Update 6:15pm: QuorumReport.com reports "SENATE PASSES CHANGES TO SEND HB 1892 BACK TO THE HOUSE. The 40-year term on 121, 161 and managed lanes on 635 were stripped from bill. Legislation is on the way back to the other chamber."
Records show that one month after Sen. Kirk Watson became chair of Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) -- an organization that directs billions of road dollars in Central Texas -- Watson was put on the payroll of special interest developers who profit from important transportation decisions.
Watson has failed to mention the conflict of interest at any CAMPO meeting and has yet to recuse himself from any vote that benefits his developer clients - who have finacial interests across Central Texas.
After months of back door meetings with CAMPO board members in 2006, and at Watson’s very first CAMPO meeting in January 2007, Watson not only became a board member, but also became chair of the all powerful organization. Also at that first meeting, Watson altered the CAMPO rules so other board members would no longer be able to place an item on the agenda - unless it is approved by Watson and his hand selected executive committee.
To summarize, within one CAMPO meeting in January, Sen. Watson became member, Chair and gatekeeper of an organization that directs billions of taxpayer transportation dollars in Central Texas.
In February 2007, only one month later, Watson registered as a lobbyist for numerous developers who will directly benefit from Watson’s chairmanship of CAMPO. Records from the City of Austin show Watson as a lobbyist for:
• Zydeco DevelopmentLast year Zydeco Development and partner Atlantis Properties announced they would double the size of their already massive Met Center Business Park (has six hotels) at Texas 71 and Riverside Drive. Zydeco tenants include General Motors Corp., Progressive insurance, Waste Management Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Marriott International Inc. Zydeco Development’s website has Diane Jaspan Librach, Rebecca Nixon, David Sheldon and Howard Yancy listed as Zydeco leadership.
• Goodnight Tract
• Second Congress, LTD
• Wells Branch Utility District
Second Congress, LTD has plans to have the tallest building in Austin by 2009. The Austonian, a 55-story, $200 million condominium tower will rise 670 feet from the ground. Construction is due to begin the summer of 2007, with the 195 luxury units, according to David Mahn, project vice president for Second Congress Ltd. Units starting at $500,000.
Goodnight Tract is most likely Terry Mitchell’s “Austin Goodnight Ranch L.P.”, which is related to Momark Development LLC. Goodnight Ranch has about 700 acres near the intersection of Slaughter Lane and I-35. Even though current traffic congestion is an issue and water is very limited, the development plan includes 4,200 homes and apartments, and 260,000 square feet of office and retail.
It’s no secret that developers, as the toll lobby, have been one of the key forces to place toll booths on roads we’ve already paid for in Central Texas. And those same developers who bought out our representatives in 2004, to ignore the 93% of the public feedback that opposed Central Texas freeway tolls, are now pushing Kirk Watson to sell us managed lanes (tolls on freeway lanes we’ve already paid for). MOPAC is the latest target for this double tax.
Developers are notorious for buying cheap land, away from city cores, and pay off our representatives to make the public foot the bill - for roads to their property. That's how the “Circle of Payola” works.
Watson stars in this popular "Circle of Payola" YouTube VIDEO.
We pay for the developers roads (or toll roads, or managed lanes) - our representatives sell out the public for fat cat pay offs - the developer gets filthy rich.
Watson is well known to be a special interest politico. Watson's back door secret deal with Intel (when he was Mayor of Austin) cost city taxpayers $7.5 million in subsidies. Intel didn’t hold up their end of the deal (didn’t finish construction of the building), left us with the “Intel shell” eye sore and ran off with $7.5 million worth of subsidies.
And, Watson’s City of Austin Prop 1, of the year 2000, diverted a whopping $67.2 million of our bond dollars, intended for free roads, into the toll roads Central Texans drive today.
And this year in the Senate, Watson has proposed many bills that benefit his special interest pals at the public’s expense. Such as Watson’s SB 1184 anti-citizen bill, which would dramatically increase the signatures needed for citizen initiated charter amendments. For example, Watson’s proposal would raise Austin's required signatures from 20,000 to 40,000, and in Houston they would need five times the signatures.
And, of course there is Watson's SB 1688 (Mike Krusee's teamed up with Watson and put up the version for the house side of the ledge) that for the first time in Texas, creates a whole new way to tax people. A tax district for people who live near toll roads. So if you live near the toll road and you don't drive on it, you still pay!
AND, WATSON'S DOMINATION AND DESTRUCTION OF TEXAS IS JUST GETTING STARTED. A recent Democratic Senatorial Campaign Commitee report mentions Watson as a possible U.S. Senator candidate.
NEWSWEEK: Roads To Riches. Why investors are clamoring to take over America's highways, bridges, and airports—and why the public should be nervous
The Statesman endorsed the unpopular Phase II tolls (tolls on roads we've already paid for) in 2004, and left all the heavy lifting to the public.
This week has been a turn of events.
The Statesman is doing some decent reporting on the managed (toll) lanes on Mopac, that we've been talking about for some time.
This is a great editorial from the Statesman, I'm glad they are finally taking our talking points:
"Painting new lines on the pavement to create the additional lanes means the new lanes will be narrower than most are now, and the shoulders will be all but eliminated in some stretches. Shrinking the shoulders on that heavily traveled roadway creates a dangerous situation that can be expected to lead to more crashes.and:
Anyone who drives MoPac at rush hour regularly sees vehicles on the shoulders. Some are stalled, others were involved in minor wrecks, but if they can get out of the driving lanes and onto the shoulders traffic continues to flow. Insufficient shoulders will probably mean more slowdowns, hassles, accidents and injuries.
Moving to and from the toll lanes will be nightmarish as well. With more and narrower lanes, and short distances to cross over them to enter and exit, traveling MoPac will become an even more daring dance at 60 mph in two tons of steel."
