By GORDON DICKSON, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
A legislative group will recommend next week that a conservator take over the Texas Department of Transportation, an agency under fire for planning toll roads in areas that don't want them and failing to keep track of its finances properly, officials said.
The staff of the Sunset Advisory Commission, which periodically reviews state agencies to see whether they're still functioning properly, is expected to release a report on the department next week.
The Transportation Department has been overseen by a three- or five-member commission with members appointed by the governor throughout its 91-year history. But several people who have reviewed drafts of the sunset report say one of the key recommendations is to replace the current five-member transportation commission with a single commissioner who would serve a two-year, paid term and report to the Legislature.
"TxDOT has become an agency that is focused on making money and deciding policy, and they need to get back to the business of building roads," said state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, who serves on the sunset commission.
Harper-Brown declined to comment on the report itself. But she said better communication with Texans -- especially lawmakers -- is crucial to the Transportation Department restoring its credibility.
"Whatever tools we give them, that's what they need to work with," she said.
Read the rest of the article HERE.
By GORDON DICKSON, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Three TxDOT Employees could
face up to 10 years in prison.
Three former Texas Department of Transportation employees pleaded guilty Friday to accepting bribes in exchange for contracts, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
The former district maintenance administrator for TxDOT and the two inspectors pleaded guilty Friday morning to accepting bribes from an undercover agent in amounts ranging from $200 to $2,000 to award a "sweeping contract" worth more than $5,000.
Cresenciano Falcon, 56, Ray Llanes, 50, and Noe Beltran, 42, each face up to 10 years in prison and as much as a $250,000 fine for their parts in the scheme, according to a news release from the U.S. attorney's office. The three accepted the bribes in exchange for awarding a contract to help clean the highways.
A TxDOT representative said the contracts are important to keeping the roadways safe for motorists.
"Anytime there are allegations of wrongdoing with any of our employees, it's a sad time for our department," TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott said. "We are doing everything we can to cooperate with authorities and remain committed to integrity."
Few details of the alleged operation have been made public. The U.S. attorney's office did not return a call Friday seeking comment.
Falcon declined to comment when reached by phone Friday afternoon, and his attorney Ricardo Salinas did not return a call seeking comment. Efforts to reach Beltran and Llanes were unsuccessful.
Read the article online HERE.
And, from some weeks ago, make sure you read the original breaking AP story here:
The AP has still failed to report that Amadeo Saenz, TxDOT Executive Director, not only knows the three TxDOT employees who were indicted, but they are all “best friends”, and they all profited together, according to an inside reliable source.
Read my report, called TxDOT Executive Director, With Ties to Indicted, To Resign Within the Year, Says Source.
After six months of being shelved, these new Phase II freeway tolls are back on track (the new toll on MoPAC is not shown on the map above). Sen. Kirk Watson must have gotten a very sweet deal for himself, behind closed doors.
In October 2007, CAMPO chair Sen. Kirk Watson led an effort to divert nearly $1 Billion tax dollars to shift Austin freeways into tollways (scroll down to see the article and map from a few days ago below). The vote passed with months of Watson twisting arms. Then TxDOT tried to pull a fast one in December — they told Watson to use local tax dollars. Watson threw a fit and now after six months of back door deals Watson got them to use State tax dollars to shift our Austin freeways to tollways.
A deal has been made behind closed doors.
First, a little more history. The group I formed and myself have been fighting these freeway tolls since 2004. We've gotten a lot of them pulled from the plan since 2004. But Watson came on the scene in Jan 2007 to get this double tax done for his special interest pals on the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
From the Statesman TODAY (buried in a "compiled from staff report" - don't forget the Stateman endorsed this phase II toll plan in 2004) :
Work on six projects can go on
Engineering work on six toll road projects, which the Texas Department of Transportation's money crunches shelved for six months, can move forward after a 4-1 vote Thursday by the Texas Transportation Commission.
The commission's nod essentially puts the projects — adding managed lanes to MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1); expanding portions of U.S. 290 East, U.S. 183, Texas 71 and the "Y" at Oak Hill as toll roads; and building one new road, Texas 45 Southwest — in the hands of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.
That agency plans to borrow $65 million for engineering and right-of-way costs and needed the commission vote to move forward. Actual construction on the first of the projects, U.S. 290 East, remains at least a year away.
By Ben Wear, Austin American-Statesman
Non-compete clauses for tollways would be a non-starter under a policy the Texas Transportation Commission will consider Thursday.
