GOOGLE MOBILE MAPS, in over 30 major US metropolitan areas, allows your cell phone with web access to give you Real-time traffic information so you can see where the congestion is.
This allows you to find the best route based on current conditions - for FREE - to make adjustments in your route, as you drive.
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER
The Dallas Morning News
Ric Williamson and his fellow transportation commissioners will find themselves in a tight corner today as they meet in Austin to decide who will build the State Highway 121 toll road.
On one level, the commission is simply fulfilling its duty as the Texas Department of Transportation's governing board by deciding whether to award a multibillion-dollar contract to Spanish construction firm Cintra or give it to the North Texas Tollway Authority.
But a whole lot more is going on at another level. Read the rest of the article HERE
Firefighters Warn of Toll Road Dangers
Toll roads are causing rear end collisions with multiple fatalities.
by the Newspaper.com
As states scramble to sell freeways to foreign companies for conversion into pay roads, first responders issued a reminder this week of the extreme hazard presented by tolling. Fire chiefs in Bristol and Elkhart, Indiana complained that their firefighters and equipment are being tied up by frequent accidents on the Indiana Toll Road which, mile for mile, is the state's single most dangerous stretch of road. The toll road authority has refused to pay the bill for the hours spent responding to frequent fatal accidents.
"We had another five people who ended up burning to death," Bristol Fire Chief Bill Dumpster told WSBT-TV. "We had another one where we had three dead."
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) explained the danger of mainline toll booths in an April 2006 report. It concluded that backups caused by a toll booth contributed to a major accident in Illinois.
"The board noted that traditional toll plazas... interrupt the flow of high-speed traffic and tend to increase the incidence of rear-end collisions," the NTSB stated.
Although insurance industry reports tend to downplay the serious nature of rear end collisions, the single incident on Interstate 90 killed eight people and injured twelve.
Another accident on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey last month illustrated the danger extends to single-car accidents. A 52-year-old motorist who likely had a seizure behind the wheel crashed into a toll booth at speed (see photo above). Within seconds, his car was engulfed in a ball of flame. Video of the event appeared on a handful of websites days after the incident. The video spread widely after the New Jersey Turnpike Authority drew attention by threatening to sue anyone hosting the video.
Read my take on the fake toll bill
SB 792, and why some fools try
to sell it as a win -
READ HOW IT HAPPENED HERE.
Article snip below by Peter Stern
Texans and generations of our children's children are doomed to pay privateers for toll roads currently being planned and the TTC-35, a.k.a., the Trans-Texas Corridor.
This is my own opinion based on my experience with the topics of transportation and toll roads --- and based upon the actual bill and other facts presented.
No matter what we're told by legislators, e.g., the governor and Rep. Mike Krusee and/or advocacy/anti-toll groups, e.g., CorridorWatch and Independent Texans, toll roads have become more of a way of life for all of us thanks to the signing of SB 792.
Read the rest of the article HERE.
by Pat Dricoll, San Antonio Express News
A transportation bill signed into law earlier this week doesn't ban any private financing of toll roads over the next two years, just operating leases, but even that limitation can be worked around, state officials said this morning.
"The Legislature put us in a position of using the private sector in a different way," Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said.
Read the rest of the article 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.
Despite the opposition of the state legislature, the Texas Department of Transportation proposes a federally funded speed camera test.
Despite the near-unanimous opposition in the state legislature to the use of speed cameras, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is moving forward on a proposal to deploy photo radar on state highways using federal gas tax funds. Legislation awaiting Governor Rick Perry's signature prohibited only municipalities -- like Marble Falls and Rhome -- from installing automated speeding ticket systems. It was silent on the possibility of a state-run system.
TxDOT began searching in April for a vendor that, using federal funds, would allow the agency "to assess and evaluate all elements of an automated speed notification system." Once selected, the vendor would operate an average time speed camera test for at least six months on Interstate 10 near El Paso and State Highway 6 near College Station.