"MoPac needs to be expanded as soon as possible, but it doesn't need toll lanes.Too bad the Statesman does not always stand with the people. We'll take what we can get. They still won't print any of my letters to the editor.
HOV lanes will be just as effective, if not more so, and not incur the enmity of the driving public. Local and state officials have heard plenty from local residents incensed about the state adding tolls on roads already paid for. The MoPac proposal is another one, and wholly unnecessary."
Krusee's 'ghost' votes on bills while he's overseas.
By W. Gardner Selby
Austin American Statesman
It’s not every day a state legislator travels overseas while voting in the Texas House.
Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, was in London on Thursday while his votes on about 30 pieces of legislation were cast on the House floor.
It gets weirder: Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland, said he'd committed to getting Krusee excused Thursday but got diverted by his cell phone fritzing out. Driver left the Capitol for a phone store, delaying his notification to a clerk that Krusee was gone.
In the meantime, Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, could be seen punching in votes for Krusee on routine final approvals of legislation.
Driver even punched in Krusee's votes a few times before his absence was announced at 2:25 p.m.
"It's basically my fault," Driver said later.
House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, said it's up to members to regulate the vote buttons on their desks. Read the rest of the article HERE
WHEN DRUG DEALERS move into a fresh town, they make the rounds in poor neighborhoods giving out free samples of their seductive, poisonous wares.
When Texas tollers open up a toll road, like 183A in Central Texas, they also give it away for free, for a few weeks, hoping to get folks hooked on paying more.
Special lanes in Dallas have sharply increased accidents, but engineers say MoPac plan would address flaws.
By Ben Wear
If the state adds two "managed lanes" to MoPac Boulevard north of Town Lake as proposed this month, the increasingly clogged freeway would have a third more capacity and a high-speed refuge for buses, emergency vehicles and motorists willing to pay tolls.
However, given design compromises forced by lack of space, research indicates that the highway would also have more accidents and serious injuries. What is not clear at this point, because little or no study has been done of the particular design contemplated for MoPac (Loop 1), is just how many more accidents.
Officials working on the project say that the design, with the possible exception of an exceedingly tight stretch near Camp Mabry, meets acceptable standards (if not optimal recommendations) and that it is the best approach possible at this point for moving more people in Austin's northwest quadrant.
"If you did not have right-of-way constraints, would you design it differently?" asked Bob Daigh, Austin district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation. "You bet you would. But that's not the project we have to design. We have to live within those constraints."
The agency hopes to begin construction in late 2008 and have the lanes open two years after that.
The constraints exist only in the southern five miles of the project, between Town Lake and RM 2222, where Union Pacific railroad lines on the inside and a combination of enormous power poles and resolute homeowners on the outside mean the expansion must occur within the Transportation Department's existing right of way.
North of RM 2222, there is plenty of room for expansion, and the state will be able to lay down full 12-foot-wide lanes and spacious 10-foot-wide shoulders.
For that southern section, however, Daigh and his engineers have spent the past year or more trying to figure out how to cram in another lane, plus a buffer of a few feet between the new managed lane on the inside and the three lanes that would remain free. To do that, the design would narrow the regular lanes to 11 feet and have shoulders that typically would be 4 feet wide.
In the worst case — on the northbound lanes of a milelong stretch between West 35th and West 45th streets — the inside shoulder would be a scant 15 inches wide, the managed lane would be just 11 feet wide, and the normal 4-foot buffer separating it from the free lanes would be just 2 feet wide.
For cars using the managed lane in that area, the total side-to-side maneuvering space, including the lane itself, would be just over 14 feet.
The Texas Transportation Institute, in a 2004 study of accidents and designs on Dallas high-occupancy-vehicle lanes where there is typically no inside shoulder, recommended that cars on such segregated, high-speed lanes have 26 feet total side-to-side maneuvering space. That would allow cars to get around a stalled vehicle or one slowing down to move over into the regular lanes.
The "absolute minimum cross-section," the report says, should be 18 feet.
"Without an inside shoulder, when you looked at the crash reports (in Dallas), there just wasn't anywhere for someone to avoid the crashes," said Scott Cooner, an associate research engineer in the Texas Transportation Institute's Arlington office.
The study looked at accident rates on Interstate 35 and Interstate 635 before and after HOV lanes were added. After the HOV lanes opened in 1996 and 1997, injury accidents per million miles traveled over the next four years increased 41 percent on I-35 and 56 percent on I-635.
But as with so many questions about highway safety, any comparison to what might happen with MoPac's managed lanes is necessarily inexact. The state Transportation Department, to some degree because of experience with the Dallas HOV lanes, would build the Austin lanes differently.
On those two Dallas highways, the only separation between the HOV lane and the regular lanes is a double stripe painted on the pavement. Signs tell drivers not to cross those solid double stripes, that movement from the HOV lane to the inside regular lane is supposed to occur only every mile or so, when there is an access point indicated by a dashed line.
On MoPac, the managed lane would be segregated from the regular lanes by a series of closely spaced, flexible plastic pylons. At entry or exit points — and there would be only five, aside from the southern and northern ends — there would be a gap in the pylons of about 1,200 feet, about a quarter-mile, where people could make the lane change.
The reality in Dallas, according to the 2004 report, is that many people have ignored those signs, weaving in and out of the managed lane in efforts to gain advantage or (in the case of people driving alone who are illegally in the HOV lane) to avoid being caught and ticketed. Most of the accidents, Cooner said, occurred because of that rampant lane changing.
The fundamental problem is that cars in the HOV lanes at rush hour, by and large, are going 30 to 35 miles per hour faster than cars in the regular lanes, Cooner said. That speed differential makes lane changes more problematic than on a normal freeway, where everyone typically is traveling at the same speed.
That same problem would exist with the managed lanes on MoPac.
