Victory! Tolls come off several Texas highways

Tolls come down: Precedent set as toll comes off two Texas highways
By Terri Hall
August 19, 2017

The bureaucrats couldn’t fight the momentum. Texans have been calling for tolls to come off roads once they’re paid for and thanks to passage of Senate Bill 312, the Texas Transportation Commission voted to do just that on Camino Colombia SH 255 in Laredo and on Cesar Chavez Border Highway in El Paso. To add icing on the cake, the Dallas City Council also voted to deep six the controversial Trinity Toll Road after a 20 year battle, and the Commission is also mulling changing plans on US 183 North in Austin to expand it as non-toll instead of tolled. All that in a matter of weeks.

The last time tolls were removed from a road in Texas was in 1977 — forty years ago. But it’s not without some wailing and gnashing of teeth by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Commission that governs it.
Read more: Victory! Tolls come off...

BAIT & SWITCH: TxDOT yanks express lane, shrinks existing capacity on US 281 in Alamo city

UPDATE as of July 13, 2017:
TxDOT finally responded to our inquiries about this apparent bait & switch on the lane count on US 281. They produced the same schematic presented to the public and clarified the new lanes in the southern section are technically auxiliary lanes and transition lanes from the interchange, so they don’t technically count those in the lane number, however, there will be FOUR main lanes each direction up to Stone Oak Parkway.

Double crossed: Express lane taken away, turned into HOV-bus lane after new lane promised to public

By Terri Hall
July 12, 2017

Congestion weary commuters thought they’d finally get a break. Expansion of US 281 in San Antonio is set to go to construction on Sunday, July 17, but it’s not what the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) presented to the public. Today, US 281 has three general purpose lanes each direction (from Loop 1604 to Evans Rd.). The plan  was to add an additional HOV-bus lane, overpasses (so cars can bypass those wretched stop lights impeding traffic flow), and to build frontage roads to the outside of the existing highway.

However, the plan now shows only two express lanes each direction and one HOV/bus lane. So they’re taking away an existing express lane and shrinking the expressway from three down to two. The unelected bureaucrats at TxDOT and the local transportation boards point you to the new frontage roads as the new capacity.

Read more: BAIT & SWITCH: TxDOT...

Texans angered over SH 130 bankruptcy deal that wipes out money owed to taxpayers

Zero: Money owed taxpayers for SH 130 toll road erased by bankruptcy court
By Terri Hall
July 8, 2017

The defunct SH 130 tollway just emerged from bankruptcy court and the news isn’t good for taxpayers. In 2007, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) entered into a Comprehensive Development Agreement, or public private partnership, with SH 130 Concession Company, a subsidiary of Spain-based Cintra and Zachry Toll Road 56, which had ownership dispersed among Australian and many other foreign entities. The 41-mile southern stretch of SH 130 opened in November 2012, designed to be a bypass around congested downtown Austin. But the traffic never materialized and the private concession company sought bankruptcy protection in March 2016. According to the terms that emerged from bankruptcy court, all of the private entity’s $1.4 billion debt was wiped away, leaving federal taxpayers left holding the bag for the $430 million federally-backed Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan given to the private entities.

Texas taxpayers feel betrayed. Former Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson swore under oath before the Senate Transportation Committee on March 1, 2007, that if the private entities went bankrupt, the Texas taxpayers would get the road back free and clear of any debt. Free and clear means no debt obligations, and therefore no need to continue to charge tolls for usage. However, that didn’t happen. Instead, new owners were brought in, Strategic Value Partners, $260 million in new debt was issued, and the new private company will continue to charge tolls until the contract is up in 2062 — for a road that now owes virtually no debt compared to its original $1.4 billion.
Read more: Texans angered over SH...

Think tank: Private toll roads unworkable for nation's infrastructure fix

Link to article here.

Think tank casts doubts on Trump infrastructure plan
By Ashley Halsey
Washington Post
December 2, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump's ambitious plan to raise $1 trillion for infrastructure is a boondoggle that would line the pockets of wealthy investors while not meeting the need for infrastructure repair or improvement in much of the country, according to an analysis released Thursday by a progressive think tank.

Trump's plan "shovels money at wealthy investors instead of solving real infrastructure challenges," according to a white paper from the Center for American Progress.

