Policy, not politics
Re: "Getting Realistic About Highway 121 – Shapiro, Self offer different visions for funding," Sunday Editorials.
First and foremost, the exchange between County Judge Keith Self and me was never about politics. It was about policy. No matter how or why this editorial board brought politics into the mix, it is belittling to us both. We both agree that there is no animosity between us, today nor ever.
Mr. Self and I have a fundamental similarity and a fundamental difference. Our common goal is to build more roads for Collin County's burgeoning population and build them quickly. Where we differ is who should build them. I believe the Cintra contract is a manifestation of this difference. A toll road built by private investors gives our taxpayers' money to those investors for 50 years. The North Texas Tollway Authority has a stellar track record of building roads to meet our needs in North Texas, and I believe that agency should be granted the contract to continue to do so.
Mr. Self believes roads must be built with priority funding from the state's general revenue. Throughout the history of state-funded roadways, the general revenue fund has never been used, nor could it ever sustain, the cost of building roads. Over the years, we have created tools for transportation funding, such as the gasoline tax, created in 1923, bonding through the Mobility Fund and toll roads.
Together, our ultimate goal is to build more roads. Mr. Self and I also agree they should be built at a fair price to the taxpayer in order to meet the needs of this dynamic area and for the future of Collin County.
State Senator, District 8
Road delay essential
Re: "We need bold highway funding – New direction needed for the state, but Collin County cannot afford a delay on 121, says County Judge Keith Self," Friday guest column.
The article by Mr. Self concerning the State Highway 121 project is completely off-target. Mr. Self asserts that a two-year delay in the construction of Highway 121 is unacceptable. This self-serving view attempts to justify the rush to construction and subsequent financial fiasco approved by Collin County.
To the contrary, a two-year or longer delay in construction of Highway 121 and all other toll road projects in the state is absolutely necessary. A completely revised method of funding highway construction must be enacted before we are asked to fork over any more money into this bottomless pit. Toll roads should be built on their own merits, and the tollbooths removed after funding costs and return on investment are recovered.
The North Texas Tollway Authority's habit of building unneeded and unused bridges and airport tunnels with revenue from other projects must be halted. Sending money on needed roads out of the country is ridiculous. The Texas Department of Transportation must learn how to build roads without massive planning and right-of-way acquisition delays.
Mr. Self truly doesn't care who builds the roads. Let's get it right before we start.
Fred L. Yarbrough,
Like a defiant child stuffing candy into their mouth after being told that maybe they've had enough, TxDOT rushes to sign 50-year contracts that the legislature has begun calling into question. And, TxDOT has six more deals being lined up. SA Express Patrick Driscoll has the whole article HERE.
And the Statesman article has some good info on the subject as well:
"That contract is a done deal, and any errors in it will have to be fixed a half century from now," said Nichols, a former member of the Texas Transportation Commission. "It's a good example of why we just can't delay reform in this arena. You're trying to catch a runaway train."
KLRU (PBS) aired a video report this past weekend, focused on statewide tolls, called "Highways to Hell?". The episode was aired on a show called "Special Session" and included pro, con and neutral panelists.
The episode is well done, with a high production value - similar to the PBS report from 2006 that was focused on the City of Austin's Double Tax Tolls. The 2006 video report included Rep. Mike Krusee, Sal Costello and Council member Brewster McCracken as part of the story - view Part 1, Part 2 .
The summery for the "Highways to Hell?" show states:
"Traffic is getting worse in our largest metro areas. Is Governor Perry's massive central Texas highway plan the answer? Are toll roads the solution? Or are we doomed to gridlock?"I'll say this - based on the recent Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) report, indexing the gas tax and placing the incremental revenue in the mobility fund to pay off bonds allows us to build the roads we need now, without them being toll roads.
It was a great PBS report, with discussions of the current lege - if you missed the 30 minute show with included panelists Kris Heckmann (speaking for Gov. "Toll Tax Everything" Perry), Representative Joe Pickett (D-El Paso), and Ben Wear (Austin American-Statesman), you can view the complete episode HERE.
Red McCombs: Billionaire, car salesman and one of Gov. Rick Perry’s top donors has got his “toll everything” editorial printed in most major Texas newspapers - from Austin to Amarillo. Eager to help out Perry, and push the latest corporate subsidy scheme, McCombs is pushing tolls hard:
"By utilizing toll roads and private investment along with traditional funding methods, Texas can get more roads built faster and without a significant tax increase."McCombs also says we are going to have to toll tax our freeways or we'll have no more roads. That's simply not true. See my very last paragraph.
Just last year, McCombs hired on his nephew and started TheTollTruth.com to push the toll freeways scam - with Zachry. When the San Antonio Express asked if McCombs had any interests (could profit from tolls) - there was no response.
Folks, it time for you to send letters to the editor. Educate others about tolling freeways or the TTC or ask Red McCombs to "fess up" and tell the public how he'll profit off the toll scam. 150 words or less and include your name, address and phone number for verification.
I’ve submitted this opinion article, but I don’t have a billion dollars. Feel free to borrow portions of it and lets get some letters to the editor out there!:
PRIVATIZING AND TOLLING FREEWAYS IS A DEAD END.
Under the guise of traffic congestion relief, the largest taxpayer fleecing in Texas history is now underway.
Elected officials are selling off our assets, our public highways, such as SH 121 in Dallas, in a desperate attempt to raise quick cash to build more toll roads. Any financial adviser will tell you, selling off assets is the first sign of bankruptcy.
Selling our roads today will equal crippling toll rates, and more traffic congestion tomorrow. Just ask California.
State Highway 121 in Dallas is the first freeway in Texas to be sold off. In exchange for a one time payment, Cintra, a foreign toll road corporation will charge a toll for the only expressway for miles. Cintra will profit from this monopoly and raise the toll tax rate for 50 years.
