in most markets; will be airing statewide by Monday.
SCRIPT: Carole Keeton Strayhorn: "Tolls across Texas?
"Governor Perry's plan is beyond anything we've ever known. It's the largest land grab in Texas history. A deal to seize more than a half million acres of private property and hand it over to a foreign company, so they can charge us tolls.
"I believe Texas property belongs to Texans, not foreign companies. And I believe we ought to protect our property rights and stop this land grab. Austin doesn't."It's time to shake Austin up."
KEY IMAGES: The ad is shot in the same style as all of Strayhorn's have been so far — the candidate wearing a red blouse under a black jacket, standing before a white background and talking to the camera.
ANALYSIS: Gov. Rick Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor has been contentious — farmers and ranchers oppose selling their land for the massive transportation network, drivers oppose having to pay tolls and others have criticized the contractor's European ties. The issue is an easy target for Perry challengers and Strayhorn has led the charge against it. By putting the issue on television, she's taking it directly to voters — who may not have been paying close attention before now — and offering them an alternative. Strayhorn continues to poll below Perry, but she hopes that ads like this will breakdown enough of his support to give her an edge.
FACT CHECK: She calls the project the "largest land grab in Texas history." While the state plan could eventually include as much as 4,000 miles of highway, the state authorized 7,500 miles of farm-to-market roads in 1946. That grew to 35,000 miles in 1962 and included 41,755 miles by 1989. Strayhorn's campaign argues that the farm-to-market road system is still smaller than Perry's corridor because the rural roadways are not as wide as the swath planned for the new highway system.
Strayhorn contends the land will be "handed over to a foreign company." The contractor, Cintra-Zachry, is a consortium made up of Spain-based Cintra investing 65 percent and San Antonio-based Zachry Construction in for 35 percent. They've partnered with 16 other firms, which include two European-based companies.
Texas will own and control the roads, but Cintra-Zachry will maintain the roads and collect the tolls.
Strayhorn herself issued a press release in 2001 saying the Texas Department of Transportation should build more toll roads. Her campaign said she never envisioned such a sweeping toll road plan as Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor plan, adding that the transportation department's budget has increased enough in recent years to build roads without tolls.———
Analysis by April Castro, Associated Press writer.
Carol Cespedes and Nina Butts, LOCAL CONTRIBUTORS
Springs, clear creeks, majestic live oaks. These are the pride of Austin. Those of us lucky and plucky enough to live here are nourished by Austin's natural setting.
Southwest of downtown Austin, Oak Hill is blessed with live oaks hundreds of years old. Oak Hill was named for these titans. Williamson Creek is a clear, spring-fed creek running through the heart of the community.
But the Texas Department of Transportation is revving up the chainsaws and bulldozers to destroy these invaluable natural features of Oak Hill. TxDOT plans to cut down the majestic live oaks, and put Williamson Creek into a ditch. If TxDOT gets its way, the Oak Hill Y at U.S. 290 and Texas 71 will look just like the superhighway mixmaster at U.S. 183 and Interstate 35.
Fix 290, a coalition of Oak Hill property owners, neighborhood associations, and environmentalists, has proposed an alternative to TxDOT's superhighway. Our concept is simple: a six-lane, mostly grade-level parkway that will move traffic safely and keep the majestic live oaks and Williamson Creek intact.
An independent transportation-engineering firm, Smart Mobility, analyzed the Fix 290 alternative and concluded that the "plan will provide the needed vehicular capacity to meet the CAMPO (Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) 2030 daily traffic projections for this location. Further, this plan will result in many longer term benefits to the region."
A parkway can meet traffic needs without ruining Oak Hill. We believe that TxDOT's superhighway will be bad for business, bad for property values, bad for water and air quality, and just plain bad for Oak Hill.
Elevating U.S. 290 for two miles, as TxDOT plans, will damage the sense of community and spell doom for many small businesses. The elevated lanes will bring a permanent increase in noise and light pollution. The flyover intersection will overwhelm the commercial hub at the Oak Hill Y.