"If you're going to ask people to pay, they have to be going faster," Cooner said.
In fact, the plan with MoPac is to have "dynamic pricing" to ensure that speeds remain high on the managed lane. The tolls to drive in the lane would be significantly higher at peak traffic hours, set at whatever price it took to discourage enough drivers to keep traffic uncongested.
On State Route 91 in Southern California, for instance, the toll for a 10-mile stretch of managed lanes varies between $1.10 overnight and $9.50 between 4 and 5 p.m. Fridays.
The expectation with MoPac is that the pylons, by limiting lane changes to the designated access points, will produce a far lower accident rate than Dallas has seen. In fact, the state Transportation Department is installing pylons on its next Dallas HOV project, on U.S. 75.
"I would certainly feel like your situation is set up to be more successful than what we've had in Dallas," Cooner said.
On the other hand, could funneling everyone who wants to enter or exit the managed lane into a quarter-mile section actually cause more accidents? Cooner said that's an ongoing debate in traffic design circles, one yet to be settled by reliable research.
The bible for U.S. highway design is called the green book, a thick manual published by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
It says that on urban freeways, "through-traffic lanes should be 12 ft. wide." On freeways with at least six lanes, such as MoPac, the book says both shoulders should be at least 10 feet wide.
That won't be the case for certain sections of MoPac under the proposal. However, that is already the case near 35th and from Town Lake south to Loop 360 (Capital of Texas Highway). That section south of the river also has shoulders only a couple of feet wide.
The narrower lanes — 11 feet vs. 12 feet — are unlikely to cause any significant increase in accidents, several engineers say. But they could decrease capacity on the regular lanes, because drivers intuitively leave more space between their front bumper and the car in front when the lane is narrower.
The managed lanes could have a similar congesting effect on the inside regular lane, said Elizabeth Jones, an associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Nebraska.
"It's like being in that far right lane where people are entering and exiting," said Jones, a University of Texas graduate who specializes in transportation systems. "You get a little bit of turbulence there, so you don't get as much capacity."
Daigh says this $110 million project is a stopgap solution. A long-term approach, which might involve sinking MoPac belowground like Dallas' Central Expressway, would come much later.
"We cannot wait in this community 10 years to make some improvements" to MoPac, Daigh said. "This is not a silver bullet that will solve all of MoPac's problems. But it is a good step in the right direction."
Rep. Mike Krusee is one of the top legislative recipients of private travel gifts, according to Texans for Public Justice (TPJ): The report called "Making Connections: State Officials and their Special-Interest Travel Agents" gives some in-depth details on how Krusee lives large on toller cash.
Governor Rick “Mr. 39%” Perry was the top recipient of private travel gifts, receiving $205,460 worth. The report states this about Mike Krusee:
House Transportation Committee Chair Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) was another lobby favorite—especially for highway-contractor lobbyists. One lobbyist who paid Krusee’s travel bills is HillCo’s J. McCartt. His clients included Trans-Texas Corridor contractor Fluor Corp. and PBS&J—an engineering firm that has worked on several Texas toll road projects. McCartt flew Krusee to Washington in October 2005 to address a conference on public-private transportation ventures held by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. Krusee stayed at the Marriott’s Renaissance Hotel.Researchers found Texas’ poor system for disclosing official travel is both overly complex and inadequate. “Sorting out who paid whom to fly where is like flying in the dark,” said Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDonald. “Despite murky disclosure, it’s clear that some corporate-jet owners operate frequent-flier programs for our state officials.”
McCartt also flew Krusee to Las Vegas to deliver the keynote address at a PBS&J toll summit a week after the 2005 regular session ended. The following year federal prosecutors charged PBS&J’s former chief financial officer with running an embezzlement scheme to disguise the source of thousands of dollars in political contributions to U.S. Senator Mel Martinez (R-Florida). Around this time the Texas Department of Transportation blacklisted the firm for suspected overcharges stemming from the scandal. Yet the North Texas Tollway Authority awarded PBS&J a five-year contract to work on a joint project with TxDOT just three months later.
Representing the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA), Locke Liddell lobbyist Brian Cassidy sent Krusee to New York City in December 2005 to attend an awards ceremony held by the Bond Buyer newspaper. The Bond Buyer gave CTRMA the Southwest region’s “Deal-of-the-Year” award for debt-financing a 12-mile stretch of toll road with $238 million in bonds. Krusee authored the 2003 legislation that authorized CTRMA to issue such bonds.
The report concludes that Texas’ crazy-quilt system for reporting official travel paid for by private interests is at once too lenient and too complex. It recommends reforms to provide greater transparency and better protect the public interest.
Abengoa SA's IT unit Telvent GIT SA said its US arm Telvent Traffic North America Inc has agreed on the acquisition for an undisclosed sum of Texas-based Caseta Technologies which develops road toll charging technology.
Caseta Technologies is a privately held company established in 1995 by Founder, Glenn Deitiker. Glenn Deitiker is currently President & CTO of Caseta. Sources say that Deitiker has close ties with Mayor Will Wynn, who voted to toll roads we've already paid for in Austin. County records show that Glenn Deitiker resides in the same building as Mayor Wynn, the Austin City Lofts (800 W. 5th St.), just 5 floors away from Mayor Will Wynn's front door.
Caseta was selected for CTRMA's 183A toll system and the Caseta website list these Customers:
Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA), Austin, TX
MTA Bridges & Tunnels (MTA B&T), New York, NY
New York State Bridge Authority (NYSBA), Highland, New York
TransCore, one of Melinda Wheatley’s transportation clients received a multimillion dollar contract with TxDOT in Sept. 2005. The contract allows for the initial release of 500,000 eGo Plus RFID tags, branded locally as TxTag, with a total of 2 million tags over two years. Wheatley has landed multimillion dollar transportation contracts while keeping an intimate relationship with the House Transportation Chair, State Representative Mike Krusee.