The first, and only other freeway to tollway conversion in the history of the US was California’s US 91 deal in the 1990’s. A noncompete clause, similar to Cintra’s deal for SH 121, kept California from increasing highway capacity on nearby roads. And, after seven years of increased traffic congestion and public unrest, it cost California taxpayers $207.5 million more to buy back US 91. Today, the toll rate on US 91 continues to increase and traffic congestion is worse than ever.
Recently, our legislature has been focused on a two year moratorium that would temporarily halt private toll road deals like SH 121. The moratorium is now veto proof, with over two thirds of both the Texas house and the senate on board. The sad fact is, the moratorium has been a distraction. The fact is - voters were never asked if our freeways should be converted to tollways in the first place.
The real dialog should be whether we toll freeways or index the gas tax - not whether private companies or a our own government should implement a new double tax.
When a freeway is tolled, crucial expressways are not offered as an alternative. In contrast, conventional toll roads in the U.S. are fair, since drivers are offered a freeway as an alternative. With freeway tolls - drivers are forced to drive frontage roads with stop lights and deal with growing traffic congestion if they don’t pay the toll. The fact is, there is a financial incentive to NOT address traffic congestion on freeway toll roads since increased traffic congestion provides higher revenues.
The freeway toll cash cow is a severe departure for TxDOT, and should be a major concern of and taxpayer, since TxDOT’s focus has always been solving transportation issues -- not generating revenue through traffic congestion.
Freeway tolls create monopolies and are the most expensive solution for collecting a tax. According to TxDOT, it costs about 25 cents to collect a cash toll, and 11 cents to collect an electronic toll. So, if the toll tax for a short span of road is 50 cents, 50% of the cash paid for that toll goes to collect the toll.
The solution is simple, instead of spending our limited tax dollars (and right of way) intened for free roads, on toll roads - index the gas tax to inflation, and numerous other states have. Nearly everything we purchase has an indexed tax - a fair form of taxation.
Assuming your vehicle gets 20 miles per gallon, and the increase in indexed gas tax was 10 cents a gallon, you would spend less than .5 cent a mile for an indexed gas tax. Compare that to the 15 cent a mile toll road that would cost 30 times the indexed gas tax per mile. A 20 cents a mile toll would cost 40 times the indexed gas tax, and so on.
Based on the recent Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) report, indexing the gas tax and placing the incremental revenue in the mobility fund to pay off bonds allows us to build the roads we need now, without more toll roads. Void of added bureaucracy and new layers of corruption, indexing the gas tax is the simplest and smartest solution.
Gov. Rick Perry and his appointed TxDOT chair Ric Williamson claim Texas has run out of tax dollars to build any more free roads.
But, TxDOT, under the Perry and Williamson direction, is diverting billions of tax dollars, intended for free roads, into toll roads (where freeways should be). Then the toll road, that took the limited right of way for a public expressway, is sold off with back room deal called a Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA). A freeway toll tax monopoly, like SH 121 in Dallas, is created in secret.
And, even though Gov. Perry promised the 4,000 mile Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) would cost the public zero tax dollars, a recent state auditors report reveals the TTC has already cost taxpayers $90 million, and not even one mile has been built.
When the railroad was first laid down in the United States, crafty businessmen could contribute to officials who would decide the exact path of the railroad. Businesses near the railroad would have a vast advantage over those who where not. Being able to transporting goods and services cheaper than your competitors can pumps up profits, and kill competitors.
A 1997 financial statement from Rick Perry, the last financial public statement before his investments would be locked into a trust, shows how Perry has interests in MKS Consulting, an oil and gas company that Ric Williamson and his wife run.
MKS Consulting will benefit from the TTC, which will include enormous underground pipes to transport oil, gas and other utilities. Those TTC pipelines will pass only miles away from Weatherford Texas, which is the home office of MKS Consulting and hometown of Ric Williamson.
Should a rogue Governor and his close pal benefit while taxpayers pay more for wildly unpopular policies?
Also of interest, Ric Williamson’s hometown of Weatherford was one of the very first cities to receive “pass through financing” from TxDOT, a rare no toll financing option to build a free road in Texas today.
And, just days ago, TxDOT gave Weatherford Texas a grant (paid for with tax dollars, intended for freeways we can “no longer afford”) which will pay for Weatherford's police overtime.
send yourself or others the link to this article.
Sen. Williams scolds TxDOT last Wednesday for "Picking Our Pockets" with unnecessarily high toll rates.
3/21/07, Sen. Tommy Williams, of the Senate Transportation Committee scolded TxDOT after commissioner Ted Houghton said "We need to extract as much capital out of the ground as possible". The comment offended Sen. Williams because it illustrated what is wrong with the arrogant agency: TxDOT feels it is more important to boost private company (Cintra) toll profits than serve the public.
The SH 121/Cintra deal was just made, and it's become public knowledge that TxDOT told the local tolling authority that it could NOT submit a bid for SH 121. We just learned the local tolling authority would have been a better deal than Cintra's by billions of dollars!
Hike up the gas tax
Texas reportedly will receive close to $3 billion over the 50-year life of the give-away to Cintra to build Texas 121 north of Dallas. It also seems that the toll for the 23-mile trip along 121 will be about $3.33 now and will increase to over $13. Forget calling it a "possible" increase. If it can be increased, it will. It is very unlikely that Cintra will leave profits on the table.
Consider this: The 20 cents per gallon gasoline tax generated about $3 billion for Texas in fiscal year 2006. So a simple increase of 20 cents per gallon in the gasoline tax would generate $150 billion over the next 50 years for Texas. That is more money every year than the Cintra deal will provide for the entire 50 years of the "deal."
Some deal. What a shame we don't have recall elections for the governor in Texas.
