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...

Court victory for Texas property rights

Ranchers score victory for Texas property rights
By Terri Hall
February 10, 2017

Two cattle ranchers in the Texas Hill Country can breathe a sigh of relief -- at least for now. Terrell and Pat Graham have been in a three year court battle with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to defend their property rights and they finally won. The developers of Johnson Ranch, DHJB, picked a fight with the Graham family when it decided to amend its wastewater permit with TCEQ to dump their treated sewage onto the Grahams' property. The Grahams naturally said 'No way!' So they challenged the amended permit in court and won. It took three years and much of their life savings to do it, but their win is more than a victory for their family. It's a win for property rights for all Texans and it sets an important precedent to help those who are victims of unscrupulous developers.
Read more: Court victory for Texas...

Huffines files bills to prevent double tax toll roads, hold toll agencies accountable

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                  Contact: Brent Connett
January 27, 2017                                                                                                                            
SEN. HUFFINES FILES TRANSPORTATION REFORM & 
ACCOUNTABILITY BILLS
Senator Huffines pursues transparency, truth in taxation, and keeping Texans moving forward

AUSTIN — Senator Don Huffines (R-Dallas) today filed a package of bills to end toll roads and bring more accountability to the transportation dollars (taxpayers' money) that are allocated by the state to Regional Mobility Authorities:

Senate Joint Resolution 35 and Senate Bill 639 - Ending Toll Expenditures out of the State Highway Fund

Senator Huffines stated, "Texans are tired of tolls. In 2013, the Legislature and voters worked together to pass Prop 1 - a much-needed surplus in transportation funding - with the condition that none of it be spent on toll roads. Then, in 2015, legislators and voters teamed up again to get even more transportation funding with Prop 7, and these funds are also restricted from toll usage. It's time to finish the job by entirely closing the state's major road funding account to toll roads. Texans are tired of the ever-creeping expansion of toll roads in our state. My district has been almost entirely swallowed by toll roads. It's time for the state to end its dependency on tolls - that's why I filed SJR 35 and SB 639, which will protect the state's primary transportation infrastructure fund from being used on toll roads."
Read more: Huffines files bills to...

DOUBLE TAX: Alamo board votes to use gas taxes to put tolls on Loop 1604

On January 23, the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) board, comprised of local officials, voted to grant $326 million in YOUR federal gas taxes to plop toll lanes down the middle of Loop 1604. TxDOT can't toll anything without the MPO's blessing, which the MPO just granted.

The toll rates are dynamic and change in real time ranging from 18 cents a mile up to 50 cents per mile - you pay the max during peak hours! The toll lanes would stretch 22.8 miles from Bandera Rd. on the west side to I-35 on the east side (see Express-News article on it here). The excuse is there isn't enough money to fix all our roads without tolls, despite voters giving TxDOT $5 billion more PER YEAR in NEW funds to prevent tolling.
Read more: DOUBLE TAX: Alamo board...

Note to Trump: Key states tossed pro-toll incumbents

Link to article here.

Trump take heed: Toll roads a factor in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas election

By Terri Hall
November 9, 2016
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research

With the historic election of Donald Trump to the American Presidency, it signals a total repudiation of the political establishment by the working class. You could call it the election of the American worker. But analysts would be remiss if they failed to overlook how toll roads played a part in several races in key states.

One of the most notable races is for governor in North Carolina — must-win state for Trump that went red. Yet, Republican Governor Pat McCrory is in a nail biter photo finish to retain his seat in a state that went Republican last night. The very real threat by Democrat Roy Cooper who claimed victory Wednesday morning, though most still believe the race too close to call, is in part due to McCrory losing support among his base thanks to his approval of the controversial public private partnership (P3) toll project on Interstate-77 in Charlotte.
Read more: Note to Trump: Key...

Will the feds ban human drivers?

Link to article here.

The feds are comin after you. The elitist bureaucrats in Washington think human-created self-driving cars are superior to actual humans driving cars. Go figure that one out. Bottom line, your freedom to travel is at serious risk. This is about government control and keeping a finger on the switch and being able to herd everyone around like cattle in a big game of Sim City using all of us as human specimens.