Time-distance ticketing systems use multiple cameras spaced far apart on a freeway. Each car is photographed once as it enters the first section of road. Miles later a second photograph is taken that allows the vehicle's average speed to be calculated from the time it took to travel between the two locations. In use in Britain under the trade name SPECS, these cameras are commonly referred to as "yellow vultures" and are among the most lucrative in the country.
In its request for proposals, TxDOT cited success of speed cameras in the UK, which generated £120 million (US $240 million) in revenue in 2003, and in Washington, DC, which has generated $217 million in revenue with its red light and speed cameras since 1999. TxDOT's vendor will send notices -- warnings at first -- to motorists driving just 5 MPH over the limit with an accuracy level of +/- 2 MPH, meaning those driving just 3 MPH over the limit could receive a photograph and letter in the mail.
The River Cities Daily Tribune, which first reported the story last week, noted that TxDOT also ordered Marble Falls to remove its speed camera van from state highways in April citing safety concerns.
"How hypocritical is that?" Marble Falls Mayor Raymond Whitman told the Daily Tribune. "I have a bit of a problem with it, not because they're using the camera, but because if it's unsafe for us to use, how can it be safe for the state to do it?" Read the rest of the story and see hyperlinks here.
meeting with Richard Ridings of HNTB (183A contractor) seen at right.
This article is reprinted from this blog 1 year ago.
I went to TxDOT this week (8/14/06) to pick up documents I asked for via a public information request. I requested cell phone records of TxDOT District Engineer Bob Daigh (more about what I found in the next paragraphs).
While I was at the I 35 and 183 TxDOT campus Monday, I was asked to sign in. I noticed that CRA International, who was hired to do the Independent Review of the Double Tax toll roads, had signed in at least two people to meet with TxDOT District Engineer Bob Daigh. At the same time, at 1pm, the toll authorities executive director (CTRMA), Mike Heiligenstein also signed in to meet with Bob Daigh and CRA. I assume CRA was meeting with TxDOT and CTRMA to gather information for the City of Austin Independent Review. Both CRA and Heiligenstein signed out at 4pm. I was shocked to see that no neutral party joined this meeting.
Three hours is plenty of time alone to discuss Phase II (Double Tax Toll) details and maybe even cut a deal. It would give the public a little confidence if these meetings were either made public, or at least had some neutral person, or a reporter attending.
I emailed Councilmember Brewster McCracken this information and my opinion, since he spearheaded the Independent Study, and he sent me this response,
“Thanks for letting me know, Sal. This stuff needs to be done in public, in my opinion.”And, the beat goes on.
Back to that pile of 450 pages of Bob Daigh’s (567-1059) cell phone records.
Get this. Convicted criminal Amos “Pete” Peters cell phone number, 415-6037, shows up over and over on Bob Daigh’s cell phone records. These records show the two actually spoke numerous times a day, right up until the comptrollers report came out in early 2005. Then the calls became less frequent. But, as the months have passed, calls between the two have picked up again to a rate of many times a month, at times, more than a dozen times a week. Bob Daigh’s appointment calendars also reflect many face to face meetings with this convicted criminal.
Why is this important? When folks are trying to toll roads we’ve already paid for, and a convicted criminal is at the heart of it, something stinks like month old fish.
Pete Peter’s numerous contacts Daigh could represent communications directly with a member of the executive branch to influence administrative action. It is a violation of Texas Law to do so, without registering as a lobbyist.
Peters is not registered as a lobbyist. It is illegal for a convicted criminal to lobby in the state of Texas. But that never stopped ol Pete, as he’s been seen over past years hanging out at the capital, only to tell those who know better that, “I’m not lobbying here” while in the capital.
Page 45 of State Comptroller report on Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority: A Need for a Higher Standard, March 2005 states this about a Peters communication that points to his lobbying:
“HNTB subcontractor Amos “Pete” Peters stated that “elected officials have been shored-up and alliances have been formed to see the HWY 183-A through to completion.” "Peters, as per the Comptroller’s investigative report, has received numerous NO BID toll road contracts from Mike Heiligenstein’s unaccountable freeway tolling authority.
You would think stealing tax funded public highways and shifting them to tollways would be enough to make the freeway toll plan make good business sense, but it’s not. To sell this pig in a poke, you need to LIE BIG as well.