Selling our souls
What is all of the fuss about toll roads? Our leaders don't have the guts to tax us and our gasoline to pay for the roads that we demand to have, and we are selfish dreamers who take all our luxuries for granted and expect others to pay for our roads.
Our poorest folks are richer than 80 percent of the world and yet we refuse to give up our $5 cups of coffee, our big-screen TV sets, our luxury SUVs and oversized houses to pay for roads to drive on.
It is a terrible shame when our selfish and narrow-minded attitudes force our leaders to seek foreigners to finance our roads (and take the profits) because we refuse to pool our resources to build our own roads.
We are selling our souls because it will keep us happy for a short time — just as we get cars and TVs on credit because it makes us feel good for a little while.
Toll Road Roller Coaster
by Eileen Welsome, The Texas Observer
March 23rd, 2007
Anti-tollers have got to be feeling bruised and abused these days. After a boisterous hearing at the Lege a couple of weeks ago; a rousing demonstration at the Capitol; a massive letter-writing campaign, and round-the-clock blogging, roughly 125 members in the House and Senate signed onto a bill that would halt private toll-road development for two years.
Then, on Wednesday, John Carona, the Dallas Republican who chairs the Senate’s Transportation and Homeland Security Committee did a flip-flop, saying he’s not going to bring the measure up for a vote. Wassup with that? Did the guys who make cement get to him?
Pressed by anti-tollers, Carona issued a lame explanation, saying that the moratorium wouldn’t solve the toll road problems. True enough, but the purpose of the two-year breather was to allow legislators time to fix the problemos before the entire state was covered with toll lanes and video cameras.
Ironically, the anti-tollers may be getting a little help from Darth Vader himself — state Rep. Mike Krusee — who several years ago pushed through the massive legislation that opened the doors to private road warriors across the globe. In an interview over drinks at the Stephen F. Austin Hotel Thursday night, Krusee said he was working with Carona and other reps to rework some of the more unpalatable provisions in the contracts.
Some of the items that might get tweaked in the so-called comprehensive development agreements are the contract lengths, buy-out conditions, the non-compete clauses, and possibly a cap on the number of CDAs that TXDOT can enter into with private contractors in any given year.
“It’s impossible to say how things will shake out,” Krusee said. “Carona suggested that we author a bill that incorporates many of the concerns that people have. He would do it in the Senate and I would do it in the House. Those bills are being written in consultation with members like Lois Kolkhorst and will be probably rewritten on the floor. ” Read the rest of the article HERE.
March 22, 2007
TxDOT directive drives Congress' Texans into tizzy
By Michelle Mittelstad, Houston Chronicle
WASHINGTON — Texas Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are hopping mad at the Texas Department of Transportation, accusing its leaders in Austin of trespassing on Congress' most prized power: doling out federal dollars.
A letter this month from TxDOT's executive director tells members of Congress that the department will no longer support their individual road projects unless they obtain state and regional approval before pursuing federal funding.
"Arrogant," fumed Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco. "A letter like this is not a way to build relationships," complained Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston. Said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble: "TxDOT needs to understand the elected representatives make the decisions on what projects we do — not the bureaucrats."
In his March 9 letter, TxDOT Executive Director Michael Behrens said that because of state funding limits, lawmakers need cited financial constraints in telling lawmakers to run individual projects past TxDOT district offices and local Metropolitan Planning Offices.
"Most, if not all, projects require matching funds," he wrote. " Earmarks subsidizing only a portion of a project simply do not justify that project's advancement if funding is not available to provide the remaining balance."
That message did not resonate with lawmakers who are proud of delivering millions of dollars in roads and bridges for their districts — with federal funds defraying a big chunk. Forty percent of TxDOT's funding last year came from Washington.
"To send a letter like this, it's almost saying, 'Well, members of Congress, we'll take your money, but we're going to decide what to do with it,' " said Green, estimating he's delivered $30 million to $40 million in federal highway money to his district.
Preparing a response
Delegation members are readying a response to be sent to TxDOT Chairman Ric Williamson to complain about the agency's stance.
"We are concerned that your letter reflects an unwillingness to work with us to secure future federal funding," says a draft of the letter obtained by the Houston Chronicle. "Considering the Texas congressional delegation provides almost half of your funds, we are surprised by the tone of your letter and sincerely question whether Texas commuters sitting in congestion share your perspective."
TxDOT spokesman Randall Dillard denied any attempt to intrude on lawmakers' turf.
"Certainly, we did not mean to offend any member of Congress," Dillard said. "We are simply trying to ensure that we are all working together to advance transportation improvements that provide the most benefit to Texans."
He noted the budget climate is a tight one — with TxDOT being ordered to return $288 million in federal funds by mid-April because of congressional cuts. That's on top of the $305 million lost through other cuts in the past 15 months, he said.
The lawmakers are irritated by the suggestion they don't already work closely with TxDOT district engineers and others.
Said Edwards: "TxDOT has certainly burned its bridges with a lot of members."
They tell us to stay away, and the local special interest politicos go in full force on our taxpayer dime!
by Pat Driscoll, San Antonio Express:
Toll-road critics said they were told by state Senate staff that a moratorium bill would sail through a committee hearing Wednesday, and so were asked to keep their army of activists at bay.
"CorridorWatch was requested not to have more than one speaker," organizers David and Linda Stall said in a wordy bulletin written tonight.
Instead of marshalling some 1,600 fiery warriors as they did for a March 1 hearing by the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, the group sent Heidi Ullrich of Ledbetter to endorse a bill to freeze toll-road privatizations for two years. More than two thirds of legislators back the measure.
Ullrich must have felt like she walked into the Twilight Zone... Read the rest of the article HERE.
Sen. Nichols stands strong and gives statement. Alicia Phillips, Press Secretary for Sen. Robert Nichols, sent me an email just minutes ago. Nichols is the author of SB 1267, the 2 year moratorium. Her email asked if I would give her a call. I did.