Such language in toll road contracts, which generally prohibit a toll road owner (such as the Texas Department of Transportation) from building or expanding a nearby free road, or require compensation for doing so, have been controversial in Texas and elsewhere. TxDOT’s contract with Cintra-Zachry, a Spanish and American consortium that will build and operate a southern section of Texas 130, requires TxDOT to pay up if it makes certain highway improvements within 10 miles of the road.
The commission Thursday will consider approving a “minute order” (what TxDOT calls its version of ordinances) prohibiting “any limitations or prohibitions on improvements needed to existing or future highways.”
Read the whole article HERE.
Traffic cameras in Shenzhen, China are being used for voyeurism. Earlier this month, officials from the Shenzhen Public Security Bureau arrested two control room employees named Liang and Xie who had used the traffic camera at Tangle Plaza in the district of Luohu to zoom in on nearby apartments instead of traffic.
Read the rest of the article HERE
The City Council in suburban Kirkwood, Mo., had just finished the Pledge of Allegiance...when a citizen, who was fed up with his elected "representatives", burst into the meeting room and opened fire, shouting "Shoot the mayor!"
From the LA Times:
Thornton's brother, Gerald, told local television station KMOV that he saw justification for the bloodshed. "My brother went to war tonight with the people and government that were putting torment and strife into his life, and he ended it," Gerald Thornton said. "I'm OK with it."Read the article HERE.
by TheNewspaper.com Editor
The board members responsible for imposing tolls on New York state motorists will never have to pay a toll in their lifetime. The New York Daily News reports that Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) board members each get special E-ZPass transponders that provide toll-free driving and do not expire, even when the individuals leave their position on the board. Tolls in New York City currently range up to $10 for a one-way trip across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
MTA Chairman Peter S. Kalikow has eight of these transponders that he can use on up to eight of his favorite cars, ensuring he will never have to pay that $10. Among the perfectly restored classics in his collection is a councours-winning 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder. Another 1961 Spyder in equally fine condition sold at auction earlier this month for $10.9 million, the most ever paid for a used car.
Read the rest of the article HERE.
By Roger Baker
A 42 gallon barrel of crude oil yields 19 gallons of gasoline but only 10 gallons of diesel. Yet diesel (distillate) is expected to move all trains, planes, and trucks while also heating New England during the winter. Plus moving all the trucks and planes in China, and everywhere else too, plus many of the cars in Europe. Without enough gasoline, US drivers are greatly annoyed, but without enough diesel the global economy shuts down really fast.
With consumer spending now falling due to gas prices, this diesel bottleneck situation dictates cost-push inflation in the material necessity sectors of the economy like transported food (steel costs are rising sharply too). But meanwhile, simultaneous deflation in the discretionary spending sectors like cable TV and services.
Read "Soaring Fuel Prices Take a Withering Toll on Truckers" in the New York Times
Chairman of the Sunset Advisory Commission
illegally pays wife with campaign donations.
"TxDOT has failed to comply with the federal law
and federal implementing regulations."
General McCaffrey now Chairman
of HNTB pushes TTC
TxDOT on the TTC and CDA's:
"The Legislature will find a way to get
comfortable with this idea and find a
way to do business in this manner.”
TxDOT tries to bridge rifts
with Texans in Congress
Mr. Stevens was a real estate developer who had a history of standing on the right side of transportation issues. Mr. Stevens was part of task force that released a critical report on Gov. Perry's TxDOT in 2006, which found that an indexed gas-tax could replace tolling in Texas.
Mr. Stevens was appointed to the Sunset Commission (see many of the appointees here in my report) this year by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, to help fix TxDOT. More about his passing HERE at Texas Public Policy, and the Corridor archives has archived reports.
CONVENTIONAL TOLL ROADS vs. AUSTIN 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.
Public outrage over unfair treatment of motorists by toll road administrators in the United States and overseas are forcing mild reforms. New Hampshire Governor John Lynch (D) last week signed a law forbidding the motor vehicle department from suspending the drivers' licenses of those accused of skipping out on a toll. Instead, the state will collect fines of up to $1000 and hold the renewal of vehicle registrations until the fines are paid. The move was a direct response to a January incident where an innocent motorist was arrested and booked for failure to pay a single 75 cent toll -- a toll that he had actually paid.