The road will take at least three years to build, snarling traffic and testing tempers. TxDOT's price tag, almost $200 million, will mean a sweet prize for the winning contractor. Highway contractors contribute lavishly to political campaigns in Texas, and only two Texas contractors, Cintra-Zachry and Williams Brothers, are big enough to take on the Oak Hill project.
Our parkway alternative is far less expensive than TxDOT's design and will take far less time to build. It also provides better access for local businesses and reduces the barrier imposed by the highway to a scale that can be easily spanned by pedestrian and bicycle bridges. With reduced asphalt and disturbance to Williamson Creek, the Fix 290 plan would provide improved water quality for the Edwards Aquifer and Barton Springs.
More than 1,700 citizens have signed our Fix 290 online petition. The Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods endorsed our parkway plan in May. With the help of Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, we presented our conceptual design to CAMPO in June, where it was well-received. We are now working for a directive from CAMPO to redesign the highway according to the parkway concept.
With the help of CAMPO, the creek and live oaks enjoyed by our ancestors will thrive for centuries to come.
Cespedes is president of South Windmill Run Neighborhood Association in Oak Hill. Butts teaches English at Austin Community College. Read the Smart Mobility report at Fix290.org.http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/09/25/25Cespedes_edit.html
September 18, 2006
The Toll Road "Hustle" Continues...
Believe it or not, toll roads are here already!
By Peter Stern http://pstern.statesmanblogs.com/
Even though Texans don't want toll roads officials will open them in November. The temporary "free" [no tolls] promo is another con game so that once drivers use the new roads, they won't go back to using the old roads when the tolls become enforced.
"Free" toll roads bodes a good game plan for the November elections.
Supposedly voters won't get angry until the tolls are charged sometime after the elections.
While many Texans don't know the history of the extremist politics behind toll roads, they have "bought into" the misleading information provided by the governor's office and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) --- that toll roads are the only and/or best way to build, operate and maintain Texas roadways and that the state hasn't the tax funds to finance new and/or to improve old roadways.
BTW, there is no proof that the proposed toll roads will ease-up traffic, in fact, most toll roads cause additional problems.
In truth, toll roads are one of the LEAST cost-effective methods of collected taxes for building and maintaining roadways, whereby up to 50-percent of all tolls collected immediately go to the private company that manages the toll roads.
To get its contract with the state CINTRA, the Spanish world-wide toll maven, agreed to pay TxDOT (the state) $7.2 BILLION for its 70-year toll road supremacy in Texas.
DOES ANYONE KNOW WHERE THAT UPFRONT MONEY IS GOING?
It's doubtful because TxDOT and CINTRA have filed a lawsuit against the Office of the Attorney General, who stated that CINTRA's contract should be open to the public under the laws of the Public Information Act. The lawsuit states that TxDOT wants to protect its client CINTRA under the Privacy Act, citing that other toll companies may gain an edge if the information becomes public.
If you believe that one, I have some ocean-front property in Central Texas I'll sell you at a fantastic price!
Believe whatever you want about the pending toll roads, but apparently toll roads have taken a life of their own when 90-percent of the public doesn't want them but officials are pushing them upon us anyway!
The only ones who truly benefit from toll roads are the governor's special interest campaign contributors and also legislators like Rep. Mike Krusee and his cohorts who already are getting something in return for their efforts!
We desperately need to vote-out Perry and special interest legislators in the next several elections!
By Peter Stern
Toll roads to open Nov. 1
Perry aide denies that earlier debut before election is politically motivated
By Ben Wear
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Central Texas will join Dallas and Houston in the Texas toll road fraternity on Nov. 1, when all or parts of the area's first three turnpikes will open to traffic, state officials confirmed this week. With no tolls, temporarily.
To meet that earlier date — officials in June had predicted a December opening of about 40 miles of tollways — the Texas Department of Transportation will initially bring down the barricades on just 26.3 miles of Texas 130, Texas 45 North and an extension of MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1). The other 13.8 miles of Texas 130 previously announced as part of this tollway premiere, from near Hutto to Interstate 35 north of Georgetown (and perhaps more of Texas 45 North, west of Loop 1), likely will open in early December.