Sen. Nichols wanted to make it crystal clear, that he is NOT holding up SB 1267. He wants the bill to go up for a vote.
"The effort to halt private toll road deals is not over. We will continue working to prevent Texas from entering into bad agreements that will hold our transportation system hostage for the next half century.
Pursuing a short-term solution with dangerous long-term consequences is not the answer to alleviating traffic congestion. A two year "cooling-down" period gives us a chance to get these contracts right before we sign away control of our transportation system."
...a few months later...
"A moratorium at this time in my opinion would be disastrous."
-Sen. Carona, March 2007
Politicians sicken me. All of them. Every self serving last one of them. Today, especially the ones who beat their chests to play the hero, and seek only to gain something for themselves, a payoff, a favor, and leave the public out in the cold. The lies and disingenuousness of those holding public office sicken me - as they play trivial games while we starve for representation.
The politicos certainly discount the depth of the public’s outrage. Total strangers have come up to me over the years and told me they will use a gun to protect what is theirs.
So-called representatives Sen. John Carona, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee now says he will not bring the bill up for a vote, even though more than 2/3rds of the Senate and House are signed on!
In yersterday's committee meeting Sen. Carona (512.463.0116), in a clear flip-flop said a moratorium "ought to remain a last resort" and "With North Texas in need of so many major road projects, a moratorium at this time in my opinion would be disastrous." Politicos never gave us the opportunity to vote on Texas tolls, and now they tease us by playing games with our lives, roads, land and our money.
This from the Statesman, with headline, "Tollway Freeze Bill Frozen":
Carona aide Steven Polunsky said that although Carona thinks that some sort of controls on private toll road contracts are in order, a two-year freeze might remove the only option available to get some badly needed road projects done.
Carona and his committee, which includes Nichols, spent most of Wednesday afternoon listening to — and sometimes debating with — local elected officials from the Dallas-Fort Worth area concerned that a moratorium on such toll road arrangements might delay by several years road work nearly ready to begin.
"To put a moratorium on these projects is like a stake in the heart for many of us," said Tarrant County Commissioner Gary Fickes. "We feel we're going to be very, very damaged."
Maybe Privatization isn't the answer?
We have the most expensive health care system in the world, paying the most for mediocre care, at best.
The insurance companies tell the doctors how to practice medicine. The drug companies want to keep people on expensive drugs that have not been adequately tested, and those companies spend more on marketing than research and development of new products.
And some people think that putting our roads in the hands of the private sector will turn out any better?
Revenue Hungry News Wrap-Up
--TxDOT pisses off another Sen!
--Kronberg on lege 'Tinderbox'
--Congressman are now calling them "Sweetheart Deals"!
Mike Heiligenstein, executive director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA), just got a big fat raise, from board members who were caught profiting off toll roads.
Heiligenstein will make $190,000 in base salary, as well as receive $40,000 in deferred compensation (which he could take now) and other cash payments - not to mention numerous perks such as car allowance.
Heiligenstein got a 25% raise, when most people would be fired. It’s been documented that he lied to elected officials and central Texas communities about toll rates.
For years, Heiligenstein promised that our tolls would only cost 12 to 15 cents a mile. A recent Statesman article exposed the Heiligenstein that tolls are costing as much as $1.50 a mile. 10 times the promised rate!
The Comptroller’s investigative report lays out how Heiligenstein and the his crooked pals (toll authority board members) hijacked our tax dollars and our roads for their own profit with the unaccountable quasi government agency they created:
"Mike Heiligenstein was a member of the Williamson County Commissioners Court until December 2003, and in that capacity voted for the formation of CTRMA and for the appointments of four of its board members.”Then, those board members hired Heiligenstein as Executive Director.
The comptroller’s investigative exposed Heiligenstein’s toll authority for “double taxation without accountability” and giving out NO BID contracts to themselves and friends (see Appendix 5).
Heiligenstein is plagued with a history of failing to meet his financial responsibilities. Heiligenstein’s bankruptcy from 1990 (#90-14004 Williamson County) included two debtors which were also two of Heiligenstein’s board member selections, James Mills and Mike Robinson.
And, in 2004, deadbeat dad Heiligenstein refused to pay child support. District Court Judge Jergins signed the order (case # 03-556-f395) for income to be withheld in the amount of $1,500 per month. More about Heiligenstein, and his constant irresponsible behavior HERE.
Special Interests, who profit off tolls are hard at work selling tolls. Tolling freeways create traffic congestion. And, they are a wasteful way to collect taxes.
CONVENTIONAL TOLL ROADS vs. TEXAS FREEWAY TOLL ROADS
Conventional toll roads in the U.S. have always been perceived as being fair, since they supplement our public highway system, and they offer a public expressway as an alternative. It's also important to note that conventional tolls have always been whole new routes and primarily funded with investor dollars.
Freeway tolls don’t offer crucial free expressways as an alternative. Instead, frontage roads with stop lights and growing traffic congestion are touted as an alternative.
With freeway tolls, TxDOT has a financial incentive NOT to address traffic congestion on frontage roads since increased traffic congestion provides higher toll tax revenues. This is a severe departure for TxDOT, since its focus has always been solving transportation issues -- not generating revenue through traffic congestion. Freeway tolls simply shift public
highways intended to be freeways into tollways.
Those who support tolling public expressways never mention the true cost of public subsidies involved. The total cost to the taxpayer, especially the taxpayer-funded right-of-way (ROW), is never shared with the public. Freeway tolls create expressway monopolies and are the most expensive solution to our need for roads.
For the most part, the finances of conventional toll roads have been segregated from public funds. While freeway tolls are primarily funded with tax dollars intended for free roads.