Just months ago, in an exclusive report called "Big Brother on the Highway", I first reported the fact that TxDOT was secretly capturing license plate info on all cars driving on Austin toll roads during the free drive test period. TxDOT (or it's contractors) could have sold that data to others since it is not against the law.
Chris Willis of KXAN picked up the story from this blog and did a great article. See the KXAN VIDEO HERE. KXAN also caught TxDOT's Gabriela Garcia red handed - lying and flip flopping about the facts.
Yesterday, HB 570 (by state Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio) passed the house. HB 570 would keep any toll agency in the state from selling or leasing license plate information (including data received from toll booth cameras) to private companies.
Let’s Please Put the P3 Pep Rally in Its Proper Perspective
by Robert Whalen, Executive Editor
The Bond Buyer
Much noise has been made over the past few years about how state and local governments throughout the United States are going gaga over the prospect of inking public-private partnerships as a means to finance infrastructure development and relinquish services traditionally operated by the public sector.
Private sector professionals laud the so-called P3 contracts that were negotiated for the rights to operate the Chicago Skyway and the Indiana Toll Road, along with all of the plans in Texas that, until recently, seemed almost certain to happen. These dealmakers have quite an influential and powerful ally in the White House these days, as President Bush’s Department of Transportation and its Federal Highway Administration have become high-profile, high-decibel cheerleaders for the cause.
Indeed, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters just a few weeks ago stumped for P3s in Pennsylvania, which is considering how it might scare up some cash by leasing out its extensive tolled turnpike system. There are similar considerations taking place in Alaska, Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey, to name just a few.
About six months ago, some of the sharpest minds in transportation infrastructure finance got together at a conference in Houston hosted by The Bond Buyer. Prospective P3 projects generated quite a buzz through the crowd of bankers, lawyers, advisers, investors, and public officials. One of the central themes articulated by speakers and attendees — including at least a few proud Texans — is that the Lone Star State is leading the way on P3 transactions with its ambitious road building agenda.
It turns out that Texas might be leading the nation in a different direction. State lawmakers there want to put a halt to the P3 gallop and have called for a broad-based moratorium on such contracts. Sound crazy? Take a deep breath. Think things over. It’s not a bad idea.
This is not the diatribe of a cynic, mind you. If it was, one might come up with some other meanings for P3: politicians pandering to profiteers; public purses pilfered; proverbial pots of pyrite; or piracy, plunder, and poppycock. But perhaps that’s too intemperate, and it’s off the intended point. Read the rest of the article HERE.
One of our pals, who has been in our list for a couple years, just got a letter printed in the Statesman...slamming Sen. Weasle...er, I mean Sen. Watson. Great job educating tens of thousands of voters in one day Delwin! The Statesman (firstname.lastname@example.org), who endorsed tolling roads we've already paid for in 2004, has blackballed me and anti-toll letters from others are rarely published, so Delwin got a hit in on another subject. Smart.
The powerful snakes like Sen Kirk Watson cannot be beaten with one punch, but over the long haul we can spread the word to de-elect the crooks. Watson is leading the fight to toll roads we've already paid for, under the guise of "Managed Lanes". Delwin's letter:
Not my idea of a good break
Re: April 8 article "Tax breaks for firms could expand."
I am disappointed that the bill sponsored by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, which would give more tax abatements to big businesses, contains a provision lowering the wage requirements. If I have to pay more taxes to offset the subsidy that allows a large business a tax break, I want to do it because that business will increase wages in my hometown, not lower them.
What's next? Utility discounts for those who use child labor?
DELWIN D. GOSS
by Terri Hall
Published by San Antonio Express-news
Wonder why there is all the fuss over toll roads? Well, we're not talking about traditional toll projects.
Gov. Rick Perry and his Transportation Commission are pushing private toll road deals that limit free routes and allow the private operator to charge high tolls.
As ex-Transportation Commissioner Sen. Robert Nichols, a stickler for details and the author of a bill to halt comprehensive development agreements, or CDAs, has noted, the devil is in the details.
These private toll contracts include noncompete agreements like Cintra's. There will be no improvements made to existing roads or new free routes built within a certain radius of the toll road. Doing so would compete with or reduce toll revenues, and a private company simply won't allow that.
The Texas Department of Transportation promises toll rates of 12 cents to 15 cents a mile, but the reality has been 44 cents up to $1.50 per mile on similar projects that just opened in Austin. Read the rest of the article HERE.
Senator Jeff Wentworth just sold-out Texans with the latest in toll conspiracy legislation HB 1892.
During the past decade, the Texas legislature has become adept at "end around" power-plays for their special interests. One such maneuver has been the recent legislation presented and approved for a 2-year "moratorium" on toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC). It is a placebo law that attempts to appease and quell the public's anti-toll sentiment. Read the rest of the Peter Stern article HERE.
Are YOU in Governor Rick "Mr. 39%" Perry's database?
Take 30 seconds to see if you’ve been included in TDEx by sending the sample email below. E-mail the governor’s office at: email@example.com
Dear Governor Perry:
Pursuant to the Texas Public Information Act, I hereby request a copy of the following information:
1) all information concerning me contained in TDEx and any and all other automated systems operated by the Office of the Governor, including the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management.
Please provide the information in electronic format unless it is not technologically possible. Please provide the information by email unless it is not technologically possible. Thank you in advance for your time and attention.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.