In Florida, toll road agencies have told lawmakers that they might not oppose a similar modification to state laws imposing harsh penalties on toll cheats. The officials are motivated by bad publicity in the wake of a Circuit Court Judge John Galluzzo's ruling that banned the imposition of any penalties on motorists with a valid toll transponder account. Galluzzo was outraged by the treatment of a firefighter who was falsely accused of cheating and nearly lost his job as a result.
In Singapore, the Land Transport Authority admitted Thursday that around 300 motorists every month were being hit with "problems of compatibility" with its all-electronic system for paying tolls. As a result, drivers have been left to worry whether they would be fined for cheating each time they use the country's toll roads.
Read the rest of the article and find additional links here.
and Chano Falcon (one of three TxDOT employees being
investigated by the FBI for bribery charges).
There is a LOT of corruption within TxDOT. Here's an article I did about TxDOT Engineer, Bob Daigh's close relationship with convicted criminal Pete Peters.
There are rumblings in the Capitol that Texas Governor Rick Perry is looking at the possibility of calling a Special Session of the Texas Legislature to curtail the power of Regional Planning Commissions.
Why? Because Sub-Regional Planning Commissions have become the latest weapon in the arsenal of opponents of the Trans-Texas Corridor says Capitol Annex
Read how "391 Commissions" can kill the Gov. Perry and Sen. Watson TTC Land Grab.
Miles driven on U.S. roads in March declined 4.3 percent compared to the same month last year, the sharpest drop since 1942 when the Federal Highway Administration began issuing monthly driving reports. Texans pulled back even more, logging 4.9 percent less says the San Antonio Express.
A few weeks ago State Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated and had to spend the night in jail, see my post here for more details.
Now Texas Department of Public Safety is withholding trooper dashboard camera video taken during the arrest of Texas representative Mike Krusee. Why do our elected officials like Krusee and Mayor Wynn get special treatment when they are arrested? You know this info would be released if it was you or I with a DUI.
KXAN has the story:
"Using the Texas Public Information Act, KXAN requested the video after the state lawmaker from Williamson County was arrested for DWI earlier this month. A state trooper pulled him over after he noticed him driving erratically in northwest Austin. The license plate on his vehicle also had expired last December.Read the rest of the article HERE.
Elected state officials all have personalized license plates. Therefore, the trooper would have known he was pulling over a state official before asking for identification.
A spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety said Krusee failed a field sobriety test. When asked if he had been drinking, Krusee said he had had one glass of wine.
DPS is using a section of government code that allows law enforcement entities to withhold information regarding an ongoing investigation, if they choose.
Krusee who, before his arrest, announced he planned on not running for reelection, helped pave the way for major toll road projects and stiffer drunken driving penalties.
Krusee sponsored House Bill 3588, which opened the door for the state's toll road system and the Trans-Texas Corridor. It also included a provision to create the driver responsibility program, which charges a $1,000 surcharge for first-time offenders convicted of driving while intoxicated, with additional penalties for repeat offenses.
The Capitol had buzzed that Krusee would be a candidate to serve on the Texas Transportation Commission once he resigned his seat in the House. Paul Burka, senior executive editor of Texas Monthly, speculated on his blog Thursday that the DWI did not help Krusee, mainly because it gave new ammunition to toll road opponents who oppose Krusee's appointment.
"Krusee has made himself a bigger target than he would have been otherwise," Burka said.
by Darren Hunt, El Paso ‘s ABC-7
Cracks have been discovered in a couple of bridges along Interstate 10.
Earlier this week, an ABC-7 viewer e-mailed pictures of cracks in the concrete bridges located near the Sunland Park exit going both East and West on I-10.
Although Texas Department of Transportation officials said there is no cause for concern, ABC-7 sought a second opinion.
We asked UTEP Engineering Professor Dr. Carlos Ferregut whether the cracks could lead to a much larger problem?
"Some of these cracks are due to wear and tear that I would consider regular wear and tear," Dr. Ferregut said.
But one crack, that ran across a beam, left Dr. Ferregut concerned.
"We will need to get TxDOT to send engineers to take a closer look at that crack," he said. "The geometry of the crack indicates a possible shear failure."
TxDOT officials said they inspected the bridges about nine months ago and they were deemed safe. They are not due for an additional inspection until August of 2009.
"Normally, if a bridge is in good condition, it's two years, every two years," TxDOT Transportation Engineer Tony Lujan said. "But if there's something wrong then we adjust from there and see how often we have to monitor."
Dr. Ferregut said he believes something needs to be done about that crack.