Pro-toll advocate and TollRoadsNews.com writer Peter Samuel made this statement about TxDOT and its freeway tolls:
"It has no coherent explanation for its project selection, or for the way tax and toll monies are mixed. It has been cavalier in proposing tolls on highways already funded -- breaching a long-established piece of political wisdom about tolling."TOLLS: AN INEFFICIENT FORM OF TAX COLLECTION
At a TxDOT commission hearing in October 2004, TxDOT had admitted it costs 25 cents to collect a cash toll, and 11 cents to collect an electronic toll. So, if the toll tax for a short span of road is 50 cents, 50% of the money paid for that toll goes to collect the toll.
NEW TEXAS TOLLS: 10 TIMES THE PROMISED RATE PER MILE
TxDOT and the local Regional Mobility Authority are on record promising a 12 to 15 cents/mile rate. Conventional toll roads in the US have an average toll rate of 9 cents/mile.
The Austin American-Statesman recently reported that the newly-opened Central Texas Phase I tolls cost as much as $1.50 per mile.
That's 10 times the cost promised, and 16 times the cost of the average toll rate in the U.S.
TOLL ROADS COST MORE THAN FREE ROADS TO BUILD
Toll roads cost much more for construction, right-of-way, utility relocation, maintenance, and service than do non-tolled roads. For example, Central Texas Phase II freeway tolls would cost $123 million more to build as toll roads than they would cost to build as free roads.
The footprint of a freeway toll project is larger than what's needed for the free road since toll lanes and free lanes must be separated. Therefore, extra land for right-of-way must be acquired and utilities must be relocated. Our existing roads have right-of-way corridors for expansion, but were never planned for the larger footprint required by freeway tolls.
To illustrate, a typical roadway project devotes about 90% or more of the cost to build the road. Compare that to TxDOT's toll analysis for SH 71 in Central Texas where only 35% of the cost of the project is for roadway construction. Over half the cost of the $168 million project goes to buying new right-of-way and having to relocate utilities for the freeway toll road.
COMPTROLLER REPORT: FREEWAY TOLLS CREATE UNACCOUNTABLE DOUBLE TAXATION
In 2005, the State Comptroller came out with an investigative report showing how Regional Mobility Authorities that toll public highways are creating double taxation, by diverting tax dollars intended for free roads, into toll roads. The report also showed RMA board members giving NO BID CONTRACTS (using tax dollars) to themselves and their friends. Board members of RMA's have property in the vicinity of toll roads that have increased by as much as 989%.
TOLL TAX: 15+ TIMES THE COST OF INDEXED GAS TAX
Assuming your car gets 20 miles per gallon, and an increase in indexed gas tax was less than 20 cents a gallon, you would spend less than 1 cent a mile for an indexed gas tax. Compare that to tolls of 15 cents a mile, which would be 15 times the cost of an indexed gas tax. A 20 cent toll per mile would be 20 times the cost of an indexed gas tax, and so on.
The Texas Transportation Institute report says tolls are NOT needed, that indexing the gas tax and placing the incremental revenue in the mobility fund to pay off bonds allows us to build the roads we need now.
Send letters to the editor today.
The link to this article, to send or bookmark:
Ruth Arlene Murray, 72, of San Bernardino County faces more than $70,000 in fines for failing to pay $504 in tolls to the Transportation Corridor Agencies, another turnpike operator. And OCTA has assessed Stephanie and Brian Young of Corona $53,550 in penalties for $580 in unpaid tolls.
"This is ridiculous," said Stephanie Young, the mother of three children. "People should not face losing their homes and their cars over fines like this."
The lawsuit accuses the California toll authorities of violating constitutional protections against excessive fines. The motorists also allege that the government agencies mishandled their requests to correct mistakes, denied them adequate opportunities to contest penalties, and imposed stiff fines although violations were unintentional and some tolls were eventually paid. Read the whole LA Times story HERE.
Vexed by private tollway deals, affronted by TxDOT's attitudes, Legislature looks to rein in Perry's turnpike push.
March 19, 2007
By Ben Wear, Austin American-Statesman
...Krusee, for much longer than 10 days, has also been fighting the creeping realization among legislators that over the past two sessions, they might have granted Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Department of Transportation too much power to create toll roads. For the first time in his three sessions as chairman of the House Transportation Committee and the leading legislative architect of toll road policy, Krusee is having to play defense.
For a number of reasons — campaign trail grumbling last year, disputes with Dallas and Houston toll road agencies, lack of deference to legislators by Texas transportation commissioners, turf battles over huge pots of money suddenly coming Texas' way — the Legislature has been gripped by a sort of March madness over tollways, particularly those that would be in private hands for a half-century.
What remains to be seen is what the madness will lead to by the end of the session May 28. As transportation chairman, Krusee can, in theory, block most legislation seeking to roll back tollway powers. And Perry could veto whatever makes it to his desk.
But more than two-thirds of the Legislature has signed on to legislation that would put a two-year moratorium on concessions, contracts with private companies to build and run toll roads. Dozens of other bills limiting tollway powers have been filed. And powerful legislators, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, are talking about using the power of the purse to curb the Transportation Department.
Perry and Krusee may have no choice but to make concessions on concessions and on other prongs of their toll road agenda.
"Watch the budget," Ogden said. "At the end of the day, TxDOT can't spend a dime without our permission. So, watch the budget."(Read the rest of the article HERE.)
I received this email about one of the details of the bureaucratic toll tax - The dreaded TxTag (TaxTag):
Hi Sal,And, it's not just cars that you don't own that absorb your time and money. States including Texas, California, Florida, and Maryland toll transponders (that automatically deduct funds from a credit card account) are overcharging motorists all the time.
I had told you about the "invoice" I had received from TexasTollways for a vehicle that I had sold prior to it getting cited.
I have spent several hours and emails trying to straighten it out, and just got another "invoice" - it is up to $4 now. The interesting thing about this invoice is that the section of the invoice that should specify the date and location of the violation - does not contain any information about the original citation.