The paper figures to be the first salvo in a lively debate if Trump follows through on his promise to make refurbishing the nation's roads, bridges and transit systems a centerpiece of his administration, coupling it with his vow to put unemployed middle-class Americans back to work.

"It's really a huge failure because it just doesn't deliver on what the actual needs are out there," said Kevin DeGood, the report's author. "These really complicated deals for which contracts [with private investors] can be beneficial only apply to one-half of 1 percent of the need that is out there."
Read more: Think tank: Private...

TxDOT bill hijacked by toll lobby, loopholes diminish anti-toll progress

Hastily approved TxDOT sunset bill offers some toll relief, but riddled with new loopholes
By Terri Hall
May 28, 2017

As the Texas legislature comes to a close tomorrow, the antics of some lawmakers warrants scrutiny when it comes to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sunset bill, SB 312, that passed yesterday evening. The House passed a strong anti-toll bill May 17, adding several good anti-toll measures pushed by grassroots pro-taxpayer groups for over a decade. SB 312 must pass or the highway department goes away. Rather than concur with the House version, the Senate chose to reject the House version (which signaled trouble ahead), forcing both the House and Senate to appoint a conference committee to work out the differences in the bill.

This is where the chicanery usually happens, and it did.
Read more: TxDOT bill hijacked by...

URGENT ACTION TO SAVE TOLL COLLECTION REFORM

CALLS NEEDED NOW TO SAVE TOLL COLLECTION REFORM

We’ve been told that the toll collection reform amendment that we support, by Rep. Ina Minjarez of San Antonio, is under threat of having its key provision - to decriminalize people who cannot pay toll fines/fees -- stripped from the TxDOT Sunset Bill SB 312. If lawmakers keep the current law in place for what they call a 'habitual toll violator,' that means that if a person simply has a payment card expire and they pass under a toll gantry 100 times, they can be labeled a habitual toll violator and have their vehicle impounded, be taken to court, and be taken to jail if they fail to appear in court. This is a very low threshold and easy to have happen. Toll gantries record vehicle license plates/toll tags and are positioned every 3-5 miles on toll roads. So a driver can pass through 10-20 per day and be deemed a habitual toll violator in under 30 days. By the time a driver is even notified in their monthly statement that there’s a problem, they’re already a ‘habitual toll violator’ and face criminal penalties if they don’t pay up. This doesn’t even touch on the erroneous billing problems that bring the same severe criminal consequences to folks who never even got on a toll road. 
 
No Texan should have their ability to drive and hence have their ability to make a living threatened for failure to pay a fine, especially one handed down so easily and so prone to abuse. The House voted in favor of this amendment by an overwhelming majority of 136-3. But some want it removed, including TxDOT.
 
URGENT ACTION ITEM
Please contact conference committee members IMMEDIATELY and ask them to: 
“Keep the Minjarez Amendment #39 in tact in SB 312 and retain the House language that de-criminalizes toll violations and ends this horrific abuse that has financially ruined thousands of Texans." 
 
Senate Conferees:
Robert Nichols
(512) 463-0103
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Van Taylor
(512) 463-0108
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Juan ‘Chuy' Hinojosa
(512) 463-0120
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Kirk Watson
(512) 463-0114
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Kelly Hancock
(512) 463-0109
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House Conferees:
Larry Gonzales
(512) 463-0670
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Geanie Morrison
(512) 463-0456
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Cindy Burkett
(512) 463-0464 
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Richard Raymond 
(512) 463-0558 
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Senfronia Thompson 
(512) 463-0720 
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URGENT: Calls needed to KILL private toll amendment in House

The TxDOT Sunset Bill is up for a vote by the full Texas House Tuesday, May 16. It involves the continuation and functions of the department and gives members the ability to tack on just about any transportation bill to it -- good and bad.
 
While our Good Guys pre-filed many of our key anti-toll good bills as amendments to SB 312, the Bad Guys did the same, and they're seeking to resurrect PRIVATE TOLL ROADS once again.

URGENT ACTION ITEM
Contact your House member NOW (find who represents you here) and  CALL THEM (switchboard open 8 AM- 5 PM, 512-463-4630) to ask them to vote 'No' on ANY private toll road amendments, especially the Phelan Amendment.