Re: "Transportation bill curbs agency's powers – Legislature: Senate plan would increase regional bodies' voice on projects," Thursday news story. I would like to ask our local state legislators why they allowed the toll road moratorium to exempt State Highway 121. It is utterly preposterous to stop all toll roads in the state except one. Is the Frisco/Plano area of Collin County the cash cow for the rest of the metroplex? What happens if alternative highway funding becomes available during the two-year period? Does Cintra give back Highway 121? Yes, we need the highway to be built, but a two-year delay is nothing compared to being stuck for a 50-year commitment to pay tolls, so other localities can build their roads at our expense. The "outcry" by state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth; state Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller; and others is self-serving. Try to toll Highway 114 through Southlake and see the reaction. Locally, Collin County Commissioner Joe Jaynes and McKinney Mayor Pro Tem Brian Loughmiller applaud the exemption, because they daydream that tolls will pay for North Central Expressway improvements, again at our expense. Plano already has two toll roads. One letter writer pointed out that all citizens will pay more for purchased goods, as businesses that are forced to use toll roads pass along their costs. Part of Highway 121 from the Dallas North Tollway to Hillcrest was already funded by the Texas Department of Transportation, yet it's part of the "sale." Someone has to step forward and put a stop to this inequity. Perhaps a lawsuit is the only option – or the next election. In any event, the local taxpayers should not have to pay the brunt of fixing what the Legislature failed to address for years. Joe Schumacher, Plano
Re: "Transportation bill curbs agency's powers – Legislature: Senate plan would increase regional bodies' voice on projects," Thursday news story.
I would like to ask our local state legislators why they allowed the toll road moratorium to exempt State Highway 121.
It is utterly preposterous to stop all toll roads in the state except one. Is the Frisco/Plano area of Collin County the cash cow for the rest of the metroplex? What happens if alternative highway funding becomes available during the two-year period? Does Cintra give back Highway 121? Yes, we need the highway to be built, but a two-year delay is nothing compared to being stuck for a 50-year commitment to pay tolls, so other localities can build their roads at our expense.
The "outcry" by state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth; state Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller; and others is self-serving. Try to toll Highway 114 through Southlake and see the reaction. Locally, Collin County Commissioner Joe Jaynes and McKinney Mayor Pro Tem Brian Loughmiller applaud the exemption, because they daydream that tolls will pay for North Central Expressway improvements, again at our expense.
Plano already has two toll roads. One letter writer pointed out that all citizens will pay more for purchased goods, as businesses that are forced to use toll roads pass along their costs. Part of Highway 121 from the Dallas North Tollway to Hillcrest was already funded by the Texas Department of Transportation, yet it's part of the "sale."
Someone has to step forward and put a stop to this inequity. Perhaps a lawsuit is the only option – or the next election. In any event, the local taxpayers should not have to pay the brunt of fixing what the Legislature failed to address for years.
Joe Schumacher, Plano
From The Newspaper.com
Report finds that mismanagement threatens the financial viability of Massachusetts toll roads.
The Massachusetts Transportation Finance Commission last week released a report documenting mismanagement of state's road network, including mismanagement of toll roads. The report issued a dire warning about the broad decline in the quality of roads and the selling-off of assets to mask deficit spending.
"The Massachusetts transportation system is in deep financial trouble," the report states. "Virtually every transportation agency in the state is running structural deficits and resorting to short-term quick fixes that hide systemic financial problems." Read the rest of the article HERE.
Sen. John Carona unveiled his bureaucratic transportation bill today in the Senate Transportation Committee. The Carona bill was created behind closed doors with Mike Krusee and other tollers. Sidestepping the main problem of the existence of the TTC and double tax freeway tolls - Carona promises more power to local government.
Senate Bill 1929 includes the limited moratorium on secret CDA deals as well as lot’s of new bureaucratic smoke and mirrors that alllow the toll scams to move forward.
Many Senators expressed concern this morning with how SB 1929 "creates 24 mini-TxDOT's" as 24 metropolitan planning organizations would get more power to control secret corporate welfare toll contracts (CDA's) and set toll rates. Carona's bureaucratic bill also creates more CPOs (corridor planning organizations to approve the route of the Trans-Texas Corridor segments) and RPOs (rural planning organizations to give rural low-population areas “representation”).
Tollers claim the planned managed lanes (tolls) on MoPAC will lessen traffic congestion. How is this done? By charging up to $1.00 a mile, and pricing people out of their cars - like the managed lanes in California (Hwy 91) see the photo above. Note how managed lanes create traffic congestion.
Under the guise of “managed lanes”, the plan to toll Austin's Mopac (Loop 1) Expressway is underway. What makes these tolls unique, as well as most new Texas tollways, is that the toll you pay does not pay for the road you are driving on. The new toll lanes are already paid for.
The construction for new Mopac toll lanes are 100% tax funded and the right of way is 100% tax funded. These new lanes could and should be open as free lanes.
So who voted to toll these MoPAC lanes we’ve already paid for? WHO VOTED FOR THE MOPAC DOUBLE TAX? According to CAMPO, the vote took place in January of 2004:
Brewster "Double Tax" McCracken, Austin Council Member
(ALERT: Brewster will run for Mayor next year!)
Mike Krusee, State Representative
Mark Strama, State Representative
Bob Daigh, TxDOT District Engineer
Dawnna Dukes, State Representative
Dan Gattis, State Representative
Gerald Daugherty, County Commisioner
Will Wynn, Austin Mayor
These double taxers keep voting to toll roads we’ve already paid for and they star in this online movie.
The managed lanes create more gridlock as people try to cross over 3 lanes to enter and cross over 3 lanes to exit the center managed/toll lanes!
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
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.
clicking on the envelope icon below.
HB1892 Senate Hearing: 7:30am Wednesday, April 18th
Just as we have all asked for, Senator Carona's Committee will consider HB1892.
We didn't get much notice, but is what we wanted, and we certainly do want HB1892 to move quickly out of committee.
The former mayor of St. Peters, Missouri has checked in to the Federal Prison Camp in Duluth, Minnesota to serve an eighteen-month sentence for soliciting a bribe from Australian red light camera vendor Redflex. Read the rest of the article HERE.