Get Ready for Freeways That Ban Human Drivers
By Keith Naughton
September 22, 2016
Bloomberg News

New rules of the road for robot cars coming out of Washington this week could lead to the eventual extinction of one of the defining archetypes of the past century: the human driver.

While banning people from driving may seem like something from a Kurt Vonnegut short story, it’s the logical endgame of a technology that could dramatically reduce -- or even eliminate -- the 1.25 million road deaths a year globally. Human error is the cause of 94 percent of roadway fatalities, U.S. safety regulators say, and robot drivers never get drunk, sleepy or distracted.

Autonomous cars already have “superhuman intelligence” that allows them to see around corners and avoid crashes, said Danny Shapiro, senior director of automotive at Nvidia Corp., a maker of high-speed processors for self-driving cars.
Read more: Will the feds ban human...

Alamo city: New road funds squandered so 1604 and I-35 can be tolled

New road funds to be squandered on non-priority projects to force tolls on major congested corridors
Loop 1604 on the north side and I-35 commuters targeted for toll taxes, while other corridors are not
By Terri Hall
October 16, 2016

On September 27, TxDOT's San Antonio District Engineer Mario Jorge presented a list of projects to use up the Prop 1 and Prop 7 funds. We see many red flags and we’re very concerned. First, as usual, we’re being told Loop 1604 and I-35 ‘have’ to be tolled. So let’s look at the projects that are consuming the new funding, precisely so Texans wouldn’t be tolled.

First, the San Antonio district will be receiving $2.3 billion in unallocated NEW funds over the next 10 years. It’s critical these funds go to the top priorities, which are I-35 and Loop 1604. The Governor made clear these funds are to go to the most congested roads first.
Read more: Alamo city: New road...

BOMBSHELL: Senators find out tolls charged on roads that are paid for

Sparks fly as senators discover numerous toll roads with no debt on them, prompts call to remove tolls
By Terri Hall
September 15, 2016

It’s not often that the very sleepy subject of transportation offers a fiery discussion, but yesterday’s Senate Transportation Committee meeting did not disappoint. In a rare olive branch extended to grassroots anti-toll advocacy groups, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom and Texans for Toll-free Highways, Chairman Senator Robert Nichols invited them to address the committee about one of its interim studies - a study on the elimination of toll roads.

Just the title evokes strong emotions on both sides of the issue, and those emotions were in plain view Wednesday. Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Executive Director James Bass laid out the numbers of how much it would cost to retire tolls on roads built with state funds. Let me say that again, toll roads that were built with state money. That means gasoline taxes and other state funds were used to build the road, but Texas drivers are being charged again, through tolls, to use it — a double tax scheme.
Read more: BOMBSHELL: Senators...

'Complete streets' will convert auto lanes to bike lanes in Alamo city

Link to article here.

Taxpayers paid nearly $50,000 for a study to reduce auto lanes to make room for dedicated bike lanes and wider sidewalks. VIA Transit's long-range plan calls for light rail, too, despite voters' repeated opposition to it.

Such policies pushed by today's urban planners are called 'complete streets,' aimed at making corridors accommodating to all modes of travel, including cyclists and pedestrians. However, such dedicated or restricted lanes are deliberately anti-car, shrinking auto capacity in order to force drivers out of their cars and onto a bike or bus. Complete streets also means planned, permanent auto congestion -- by design.

‘Complete Street’ prioritizes pedestrians over cars — at unknown cost
By Kenric Ward  /   August 30, 2016
Watchdog.org

A $49,880 study calls for constricted car lanes, wider sidewalks and a dedicated bike path as part of a “Complete Streets” makeover of one of San Antonio’s major thoroughfares.

How much it all might cost is anyone’s guess.

Proponents of the plan say the Fredericksburg Road corridor, which connects downtown with UT-San Antonio and the sprawling Medical Center complex, is long overdue for an upgrade.
Read more: 'Complete streets' will...

San Antonio still pushing light rail despite voter opposition

Link to article here.