Every House member received our Bill Alert asking them to oppose the private toll road amendments and support our anti-toll good amendments.

1) Ask them to OPPOSE the private toll road amendments, especially the Phelan Amendment, which are sweetheart deals that charge $30-$40/day to get to work, grant government monopolies to a single company in order to exrcat the highest possible tolls, use eminent domain for private gain and HEAPS of taxpayer money to subsidize and bail out the private company's losses.

2) Ask them to SUPPORT our anti-toll amendments (listed below - they all received a copy).
Read more: URGENT: Calls needed to...

Killing the private toll road bill made national news!

We did it!  Not only did we send a message to Texas lawmakers and special interests that the Rick Perry era of toll roads is over, we also sent a message to the Trump Administration that private toll roads are dead on arrival in Texas!

Watch the Bloomberg story on it here

HB 2861 Record Vote

FB post bootOut Phillips crew

Those who voted to hand 19 TX roads to private, foreign toll operators are:
Yeas 51 — Allen; Alonzo; Alvarado; Are´valo; Blanco; Burkett; Button; Coleman; Collier; Cortez; Elkins; Farrar; Flynn; Geren; Giddings; Gooden; Guerra; Gutierrez; Hernandez; Howard; Huberty; Israel; Johnson, E.; King, K.; King, P.; Koop; Longoria; Lucio; Martinez; Moody; Morrison; Murphy; Neave; Oliveira; Ortega; Perez; Phillips; Raymond; Rodriguez, E.; Rodriguez, J.; Rose; Sheffield; Shine; Smithee; Thompson, E.; Thompson, S.; Turner; Uresti; Villalba; Walle; Workman.

FB post taxpayer champs
Taxpayer champions who voted against are:
Nays 82 — Anderson, C.; Anderson, R.; Bailes; Bell; Biedermann; Bohac; Bonnen, D.; Bonnen, G.; Burns; Burrows; Cain; Canales; Capriglione; Clardy; Cosper; Craddick; Cyrier; Dale; Darby; Dean; Deshotel; Dukes; Dutton; Faircloth; Fallon; Frank; Frullo; Goldman; Gonzales; Gonza´lez; Hefner; Herrero; Holland; Hunter; Isaac; Kacal; Keough; King, T.; Klick; Krause; Lambert; Landgraf; Lang; Larson; Laubenberg; Leach; Lozano; Metcalf; Meyer; Miller; Mun˜oz; Murr; Neva´rez; Oliverson; Parker; Paul; Phelan; Pickett; Price; Raney; Reynolds; Rinaldi; Roberts; Romero; Schaefer; Schofield; Schubert; Shaheen; Simmons; Springer; Stephenson; Stickland; Stucky; Swanson; Thierry; Tinderholt; VanDeaver; White; Wilson; Wray; Zedler; Zerwas.


Absent, Excused — Anchia; Paddie; Wu.
Absent, Excused, Committee Meeting — Ashby; Davis, S.; Davis, Y.; Sanford.
Absent Unexcused — Bernal; Cook; Gervin-Hawkins; Guillen; Hinojosa; Johnson, J.; Kuempel; Minjarez; Vo.

Source: House Journal Recorded Vote

See press release: VICTORY: Grassroots KILL private toll bill, secure Abbott's vision for toll-free future

Trump floats gas tax hike after tolls get cold shoulder

Link to article here.

Trump floats gas tax increase after cold reception to privatized toll roads

By Terri Hall
May 5, 2017

It’s tough being a change-agent. Newly minted President Donald Trump came into office with high hopes of a major infrastructure overhaul. With the nation’s crumbling bridges, pothole stricken roads, and millions of commuters choking in urban congestion, Trump had a big plan to harness the private sector through public private partnerships (P3s) to address congestion by adding toll lanes. The problem is those privatized toll lanes grant private, usually foreign, entities monopolies over vital public highways where the companies are given the exclusive right to extract the highest possible tolls for 50-99 years.

With the pushback to P3s coming fast and furious from working class families to truckers, Trump has begun to change his tack. After meeting with members of the trucking industry this week, Trump has floated the idea of a federal gas tax increase to raise the revenue necessary for the big infrastructure fix. Truckers prefer a gas tax increase to tolls.