"It's the kind of failure that is brittle and doesn't give much warning," he said. "If for some reason we have a very heavy weight coming through, passing close to that beam, it could be potentially a failure situation."
Large Hole opens in Houston
Freeway, TxDOT clueless.
and Trash. TxDOT says It's Not their Problem
VIDEO: TxDOT and Toll Authority Scheme
to Force Public onto Austin's 183A Toll Road
TxDOT Program Placed Medicaid Patients
in the Hands of Convicted Criminals
and Unlicensed Drivers - Reveals State Audit.
TxDOT short exit ramp in Amarillo
causes many accidents - TxDOT might
fix the problem it created.
TxDOT Was Happy With Contractor
That Refused to Do It's Work
TxDOT Fails to Plan Ahead,
And People Die.
Texas Toll Roads are
Double Billing via TaxTAG
Toll Road Contractor Overcharges Taxpayers,
TxDOT Asleep at the Wheel
TxDOT Fumbles Bridge Estimate:
Taxpayers Pay 300% More
TxDOT Flushes $300 million.
TxDOT cuts Down Historic
Tree By Mistake.
TxDOT Engineer, Bob Daigh: Secret Deals,
Lies and a Convicted Criminal
More TxDOT Failures
This Thursday, the Austin City Council is considering making mandatory huge tax give-aways (corporate welfare) to the owners of the Domain mall. This special interest lobbyist push gives Domain a huge advantage over independent businesses, and guess who pays higher taxes to cover this free money scheme? YOUR FAMILY
This could undermine the citizen initiative by Stop Domain Subsidies to change the city charter to outlaw such giveaways. Take 30 sec. and speak out. Click here to contact the City Council and tell them not to make tax give-aways mandatory.
Skyrocketing oil prices means YOUR gas prices will be even higher in the weeks and months to come. Some experts say gas prices will hit $8.00 a gallon, as we look ahead.
The San Antonio Express came out with an article last year that tells why high gas-prices negatively effect the prospects of more toll roads. The feasibility of all toll roads are based on traffic and revenue projections, which are tied to gas prices.
The Traffic and Revenue projections for SH 130 toll road is based on the assumption that motor fuel will remain in "adequate supply and motor fuel prices will not exceed $2.50 per gallon".
130 toll failed to meet it's 1st year projection by over $11 million dollars reported the Statesman. Who do you think pays for a failed toll road? Look in the mirror. Who do you think still makes a profit? Yup, the banks that floated the BILLIONS of debt.
Many folks are having a hard time affording $4.00 a gallon, and less folks will be able to afford $8 a gallon. It is time to sell your SUV, and move closer to your work.
Just a couple of months ago the Energy Watch Group put out a report that states that the worlds oil supply peaked in 2006, and production will start to decline at a rate of several percent per year. That means gas prices will only rise, and in the months ahead, you'll be thinking of the good old days when gas only cost $4.00 a gallon.
Hell, when the real shit comes down in the years ahead, Gov. Perry and Sen. Watson will be out of office, sitting on an island somewhere enjoying time with their family and the security of tons of money in the bank.
Read this article from The Australian Newspaper:
Our elected leaders must be on crack! I just took a look at my Travis County Appraised Value statement and my taxes for my house went up again this year. They screw around with our appraisal values as home values drop across the country. They must think we are stupid.
And the finger pointing begins.... RIGHT ON THE STATEMENT, they actually have the nuts to include this line, "The Texas Legislature does not set the amount of your local taxes. Your property tax burden is decided by your locally elected officials...".
They all have a hand in our pockets — monkeying around with these numbers, playing games with our tax dollars.
EVERYONE SHOULD APPEAL. 70% of property tax appeals are successful, but only 7% of homeowners appeal each year.
And, it's easy to appeal. My pal Dr. Peter Stern has a new post on how easy it is to appeal HERE at AustinatIssue.com's Town Hall. Odds are you'll win your appeal, and save hundreds of dollars, all for spending a little more than an hour of your time. I'll see you at the appeal hearing!
UPDATE 5/21: I just found out that it's possible not to have to go to a formal hearing to get your tax payment lower. In many cases the informal meeting with the appraiser, a one on one, could result in a lower tax payment.
I just received a surprising email from State Rep. Leo Berman of District 6 this morning.
The email could be the first sign that the Ledge is finally serious about killing Gov. Rick Perry's TTC Land Grab. The Ledge also needs to stop the unaccountable double tax of TxDOT using our tax dollars to shift our public freeways to tollways.