And to top it off - the font is the smallest possible, not legible to me without magnifying glasses. The reason I point this out is that without the original dates of violation/invoice, a person with multiple charges would have no way to determine if these were accurate or not. In case you have not seen these statments before I have scanned a copy and attached it here for you.
Often, they will not even know this is happening. For example, the Harris County, Texas Toll Road Authority admitted just days ago that its use of an automatic vehicle classification device designed to catch "toll cheats" was instead cheating law-abiding motorists! Read more HERE.
City of Frisco Mayor Pro Tem, Maher Maso, has been fighting the SH 121 double tax toll deal months before Cintra got the contract.
You can tell by TxDOT's rushed timeline that they were trying to beat the clock on the March 1st Senate hearing. This is unbelievable even for TxDOT.
February 26, 2007 - Public hearing.
February 27, 2007 - Press release.
February 28, 2007 - Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA) was awarded to Cintras by the Texas Transportation Commission.
Maher Maso stated:
“Of course, you also saw what was wrong with that picture, asking the public for their opinion while, at the same time, having the press announcement and then awarding the CDA all in two days!”The City of Frisco also sent a letter in response to the SH 121 “Environmental Reevaluation” analysis produced by contractor HNTB. HNTB has the contract for 183A toll in Central Texas, and others. Frisco found a whopping total of 130 issues with HNTB's work! Here are only the first 2 of the 130...
#1 says that a rushed public hearing took place, with notice given only 3 weeks in advance - instead of the legally required 30 day notice.
CONTRACTOR HNTB PLAGIARIZED WORK!
It also appears the contractor, HNTB plagiarized past work (and will most probably bill TxDOT an exorbitant amount for the theft). As stated in the PDF:
"2. This entire document is in many cases an exact word for word copy of the SH 121 Denton County Environmental Assessment which accounts for many of the errors in the document. There is little to distinguish it as an individual project separate from the Denton County project. Many of the references are more accurate to the Denton County project than the Collin County project for the majority of the document. Shouldn’t each Environmental Assessment be unique to the corridor and not a boiler plate document?"Click here to download the whole PDF. Recent 121 toll news HERE.
In 1998, Dallas voters were asked to fund a beautiful vision for the Trinity River that would transform the area into a serene urban park. Illustrations of lakes, sailboats, and families having relaxing picknick graced voter brochures - which narrowly convinced voters to approve the $246 million bond proposal.
Today, greedy tollers seek to hijack the park and the park bond dollars for a high-speed toll road that will cut through Trinity Park. The toll road will eliminate 1/3 of the park space, and ruin the serene environment of what is left. And, the toll road is already projected to be more than $600 million over budget.
Here's the kicker, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has recently acknowledged that the toll road will indeed flood due to its location in the floodway. But that doesn't stop the revenue hungry politicos.
Sadly, the toll tax special interests and our so called public servants continue to disregard the voters intention. They hijack tax and bond dollars, intended for something else, and fund otherwise unfeasible toll road projects. If “toll road”, or “toll tax” was not in the ballot language, then tolls should not be forced on taxpayers to foot the bill.
Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt and Dallas citizens are now organizing to fight the special interests. Volunteers are now now being organized to begin collecting 50,000 signatures at the end of April, so they may place a referendum on the ballot, to let the voters decide (again).
Visit them at www.TrinityVote.com.
TxDOT’s press release from yesterday says TxDOT has to return $300 million dollars to the federal government, because they failed to use the money Uncle Sam gave them.
That's on top of another $305 million TxDOT failed to use over the past 15 months, for the same error.
Throwing away hundreds of millions of dollars while you cry that you’ve run out of money doesn’t really make sense. In the meantime, Gov. Perry's TxDOT, has been taking billions of our tax dollars, intended for free roads, and diverting them into toll roads. Will someone be fired over this blatant waste? Probably not.
In response, TxDOT has planned a public meeting to hear suggestions on how the latest federal cuts could be absorbed. Can you say "more toll roads"?
BREAKING NEWS: House speaker Tom Craddick refereed HB 2772 to the Transportation Committee today.
Inside sources say Craddick’s referral suggests the political pressure has become too great and he is telling the chair of Transportation, Rep. Mike Krusee, to bring it up for a vote.
Constituent phone calls into Krusee’s office in support of the two year toll moratorium have been met with argumentative office staff. The staff has been holding the pro-toll line, telling consituents that other consituents want tolls. Some would say that one of Krusee’s recent quotes, “Toll roads are enormously popular", would challenge his understanding of reality.
HB 2772, which will freeze any future toll privatization deals, for two years, was filed last week by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst. The former pro-toll TxDOT Commissioner gone rogue, Senator Robert Nichols, filed the identical SB 1267 days before.
25 Texas Senators (81%) and nearly 100 State Representatives have signed on to date according to the CorridorWatch.org scorecard.
Two-thirds of both bodies is the magic number. That way a bill can pass without the possibility of a veto from Gov. Rick Perry. The TTC and tolling freeways are Gov. Perry’s push. The Governors own website uses the term, “creative financing”, which sounds more appetizing than the truth - tolling roads we've already paid for.
Back in 2003, Rep. Mike Krusee’s HB 3588 was the bill that allowed the tolling of roads we’ve already paid for (tolling freeways), as well as the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC), and the Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDA). CDAs allow the toll deals to be secret.
Many in the legislature have said they were tricked by HB 3588’s summery, hence the large numbers hearing the cries from the public, as they line up to say yes to the moratorium.
The most astonishing fact about the two year toll freeze - the majority of Krusee’s own Transportation Committee have turned their backs on Krusee, and signed up to freeze Texas tolls. Five of the nine committee members that have signed on are Haggerty, Harper-Brown, Harless, Macias, and Murphy.