Starting Nov. 1, cars will pass through the toll booths on 26.3 miles of MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1), above, along with Texas 130 and Texas 45 North. For two months, the toll roads will be free.
Even in its incomplete form, what the state calls the Central Texas Turnpike Project will offer an alternative expressway to I-35 via Texas 45 North and Loop 1 for people going to and from Round Rock, as well as a partial eastern bypass of Northeast Austin on Texas 130. The speed limit on all three roads will be 70 mph.
All the roads will be free for the first two months. This is a common promotional practice for toll roads, allowing drivers to sample the road at no cost and, toll agencies hope, engendering some good will for the paying days to come.
In early January, cash customers will begin paying tolls of about 15 cents a mile. But people with an electronic toll tag (called a TxTag by the agency) on their windshields and an account on file with the Transportation Department will get yet another month of free service. And in February, TxTag users will pay only half price. In March, the promotions end.
Those extra financial breaks for people with TxTags are an effort to get more people to sign up and use them, turnpike director Phillip Russell said this week. Toll transactions with tags (an overhead reader detects the passing tag and triggers a debit to the tag owner's transportation account) cost the agency much less than dealing with cash and having to hire people to staff toll booths, officials say. Having fewer people swerving and jerking to a stop for toll booths causes less congestion and fewer accidents, they say.
And toll tags, like credit cards, have the additional advantage — from the seller's point of view — of making toll payments an invisible and seemingly painless purchase.
Officials expect to cut the ribbon after rush hour on that Wednesday morning of Nov. 1 where the new Texas 45 North tollway meets the new Texas 130 turnpike in a tangle of flyover bridges. The early opening — and free service — will come just six days before toll road advocate Gov. Rick Perry stands for re-election, timing that at least one of Perry's opposing campaigns found more than suspect.
"Clearly this is being directed by the governor's campaign," said Mark Sanders, spokesman for Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, running as an independent for governor. "What the governor is doing is pushing the collection of tolls just past the November election because he knows it's going to cost him votes and probably the election."
Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt, asked about the opening switch, said she hadn't even heard it was occurring in November rather than December. Perry, at least as of Thursday, didn't have the ribbon-cutting on his schedule, she said.
"He did not ask them to open it early," Walt said. "Obviously the governor's been interested in making sure that TxDOT moves projects along as quickly as possible to address traffic congestion. But TxDOT makes the decisions when segments of roads are opened all the time."
Transportation Department officials, meanwhile, said the change in plans has nothing to do with politics. Instead, they said, money — specifically the $2.3 billion the agency acquired through a 2002 bond sale and is using (along with $1.2 billion of local and state tax dollars) to build the three roads — offers plenty of incentive to open the road and begin bringing in revenue as soon as possible. Since 2003, the agency, using some of the money it borrowed, has been paying between $74 million and $86 million a year in debt payments.
Revenue isn't predicted to top the $86 million figure until 2011, when operating and maintenance expenses will have kicked in as well Unless traffic and revenue exceed projections, the system won't operate in the black for many years.
Debt payments will increase over the next 36 years to almost $500 million a year, according to documents from the 2002 bond sale.
"You've borrowed money, and that interest clock is ticking," Russell said. "You want a toll road to open as soon as possible. It may not be perfect, but it will be safe."
Safe, perhaps, but far from complete.
Russell said landscaping and other finishing touches will continue for months on the sections opening in November and December. But more important, Texas 130 will open without completion of a flyover bridge that will allow unobstructed left turns for people traveling from U.S. 290 eastbound to Texas 130 northbound. Drivers, until that bridge is complete early next year, will make those turns using a more traditional ground-bound interchange of frontage roads and stop lights.