Rep. Berman says he and Sen. Kevin Eltife are working together to stop the TTC. Watch the video from last year, with Sen. Eltife saying, "I think we've created a monster at TxDOT".
Rep. Berman is the chair of the House Elections Committee and a member of the House Government Reform Committee. Below is the email Rep. Berman sent me at 8:25am, in response to the email I sent him (and other Ledge members this morning), to announce my "silver bullet" post on this blog.
A number of legislators are committed to killing the TTC next session. Sen. Kevin Eltife and I have gone public with that commitment. Both of us will work hard toward that end.
State Rep. District 6
Have Texans found the silver bullet to kill Gov. Rick Perry's Trans Texas Corridor land grab?
It looks like it. Citizen groups are now using the laws created by the special interests (which were created to form regional pro TTC groups) to form regional anti-TTC commissions to force TxDOT to answer endless TTC questions, that could last months, years and even decades if needed.
And, with the law on their side this time, they believe it's working.
Three Texas Citizen groups, American Land Foundation, Stewards of the Range and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom have joined forces and are gearing up for a second "How to Fight the TTC Workshop", which will take place in El Campo, TX.
Since the first succesful workshop last month, which was held in Lufkin, the group has formed three new "391 Commissions", which could slow down and stop the TTC in different regions of Texas. The 391 commission is named after chapter 391 of the Texas Local Government Code.
The workshop will teach Texas citizens and community leaders how to form a 391 Sub-Regional Planning Commission and all the needed details to help stop the TTC in their region.
Citizens opposed to the TTC, County Commissioners, County Judges, Mayors and City Councilpersons are urged to attend.
send this article to others.
With the Texas Legislature's help, "T. Boone Pickens essentially created a public utility, giving him the power of eminent domain." Read about HERE.
Now a new article from North Texas....
Mesa: Picken's rep said
mogul's ‘desire to be fair'
CHILDRESS - Boone Pickens has a public relations problem.
About 120 people crowded into the Childress Fair Park Auditorium here this month for a town hall meeting with a handful of state legislators in response to a series of meetings Pickens' Roberts County Fresh Water Supply District No. 1 and Mesa Power are holding in connection with their plan to buy up a right-of-way from the Texas Panhandle to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for a water pipeline and power transmission lines. But significantly, Ray Floyd of Collingsworth County voiced a comment at the Childress meeting that others mentioned while waiting for the meeting to start.
“The way it was presented to me was very offensive,” Floyd said.
He said if Pickens had approached the people here differently, it could have helped everyone.
“It looks like it is for his benefit only,” Floyd said.
A number of people commented that when they went to one of Mesa's meetings, Pickens wasn't there.
When State Sen. Robert Duncan asked the people crowded into the auditorium here if the legislators present should support Mesa's project, nary a hand was raised. When he asked if the lawmakers should oppose it, almost everyone raised their hand. Some raised two hands.
The other problem at the meeting was that while most everybody agreed that the wind power project was good, transporting water from the Texas Panhandle was outrageous. No one wanted to talk about eminent domain. They only wanted to talk about sending Panhandle water to Dallas.
Read the rest of the article HERE.
state politicians with agendas directed toward
providing for wealthy corporate benefactors."
Read the whole Weatherford Democrat article called "Taking the Low Road" (yes, it's Ric Williamson's hometown) HERE.
It's unknown how much TxDOT is spending for the whole "Click It or Ticket" campaign that was kicked off this week. The program supports a state and local police drive to hand out as many $200 tickets as possible to motorists who either forget to wear a seatbelt or make a personal choice not to do so. Although the agency has claimed to lack funding to expand the state's road network, it has created a lavish advertising campaign to promote the ticketing effort reports TheNewspaper.com.
Another good article today... This time about Gov. Rick Perry's new pick for governing TxDOT, Deirdre Delisi, from The Houson Chronicle. My favorite snip that boils it all down happens to have come out of my mouth:
"She has zero transportation experience. Maybe she drives to work, but that's about it," said Sal Costello, who founded TexasTollParty.com to oppose the way tollways were planned under Perry.Delisi also has zero business experience. But that doesn't stop our corrupt politicos from going along with such an unexperienced person running TxDOT. Sen Kirk Watson, who has sided with Gov. Perry in the past on toll tax schemes, approves of Delisi. Sen Hegar and others have said NO.
"This is an agency that deals with billions of our tax dollars for transportation, and this person has no experience. That's frightening. What she does bring to the table is she's Gov. Perry's highway henchwoman."