Sen. Kirk Watson and Rep. Mike Krusee, have submitted companion bills, HB 3719 (Krusee) and SB 1688 (Watson), that would create a tax to subsidize a toll road, for people that live near toll road 130. Watson and Krusee have figured out a new way to make folks pay for toll roads - if you live near the toll road, and you don’t drive on it, you'll still pay!
The Watson and Krusee companion bills create a new taxing district that allows the City of Austin to charge sales and property taxes to people living within five miles of the 130 tollway, and regulate all development in the area, all while NOT PROVIDING ANY CITY SERVICES. In essence, these people will pay for the high cost of living in the city, and get none of the benefits (fire, police, EMS).
And get this--the governing board will consist entirely of city council members (all of them, for three years terms) and four appointees of the city council, only two of whom will have to be residents of the area. But the residents of the area won't get to vote for the residents on the board.
Taxation? YES. Regulation? YES. Electing Representatives? NO.
Even for Krusee and Watson, this brings screwing the taxpayers for their toll tax roads and managed lanes - to a whole new level. Watson and Krusee also continue to push for tolls on roads we’ve already paid for, such as toll lanes on Mopac.
Kirk Watson’s is scheduled for a floor vote in the Senate TODAY. Mike Krusee’s House Committee action is scheduled for tomorrow.
Lane-brain idea for MoPac
I really don't understand why the Texas Department of Transportation is using Austin as its testing ground for toll roads. The latest scheme is to add a toll lane to the existing right-of-way, adding two more lanes. This may help TxDOT raise money, but it won't help alleviate traffic congestion.
Regretfully, adding a managed toll lane will probably make conditions more dangerous by decreasing lane size and increasing lane changes. (How else will vehicles go from the far left managed lane to exit far right?)
I've been driving MoPac for years, and unless TxDOT has a plan to add lanes over Town Lake so cars don't cram from three to two lanes or fix the U.S. 183-MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) intersection, what is the point?
"To make such an arrangement work (Toll Road Leases), there's gotta be a sucker somewhere. Look in the mirror. You're it."
Leases on toll roads a rip-off
Jay Bookman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
All over the country — and soon here in Georgia as well — politicians are being seduced with a line of baloney that almost always proves effective, whether it's peddled by an alleged Nigerian widow with an e-mail account or by pin-striped suits from Wall Street.
"Get your free money!" the sales pitch goes. "Billions and billions of dollars in free money! Just step right up and sign right here on the dotted line. ..." Read the rest of the article HERE.
by Jake Bernstein, Texas Observer
Piece by piece, Gov. Rick Perry’s homeland security office is gathering massive amounts of information about Texas residents and merging it to create the most exhaustive centralized database in state history. Warehoused far from Texas on servers housed at a private company in Louisville, Kentucky, the Texas Data Exchange—TDEx to those in the loop—is designed to be an all-encompassing intelligence database. It is supposed to help catch criminals, ferret out terrorist cells, and allow disparate law enforcement agencies to share information. More than $3.6 million has been spent on the project so far, and it already has tens of millions of records. At least 7,000 users are presently allowed access to this information, and tens of thousands more are anticipated.
What is most striking, and disturbing, about the database is that it is not being run by the state’s highest law enforcement agency—the Texas Department of Public Safety. Instead, control of TDEx, and the power to decide who can use it, resides in the governor’s office.
That gives Perry, his staff, future governors, and their staffs potential access to a trove of sensitive data on everything from ongoing criminal investigations to police incident reports and even traffic stops. In their zeal to assemble TDEx, Perry and his homeland security director, Steve McCraw, have plunged ahead with minimal oversight from law enforcement agencies, and even DPS is skittish about the direction the project has taken.
In researching TDEx, the Observer reviewed more than a thousand pages of documents from the Office of the Governor, DPS, and the Department of Information Management. We interviewed law enforcement officials as well as McCraw. The narrative that emerged from the records—disputed by McCraw—is a headlong pursuit of control through information hoarding for a project in search of a purpose. Along the way, money has been squandered, sensitive data potentially lost, and security warnings unheeded. Read the rest of the article HERE.
Help stop Governor's Database
TODAY, a key House committee may vote on HB 13, a bill that would give the governor unprecedented access to intelligence and homeland security information. These committee members need to hear from you!
The Office of Homeland Security--to be directed by the Governor rather than our state's leading law enforcement agency, the Department of Public Safety--will be transformed from an emergency planning and preparedness agency to intelligence gathering one, which can use information from both public and private sources. Texans have the right to know what information is being collected, who will have access to it and how it will be used!
Call the representatives on the State Affairs Committee to urge them to vote against this major legislation. Here is some more information for you to use in your conversations:
HB 13 makes major changes to the state’s homeland security law including:
- Creates the state Office of Homeland Security under the direct supervision of the Governor
- Gives the Governor’s office unfettered access to multi-jurisdictional criminal intelligence information
- Enables the Governor to allocate funds to state and local law enforcement agencies for activities related to “border security” and “law enforcement emergencies,” without defining those terms or creating guidelines for the funding
- Takes away local control over law enforcement practices related to immigrants
To read this bill click here. To call or email the committee members, use the phone numbers and links listed below.
House State Affairs Committee Members:
House District 87--Representative David A. Swinford
Capitol Office: CAP 4N.3
House District 70--Representative Ken Paxton
Capitol Office: EXT E2.910
House District 130--Representative Corbin Van Arsdale
Capitol Office: EXT E2.810
House District 9--Representative Wayne Christian
Capitol Office: EXT E2.902
House District 148--Representative Jessica Cristina Farrar
Capitol Office: CAP 4S.3
House District 2--Representative Dan Flynn
Capitol Office: EXT E1.302
House District 63--Representative Tan Parker
Capitol Office: EXT E1.416
House District 95--Representative Marc Veasey
Capitol Office: EXT E1.306
TxDOT is trying to slip a fast one by Austinites by telling folks they will add “managed lanes” to Mopac (loop 1). Managed lanes are toll lanes. Period.