An inside source says the toll freeze bill is a virtual lock, especially if the public continues to phone Representatives, and gave details.
If Krusee was to try and stall the bill, the bill caption is broad enough to go to almost any other committee.
And, if Craddick would change his support, and not take it to other committee, the bill would just be brought up as an amendment to another bill, and with the majority already on board, it’s a slam dunk. That is also why Craddick is on board, because he has to be, or he looks bad.
Looks like a cold spring is coming for the special interests.
81% of Senate and 52% of State Reps (77) are now signed on! We need 66% plus of each to keep Gov Perry from being able to veto!
Update 12:45: 54% of State Reps (81) are now signed on!
Update 1:30: 55% of State Reps (82) are now signed on!
Update 1:50: 55% of State Reps (83) are now signed on!
Update 2:20: 56% of State Reps (84) are now signed on!
Update 2:45: 57% of State Reps (85) are now signed on!
Update 11:00: 58% of State Reps (87) are now signed on!
Update 2:00: 62% of State Reps (93) are now signed on!
Update 10:15: 63% of State Reps (94) are now signed on!
Update 10:30: 63% of State Reps (95) are now signed on!
Update 11:00: 64% of State Reps (96) are now signed on!
Update 1:05: 65% of State Reps (98) are now signed on!
Update 5:00: 65% of State Reps (99) are now signed on!
PHONE AND DO THOSE CALLS.
LETS PASS THAT MAGIC 66%!
Find your State Rep. HERE. The updated Scorecard is HERE! Pick up the phone and call your State Rep today!
OF SPECIAL NOTE:
FRANK CORTE REFUSES TO SIGN ON - CORTE OFFICE STAFF RUDE TO CONSTITUENTS
A couple of my favorite local tollers, Rep. Mark Strama and Rep. Patrick Rose have failed to sign on. Rep. Mark Strama, who as a member of CAMPO voted to toll roads that were already 100% paid for, has yet to step up and sign on. Did Craddick tell him to stand down?
After one of the CAMPO meetings in 2005 in the parking lot, I asked Strama, why he would break the written promise he made to our AustinTollParty.com group, and vote FOR freeway toll bills every time with Rep. Mike Krusee.
Strama told myself and a witness that he voted with House Transportation Chair Mike Krusee on the freeway toll bills because:
It's kind of like being in prison and
I've got to be someone's bitch."
STRAMA NEWS: Late Wednesday - Strama signs on (a little pressure does a lot)
NEW ADMISSION FROM SENATOR ROBERT NICHOLS (Former TxDOT Commissioner):
"the state is enacting a policy that forces
Texans to drive on a toll road with
very few alternatives"
A reenactment of Gov. Rick Perry giving Ric Williamson (TxDOT) orders on assembling an army of the “worst dregs ever to soil the face of the west” - to steal Texas roads and Texans land. Cintra, Macquarie, John Langmore, Mike Weaver and other Texas toll road crooks included.
Just days ago TxDOT sold a Dallas state highway (SH 121 - intended to be a freeway) to Cintra for 50 years. Most sane people knew selling a public highway to a spanish company was a bad deal, but who would have thought it would be exposed to be an outrageous financial screw up so quickly?
First, you need to know this important tid-bit: TxDOT would not let the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) bid on the tolling of 121 freeway. But it allowed corporations from other countries bid. Cintra won the deal, to toll a Texas Freeway for 50 years, just days ago.
North Texas Tollway Authority estimates it would have given the state $4.2 billion in the freeway for sale deal. Instead TxDOT cut a deal with Cintra for only $700 million. From the Dallas Morning News today:
“The deal to make State Highway 121 a toll road for $2.8 billion in cash was less than half of what the state could have gotten, according to a very rough estimate unveiled Monday by the North Texas Tollway Authority.We get screwed by billions of dollars and our roads are being stolen for corporate profits. Our elected officials (Perry, Craddick, Williamson, Krusee and others) have sold us out. When will this madness be stopped?
In what everyone acknowledged to be an extremely preliminary analysis, the tollway authority said it could have given the Texas Department of Transportation $2.1 billion up front for the rights to the toll road project in Collin and Denton counties. That is the same figure as the winning bidder, Cintra Concesiones Infraestructuras de Transporte SA.
The difference came in how much money the tollway authority said it could pay over the life of the 50-year toll contract: $4.2 billion vs. Cintra's $700 million offer.”
know, just click on the envelope icon below.
To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click
Robert Nichols couldn't have been more shocking if he'd shown up on the floor of the Texas Senate in a silk muumuu and pink boa.
Now that I have your attention . . .
You might not be familiar with Nichols, given that the Republican from the East Texas burg of Jacksonville is serving his first term in the Senate. But people in transportation certainly know Nichols from his eight years on the Texas Transportation Commission, when there wasn't a more dogged defender of building toll roads.
In December 2004, Nichols shared a dais with commission Chairman Ric Williamson and Gov. Rick Perry, all of them fairly bursting with triumph as they announced that Cintra-Zachry, in return for 50 years of toll revenue, had promised to build 300 miles of Trans-Texas Corridor tollway paralleling Interstate 35. AND pay the state $1.2 billion.
This was what toll roads could bring, they said. Philosophically, it seemed you couldn't fit a Kleenex between Williamson and Nichols.
In June 2005, Nichols, 62, quit the commission to run for Senate. When he won, the assumption was that Nichols would be the Transportation Department's legislative champion.
The first hint something was afoot came March 1, when Nichols hit Williamson with tough questions about private toll roads at a committee hearing. Then last week's stunner: Nichols, with 24 Senate co-sponsors, was filing SB 1267 to put a two-year moratorium on private toll road contracts.