See the Toll Lobby comments supporting 130 toll here.
The Statesman article below is significant. 130 toll road was the most expensive road project in Texas history at a cost of $1.5 Billion dollars. It was built as a primer for the TTC. Kirk Watson's Prop 1 from the year 2000 diverted $67 million city bond dollars (promised for Austin freeways) into SH 130 and 45N toll roads.
Texas 130 loses to I-35
your columnist pays $6 to get
there 20 percent slower
Ben Wear, Austin American-Statesman
Uh, maybe we just hit a light traffic day.
Based on a highly unscientific experiment conducted last week by your transportation columnist and accomplice Andrea Ball, taking the Texas 130 tollway as an alternative to Interstate 35 might not be such a good idea. At least not all the time, at least not yet. But I get ahead of myself.
Texas 130, if you don't know, branches off southeast from I-35 north of Georgetown, swings past Hutto, Manor and the Austin airport and then connects to U.S. 183 near Mustang Ridge. After a slight jog northward, you can get back to I-35 via FM 1327. In about a year, another toll road, Texas 45 Southeast, will in effect replace the seven-mile-long FM 1327 leg of that loop.
The tollways have been sold as a speedier alternative to the ravages of I-35 rush hour traffic. Toll road proponents have said that truckers, in particular, will flock to Texas 130 (and, eventually, Texas 45 Southeast) because time is money to them. Even with a $24 cash toll for truckers ($6 cash for passenger cars and pickups, $5.40 with a toll tag), the argument goes, it's worth it to save the time.
So I decided to test that claim. I'd drive the tollway during rush hour and recruit a colleague to drive I-35 at the same time, then compare notes.
The hardest part, it turned out, was getting a volunteer.
However, Andrea, who writes a philanthropy column among her other duties, graciously agreed (well, maybe not so graciously, as you'll see below) to be my transportation lab rat.
So last Monday morning, after synchronizing our watches on a frontage road just north of Texas 130's departure from I-35, and agreeing that both of us would drive no faster than 70 mph in unrestricted traffic, we headed off, me to the tollway and Andrea on I-35. Who got to the intersection of FM 1327 and I-35 first?
(Based on copious notes she somehow took while driving at highway speed):
Early morning on I-35? I should still be sleeping. Maybe I am sleeping.
Awake or not, I am well prepared for my journey into the bowels of Austin traffic.
Nutz Over Chocolate Luna Bars? Check. Bottle of water? Yep. US Magazine to entertain me during the inevitable standstill traffic? Of course.
It's 7:15 a.m. I reset my trip odometer at the Texas 130 overpass. Traffic is light, and my 1997 Saturn clips along at a speedy 70 mph.
At 7:27 a.m. I hit my first patch of traffic at Exit 252 in Round Rock. Drivers slow down to 25 mph. Red brake lights dot the still-gray morning. I'm irritated. Bad traffic already? I hate Ben. Hate him.
By 7:29 a.m., the knot has unsnarled itself. Drivers hit the gas, quickly climbing to 50 mph or so. Not bad. Maybe I don't hate Ben as much as I thought I did.
The brake lights are back at 7:35 a.m., just as I hit the Yager Lane exit. Then, a few seconds later, we are once again cruising.
By 7:39 a.m., I am questioning myself. Have I misjudged you, I-35? Are you, in fact, the interstate highway of my dreams? You are so welcoming that even the other drivers are pleasantly courteous. (Except you, White Nissan. You know what you did.) My love beats strong for this much-maligned stretch of blacktop.
Three minutes later, I-35 and I are on the rocks. I'm in standstill traffic near the Super 8 Motel just south of Cameron Road.
Suddenly, the jam loosens. The next 18 minutes are a driver's dream. Bye bye, Capitol. See ya, Riverside Drive. Later, Stassney Lane.
By 8 a.m., 43.3 miles from our mutual starting point, I am sitting on the I-35 frontage road near FM 1327, waiting for Ben to arrive. I am skeptical. Something stinks here, and it's not just my car.
Meanwhile, on the toll road
The drive on Texas 130 is predictably uneventful and stress-free. With only one car visible about a quarter mile ahead and none in the rearview mirror, I set the cruise control to 70 mph.
I will have to tap the breaks only once in the next 46.8 miles of toll road. Much of the time there are no cars within 100 yards of me, and I see less than two dozen 18-wheelers the whole trip. The view is mostly of cows, green fields and old farm buildings.