How do the politicos “control” the traffic with managed/toll lanes?
The politicos like Brewster McCracken and Mayor Wynn (who voted to toll Mopac lanes we’ve already paid for) charge exorbitant amounts to try and price us out of our cars - In California the managed lanes cost $1.00 a mile! And, if you refuse to get into the managed lanes, the free lanes are slowed down to create an incentive. Managed lane users, as they cross over 3 lanes to get in, and cross over 3 lanes to get out of the managed lanes slow down the free traffic. And because the managed/toll lanes eliminate the shoulder, folks with cars breaking down, accidents and those getting tickets stop traffic in the free lanes.
And the toll lanes are 100% funded with our tax dollars - a double tax. Question: If the toll lanes are already paid for, and they charge $1.00 a mile (like they do with managed lanes on Hwy 91 in California) where does the money go? To pay for toll authority raises?
I’ll have the complete list of who voted to toll Mopac lanes we’ve already paid for tomorrow.
AUSTIN – Key lawmakers, concerned that the governor is circumventing the Senate, said Wednesday that they'll join efforts to give the chamber more authority to review state board appointees. The proposal targets "holdover" appointees, those whose terms have expired but who continue to serve until the governor reappoints them or names a replacement. The issue has gained a higher profile because Gov. Rick Perry's friend, Ric Williamson, continues to chair the Texas Transportation Commission although his term expired in February. The strong-willed, toll road-touting Mr. Williamson has detractors and would have a tough fight winning Senate approval if he were reappointed while the Legislature is in session. But under current law, Mr. Perry can wait until the session adjourns May 28, then reappoint Mr. Williamson, who could continue to serve without Senate review until the next regular session, in January 2009. Sens. Glenn Hegar, Steve Ogden and Mike Jackson have authored constitutional amendments to stop "holdovers" and make board members step down if they aren't formally reappointed. Read the rest HERE.
'Holdover' appointees targeted Legislature: Senate leaders back bid to add chamber review when tenures of governor's picks end
By CHRISTY HOPPE / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – Key lawmakers, concerned that the governor is circumventing the Senate, said Wednesday that they'll join efforts to give the chamber more authority to review state board appointees.
The proposal targets "holdover" appointees, those whose terms have expired but who continue to serve until the governor reappoints them or names a replacement.
The issue has gained a higher profile because Gov. Rick Perry's friend, Ric Williamson, continues to chair the Texas Transportation Commission although his term expired in February.
The strong-willed, toll road-touting Mr. Williamson has detractors and would have a tough fight winning Senate approval if he were reappointed while the Legislature is in session.
But under current law, Mr. Perry can wait until the session adjourns May 28, then reappoint Mr. Williamson, who could continue to serve without Senate review until the next regular session, in January 2009.
Sens. Glenn Hegar, Steve Ogden and Mike Jackson have authored constitutional amendments to stop "holdovers" and make board members step down if they aren't formally reappointed. Read the rest HERE.
This is great news. It is more momentum for the people of Texas, and proof that Krusee and Perry are losing the war. Of concern, note the last line of the AP article below that shows at least one loophole that still stands: "The moratorium would not affect projects planned by regional mobility authorities."
Not noted in the story below: In this House version North Texas projects are largely unaffected. And remember, this is for toll roads with TxDOT CDA deals only, this doesn't stop freeway tolls or managed lanes (toll lanes) or CDA deals with RMA's. CDAs are are NO BID, Secret, Corporate Welfare contracts.
The Senate passed a defanged version days ago. So now we need final passage of the full version in the Senate. Momentum is momentum.
House proposal would put 2-year moratorium on private toll roads
By APRIL CASTRO / Associated Press
A two-year moratorium on private toll roads that won preliminary approval in the House on Tuesday would put the brakes on the Trans-Texas Corridor, a superhighway that a private firm received a contract for earlier this year. The moratorium also would halt seven near-term projects in the state, said Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, the Brenham Republican who added the proposal to a House bill. "This is us tapping the brakes, looking before we leap ... into contracts that last 50-plus years," Kolkhorst said. Her proposal would require the state to create a commission to study the effects of private equity toll roads and present findings to the state next year. Rep. Mike Krussee, R-Round Rock, argued that without private toll roads, the state would need to raise the gas tax to pay for roads. "However well-intentioned, the moratorium adopted by the House would eliminate an enormous pool of non-tax money to address traffic and transportation needs," said Joe Krier, chairman of Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation. "Fewer transportation dollars mean fewer transportation alternatives, and more traffic gridlock." The state contracted with Spanish-American consortium Cintra-Zachry to develop and maintain the Trans-Texas Corridor, which is envisioned as a $184 billion 4,000-mile network of toll roads, rail lines and utilities. The contract spans 50 years. "This is an issue about how Texas will build roads in the future and about whether profits paid by Texans will stay here in Texas ... or whether profits will be siphoned off to Spain, Wall Street or other areas." In total, planned private equity toll projects are expected to earn $300 billion in profits for the private firms, Kolkhorst said. "You never sell a producing well and I think that's what we're doing," she said, adding that those profits could be used in Texas to build more highway capacity. Gov. Rick Perry, who has long championed the Trans-Texas Corridor, has urged the state to reject a two-year toll road moratorium. "There are no such things as freeways," he said in a statement last week. "There are taxways and tollways, and for 50 years we have tried taxways that have been underfunded by Austin and Washington and that have left local communities choking on pollution and brimming with congestion." The moratorium would not affect projects planned by regional mobility authorities.