Here’s the back story. The National Highway Trust Fund, which is funded with a federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, has teetered on the edge of bankruptcy for over a decade while the gas tax has remained unchanged since 1993. Inflation has diminished its buying power over the last 24 years, and members of congress have been reluctant to raise it. Under President George W. Bush, many Republicans pushed road privatization and implementing toll ‘managed’ lanes as the means to finance road projects as perpetual road funding shortfalls plagued the highway system.
Read more: Trump floats gas tax...

HB 2861 - Coalition Opposed to CDAs, P3s & More Toll Roads

Letter to Texas Legislature...

Please be advised that a broad coalition of leaders of grassroots groups across Texas and citizens stand with us in strong opposition to HB 2861 and all related bills that approve any type of Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs) or public private partnership toll projects. A signed statement detailing this significant block of opposition is attached; however, we, and the signers of this letter, do not stand alone in our opposition to CDAs and P3s.

Read more: HB 2861 - Coalition...

Victory for Texas landowners along the Red River

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 6, 2017
www.texasattorneygeneral.gov
PRESS OFFICE: (512) 463-2050
Kayleigh Lovvorn: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

AG Paxton: Suspension of BLM Red River Surveys is a Win for Texas
 
AUSTIN – Attorney General Ken Paxton today praised the Trump administration for suspending three U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) surveys from the Obama-era that the BLM used to justify a land grab involving 90,000 acres near the Red River.
 
The federal action was prompted by the BLM’s admission earlier this week that it used “incorrect methodology” while determining the gradient boundary on a portion of the 116-mile stretch of Texas properties along the Red River. Attorney General Paxton intervened in November 2015 on behalf of the state in a lawsuit brought against the BLM by affected property owners.
Read more: Victory for Texas...

Schertz fights back against Cibolo's private toll road scheme

Link to article here. (Note: The article at this link is modified from the one below. It addresses the connection to the NAFTA superhighway network in North America)

Revolt: Sister city fights back against Cibolo private toll road

By Terri Hall
April 6, 2017

A funny thing happened on the way to handing over a public highway to a private toll operator —a sister city said an unequivocal, ‘No!’ A small suburb of San Antonio, the city of Cibolo, inked an irrevocable deal to hand an existing public highway, FM 1103, over to a private toll company so it could place express toll lanes down the middle, granting it the exclusive right to operate both the toll lanes and the existing free lanes for the next 50 years. FM 1103 runs through the city limits of Schertz before it connects to Interstate 35. But what Cibolo didn’t count on was its neighboring city not cooperating with the scheme.
Read more: Schertz fights back...

Toll-Free Texas: Reform Package - 2017

TollFree Texas graphic 300Upcoming event: Toll-Free Texas' Day at the capitol.

Package details and related press releases: “The citizen groundswell against toll proliferation in Texas is heartening to see. Texans unfortunately have experienced firsthand how interstate tolling can stifle economic productivity and tax-away prosperity, unfairly penalize drivers with fines for tolls they don’t owe, and restrict access to roads paid for by the public. The efforts of Toll Free Texas are commendable and reflect a broader awareness by people that tolls are the worst possible way to fund roads.”
~ Julian Walker, spokesman for Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI)

Raw Deal: Private toll company weasels sweetheart deal out of Cibolo

So what’s in that controversial private toll road contract?
By Terri Hall
March 9,2017

After a controversial decision by the Cibolo City Council to give development rights for a private toll road to a corporation that's never even built a road last week, Cibolo Mayor Allen Dunn has been busy shooting the messenger. The Development Agreement, kept secret from the public prior to its approval last week, was finally made public and it verifies and validates citizen concerns. When the terms of an exclusive 50-year development agreement was negotiated in secret and handed to a single private firm in a no bid contract, it shouldn't surprise elected officials when the public is irate.

The city signed an irrevocable development agreement with, Cibolo Turnpike, an entity created by the investors of Texas Turnpike Corporation. The draft operating agreement requires the city to repay all the company's debt and the net present value of future distributions (anticipated revenues) if it wants out of the deal -- after it's built. There is no other way out for the city, however, there are lots of exit strategies for the company.