San Antonio plans for light rail despite voter opposition
By Kenric Ward
Watchdog.org
August 17, 2016

Despite repeated pushback at the polls, a controversial light rail system remains in San Antonio’s planning documents.

City officials say, “It is important not to rule out any method or mode of transportation.”

National transportation expert Randal O’Toole retorts, “I suspect that they have ruled out dirigibles, helicopters and pod cars. Rail should be ruled out for the same reason: It is expensive and few will use it.”

“It’s not really about rail or offering commuters options, it’s about rent-seeking developers looking for their next handout, courtesy of San Antonio taxpayers,” said Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.

The city plan, dubbed San Antonio Tomorrow, envisions “dedicated rail alignments” along San Pedro Avenue from downtown to the airport and Stone Oak, along New Braunfels Street from the Pearl through downtown to Brooks City Base, and along Fredericksburg Road from downtown to the Medical Center to the University of Texas-San Antonio.

The planning document does not say how any of the projects would be funded, but the city is ramping up a campaign for an $850 million bond issue next year, with the bulk of the funds generically earmarked for “transportation.”

“In the future, our great residents and visitors will need options if mobility and quality of life is to be maintained,” Mike Frisbie, the city’s director of transportation and capital improvement, told Watchdog.org.

“Ultimately, the voters will decide whether or not light rail is implemented,” he said.
Voters have already spoken on the topic multiple times.

After defeating a light rail project in 2000, with 70 percent of the vote, San Antonians last year passed a charter amendment requiring public approval to fund any future rail venture. The amendment, which qualified for the ballot with 27,000 petition signatures, prompted the City Council to ditch plans for a streetcar project.

The amendment states, in part: “No bonds or notes shall be issued or sold for the purpose of streetcar or light rail systems, unless first approved by a majority of the qualified electors of the city voting at an election containing a proposition specifically identified for and limited to such purpose.”

City officials cite Salt Lake City and Denver as places where voters rejected light-rail proposals prior to eventual implementation.

“In Salt Lake, once the north-south alignment was in operation, a demand for the east-west light rail from the airport to the university ensued,” Frisbie said.

“In Phoenix, voters rejected light rail proposals until 2004. Now the 20-mile system from the heart of Phoenix, through downtown, past the ASU campus in Tempe to Mesa has tremendous ridership,” he added.

O’Toole said Salt Lake and Phoenix, the former post of San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley, are “spending gobs of money on rail transit, yet they haven’t increased transit’s share of commuting and other travel.”

For a more cost-effective comparison, the Cato Institute transit expert urged San Antonio to look at another fast-growing Western city, which decided against rail.

“With buses only, Las Vegas doubled transit’s share of travel. In 1990, transit carried a higher percentage of travel in Salt Lake and Phoenix than in Las Vegas. Today, transit’s share is highest in Las Vegas,” O’Toole reported.

“The only reason cities build rail is there is a huge rail construction industry that promotes it,” he said.

Closer to home, Hall points to Austin, where just 0.075 percent of the metro population uses light rail.
A recent essay in Forbes magazine labeled that city’s Metro rail a “monument to government waste,” with each average daily roundtrip rider subsidized at roughly $10,000 per year.

San Antonio Councilman Ron Nirenberg says, “We simply can’t just put more buses on already congested streets. We’ve got to leverage a new transit system. We’ve got to invest in a fixed route between high-density corridors.”

Frisbie told Watchdog: “It would be shortsighted not to show [rail] as an option in the SA Tomorrow Multimodal Transportation Plan.”

The city is advertising for a “visionary leader” to direct strategic planning for “passenger rail” and other transportation projects.

Hall, whose group fights to secure funding for crumbling urban roadways, says City Hall’s rail fetish would further burden taxpayers while benefiting political insiders.

“Planners and the politicians who enable them are trying to create auto congestion by implementing a ‘road diet’ in order to make auto options less attractive,” she charged.

A recent addition to the San Antonio comprehensive plan appears to grease the rails, with the city authorizing $2.5 million to “develop incentives to encourage mixed-use development within a half-mile of stations in regional and urban centers along high-capacity transit corridors.”