And the incomplete sections of Texas 130 south of U.S. 290 (it will extend another 20 miles to Mustang Ridge by the end of 2007) and, at least briefly, north of U.S. 79 mean continuing construction and obstruction in those areas. Aside from the ongoing work on Texas 130 by contractor Lone Star Infrastructure, the state has other companies at work on Texas 45 North from west of Loop 1 to U.S. 183 at Lakeline Mall.
And the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority has yet another contractor building a fourth toll road, U.S. 183-A, that will run north for more than four miles from Texas 45 North to Cedar Park. The mobility authority is also building seven more miles of free frontage roads, extending north from the end of the U.S. 183-A toll road and running beyond Leander. Years from now, when traffic merits it, toll express lanes will be built in the middle of those frontage roads to extend the turnpike.
In all, there should be about 70 miles of operating toll roads in Central Texas by the end of next year.
All of them will have both electronic toll gantries and cash toll booths. Customers with toll tags will be able to drive at full highway speed under those gantries and go through toll stations on entrance and exit ramps without pausing. Cash customers will give money to toll collectors or, in some cases, toss correct change into a basket.
Drivers using cash will pay 75 cents at the single mainlane plaza on Loop 1 and another 75 cents on Texas 45 North, and on many ramps will pay another 50 cents to enter or exit the tollway. On Texas 130, the single main lane toll plaza in the section opening Nov. 1 will carry a cash charge of $1.50, and the charge on certain ramps will likewise be 50 cents.
In all cases, customers with toll tags will pay 10 percent less.By Ben Wear email@example.com; 445-3698
THE NEW WORLD DISORDER
Kansas City customs port considered Mexican soil?
WND investigation finds new evidence U.S. facility to be on foreign territory
Posted: July 5, 2006
1:00 a.m. Eastern
By Jerome R. Corsi
© 2006 WorldNetDaily.com
A Mexican customs facility planned for Kansas City's inland port may have to be considered the sovereign soil of Mexico as part of an effort to lure officials in that country into cooperating with the Missouri development project.
Despite adamant denials by Kansas City Area Development Council officials, WND has obtained e-mails and other documents from top executives with the KCSmartPort project that suggest such a facility would by necessity be considered Mexican territory – despite its presence in the heartland of the U.S.
The documents were obtained with the assistance of Joyce Mucci, the founder of the Mid-America Immigration Reform Coalition, under the provisions of the Missouri Sunshine Law from the City of Kansas City, Mo., and from the Missouri Department of Economic Development.
The documents reveal a two-year campaign initiated in 2004 and managed by top SmartPort officials to win Mexico's agreement to establish the Mexican customs facility within the Kansas City "inland port." Kansas City SmartPort launched a concerted effort to advance the idea, holding numerous meetings with Mexican government officials in Mexico and in Washington to push the Mexican port idea in concert. The effort involved Missouri elected officials, including members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
The documents make clear that Mexico demanded Kansas City pay all costs. To date, the Kansas City Council has voted a $2.5 million loan to KC SmartPort to build the Mexican customs facility in the West Bottoms near Kemper Arena on city-owned land east of Liberty Street and mostly south of Interstate 670.
"Kansas City, Mo., is leasing the site to Kansas City SmartPort," Tasha Hammes of the development council wrote to WND last month. "It will NOT be leased to any Mexican government agency or to be sovereign territory of Mexico."
Yet, an e-mail written June 21, 2004, by Chris Gutierrez, the president of the KC SmartPort, stated that the Mexican customs office space "would need to be designated as Mexican sovereign territory and meet certain requirements."
Even more recently, an e-mail dated March 10 of this year was sent by Gutierrez to a long list of recipients that left no doubt that KC SmartPort has not yet received federal government approval to move forward with the Mexican customs facility. Gutierrez informed the e-mail recipients that the processing a critical form, designated "C-175," needs approval by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection before the form is passed to the State Department for final approval. The processing and approval of the C-175 application is holding up the final approval of the Mexican customs facility.
In the same memo, Gutierrez reported on a recent meeting in Washington: "Both sides (U.S. and Mexican officials) met several weeks ago and the 'document' or as the U.S. refers to it the 'C-175' is near completion. This document is the basis for the procedural, regulatory, jurisdictional, etc. for the project. It defines what will happen and how and what laws, etc. allow this to happen. Both sides have put a lot of effort into this document."