A two-year moratorium on private toll roads that won preliminary approval in the House on Tuesday would put the brakes on the Trans-Texas Corridor, a superhighway that a private firm received a contract for earlier this year.
The moratorium also would halt seven near-term projects in the state, said Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, the Brenham Republican who added the proposal to a House bill.
"This is us tapping the brakes, looking before we leap ... into contracts that last 50-plus years," Kolkhorst said.
Her proposal would require the state to create a commission to study the effects of private equity toll roads and present findings to the state next year.
Rep. Mike Krussee, R-Round Rock, argued that without private toll roads, the state would need to raise the gas tax to pay for roads.
"However well-intentioned, the moratorium adopted by the House would eliminate an enormous pool of non-tax money to address traffic and transportation needs," said Joe Krier, chairman of Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation. "Fewer transportation dollars mean fewer transportation alternatives, and more traffic gridlock."
The state contracted with Spanish-American consortium Cintra-Zachry to develop and maintain the Trans-Texas Corridor, which is envisioned as a $184 billion 4,000-mile network of toll roads, rail lines and utilities.
The contract spans 50 years.
"This is an issue about how Texas will build roads in the future and about whether profits paid by Texans will stay here in Texas ... or whether profits will be siphoned off to Spain, Wall Street or other areas."
In total, planned private equity toll projects are expected to earn $300 billion in profits for the private firms, Kolkhorst said.
"You never sell a producing well and I think that's what we're doing," she said, adding that those profits could be used in Texas to build more highway capacity.
Gov. Rick Perry, who has long championed the Trans-Texas Corridor, has urged the state to reject a two-year toll road moratorium.
"There are no such things as freeways," he said in a statement last week. "There are taxways and tollways, and for 50 years we have tried taxways that have been underfunded by Austin and Washington and that have left local communities choking on pollution and brimming with congestion."
The moratorium would not affect projects planned by regional mobility authorities.
The revenue hungry TxDOT is still seeking to toll roads we’ve already paid for in Austin (and Texas). AND THE MOPAC PLAN WILL ACTUALLY MAKE TRAFFIC CONGESTION WORSE.
MoPAC (loop 1) in Austin, a main public expressway (an existing freeway) is now under attack. TxDOT is slipping this toll plan in under the radar by calling them “managed lanes” - which is easier to sell than the drasted “T” word. Managed lanes are toll lanes. Period. Why can't TxDOT be honest for once?
The Statesman just informed us of the last minute meetings today. What ever happened to 30 day notices for public meetings? Read the whole article HERE, a quote from the article:
“(TxDOT) has proposed a way to cram eight lanes onto the same MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) footprint that now has six main lanes. The two new lanes would be "managed lanes," which probably would be free only to buses or perhaps cars with several occupants and would carry tolls for everyone else.”TxDOT has done a horrible job at solving our traffic congestion for decades. Now they want to move into the revenue generation business, by tolling freeways we've already paid for. See this video of the TxDOT chair saying he doesn’t want to keep toll costs down.
PROBLEMS WITH THIS DOUBLE TAX PLAN:
1) TxDOT wants to use our tax dollars and publicly owned MoPAC right of way (our existing freeway) to create a toll tax (managed lanes) - THAT’s A DOUBLE TAX! I SAY NO TOLLS ON ROADS WE’VE ALREADY PAID FOR!
2) Narrowing lanes will increase accidents and deaths.
3) The managed lanes will create more gridlock as people try to cross over 3 lanes to enter and exit the center managed lanes! See the gridlock for yourself - look at freeway 91 managed lanes ($1.00 a mile!) in California.
Tuesday, 4/10/0, 5-8 p.m.
O. Henry Middle School, Cafeteria - 2510 W. 10th Street
Thursday, 04/12/07, 5-8 p.m.
McCallum High School, Cafeteria - 5600 Sunshine Street
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
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.
FORT WORTH STAR LETTERS: "The powers-that-be misled us. They lied in the past, they're lying now, and they'll continue to lie."
Private toll roads are an excuse for the Texas Department of Transportation and other entities to accept up-front corporate money to spend on other projects. It's not about relieving congestion.
It's a disturbing way to fund other road projects. Then the taxpaying public gets saddled with excessive tolls and hidden fees for the duration of a 50-year contract.
Has anyone in power ever stopped to think that we 'little people' in the Metroplex don't want every new and old road to be a stinking toll road? We don't want to drive around with cameras pointed at our faces and receive 10 bills from 10 different toll companies with 10 different charges.
I attended a March 1 state Senate hearing on transportation and toll roads. Yes, I was part of what a local newspaper called a 'howling mob.'
Guess why Texans are howling? We're sick and tired of being taxed, tolled and gouged to death by state agencies, the private sector, public utilities, and insurance and drug companies.
How arrogant are Dallas-Fort Worth political and business leaders, our local newspapers and the normally compassionate columnists to want Texas voters/taxpayers/the driving public to run along, shut up and get with the program without question or review? We see and understand what's going on.
Linda Lancaster, Arlington
Read more letters HERE
"(Sen.) Ogden, who once supported Perry’s proposed public-private toll road financing play, has changed his mind in favor of traditional public financing.
“I don’t think that four years ago anyone imagined that we could basically sell our roads to the highest bidder,” Ogden said in a hearing on the bill last month in the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee." Read the whole article HERE.
REGISTER-GUARD: Despite a building backlash, toll roads and highway taxation-by-the-mile schemes are grinding ahead in the face of public opposition.
"No one wants to admit this business model is failing already." Read the article HERE.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Pres. George W. Bush push for private toll roads, but these are not conventional toll roads. These are public highways they are selling, in some cases to foreign corporations - for a song. Corporate Welfare! Right of way and construction paid for with tax dollars are to be handed over to toll road corporations, who have donated dollars to their campaigns. Tolls will skyrocket with these 50 year giveaways, so corporations can profit more.