Following the money, Hall concluded, “Special interests want the development tax breaks and government officials use the fixed-rail lines to incentivize development.”

O'Toole: Alamo city transit agency's anti-car gimmicks demonstrates its growing irrelevance

Link to editorial here.

VIA fails to see its growing irrelevance
Randal O’Toole
For the Express-News
August 28, 2016

VIA transit officials are seeking to raise local taxes to build exclusive bus lanes, and possibly light rail, in major corridors throughout San Antonio. This sounds a lot like the light-rail tax that voters defeated and the ATD tax that voters approved but hasn’t delivered the advanced transportation or roads that were promised.

What VIA fails to see — or hopes taxpayers won’t see — is that transit is not only irrelevant to most San Antonians today, it will be even more irrelevant in the years ahead.

VIA’s Vision 2040 plan notes that San Antonio’s population may grow 80 percent by 2040, which means that the sales tax revenues that provide VIA with most of its funding will also grow by at least 80 percent. But VIA wants more so it can build its own network of transit routes and traffic signals to give its buses (and rail cars) priority over everyone else at intersections.
Read more: O'Toole: Alamo city...

Every rail system loses money, DFW system among the worst

Link to article here.

Every Rail System Loses Money, DART Among the Worst in U.S.
By Ross Kesceg
Empower Texans Scorecard
August 5, 2016

Despite numerous studies demonstrating that government trains are not a solution to traffic in Texas, local officials across the state continue to foolishly push for rail expansion.

Forbes recently ran an article titled: “Austin’s Commuter Rail Is A Monument To Government Waste.” But one of the most under-reported facts is that – of the 1,800 transit systems in the United States – Dallas-Fort Worth’s DART requires the fourth highest taxpayer subsidy per rider.

A study published by the Hamilton Project found that every transit system runs at a loss—the difference is only in degree. Unsurprisingly, NYC’s system has the lowest operating loss per rider, while Dallas’ DART nearly topped the list.

As a result, a few voices in North Texas have emerged to warn the public against these boondoggles, most notably State Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville), along with Colleyville’s Mayor Pro Tem, Chris Putnam, and Carrollton’s Mayor, Matthew Marchant.

Burton, Putnam, and hundreds of citizens in Northeast Tarrant County have vocally questioned the viability of TexRail, which will cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars in federal, state, and local funds in addition to operating losses. However the Obama administration, Congresswoman Kay Granger, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley continue to push the project forward.

Marchant opposes the proposed rail line from the DFW Airport to Plano in favor of alternatives such as bus-rapid-transit, calling it a “cheaper, faster, and more efficient” solution.

“It is a firmly held belief among most local officials and planners that passenger rail is the best transportation solution for [growth]. That groupthink is wrong.”

Marchant cited several reasons why passenger rail doesn’t work in Texas, including the fact that rail is between fifteen to thirty-five times more expensive to build than traditional roads, while costing eight times more to operate than buses.

“Dallas Area Rapid Transit estimates that commuter rail costs around $70 million per mile to build. Second, operating costs are extremely high compared to other modes. Third, projected ridership numbers do not justify the capital and operating costs. Fourth, passenger rail only makes sense in areas with 15 or more dwelling units per acre, which does not and never will exist outside of downtown, uptown Dallas and small pockets in the inner-ring suburbs.”

When critics correctly point out that trains are not a viable or effective transportation solution, proponents pivot by claiming the projects bolster “economic development.”

Marchant also refuted this claim.

“Passenger rail is incorrectly held up as the ideal version of transit because of its perceived cachet and theoretical economic development benefits. But the reality is that only a handful of the dozens of rail stations in North Texas have meaningful transit-oriented development, and the residents who actually rely on transit to get to work or live their lives (note: none of the decision makers) prefer fast and efficient to cachet. Mix all of that up and you have a misplaced desire for rail.”

Despite overwhelming evidence proving rail doesn’t work, Texans should expect little to change unless they voice their concerns. Until more federal, state, and local officials feel pressure from their constituents, the boondoggles will continue unabated.