Gutierrez appeared concerned that the intensive lobbying done by KC SmartPort could be a wasted effort if the final U.S. government approvals were not completed before Mexico elected a new president this week.
"The process for the document is for U.S. Customs to present the document to the acting Commissioner and officials with the Dept of Homeland Security," he wrote. "This will happen in March. The document will then be reviewed by the U.S. State Dept who has been consulted on the document all along so they are aware of it. State will make the recommendation on the diplomatic status of the Mexican officials and the documents fit with existing agreements, accords or treaties. Mexico will wait for this recommendation and then get the sign off of their Foreign Ministry (Secretary [Luis Ernesto] Derbez and Under Secretary [Geronimo] Gutierrez are well versed on the project and support it). The hope of both sides is that this will be completed before the Mexican presidential elections in July."
Gutierrez's March 10 e-mail ended by expressing a hope that discussion of the Mexican customs facility issue could be kept from the public, obviously concerned that press scrutiny might end up producing an adverse public reaction that could destroy the project. Gutierrez specifically proposes a low-profile strategy designed to keep the KC SmartPort and the Mexican customs facility out of public view.
"The one negative that was conveyed to us was the problems and pressure the media attention has created for both sides," he wrote. "They want us to stop promoting the facility to the press. We let them know that we have never issued a proactive press release on this and that the media attention started when Commissioner (Robert) Bonner was in KC and met with Rick Alm. The official direction moving forward is that we can respond to the media with a standard response that I will send out on Monday and refer all other inquiries to U.S. Customs. I will get the name from them to refer media calls."
Robert C. Bonner is the commissioner of CBP within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Rick Alm is a reporter for the Kansas City Star.
On May 16, Bonner addressed the Chamber of Commerce in Kansas City, saying the Mexican customs facility idea "could be enormously important to Kansas City and the surrounding area, and would – or should – facilitate trade for U.S. exporters by expediting the border clearance process for U.S. goods and products exported to Mexico." Bonner added that "If the Kansas City SmartPort is implemented, Kansas City could become a major new trade link between the U.S. and Mexico."
Among those copied on Gutierrez's e-mail of March 10, 2006, was George D. Blackwood, the president of NASCO (North America's Super Corridor Coalition, Inc.). Blackwood is an attorney with Blackwood, Langworthy & Tyson in Kansas City. He also served as the former chairman of the North American International Trade Corridor Partnership, which he helped found in 1998 when he was serving as mayor pro tem of Kansas City. NASCO supports the Kansas City SmartPort's initiative to establish a Mexican customs facility as part of the NASCO SuperCorridor project.By Jerome R. Corsi
September 10, 2006
Transportation Secretary Nominee is a Toll Proponent
Subj:Transportation Secretary Nominee is a Toll Proponent
Date:9/6/06 1:08:55 PM Central Daylight Time
The following column appears today on the Citizens for a Better Waller County website www.wallercountycitizens.org. It is written by Alice Sorsby McGuffiePermission to duplicate granted
September 6, 2006
On Tuesday, September 5, 2006 President Bush indicated he would nominate Mary Peters to be the next transportation secretary. Ms. Peters has been a vocal advocate for toll roads, for privatizing our highway system, and for the Trans Texas Corridor.
Ms. Peters is currently the Sr. Vice President of HDR, Inc., an engineering firm that is currently doing work on the Trans Texas Corridor-35 project. She is a member of an advisory board for the Reason Foundation, a think tank that has actively supported the Trans Texas Corridor concept.
Ms. Peters was also very recently the Federal Highway Administrator and in that role helped push through federal legislation (SAFETEA-LU) that allows public highways to be turned over to private companies.
On March 11, 2005 Mary Peters joined Gov. Rick Perry and Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission for the contract signing between TxDOT and the private consortium, Cintra-Zachry, to develop the first leg of the Trans Texas Corridor, TTC-35.