(Read the rest of the article HERE)
Dallas News has a great article today on how Gov. Rick Perry (Mr. 39%) has gone too far. The backlash from everything from forcing toll roads on Texans, HPV on schoolgirls, selling the lottery, pushing coal-fired power plants and the expanding sex-abuse scandal at the Texas Youth Commission is certainly taking it’s “toll”.
According to the Dallas News article, Gov. Rick Perry has stepped on so many toes the legislature is now in the process of limiting the Gov's powers.
"When you've been called governor for five or six years, you tend to forget that the office is mostly ceremonial and advisory," said Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson.And:
"You're the governor of the state of Texas, your chest swells and if disaster strikes, you get in the helicopter, cameras come and you feel reasonably authoritative. Then the Legislature comes back into town, and it's a different story," Dr. Jillson said.
Starting today, thanks to legislative rules and schedules, the House and Senate will rush to make hundreds of new laws before adjourning at the end of May. When the session began in January, it seemed Mr. Perry's agenda might dominate the coming period. Now, he might be lucky to just prevent lawmakers from curtailing his own power.
Consider some bills advancing through the Legislature: a constitutional amendment to allow lawmakers to reconvene to override any vetoes the governor signed in their absence; a bill to limit the service of the governor's appointees; and a provision that makes executive mandates subject to approval by the Legislative Budget Board.
Plus, a senator has asked the attorney general to determine the limits of a governor's executive orders.
Mr. Chisum said there's little enthusiasm among lawmakers for selling the state lottery. Less for the toll roads. And the HPV executive order has caused major headaches, he said. "Those all got political, and we're not buying in," said Mr. Chisum, R-Pampa.
In 1992, a well known toller, Robert W. Poole, Jr., of the Reason Foundation, stated:
“Congestion pricing—charging a price to use highways that is high at peak hours and low at off-peak times—holds great potential for easing traffic congestion and reducing auto emissions in Southern California.”
Today, reality sets in with $8.50 “value priced” toll lanes during rush hour on SR 91 in Southern California (see actual photo of SR 91 during rush hour above). Note the untolled lanes are a dangerous congested nightmare, and even those who pay, must slow down and join the congestion to exit off the highway.
Did the toll roads, managed lanes or value pricing ease traffic congestion?
So when Sen. Kirk Watson, Rep. Mike Krusee, TxDOT or other tollers try sell us to toll roads we’ve already paid for, think about that photo. This photo is what it will be like with managed lanes on Loop 1 (MoPAC) in Austin and other freeways in Texas.
In an effort to deceive the public, slick politico’s like Watson say we need “managed lanes” to solve our problems. Managed lanes are a marketing term to sell us toll lanes - without using the “T” word!
These comments are from California citizens who have to live with what the politicians sold them, a promise that tolls, managed lanes and value pricing would reduce traffic congestion:
“These lanes were built w/taxpayer money. Should have never been toll road. We are being held hostage by OC and Caltrans. Why aren't our Riverside County reps standing up for us?”
“They are making almost a million dollars every week, and still cannot do anything to relieve the congestion on the 91. Even the yellow "cones" along the FasTrak lanes are old and often times missing. Where is all the money going?”
“"Congestion-pricing" is French for fleecing consumers. Oct.'s plan is about making money, not reducing congestion.”
“When the Orange County Transportation Authority announced they were going to purchase the toll lanes, they said that the prices were going to drop not go up. Once again, the government lies to get what they want.”
“The obscene amount of tax dollars that are TAKEN from us everyday should be more than enough to create and maintain any of these new roads.”
“I THINK THIS IS CRAZY. IT KEEPS GOING UP AND UP AND I WILL NO LONGER BE ABLE TO AFFORD THE EXPRESS LANES. MY HUSBAND RECENTLY PASSED AWAY AND MY INCOME IS CUT IN HALF. NOW WITHOUT HIM, I CAN NO LONGER RIDE THE CARPOOL LANES AND MY TRIP TO WORK AND HOME HAS BECOME VERY LONG AND UNBEARABLE ON SOME DAYS.”
“They spent a lot of taxpayer's money...they promised reductions in traffic congestion while staying "revenue neutral". About six months later a study showed a drop in traffic of only 0.06 percent, a paltry amount, as compared to an increase in revenue of a whopping 26.0 percent. This kind of double-speak and corruption will continue as long as we, the people, allow it. THROW THE RASCALS OUT!!!”
“Anyone notice all the people who cut into the lanes after the toll plaza. How dangerous is that?”
“Pricing on the 91 Toll Lanes is INSANE! I understand that sometimes it's just as congested as the non-tollroads during rush (hour), but the raise is just too much. I think the price of $8 is too much.”
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There is a ton of press over legislation concerning tolling tax paid roads and the land grabbing TTC this week. Here’s just a few links from our great Texan friend at TTC News Archives. Years of archived news reports of the boondoggles, all in one place!
Many lawmakers question if Texas drivers are being sold down the road in Dallas News.
There is something unTexan about these 'Lexus highways', in The Economist (UK)
We must closely evaluate private toll contracts before we sign away half a century of control of our transportation system in Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Many provisions in recent toll contracts are alarming in Assciated Press.
"This scheme makes the railroad robber barons of the old west look like street corner hustlers" from The Hardin County News (Lumberton, TX)
Sen Nelson says, “When the legislation was approved for the TTC we didn’t realize we were giving up all we gave up. We should have asked more questions.” in Fort Worth Star-Telegram
EXPERT SAYS OIL PRODUCTION TAKES A NOSEDIVE (higher gas prices equal less folks are able to be gauged at the toll booths)
The Gov isn't happy, and you can help stop some of his plans to steal our roads and our land.
With your help HB 2772 (House side) and SB 1267 (Senate Side) can become law! 25 out of 35 Senators have already signed on. We need YOU to call your Representatives TODAY!
CLICK HERE TO SEE THE UPDATED LEGISLATIVE SUPPORTER SCORECARD! It's growing by the hour, but we need your help!