In March of 2004, Bob Daigh and the toll authorities Mike Heiligenstein LIED to the public and CAMPO when they went to dozens of neighborhoods with a scare tactic (as well as included the LIE in a press release) about the alternative to double tax tolls, "...the alternative of paying a two-to-three-dollar per-gallon gas tax would never be accepted." In 2005 CAMPO Executive Director, Michael Aulick, estimated it would cost only an additional 2 cents per-gallon gas tax for the same plan without tolls.
In the summer of 2004, Bob Daigh and Mike Heiligenstein LIED again as they claimed it would cost 12 to 15 cents a mile to drive on the freeway toll roads (the national average is 9 cents a mile). Confidential CTRMA documents show the actual cost at 44 to 64 cents a mile.
I’m sure Dob Daigh will be rewarded well. History has shown the revolving door swings best for those who lie, cheat and steal from the public.
I Traded my truck on Nov 10 2006 to a Dealer.
Some one is driving on toll roads and I am being charged for it, I just received another bill on 05/09/07, I cannot get it removed from my name.
If Forigen countrys get control of our toll roads how can anyone in this country deal with a forigen country when I cant deal with this one, also red light runners will be charged to me. This can happen to anyone who trades or sells a Vehicle. I have a Near perfect driving record.
Its like Identity Theft.
Valley View, TX 76272
Ps I am 76 Years of Age and my Wife is Disabled
Call the dealer and tell them you want your plates back.
Always make sure you take your plates off the car, before you sell it - or the above will happen. This is just one of a thousand examples of the bureaucracy and waste of time and money of toll roads
Probe Widens: Cash Contributions from Contractors Pay for More Extravagant Parties (AND GIFTS for Each Toll Road Employee)
The Harris County Toll Road Authority hot seat is getting hotter, as an investigation is widening on how it solicited cash contributions from contractors for the personal benefit of toll road employees.
Houston Chronicle’s new report reveals that the Harris County Auditor's Office is just starting to peel back additional layers. Contractors were also invited to the extravagant parties, which cost about $33 a head, by my math:
“the party — with barbecue, a deejay and a gift for each employee — would cost about $30,000 based on a "pre-head count" of 900 attendees.”And what does Mike Strech, who was retired/fired have to say about it?:
“Strech, who made $153,275 annually, said Tuesday he would not comment while under investigation by the district attorney's office.”Auditors are looking at whether Electronic Transaction Consultants (ETC), a Toll Road Authority contractor, paid for an authority golf tournament in February. What do they have to say about it?
"We're not going to comment on this," ETC spokeswoman Carla Kienast said.The expanding probe moves into additional toll authority past private Christmas parties, golf tournaments and summer outings during the past five years.
I told you Monday on this blog that they got fired, the Chron’s new report reveals that fact:
“In a letter delivered Thursday, Storey told Strech he would fire him if he didn't retire before the end of Friday. Strech retired, and his executive assistant, Diana Wilcox, resigned.”
but they sure know how to flush our money down the crapper.
This Statesman article headline, “A bridge too low costs Cap Metro $260,000” says Cap Metro (Austin's fat bus service that absorbs 1 per cent of every dollar spent in the city) will pay for the $260,000 error. But, Cap Metro is funded by us, the taxpayers. I think my headline above is more honest...don't you?
So it looks like taxpayers will pay for a design error made by the design contractor, URS - URS, who is getting paid $3.3 million for the project, screwed up with some measurements for a rail track and overpass.
URS said they will not charge for the redesign, which to me is an admission that they made the mistake.
According to the article, when asked who was to blame for the error (Capital Metro or URS) Cap Metro said that would be determined later. Later? That means we'll pay, and someone most probably gets a new boat for letting URS off the hook.
According to the article, Austin Council member and Cap Metro board member Brewster “Toller” McCracken claims he didn’t know anything about the mistake.
URS also does toll road traffic forecasting - it has one of the most disturbing records of inflating traffic forecasts in the industry. Brewster McCracken’s Toll Road study hired URS to fluff up numbers in 2006. McCracken’s failed study, which cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars, is yet another shining example of how they throw our money away.