Because the southern 8.7 miles of Texas 130 opened only two weeks ago and is still in a free promotional period, my toll tag will get hit with only $4.05 rather than the $5.40 that it will cost starting later this summer.
At 8 a.m., I am turning west on FM 1327. I pull up to Andrea's car at 8:09 p.m. Taking the toll road cost me nine minutes. And the toll I paid. But that's not all it cost.
My total mileage: 54.8 miles, 11.5 miles more than the direct I-35 route. My Taurus tells me that I got 23.7 miles per gallon, so the extra mileage cost me a little less than a half-gallon of gas. That's another $1.75 or so. I averaged 60.6 mph, Andrea 57.7 mph.
So, at rush hour, I paid almost $6 to get there 20 percent slower.
Read the rest of the article HERE.
In Dallas, last night at 10, WFAA-Channel 8 ran a good story on the growing delays in the Trinity River toll road timeline.
According to Mayor Tom Leppert’s own metric for the cost of delays, the toll road price has already ballooned an additional $100 million, the report said. Completion is at least a year behind what Leppert promised during the campaign for last year’s referendum says Unfair Park.
“The original FREEway plan to build overpasses and expand the highway as promised in public hearings in 2001 (and funded with gas taxes in 2003) came to $100 million and would have taken 18 months to complete (versus 3 1/2 years to build the toll road). Now the ARMA is deliberately deceiving motorists by saying a 5-year delay is somehow speeding things up. On top of that, they’re crowing ‘we saved you money’ while charging taxpayers THREE times the price of the FREEway plan! The RMA also says there will be non-toll lanes, but fails to tell commuters their only non-toll option will be access roads with slower speed limits and permanent stop lights. That’s not a choice, it’s highway robbery,” notes Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) whose organization teamed up with Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA) in filing a lawsuit to stop the US 281 toll road and FORCE TxDOT to install the funded FREEway improvements.
The taxpayers have demanded TxDOT install the cheaper, faster, and funded gas tax FREEway improvements on US 281 from day one (see the proof it's been funded since 2003 here.. For more than 3 years, the Texas Legislature, the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization (SAMPO), and the ARMA have repeatedly thumbed their noses at the thousands of taxpayers who have attempted to reverse these organizations’ votes to toll US 281.
TURF has also asked for a public vote on ALL toll projects, especially a freeway to tollway conversion. Make no mistake, this is a conversion. Every single lane motorists drive on today will be converted to toll lanes, and the NEW lanes will be frontage roads with non-highway speed limits and permanent stop lights.
“This is thievery pure and simple. It’s criminal that our politicians have repeatedly voted to rip-off taxpayers in a massive money grab. There is NO excuse for failing to build the FUNDED FREEway improvements other than to make money. They can’t make money off a freeway, only a toll road. In fact, 281 users need to know their FREEway will be converted into a toll road to fund improvements to 1604 in a BIG, FAT, UNFAIR Robin Hood scheme. It’s a targeted new tax on driving at a time with record high gas prices with no end in sight,” Hall said.
The US 281 toll project will also include a non-compete agreement where the ARMA agrees not to expand or improve ANY roads surrounding the toll road, which means Blanco Rd., Stone Oak Pkwy., Redland Rd., and Bulverde Rd to name a few. The ARMA says a non-compete would not prevent TxDOT, the City, or County from expanding roads, but none of those entities would dare put the toll bonds in jeopardy by expanding nearby roads and violating a non-compete investors demand. The ARMA is also declining to insure the bonds for this project putting the taxpayers on the hook if the road goes belly-up.
The ARMA is also relying on it’s a risky traffic projection adding 25% to the already aggressive growth projections the SAMPO uses. Considering the soaring price of gas and the trend toward moving inside Loop 1604 and 410 to shorten commutes, the failure of the US 281 toll road is likely. Express-News columnist Ken Allard seemed to agree in his column last week (read it here.).
“This is fast becoming a risky boondoggle in a time of economic crisis. There will not be enough political cover for the politicians when this hits the fan,” Hall finished.
Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson fired off a letter of concern about the financial viability of toll roads in this economic climate with high gas prices forcing people to change their behavior to reduce costs. Adkisson and ARMA Executive Director Terry Brechtel met today, but neither changed the other’s mind.
Any local elected officials, from any part of the state, can form a commission to ask TxDOT and the feds questions, which will bog down the TTC. Start talking to your elected officials and to get a 391 commission started today.