So what are some of the other red flags? First, the agreement seeks to give operational control of the non-toll portion of FM 1103, a state highway, to the private company.
Read more: Raw Deal: Private toll...

Secret agreement handed private toll firm control of public roads

Link to article here.

How sad that this happened just days before we celebrate Texas Indepenence Day, March 2.

City hands control over public roads to private firm
By Terri Hall
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research
March 1, 2017

In a stunning betrayal of open government, the Cibolo City Council voted 6-0 to approve a 50 year development agreement with Texas Turnpike Corporation (TTC) granting it the exclusive right to build, operate and maintain what’s been dubbed the Cibolo Parkway — a tollway linking I-35 to I-10 through mostly rural farmland northeast of San Antonio. The agreement was negotiated behind closed doors and was kept secret from the public until it was approved last night.

Even worse, the city council gave TTC the rights to develop a project the taxpayers have already paid for, the expansion of FM 1103, the city’s primary connection to I-35. By doing so, they’ve granted a private corporation a virtual monopoly over the existing non-toll competitor to its private toll road. TTC can intentionally slow down the free option to force more cars onto its for-profit toll road by manipulating speed limits, access points, and stop lights. It’s a developer’s dream and a commuter’s worst nightmare.
Read more: Secret agreement handed...

Tolls aren't necessary, do what the public voted for

Link to Op/Ed here.

Use Prop 1, Prop 7 funds to fix Loop 1604 without tolls
By Terri Hall
Founder, Texans for Toll-free Highways
February 28, 2017
San Antonio Express-News

Much in the same way taxpayers got the message about tolls being inevitable on US 281 and I-10, the Express-News editorial told our community, 'Tolls are necessary, deal with it.' Taxpayers don't appreciate being told what to do, especially when it comes to the long arm of government reaching into our wallets. Contrary to the narrative, tolls are no longer a 'user fee' where only those who use the toll lanes pay for them. When $326 million in our gas taxes will be used to subsidize the construction of toll lanes inside Loop 1604, everyone will pay for them. But only the select few who can fork over up to $23 a day in tolls will be able to use them.

That's right. The plan calls for dynamic tolling where the toll rate changes in real time and can reach the maximum during peak hours, which is $.50/mile. So if you need to drive all 23 miles during rush hour, you're looking at $23/day in new toll taxes to use lanes your gas taxes helped pay to build. That's double taxation and warrants a taxpayer revolt. Tolls, once imposed, tend to never disappear. If it's one thing a government bureaucrat won't give up, it's an unaccountable revenue stream in the hands of unelected boards. They can always find a use for your money.
Read more: Tolls aren't necessary,...

Maxing out the credit card: SA $850 million bond to convert auto lanes to bike & bus-only lanes

Link to article here.

Council candidate: Don’t ‘bond out bureaucrats’
By Kenric Ward  /   February 22, 2017
Watchdog.org

Boosters of San Antonio’s proposed $850 million bond call the record debt package “essential” and “transformational” for America’s seventh largest city. They tout the decision-making process as “transparent” and “community-driven.”

But a city council candidate who served on one of the bond committees calls it something else.

“It’s bonding out the bureaucrats,” says Patty Gibbons, a candidate to replace retiring District 9 Councilman Joe Krier.

Sitting on a Roads and Sidewalks committee, Gibbons looked forward to a fair evaluation of projects. She didn’t see it.
Read more: Maxing out the credit...

Editorial: 'Tolls are necessary, deal with it'

Texans reject editorial stating, ‘Tolls are necessary, deal with it’
By Terri Hall
February 20, 2017

It’s tough being a taxpayer. After 14 years of enduring former Texas Governor Rick Perry’s push for toll roads, including the controversial network of transnational tollways under the control of a foreign corporation called the Trans Texas Corridor, Texans are still facing the push for tolls by local governments. Though Texas Governor Greg Abbott did an about-face on tolls campaigning against them and promising to fix Texas roads without raising fees, taxes, tolls or debt, local toll agencies, with the aid of a willing press, are trying to cram toll roads down commuters’ throats despite their opposition. Case in point, the San Antonio Express-News just ran an editorial entitled, ‘Tolls are necessary, deal with it.’
Read more: Editorial: 'Tolls are...