"We are experiencing increasing congestion on our nation's highways, railways, airports and seaports," Mary Peters has said. "... we're robbing our nation of productivity and our citizens of quality time with their families."ť "Public-private partnerships in transportation hold great promise in cutting the congestion that's choking our economy and keeping families apart from one another."
Interesting words Ms. Peters uses "robbing our nation of productivity and our citizens of quality... choking our economy and keeping families apart from one another." It is the very cure she proposes for traffic congestion, Public Private Parnerships, that will be doing the robbing, choking, and keeping families apart.
Mary Peters faces Senate confirmation before she can step into the role of Transportation Secretary.
Texas Senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, serves on the Senate COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION. Senator Hutchison can and should oppose the confirmation of Mary Peters. Senator Hutchison can be contacted athttp://www.senate.gov/~hutchison/e-mail.htm
284 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-4304
961 Federal Building
300 East 8th Street
Austin, Texas 78701
By Alice Sorsby McGuffie
You have permission to duplicate this article.
Follow-up to the last article.
Bush's new Transportation Secretary and the Trans Texas Corridor
By Wayne Madsen
Friday, September 8, 2006
In Mexico they call it Plan Puebla Panama.
Sept. 8/9/10, 2006 -- George W. Bush's pick for Transportation Secretary represents a major conflict-of-interest designed to spur the construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor -- a project in which Bush and his cronies are heavily invested. Last week, Bush nominated Mary Peters to replace Norman Mineta as Secretary of Transportation. Unlike Mineta, a former congressman who then became a Vice President fo the aerospace defense giant Lockheed Martin, Peters comes out of the surface transportation industry. She is a vice president for the engineering firm HDR and co-vice chairman of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. From 2001 to 2005, Peters was the head of the Federal Highway Administration. Peters is also a former head of the Arizona Department of Transportation. Peters worked in the administration of disgraced GOP Governor Fife Symington, who was convicted of bank fraud and resigned from office. (Symington was later pardoned by his college friend, President Bill Clinton). Peters' commitment to major "infrastructure development" of the nation's highways centers on the development of the North American SuperCorridor (NASCO) highway, of which the Tran-Texas Corridor will be a major component. Already, Bush crime syndicate cronies, including interests tied to Texas Governor Rick Perry, are purchasing property along the proposed Texas highway route at cut-rate prices, using "eminent domain" statutes to pay less than what private and commercial property is worth. The money for the massive land grab is coming from Saudi and Chinese sources, according to knowledgeable sources in Texas. The NASCO highway will cross 11 states: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. It will also connect proposed Mexican super ports in Manzanillo, Mazatlan, and Lazaro Cardenas to various United States trucking and distribution super-hubs in San Antonio, Dallas, Kansas City, as well as one in Winnipeg in Canada. The Mexican ports will be receiving points for manufactured products from China. The theft of the Mexican presidency by conservative Felipe Calderon at the expense of populist leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was engineered to protect the sizeable investments the Bush crime cartel, including The Carlyle Group, and their Saudi and Chinese financiers have already sunk into the project.
New Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to ensure Bush crime family super-highway projects proceed unimpeded.
Eventually, NASCO will be expanded as far south as Argentina by linking North America to Central America (Mexico-Central American Corridor and an improved Pan American Highway). The expensive tolls charged throughout the 10-lane super-highway system will be used to line the pockets of the Bush family well into the middle of the 21st century. Peters, as a highway and trucking industry shill, has been entrusted by the Bush crime cartel to ensure that the plans for NASCO and the Pan American Super Corridor proceed unimpeded. It is estimated that as many as 1 million Texans alone, many in rural and poor urban areas, could be displaced by the Trans-Texas Corridor.
Mary Peters at Transportation: Major responsibility is to ensure roadblocks to North American SuperCorridor are eliminated.
By Wayne Madsen
Protest of the Gov. Perry- DoubleTax Toll
-- Hwy. 121, Dallas, Ft. Worth
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