HOW TO FORM A 391 COMMISSION:
Anyone interested in learning how to form a 391 Commission to require TxDOT to Coordinate the TTC with their local community needs to read the article prepared by attorney Fred Kelly Grant titled "The Creation of the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission" on our website a www.stewards.us. This is the most complete explanation of how easy it is to form a Commission, and how effective it can be.
A new article from TODAY below...
creation of 391 Commission
BY DAVE KUCIFER, Navasota Examiner
After listening to presentations by three lawyers familiar with the creation of a Sub-Regional Planning Commission (SRPC), then having questions answered during a 391 workshop last Thursday, Grimes County Commissioners decided to place the item on their May 26 agenda as a discussion item. The workshop at the Navasota center drew a large crowd of area property owners, along with officials from Madison, Waller and Walker counties. Anderson, Bedias and Navasota city officials were also in attendance.
Those attending the meeting heard Fred Grant, President of Stewards of the Range and an attorney with over 30 years experience as a planning and zoning officer in Idaho, explain how local government and citizens banded together through a SRPC to protect private land and grazing rights.
Dan Bayfield an attorney and President of the American Land Foundation in Taylor followed Grant. Bayfield presented a comprehensive step-by-step outline on forming a SRPC.
Trey Duhon, a Waller attorney instrumental in the formation of the Waller County SRPC shared his views regarding a commission in Grimes County.
Focal point of the meeting was how local citizens and governments can protect private property from “high-handed” governmental take over such as the action proposed by TXDOT’s I69/TTC plans.
Read the rest of the story HERE.
Did you know bonds = higher future taxes?
Read about it as well as Kirk Watson's bond diversions from the year 2000 — join in the discussion HERE at AustinatIssue.com's Town Hall.
Here comes the Red Light Camera SCAM to Austin, TX.
Do you think red light cameras help safety? Well, then let me tell you, "you don't know Jack squat". Austin will install the first red light cameras by May 24, says the Statesman today.
The revenue hungry City Council of Austin unanimously voted to install red light cameras for downtown intersections last winter. The $15.8 million contract went to Redflex Traffic Systems.
How does the red light camera scam work?
1) Slippery politicos say that Red Light Cameras create safer roads while numerous studies across the country prove they cause MORE accidents.So, is there a real way to reduce accidents and red light runners?
2) Once the camera's are installed, and council members get campaign contributions from the Red Light Camera company profiteers, they shorten the timing of the yellow light to make more money (SEE BELOW!).
3) The Contractor and Politicos gets paid first. Taxpayers pay for the machines and maintenance. Taxpayers also pay via tickets and more accidents after the timing of the yellow lights are reduced.
YES, It's simple, but NOT profitable. Lengthening yellow lights to 5-6 second does more to reduce accidents than Red Light Camera's.
AND, remember when Legislators pushed for half the funds of RLC's were to go to emergency rooms and trauma centers? That money is being diverted too, says many new reports!
Also, read this new article below...
on Short Yellow Times
A local news investigation has found that the city of Dallas, Texas depends upon short yellow timing to maximize red light camera profit. Of the ten cameras that issue the greatest number of tickets in the city, seven are located at intersections where the yellow duration is shorter than the bare minimum recommended by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), KDFW-TV found.
The city's second highest revenue producing camera, for example, is located at the intersection of Greenville Avenue and Mockingbird Lane. It issued 9407 tickets worth $705,525 between January 1 and August 31, 2007. At the intersections on Greenville Avenue leadding up to the camera intersection, however, yellows are at least 3.5 or 4.0 seconds in duration, but the ticket producing intersection's yellow stands at just 3.15 seconds. The yellow is .35 seconds shorter than TxDOT's recommended bare minimum.
"For 30 miles per hour, if your yellow time was less than three and a half, you would not be giving that driver enough time to react and brake and stop prior to getting to the intersection," TxDOT Dallas District office transportation engineer supervisor Chris Blain told KDFW.
A small change in signal timing can have a great effect on the number of tickets issued. About four out of every five red light camera citations are issued before even a second has elapsed after the light changed to red, according to a report by the California State Auditor. This suggests that most citations are issued to those surprised by a quick-changing signal light. Confidential documents obtained in a 2001 court trial proved that the city of San Diego, California and its red light camera vendor, now ACS, only installed red light cameras at intersections with high volumes and "Amber (yellow) phase less than 4 seconds."
Read the rest of the story HERE.