Rep. Lon Burnam, one of the 19 who said no to the fake moritorium (SB 792), sends out this reply email:
Thank you for your recent email concerning SB 792. The bill did pass both the House and the Senate and has been sent to the Governor for his action. I did not vote for the bill because, notwithstanding some positive changes made to the original bill which does freeze the building of some private toll roads, this bill still allows for privately-financed tolls roads to be constructed.
I am opposed to this concept because the Transportation Commission provides inadequate oversight over the private companies, and it could mean that Texas drivers will be paying tolls for years after the roads have been paid for.
Again, thank you for your correspondence. Please do not hesitate to contact me regarding your legislative concerns.
These guys play with billions of dollars of our money and our clueless as to how to spend it wisely. IT'S A CORRUPT SYSTEM WITH NO OVERSIGHT. It would be very interesting to peel back a few more layers of the onion and what else rots.
These folks were forced to resign - they were fired.
A great article by Rad and Paige...
By PAIGE HEWITT and RAD SALLEE
Contractors doing business with the county paid thousands of dollars for a picnic for Harris County Toll Road Authority employees last year and were about to be asked to do so again, officials with the county and district attorney's office said Monday.
Details, including plans to recognize vendors as gold- or platinum-level donors based on how much money they contributed to this year's picnic, were confirmed Monday in response to questions about the abrupt retirement of Toll Road Authority Executive Director Mike Strech last Thursday.
Strech, who headed the agency for six years, and his executive assistant Diana Wilcox, quit after being confronted about the planned solicitation, Harris County Public Infrastructure Department Director Art Storey said.
The annual event was held last year at SplashTown in Spring and was scheduled there for mid-July until county officials canceled it. Storey described the party as a long-standing event typical of the authority's "culture."
"If somebody who hasn't been part of that culture observed things that were perceived to be normal there, they might say, 'Gee that looks bad — that's questionable, that's borderline illegal,' " Storey said. "It's not people knowingly acting wrong. It's people who don't know any better, and we're going to fix that."
Strech, 67, who worked worked for the Toll Road Authority for 16 years, declined to comment Monday, except to say the picnic was a tradition and that he planned to "enjoy my retirement."
Wilcox could not be reached for comment.
Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said an investigation by his office found no criminal wrongdoing.
"It would be a violation if the vendors were being solicited to do this in order to get contracts for the toll road," Rosenthal said.
"Nobody that we talked to felt armed-twisted to make any contributions," he said. "We looked into a bunch of records and found...that there was nothing criminal that could be proven."
However, Rosenthal added, the county auditor's office is looking into the matter.
"If the auditors find something, I'm sure they'll come back to us," he said.
Storey said he consulted County Attorney Mike Stafford after toll road staff called his attention to an in-house e-mail from Wilcox about the upcoming event.
Storey said he had told Strech last year not to accept vendor gifts for the next picnic, then learned that this was apparently planned. Storey said that when he asked Strech about it, the director showed him a draft of a letter to be sent to vendors.
District attorney's investigator Dan McAnulty said vendors were classified as bronze-, silver-, gold- and platinum-level contributors for gifts ranging from $500 to $5,000.
Similar letters signed by Strech were to be sent to several companies, each doing at least $100,000 in annual business with the county, McAnulty said.
He and Storey declined to name the companies, but Storey said most are engineering firms that are hired on the basis of credentials instead of the sealed bids used for construction contracts.
Storey emphasized that Strech neither had nor claimed any authority to award contracts, which are approved solely by vote of Commissioners Court.
McAnulty said donations were placed in a Bank of America account in the name of the Toll Road Authority Celebration Committee, which he described as a "social committee" set up last year.
Such an account is "clearly improper because it was off the county's books" and would not be noticed in a county audit, Stafford said.
About $15,000 was in the account, apparently left over from last year's party at SplashTown, for which $60,000 had been collected — and $45,000 spent — from 29 contributors, McAnulty said.
He said about 1,400 people attended that event, including HCTRA employees and guests of vendors, who received tickets based on their contributions.
Although the Texas Penal Code forbids gifts to a public servant, the recipient would need to "exercise discretion in regards" to contracts or purchases for that to apply. Storey said neither Strech nor the celebration committee members had that power.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said huge parties by the Toll Road Authority and its vendors were nothing new.
When the Sam Houston Tollway was completed, he said, there was a large crowd "rocking" to a band on one of the towering ramps, and some observers "got to worrying that the thing would collapse."
Before 2006, McAnulty said, the annual picnic was held at a local ranch, with vendors writing checks directly to the ranch. But last year, he said, the committee's bank account was opened to receive contributions.
It was not immediately known how much SplashTown may want from the county for booking, then canceling, the event. Storey said he understands the county will contend that the contract is invalid because Strech lacked the authority to sign for the county.
Storey said he has named Gary Stobb, the infrastructure department's director of planning and operations, to serve as interim director of HCTRA. In previous years he also assigned two other infrastructure officials, Ronald Krafka and Peter Key, to jobs at the toll authority.
Storey said he sent out a message addressed to "vendors, suppliers, consultants and sales executives."
It advises them, among other things, to "never make a monetary gift" without his permission, to any of the agency's staff "for any purpose whatever, no matter how worthy the purpose intended."
by Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Now that legislators have gone home and trumpeted how they passed a bill to freeze private financing of toll roads, the governor's office has some bubble-busting news.
There isn't much of a moratorium in Senate Bill 792.
"Of any kind, that we can tell," said Robert Black, spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry. "Unless there was something screwy that happened." Read the rest of the article HERE.
by Ben Wear
You may have heard that the Legislature this session approved a moratorium on toll roads. If so, you heard wrong. No legislators that I ran into this session wanted to snuff out tollways.
Or you might have heard or read that lawmakers passed a moratorium on long-term toll road leases with private companies. This is true, but only in the most qualified sense.
This prohibition — contained in Senate Bill 792, which Gov. Rick Perry hasn't yet signed but almost certainly will when he makes it back from Turkey — is perforated with exceptions. Read the rest of the Statesman article HERE.
KXAN is reporting that Cedar Park Police will be stopping drivers without TxTags who fail to pay the $1.50 toll at the 183-A plaza.
Those pulled over Friday for not having a tag said there were not enough warning signs leading to the highway, and part of the toll road accepts TxTags only, no cash.
Cedar Park Police Chief Harry Fluck announced the crackdown today.
Left unexplained was the rationale behind diverting law enforcement resources from other priorities in order to help the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) collect tolls. Since the CTRMA is responsible for operating the 183-A toll road, taxpayers in Cedar Park should not be subsidizing the toll collection apparatus. READ THE REST OF THE STORY HERE.
DEPRESSED BECAUSE YOU WEREN'T INVITED?
YOU AND THE PRESS ARE NOT PART OF
THE ULTRA-ELITE LIKE MR. 39%?
The next best thing: Get your own Secret "Bilderberg" Conference Items right here! - T-Shirts, Dog T's, Clocks and Mugs all on CafePress - right here at http://www.cafepress.com/Bilderberg
A stated by Burnt Orange Report:
"Yes, I'm sure he's flying all the way to Turkey to discuss something as lame as "state-federal relations". I'm sure there wouldn't happen to be any of the folks from the Spanish toll-road interests that stand to gain billions in investment from his TTC scheme."
“Thanks for speaking the truth. I agree with your assessment. I think we need a much more involved process among anti-toll leaders or King Perry and court will pave right over us.As I reported last week, CorridorWatch did a flip-flop, at the last minute, with coalition partners and unilaterally supported SB 792 without amendment 13 - which was not our agreement (13 would have given us a real TTC toll moratorium).
I had rather loose than accept a lie.”
Gov. Perry (Mr. 39%) got involved with SB 792 - after he eyed the real moratorium's dirt nap (HB 1892) - although some still ignorantly call SB 792 a moratorium bill, Perry made it a pro-toll bill with language that allows dozens of local authorities in Texas to run wild and sell our freeways off as tollways.